Xbox Series X Review – Power Your Dreams

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Microsoft first announced the Xbox Series X during the Game Awards 2019. Finally, as we’re on the verge of the 2020 show, we have the new machine. Microsoft also announced a smaller, less powerful variant in the Xbox Series S. Today though we’re only focusing on their flagship model, in this Xbox Series X review.

Microsoft’s ‘Tower of Power’ – this one isn’t a fridge…

The original reveal showed this strange, monolithic tower with a slew of pre-rendered footage. It was enough to get people excited about what the future holds and started Microsoft on the almost 1-year journey from announcement to launch. Sporting an unconventional shape it soon came to light that the machine was much smaller than you realise.

The Next Generation Is Now The Current Generation…

You likely know by now that I am a console gamer at heart. In fact, I’ve been writing about the upcoming generation for some time. I was also one of the few fortunate enough to secure a preorder for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 before those pesky scalpers swooped in. If you’ve managed to get your hands on the new machines, let us know below.

I’ve been an Xbox fan since the 360. I was late to the hype train when it came to Xbox; things didn’t quite click with me on the original machine. I don’t have those fond memories of Halo that some hold dear and other titles didn’t capture my attention until sequels landed, such as Fable. Whilst I’ve owned all of the machines, it was the 360 that pushed the brand into the limelight for me. Featuring a range of games that sported never before seen style and graphics, whilst also being left out in the cold waiting on the PlayStation 3, meant it was the must-have machine. From a usability point of view the interfaces, controllers and power of the Xbox range are market-leading. Their range of games, though a subjective point, don’t live up to their rivals’ though.

Presentation

The Xbox Series X is the flagship console from Microsoft. It’s a premium product that has landed at £450; advertised as the world’s most powerful console. I always feel like first impressions are key.

The Xbox Series X packaging is like opening a treasure chest full of loot!

It would be remiss of me to then not comment on what it’s like to open the box for the first time. Extra care been taken to make the package accessible; there are pull tabs instead of tape, and the box then opens up like a treasure chest. The console is presented to you with their advertising motto “power your dreams”. There’s a separate compartment just behind with all your extras such as the new controller, wires and all those documents you definitely never read.

It’s a trivial moment, but one you’ll only ever experience once with any console. Opening up something that costs £450 and it feeling so premium, and being presented so well is a nice touch and adds to that excitement of new tech. The package is clearly robust and high quality, and the extra steps taken for accessibility are a great step. A step that’s one in a legacy of pro accessibility moves from Microsoft. From easily peelable tape to a simple wrap with a handle to allow access to the machine.

Functionality

The Xbox Series X is a beast. Whilst smaller than you’d expect, it’s absolutely packed with power. Microsoft call this the world’s most powerful console, and on paper, it packs the highest specs on the market. To get even more powerful you’d have to explore the PC market, something Microsoft embraces with their new approach to the Xbox ecosystem. Naturally though, consoles have their own market and they’re definitely a more convenient gaming device.

The only things you’re not directly in control of on the homescreen are the 3 icons on the bottom right…

Sporting a familiar UI, the Xbox Series X is instantly recognisable. The firmware allows you to customise the look of the home screen; not only the colour, but also the layout of the icons on screen. Actually it goes beyond that because you can specifically have whatever you want pinned to this page. Personally I have 3 tabs; my current games, my apps and then the Game Pass/store section. You can go to quite a granular level though and pin specific apps or games right to the front so you can get to the action in no time.

Speed

Getting to things in no time. It’s interesting that I say that because this new machine is all about speed. Sporting a Gen 4 NVME SSD, and the firmware to back it up, you can be in games remarkably quickly. In fact playing backwards compatible titles such as Outer Worlds is like night and day.

Taking up to 2 minutes, in my experience, to load into a game becomes less than 20 seconds on the new machine. It’s this convenience, more so than sparkly graphics, that really sells me on the console. The console launches so quickly, my TV hasn’t even auto-changed channel by the time it’s ready to display on screen.

