It's never been so clear to me that Microsoft and Sony should have released the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 with modern solid state drives rather than the older tech both companies decided to include with their most recent consoles. And it's Fallout 4's fault.
Fallout 4 is a really great game. I like it a ton (clearly, since I've put another 30 hours or so into it since reviewing it), and it might be my game of the year. But I'm playing it on Xbox One, and it's not without its issues there (and on PS4 as well, to be fair).
The biggest problem for me has been load times, which are really, really long. I could switch to my PC with its absurd video card and solid state drive, of course, and I'm sure that would be faster, but that's not where my save is. So, I decided to try something I've been thinking about for awhile: using an SSD on the Xbox One.
It was actually pretty easy. The Xbox One supports external drives over USB to add additional storage, and because I have problems with impulse purchases, I happened to have an extra SSD sitting on my desk. I went on Amazon and grabbed an enclosure powered over USB, threw the SSD into it, and plugged it into my Xbox One, which gave me options to format it right away. The whole process took about three minutes (not including the day it took the enclosure to show up).
There were improvements across the board
And the results? Well. They sort of speak for themselves in the video above. But if you don't want to watch a video, there were improvements across the board. Load times were cut in half or less. Loading the game from the Xbox One home screen showed similar improvements. And the framerate issues that occasionally hit the game were significantly reduced, including the micro-stuttering that seems to occur in very specific spots near Diamond City and Good Neighbor. With the SSD, this was eliminated. This was the most surprising result: A much faster hard drive improves framerate performance in the Xbox One release of Fallout 4.
Now that I've spent the better part of a week playing Fallout 4 off my SSD, I can't imagine going back to the slower setup - except I can, because I did it in order to make this video, and it was painful.
Load times have been a pretty big pain in general this console generation, which until now seemed like an unavoidable compromise. But just imagine if instead of shipping the Xbox One in 2013 with the Kinect, Microsoft had instead included internal SSDs?
Microsoft may be coming to this conclusion on its own, of course. It just released the Xbox One Elite console, which includes both the snazzy, expensive Xbox One Elite controller and an internal solid state hybrid drive. SSHDs combine platter-based technology from traditional hard drives with some solid state storage in an attempt to offer a more cost-effective high speed storage solution. I'll test it as soon as I'm able, but precedent suggests the result won't be quite as dramatic as the SSD solution.