Weekend Whammy: Let’s Talk About Xbox Series S & Series X

Hello! I’m back again with another Weekend Whammy. There was some big news that came out in the past few weeks, and I’m excited to talk about them! The lid has been lifted on the Xbox Series X and Series S, so there’s loads to talk about there, and Nvidia announced their new 3000 series graphics cards, too. Let’s get into it?

First thing first, let’s do the traditional roundup of what I’ve reviewed and what I’m working on. Since I last put up a Weekend Whammy I checked out the Alloy Elite 2 mechanical keyboard from HyperX and came away feeling suitably impressed. HyperX have done a good job with their own custom mechanical switches, and while I have some complaints (where the hell is my wrist rest, eh?) it’s worth considering if you’re in the market for a new clickety-clacker.

I also did a brief hands-on preview of DiRT 5’s new Playgrounds mode. Since I wrote it Codemasters have pushed the launch back into November so that DiRT 5 can become a next-gen launch title. That’s probably a smart move.

And finally, I reviewed Iron Harvest, the new RTS game set in 1920 that features big mechs duking it out amongst infantry who are using basic rifles. There are a lot of issues with Iron Harvest, not least is the Steam store page advertising non-existent features. However, there is a solid foundation there, and so I hope that as time goes on Iron Harvest can become great.

As for what’s coming, I’m going to be reviewing Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, a remaster of a game I adore. I had review code for this well before launch, but due to a bunch of issues I’ll talk about later I’ve only recently started playing it, so the review was obviously delayed. A quick summary, though: very basic remaster with some performance hiccups. Maybe not worth upgrading to even with the 50% discount offered to people who already own it on Steam. But the game itself is still excellent, you get all the DLC and there has been new DLC announced for next year. Plus, Re-Reckoning and the new expansion might be used to judge whether a sequel is worth making.

And I’m also going to be reviewing Bullets Per Minute, a rather awesome first-person-shooter combined with a rhythm game. Basically, it has some banging rock music and you can only shoot, reload and jump in time with the beat. It’s crazy good fun, and since I play the drums anyway it’s really clicking with me.

Right. Obviously the big news is we are finally, FINALLY getting release dates and pricing for the next-gen consoles. Well, for the Microsoft ones, anyway. Following a leak, Microsoft officially revealed the Xbox Series S, its price and its release date. And then announced the price and release date of the Series X, too.

It’s the Xbox Series S that’s stealing headlines and for bloody good reason. It’s the smallest Xbox yet and is launching for a paltry £250, compared to the Series X which is hitting shelves at £450. Naturally, costing £200 less the Series S does not pack the same raw power of its big brother. Aside from looking suspiciously like a Bluetooth speaker, the Series S packs the same processor, SSD and system architecture of the Series X, but the GPU is significantly less powerful at 4-terefalops versus 12-teraflops. While the X is targeting 4k at 60fps, the S is aimed at 1440p at 60fps.

You might be a tad bewildered by this because the current Xbox One X has 6-teraflops of raw graphical oomph at its command. However, you can’t compare teraflops across generations. The new Xbox consoles will have AMD latest RDNA tech, and so despite having less teraflops the new cards should, at least in theory, outperform their older siblings.

The other big thing to consider is the Series S doesn’t have a disk drive. It’s purely a digital console, which is why the 512GB SSD is worryingly small. There’s no word yet on how much the offical Microsoft SSD expansions are going to cost, and considering how bloody huge something like the latest Call of Duty is, you’re going to need more space.

But this wasn’t enough for Microsoft, who I can only assume are very aware of their lack of games for the new consoles and know they need to hit hard to make up for it. Both consoles will be available on the new Xbox All Access scheme in which you pay up the console monthly over the span of two years. There’s zero percent interest, and both schemes come packing Xbox Games Pass Ultimate, providing you access to hundreds of awesome games and online play. Oh, and Microsoft revealed that EA Play will be getting added into the package. And on top of that the new xCloud streaming is coming soon. The prices? £25 per month for the Series S and £35 per month for the Series X.

Obviously credit schemes have risks, so I advise you to use caution and consider your financial situation over the next 24-months before using it. With that said, it seems like a decent deal…kind of. The folks over at Eurogamer did some of that tricky math stuff and came to the conclusion that by using the scheme you only actually save £17 on the Series X and £9 on the Series S. Not to mention you can typically pick up Games Pass Ultimate for far below the recommended price if you shop around. Still, I imagine this option will be tempting for a lot of people, myself included.

