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Baldur’s Gate 3 had to be scaled back for the Series S, but the console still has a right to exist

Budget hardware means budget compromises, why is this controversial?

For a certain type of person on the internet, having actual tangible evidence that the Series S was “holding back” its more expensive and powerful stablemate must have felt like christmas coming early. We’ve known for months, you see, that the as-yet unannounced Xbox Series version of Baldur’s Gate 3 has been in development limbo because Larian can’t get the split screen co-op mode working nicely on the cheap Xbox. And because Microsoft insist on feature parity between the cheap Xbox and the no-so-cheap Xbox, it meant that nobody on the Xbox platform would be getting to play the celebrated RPG.

In addition to all the anecdotal murmurings that AAA devs all despise the Series S, this situation is seen as a smoking gun among those who really, really have it in for the cheaper machine: mainly an unholy alliance of gloating PS5 fanboys on Twitter, and angry Series X owners who think that they’re losing out because of the existence of a cheapskate option. The former group can largely be ignored, because the opinion of anyone who makes liking a product their entire personality isn’t worth wasting electrons on. But the latter group do, in fairness, have a point in light of the Baldur’s Gate 3, uh, fiasco? Yeah, let’s go with fiasco.

Baldur's Gate 3 won't look as good as this on Series S, but it'll look good enough. | Image credit: Larian, VG247

I’ve got a bit of previous on this topic: last year I put out a video titled “If the Series S is a potato, then I’m a banana” in response to some controversy over, of all things, Gotham Knights (which was a shite game anyway, and the Series S wasn’t responsible for that). And, well, the Baldur’s Gate 3 situation brought my banana status into question, as pointed out by my colleague Alex Donaldson in March of this year.

As Alex said, Microsoft’s requirement for feature parity is, or was, the real sticking point with devs. But that requirement always had an expiry date of whenever it started becoming a liability, and that time is now. It was an understandable policy at the start of the gen, but now as many predicted it has become something of a millstone around developer’s necks. Alex himself tweeted from Gamescom last week about a number of devs expressing off-the-record disdain for the machine, and the Baldur’s Gate 3 scenario has provided Xbox’s chief rival with an effort-free timed exclusive on one of the year’s most standout hits. It’s surely impossible now, then, to disagree with what many have been saying all along: that the Series S is a potato, and splitting its install base between a powerful machine and a rubbish one was a huge blunder on Microsoft’s part.

If the Series S is a potato, then I'm a banana: and I still stand by that.Watch on YouTube

Let’s not dismiss the Series S just yet, though. Its strength, its entire USP, is the fact that it punches well above its weight for a machine of its size and cost. That has not changed. It remains the cheapest place to play demanding current-gen games like A Plague Tale: Requiem, Ghostwire Tokyo, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (for now), and the version of Cyberpunk 2077 that’s actually getting Phantom Liberty next month. Yes, even cheaper than the Steam Deck (and significantly more powerful, but broad support for Valve’s handheld curiously doesn’t seem to be “holding back” PC gaming).

A lot of Series S owners primarily game on another platform, and consider the machine a cheap and cheerful Gamepass box or a wallet-friendly way to have an Xbox handy if the bloody thing ever gets any exclusives. For others, it’s literally the only current gen console they can afford. As this industry often seems incapable of fully understanding, not everyone is willing or able to spend a week’s wages on a nonsense box. Especially not if they already have one that works perfectly well, and until quite recently was still getting all the new releases.

This is still a wonderful little machine and an excellent value proposition.

This is to say that there is patently a place in the ecosystem for the Series S. A need, even. Gaming can’t and shouldn’t be the preserve of the rich and the comfortably middle-class: not just because that would suck, but because it wouldn’t be good business for a medium that needs bums on seats to survive, and is constantly competing for your attention with a whole manner of home entertainment options that are dirt cheap and more accessible. And so the point remains that being disdainful and dismissive of the Series S, and by extension all the people who have one, is at best out-of-touch. At worst, it’s grotesquely elitist.

The argument that the Series S is “holding back” game development in general has always been a dubious one, and will remain dubious as long as AAA studios are pumping out experiences that are basically souped-up versions of games we were playing two gens ago. Even the aforementioned Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, which was said to be a proper Next Gen game, is now headed to Last Gen machines by way of fiscal necessity. Games are extremely scalable things nowadays, and it’s extremely hard to believe in a world that still contains the base PS4, the Steam Deck, and the whole spectrum of rubbish PCs that are out in the wild, that it is the Series S – a machine with the same CPU and SSD as the Series X – which is curbing everyone’s grand ambitions.

Christ knows how they'll get this to run on last gen, but where there's a will there's a way. | Image credit: Respawn Entertainment

That said, the Baldur’s Gate 3 situation fully demonstrated the need for Microsoft to soften their parity policy, and so the news that they have done just that for this one case is very welcome. It cracks the door open a little to further compromises down the road, although probably on a case-by-case basis rather than a codified change to the rules. This is good for everyone, ultimately: game studios know that there are options if they hit this particular road block in future. Series X owners are less likely to lose out on major releases as a result of the Series S existing. People outside of the Xbox ecosystem remain entirely unaffected by the existence of the Series S, but can continue complaining about it if they want to do that instead of getting a life.

But the biggest winners are Series S users themselves, particularly those that count it as their main games machine. Because as things now stand, by the end of the year it will be the cheapest and most accessible place to play Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield. And you can also throw system-melter Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty into that bargain.

If that’s supposed to be a black mark against the Series S, I guess I’m still a banana.

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