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Gaming Roundup – Xbox Series X Launch

Hello! Welcome to the latest Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!

This week, it’s an Xbox Series X special! Let’s take a look at how the console has been received, along with the latest releases!

The System

If you’ve not been paying attention, this week saw the release of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Series S consoles. The next-gen upgrade from the Xbox One, the Series X is promising native 4k 60fps performance, with adjustments that can push the console to 120fps at lower resolutions. The Series S has much the same level of performance, but does not support 4k, and if you’re the kind of person who loves their physical media, this model lacks a disc drive.

I’m not going to go too deep into the technical details of the hardware, as those numbers all over the place (links to deeper reviews down below!), but it should be noted that in order to get the full benefit of the console’s higher resolution and frame rates, you may also need to upgrade your TV as well. If you don’t have a 4k compatible TV or a HDMI 2.1 you probably won’t see much difference from the previous generation outside of ray tracing, aka the lights look real good now.

The system has a speedy SSD inside, reducing load times, although its limited space may cause some issues. While the system boasts a 1TB storage space, the operating system eats up so much space you’re left with 802GB instead. It is possible to expand this with specific external storage upgrades, although this will cost you an additional £219.99. While standard external drives are supported over USB, they will only run backwards compatible games, as anything made or optimised for Series X/S requires an SSD.

One notable comment that’s come up time and time again from those who’ve played with the unit already is that it’s surprisingly quiet. While it looks massive, prompting fridge jokes, it’s well ventilated so you can guarantee it won’t sound like a plane taking off.

Both models are surprisingly powerful for their cost, as the Series X will cost you £449 and the Series S is £249, although the Xbox All Access programme allows this cost to be reduced to £28.99 or £20.99 a month respectively for two years. This option also includes a Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which is essential if you’re looking to have a lot to play out of the gate.

The Experience

But what does all this mean for the experience of using the system?

The main improvement, noted by all outlets, is the Quick Resume feature that makes full use of the SSD. With multiple games open, you can switch between them with ease, and always resume from where you left off. This even includes resuming games immediately when turning the console on, which means skipping all those logos and intros that take up so much time at the start of a game. It’s a good feature, and the system continues to run well until you open around four games at once, which is unlikely for most people to be doing. Online multiplayer also throws you back to the title screen when using Quick Resume but that does make sense.

Aside from this though, the Xbox Series X is reportedly an iterative experience rather than a major next-gen leap. The UI still resembles the Xbox One but just runs a little smoother, and while games do run better in their optimised states, I’ve not seen much of a feeling that anything is too exciting.

Similarly, the Series X controller is largely the same as the Xbox One. There have been some subtle improvements, including button positioning, allowing those with smaller hands to feel a little more comfortable, but it’s still a small upgrade not a leap.

The Games

The major problem the Xbox Series X has at the moment is its limited game library, at least if you’re looking for something new to justify the upgrade. While Game Pass and the extensive backwards compatible library means you won’t be without anything to play, that does mean that most of the games you’ll be playing on the new system are older releases.

That’s not to downplay Game Pass, which is an excellent service, and opens up your game library significantly, but the experience on Series X is no different to that on the Xbox One or PC. As someone who recently got a new gaming spec PC, there is no reason for me to invest in a Series X as I have access to the same library already.

It’s especially notable because of the prominence of Master Chief on the back of the box, a presence that makes it all the more obvious that Halo Infinite, originally touted as the big launch hit, got delayed into next year. Obviously, there are a lot of factors that led to that and Microsoft can’t really be blamed there, but it is a standout.

If you’re looking for new games that are heavily tied to the system’s launch, here’s what’s available. You have optimised versions of Dirt 5, Gears Tactics and Watch Dogs Legion, along with updated special editions of Devil May Cry 5 and Overcooked, and the release of Tetris Effect: Connected, a multiplayer version of the trippiest version of the classic puzzle game.

Aside from that, there’s The Falconeer, an indie title about aerial combat on the backs of giant birds. I’ve been sent a copy of this for PC and I’m honestly not too impressed after the tutorial mission failed me for shooting an ally airship despite the game drawing attention to it when telling me there was a threat. There’s been a bit of a push for this one around the launch, but I would be hesitant on it, to be honest.

Then there’s the two big hitters. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the latest in Ubisoft’s history hopping sci-fi series, this time simulating the Viking experience in the same style as Origins and Odyssey. I’d be somewhat interested if Ubisoft hadn’t protected sexual predators for years, but apparently it’s good if you’re able to look past that.

And as expect, there’s Call of Duty. Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War is the latest in Activision’s massively popular military shooter series and this one’s got Reagan in it. It’s Call of Duty, so at this point either you already pre-ordered this or you’ll never be playing it.

And…that’s about it (with one exception, I’ll get to that). The big problem with this lineup is, of course, a lack of big first-party titles to draw attention to the new system’s capabilities, and a reliance on third-party titles that are available on everything else.

While the console appears to be doing relatively well (most successful Xbox launch ever, apparently), if you’re still trying to decide if it’s for you, you need to ask if you’re looking for a major leap forward or you’re just looking to play all the same games with some minor upgrades. If you’re the latter, dive in, but if you’re the former, you’d be better off waiting until the system really gets a chance to show off what it’s truly capable of. The consensus does seem to be that it’s an impressive bit of kit that is being massively under-utilised by the games it’s running.

Other New Releases

But it’s not all Xbox releases this week, oh no. Here are a handful of games launching independently of the next-gen launch and just getting swept along with everything else.

