Two Weeks With My Xbox Series S

Xbox Series S
Xbox Series S
Image: Microsoft

I’ve had an Xbox Series S since late October, and I am surprised at how I feel about it. I wouldn’t say I’m excited to have this new system. The word I’d use—a word that is actually a very high compliment—is “pleased.”

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I should clarify, before you judge me too jaded, too snooty, or too uncaring about the Locust, the Spartans, and Forza cars to sufficiently recognize the excellence of Xbox.

I like new consoles, but I don’t swiftly love them. I like playing new games on new consoles, but I’ve been through these cycles long enough to realize that the first year of a new box is usually its worst. Getting a new console is usually like ordering a fancy dinner and the waiter then serving a dish half-covered with pictures of what they’ll bring to your table six months later.

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Sometimes you get lucky and they put Super Mario 64 on your plate, but that’s unusual. Most of the time, get a new console and brace for dissatisfaction.

But that’s not happening with me and the new Xbox, despite its lack of any major exclusive games.

So far, I’m actually satisfied.


What’s working out well

Small size: I’m using an Xbox Series S, the less-hyped, weaker version of Microsoft’s new console. Weaker also means smaller, and sure enough the first thing I noticed about my new console is that it barely takes up any room. The Series S is the size of a big paperback book or a tissue box. I like that.

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Looks like my Xbox One: I have twins, and they’re nearing their fourth birthday without yet realizing video games exist. It’s not been easy to keep the secret, folks. I was worried that the jig would be up once I got the next-gen consoles. They’d notice these new boxes, ask what they’re for, and, my goodness, I can’t lie to my kids. They’ve known my white Xbox One S as the machine that connects to the TV and plays their favorite Disney+ shows. We turn it on with that big white remote control with the sticks on it. Two weeks ago, I set up the Series S as discreetly as I could. They don’t seem to have noticed that we’re using a different white box and a different white controller. Thank goodness the One and Series interfaces look nearly identical. They have no idea... Phew!

My Xbox Series S is the one in the middle. And, no, that’s not a PS5 in the background.
My Xbox Series S is the one in the middle. And, no, that’s not a PS5 in the background.
Photo: Kotaku
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It’s already taken over for my Xbox One: Unless you’ve been fortunate enough to use two Xbox Ones, it may not be evident how smoothly Microsoft handles your gaming data. As soon as I plugged in my Xbox Series S and logged in, all of the icons for my gaming apps were right there. Whenever I loaded a game, my save files swiftly synced in from the cloud. This is how it’s worked for years for people hopping between Xbox Ones, and now that same setup is going to make transitioning from one generation of Xbox to another so smooth you’d barely notice you did it.

It’s creating a Wii-U-to-Switch moment for me and my Xbox: I didn’t neglect my Xbox One the way many people neglected Nintendo’s notoriously unsuccessful Wii U. But there’s still something to be said for getting a new gaming platform with which you can try some good work you missed the first time around. For three years, a lot of Switch owners have been enjoying the excellent but largely ignored games Nintendo developers created for the Wii U. For me, a chance to start fresh on a new Xbox has reminded me that I’m only halfway through Gears 5, still need to play the rest of the first Ori (let alone start the second) and still want to try Sea of Thieves. And Microsoft is tempting me to do so by updating all of these games to run better on the new consoles. This is totally the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Switch playbook for Xbox, and I’m into it. They’re even going to release an expansion for Gears 5 next month. I’ll be ready!

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GamePass, of course: I’ve been paying $10 a month for Xbox Game Pass for some time, and because of that I’ve got piles of games I could be playing right now.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla running on the Series S.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla running on the Series S.
Screenshot: Ubisoft / Kotaku
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The lack of new games isn’t really a problem… for now: There isn’t a new Halo for me to play on my Xbox Series S. Nor is there a new Fable (god, I wish). Wouldn’t it be nice if they just surprise us all and shock-release Blast Corps 2 tomorrow? Okay, okay, back to reality. There aren’t major new games for the system, but there is a lot to play. I’m playing the new Watch Dogs and new Assassin’s Creed on my Series S (in part, by default, as Ubisoft did not send PS5 code early… see how that plays out?). I’m catching up on those Xbox One exclusives I mentioned above. I’ve got a new Yakuza to try (Microsoft got themselves a timed exclusive for that one). I tried the new indie flight game The Falconeer which is pretty but felt empty. For me, as a lapsed Xbox One gamer who can mix catching up on Xbox One games with playing some new stuff, there’s enough. While I could play all of these games on my Xbox One S, the added performance and convenience of the Series S has been a pleasure and a help. Speaking of which….