In simple terms, the Xbox Series X isn’t just the most powerful console on the market; it’s quick. It’s not necessarily the sporting the quickest SSD (that’s something the PlayStation 5 can brag about) but it’s certainly no joke how you can flick between games and apps effortlessly. Some apps are missing, at time of writing certain British television apps aren’t supported on this new generation. That will come with time, and I am sure these apps will evolve to be incredibly snappy too. Oddly this is true of the PlayStation 5 as well, so I assume there’s a simple slow pace/lower demand in getting these apps to market.

Gears 5 sports some impressive ray tracing on the new hardware…

Compatibility

Backwards compatibility of not only games, but peripherals is a huge hook for the Xbox Series X. On the game side it not only allows you access to your entire back catalogue but they come with upgrades. Some games are specifically upgraded to utilise the new technology, including Ray Tracing, 120 FPS modes and higher resolutions. On top of that there’s a natural gain in speed during loading and performance of titles. Top that off with Auto HDR being added to classic titles and it means your entire library has a fresh coat of paint.

Next up are the peripherals; being able to use all of your old controllers is a big deal. Whether that comes in the form of a headset, the media remote or some of the specialist controllers on the market. The latter is a particularly important point when it comes to accessibility, with custom controllers being the only way to interact with the Xbox Series X for some. In that way it’s just like having an Xbox One, only with a lot more raw power driving it.

The new Xbox Series X pad may not seem too dissimilar to the old controller, but what it does sport is a welcome change…

Quick Resume

Microsoft has a habit of chucking buzzwords onto what seem to be fairly unremarkable features. The Xbox Series X is full of such terms; velocity architecture, smart delivery, teraflops. Whilst those terms do end up delivering on their promise, one I want to highlight is Quick Resume.

Quick Resume feels like magic. In reality the console is storing the state of your current game on the SSD, so that you can minimise it and move onto another game. But it secretly does this for all the games you play, effectively minimising your games and getting you into them even quicker. They don’t load back up onto a main menu, or from the opening splash screen but literally from the pause screen mid-game.

Again this is just one of those conveniences Xbox Series X offers you, but it blows my mind. It even works if the Xbox Series X has been unplugged, meaning if you’re hit with a power cut, or need to relocate your machine, you don’t have to worry about checkpoints and saves. That being said it’s not quite 100%; not all games are currently supported as they seem to be intentionally rolling out over a gradual basis. I assume this is to avoid bugs and errors in the games, but the truth is they haven’t been particular open about what’s coming.

What to play?

The Xbox Series X actually launches with access to over 4000 games, spanning every generation of Xbox. It’s an interesting premise, as no flagship titles have really landed with the console. Whilst games like The Falconeer, Gears Tactics and Call of Duty landed at the same time they’re cross-generational games. Microsoft has very openly been embracing the generation-less approach to gaming; some may find this to be an anti-climax. Whilst you have access to a ton of content, it’s always nice to chuck on something that’s truly market leading; something to show off all this power. Microsoft have offered this in the form of “optimised for Series X” patches. This brings older titles back to life with features such as 120 FPS, ray tracing and 4K/HDR make overs. Worth noting is that these patches are free if you already own the game.

Graphic courtesy of Klobrille on Twitter – all games on, or coming to Game Pass…

Of course the killer app on Xbox Series X, and other Microsoft platforms, is Xbox Game Pass.  We’ve written a pretty comprehensive guide on that over here. The crux of this is that you can spend your money on the console and then sign up for as little as £8 a month and access a lot of games. These games include first party titles and a variety of optimised content.

Final Thoughts

The truth is Xbox Series X is an absolute beast of a machine. Sporting some impressive raw power for the price, mixed with the speed of the SSD to back it up. Having access to your entire game library, and of course the full Game Pass suite means you’ll have an absolute ton of titles to play. It may lack the killer app that Halo Infinite would have brought to the launch, but those titles will come.

Microsoft now own 26 different first party development studios, and with that the potential on the console is massive. Of course some might say that the Xbox is optional if you’re a PC gamer, but it depends where you want to play. Microsoft’s hook is to have a service you can access across a range of devices.

For me, the Xbox Series X is where I want to play the games. I am a console gamer at heart and there’s nothing better than lounging on the sofa, pressing a button and being back in your game within seconds. If you can get a hold of this machine then grab yourself an Xbox Game Pass subscription and you will be set for life. Well, until the next wave of hardware lands at least.

 

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