30 Reviews in 30 Days, Day 2 – The NXE Update

As I am sure most of you are aware, the newest Xbox 360 NXE Update is due out August 11th. Gamers did have a chance to get in on the experience early, however, if they signed up and Microsoft chose to give them their invite.

Well, I managed to get one of those invites. As part of the 30 Reviews in 30 Days, I thought it would be a great idea to give you my insights on the changes.

What changed:

XBOX Preview: A new category has been added: The Xbox Preview. Sure, it would be easy to discount this, but there is a rather handy area for new announcements, new features and a help section now built into the 360. Not a major thing, but a nice touch all the same.

PARTY!: If you have used the Party feature much on 360, you have probably noticed that, despite it’s nice features, it was a little buggy. Team Xbox realized this, and they have added a couple of really nice touches. For example, you can now launch parties much more quickly, especially within Netflix (more on that later). Also, if someone drops from a party, when they get back on live, they will be immediately re-added. That ought to make party play a whole lot more enjoyable.

Account Management Improved: Are you one of those gamers whose Live ID expired? You know just how much of a pain that was to re-intiate? Well, not anymore. You’ll just be asked to update it the next time you log into Live. You will also be notified when your Live Subscription is about to expire, and Microsoft has imprived the account recovery process. Oh, and a little number appears next to your Gamertag to let everyone know how long you have been a Gold member.

Love for the Avatars: You have heard about the Avatar marketplace, right? That’s right, you can now buy items for your Avatar to wear or props to interact with, including a remote control Halo Warthog. The good news is there are already items based on games available, including the Lionhead Studios shirt my avatar is currently wearing thanks to the Fable II content. What is more exciting, however, is the Avatar Rewards section. There is nothing there yet, but just the prospect of getting items for achievements…. Wait, didn’t we suggest this in a podcast last year?

Netflix Just Got Better: Genres you can look through to add new content to your instant queue from the 360. A recently watched panel that makes it easy to get back to the next show in that series you are watching or the movie you had to put on hold. No more automatically getting kicked out while Netflix adjusts to changing connection speeds. Oh, and did I mention the Party Watch?

That’s right! You can now do what Microsoft said you would be able to do all along: watch Netflix Movies with your Friends on Live. You make a suggestion for the party, you agree on what to watch, and next thing you know your avatars are entering a theater to watch the movie of choice. Fortunately, it does not look like the rather cheesy example shown at E3. The Avatars are sitting in theater chairs at the bottom of the screen and do not get in the way of the movie. When you talk, a little speaker appears behind your chair so you can see who is talking. Also, your avatars have a wide range of emotional reactions/interactions you can choose to display. What it really comes down it is you get the choice of either watching a movie seriously with friends who you cannot get together with normally or just goofing off and doing your own Mystery Science Theater spin-off. The implementation is a lot better than most of us thought it would be. Not every studio supports Party Watch, but most do.

Netflix party

Hmmm. My party looked better than this. Still, you get the idea.

Rate those games: Think reviewers do a poor job of rating games? Or maybe you wanted to know if there are any Indie games really worth playing. Well, now the power is in your hands. You can rate any game in the system now, be it full retail, Arcade or Indie. Nice touch.

Games on Demand: Well, maybe this does not really appeal to you, but I can see a point to this. I am tempted to download Mass Effect to see if it gets rid of the elevator load times.

It’s all about the Interface: Microsoft has tweaked the interface a bit. Most of the tweaks are minor, though Achievement Junkies might find the list of the achievements you could have reached based on games played may haunting¬†them. The nice one is a warning during voice recording for messages if your mic is muted. No more sending messages to friends just to have them contact you and say “I couldn’t hear you.”

What did not make it:

So, all those things are nice, but what about the rest of the features we were supposed to get? If you did not already know, LastFM, Twitter and Facebook functionality are not rolling out with this update. Now, Microsoft is saying we should receive those later this year, but I for one was looking forward to running LastFM, doing updates on Twitter in game and getting screenshots for Facebook. I understand that getting these things to work with the NXE takes time, but I am a gamer, which means I am impatient by nature. Right?

facebook

No Facebook, Twitter or LastFM. Hope MS makes good on those soon.

The Verdict:

When NXE went live last year, we were all excited. It was the first time a console interface had been completely changed after launch. So should we really be that upset if the new update is really more of the same? Probably not. Still, even though the changes to Netflix and the Party System are nice, but without the promised changes of Twitter, Facebook and LastFM, this update just is not as exciting as it should be.

Still, I should not really be complaining too much. In the end, there are some definite improvements, and it will be interesting to see what develops with the Avatar Marketplace and Avatar Rewards. Since there are components still missing, I cannot give the new experience a perfect score, but the new update still gets a 4 out of 5.

Hey, I never said all the items reviewed in the 30 Days would be games. Just game related.

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