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One Year Later, Should You Buy an Xbox One?

"We consider the state of the Xbox One, a year into it's console cycle"

Get it? Like Xbox One Year later? Good stuff. 

It’s been a bumpy ride for Microsoft and the Xbox One, to put it mildly. I’m not one for console wars myself but it’s hard to deny that Sony had the upper hand in the run-up to last November’s big Next-Gen coming out party. Microsoft gambled on some potentially contentious features for it’s next big console, and people were not shy about letting them know when they had misgivings. As a result, the console we have now is pretty different to the one that was originally announced. Features have been dropped, as have prices. Peripherals have been made non-mandatory. And Sony’s pre-release dominance has continued, with the XONE’s sales being good but not as good as the impressive numbers the PS4 is doing.

None of that matters though. We’re here to look at where the console is at right now. How is it faring, what needs to be improved and most importantly: should you buy one?

Xbox One Hardware

While not as sleek as it’s Sony rival, the Xbox One is a sharp looking console to be sure. The design is simple but it works. It is quite a large bugger of a console though, it’s general size and shape even earned it VCR comparisons when it was first revealed. Personally, I’ve had no problems fitting it in to my entertainment center, and I would bet most people wouldn’t either. However, if you regularly find yourself struggling for space around your TV you may have some issues fitting it in.

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The Xbox 360’s controller was the most well received of the last generation, and the One’s controller builds on it’s success. The size is roughly the same, as is the layout of the face buttons and analogue sticks. They all feel as good as ever. The D-pad has a new four-way design feels much better, but considering how poor it was on the 360 controllers it’s not the highest of bars to overcome. The bumpers are a little different, requiring you to press them much further towards their outside. It takes a while to get used to but soon becomes second nature.

The triggers are the biggest difference. They now both have rumble motors, allowing developers to program directional vibration into their games. For example, some games use them to indicate when you’ve been hit, or to add a little extra ‘oomph’ to whenever you fire your weapon. Racing games have also used them to add a little extra sensation when a car is accelerating. It’s a small addition on the whole, but a smart one nonetheless. It really does bring you into the game a bit more in the same way that controller vibration does, and there’s a lot of potential for it.

And then of course there’s the Kinect. Size-wize the actual device itself isn’t much different. Unfortunately, this lack of difference also extends to the software side of it. The camera is improved in terms of specs. It now uses a 1080p wide-angle camera, as well as being able to track up to six skeletons and, scarily, being able to track your hear-rate. The impact it has on the tracking quality though is just not good enough.

It’s better, sure, but as with the last-generation Kinect it’s only ever really a satisfying experience when the developer knows how to work around it’s shortcomings. There are Kinect-focused games like Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved and D4 that use it well, and some games have included optional uses for the Kinect that are quite smart (Alien: Isolation for example has head-track and also tracks room noise and will alert the alien if you make a sound).

Could the Kinect become a better experience if devs put more time into trying out new ideas on it? Maybe. But ever since the initial poor reaction to the announcement that the Kinect would need to be plugged in at all times, they have gradually stripped back the device’s importance to the console. Now, it has been devalued to the point where most devs probably just wont bother to experiment, which is a shame. There will still most likely be some great Kinect games in the future, just not as many as there could have been.

System Software

The Xbox One’s system software had a start that was as rocky as that of the console it runs on. It’s always been slick looking, but how to access some of the basic functionality was not always so clear from the get go. The party system in particular was quite confusing at first and unwieldy to use even when you did get used to it. Thankfully, Microsoft have addressed most of my issues with the software in subsequent updates.

XONE os

One of the coolest unique aspects of the Xbox One’s system software is the ‘Pins’ feature. By ‘Pinning’ something you are saving it on the pins screen, which is to the left of the main system screen. This allows you to have all of your favorite games and apps just on one easily accessible screen, which cuts down on time spent navigating around the OS.

You can also ‘Snap’ apps so they run in a smaller window alongside whatever you’re doing on the main screen. How effective this feature is really depends on the combination of what you’re snapping next to what. Snapping video while you’re playing a game can be useful, depending on your ability to pay attention to both. However, trying to juggle a game or a video with something more fiddly like checking your achievements can lead to you getting tied in knots trying to move back between the two. If you’re the kind of person who keeps a laptop or tablet to one side at all times when using a console, you’re probably not gonna get much use out of this feature. However, it is a cool addition for those who like to keep it to one screen.