Personally, I think Microsoft have pulled an outstanding move here. Unless Sony has been hiding something, Microsoft will have the cheapest next-gen console on the market by a significant amount. Although it’s clearly less powerful and lacks a disk drive, I think the Series S is going to be massively tempting for people looking to get into next-gen or even for those picking up a console for the first time. It smartly plays into Microsoft’s strategy of aiming to get people into the Xbox ecosystem. Sony is driving their pitch with their exclusives and the strength of the momentum they have coming out of this generation. But Microsoft have shown multiple times that they are more worried about getting people signed up to Games Pass rather than just selling consoles. With this strategy, they now have a powerful console for people wanting raw oomph, and a smaller machine designed around Games Pass.

I said previously that I was going to get a PS5 first, because from a review standpoint it’s the more interesting console due to the exclusives. That, and I can’t afford to pick up both. But the Series S is seriously tempting. The only bummer is right now I use my Xbox One X primarily to play 4k blu-rays, and the Series S doesn’t have a 4k drive, otherwise I would actually consider selling my One X right now and putting the money toward picking up the Series S.

Now, the ball has been firmly thrown into Sony’s court. With Microsoft launching their new consoles in November, how long will Sony wait to finally reveal the price of the PS5? Will they attempt to undercut the Series X in price? Or will they go for a similar price and trust that the game’s will be more than enough to sway people? Either way, I think the next-gen launch is finally getting exciting.

And speaking of next-gen stuff, Nvidia announced their new 3000-series cards, and OH GOD, I WANT THEM! I’m going to ignore the 3090 because it’s insanely expensive and completely irrelevant to most of us. King of the mountain is the 3080 that comes with 10GB of GDDR6X memory and a pricetag of $699 Roughly, the 3080 is estimated to have very close to 30-teraflops of raw power at its command, and according to Nvidia offers double the performance of the 2080ti for half the price. If that’s even remotely true, anybody that bought the 2080 is going to be screaming for Nvidia’s blood. I can’t blame them.

Then there is the 3070. This costs $499 and is supposed to have an impressive 20.4-teraflops. By comparison the most popular graphics card on Steam, the GTX 1060, puts out 4.4TF. The new Xbox Series X has 12TF. Oooooooft.

Okay, so obviously I said earlier that you can’t compare teraflops over generations. And even comparing teraflops to the same generations of cards isn’t advisable, but it’s fun to throw the numbers about and can provide some nice, general ideas about raw power. I mean, my currently GTX 1080Ti puts out about 11-terflops, meaning even the new 3070 can outperform it and is packed with new tech that helps in a variety of other ways.

I’m super-hyped about these new cards, and can’t wait to see the reviews and get an idea of their real world performance. Even if the new generation is 25-30% better, that’s still solid, and a considerable leap over my even older 1080Ti.

The best thing to do would be to sell my card right now, but then I’d be stuck without a graphics card. And I don’t think I can justify it, either. I need to drive and find money for the next-gen consoles, and despite its age my GTX 1080Ti (second-hand when I got it) is still handling all the new games at 1440p with ease. So I might wait a while and slowly put the money together for a 3070. Maybe next year sometime, eh?

(Also, my spell check keeps asking if I mean triceratops instead of teraflops. That makes me smile)

On the topic of computers, though, this week, man…damn. So I mentioned in my last Weekend Whammy that I was jumping up to a Ryzen 3600 CPU from my older Ryzen 1600. That meant updating the BIOS on my motherboard, and that became a real debacle. I haven’t updated BIOS in years because typically whenever I upgraded it was a big enough change that I needed a board anyway. So, to my delight updated BIOS is quite a bit easier these days. But it still has some pitfalls, it seems. First, I couldn’t just go from my old BIOS to the new, so through painstaking trial and error I spent a few hours downloading files and finding how many BIOS I could jump up at a time. I finally got that done, and installed the new CPU. Great. But then my computer decided it wouldn’t boot to Windows without me hitting F8 during startup and telling it which drive to boot to. I spent a couple of days like this, trying to alternate between doing work and trying to fix the machine. I tried everything I could think of, and eveything I could find online. Eventually, I got desperate and tried some Command tricks, and that made it worse. My computer just couldn’t find Windows at all anymore. So a few days back, high on too much tea and sugar I wound up reinstalling Windows at midnight. That did the job! I love how quickly you can actually install an OS these days. When I built some of my first computers just getting Windows installed was a long, laborious task.

