Ten years. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve owned an Xbox console. Narrowing it down even further, the last trophy I earned on an Xbox console was for Super Meat Boy back on 12/12/10 when I unlocked The Kid. It was around that time I had disliked the approach Xbox was taking towards video games. The exclusives weren’t doing anything for me. I had ZERO interest in Kinect. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 3 was firing on all cylinders (or the problematic Cell processors) giving me games I fell in love with and enjoyed.
Here we are in 2020. New systems. I had every intention to keep going with the PlayStation 5 after Xbox has done nothing to sway me to purchase the Xbox One since 2013. Truthfully, I still think the PlayStation 5 would have been a better purchase for my interests. However, one thing, in particular, convinced me to pick up the Xbox Series S, and it’s probably not what you think it is. I’ve now had some time to play with the Xbox Series S and thought it best to write my impressions on it as someone diving back into the Xbox ecosystem for the first time in a long time.
Xbox Series S – The Console
There was one main reason I purchased the Xbox Series S – the size. Not a joke. Not being facetious. It literally came down to that.
To paint a word picture – my setup is not easy where I live. My tv is hung on the wall above the mantle of our fireplace. We have two shelves to the right of it that my PlayStation 4 currently sits on along with some Joker statues and other random stuff. The mantle itself could probably sit the PlayStation 5 upright with a stand (not something I want to do) but is probably too wide and heavy for the shelves hanging on the wall. The Xbox Series X could probably fit size-wise on both (maybe too wide for my mantle – I haven’t measured), but is probably too heavy for my shelves as well.
So that left the Xbox Series S. My tv isn’t 4K as I bought months before those televisions started dropping to reasonable prices, and I have no desire to upgrade it right now. So the Xbox Series S works for me on that front. As for the size, it’s…perfect. It’s tiny. Reminds me of the Wii U console in a way. The design itself is slick, and I don’t mind the boombox looking fan on it either. It’s up and out of the way, so unless you are upstairs looking down into the living room, you’ll never see it.
One thing that bothers me about some of the larger systems is plugging in cords. Thankfully, the Xbox Series S is small enough to just pick up and look at the back while plugging in. However, if for whatever reason, that doesn’t work – it also helps indicate where plugins are. On the back are raised dots indicating where cords can be inserted. HDMI out for instance has a single longer raised dot. The power cord has one small raised dot. I imagine further down the road you won’t remember what’s what, but at the very least, it’s nifty to have it switching is a constant thing you require.
The system itself is sinfully quiet. I get a chime that it turns on, and that’s the last I hear from it until I turn it off. It also pumps out some heat as well. While playing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, I ran my hand over the fan and system just to see what it felt like. Definitely warm. I don’t have the means to test it, but there’s always Digital Foundry for that more in-depth analysis. I am curious how warm it will become as games find their footing in this gen.
If you’re a fan of the Xbox controller…don’t expect to suddenly hate it. The controller is well built and still feels wonderful. The back of the controller has a textured grip. So too does the left and right trigger buttons and the outsides of the sticks. Unlike the PS4 controller, I vastly prefer both the placement and size of the middle buttons, although I don’t know if I can say the same about the Xbox button. It’s a bit further out of the way for the fingers. Other than that, the actual size of the controller isn’t an issue. As someone with small hands, that’s not something I’ve been able to say about previous controllers from Xbox.
The concave sticks are nice, though the left one being concave feels pointless for my tiny hands since my finger doesn’t sit comfortably in it. If it was further down, it would probably work. As it stands, my left thumb uses the outside of the stick whereas my right thumb sits nicely inside of it. The D-Pad is also concave and I’m unsure whether I like it or not. Each direction is differentiated on the outline, and I seem to make it work easy enough, but there’s something about the feeling that is just…off. I don’t know if I prefer each direction separated out or what, but it’s not a D-Pad I’m crazy about. Perhaps, like most things with this console, it’s just a learning curve for me.
There are two things I actively dislike about the controller. The first is – I prefer rechargeable batteries. I didn’t like switching out batteries back on the Xbox 360, and I still dislike it. I’m honestly not sure why they continue to sell the rechargeable pack separately, but I wish it would stop.
The second thing I dislike is how loud the buttons are when you click them. Especially the D-Pad. I’ve heard people say they prefer how loud the buttons are depending on how important noticing inputs are (such as with fighters), but not me. It’s not even a deal-breaker, it’s just something I noticed from day 1 and was glaringly apparent. So if clicky buttons are your thing (see video above), then this is a moot complaint for you.
I’m still coming to terms with where I stand on the UI. On one hand, it’s sleek and quick to get around. On the other hand, I’m used to the PlayStation 4 UI. This one has a bit more thrown onto the screen that makes it daunting, especially at first. I’m still trying to figure my way around the menus, and there’s a lot of breakdowns within each of them, so at some point, I like to believe I’ll grasp it.
There’s a good amount of customization allowed with the system. Being able to switch around what tiles you want on the home screen based on usage is nifty. The tiled layout makes it easy to move between sections easy enough, the problem comes when you fall down the rabbit hole of specifics on each pin. Using the store, in particular, is a pain, especially when it comes to already owned content. Again, this could be my lack of knowledge on finding this stuff so far, but it’s been a real drag so far without using “Search”.
