Microsoft’s approach to its next-generation console offering is quite unique. From a traditional perspective, the Xbox Series X marks a new era of gaming, pushing the medium forward in raw power and quality of life changes. Though, once you look at the big picture, the Xbox Series X is a high-end extension to the grand ecosystem Microsoft is building.
It seems like eras have passed since the Xbox One reveal. In 2013, Microsoft launched the console under the guise of an all-in-one entertainment machine. To divisive fanfare, Microsoft’s Xbox division underwent an evolution. Flashforward seven years and we’re now looking at a very different Xbox brand. Xbox has been transparent in its messaging leading up to the console’s launch and has spent years becoming a customer-focused leader in the industry. The Xbox Series X is catering to players with an overwhelming focus on providing the best possible gaming solution the company has.
Microsoft released the Xbox Series X alongside the more affordable entry point into the new console generation, the Xbox Series S. Though, the former has been positioned to be a more robust console marked as “the fastest, most powerful Xbox ever”. While we had the opportunity to go hands-on with the Xbox Series S, we simply couldn’t wait to get our hands on the Xbox Series X and gauge the benefits the console had.
The Xbox Series X is packaged in a very elegant way. Similar to the Xbox Series S, Microsoft has taken an approach that can only be compared to Apple in terms of thoughtful care in the packaging. From the breakaway adhesive tabs to the stylish way Microsoft designed the packaging to be opened like a treasure chest, unboxing the console is almost an experience unto itself. Once you flip the lid, the Xbox Series X is right there in front of you. With only a cardboard banner reading the console’s “Power Your Dreams” slogan in the way, the console is right there for you to see.
Lifting the console from its box, I was surprised by the weight of the console. Coming in at 10lbs, the Xbox Series X is no toy. No, once you hold the console for the first time, you get a better understanding of what this is. It’s a hefty piece of hardware and for good reason. Microsoft has packed it with cutting edge technology to deliver that next-gen experience. With a monolithic design, the Xbox Series X resembles a fridge. More realistically though, it closely resembles a PC tower.
The comparison to a PC is way more fitting once you take into account the console’s specs. The Xbox Series X features a Custom Zen 2 CPU comprising 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.66 GHz w/ SMT) and a Custom RDNA 2 GPU with 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz. It also has a 1TB Custom NVME SSD, which plays a large role in the delivery of the next generation experience. The console is capable of displaying true 4K, a resolution the Xbox Series S is unable to render, and up to 120FPS if your display supports HDMI 2.1. This is no simple remodel of the Xbox One X. Microsoft’s new console is four times more powerful than the Xbox One X.
The Xbox Series X is clean. With a matte black finish on all sides, the front of the console only features the Xbox logo which doubles as the power button. It also has a Bluray disk drive on the front with a USB port and IR reader built into the console’s pairing button. On the rear, the Xbox Series X has a power supply port, ethernet port, two USB ports, HDMI out, and a slot for the SSD storage expansion. Again, the rear is very clean with the ports all aligned in a compact area. Additionally, as with the Xbox Series S, the console has textured nodes to assist with identifying each port. This small addition goes a long way for accessibility and should be the gold standard on all hardware moving forward.
The Xbox Series X can stand vertically, or sit horizontally on small rubber pads on the side. Personally, I think the console looks a lot better standing up. Especially since the stand cannot be removed. It would have been nice to be able to remove the stand when laying it on its side, but I digress. From a design perspective, the most eye-catching aspect is the green highlights on the top of the console. This area is worked into the Xbox Series X’s cooling system, where the air is filtered from the back of the unit up through the top.
In terms of overall size, the console measures in at 12 x 6 x 6 inches. When comparing it to the Xbox Series S’s 10.8 x 5.9 x 2.5 inches, the unit is noticeably larger. When compared to the Xbox One X, which is 11.81 x 9.45 x 2.36 inches, the Xbox Series X is once again bigger in many ways. For a lot of users, including myself, the size means that media centres may have to be adjusted in order to accommodate the size and space needed for proper ventilation.
Aside from the console, the packaging also contains the HDMI 2.1 cord, the power supply cord, and the new Xbox Wireless controller. I’ve been really enjoying the small improvements Microsoft has implemented in the controller. It now sits somewhere in between the Xbox One controller and an Elite Series controller. The textures on the grips and triggers feel great in your hand. The new D-Pad, which iterates off the Elite is phenomenal. Above all else, the new Share button, which quickly takes a screenshot or video while playing, is a fantastic edition and goes a long way for sharing in-game moments.
Expanding the Xbox Ecosystem
Microsoft is building an ecosystem. Whether it’s on mobile, PC, or in the console space, Xbox is there in some capacity. This point is exemplified as you set up the Xbox Series X. Everything from the previous generation follows you to the new console, including games, accessories, and UI.
Once I had set up the console I was met with the familiar Xbox UI that Microsoft introduced earlier this summer. While the argument can be made that new menus and a fresh start are more exciting, the new UI is Microsoft’s fastest. It’s clean and responsive, especially when navigating the store. The adjustments Microsoft made earlier this year set itself up for success upon the launch of the Xbox Series X/S.
More importantly, the Xbox Series X and Series S are compatible with all games currently supported on Xbox One. This even extends to the backwards compatible titles from the original Xbox and Xbox 360. Four generations of games are accessible on the new hardware, keeping Xbox’s history of games alive for a new generation. The only exceptions to the rule are Kinect games as the Kinect peripheral is not supported on the Series X/S.If you have a library of games installed on an HDD, you can simply plug it into the console and move those over to the SSD.
