On November 10, 2020, Microsoft released the Xbox Series X – a premium home console that leveraged a new benchmark for power and performance against a lingering sense of familiarity. In my Xbox Series X review, I said that it was "a powerful and capable machine that sets Microsoft up for the future," explaining that "this is a system set up for evolution, iteration, and success […], a great gaming console with only a few games on the immediate horizon designed to take full advantage of it." Six months later, progress on that front has proven to be incremental.
Perhaps that was always going to be the case. Microsoft has clearly struggled to reconcile its broader plans against the ongoing pandemic. This state of play has contributed to everything from delays of first-party exclusives like Halo Infinite to ongoing problems with the production of parts for the system itself. If you're wondering whether you can buy an Xbox Series X six months after launch, the answer, sadly, is that you can't. Not easily, at least.
Stock shortages during COVID-19 is a problem Microsoft shares with Sony and Nintendo – an unlikely equaliser at the beginning of a new generation for the platform holders, one that shows no sign of changing anytime soon. Ben Decker, head of gaming services at Xbox, tells me that Microsoft is happy with how the first six months have gone, even if it's harder for folk to get their hands on the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S than the company would like. "The reception from our fans and the broader gaming community has been really positive. I think people are excited about the capabilities of the new consoles, and we've gotten a lot of positive feedback about the choice we've created across the Xbox Series X and the Series S. We've been really pleased with the launch."
"And I think it's our best launch ever," Decker continues. "Transparently, we wish we had some more supply, but we're working all the time; there's a lot of demand and people are really excited about the new consoles. In the meantime, we're going to continue to support across all these [Xbox Series, Windows 10, Xbox Cloud Gaming] different platforms, so you will have plenty of options of where to play and we're trying to continue to fulfil the demand for the Series X and the Series S."
It's all about the games
Putting stock problems to one side, one of my larger issues is surrounding exclusives – or the lack thereof. Much of my criticism of the Xbox Series X at review surrounded the lack of a true showcase to really demonstrate the capabilities of the console and, six months later, I feel like I'm still waiting for it. Bloober Team's The Medium came and went with little fanfare, although its system-intensive dual-world mechanic showed a lot of promise for the future. But there's that phrase again; promise for the future.
By the time the Xbox One reached the six-month mark, we had Titanfall. With the Xbox 360, we had The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. We're living in a drastically different ecosystem to that of 2014 and 2006, respectively, but the point remains true all the same. While I don't doubt that Microsoft will put together one hell of a Fall release schedule at E3 2021 (there are 23 first-party studios with games to show and dates to announce, not to mention a raft of second- and third-party partnerships in the pipeline), it's hard to not be disappointed with how little we've seen that can put test the potential of the Series X so far. As it stands, I'm using my Xbox Series X to almost exclusively play the exact same games that I was playing last generation (and, funnily enough, the two that preceded it).
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Truth be told, the Xbox Series X has faded into the background of my living room – it has quickly become my number one place to play games and consume entertainment. The console is quick, quiet, and easy to use; reaching for the Xbox Series X controller when I shuffle two feet from my deck to my couch at the end of a long day has become instinctual, second nature. Quick Resume lets me bounce easily between games I'm currently playing with little delay, thanks to the console's capacity to hold multiple titles in a suspended state. The proliferation of cross-play means that I'm able to meet up with friends in games like Call of Duty: Warzone, Apex Legends, and Sea of Thieves without needing to abandon the creature comforts of Xbox Live. The expanding Game Pass library and ongoing support of backwards compatibility, combined with improvements to system-level feature sets such as Auto-HDR and FPS Boost, have given me an excuse to dive back into my Xbox library to experience some of my last-gen favourites with a more evocative color palette or drastically improved framerate.
It's been fun, enough so that it almost made me forget that I'm playing the exact same games six months into a new generation that I was six months before it launched, simply because there is no alternative. We're also waiting on true Xbox Series X updates of some of the platform's most popular games, be it Warzone, Cyberpunk 2077, or GTA Online. As a result of all of this, it feels like I'm still being teased for what might come later down the line – you think Halo: The Master Chief Collection is great running at 120fps, just wait until you see Halo Infinite; Forza Horizon 4 sure looks good in 4K at 60fps, well, the new Forza Motorsport will blow your freaking mind.
I'm done with being teased; I want the future I was sold through a relentless multi-year marketing campaign. Conversely, whenever I turn the PS5 on, it's only to play something new and I'm spoilt for choice. I'm still chewing through Demon's Souls, Astro's Playroom, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Returnal, and I'm having a great time doing it, even if it means having to wrestle with the particulars of the PlayStation 5's UI, DualSense controller, and somewhat buggy operating system.
Xbox Series X, six months on
The lack of new games to play distorts what has otherwise been a successful six months for the Xbox Series X. If you're able to get your hands on one, I find it difficult to believe that you'll find a reason to regret the purchase of an Xbox Series X. It runs quietly and coolly, and the range of services the Xbox division offers through it remains an unbelievable value proposition. The OS is surprisingly bug-free too, the result of Microsoft deciding to iterate upon the Xbox One system rather than overhaul it for a new generation – that familiarity again, a double-edged sword of sorts for the Series X right now. With that in mind, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing some long-overdue updates in the way Friends, Followers, Groups, matchmaking, and reporting are handled on the Xbox Live backend.
Where Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Cloud Gaming, and Xbox on Windows 10 seem to be improving at a fast clip, good updates to the core console offering are coming, albeit slowly. The ability to suspend games to speed up downloads on Series X was long overdue. Auto-HDR and FPS Boost are fantastic improvements to backwards compatibility. The incoming change to Quick Resume, which takes the Game Switcher functionality of the PS5 and integrates it directly into the Xbox Series X Guide, letting you see which games are held in a suspended state, is a fantastic solution to a problem many (myself included) raised at review. Frustratingly, the dashboard still appears to be outputting in 1080p (as opposed to 4K, like the PS5, which has a crisp and colourful UI of its own), and having my TV flip from SDR to HDR every time I launch a game is annoying.
Ultimately, the Xbox Series X is in a good place. The Xbox Series X controller is fantastic, the console's connectivity with the Xbox App has removed so much of the friction once imposed by OneDrive and Upload Studio with Capture in the Xbox One era, and Xbox's continued focus on improving backwards compatibility highlights that the company understands the importance of preservation. I'm just desperate to see the power and potential of the Xbox Series X expressed through the lens of new releases only available within the Xbox ecosystem.