I’ve been using an Xbox Series X for the better part of two weeks, and whilst I can’t give a final verdict just yet due to non-final operating system and only sampling a small amount of Xbox Series X optimised titles, I feel that I’m now at a good place to break down a number of key areas which you’re probably still wondering about just less than a month out from launch. In the last week or so, I’ve already spoken about how Quick Resume feels like a gamechanger to me and the fact that the Xbox Series X controller is an improvement, but here are my thoughts on a lot of different aspects of the Xbox Series X.
THE CONSOLE DESIGN
I’ve been a massive fan of the Xbox Series X design since it was announced, and after having it in my home for two weeks, I love it even more now. It’s a discreet black box, and I feel like that’s exactly how a console should be. There’s a nice pop of Xbox green that’s painted onto the vents, which gives it that little quirky design element without making it stand out.
It’s not a huge unit for what’s inside, but it will be a little bit awkward in some entertainment units. Whilst it can sit in either horizontal or vertical positions (and it fits into my entertainment unit in either orientation), it definitely feels like it was designed to be in the vertical position, and looks much better in this position. I have to say, if there is one thing that irks me about the design of the console, it’s the lack of USB-C port. I get that for compatibility reasons, the console still needs to have USB-A ports, but one USB-C would have been sufficient.
HEAT AND NOISE
When it comes to noise, I’ve never heard a peep out of the Xbox Series X. Not when playing backwards compatible games, or even when the Xbox Series X is being pushed to its limit playing a next-gen game in 4K/60. It’s always been whisper quiet whilst playing it, and there’s absolutely nothing else to say about this which is the ultimate compliment.
After having the console on for an hour or so, there’s definitely heat blowing out of the top, but that’s exactly what you’d expect to see. The fans are doing their job in blowing heat out of the top of the console. The heat always felt reasonable, and the temperature always felt controlled, without it continuing to get hotter as playtime went on.
As of right now, I have four Xbox Series X optimised games. You can read extensive previews for Dirt 5 and Yakuza: Like A Dragon, but I’d like to quickly touch on all four games and how they ran on the Xbox Series X below. As of right now, a month out from launch, I can definitely see an improvement in how games run on Xbox Series X, and I’m excited about the future. I don’t necessarily know if anything that I’ve played has genuinely knocked my socks off with next-gen wow factor, but I don’t know if I was expecting them to.
The key takeaway at this point is that everything seems to run a little better, and there’s also a lot more variety in display than I was expecting. It seems like we’re heading more toward PC levels of customisation (with a bit more consumer-friendliness). One of the things I’d love to see though is a bit more unification in what we’re calling modes and maybe even an explanation of what these modes do, although I recognise that this is more on developers than Microsoft at this point.
Dirt 5: has three visual modes. There’s Image Quality, Frame Rate and 120hz mode. In all honesty, I was probably happiest with Image Quality mode. There were some drops from 60FPS, but not enough to make me feel like I had to drop to Frame Rate mode. Similarly, 120Hz mode definitely showed a noticeable difference, but the sacrifices felt too great to make the jump.
Yakuza 5: Also has three visuals modes. There’s Normal, High Resolution and High Frame Rate. Initially, I thought that Normal mode had dynamic resolution scaling, but Digital Foundry reports that it’s just 1440p/60FPS, whilst High-Resolution mode is 4K/60 and High Frame Rate is 1080p/60.
Gears 5: Definitely a tricky one. Gears 5 ran at 4K/60FPS on the Xbox One X. Microsoft says that the game has 4K HDR Ultra visuals, so no doubt it’s had a bump in graphical fidelity. The characters and objects in the game have more detail, everything is a little bit sharper, the lighting is better and overall it just looks a little bit nicer than it did before. I was also able to test the 120Hz mode in multiplayer, and this is the kind of competitive game that I can see a 120Hz mode being useful. It definitely delivers and the graphics aren’t too dissimilar.
Gears Tactics: We’re limited in what we can say about Gears Tactics at this point, but it delivers on the 4K/60FPS promise. I didn’t experience any frame rate drops and there’s only the one visual mode, so you’re good to go on launch day.
BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE GAMES:
Again, I’m not Digital Foundry, I’m not ashamed to admit that you should go watch this video as it’s extremely insightful, but I definitely noticed an improvement in Backwards Compatible titles. Even without referencing specific titles such as Final Fantasy XV and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, that obviously performed better due to having uncapped frame rates, the majority of Xbox One games that I played on Xbox Series X felt smoother.
Another big thing when it comes to Xbox One games that didn’t have HDR, as well as all Xbox and Xbox 360 games, is Auto HDR. Microsoft has utilised the power of the Xbox Series X to enable HDR on games that don’t have it, and it works an absolute treat. Playing older games such as Alan Wake and Viva Pinata have a new pop of colour and brightness in all the right places. It’s not a must-have feature, but it’s just another thing that means that you can play any game, optimised or not, with confidence that it’ll run that little bit better than it ever has before.