Xbox Series X is opening the doors even further to the ecosystem. Whether you start a game on Xbox One and go over to the Series X, those games will perform better and will be properly optimized. The same can be said for supported ‘Play Anywhere’ titles on PC or games running through Xbox’s cloud gaming on mobile. Everything is intrinsically tied to one another and as far as consoles go, those games will run the best on Xbox Series X.
Power and Optimization
There are two main focal points Microsoft hopes to get across with the Xbox Series X: power and optimization. Based on the time I’ve spent with the console, I can confidently confirm the company succeeded. There’s no doubt that the improvements current and older games have received are anything but welcoming. Games load faster, look better, and are leveraged by the quality of life changes that never crossed my mind until this year.
As with the Xbox Series S, the Series X enables Quick Resume on many different titles. While the Xbox One could suspend a single game when powered down to rest mode, Quick Resume now lets players keep up to five games in stasis. For example, I swapped between playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to DOOM Eternal. After playing DOOM for an hour or so, I jumped back into Valhalla and instantly picked up exactly where I left off. No drawn out loading times to the menu, nothing. The console can also be unplugged from its power source and keep said games in its Quick Resume state. While this may not be a feature that everyone utilizes, being able to jump right back into a game without any barriers is magnificent. It is worth noting that Quick Resume is still being built out. I have had games close despite Quick Resume working flawlessly days before. Though, Microsoft is working with partners to stabilize the feature.
Loading times all around are significantly decreased. Anyone who has played an Assassin’s Creed game in the past will be quick to remember tedious moments lingering in the Animus void when fast travelling or loading after death. Those load times are cut down to mere seconds. In fact, playing Valhalla on Xbox One X, average load times peaked at 40 seconds. On Xbox Series X, I was able to load in at a brisk five seconds. Watch Dogs: Legion was another prime example of the custom NVME SSD putting in the work. On Xbox One X, many loads would be well over a minute. On Series X, they were decreased to 10-15 seconds. This extends to older backwards compatible games as well.
There’s a respectable amount of care put into making the suite of games perform better while playing on Xbox Series X. The new console fully embraces 4K fidelity in spades. Even those small details are amplified on the new hardware. Thanks to the new leaps the console has made, lighting effects pack a punch. In supported games, DirectX Raytracing goes a long way to providing an extra level of immersion. I’ve never been one to nitpick a game’s FPS. Now that I’ve been consistently seeing 60FPS across the many games launched alongside the console, it’s opened my eyes more to how important a solid 60FPS is.
Much of this all has to do with Microsoft’s Smart Delivery feature. Games such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs: Legion, and Gears 5, and many more can be purchased on Xbox One and be optimized when brought over to Xbox Series X. Optimizations can be anything from consistent 60FPS to improved graphical fidelity. In the example of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the Xbox Series X renders the game at 6K and supersamples it down to 4K. Indie darling The Touryst is another that renders at 6K.
We have already talked about a handful of games that have launched alongside the Xbox Series X, or been brought over from the Xbox One generation. However, it’s important to note that Microsoft does not have that system-selling title just yet.
Unfortunately, during the lead-in to the console’s launch, 343 Studios announced the indefinite delay of Halo Infinite, a game that was positioned to launch day and date with the console. This has left a pretty sizable gap in Microsoft’s catalogue. I must admit, it was a little disappointing to see the Xbox Series X packaging with Master Chief so prominently featured on the back, knowing we’d have to wait. That being said, Microsoft has a promising lineup on the horizon starting with the Xbox exclusive The Medium. Looking past that, Series X owners have Halo Infinite, Fable, Everwild, and Avowed to look forward to.
Without a shiny new first-party offering, Microsoft has leveraged third-party support and naturally, its large Xbox Game Pass platform. With many of the aforementioned third party titles, alongside games like Dirt 5, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, The Falconeer, and Tetris Effect: Connected, Microsoft built a diverse lineup to support the launch of its system.
Though, I do think the killer app Microsoft has under its belt remains to be Xbox Game Pass. With 800GB of available space on the Xbox Series X’s SSD, there’s ample room to download AAA and indie titles from Game Pass. Of course, many of these games were titles released during the Xbox One generation. Which isn’t necessarily a negative. Xbox Game Studios titles ranging from Halo to Gears of War and Forza are all available which is a great perk for anyone stepping into the Xbox ecosystem for the first time. The value of Xbox Game Pass has made it a worthy investment for anyone picking up the new console.
The Xbox Series X provides that quintessential next-gen experience. The hardware Microsoft has developed not only improves how games look on-screen, but how they are experienced. Gone are the days of having to stare at a loading screen to get into your favourite game. Brand new games and beloved classics look and feel better thanks to the performance upgrades the Xbox Series X provides.
While Microsoft may not have the system-selling exclusive ready for the console’s launch window, Xbox Game Pass has a diverse suite of games ready to be played. If you’re not typically an early adopter nor a player who obsesses over FPS and fidelity, you may not feel the rush to invest in the Xbox Series X immediately. Though, for those already in the Xbox ecosystem, looking to see their games perform better at true 4K and up to 120FPS, you will find a lot of value from the console.