I know a lot of people are bummed there wasn’t something more drastic with the UI. As someone who hasn’t used it before though, it’s new enough to me to feel “next-gen” in a way. Not necessarily because of the content available to do with the UI, but just because it’s different. If you were playing Xbox games prior to the Xbox Series consoles, you won’t see a change. For newcomers like me though, it’s exciting (and frustrating) to learn a new UI.
This is arguably the most important of a video game console, right? Well…it’s fast. Turning the Xbox on from standby has me back in the game within seconds. From a cold boot, it took just under 6 seconds to get back to the main menu (5.51 to be exact). What used to take minutes to get from starting the console to playing the game now boils down to less than a minute. Wonderful.
I haven’t had a ton of time to try out different games. To make matters worse, I can’t compare them to how they run on the previous Xbox. A game like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice looks great and I gave it a try. Ran really well. Still felt like load times could be a bit much in areas, but not having played the game before, made me curious how excruciating those must have been on last-gen.
Game Pass is something I barely used on PC when I had it. The selection was nice, but nothing really stood out to me for the most part. Add in the lack of desire to play on PC in the first place, and you have someone not as impressed with Game Pass as most people. I know people swoon for 1st party games on that service. However, if none of those convinced me to buy the last console…why would it suddenly win me over now? Yes, there are games like Spiritfarer that I was curious about and am now playing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to try Sunset Overdrive at some point too. As it stands now though, Xbox Game Pass is mostly my “play what I missed” from last-gen service.
This brings me to a larger glaring issue – the lack of THIS gen games. This isn’t just an Xbox Series S or X problem though. Even PlayStation only has a couple of games that can ONLY be found on the PlayStation 5. I’m lucky enough to have missed ALL the Xbox exclusives, even if they don’t all knock my socks off. For people who previously owned one, you get more of the same. Yes, loading times are faster and the games look and/or run better. Is that enough to drop $300 or $500 for at launch? That’s up to you. I’m being given new experiences, so it was worth it to me. I will not lie though. Not having some brand new console seller is a drag and something Microsoft should look quickly to correct.
There’s a bunch of other small things worth mentioning. For one is backward compatibility. I’m not one to say backward compatibility is the biggest thing for these consoles. Microsoft is trying to sell you otherwise, but it’s not. It’s a nice perk though, especially at launch when the new game selection is much more limited.
I don’t have a ton of pre-purchased Xbox games. Battlefield 1943 still showed ownership which was cool. I haven’t looked for Super Meat Boy, but I assume it’s there too. I’m not sure if The Impossible Game is worth investigating. Assuming you were more invested in the Xbox eco-system, this will come as a better addition for you. Even more so if you own an Xbox Series X and can use discs. All digital future here Baybay!
Quick Resume maybe my favorite thing so far. Games I’ve completely closed out of pop right back up within a handful of seconds. For those I didn’t “Quit Game” for though? Back within a second or two at the gameplay, I left off at. I haven’t tested how many games it allows because I never play more than one or two games at a time. But between my kids and I, I’ve seen it work with at least four: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Banjo-Kazooie, Battletoads, and Spiritfarer. Though from what I understand, it will allow up to five. It’s awesome nonetheless.
I’m also pleasantly surprised with how well the Xbox app on mobile works with the Series S. Not only did it help speed up the setting up of the console, but the way it’s connected is cool. Uploading screenshots or videos to Xbox Live allows me to download them on my phone (such as the couple screenshots in this article). I haven’t tried remote play, and don’t intend to, but that’s an option as well for those who want it. Another cool option is the ability to uninstall games from the app. Comes in real handy if you need to clear room for a game that just dropped on Game Pass for instance. Especially since using the Game Pass app allows you to install said game too. Overall, it’s a wonderful companion to the system and something I would suggest everyone download and use to their advantage.
Speaking of uninstalls, it’s something you may get used to if you don’t plan on fixing up the storage capacity. The 512GB SSD isn’t much for a 2020 conaole. It’ll work for me at the moment, but it’s clear how quickly the limitations may effect others. Since the Series S isn’t a 4K machine like it’s big brother, file sizes should be smaller. As we all know though, developers will push the console during it’s lifespan. I’m hoping that doesn’t hurt the Series S in the long run, but we have to wait to see.
The End Result – Xbox Series S
It’s far too soon to say if the Xbox Series S is worth it. I’ve always believed that what matters the most are games that will release on the console. Exclusive wise…I’m not sure when that will happen. Microsoft has made plenty of acquisitions over the past couple of years that should bear fruit in the future. When exactly in the future is still a mystery, and that’s part of the problem.
However, the Xbox Series S does have many things going for it. Game Pass alone is wonderful. That’s partly why I bought it. At the very least, it’s the cheapest way to get invested in next gen both by what Microsoft releases exclusively and any indies they gather between those games. I’m particularly looking forward to Haven myself.
The system is fast and tiny, although it doesn’t boast the same sort of power the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X has at its disposal. As long as developers don’t make this a problem, the Series S is a wonderful system to own leading into the drop of next-gen (now current-gen I suppose) releases. As it stands, I have no disappointments with owning a Series S. I’m just hoping that will remain the case and that the “lesser brother” doesn’t suffer in the long run.
To hear more hands-on impressions from the new consoles, check out The Player’s Club Podcast!