I was lucky enough to be one of the few selected to test the March update before its release in (you guessed it) March. I was quite surprised, considering that I hadn’t applied and didn’t even know that Microsoft were selecting people. But, once I’d read through the various warnings of Microsoft not accepting liabilities for damage and being informed that I wouldn’t be able to join a party with my friends until they too got the update, I quickly accepted and begun the download. I’ve had it for a few days now, so here’s what I think of the update.
The whole ‘friends’ interface has had a bit of an overhaul. It’s now separated into ‘all’, ‘favourites’, ‘followers’ and ‘recent players’. They’ve kept the activity feed, but it now sits on the right and you need to physically swipe across to it. It’s a nice function, but it’s very rare that I actually use it. The friends update will help a lot when it comes to finding who’s online and what they’ve been up to. With the Xbox One you can have up to 1,000 friends, which is quite the friends list. It would have taken an age to search through that lot, so the favourite option allows you to keep the friends you’re most likely to game with in one place. ‘Recent Players’ is also a great addition as, on occasion, you might want to add the stranger that you had an epic game of Battlefield with or a close game of FIFA.
Much in the same vein as the friends update, the party update has changed the face of the party system as we know it. And by ‘changed the face of the party system as we know it’, I of course mean that they’ve adopted the Xbox 360 party system. You can now send a single ‘invite to party’, a single ‘invite to game’ or a conjoined ‘invite to party and game’. Revolutionary! This makes setting up and managing parties a hell of a lot easier as, before hand, they were a bit of a ball-ache. PARTY CHAT IS AUTOMATICALLY TURNED ON! I just needed to get that one out of my system. Whoever came up with the idea of ‘party chat’ must have won the Nobel Prize for ‘most pointless idea of the year’. I don’t think I’ve ever thought to myself, “I’ll join this party right now, but I don’t want to be able to talk to anyone or hear anyone for at least three minutes whilst I faff with turning party chat on”. I’ve also lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen the message ‘could not turn on party chat’. Good job, Microsoft. Good job. They’ve also separated the party between those playing the same game as you and those doing other things. Which is a nice addition to the system so that you can keep track of who’s doing what when you have large numbers of people in a single party (that way you don’t go sending people game invites when they don’t want to play).
50hz and 5.1 Dolby Digital
This is a complaint had by some, but not all. Apparently in some European countries (the UK included) the picture gets a little jumpy when trying to watch TV through your Xbox on the native 60hz. The update allows you to manually switch to 50hz when you’re watching telly, though you won’t be able to switch to 50hz at any other time. The Dolby Digital update will allow for Xbox One users to use their 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound systems with their console. I’m not well off enough to own such a fancy system and my Xbox managed to play Virgin TV without a hitch, so I didn’t notice these changes as much.
This section is for those Xbox fans that want to know what else is happening with the One in March. Also announced was a March release for the official Xbox One stereo headset that includes an adaptor much like the bottom of the current Xbox One mic. It’s retailing at around £60, but it does allow you to hear the game through the headset as well. Complete immersion with HD sound in your ears, so I think the price will be more than worth it. They’re also bringing out the Official Xbox One Stereo Headset Adapter, which will allow you to use your old Xbox 360 compatible headsets. The release of these headsets comes at the same time as the Dolby Digital update, which I believe the majority of high end headsets use. The adaptor is retailing on Amazon for £20. I would have liked to see it for around £10/15, I think that would be much more reasonable. There will also be the Twitch update, but this hasn’t been added to the early beta test. The Twitch update will allow you to stream your gameplay live on your Twitch account, as well as join the games of fellow Twitchers (should they have it enabled). You will also be able to stream a Kinect feed along with the gameplay, so that people can see your reaction and hear your thoughts on what you’re playing, live.
I must admit, all of these updates are incredibly welcomed. They’ve really streamlined the whole experience and I haven’t found a single problem with any of the new features (or any of the old features, for that matter). The problem with all of this? Should these not have been obvious things to include in the console before launch? Particularly considering that all of these things have been done incredibly well by the Xbox 360 for over five years (bar the headphones and Twitch, of course. It makes you wonder how rushed the Xbox One actually was, considering it’s taken them around a quarter of a year to bring the Xbox One’s party / friends functions in line with the Xbox 360. But I’m still more than happy with my Xbox One and the fact that Microsoft are still listening to the fans. So here’s to more updates in the future!