I know this looks like I’m hitting below the belt, but in my defence he’s sodding huge and keeps trying to kill me.

But the computer problems didn’t stop. Oh no. I got review code for the new Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning a week prior to launch and was uber-excited to get playing, until Steam told me I was missing the file privileges needed to download it. Cue a bunch of troubleshooting and back and forth with the devs over the span of a few days. I took me that long because I kept having to redownload the game, and right now I’m having major Internet problems thanks to Three UK’s mobile broadband going bananas. Eventually I discovered that it was my Bit Defender Anti-virus finding something it deemed suspicious in the EXE. Turns out, it’s a known issue and throws up a lot of false flags in anti-virus programs. My Bit Defender quarantined the program, so I told it to restore it. But that didn’t solve the problem, either, because it turned out that Bit Defender was setting the game’s download folder to “read-only” and wasn’t letting me change it back. After adding all the exceptions I could think of and searching high and low for pause button or off button on my Bit Defender, I had to uninstall the entirety of Bit Defender and re-download Re-Reckoning for the fourth or fifth time. It worked! Until the game needed an update, at which point the file was quarantined again. Eventually I got it all sorted about, but now the game is out and I’ve barely played the damn thing.

As for the broadband problems…well. I live in a rural area that had useless broadband and Steam downloads would run at 300-500Kbps. So I swapped over to mobile broadband provided by Three since they were doing an unlimited date deal. When it works, it’s great with download speeds hitting 3MBps, making big downloads so much easier. But it’s also fairly inconsistent with bad weather often slowing things down. Still, it was consistent enough that I was willing to put up with the drops. Over the past few days, though, Three seem to have experienced yet another major problem in their network and the Internet has been close to unusable. It’s getting on my nerves. You never know from one moment to the next if you’ll be able to get online to do something. Ah well. Rant over.

A few weeks back there was a lot of arguments over Control’s Ultimate Edition when 505 Games said they were not going to upgrade everyone to the Ultimate Edition for free. Instead, if you wanted control on next-gen consoles you would have to purchase the new Ultimate Edition, even if you already owned the game and its DLC. In 505’s own words:

We spent several months exploring all of our launch options for Control Ultimate Edition and no decision was taken lightly. While it is challenging bringing any game to next gen platforms, we quickly realised it was even more difficult to upgrade our current user base to next gen with full parity across platforms with our year-old game.

Every avenue we pursued, there was some form of blocker and those blockers meant that at least one group of players ended up being left out of the upgrade for various reasons. As of today, we can’t offer an upgrade to everyone, and leaving any one group out feels unfair. We understand that is not what you want to hear.

It wasn’t the clearest of statements and naturally fans were left unhappy. As an avid supporter of Control and its developers, I was left feeling disappointing as well Now, though, things are less clear as a number of Control owners found the Ultimate Edition was free for them to download on PSN. In fact, some people actually fired up the Ultimate Edition, played for a bit and then had their access revoked. According to the people that managed to briefly play the Ultimate Edition it appeared to be exactly the same as the Deluxe Edition. What a clusterfuck, eh?

The stupid thing is 505 could have avoided most of this easily by being upfront and saying that extra development time for the Ultimate Edition (graphical upgrades for next-gen and such) meant that they would have to charge for the upgrade to cover costs. I’d be willing to accept that since Control didn’t sell very well and a publisher isn’t going throw more money at a game which is far from guaranteed to earn it back. Perhaps they could have charged folk who own the game and DLC a flat £5 or £10 fee for the upgrade. But instead they went down this route, claimed it was impossible to upgrade existing owners and then seemingly shot themselves in the foot before hastily limping over to the upgrade off switch.

Now, the tricky thing is that we’re seeing headlines about all this Control debacle stating that 505 have done what they claimed to be impossible. Except that isn’t true. Reading their statements, it becomes clear that 505 never actually said they COULDN’T upgrade everyone, just that they weren’t. For a clear and concise explanation, here’s Richard from Hoeg Law doing what he does best:

I await 505 games response to all this with interest. I’ve reached out to them for a comment. Let’s see, shall we?

That should do it for this week, folks. I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying life as much as you can.

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