Xbox Series X Review – The Power of Dreams
We didn’t review the Xbox One seven years ago. We didn’t get a preview unit and nobody on staff at the time was interested enough to pick it up day one. Man, what a difference seven years makes, because the Xbox Series X is a triumph.
This console has been built by gamers for gamers, and it comes through in every interaction you have with it. From the games to apps to the user interface itself, the Series X is better than anything that’s come before it. Full stop. Going back will be impossible.
The Series X is gorgeously packed. When you open the box, you feel like you’ve just bought a premium device. Short of Champagne and fireworks, it’s everything you’d want from an unboxing experience. And yes, I’d have laughed too before seeing it myself.
And if the packaging was premium, the device itself is something else. It’s weighty, smaller than you might think and looks stylish in an understated way. It also picks up fingerprints like nobody’s business, but that’s a small price to pay.
A quick ten minute update welcomes you when you first switch on the console, and you can use that time to sort out your settings through the Xbox app on your phone. By the time the update was done, I was ready to start downloading games. No fiddling about with accounts or internet settings needed.
The controller is smaller than the Xbox One version, but has a really nice weight to it. Improvements are small but important: different textured grips change the way the device feels in your hand while the slight increase in resistance on the analogue sticks makes your moves feel more meaningful.
The HDMI cable included is 2.1 ready, and the power cord does what it says on the tin. Other than that, you get a small instruction book and not much else. Not much else is needed.
Familiar and new
The user interface was updated to the Series X version about a month ago on Xbox One, and so the biggest surprise for new console users is how snappy it runs. Everything is fast and clean. The guide appears as you push the button, not a second later. The setting app is there when you need it. This is another example of things just being better than on the previous generation. It’s a small but appreciable difference.
It’s true that you don’t get a sense of awe switching it on for the first time, but that’s a false economy. You don’t get that switching on a new UI after a week either. Instead, Microsoft have traded fancy for familiar, and that means I know exactly where everything is when I need it. The Xbox Series X feels like home, but better. Your old home can’t boot up in four seconds.
The SSD really makes a big difference to the overall console experience. In the run-up to release, we’ve seen a lot about loading times, to the point where certain games start to feel almost slow. Dirt 5 can load a race more than 10 seconds? That’s an eternity, isn’t it?
Until you actually play it, and realise it’s the difference between consistently enjoying a game and hating it. More on game load times later.
The SSD allows for a feature called Quick Resume, which in theory is amazing. I say in theory, because through poor implementation or through bad luck, Quick Resume has worked for me in a grand total of one game. This is obviously not nearly an exhaustive study, but it’s also not a great day one indicator for how the feature will work.
This is something Microsoft has said it’s aware of and a fix is supposedly on its way. Quick Resume allows you to switch between 5+ games on the fly, exactly where you left off. That includes between accounts, so couples who will get a lot of use out of this, once it’s working.
Game Pass came too early to be considered next-gen, but I’m going to count it anyway. For all the talk about Microsoft’s “lackluster” launch line-up, I woke on Tuesday to find 80 new games sitting on Game Pass waiting for me. 80. That’s not including games already on Game Pass that I haven’t played. And there’s more on the way.
That’s unprecedented for any console launch ever, and unless you play literally every single game that comes out, there’s something for you within the service. And, on top of all that, it’ll play best on Xbox Series X.
Auto-HDR for the titles I tried it on was impressive, especially once my new console was calbrated at the system level. Games look a bit better thanks to improved filter texturing as well. Some games load instantly – that is not a “two second” instant. I’m talking too quick for the loading screen kind of speeds.
Others, Dirt 5 for instance, are considerably faster. One of the races I timed came in at just slightly over 14 seconds, compared to many times that on Xbox One X. On paper that sounds like a nice improvement, but it’s the difference between Dirt being a chore to play and it being ready to enjoy at all times. It stops being a 6 minute marathon for a 2 minute race. That flow makes the already great Dirt into an amazing pick-up-and-play experience.
Ori, which is on Gamepass, is a stunning experience. It’s like playing a Studio Ghibli film – probably one of the best looking games of the generation, and 120fps really adds to the experience. This isn’t the place for individual game recommendations, but if you haven’t, make sure you play it.
One foot in the future
It’s the elephant in the room: Xbox has no games. That’s what the internet says, anyway.
It’s not true, but having no shiny “LOOK AT ME” game on day one is an unfortunate misstep. As I said above, there is plenty to play, but nothing that really shows what this system is capable of beyond pushing higher frame rates and higher graphical settings.
It’s obvious Microsoft are still recovering from the abysmal decision to stop building the first party portfolio at the end of the Xbox 360 era, an issue that’s only really started to be corrected in the last three or four years. Blockbuster games don’t appear overnight, but that’s a Microsoft problem, not a consumer problem.
The launch gives the impression that Microsoft have one foot in the past. It’s true, they haven’t tried to hide it. They want you to be able to play anywhere, to upgrade when you’re good and ready. That’s admirable.
But it’s also obvious without much time on the Xbox Series X that Microsoft also has one foot in the future. What this is capable of today is nothing short of incredible, and what’s coming next is going to be a treat too.
Xbox Series X Review – Conclusion
I’ve seen a few other outlets suggest that it’s better holding off on the Xbox Series X if you can. That’s still a better review than most gave to the Xbox One.
But it’s also short-sighted.
If you’d have told me seven years ago that I would be excitedly unpacking an Xbox day one in 2020, I’d have laughed and laughed. I’d probably have doubted whether Microsoft had it in them to keep the console going.
But here we are. It’s a turnaround that the folk at Xbox should be proud of.
If you value your time, if you value your gaming experience, if you value hundreds of games at your fingertips for next to nothing, you will not be disappointed by the upgrade to the new generation. There is enough benefit today to invest in the latest Microsoft console.
But you’re not just buying for today. You’re buying for seven to 10 years of potential – and there’s a hell of a lot of potential in here. Microsoft has more than twenty studios developing games that’ll take full advantage of this incredible piece of kit. That’s a ride I’m proud to be on.