One Week With the Xbox Series S

Many of you may know me as being a Switch fanatic, what you might not know though is that at heart, I am really an Xbox fanboy. I have had an Xbox from the very beginning. I remember seeing the box for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in Choices (10 points if you know what that is) as a teenager and had to get an Xbox to play it. Since then, there has always been one of Microsoft’s chunky boxes hidden somewhere in my entertainment centre. Skip forward a few years and I remember my brother and I unwrapping the Xbox 360 on Christmas morning. We were so surprised to get it and spent the rest of the day playing PES 6 and Oblivion together.

It’s slightly embarrassing to admit now, but I even originally chose the Xbox One over the PS4 at the start of the previous generation. Back then, I was what you would call a ‘casual gamer’ and really only played the biggest triple A titles. You know the ones: FIFA, Fallout and the Elder Scrolls- the games EVERY gamer knows. My brother was the only other ‘gamer’ I knew, so it made sense to get an Xbox because he had one too. However, pretty soon into the Xbox One’s life, I saw the way the ship was sinking. The lack of quality games, the focus on entertainment instead of gaming and the novel but unneeded Kinect saw me swing to Sony and then later onto Nintendo.

Even though I’d left my first gaming love behind, I’d always cheered on the sidelines for the Xbox and Microsoft. Their thorough thrashing from Sony and then Nintendo, made Xbox have to change their game. They brought in Phil Spencer and started trying to make their gaming experience as amazing as they could for the customer. They pivoted back to focusing on games, made the most powerful hardware on the market and invested in a ton of new studios. This of course, lead to the behemoth that is Game Pass. All this was getting me more and more excited for the ‘next-generation’ of gaming and what Xbox had to offer. . .

So when they announced the Xbox Series X I was. . . ok with it. The problem is, I don’t have a 4K TV, so I thought the power of the Series X would be wasted on me. Plus, I love playing indie games so the extra power, and extra cost of the console, was a little too much for me to get invested in ‘next-gen’ at the start of the generation. . . That was until Microsoft announced the Series S.

For me it was perfect. Smaller, sleeker, cheaper but still ‘next-gen’, the Series S is everything I wanted from the next-generation of gaming consoles. Now I couldn’t resist. Like being back in Choices as a teenager, Game Pass, the new studios and the Series S meant I had to get an Xbox again. Sorry Sony. . .

Launch Day

At the time of writing I have had the Xbox Series S a week. I got it on launch day, unwrapped the cute little cardboard ribbon around my new Microsoft baby and plugged it in as fast as I could. The first thing I noticed about the console when I got it out of the box was its size- it’s so smol! The best way to describe its size is saying it is about the size on a hardback book. Comparing it to my Switch Lite, it is about 3 inches (7.5 cm) taller than the Switch’s Lite’s length. In addition, it has all of the holes and ports you’d expect from a ‘next-gen’ console and if you already have Xbox peripherals from previous generations, they all work with the Series S. It’s so impressive how much tech Microsoft has packed into this little package.

The second thing I noticed was the updated controller. It’s slightly smaller than that of the previous generation and in my opinion, fits more comfortably in my hands. A coarse sandpaper-like texture has been added to the back and triggers, which stops the controller moving around in your hand. Furthermore, the D-Pad has been tweaked to have a ‘hybrid’ D-pad, which is a vast improvement from the last model. All in all, I think this is the best standard controller Microsoft has ever made. Its shape and weight make it feel more premium then the Dualshock 4 and Switch Pro-Controller plus, the new dedicated Share button makes sharing screenshots and short clips way easier. I think Microsoft might have been copying Nintendo’s homework here, as it is very similar to that of the Switch’s share functionality.

As amazing as the hardware is, actually getting online on launch day was a little shaky. I had forgotten my Microsoft login details, and then after remembering them, I couldn’t sign in because the Xbox Live servers were overloaded with everyone logging in at the same time. I got logged in and started downloading and playing my first Xbox games, finally.

Too many games?

But what to choose? Of course I signed up for Game Pass. I still whole-heartly believe it is the best deal in gaming, even more so when your first month costs only one of whatever currency you use (Euro/Pound/Dollar/Coffee Beans etc). The Game Pass library is extensive, especially since the launch of the Series S and X, as EA Play has been added to it for no extra cost.

For some players, this could be a bad thing. It reminds me a little of Netflix, where you spend so much time flicking through shows that you never actually watch anything. I could feel this potentially happening to me because there are so many great games on Game Pass (especially indies). After browsing for a while I decided on my first game: Forza Horizon 4.

Why Forza you ask? Well, because I knew it was a safe bet to try out all of the Series S’s best features because the game has been optimized for Series S and X. Forza 4 is a gorgeous game and even though the Series S only plays games at 1440p, Forza still looks gorgeous on my TV. Furthermore, it has the Quick Resume feature, which I think is the feature that is going to define this generation- but more on that later. It’s a fantastic game and has been running at a buttery smooth 60fps on my Series S. The coolest thing though, is the load screens. Or should I say- lack of them.