Speaking of apps, there are a whole bunch available to download. All the big ones you might expect are there such as Netflix, Skype and Twitch (which allows in-app streaming from your console much like the PS4). The Xbox store has a pretty wide selection of movies, but the prices are generally quite high so you’re better off sticking with your own Blu-rays/DVDs or Netflix or however you like to personally handle that stuff.

And for you TV-lovers: the Xbox One’s HDMI can be used as a pass-through for an your TV set-top box of choice. This allows you to basically watch your TV how you normally like it but through the console, and with all the controls and features that come along with that. It gives you access to recommendations, the “OneGuide” program guide and Kinect voice commands for navigation.

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However, this feature is only currently available in the US, so I cant speak to much personal experience with this aspect of the console. I have heard positive things from other people though, so if you’d like to use your console as not just a games machine but as an all-purpose box for your entertainment center then you’ll probably love it. Maybe don’t bother with the voice commands though. I hear they’re… not up to snuff, lets say.

The friends side of things is pretty comprehensive. You’re kept almost unnecessarily up to date with what games they’re playing, what achievements they’ve earned, what in-game clips they’ve recorded etc. Searching out people and organizing your friends is all very easy and slick.

Really that word sums up the whole experience. Slick. In the early weeks and months the OS was pretty crash-happy, but a year later the whole experience is much improved. And we can only assume that it’s going to continue to improve in the years to come.

Games

Despite initially getting a lot of stick for not spending enough time talking about games, Microsoft have actually gone on to build up quite a good catalog a year in to it’s console cycle. In fact, despite the PS4 building up a lot of goodwill with it’s laser eye focus on games, the list of Xbox One exclusives combined with the multiplatform games available makes it a somewhat more attractive proposition right now.

And what a diverse and in some ways flat-out odd list of exclusives it is. You have your driving games in the shape of the well-received Forza 5 & Forza Horizon 2, your big over top violent romps in the forms of Sunset Overdrive and Dead Rising 3, and of course there’s the massive atom bomb of content that is the Master Chief Collection. If you look to the side of these big names though, there’s also a few stranger offerings to be found. Such as D4, the very strange adventure game from the infamous Swery, as well as the creative sandbox of Project Spark and the absolutely delightful musical lark that is Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved.

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The future is looking similarly bright in terms of exclusives. There’ll be new instalments in the big tentpole Xbox franchises like Halo, Crackdown and Gears of War to look forward to (who knows, maybe even a new Viva Piñata! A guy can dream). A few third parties also have sharp-looking new games on the way such as Remedy’s Quantum Break, Platinum’s Scalebound and the controversial Rise of the Tomb Raider. There’s also a whole slew of smaller indie games on the way, too many to name so I’ll just say god does Ori and the Blind Forest look lovely.

Of course, there’s also the multiplatform games. As always happens early on in these console cycles much has been made of the Xbox One’s relative lack of power when compared to the PS4. Some games that run in 1080p on PS4 have been released at 900p or the like on Xbox One. Whether or not this is something that should affect your decision to buy the console really just depends on what kind of person you are.

DA

Personally, I find these graphical differences to be imperceptible and the whole resolution debate to be incredibly boring. When I’m actually playing a game, I just don’t notice this stuff, and I bet most people other people don’t either. If this lack of power ever actually ends up making a significant difference, it’ll most likely be towards the end of the console cycle where devs are really having to squeeze every last ounce of oomph that they can out of them.

Should You Buy an Xbox One?

When it comes to making a purchase decision with consoles you should really only be looking at one thing first and foremost: the games. All the other stuff, the TV functionality, the apps and whatnot, it’s just extra trimmings. None of that stuff matters if the list of games on offer doesn’t excite you.

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As it stands right now, I don’t think either of the consoles has a lineup games strong enough that I would tell everyone that they must go out and get one right now oh god. However, I think when you add what the Xbox One does have on offer together with all those extra added benefits you get a pretty appealing proposition. They just dropped the price on this thing worldwide, so if you were umming and ahhing about it before, now would be the perfect time to jump on in.

It’ll be a good couple years until the Xbox One really comes into its own, that’s always how these things go. Right now though, one year later, I think they’re off to a pretty damn good start.

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