I suck at impulse control. If I feel the need to do something I just do it, caution be damned. I also tend to quickly get ideas and act on them in a heat-of-the-moment kind of way. This happens a lot with videogames.
I bought an Xbox One on release day because I am an idiot. It was a move that went against a lot of things for me. Number one was that I’m predominately a Sony gamer. I essentially gave up on Xbox 360 when my console died for the second time. I kept it around to play Gears of War and Alan Wake, but by then my gaming had exclusively moved over to the PS3 (my absolute favourite console of this gen). When the Xbox One was announced in all its embarrassing glory, I joined in on the mocking parade. It was a joke more than a console. In fact Microsoft would have you think it wasn’t a console at all – it seemed like a piece of hardware that was embarrassed that it could play games.
Microsoft did a lot of backpedalling, but not much of it filled me with confidence. I put MS out of my mind for a long time. Game announcements were more interesting; a fair few interesting titles were announced for it, along with some concerning ones. Of the good stuff were titles like Dead Rising 3 (I love the franchise), Sunset Overdrive (essentially seems to be what Overstrike was meant to be, before they buckled to pressure and turned it into Fuse), Quantum Theory (I liked Alan Wake, interested to see more about this) and a few others (that game by the Deadly Premonition guy intrigues me, mostly because DP was amazing for its story, but horrible for its gameplay). Still I was determined to wait out the next gen released until sometime next year, and then go for it when all the bugs and issues were worked out an more games were available. I was also pretty determined to get a PS4.
So what the hell happened? I don’t know. Too much disposable cash around holiday season for one thing. Vague interest and curiosity for another. Also I really wanted to play Dead Rising 3 (which is fantastic btw).
Full disclosure, I would have bought a PS4 if the console wasn’t sold out here until March next year. That’s the big thing. I never pre-ordered because I thought I wouldn’t need to and then the first batch got sold out. The second batch would be available early December, so I thought I’d pick one up then but that got sold out as well. It’s reached freaking late February now, and looks like there’s no signs of stopping, so my PS4 dreams will have to wait until around infamous (which might not be so bad).
So now I’ve got an Xbox One. How do I feel about it? Eh. But that wasn’t my initial response, oh no. I’ve had the thing for two weeks and I only started to warm to it during that second week. Initially my impressions were pretty bad. And so I’m going to relate them to you, the invisible people who will read this (because nobody will read this because Gamespot’s community is dead).
Ok, first things first, I got the console release day, so some of the initial issues can be attributed to first day blues, server overloads and general bugs and glitches not being known. These were my experiences, others might feel differently, but all in all I’ve been pretty underwhelmed. I’m not going to talk too much about the games. In fact I’m initially just going to talk about the basic console experience: the start-up, the user interface, general performance, stuff like that.
The initial start-up is a pain. It instantly needs to connect to the internet to download an update. Without an internet connection, you can’t do the initial start-up – the Xbox One needs the internet to work (more on this later). Without the update you can’t use the console, so if your internet connection is spotty or drops out then you’ve just got an expensive brick. If your controller goes into battery saving mode (leaving it unattended for several minutes) it stops the update, so you have to sit there with the controller pressing a button every few minutes or the update doesn’t happen. I turned it on on release day, when servers were overloaded, so it took me a long time. It failed twice for me, and took about three hours as a result.
The console is not user friendly at all. In fact you’re given a frustrating lack of information about how to use it or anything. There is no instruction manual, just a little sheet that shows you how to plug it in. It never eases you into anything, it just assumes you know what you’re doing or what things are. The lack of information is worrying, as you can’t check your save data or harddrive space. Even the settings menu is sparse. There is a help button that appears on the options of every app, game and menu, but all it does is link you to the internet browser and the Xbox support page, which is completely useless.
The days of putting a game disc in and playing it instantly are gone. Xbox One needs to spend an inordinate amount of time to load, download and install. Games have massive install sizes and need updates to begin the installation. Your internet connection dictates how long this will take. If your console is online, it will need to download any patches or updates first. It doesn’t tell you how long these take so you’ll be waiting a long time. It took a day for me to get Dead Rising 3 and Battlefield 4 working, mostly due to the updates.
