The Xbox Series consoles are 2 years old. My Series X is perhaps the least distinctive console I have ever owned.
By bigsocrates 10 Comments
I was one of the lucky ones who got an Xbox Series X on launch day, from Microsoft at MSRP. It arrived on November 10 and I was enamored both of the box and the shape of the console itself. After the Xbox one had been a boxy, boring, thing that was nicknamed "the VCR," the Series X has a cool obelisk shape, reminiscent of a PC mini-tower from the 90s but with only a disc drive and that glowing power gem on the top, and a cool vent up top. It's a handsome console that looks unobtrusive when horizontal and bold when kept vertically.
If I had a little disappointment before plugging the Xbox Series X in it was with the controller. Though it adds a capture button, a textured back, that funky geometric D-pad, and a few other minor details it is essentially the same as the Xbox One X controller. There's nothing wrong with that controller, and certainly this is not the first console to ship with a controller similar to its predecessor (Sony essentially kept the Dual Shock design for 3 consoles straight) it made the Series X feel a bit like an Xbox One X-2. Not a new generation but a stepwise upgrade to what came before. I plugged it in, set it up, and launched it to that old familiar Xbox One UI, and that feeling was only magnified. This wasn't trying to be an exciting new experience, it was just trying to be an Xbox One, but better.
And that's really what the Xbox Series X has been for me. 2 years later and I still use my old One X somewhat regularly in another room, and swapping between the two of them it's hard to tell them apart, at least when I'm not running some fancy new game that takes advantage of the extra horsepower or the SSD. The Xbox Series X feels comfortable but not distinctive. It has never had that "new console" smell like the Switch or the PS5, where a brand new UI and control set up promises you a whole new set of experiences. Instead it's more like upgrading your PC. You plug your stuff in, turn it on, and everything runs the same but better.
The Xbox Series X has also not done much to distinguish itself on the software front. That's not to say it doesn't have games; it has literally thousands of games from 4 generations of Xbox consoles. It has some of the greatest games of all time. Every Halo, every Gears, a selection of old XBLA games, cult classics like Otogi and Armed and Dangerous, just all kinds of crazy stuff. You can pop in your old Forza Horizon on Xbox 360 disc from 2012 and play your old save from that if you uploaded it to the cloud or you can play Elden Ring and the latest Call of Duty.
And it has a killer app in Game Pass. I have been running a Game Pass game club on these message boards this year and it's been great. I have played a ton of really fun games on that service, from Psychonauts 2, my game of the year last year, to Vampire Survivors, one of this year's biggest indie hits. Game Pass is awesome and a great reason to won an Xbox. My Xbox One was my most played Gen 8 console and the Series X is looking like it will be that for Gen 9, though I have been spending more time with PlayStation since a couple real life friends have taken to playing co-op with me on that platform.
What the Series X lacks is an identity. I've talked about all the great things on the platform, but almost all of that is true for the Xbox One X too. PlayStation 5 arguably has a similar problem, but it at least has a few exclusive games (I guess you can sort of count a few games like Scorn as consoles exclusives at least.) It also has a unique UI and controller. The PlayStation 5 feels distinct from the PS4, and the Xbox Series just...doesn't. It's like Microsoft finally fixed Xbox One and then decided to just go with what works after that.
And it does work. It's a good platform. Microsoft in general needs a lot more exclusives (last year was very strong with Forza Horizon and Halo but there's been basically nothing this year except a few timed indies) and it's unclear what their studios are doing, but even setting that aside there's more than enough to play. As a game machine it performs well, the UI is fine, everything works, there has never been a software drought if you include multiplats, it's a fine machine.
But for me every console I've owned to this point conjures unique and distinct memories of its UI and games, and the Xbox Series X feels exactly like my Xbox One X. It's like buying a new car of the same model as your old ones. There may be some new bells and whistles but driving it feels essentially familiar.
So I don't have that much to say about the Xbox Series X on its second anniversary. It's a good console. I use it a lot. I like how it looks. It needs some more exclusive software. That's about it.
The Xbox Series S is a bit more different being digital only and there being some concerns that its weakness is holding the generation back, but I don't think PS5 games look or play particularly better than the Xbox Series X games (including PS5 exclusives) so I don't really notice that if it's true. But I don't have one of those and can't comment on it.