We are just a week or so away from welcoming the next generation of consoles from both Microsoft and Sony and while 2020 has provided plenty of challenges in terms of coverage and events, both companies have pivoted their messaging and direction as necessitated by the situation. In a sense, that ability to look at things and change things for the better epitomises everything about the Xbox Series X.
Ever since the ill-fated reveal of the Xbox One in 2013, Microsoft has been fighting an uphill battle in both sales and mindshare. This is certainly something the tech giant is looking to change with their latest console offerings, with both their new consoles, the Xbox Series X and the digital-only Series S. Based on what we have seen so far, Sony will have to up their game in more ways than one to claim the top spot yet again.
At first glance, the minimalistic look of the Xbox Series X appears to be the final form of a product that started out as the gargantuan Xbox One, refined as the Xbox One X, and now, a block that boasts plenty of power in its unassuming form. Just unboxing the console makes you feel like this is a premium, powerful product that demands your attention.
Say what you will, this is easily the best Xbox console ever made in terms of aesthetics, especially when it is standing vertically like a tower of power. On its side, the protruding base of the vertical stand just does not cut it. Having it in the vertical orientation also allows consumers to marvel at the top of the console.
The concave design of the Xbox Series X for its ventilation needs definitely catches the eye, while the subtle green accents between the vents make the console pop at certain angles. One would expect the console to glow, but alas, some dreams do not come true.
On the front, you can find the power button, one USB 3.2 port, the 4K Blu-ray drive, together with the eject and controller pairing buttons. Turn to the back, and there is the HDMI 2.1 out, two additional USB ports, the power plug, ethernet port, and the new storage expansion slot. There are no more HDMI In ports or optical ports.
Setting up the Xbox Series X is a breeze, even for newcomers. You can even use your smartphone to aid the process, all while a firmware update takes place in the background. For returning Xbox players, transferring your library can be done through a variety of ways. An external drive is simply plug-and-play. If your two consoles are connected to the same network, all your games can be shifted over wirelessly.
Once everything is booted up, a sense of familiarity will undoubtedly set in. The design of the dashboard hints at a continuity Microsoft is keen to maintain. Although some may be disappointed that their new and expensive purchase does not blow their minds when it comes to the interface, exchanging that for familiarity and more importantly, ease of use, is a sensible choice.
All the important sections like the store, your games, and multimedia options are featured prominently in the UI. The different tiles should be familiar to returning players, and easy to understand for newcomers. Unfortunately, old habits die hard. Even though it is more responsive and quicker, you could still find yourself going through multiple sections to get where you want. Thankfully, there is a system-wide search function that will make things a lot easier.
The new controller is useful in this aspect as well, with a Guide button that brings up plenty of functionality no matter which part of the menus you are at. As a whole, the new Xbox Wireless Controller does not seem like much of an improvement, certainly not when compared to the DualSense. However, there are small changes that make the D-pad better, while the new share button will allow users more ease in capturing and sharing special moments.
The textured grips found on the controller is certainly a plus as well, giving you more control by keeping the controller firmly in your grasp, even in sweaty conditions. Oh, and the textured grips on the rear handles are actually deeper than the Dualsense of the PlayStation 5, which is actually preferred, but that’s up to individual preferences. The Xbox Wireless Controller continues its use of AA batteries instead of an internal battery. You can theoretically use the Xbox rechargeable battery kit, and the new USB-C port allows for potentially faster charging.
Of course, you are here for the games and not the menu. In that regard, the Xbox Series X is certainly a beast of its own. The 12.1 teraflops of computing power should theoretically allow for 4K and 60fps performances for all games. While it remains to be seen just how it stacks up against the PlayStation 5 for third-party games, the difference in power can be seen in the current offerings.
The Xbox Series X does offer the option of 120fps, which will certainly please a part of the fanbase. You would have to have the equipment to enjoy gaming at 120Hz, but the option is there, which is nice.
Similar to the competition, the speed of the internal drive in the Xbox Series X is without a doubt the star of the show. The 1TB NVMe SSD drive cuts down loading times for backwards compatible games significantly.
As a comparison, running Halo 5 took just 25 seconds to get us into the action, while State of Decay 2 needed only 30 seconds for the zombies to invade. The stark difference between an Xbox Series X and an Xbox One X makes it impossible to go back to current-gen consoles. The SSD will spoil players when it comes to loading screens.
Considering that the Quick Resume feature is part of the package, you can instantly change your mind between games. You do not even have to sit through the nonexistent loading, just make the switch and pick up right where you left off. This is as close to plug and play of the previous generations but in 2020.
Better yet, all the power and the speed do not come with the annoying noise from ventilation. The Xbox Series X is incredibly quiet, even when games are pushing 4K at 60fps. Even the heat dissipation sees improvement, which will ease the minds of many consumers.
Unfortunately, the Xbox Series X suffers from not having a showcase title for its big entrance. The delay of Halo Infinite did the launch no favours, and exclusives are few and far between. The decision of Microsoft to continue supporting the Xbox One for the next two years is commendable, but it would also likely mean exclusives will be pegged back. You can just expect the Xbox Series X versions to be better looking and quicker.
However, if you are looking at a vast library of games untouched, or had the foresight to get an Xbox Game Pass subscription, you will be experiencing all that at unprecedented levels of speed and performance. Smart Delivery also means you will be able to get the best version of games such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on your Xbox Series X. If you are looking for a shiny new game to show off your shiny new box, though, no such luck.
With the Xbox Series X making its stand with all its features, all we need next are games. It is nice to have some familiarity to the console, even down to the hardware backwards compatibility, but we still need new and exciting games to truly understand what the console can bring. Patience is a virtue, they say, and it is something you must have if you go for the Xbox Series X.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A quiet, powerful beast that makes gaming an absolute joy, but it needs new and must-play games to justify its existence.
Aesthetics - 8/10
Build Quality - 9/10
Performance - 9/10
Value - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10