Xbox One needs to be connected to a strong internet connection otherwise its useless. I had to move my modem directly next to the One for it to start working well. Granted once I did that things were smooth as silk, but before that it was painful. Without an internet connection, Xbox One doesn’t do anything. Two thirds of the UI won’t load up and you can’t even look at your profile if you’re offline. It’ll begrudgingly play games (after accusing you of stealing them) but all the halfbaked features won’t work and the console will continually remind you that it wants to go online. While Microsoft might like to try and spin the truth after the backlash, Xbox One is an ‘always online’ console.
A big issue is how slow things work. There’s always a brief moment before the console does what you want. Looking at achievements takes far longer than you’d expect it to, as it loads up each page. Going from the dashboard to the settings takes far longer than it does on the Xbox 360. A lot of this is because the console needs to consult the internet first. You can’t check your profile without being logged in, and when you do it loads up each individual page. Same with achievements.
The User Interface is disappointing. The main screen shows your profile on the side, whatever games or apps you’ve recently been using in the middle, and various ads for stuff on the Live store on the right. It’s sparse and a bit ugly. If you scroll the page to the right you just get more links to the Live marketplace. Scrolling to the left gives you a page you can pin things to. So if you want games and apps to be easily accessible you pin them here. And that’s the extent of the dashboard. Your ‘Games and Apps’ tab is an ugly mess, offering little information about anything. The settings menu is brief and lacks information.
For clarification’s sake, you never need to plug in Kinect 2.0. Having it unplugged will simply remove voice commands and motion controls from the Ui and games that use them, and leave a symbol on the top right corner of the UI. With it plugged in, it is creepy how much the camera sees. It’ll pick up when somebody enters the room, will recognise you (it will log you in just by seeing you, though if you change clothes it’ll forget who you are) and it has a nightvision and thermal filter. Kinect 2.0 is useless for motion controls, but the voice commands work better than expected. Don’t even bother trying the motion controls, they’re frustrating and don’t work. When it’s a struggle to get through the tutorial then you know it’s broken. The voice commands, however, are pretty awesome. Telling the Xbox One to start up Dead Rising 3 is pretty satisfying, and it’s useful in the game as well.
Once you start using your Xbox One (two days and a lot of frustration later for me) things improve greatly. Game performance is great and online multiplayer is smooth. Dedicated servers in Battlefield 4 are great and alleviate many frustrations about hosts and ping. Other features aren’t so great. You can record game clips, but the process is never explained nor is it very intuitive, and finding clips to edit and mess around with is just more of a hassle than it should have been. Apps work decently, though many require that strong internet connection again. The Live store is sparse, which makes sense since the console’s only been out two weeks, but its lacking information and isn’t the easiest to navigate.
By pressing the Xbox symbol on the controller you can pause a game or app at any point and immediately go to the Xbox dashboard without the game/app shutting down, then you can watch a movie or do something else, then return to your game/app with no performance hiccups, loading or slowdown. It’s smooth and really cool. Of course people have been able to do this for ages on smartphones, and my Vita does this, but it’s nice seeing a console doing it so well.
I’m not too much a fan of the controller. I’ve always preferred the PS2/3 dualshock over Xbox controllers, and this one isn’t changing my mind. Mostly its fine, the face buttons and analogue sticks are great and responsive. The D-pad is disappointingly shonky though – better than the 360s, but still not ideal for fighting games. My big issue is the bumpers. The triggers are fine, but the bumpers feel tacky and don’t give good feedback. I press them accidentally all the time. The controller also uses batteries and it absolutely chews through them, even when on standby. I only played it a little bit, but by the end of the first week the batteries were dead and I needed new ones.
Final Impression: Xbox One is initially a frustrating mess, forcing you to jump through numerous hoops to get it working. Once it does work it’s initially disappointing, and its complete dependence on your internet connection is worrying. Once you start using it to play games, the frustrations begin to fade away slowly, but it’s a long frustrating journey to get to that point. It’s very much a work in progress, with some baffling design decisions and features that feel unfinished or intrusive, but if they get ironed out (and they probably will) then Xbox One will become a solid gaming platform.
I was initially frustrated and annoyed and a little disappointed, but now I’ve warmed up to it a bit, though I remain fairly underwhelmed. Once I got the system and the games working, and started having fun, the frustrations began to disappear, but it was a long road to get to that point and I don’t understand why it had to be.
Game wise I got Dead Rising 3, Battlefield 4 and Crimson Dragon and I’ve tried the Killer Instinct demo. Only one of them feels like a next gen title (DR3). I’ll talk about them in another blog.