Of all the new consoles that launched in November of 2020, the Xbox Series S has probably been the most fascinating to examine. There’s been a lot of conversation around the console since before it was even officially unveiled and leaks of what it would be were running rampant, and just as it was then, even now there continue to be conflicting opinions about whether its price and accessibility are worth all the sacrifices it makes in terms of hardware and raw power. A year on from its launch, the Xbox Series S is, of course, still very early in its life cycle, but based on that first year, how have things gone from it so far?
The promise of Xbox Series S is an enticing one- a significantly cheaper console that will play all the games that the Xbox Series X does. For casual audiences who’re looking to buy a console for your Call of Duties or Fortnites or Maddens or FIFAs or what have you, that’s an excellent deal, while even the not-so-casual consumers who’re looking to save some money, it’s a decent alternative. On that front, there’s no denying the Xbox Series S’ appeal, especially when you add the immense value of Xbox Game Pass on top of the console itself. It’s enjoyed the same stream of consistently solid games in the past year that the Xbox Series X has, and sure, every single one of those games doesn’t look quite as good, but it’s still a brand-new next-gen console for the price of just $300. Looking only at the first year of the new console generation, no console has provided more bang for your buck than the Xbox Series S has.
That comes at a cost, of course, because yes, the Series S is significantly weaker than the Series X. It still has the Velocity Architecture at its core, of course, and it still uses its SSD to impressive effect, and it still supports features such as ray-tracing. But Microsoft had to make cutbacks in various areas, from being digital-only to not being capable of 4K resolutions to even having shockingly low internal storage space. Microsoft, for its part, marketed the Xbox Series S as a 1440p/60 FPS machine in the lead-up to its launch, but until now, it’s mostly been a case of either/or.
Very few games have actually managed to hit 1440p and 60 FPS at the same time. Other than a few notable exceptions like Borderlands 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, DOOM Eternal, Far Cry 6, Gears 5, and Gears Tactics, most games have either prioritized performance for 60 FPS gameplay, or image quality for 1440p resolutions, with 60 FPS usually being paired with 1080p (some games have been 1080p even without 60 FPS gameplay, in fact). Of course, some games have impressed players and managed to run even at 120 FPS at pretty solid resolutions (mostly 1080p or less), including the likes of DOOM Eternal, DiRT 5, Call of Duty: Warzone, Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Psychonauts 2, and more.
By and large, the numbers that the Xbox Series S has been hitting might not be quite at the level that Microsoft had been promising in the lead-up to its launch, but things have still been quite satisfactory, at the very least. The fact that new AAA games releasing in today’s day and age are being restricted to 1440p visuals (or 1080p, more often than not) is a bit of a bummer, of course, but what Xbox Series S does get right is that it prioritizes performance and faster frame rates. There, it’s ben delivering on a pretty consistent bases so far.
But of course, we do have to discuss what’s been the biggest concern surrounding Xbox Series S since its launch, and as I mentioned earlier, since before it was even officially announced by Microsoft. Most of the console’s critics (and there’s been no shortage of those) have claimed that its weaker hardware is going to throw a wrench into the works for not just Microsoft, but pretty much all third party multiplatform developers down the line. Given the fact that all developers are going to have to ensure that their games can run on the significantly less powerful Xbox Series S, there are many who believe that as a result, they’re not going to be able to properly leverage its more powerful counterparts.
So far, that hasn’t been the case. We haven’t really seen the Xbox Series S holding back the Xbox Series X in any way- but then again, it has only been a year. It’s worth remembering that up until now, with a few exceptions like The Medium and The Ascent, every single game that the Xbox Series S has had to run has also been made with the PS4 and Xbox One hardware in mind, which, of course, are a whole generation weaker even than the Series S. It not having any troubles running those games isn’t a surprise in the slightest. The true test for the console lies in the years ahead- as developers begin focusing exclusively on new-gen hardware and drop support for the Xbox One and PS4, the Xbox Series S will be the lowest spec machine that they will have to deal with. Whether or not the cheaper console will continue to be able to properly run games without any significant sacrifices one way or another remains to be seen.
In fact, we might even begin to see glimpses of that in 2022 itself. While Sony’s surprised a lot of people with the cross-gen approach it’s taken for its major upcoming releases, Microsoft’s surprised people in the exact opposite way, with a number of new-gen exclusives bound for the Xbox Series X and S in 2022 itself, from first party games like Redfall and Starfield (and possibly Forza Motorsport) to third party games such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl, Ark 2, and more. Games like Starfield, Forza, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 in particular should be good early indicators of what we can expect from the Xbox Series S and how well it will be able to run graphically intensive new-gen exclusives in the future.
In the here and now though, I very much doubt there are a lot of people out there who got an Xbox Series S and weren’t happy with the purchase. A solid first year library, the value of Xbox Game Pass, and the console’s cheaper price point are all crucial factors that have contributed to a great first year for it. In the short term, we can probably expect at least 2022 to be another great year for the console- in fact, looking at how stacked 2022’s lineup of games is, it’s probably going to be a much, much better year for all consoles on the market. In the years beyond that, it’s hard to be sure right now exactly how the Xbox Series S will fare. Microsoft certainly seems confident in the console’s ability to continue to be a viable alternative throughout the course of this entire console generation, and we certainly hope that turns out to be the case.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.