Now that I've spent a long weekend tinkering with my shiny new Day One Xbox One, I'm scurrying to get to grips with its launch lineup and plan to fully review the system by Wednesday. Though we're receiving the biggest games in a trickle and I won't push out a review without playing them for an appropriate amount of time, we'll get through them as and when.
I'm having an absolute blast with the new system, mainly thanks to Kinect actually delivering on almost all of Microsoft's promises and filling me with a sense of childlike wonder every time I command it to perform an action. It's wonderful, convenient and feels like a truly futuristic next-gen experience that's soon to become second nature. In fact, I caught myself talking to my PC earlier.
However, it's already clear that a worrying trend has sneaked into Microsoft's launch lineup, both in terms of the biggest box games and downloadable Xbox Live Arcade titles. Microtransactions. Xbox One has put its little in-game purchases front and centre at the very start of its life... and without putting too fine a point on it, we're worried that this could set two rather nasty and dangerous precedents going into the next generation if Microsoft doesn't throttle back - and follow one shining example from the unlikeliest source.
The first and most obvious issue facing microtransaction-stuffed boxed titles, such as Forza 5 and Ryse: Son of Rome, is that they're effectively grafting a freemium business model onto games you've already paid full price for. Or in more simple terms: we pay once, then pay again - and again. To be clear: we actually like the free-to-play model when it's handled well, when it lets us choose exactly how much we want to pay and exactly what we want to buy, but this doesn't apply when you've already forked over £40-£50.
Numerous sites and pundits have already latched onto this issue, and we'll neither be the first nor last to point it out, but there's little more galling than being incentivised to pay extra to gain features that, last generation, were usually included in the box. Forza 5 has less cars than Forza 3 or 4... but you can buy more. This doesn't feel right, and I'm sure many of you agree.
As a gamer, though, this isn't actually my biggest concern. Instead, we're seeing games being actively compromised - both in terms of gameplay and progression - in order to fit the microtransaction model.
Crimson Dragon is the poster boy of this worrisome phenomenon. It's a rail shooter, explicitly based on one of the most sublime and exquisite gaming series we've ever seen from the medium. In Panzer Dragoon, every moment, every second, every piece of art design, every note in the soundtrack and every background is designed to instil a sense of wonder in its players, providing a tight and hauntingly beautiful experience in terms of gameplay and environmental storytelling. If you ever get the chance to play Panzer Dragoon Orta on the original Xbox, jump at it - jump at it hard and fast.
But here, a rail shooter - one of the simplest and engaging genres around - has been hacked into tiny repetitive chunks that we have to grind through again and again to secure in-game currency, and experience to level up woefully underpowered dragons. A process designed to make you more inclined to just pay your way to the end, to cut out the grind, grind that shouldn't be present in any rail shooter. Especially one you've already paid £15.99 for. A thing of beauty has been butchered in the name of business, even though it absolutely doesn't fit the genre or original vision.
Consider this: Crimson Dragon is a game about Dragons. Riding dragons. Raising Dragons. Dragons. And yet, in the in-game store, the option to purchase randomised item packs is the first thing you see, situated ABOVE buying more dragons.
But don't despair, dear reader, because it's not all doom and gloom. One of Xbox One's most unlikely launch titles manages to show us a great alternative to this cynical practice: Killer Instinct.
Killer Instinct is not free to play. It isn't. Us hacks mistakenly labelled it as an F2P title before we really understood what it was: a generous demo. A little like a trial & unlock or even shareware game, perhaps, except that we can control exactly how much we want to spend and exactly what content we want.
This is how microtransactions are supposed to work: we get a taste of what the game offers, then can buy it in its entirety as a single one-off purchase, or cherry-pick the bits we fancy on our own terms. Don't get me wrong, Killer Instinct seriously needs to get its story and arcade modes up and running, but it demonstrates that Microsoft are capable of providing microtransactions that actively empower us consumers with more choice and freedom.
Going forward, you know which route we'd like to see them take.