Xbox One and an instant game collection


Regular readers of the blog might remember how I posted a guide to setting up your kids Xbox One for Christmas. Thanks to the largesse of those lovely people at Microsoft, we’re now setting up our own Xbox One and I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the system.

The Xbox One is, despite the name, the third Xbox console. I’ve now got all three of them (and in fact it’s my fifth as I’ve got two Xboxes and 2 Xbox 360s). We are keen gamers in this house, not least of all me, and if I were to make a list of all the consoles I’ve had since my brother won a NES back in the 80’s, it would include all the mainstream machines, as well as a few more obscure ones like the NeoGeo Color Pocket and the PAL version of the TurboGrafx 16.

For a while I’ve felt we’ve been on the borderline of needing to upgrade our Xbox 360 as it’s starting to chug a bit on some of the games- mostly notably the kids favourite game of all time ever, LEGO Marvel Superheroes. That’s pretty good going though for a console that’s older than all our kids, the eldest of whom is about to turn nine!

Current gen consoles

There are now three “current generation” home consoles, the Xbox One, the Wii U and the Playstation 4. Basically a video games console has a life cycle, usually 5-10 years, before it’s replaced by something with newer and better technology in it. At the start of that life cycle the games look really impressive but often don’t offer much more in terms of gameplay than those on the previous platform, towards the end programmers have worked out to use all that extra power to open up new gameplay experiences and the graphics often look astonishing.

The Xbox One was released in the UK in November 2013, so right now we’re really at the sweet spot in terms of it’s life cycle. Games are looking great, programmers have got to grips with the hardware, and there is a great catalogue of new and older games.

I’ll be upfront here, I have all three of the new consoles. If you were to google which one to buy, the chances are you’ll end up at some exceptionally colourful gaming websites full of people arguing vehemently over the various merits of each console. You’ll see people hooking up the consoles to various bits of tech and doing side by comparisons of games on each system, often a frame at a time. It’s partisan, often exceptionally joyless and really misses the point of what gaming is about.

And it’s been going on since before the Sega Master System squared off against the NES in the mid eighties, so it’s also exceptionally boring. For the record, if you’re obsessed with you gaming running at 1080P instead of 900P, or don’t like the level of anti-aliasing present, you need to re-evaluate what is fun in life and get out more.

Think I’m an apologist? I’ve had a PS4 for a year now and nothing I have on it is as much fun to play with the kids as the latest Mario Kart on the “weakest” of the 3 new consoles, the Wii U.

Xbox One initial experiences

Following the guide I published before Christmas, I wisely took the decision to unbox the Xbox One at work and hooked it up to a spare monitor to run the initial set up. On the first run I had to download a very large update file, which didn’t take that long, thanks to the broadband (although our home broadband is much much faster!).

Once that had been done, I ran through setting the region, and signing in with my Xbox account. If you haven’t owned an Xbox 360, you’ll need to set one up from scratch, which you can do on the console but is probably easier to do on a computer first.

lego hobbitOnce this has been done, you can download apps like Netflix or All 4, and get stuck in to some gaming. Because we’re now a couple of years post launch, you can get some back catelogue games for significantly less than the original RRP of £50. For example, we picked up LEGO Hobbit for £14, the rather stylish Transformers game for £9 and Rare Replay for a mere £8. That’s three games for less than the price of a LEGO set, which is certainly an incentive to make the generational jump. At launch, any of the consoles would have had games at £40-£55. That seems a lot but it’s worth remembering that back in the early 90’s you could easily spend £30-£50 on a game for the SNES or Megadrive. Factor in inflation and that’s not actually a price rise, which isn’t bad considering the much higher production values now days.

Of course to get the maximum amount of fun out of any system, there is one thing you need to invest in and that’s a secondary controller. The Xbox One controller is an iterative update on the 360 controller. It’s better in most senses, and I particularly like how they’ve improved the D-pad, which now feels a lot more precise. The controllers do have a high RRP but if you shop around you can pick them up for under £30, which is reasonable.

Games, Games, and yet more Games

More of an incentive is Microsofts Xbox One Backwards Compatibility initiative though. There is a growing list of Xbox 360 games that are now compatible with the Xbox One. There is no hard and fast rule as to which games will be selected but I imagine that games that don’t have an Xbox One version are the prime candidates. Running through our extensive Xbox 360 collection, we have 14 games that we can play on the new console. Which is a good bonus.

ea accessChatting to some friends who also have Xbox Ones, I was pointed at something called EA Access. For either a small monthly payment or an even better value annual payment of £20, you get Netflix style access to a catelogue of EA games. There are about ten full games on there to download and play, as well as timed demos for a lot of other games. For £20, we’re now playing FIFA 15 (one version off current), hockey, American Football, Need for Speed, Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare, and I’m having a go at Titanfall. It’s a bit of a no brainer and also only available on Xbox One (and PC). As well as the full games to download and play as long as your sub is active, there are also demos. We’re currently playing Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2 and I’m waiting for a go at Star Wars Battlefront.

games with goldIf you add in an Xbox Live subscription, which you can pay for either monthly, quarterly or annually, and it’s Games with Gold scheme, you can have a large library of games for very little initial outlay.

Of course if you set a lot of games to download from these services, it will be an actual wait until you can play them- weighing in at around 20GB a pop, over 200GB of games won’t download in a couple of minutes. Fortunately the downloads are usually structured so you can actually start playing the game in some form at about a third of the way in. That’s sort of witchcraft when I try to think about it.

Games can and will download in the background, while you’re playing disc based games, so that’s also handy. You can even use the Xbox One as a DVD and Blu Ray player too, Blu Ray being an important addition over the Xbox 360.

Parental controls and kids

Whilst you can set up sub accounts, I’ve chosen not to, as I think the kids should be actively contributing to my gamer score. The parent control and security menus are fabulous though, with plenty of presets to quickly choose from, as well as some very deep and customisable menus. I’ve turned off voice chat entirely, put a pin on purchases and restricted age inappropriate games, and it was very easy to do so.

Some closing thoughts

The Xbox One is a big beast. It’s bigger than the Xbox 360, and a lot bigger than the PS4. As a result of it’s size, it’s incredibly quiet when it’s running though, which is probably what MS were aiming for. It’s going to be a reliable machine. Unlike most other recent consoles, it’s only able to work horizontally, so if you’re thinking of putting one in an AV cabinet, it’s worth checking whether it will actually fit, as you won’t be able to stand it on it’s end if the cabinet isn’t wide enough. That aside though, I can’t fault it at all. The dashboard is sensibly laid out, and along with the controllers, offer enough continuity from the Xbox 360 that our 8 year old has no trouble working it. There are plenty of affordable games and subscription services to immediately give you a decent library to start with, and the graphical fidelity is a definite generational leap from the Xbox 360.

Although MS kindly gave us an Xbox One, the best part is the price. You can pick up an Xbox One plus a game for under £250 if you shop around. That’s a crazy price- I paid more than that for my Playstation 1 in 1996!