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The Original Xbox Was Underrated. Here's Why

The original Xbox was heavy. It was big. It was kind of clunky, design-wise. Even its controller — dubbed "Duke," for its size — was unseemly. But the Xbox permanently changed the landscape of video games, and the industry hasn't looked back since. 

Since the release of the first in 2001, Microsoft has released three new Xbox consoles. But have we already forgotten the humble roots of the Xbox Series X? The original Xbox was built to be a powerhouse that could outperform any other console on the market in the early 2000s. Its flagship game, Halo, helped set the standard for the first-person shooter genre, and its long list of exclusive titles kept fans busy. Xbox Live changed what the term "multiplayer" meant for video games and connected console players across the globe for the first time. 

It's time to dive deeper into Microsoft's debut console and why it might be underrated.

The original Xbox was built like a PC

The team at Microsoft developing the original Xbox didn't want to just build a product to compete with Sony's PlayStation 2 (released in 2000). They wanted to change the industry by making a gaming console that had the same power as a PC, but one that you could operate with a controller on your living room couch.

The original Xbox came equipped with a 32-bit 733-MHz custom Intel Pentium III core processor, to complement an NVIDIA graphics processing unit, and a whopping 8 gigabytes of storage space, making it easily the most powerful gaming system to hit the market in '01. But one of the drawbacks to building such a powerful machine was its design — or rather, a lack thereof.

The original Xbox was a clunker, weighing close to 10 pounds. But what it looked like and how it fit in your entertainment center was considered secondary to what it could do. (Microsoft would take the opposite approach with the Xbox 360 — and pay dearly for it.)

Original Xbox titles like Halo: Combat Evolved changed everything

Microsoft's powerful new gaming console wouldn't have meant much if it didn't have powerful games for its audiences, and the original Xbox broke new ground with exciting titles, right out of the gate. Its recently acquired studio, Bungie, released Halo: Combat Evolved to coincide exclusively with the launch of the original Xbox. Like its parent console, it, too, made a splash.

The Halo franchise redefined video games within the first decade of its existence. Halo reimagined the first-person shooter genre with cinematic visuals, explosive gameplay, and an entire array of weapons and vehicles to play with. Halo: Combat Evolved broke records by selling more than one million copies in its first few months. The game became synonymous with the Xbox brand: "Halo is the reason for Xbox and vice versa," IGN noted in 2001.

Though the Halo games are arguably Microsoft's most iconic, they were far from the only exclusives released on the original Xbox. Other heavy hitters released for the original Xbox included the stylish Jet Set Radio Future (released shortly after the console hit the market), role-playing experiences like Fable, and the atmospheric horror of Doom 3.

Xbox Live took multiplayer to a different level

One year after the original Xbox's release date, Microsoft officially launched Xbox Live. Within just a few months, hundreds of thousands of players had subscribed to the service, connecting consoles across the globe on a large scale. Other consoles, such as the Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, experimented with similar online capabilities, offering players the option to purchase an adapter for online multiplayer access. Although online play wasn't free with Xbox, it was a built-in function and not a side feature.

Although the original Xbox broke new ground, it was actually a financial failure. Its competitor, the PlayStation 2, ultimately sold more than 150 million units compared to the original Xbox's 24 million. The console didn't begin to turn a profit for Microsoft until 2004, according to IGN, and by that time, Microsoft was already looking ahead to the next generation of consoles: the Xbox 360.

Despite those shortcomings, and despite its bulky appearance, the original Xbox raised the standard for console developers and raised the expectations for gamers.