It’s respecting my time: This is the best thing. This is the next gen benefit I didn’t know I wanted but I sure did need. Look, I love playing games. I do not get tired of games no matter how much I have to deal with them for my job. But I’m also a grown-up with family and bills and life in a pandemic to deal with. It would help if video games took a wee bit less time, you know? Here is the Xbox Series S (and X) with some help. The system’s Quick Resume feature is designed to let me juggle a handful of games, so I can swap from one to the other with barely a loading delay. It doesn’t work perfectly yet, as Microsoft had disabled the feature from a lot of games pending some patches. But it does work for the magnificent new Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which is always in a suspended state, waiting for me to return to it. I load up Gears 5 or dash over to Destiny 2 or whatever else, but then I think about climbing another mountain in virtual Norway and, in six to 13 seconds, I have quickly resumed Valhalla. This is glorious, because every minute of time I can gain is precious.

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What’s not working out

The hard drive is small: My series S has 364GB of available storage. I’ve been filing that up quickly. Here’s what I’ve got on it now:

This is what almost fits on my Xbox Series S. I didn’t have enough room for Gears Tactics.
This is what almost fits on my Xbox Series S. I didn’t have enough room for Gears Tactics.
Screenshot: Kotaku
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If I had the X, I’d have about 500GB more room, which would be nice but still isn’t that much in an age of 40-100GB mega-games. I’m going to have to get used to deleting and re-downloading games, which does somewhat run afoul of my hope to keep downloading interesting new games that pop up through my Xbox Game Pass subscription. I’m going to use the Xbox’s Pins function to at least create a grid of icons representing games I want to remember to download in the future. I don’t want to play every game on Game Pass. That’d be silly.

Inexplicable lack of a shmup: The best launch game of the Xbox 360 was the simple but dazzling twin-stick shooter Geometry Wars. The best game of a weak PS4 launch line-up was the frenetic side-scrolling shooter Resogun. I don’t quite understand why Microsoft’s many studios couldn’t get any major games (apologies, Gears Tactics!) ready for this very important console launch. But I really don’t get why they couldn’t have aimed smaller and brought us something little but dazzling for launch. Maybe next time!

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Special financial disclosure note: I didn’t pay for my Series S. Microsoft sent it to me. I had a choice of a Series X or Series S and asked them to send me the latter, while I put $500 down with Wal-Mart to get a Series X. I’m a professional, though, so I can imagine what it’d feel like to pay $300 for the experience I’ve described above, and I am sure I’d have been okay with it. Had I spent $500, I might be expecting a few more exclusive games!

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I also have a PS5 in my house (article about that machine coming later this week), and that one was sent to me by Sony, which means I can do some comparisons.

How does it compare to PS5?

So far, so good, as it seems like the Series S/PS5 combo is going to be pretty effective. I’m using my PS5 to play Sony exclusives like Miles Morales and Astro Bot, and, soon, to play the Demon’s Souls remake. The PS5 isn’t exactly bursting with storage space either (667GB), so it’s been handy to put some third-party games on one machine and not the other.

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The PS5 and the Xbox Series S.
The PS5 and the Xbox Series S.
Photo: Kotaku

It’s very clear that, for my gaming purposes, there’s going to be a showdown between Quick Resume on the Series S and the speedy loading of top-of-the-line PS5 games. Miles Morales loads in 15 seconds, but it also shuts down as soon as I load another game. Is that worse than juggling games via Quick Resume on Xbox? Better? A wash? Time will tell.

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It’s super-early, but, so far, both systems are working out fine, and it doesn’t feel like a liability to have a Series S alongside my PS5.

That said, I know the comparison people are most interested in is Series X vs. PS5. I can’t make that one until my Wal-Mart delivery arrives.

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So, should you get a next-gen Xbox?

I’d normally recommend people hold off on getting new consoles. New $500 boxes are luxury items that, you may recall, I don’t think are worth getting excited about right away. They are nice to have, but they’re investments for the future. Unless $500 leaves your wallet easily, no, there’s no reason to rush to get a new machine, but…

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Is $300 at all in the ballpark for you? Do you want your games to run better than they do this gen? Do you not mind managing with just 364 GB of space? Do you want to also pay $10/month for Game Pass and have lots of games to download and try? Were you thinking of getting a PS5 now (or in the future) and somehow have $300 you can budget for something Xbox-related? Can you live without 4K Xbox gaming? If yes to that, then the Series S is a good bet now.

I’m very happy with my Xbox Series S right now. Pleased with it, you might say.

Editor-in-Chief. Playing: Watch Dogs Legion (need to get back to RDR2, Iconoclasts, Arkham Origins, Sushi Striker, Samus Returns, and Ghost Recon Breakpoint)

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DISCUSSION

But there’s still something to be said for getting a new gaming platform with which you can try some good work you missed the first time around.

I’ve never owned an Xbox. Having a $300 console available with a $10 pass that lets me try out all the stuff I’ve missed (Forza and Halo in particular come to mind) is a great value proposition to me. Definitely the next gen console I’m most excited about and likely to purchase.