One reviewer's take on the Xbox One launch experience.
Note: be sure to check out the pre-launch piece.
Xbox One Anxiety
A new experience is always enlightening, but a new technological experience, well that's often enlightening and quite comical. Microsoft's Xbox One arrived at my door via UPS on Friday, not before Verizon experienced internet outages in three of my surrounding states, not before I worried I wouldn't even be able to use this $500 box I purchased so long ago. But, as it so often goes, the problem fixed itself before I lost my mind, and by the time UPS arrived and I had hooked each cable to the system, the internet dutifully returned to functioning.
Phew, one close call executed, but the trials were just beginning. Friday was a fun, trying and essentially riotous day of experimentation with the Xbox One, a console full of newness, that let me know much more about Microsoft's intentions for the future of gaming than any of their ham-fisted press conferences in the past year. Most importantly, I found out that Microsoft is seeking control, not freedom.
"Xbox, do as I say," I could say in my stern robot voice.
"No, you do as I say," it casually responds.
I don't hate it, but I am weary of the path we're taking here. The Xbox One home screen consists of three sections: the store, your pins and "Home" at the center, which populates itself with apps it assumes you want to see. So far it's done a good job, sticking 'Battlefield 4' with, for some reason, multiple instances on the screen. Installing 'Crimson Dragon' saw the game pop up there as well, alongside Internet Explorer, "My Games and Apps" and other utility-style applications. The Pins section is where you customize your experience, but it feels shoved off to the side. Microsoft wants you taking in the Home section as often as possible.
Microsoft also wants to control your multiplayer gaming by replacing manual invitations to games with a system called Smart Match. It's a baffling and arrogant system that assumes, at all times, exactly what you want to do. Plenty of users are reporting exactly the opposite, and that Microsoft's diversion from the Xbox 360's tried and tested parties and invites is both unnecessary and, in the opening hours, confusing and painful. Let me explain.
Parties exist now in their own application, much like every function of Xbox 360 past (achievements, friends, etc.). You can invite friends to parties, but the system does not provide the ability to invite friends to games. When you're in a game, say 'Battlefield 4' and you create a party outside of the game, that party is designated a 'Battlefield 4' party. Here's the kicker: all the players in that party are assumed to intend to play 'Battlefield 4.' Considering the very nature of cross-game chat, this is a very stupid assumption. And yet, the party will only send invitations for that game. Imagine playing 'Battlefield 4' and trying to simply cross-game chat with a 'Forza 5' player, he himself intent on playing 'Forza 5' online with his friends. Without a system-level manual invite system, we're at the mercy of a computer to open the gates. Some might call that appalling.
It's worth noting here that while I have spent a good chunk of time fiddling with the system, I've only done so for a couple days and I'm fully open to the possibility that I'm missing something major. I don't think so. Major Nelson took this Reddit post seriously enough to respond to the cries.
Happily for me, my friends and I were content on simply playing 'Battlefield 4,' and so this system actually worked as it should. Whenever my buddy entered a game, 'Battlefield' would prompt me to enter, and I did, because the assumption the Xbox One was making there was right, and it likely will be right - most of the time, but not all of the time. And that's enough to require a major change.
Upon Further Inspection
It's possible, however, that the most important lesson I learned was this: don't play multiplayer games at a console's launch. Aside from the party and invite system, 'Battlefield 4' is experiencing its own server problems, likely resulting from DICE and EA's extreme push to get this game out for launch day. It wasn't ready, I haven't experienced this many glitches in a single-player campaign, let alone online multiplayer, in a long time. I'd say it simply needs another round of testing, which the day-one adopters are doing for the publisher right now. Oh, the world we live in.
Kinect Box One
Now here's the twist: that was Friday. Saturday and Sunday were smooth as butter. We like to complain, we like to criticize, but in the end we want it to work, and when I gave in to Microsoft's odd demands, of course the system started to meld together. Jumping between apps with my stern robot voice, the Kinect more or less answering my every call (so long as it was a call it's looking for), was both a breeze and a joy. I do feel a little like the owner of a new pet, but a smart and reliable pet that doesn't pee everywhere.
'Battlefield 4'smoothed out. Crashes are happening less and less, Smart Match works under perfect circumstances. Still, once I start playing more games and chatting with a wider variety of players, I'm afraid I'm going to run into more problems than I signed up for. It's worth mentioning that the actual audio of Party Chat is not working for me. Right now I'm forced to use Skype as an alternative, which runs well. This is one of those things that you can complain about, but you know Microsoft is going to fix it as soon as possible. The temporary issue isn't a deal-breaker.
Lack of Transparency
As I dig further into the system I'm coming across features I love, all hampered a bit by Microsoft's insistence on being right. I love the Game DVR application, recording in an instant any gameplay moment, but I can't turn off the application and maybe free up some RAM. I love the new controller. It wreaks of refinement and the vibrating triggers are wonderful, but I can't turn them off and there's no obvious indication of battery life. I'm filling up my hard drive with exciting new games, but I can't view my memory usage anywhere, thus managing it is going to be a pain.
It's the cost of innovation, in my mind. As Microsoft surges forward at a momentum unmatched by either Sony or Nintendo, the company is leaving some things behind, unintentionally or not. We need the old invite system back. That's a certainty. I can guarantee you they patch something in within the year. We need more options and more customization. This is my system now, Microsoft, I paid the $500, so it's my turn to say what is running and what needs to get working.
On the flipside, the Kinect works. The UI works. It's remarkably fast, intuitive and responsive, allowing for multitasking on a TV what my computer might be a little jealous of. The Home page seems to know exactly what I want, so I'm okay with it, for now. Maybe I'll get more use out of the Pins in the future.
All in all, I'm good. I really am. Microsoft is arrogant, but Sunday is also the last day of the weekend. I still have no doubt in my mind that the company wants to make the Xbox One a great console, and the wonderful application of the internet is going to allow them to iterate on their mistakes. Innovation apparently has a price. I'm willing to pay it. For now.
"Xbox, good boy. Have a treat."
Author: Trevor Ruben