Yesterday morning, Microsoft officially began the start of a new generation and the Xbox Series X is the start of a new hope for Microsoft and their efforts in the gaming space. I’ve been writing about videogames for 8 years now and I never seen a console like this in all of my time covering videogames and playing videogames.
In this piece, with the review officially coming tomorrow, I’m going to focus on the hardware and design alongside the OS and its capabilities as a gaming system. What are we losing? What are we gaining? Are the tradeoffs even worth it? Do the games honor Microsoft’s claim that the Xbox Series X is the most powerful console in the history of consoles and in the history of gaming? And is the Xbox Series X a powerful investment for the future?
Xbox Series X Hands On
When the Xbox Series X was announced in December of 2019, people were shocked by its design. An obelisk reminiscent of a PC tower. Not too long after, we saw the first reveal of the Playstation 5 and the reality set in: consoles are now becoming mid-tier to high-tier PCs without the massive spending that is required to gain a powerful PC.
With everything in mind, there’s nothing too crazy about the design of the Series X unless you wanna lay it out on its side. Clearly, the Series X was designed to be upright, with a profile very similar to that of a PC tower or modern speakers. The design is familiar while still being very much Xbox. When it comes to engineering, Microsoft takes the cake and I can confidently say that the Series X is Microsoft’s best console to date; it’s super quiet, cool, compact and the specs for this thing is very impressive with the full range that is needed for modern day gaming.
The Xbox Series X is a tale of gains and losses, at least when it comes to features. This is supposed to be the start of a new generation that will last until 2027 or 2028, but the reality is more complicated. The new hardware shares its OS with the Xbox One, and the original Xbox One is a very different beast to what we have today in terms of proposition and features.
For fans of the All-in-One Entertainment proposal, Microsoft completely kicked the bucket and for good reason. HDMI pass-through is gone, along with the IR Blaster. The OneGuide TV app has been completely removed, and perhaps eye-brown rising is, that the ability to play 3D Blu-Ray has been killed as well. Usually, Microsoft cites low usage as its primary reason for removing features but in fairness, the overall census certainly seem to suggest that viewership is increasingly moving towards apps like Netflix and Disney+, as over-the-air and cable TV viewership wanes massively. But, still, if you’re a fan of the all-in-one entertainment proposal, this is gonna sting big time. While, the Xbox Series X media support is a mixed bag; the gaming side of things is a treat to behold.
The Xbox Series X now supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision which will make your games pop if you have the right TV. The first act is Quick Resume, which, is a game changer. Thanks to the NVME SSD, the Xbox Series X storage is fast enough to take an entire game state and commit it to storage memory. When saved in a Quick Resume state, you can re-open your games in mere seconds after the console has been shut down into standby, or even after being completely powered off and unplugged. Quick Resume also works for multiple games at once; you can keep your favorite multiplayer game like Call of Duty or Overwatch suspended in the lobby while you wait for friends to log on and jump over near-instantaneously to Assassin’s Creed. The exact amount of games available for suspension varies by their size and complexity, and as of writing, there aren’t any tools for managing how Quick Resume works. Anyways, it’s a nice feature but most gamers won’t use Quick Resume.
In terms of the dashboard, the Xbox Series X features a refreshed version of the dashboard which follows Microsoft’s latest design choices, while separating itself from Windows which gives Xbox its own identity. The Xbox Series X dashboard also sports dynamic themes, which are animated and stylish, but they aren’t as sexy as they could be since they’re blurred by 1080p which is odd given that the games themselves are 4K. Various fan-favorite stuff from the Xbox One era is missing, Upload Studio still sucks, and the Microsoft Edge browser is still dead but what do we have though? We have a lot of great things that weren’t possible during the Xbox One era. We have an OS that refines upon all the mistakes that were made during that era, prioritizing speed and responsiveness alongside usability and gaming being the most important. It is painstakingly polished and responsive which is a far cry from the days of the 2013 Kinect-first environment we received at the beginning of the Xbox One generation.
In terms of gaming, the Xbox Series X is impressive. The Xbox Series X has promised to be the “world’s most powerful console,” but what does that mean really? In theory, it means that games will hit 60 frames per second more consistently, at a native 4K resolution more consistently, while also bringing in some next-gen visual features. Some of these features include ray-tracing reflections and shadows, which aims to cast light more dynamically, rather than artificially. The architecture brings in some of the latest tech from AMD, with a massive CPU boost over the Xbox One set of consoles. The way Microsoft has built its Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S platform and ecosystem enables games designed for the Xbox One to gain natural performance boosts on the Series X.
Games like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla are quite impressive on the system, but that’s really all I can say since there’s not a-lot of games to try out. What do we have though is impressive? Gears of War 5 is great on the system and sports a complete makeover with ray-tracing enabled and multiplayer has been pushed to 120 frames, it is staggering in its beauty. Other games like Black Ops Cold War looks great and feels quite smooth, Assassin’s Creed is the same way, and Watch Dogs: Legion is so far a good game with an abundance of ray-tracing although with a sacrifice at 60 FPS. As we move deeper into the generation and into 2021, we should see more games that are optimized for the system. In the end, there are many things to be excited about.
The Xbox Series X is an outstanding hit from top to bottom. There’s a lot to be excited here even when there isn’t a lot of games to try out, there’s a lot here that showcases why you should invest in a Series X or a Series S over competing consoles like the Playstation 5. From native 4K to 120 FPS to a responsive and great looking dashboard to Quick Resume alongside bringing everything over from controllers to headsets alongside what Microsoft is doing like purchasing Zenimax and different studios like Obsidian.
The Series X is a great console. If you’re already into the Xbox ecosystem like I am, you’re already sold. But if you’re looking to get into the ecosystem, the Series X or the Series S is a great starting point. It will not disappoint.