There’s not much to the Xbox Series S. It looks somewhat odd, it’s not a next-gen gaming powerhouse by any means, and one of the biggest selling points of the Xbox brand (nearly complete backward compatibility support) will be severely hindered by the console’s missing disc drive.
On the surface, the Xbox Series S is just a step above the infamous Xbox 360 Core system which lacked its premium counterpart’s HDMI port, detachable hard drive, and promises of a largely future-proofed gaming experience. We’re already seeing thousands of people warning gamers to stay away from this console and save up for an Xbox Series X if they’re committed to the Xbox brand in the next-generation.
Yet, that doesn’t feel like a fair assessment. Actually, we’d argue that the Xbox Series S is exactly the console we need in 2020.
As you might imagine, the core of that argument is the Xbox Series S’ price. At just $299, the Xbox Series S isn’t just destined to be the most affordable next-gen console; it’s a shot across the bow to an industry that has steadily been raising the launch price of new consoles in an attempt to answer the question “How much will you pay to be first?”
While that practice is annoying in the best of times, we’re not living in the best of times (in case you didn’t notice). As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage much of the world, millions of people are left unemployed and uncertain when they will work again. Even those who have held on to their jobs through this crisis are left to wonder whether this is the time to spend $400+ on a new gaming console.
For that matter, the entire gaming industry seems uncertain regarding whether or not the next generation really begins in 2020. With major titles such as Halo Infinite being delayed until 2021 (at the very least) and company’s starting previously unheard of initiatives that let you upgrade a variety of third-party titles to their next-gen counterparts at no extra cost, the entire industry has been sending this clear message for months now:
“The start of the next video game generation isn’t going to feel like previous generations.”
Into that situation comes the Xbox Series S. Yes, it is cheaper. $299 will still be a big ask for millions of people this year, but it’s about as reasonable of a price as you could realistically expect given its abilities and additional manufacturing complications presented by the current situation. It’s an affordable way to own a next-gen console in 2020.
Yet, the Xbox Series S isn’t just a console for this year or right now. It’s a surprisingly forward-thinking device that simply offers honest answers about what the future of gaming is probably going to look like.
After all, the Xbox team’s Smart Delivery program was essentially that team’s way of admitting that their first-party exclusive titles probably won’t take meaningful advantage of the Xbox Series X’ capabilities until at least late 2021 or 2022. Until then, you’re probably going to be able to enjoy upcoming Microsoft Studios games on Xbox Series S or Xbox One S without feeling like the Series X offers a fundamentally different experience that simply can’t be replicated on lesser hardware.
More importantly, the Xbox Series S still lets you take advantage of two of Microsoft’s most exciting features: Xbox Game Pass and Project xCloud. Game Pass is already the best subscription service in gaming, and xCloud is shaping up to be one of the best cloud services in the industry (as well as a way to potentially circumvent the pure power of your console). In two or three years, your $299 next-gen console won’t be able to take full advantage of high-end displays or play discs. Other than that, it will still be a next-gen console.
Even if you do decide that the Xbox Series S isn’t enough for you in two to three years, you’ll probably be able to either upgrade to whatever the new mid-generation hardware is or even just a cheaper Xbox Series X. Whereas the Xbox Core was fundamentally unprepared for the next generation of gaming, the Xbox Series S offers a way to reasonably test the waters and see what the next few years bring.
At a time when too many other aspects of the video game industry feel designed to convince you that the future is here and is going to be great, the Xbox Series S comes along to suggest that the future may be more uncertain than ever before, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend too much money or risk missing out on the simple pleasure of playing new games.