Xbox One's UI is streamlined to a fault--stripped down and polished into a splash screen of applications that aren't as easy to use (or as useful) as the same features on the 360. The simple tasks of checking on friends and inviting them to a party are cumbersome, despite their attempt to be sleek and modern. Launching the One's Friends app tosses you to a Twitter-style stream of random blurbs telling you what people you knew did, instead of what they were doing. The Party app is confusing and… well, sort of useless. This was most definitely a problem for anyone who tried to play Battlefield or Call of Duty on the system--but it became even more apparent during the recent Titanfall beta test.
Titanfall is arguably the most important Xbox One game of 2014, and Microsoft's current system for playing with friends simply doesn't work well. Many gamers' first foray into next-gen shooting was met with complicated menus and a generally uninviting series of barriers between them and playing the game with their friends. But thankfully, help is on the way, in the form of a system update coming next week (see: before Titanfall) that looks to render these problems a thing of the past. Or, at least make them much less of a deal-breaker.
Though there's still not an official date for the long-promised update, the details were shown off in a video released by Microsoft earlier today. Some of the improvements come by way of minor tweaks, like turning Party Chat on by default (which was apparently one of the biggest requests Microsoft received from fans). Other changes, though, are much more significant.
Going to your friends list will now--and stay with us on this one--actually show you what your friends are currently doing. Crazy, right? And you're able to pin different friends to the top of the feed by marking them as a Favorite. You're also going to have the option to invite people to a game, invite them to a party, or invite them to a party and a game with fewer button presses, bypassing the labyrinthine menus almost entirely. The Party app still exists (though I'm not really sure why it's a different thing than the Friends app), but it's been improved as well, with sections showing off what the people in the chat are playing, instead of dumping everyone into the same section.
In other words, it really looks like Microsoft has fixed the system's most egregious online issue--and just in the nick of time. If this had persisted past the launch of Titanfall, even more gamers would've been forced to stumble through a clunky, unintuitive UI to play the biggest Xbox One console exclusive of the year. The same goes for Twitch.tv streaming support which, too, will arrive just early enough to let players stream their games when Titanfall arrives on store shelves.
If gamers' first major interaction with the next-gen face of Xbox Live was one of stumbling blocks and confusing options, it'd definitely leave a poor taste in their mouths. But with this change launching the week before such an anticipated release, it's a non-issue. Maybe now, I'll actually be able to play Titanfall with friends instead of giving up in frustration after ten minutes.