Is the Xbox Series S Holding Back This Generation?

As the 9th generation of gaming dawned upon us, we were promised an even better future for video games. Some of those promises include ray tracing, 60fps gaming with native 4K, better graphics, faster load times, and more. The promises were many, and it worked to get a lot of people excited for what was to come. In the midst of all these promises, people were asking about how much this would all cost and…they were pricey. The PS5 would launch for $400 for the digital version and $500 for the disk model. Then comes Microsoft with the Xbox Series X coming in at $500, and the Series S costing a mere $300. It was marketed as a next gen system, but not as powerful as its big brother. Instead of shooting for 4K 120fps gaming with all the graphical bells and whistles, it shot for 1440p at 120fps and lacked ray tracing as well.

It came with other compromises such as a weaker CPU and less storage, but the Series S seemed like a fine system. Yet, at its announcement, many speculated that this thing would hold the generation back and be a waste of money. Despite those criticisms, the Series S had one thing going for it: availability. The PS5 and XSX was a pain to find without going to a scalper and the XSS, while still difficult, was an easier buy. This, paired with its cheaper price tag, made it an affordable option for people looking to experience the 9th generation. I was one such person, going so far as to buy my XSS from Amazon Germany. But once I was able to play it? It was everything that was promised. Games that ran like crap before (see Control) ran like butter there. I didn’t play a single game under 60fps and I was believing more and more in the promises made. I can only assume many other consumers felt the same. But, there was still a group of people who hated the XSS: Developers.

There was always some small rumbling of developers’ distaste for the XSS. With the release of Gotham Knights, those irritations seemed to have evolved into outright frustrations. This led to developers calling for Microsoft to end the policy to make games for it. Once it was revealed that Gotham Knights would be capped at 30fps, it didn’t take long before the XSS was blamed for it by developers. The criticisms would refer to the XSS as an albatross and a potato. But, the response from the gaming public was…interesting. Lee Devonald, a character artist at Rocksteady, was very vocal about the XSS for a long time. He ramped up his opinions as he defended the decision for Gotham Knights being at 30fps. The backlash was strong enough that he ended up deleting his twitter account. I didn’t think the little box had such a fanbase, but part of me was kind of impressed.

Now, more to the point of all this: is the XSS ruining the 9th generation? I’m not a developer, but I have played on both systems and I gotta say…I’m not convinced. The only real difference to me is 4K and that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to say that the XSS is holding anything back. Especially when games are shipping with a performance mode and graphics mode. To me, from the outside looking in, I’d think it would be easier to ship the XSS version with the performance mode. I’ve seen it run 60fps with ease and look great doing it. Even in the case of Gotham Knights, why couldn’t it put out the options of those 2 modes? It would have been better for it, but that’s another discussion for another time. I’d like to hear more developer input on the issue, because I can’t say I see their point of view completely. All I’ve seen is the rantings and shitposts of one man who was pushed back on so hard he had to delete his account. To me, this speaks to the selling power of the XSS. To those who wanted a new Xbox or wanted the first available 9th gen console, the XSS was, and still is, a great option. It’s a little early to say what sort of impact the XSS will have on the 9th gen, since it’s only 2 years in. We’re still in the period where the PS4 and Xbox One are still getting games. And as Gotham Knights shows, even when you ax those ports, it doesn’t guarantee a true next gen experience by default.

Lasty, this gen has yet to be solved from a tech standpoint. We haven’t hit the ceiling of what these consoles are capable of and it could very well end up being that the XSS holds the gen back. As of right now though, I don’t see it. If I had to be honest, what’s holding the gen back is a focus on near photorealistic graphical fidelity over performance and an inexperience with the hardware. I could be wrong, too. I’m no developer. I’m a guy who’s played on both Microsoft systems and saw little difference. It takes some talent and work to make these games work well on a less powerful system. But, if games like Forza Horizon 5 and Cyberpunk 2077 can run at 60fps on it, then at least for now it’s doing fine. Time will tell, but I’m rooting for the little box.

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