In a phrase that I feel I’ve said quite a lot this year, Prodeus is a big old throwback FPS harkening back to the days of Doom and Duke Nukem 3D. It’s heavily pixelated but rendered using modern techniques, like when people bizarrely put ray tracing into Minecraft, giving it a weird hybrid look. From the trailers I’ve seen, the gameplay is silky smooth but the gun animations look like stop-motion in an oddly satisfying way. It’s in Early Access on Steam.

Fuser is Harmonix’s latest attempt to fuse music with video games, with this title taking the concept of their previous title, DropMix, and removing the physical awkwardness of that game to make a more streamlined experience. If you’re unaware of DropMix, it was a game about mixing parts of different songs into a unique DJ mix, and it utilised NFC cards and a special Bluetooth reader to facilitate this, which was a little unwieldy and caused the game to cost quite a bit extra. Fuser is the same concept, only now everything is self-contained in the game, with track switching assigned to controller buttons or keys. It’s a neat little concept that may not sustain itself long term, but could be a fun time for anyone who’s ever fancied slapping Rick Astley vocals on top of The Weeknd.

XIII got a remake this week. A cult classic back in the PS2 era, XIII was a cel-shaded FPS about government conspiracies based on a Belgian comic book and starring David Duchovny mumbling his way through most of the game. The remake, bizarrely, appears to have toned down the comic book stylings of the original (when they were the major draw at the time) while struggling to bring the game up to date with the modern era. Might be best to read some reviews on this one if you’re a fan of the original and thinking of checking this out.

Finally, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a mixture of side-scrolling combat action and a farm simulator, as you try and cultivate a rice farm while under attack from monsters and demons. It’s heavily inspired by Japanese folklore and has a cute art style that makes this appear to be a game worth checking out.

Game of the Week

So here’s the game I left out of the Xbox launch section. It’s perhaps unsurprising that a Yakuza fanboy like myself has decided that Yakuza: Like a Dragon is this week’s Game of the Week.

The latest in Sega’s serious crime drama slash bonkers Japanese life simulator franchise sees a huge shift in direction for the series. Kazuma Kiryu is out, retired for real this time, and now a new protagonist is taking centre stage. Ichiban Kasuga is a much goofier lead than the stoic eternal straight man Kiryu, and this brings a new tone to the game. Ichiban is a massive Dragon Quest nerd, so he sees every fight as a turn-based battle, making a departure from the standard beat-em-up combat of past titles. It also moves away from Kamurocho, the series’ classic Tokyo setting, moving to a brand new Yokohama setting.

Fortunately, most of the stuff that made Yakuza so great appears to be retained. A serious crime drama wrapped in silliness and karaoke, only now you can recruit a homeless man to throw pigeons at your opponents.

And that’s it for this week! I’ll see you again next week to cover the PlayStation 5 UK launch!

Review Links

Ars Technica: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/11/xbox-series-x-s-review-beautiful-powerful-but-whatcha-gonna-play/
Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-05/xbox-series-x-review-future-of-video-games-not-quite-here-yet
CNet: https://www.cnet.com/news/microsoft-review-xbox-series-x-gaming-console-game-pass-is-the-secret-weapon/
Den of Geek: https://www.denofgeek.com/games/xbox-series-x-review/
Destructoid: https://www.destructoid.com/stories/review-xbox-series-x-608176.phtml
Digital Spy: https://www.digitalspy.com/tech/best-tech-deals/a34521232/xbox-series-x-review/
Engadget: https://www.engadget.com/xbox-series-x-review-microsoft-140045437.html
Eurogamer: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-2020-xbox-series-x-console-review
Gamasutra: https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/373176/A_tale_of_two_consoles_Xbox_Series_X_and_S_in_review.php
Game Informer: https://www.gameinformer.com/xbox-series-x-review-series-s
Gamespot: https://www.gamespot.com/articles/xbox-series-x-review/1100-6484104/
Gamesradar: https://www.gamesradar.com/xbox-series-x-review/
Gizmodo: https://gizmodo.com/microsoft-is-playing-nice-and-the-xbox-series-x-is-the-1845575269
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/games/2020/nov/05/xbox-series-x-s-review-game-gaming
IGN: https://www.ign.com/articles/xbox-series-x-review
The Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/xbox-series-x-review-b1617883.html
Kotaku: https://kotaku.com/xbox-series-x-the-kotaku-review-1845578573
Mashable: https://mashable.com/article/xbox-series-x-review/?europe=true
Nerdist: https://nerdist.com/article/xbox-series-x-review-microsoft-next-gen/
PC Gamer: https://www.pcgamer.com/microsoft-xbox-series-x-review-a-pc-gamers-perspective/
PCMag: https://uk.pcmag.com/gaming-systems/129778/microsoft-xbox-series-x
Polygon: https://www.polygon.com/reviews/21547603/xbox-series-x-review-microsoft-next-gen
Screen Rant: https://screenrant.com/xbox-series-x-review/
Tech Radar: https://www.techradar.com/in/reviews/xbox-series-x
Venture Beat: https://venturebeat.com/2020/11/05/xbox-series-x-review-true-next-generation-gaming/
The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/21548987/xbox-series-x-review
VG247: https://www.vg247.com/2020/11/05/xbox-series-x-s-review/
Vice: https://www.vice.com/en/article/pkdd7k/xbox-series-x-series-s-review
Video Gamer: https://www.videogamer.com/features/xbox-series-x-review-blurring-the-boundaries
Wired: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/xbox-series-x-review