Xbox Series X: Loading times are the real next-gen game-changer

Luke Albigés - November 5th 2020

Pour one out for the talented folks who used to write all the quotes, lore, tips, jokes, and other words that used to appear on our loading screens. Long have they made protracted loading and installation times more bearable with their penmanship, but their talents are needed no longer. Because now, as of this generation, you barely have time to take in a single line of that potentially important information, those useful gameplay tips, or the wisecracks that aren't quite as wise as they think they are. It's just another in the long line of roles gobbled up by technology on its relentless march, and while I thank all those people for everything they've done to make sitting through hours of loading that much less boring, I've never been happier to tell someone that their services are no longer required.

In the few weeks since we first took delivery of an Xbox Series X, I can safely say that exactly what I thought would happen has happened — I've come to completely and utterly resent loading times, to the point that going back and playing most Xbox One and PS4 games (and even some Switch stuff, amazingly) feels like a chore. This isn't just your typical 21st century entitlement, either. Some of the earliest games I ever played came on cassette tapes and could take up to 20 minutes to load, if they even worked at all, plus I'm fairly confident that the total amount of loading I've endured in games like Destiny 2 and Monster Hunter: World constitutes more time than at least 50% of those player bases have logged in total play time. Once you've lived the high life, it just becomes that much harder to face slumming it. And when I think back to all that downtime, in those two games alone, how could I not end up hating loading screens after seeing how quickly Series X chews through them?

Without exception, every game I've played on Series X so far has impressed me with just how quick it's possible to get into the action. That's just not true of any other aspect of the assortment of enhanced (and unenhanced) games sat on our Series X right now. In terms of graphics, indie stuff like The Touryst and CrossCode don't look any better because their art styles mean they can't look any better than they already did. As for performance, I've still been seeing the odd frame rate drop in some games and even the odd bit of awful screen tearing (although I'm not sure that counts, because Ark is trash anyway), so it's not like everything is uniformly hitting its targets or running perfectly. And ray tracing? It seems to be so resource-hungry that the benefits are only going to outweight the cost in a select few kinds of games, in my opinion. Anyone who actively chooses to drop Devil May Cry 5 to 30fps just for some slightly better lighting and reflections should probably be locked up. Loading times, though, have managed to elicit an excited yelp, a muttered 'wow,' or just a respectful nod, every time. Every. Damn. Time.

I'm sure my continued appreciation won't last forever, of course. It can't, not when these kinds of speeds are set to become the new norm. But that's only going to make going back to old games on old hardware all the more difficult. You'll see this for yourself when you start playing cross-generational games with friends, too. Playing Destiny 2 with me on One X and a friend on Series X, he was done in the Tower before I'd even arrived, and halfway through a strike before I even loaded in. With the tables turned (me on Series X and another friend on OG XB1), I found there were early missions in Monster Hunter that I could complete before they even showed up. The speed difference is never as stark as it is when you're partied up and hear your friends having fun without you. It's like watching them have a blast on a fairground ride while you're still stuck waiting in line. In the rain. Covered in bees. Racist bees.

Okay, so it's not that bad, but shaving even just a few seconds off every instance of loading quickly adds up, even just over the course of a single session. Expand that to a week, a month, a year, an entire console generation... before you know it, you've clawed back days of otherwise wasted precious time. And it's yours to do with as you wish. Get more done in the massive games you love. Squeeze in a bunch more quick completions. Give your eyes a rest and go chill out among nature. Catch up with friends and family. Learn an instrument or language. As impressive as all of the other Series X enhancements undoubtedly are, they're pretty much all (with the exception of Quick Resume, which is also a slight time-saver) instant, in-the-moment gratification. But with massively improved load times making the new Xbox so much more respectful of players' time than any that came before, hopefully you can see why it's my favourite feature as we head into this new generation.