I wrote a lot about Quick Resume here, but for me, this has been the most “next-gen” experience that I’ve had with the Xbox Series X. Not only is it being able to have a handful of games open at any time, with the ability to come back to them and pick up exactly where I left off, but it’s also the fact that I can update my console or unplug it and take it into my study, and literally continue off as if nothing happened. It’s an absolute game-changer feature and one that I never want to live without.
I hope that Microsoft continues to tweak it and somehow include multiplayer games, as well as the ability to prioritise games that always stay open and the like because I can really see it changing my day-to-day play habits. The ability to be playing a story-driven game, and then jump over to FIFA to play a game with my brother, then knowing I can jump straight back to my game without having to worry to find a save point is something that I’d really utilise, so I’d love to see that better refined.
XBOX SERIES X LOAD TIMES
It’s hard to do proper comparisons at this point. Obviously, games are going to load better automatically, just because it’s a super-fast SSD inside the Xbox Series X. So far, there’s only one Xbox Series X optimised game that we have access to that’s also available on Xbox One. That game is Gears 5 and it definitely did not disappoint in the load time department.
Gears 5 took 39 seconds to load into the game on Xbox Series X whilst taking 1 minute 12 seconds on the Xbox One X.
Gears 5 took an insane 7 seconds to boot into the first level on Xbox Series X whilst that same sequence took 36 seconds on Xbox One.
Dirt 5 took 15 seconds to get into the game and 13 seconds to get into a race.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon took 25 seconds to get into the game and 5 seconds to continue on with my save.
Gears Tactics took 44 seconds to get into the game and just 7 seconds to continue on with my game.
It took 1 minute and 30 seconds to move Dirt 5 (65GB) from the Xbox Series X internal SSD to Xbox Series X Storage Expansion Card.
It took 9 minutes and 8 seconds to move Dirt 5 (65GB) from internal SSD to an external SSD (Hyper X Game Drive).
It took 14 minutes 48 to move Dirt 5 (65GB) from Xbox Series X internal SSD to a USB 3.0 external HDD.
It’s worth mentioning that load times were exactly the same on the Storage Expansion Card, so whilst proprietary storage might have its downsides, the one big upside is that it functions exactly the same as the internal SSD, so you’ve essentially got 2TB of super-fast SSD storage to play with.
It’s an obvious one, but I can confirm that Xbox Series X games won’t start on an external HDD/SSD. You get told that you need to move the game to either the internal SSD or Storage Expansion Card. Weird enough, and this might just be because of the non-final OS, I could continue playing Dirt 5 even after I moved the game to an external HDD. This might just be because of the Quick Resume partition or something along those lines.
XBOX SERIES X USER INTERFACE
The Xbox Series X user interface is largely unchanged and I’m fairly okay with that. I wasn’t a massive fan of the Xbox One UI at launch, but after several iterations, it finally feels fit to do what it’s supposed to. It’s easy to pin your favourites, Xbox Game Pass is front and centre, as it should be, and it’s easy to manage your friends and parties. As expected, the Xbox Series X sorts games into consoles, which means that Xbox Series X optimised games get a shiny new section of your library.
The only minor grievance that I have is that there’s still no really good way to check game updates and patch notes. I’m not sure the reason for this, and I feel like with many games set to get Xbox Series X optimised updates, it’s more important than ever to have a way to check patch notes.
THE NEW XBOX APP
Alongside the Xbox Series X, I’ve also been using the new Xbox app on iOS and I absolutely love it. It’s easily the best console companion app that I’ve ever used. Setting it up is easy. You literally find it just under your Microsoft Account details, turn your console on and the two will sync up. You can also use the app to set your Xbox Series X whilst it’s updating, although I didn’t get the chance to do that (although we will for review).
The app allows you to download games remotely onto your consoles, play games using remote play, share screenshots/video captures with friends easily, see what your friends are doing and just generally browse the store. It really ties in nicely to the family of services that Xbox is building.
One of the best parts about the Xbox Series X is that you can take pretty much any Xbox One accessory forward with you. As expected, the Xbox One controller worked fine, a couple of headsets that I had lying around worked fine and I also had the chance to try out the new SteelSeries Arctis 7X which is built for the Xbox Series X, and that worked perfectly too.
All-in-all, my time with the Xbox Series X has been extremely positive. The hardware seems impressive, load times are quick and the user interface has been solid despite it not being final. Add in Xbox Game Pass and owning an Xbox has never been more appealing. I am hoping that a few of the games on the launch title list can excite me a little more on the next-gen front, but the future is bright.