If you’ve been with Xbox Live since the very beginning, when it was a huge dark green brick and the words “Xbox Live Beta” rattled around your brain as you first slipped on the funky headset, you’ll know there’s a deep history there. This history has perhaps seen you stare at a green Matrix like screen as little “Xbox Demons” held a conversation you couldn’t quite make-out on your newly acquired Xbox Live dashboard (this was back in 2002).
Then came the Xbox 360, skinny successor to that big dark brick that perhaps brought you much joy and sometimes, a little pain. The Xbox 360 launched in 2005, a mere 3 years after the launch of its predecessor. The new menu for Live play was a bladed system that worked pretty seamlessly by comparison and featured a new “Marketplace” for the download of premium or promotional content. Other additions followed (such as XBLA), but the menu system remained the same, still utilizing the bladed system.
Xbox Live Experience
Due to the previous bladed menu seemingly becoming more and more incapacitated by updates and additions, not to mention competition from other arenas, Microsoft opted to bring a ‘new’ experience to an existing console format. This ‘experience’ comes in the form of a software update and it brings with it a streamlined dashboard that runs on sliding windows, rather than blades.
Once your update takes place you’ll be met with a polished introduction that harbors a new dawn with regards to your Xbox Live Experience.
Once you’re through the initial sequence (including making an avatar) your new dashboard comes into view, a slightly curved landscape is the base for sliding windows that now hold what is essentially all the content you’re already familiar with.. and more. You’ll be prompted to make an avatar and though the customization isn’t endless, there should be enough there to keep most people happy (until MS start rolling out the pay per customizable feature that we imagine is mere weeks away). This mix of the new and familiar is a smart move from Microsoft, because you won’t feel completely out of water.
Flicking through the new menu system is simple to do and finding your feet shouldn’t take too long. At time of writing however the service is not without its issues, at least on the three accounts we used. Error messages were everywhere, mostly when trying to download content. We are assuming though that these will be fixed in due time. For those of you that prefer the old bladed system a press of the guide button and things will seem more familiar. The guide is a cool pop up that dominates the screen and features the old blade system to show you pretty much everything all at once. This is a great addition for those that don’t want to utilize the new flashy interface.
My Xbox & Themes
My Xbox is where you can check out what’s in your game tray (and load it), your gamercard panel which when clicked brings up the games you’ve recently played including what achievements you have. There’s also game library, recent games, video library, music library, picture library, media center and settings.
Ah what is Xbox Live without friends eh? Here you can see your friends in all their avatar’d glory. These things are so damn cute, it’s just a shame there’s not more too them. Clothing seems to be mostly gender specific, meaning your avatar can only wear mostly girls clothes if you choose a female avatar to begin with. This is kind of lame in our opinion as some of the guys clothes are way cooler. A few of the clothes appear in both the male and female camp.. but it’s really not good enough in this day and age to not have everything open to everyone. BOO MS BOO! You can choose a male avatar and give it girly hair and eyes etc. but that’s a bit lame you have to do that.
Scrolling through your friends though can now feel a labored experience as they’re now no longer a list, but a scrolling mass of avatars standing in front of dioramas (which seems to be based on your choice of NXE theme). Perhaps it’s just the newness of this “experience”, one thing’s for sure, culling your friends list just took on a whole new meaning, I mean who want’s to cull cute avatars, a list of gamertags just seems far less personal.
Xbox Live Party
Get into a room with up to 7 friends to chat, share images and use it as a ready room for game sessions. The big selling point of the NXE Live Party mode is that you can create these parties and keep the group of gamers together regardless of what you’re doing elsewhere. As you look around the new update you’ll be able to chat to anyone you’re in party mode with. This will also allow you to invite the whole party to a game, as opposed to inviting individuals. With Photo Party, a free download, you’ll also be able to share images with each other from a camera or USB storage device as you chat. This is a very cool addition.
Remember when some head honcho at Microsoft said your old themes will look just gorgeous on this new format, well, he kind of fibbed. Of the three accounts we tried all existing themes looked stunted and for the most part could barely be seen, so if you purchased a lot of themes on the old system, this might upset you slightly given it’s essentially money down the toilet.
Optional Game Installs
Another feature of NXE is the ability to install all your existing titles to the HD (not that they’d all fit!). Almost every title is compatible with this feature (other than DOA2 and Crackdown allegedly) and it can make your game experience even better. A few sites have run tests to check the difference if any this makes and most agree load times become faster, Xbox drive noise is lessened and you’re going to need a bigger HD if you have the launch 20GB. Oh and on the off chance you’re thinking it, you will need the original disk in the drive when loading off the HD. Halo 3 fans… note, this game actually runs SLOWER off the HD, so don’t install it.
NXE had a lot to live up to and it’s done most of what it’s promised to do. For those that are new to the Xbox 360, NXE will seem familiar with its Apple Mac sliding menu stylings and it’s ease of use (once you’ve pinpointed where everything is). For old schoolers XNE is a bit of a double edged sword. Some folks could care less for cute avatar additions and slick menu presentation, but given the Guide button has been retained and pretty much features the old within the new this lot should be happy also.
We’ll be covering further updates as they happen and adding them to this article. We’d also love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments (given peoples opinions and experiences can all differ).
All in all we think NXE is a pretty cool addition to a console that has a few years left in it. Shame about those gender normed clothing choices though.