It’s still over three weeks before South Africans in general will be able to lay their hands on an Xbox One console (without having to have imported one, that is) officially but we’ve been mucking around with an early edition of the Xbone that we got from Microsoft at the media pre-launch event last month and we’re here to tell you that it’s a considerably different experience to the PlayStation 4.
Which is about what we’ve been expecting. Stuff will go deeper into the differences between the two consoles in a head-to-head so keep your eyes open for that, in the meantime here is what gamers can expect from the newest hardware from Microsoft’s gaming arm.
Unpacking the Xbox One and all of its attendant peripheral was about as exciting as a childhood Christmas morning – we were pretty sure we knew what was inside the box but seeing it in the flesh was still pretty darned satisfying.
There is, of course, the rectangular black console, vented on one side to allow for interior airflow, the curvier Xbox One controller which has similar heft to the Xbox 360 unit we know and love and then the power brick that hold all of this together.
We could have stopped there and actually did at first but there’s also the Kinect 2.0, a much blockier take on the company’s motion controller system that has its own microphone. Microsoft’s basic Xbox One headset is also packed in, as are all the cables you could need to get started including a rather nice HDMI cable.
First Boot and Going Online
Unpacking the console led to bits of plastic and whatever that grainy white not-plastic sheet is flying everywhere while all the pieces were assembled but actual setup isn’t any different from installing an Xbox 360 control. Connect, connect, connect and you’re done. Then came the hard part. Booting Microsoft’s new gaming setup.
For starters, you’ll need to connect the Xbox One console to the internet before doing anything else. No connection, no function at this point. A lengthy patch later (in the region of 1.3GB or so) and we were able to get things up and running. Now, before you worry too much about patching your console on capped internet, Microsoft SA have told us that they have plans to reduce the load for locals with a smaller initial patch come launch day and a few updates for certain games that will be distributed on disc which should save you about 30GB worth of downloading.
Next up, installing games. Like the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One needs to install everything to the drive before the game starts, Unlike the PS4, this process can take a while. If you happen to be connected to the internet when you install your games, it can take a very long while as all the patches need to be downloaded as well. Still, an updated – but disconnected from the ‘Net – Xbox One will be good to go within about five minutes and the console will notify you if the game can be started before install completes. As for how those games perform… you’ll have to catch the reviews as they go up on Stuff.co.za.
One more thing to note: if you’re a fan of Xbox Achievements but aren’t planning on going online, you won’t be able to see them until the console is connected to the web. Perhaps that will change but Achievements, like the first boot, require the internet.
The Kinect was supposed to be an integral part of the Xbox One experience but we were never overfond of it back on the Xbox 360 and now, since Microsoft have made sure that you can perform the various navigation functions without it, there isn’t much call for the sensor here.
So you can use the Kinect to gesture or voice control your way through the Dashboard or commanding your ‘Xbox’ to ‘Record That’ if you pull off a stellar piece of gameplay but you can also do all of it with the controller. It’s up to you how Minority Report you’d like your lounge to be. We’ll go deeper into the Kinect when our first Kinect-specific game review lands so it’s on to the revamped Dashboard for now.
The Dashboard borrows very obviously from Microsoft’s Windows 8 tiled interface. Apps load up with similar splash screens, the layout is near identical but are arguably more user friendly. But coming from the Xbox 360 dash means that navigation will feel clumsy for a time. We’re not used to being able to pop out of a game to check a message or snap a screen into the side of the main gameplay and then just jumping back in with almost zero effort. We’re still snapping in the Achievements column by mistake all the time.
Unfortunately we cannot fully explore the Dashboard yet because options are limited. The South African Xbox One store and online services have yet to go live, so we’re stuck with the default apps and gameplay functions for the moment. That’ll change come 23 September so look out for our PS4 vs. Xbox One comparison around the same time.
So far what we’ve seen of the Xbox One has been largely positive. It’s heavily reliant on an internet connection to get stuff done though so a proper decision can only really be made once all of the services are live. If you’re planning on using the Xbox One as an offline, dedicated gaming machine you’re going to lose more than a few features but you’ll still get to play everything. With a permanent internet connection, which is how the Xbone was designed to be used, it could become a go-to for all of your entertainment from gaming to streaming and even to internet searches and video chat. We’ll check back in a month and see how it’s holding up in South Africa.