Xbox Series X review

I finally got my hands on an Xbox Series X and having spent a few weeks with the console I wanted to give you my initial impressions of the console. I’m knee-deep in the next-gen now with both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, so the following is my review of the latest offering from Microsoft.

Microsoft started off the latest generation with a rough start with the Xbox One, The Kinect was still a thing and it didn’t have the exclusive games found on the PlayStation 4. However, throughout the generation, Microsoft shifted their strategy and with the emergence of Xbox Game Pass and X Project X Cloud, armed with their two new consoles Microsoft have positioned itself well going into this generation.

Hardware

I like the visual look and feel of the Xbox Series X, especially when compared to the strange PlayStation 5. When compared to its predecessor, the Xbox One, the Xbox Series X is large. It’s similar to a small PC tower, black and stands tall in your media centre. Given the shape, the best place for it is next to the TV or monitor, rather than tucked away in a drawer or under the display.

It has an ethernet port, three USB ports, the HDMI connection and a storage expansion slot – which will no doubt come in handy given the size of games this generation. The power brick has been removed and the console comes with a standard power cable. It comes with an HDMI 2.1 cable which allows for high-speed transmission of data to the screen which enables up to 120 fps, although you do need a monitor or TV with the matching HDMI 2.1 capabilities to take full advantage.

The console itself is very quiet, the only time I really notice it’s there is when it quietly chimes into life when you turn it on. You can’t hear the fans hardly at all, which makes a huge difference from the last generation. On the top of the console, there’s a grate, which acts as good ventilation for the system, plus tilt the console to an angle and you can see the trademark box green painted on the inside.

Performance

The Xbox Series X is lightning fast thanks to the Xbox Velocity Architecture. This includes an NVME solid-state drive, and the power can be felt in loading times, especially in huge open-world games. The difference is huge, loading is almost instantaneous and once you’ve tried this speed it’s tough to go back to how it was before.

There are a bunch of other performance features which make your gameplaying experience much better this generation. The system memory is optimised so textures load faster, there is less screen tear due to the variable refresh rate and there’s also the hardware-accelerated ray tracing to help make the worlds much more realistic and immersive.

The Xbox Series X comes with 1TB of Hard Drive space, which I can see filling up very quickly. One of the first things I did was download Call of Duty Warzone, which is already a quarter of the hard drive gone. The lifespan of a console these days is approx 5 years, and I can imagine games are going to be getting very big this generation. Xbox has released their proprietary external storage drives, which can slot into the system. These are a little expensive for what they are, given you can buy the same HD space for about half the price for non-Microsoft alternatives. Hopefully, Microsoft will work with partners to make this more affordable for gamers in the not-too-distant-future.

Behind the speed and the performance is 12 TFLOPs of GPU power that works with 16GB GDDR6 320-bit memory including 10GB of GPU optimised memory that works to prevent bottlenecks. The Xbox Series X can therefore reach 4K 120fps. Again, you do need a monitor or TV that works with this, but if you do the results are stunning.

UI

The main UI is pretty much unchanged from the Xbox One, although the speed and responsiveness have been improved. Picking up from where you left off in games is now super easy and fast and the menu systems are easy to navigate and intuitive.

Quick Resume is a new feature allowing you to swap between games fast. The Series X leaves the games in suspended states, which works great in single player offlines games, but for online only games you will still get booted from activities. However, it’s still fast to swap between titles and it feels quick and easy.

Games

There are not too many launch games to speak about when it comes to the Xbox Series X. Halo was supposed to be here, and we can still see Master Chief on Xbox Series X boxes related to the planned promotional material.

However, launch games don’t really matter with the Xbox Series X because there’s plenty to jump in with for free and if you have a subscription to Xbox Game Pass. In terms of free games you can jump straight into Fortnite, Warzone, Destiny 2, Apex Legends and plenty of other top free games which offer a free-to-play model. Most of these games have been given a next-gen facelift so you could be jumping in straight away with some beautiful looking games, with hundreds of hours of entertainment for free.

Xbox Games Pass is perhaps the killer app of this generation, especially given the acquisition of Bethesda and the partnership with EA. I was using Xbox Game Pass on my PC, so I upgraded myself to the ultimate edition of the game pass. Here I have a collection of the latest games from Microsoft, legacy 360 games, a huge range from Bethesda and EA too. It’s a little overwhelming at times. I have found the Xbox Series X to be my indie machine, with easy and quick access to indie titles like Narita Boy, Celeste, Ikenfell, Genesis Noir and Subnatica.

That’s not mentioned Halo Master Chief Collection, Forza, Gears of War, Sea of Thieves, Jedi: Fallen Order, Fallout 3, Octopath Traveller, Starwars Squadrons, Control, Doom Eternal, Dishonoured and a whole load more. The value that Xbox Game Pass offers is staggering, and it seems to get better as the weeks go by.

Controller

The Xbox controller has always been great, and I’ve been using my Xbox One controller plugged into my PC for years now. There are a few improvements to the older gamepad which include a share button, which allows the easy capture of a screenshot or recording a gameplay clip which can then be easily shared. The d-pad has been improved too, taking inspiration from the Elite controller and includes multi-directional control. One of the main drawbacks I can think of with the controller is the fact you still need batteries for this piece of hardware, I wish I would charge with the console itself, but I know this is a personal preference thing.

Backwards Compatibility

Microsoft seems to be focusing heavily on backwards compatibility this generation. Pretty much everything from the Xbox One can run on Xbox Series X and Microsoft have worked hard to get a lot of Xbox 360 titles working on there too. Older games benefit from next-generation upgrades too with improved framerates, HDR, better resolution all adding up to making the Xbox Series X feel great value.

Summary

The Xbox Series X is a no-nonsense games playing machine. It’s super fast, easy to set up and has a massive library of games via Game Pass or free games. Given the number of aquisitions and deals Microsoft is making to bolster the library of Game Pass, it could be Game Pass is the only subscription service you will need for games. I am having a great time with the console so far, although the lack of console exclusive games is a little surprising considering, but this was likely hit by Covid. Halo was planned for launch, but it simply wasn’t ready and has gone back in the oven until later in 2021 (we hope). I’m fine with this given the amount of great games that are appearing on Game Pass each week, and the Xbox Series X gives me a quick and easy way to play all these new great games. Sometimes I look at the library and feel overwhelmed with what to download next, by when I compared this to my childhood and having to play the same game over and over while I saved up for my next game – it’s a good problem to have.