Lightning Fast Loading

Loading into races is almost instant. It’s so liberating not having to wait in loading screens anymore, especially in a competitive game like Forza 4. I like to win every race, so as soon as I know I’m not going to win I can restart the race from the beginning and it happens almost instantly. It’s a little bit like playing Super Meat Boy. As soon as I make a mistake I can reset and respawn at the start of the race instantly and try again. The same can be said for the fast travel in the game. No more loading screens means I am more prone to fast-travel around the map. This could be a good thing or bad thing depending on how you look at it. After all, I am playing a game about driving cars around a gorgeous and very British world- so maybe I should want to drive everywhere. However, you know how it is. Time is a virtue, so I like to fast-travel if I’m really far away from my destination. With the SSD of the Series S, this is no problem, it is honestly lightning quick!

Indies (of course).

After putting a few hours into Forza, I could hear the indies calling. Celeste is a game that people have been telling me to play since its release. Honestly, I’m not a massive platformer fan and even less of a fan of them if they are famously hard! However, Celeste was on Game Pass and I decided- ‘why not give it a try’.

I’m so glad I did because one: it’s a fantastic game and two: playing it with Quick Resume makes it far less frustrating. What do I mean by this? Well, with Quick Resume you can have multiple games running at the same time and switch between them whenever you want. Therefore, if I get to a difficult- almost throwing the controller out of the window- part of Celeste I can quickly ‘take a breath’ like the game suggests, by switching to one of the other games I have on the Series S.

My tactic has been to play as much Celeste as I can until I hit a wall. Then I’ll switch to Minecraft Dungeons. I like switching to Dungeons because its gameplay doesn’t take too much thinking to do. I find it relaxing and it gives me time to think about the area where I am stuck on Celeste. When I’ve cooled down and can play Celeste again with a clear mind, I can instantly switch back to exactly where I left off and try again. I’ve done this multiple times now and keep managing to progress in Celeste. I’m now about half way through the game and loving it. If I was playing on the Switch or PS4, I think I would have given up on the game already. The loading and boot-up screens would have been too much for me! I couldn’t switch away quickly from it and play something else to cool down.

Memory (or lack of it).

The only negative I see with the Series S is its storage space- it is tiny. It only has a 500GB hard drive and about 16% of that is taken up by the system software (damn you Windows!). You can upgrade your storage space by buying the 1TB Seagate ‘Storage Expansion Card’, or what I used to call a Memory Card as a kid. The Card costs a whopping $220, which in some cases, makes it cheaper to buy the Series X instead of the Series S and Expansion Card. You can use a regular harddrive however, you will lose the Quick Resume and Quick Load features of any games saved on it.

For me, this really isn’t a problem. I mostly play indie games, which normally take up about 10GB of memory, maximum. I have a 128GB SD card in my Switch and since its release, the SD has been nowhere near full. However, if you’re a gamer that likes to play landmark games like: Cyberpunk 2077, Watch Dogs 3 and whatever the big triple A games will be at the start of next year, I would suggest getting the Series X, just for the extra storage.

No Next-Gen Games. . . yet.

You’re right. Right now there are no first party next-gen games for the Xbox Series X and S. I have to say, I do have a slight feeling of FOMO for Demon’s Souls because it looks soooo good on the PS5. However, other than that, I’m quite happy there are no exclusive games for the Xbox. It means I have some time to enjoy the few good exclusives the Xbox has from the previous generation. I’m loving Forza 4, I’m excited to play Gears 5 and have been enjoying the early access of Grounded. If there was a big next-gen (or current-gen, I guess) I wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy these games.

Is the Xbox Series S for you?

I don’t know, it depends what type of gamer you are. For me however, it is perfect. I plan on using it as my Game Pass machine and hope to play some bigger games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla every once in a while. I also don’t have a problem deleting games from my harddrive once I’ve finished playing them. Therefore, the memory of the Series S is not such a big issue. In addition, I don’t have a 4K TV, so the 1440p output of the Series S is more than enough for my 1080p TV. Finally, I have a PS4 and Nintendo Switch, so the Series S is not my primary gaming console.

If you do have a cool TV and do like playing triple A games, you should definitely get the Series X or the Series S. However, if you have a PS5 or Switch and want to have your toe in the Xbox ecosystem and enjoy the absolute bargain that is Game Pass, then I think the Series S is a fantastic option. It’s cheap, full of tech, looks sleek (apart from the black speaker air vent) and does everything I want from a next-gen console. I love playing it and can’t wait to see what Xbox’s new studios make on the Series X and S. 

If you have an Xbox, feel free to add me AdamSIF or feel free to join The Cross Players group on there. Let us know what you are playing on your Xbox or if you’re planning on picking one up by tweeting us. Or why not talk directly with us on our Discord server?

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