When Microsoft released its next-gen consoles, the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S, nearly a year ago, it was tough to want for much. After all, both machines used the same interface and UI as their seven-year-old predecessor, the Xbox One. Familiarity allows little room for desire. Why change what (mostly) works?
One year on, it’s clear that nothing is ever complete, and the Xbox Series X/S had a whole lot of capacity for growth. Over the past year, Microsoft has unveiled a steady trickle of updates, including to its online services (Game Pass, Xbox Live), ballyhooed next-gen console features (Quick Resume, Smart Delivery), and games (Halo Infinite’s first beta, Halo Infinite’s second beta, Halo Infinite’s third beta). But if you consider the most-needed additions during the days of launch, how did Microsoft stack up?
Quick Resume, the big next-gen feature for Xbox, allows players to juggle half a dozen games in a suspended state, circumventing that pesky Xbox One feature known as “having to load a game from scratch every time.” In Kotaku’s testing, conducted right before and immediately after the console’s launch, Quick Resume wasn’t supported across the board. Some games (The Outer Worlds) didn’t appear to support it at all. Others, like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, were sporadic, working one day but not the next.
Did we get it? Quick Resume support has clearly expanded since launch. (Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, for one, works consistently now.) But there’s still no official encyclopedic document that tallies exactly how many games support Quick Resume, or identifies what those games are. Microsoft said it plans to add support to the “most-played” games.
Another launch-era issue with Quick Resume: Your console wouldn’t tell you which games you had suspended at any given moment. Not a huge deal, but if you weren’t careful, and erroneously assumed that, say, The Outer Worlds would save your exact coordinates in Halcyon, you could end up sending yourself right back to your most recent autosave.
Did we get it? Yes! A May Xbox update included exactly this. Now, when you bring up the Xbox Guide (by hitting that big center button on your control), clicking on “my games and apps” will show a list of all the games your console is currently suspended. And on the download screen, you’ll get a heads up if you’re running a game. Closing that game will speed up any downloads you’ve currently got going.
Sorry, sorry, one last thing about Quick Resume: It would’ve been nice to get a heads up that one game would close if you move to another. At launch, knowing which games support Quick Resume was entirely contingent on playing a game of memory.
Did we get it? Warning: We did not. The list helps somewhat, though.
Recall the Xbox 360 era, when you could have your system automatically invert the Y-axis for every game you played? On Xbox Series X/S, you can set the controller to have inverted thumbsticks, but doing so applies it to all functions related to the controller, making it so even basic operations—like menu navigation—are inverted. Not quite the same.
Did we get it? Still can’t do this on Xbox Series X/S. You can on a PlayStation 5, though.
The Xbox Series X/S lets you download some big games in segments. For instance, last year’s big Call of Duty allowed players to partition the game, so those who only wanted to play the multiplayer wouldn’t have to sacrifice precious storage space on a campaign they’d never touch.
Did we get it? The potential here is still largely left on the table. Even some seemingly obvious examples, like Mass Effect: Legendary Edition—which packages together remastered versions of BioWare’s totemic sci-fi trilogy in one launcher—don’t allow for it.
Unlike its chief competitor, the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X/S didn’t launch with any marquee first-party games. Instead, Microsoft released 30 or “optimized” versions of Xbox One games, boosting frame rates, resolutions, and other performance metrics for some of the biggest last-gen hits. A company’s PR machine can shout to the heavens that a game is prettier. At the time, we wanted to know specifics: How sharp is the resolution for Gears 5 now? How high is the Forza Horizon 5 frame rate?
Did we get it? Nope. Countless games have been optimized in the past year, though—and many of them sure do look pretty AF.
The last-gen and next-gen Xbox dashboards are fundamentally the same, save for the fact that you can apply dynamic backgrounds—animated backsplashes featuring colorful abstract designs—on Xbox Series X/S.
Did we get it? Over the past year, Microsoft has rolled out a bunch of new dynamic backgrounds, including some inspired by Game Pass, “mercury” (the substance, not the planet...I think), and Halo Infinite. Does that count?
You can share screenshots from an Xbox Series X/S on Twitter. You can upload them to Microsoft’s OneDrive service, or find them synced via the Xbox companion app. One thing you can’t do? Plug in a thumb drive and copy them over, like you can with every other modern tech device that has a USB port.
Did we get it? Ffffffffffff...
Retail packaging for the Xbox Series X prominently featuring Master Chief, Zeta Halo, and other Halo Infinite imagery. Why? Microsoft initially intended to release the latest entry in its flagship series on November 10, 2020—the same day as its latest console. In August 2020, developer 343 Industries delayed Halo Infinite to an unspecified date in 2021.
Did we get it? Oh yes. And the wait was worth it. Halo Infinite’s multiplayer mode is currently playable, having been surprised-released on November 15, 2021, Halo’s 20th anniversary. The full game—including its campaign—will come out on December 8, minus features like cooperative play.
As the Xbox Series X/S turns one, a lesson is clear: Sometimes the coolest features are those you never knew you needed. Cloud gaming, which seemed a pipedream just a year ago, has grown immensely; these days, you can stream plenty of games directly from the Game Pass library even on older hardware, allowing you to test games at a lower resolution before committing the time and space to a download. There’s also the silly-named but surprisingly neat “FPS boost,” a backward-compatibility feature that’s resulted in ramped-up frame rates for dozens of older games.
Folks will naturally make a comparison to Xbox’s chief market competitor, the PS5. Purely by the numbers, yes, the next-gen Xbox received more improvements over the past year than the next-gen PlayStation did. But that’s not entirely fair. The PS5 is starting from scratch with a totally new UI. The Xbox, meanwhile, is working off a seven-year-old ecosystem, and feels like a constantly refined version of that ecosystem. If nothing else, the past year has been a cold-water exercise in seeing first-hand how no tech ever releases fully formed. Can’t wait to see what the next year brings.