With the Xbox Series X, Microsoft are aiming to set a new standard for consoles when it comes to graphical power and performance. However, faced with a fierce competitor in the PlayStation 5, it will need to deliver on that promise and then some.
Putting old console rivalries aside, there’s no denying that Microsoft’s highly-anticipated Xbox Series X and S machines are exciting for all gamers. Not only do they boast lightning-fast load times and rich visuals, but they come with Quick Resume and raytracing, features never seen on consoles before. Series X is the more powerful of the two, and if you want to see next-gen Xbox games at their best, this is the one to invest in.
As soon as you switch on your new Xbox and load up, say, Gears of War 5, it’s clear that Xbox Series X is a huge step up from Xbox One, and rather than compare it to the next PlayStation, it almost makes more sense to put it up against a PC running a mid-range graphics card as the new Xbox blurs the boundaries between PC and console gaming.
Let’s not get too caught up in the specs though. There are those who love to study every GHz and Teraflop, reeling them off to their mates as they argue that my console is better than your console, however, for most people, what truly matters is how their favorite games both look and feel on the Series X, and you can expect detailed insights into how the Series X performs in this hands-on review.
Lightning-fast load times
Consoles have long been behind PCs across many tech metrics, but one thing that has continued to plague past generations is the dreaded HDD. Not only is this storage device extremely outdated, it’s also excruciatingly slow, particularly when it comes to booting up your system and loading into games.
However, the Xbox Series X has finally rid console players of this time-consuming process for good. The 1TB Custom NVME SSD eliminates lengthy load times, allowing you to jump straight into the action within mere seconds. It even helps eliminate the long boot-up times as the Series X Home screen can be accessed within a scintillating eight seconds. Gone are the days of checking your phone or making a drink in between particularly laborious loading screens.
Quick Resume is more than just a gimmick
The spike in performance also allows both the Series X and S to utilize the Quick Resume feature, which enables you to pause a game and load up another at the same time. Microsoft dabbled with this idea back when the Xbox One launched, but it is only now that this once buggy feature has been fully realized. Unlike its clunkier predecessor, the Xbox Series X allows you to pause and boot up multiple games simultaneously.
While the Quick Resume function works on a handful of titles, it performs incredibly well and makes for some seamlessly fast transitions. In just a matter of seconds, you can be whisked away from the blood-soaked battlefields of Gears of War 5, and taken to the beautiful hand-painted environments of Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
However, what really comes as a surprise is how well the Xbox Series X handles this feature. Even with multiple games paused in the background, there’s no noticeable drop in each title’s frame rate. In fact, every compatible game that was tested with the Quick Resume feature ran like a treat, but only time will tell how it fairs on the system’s more intensive games.
Furthermore, the Quick Resume feature also remains active even when the console is completely powered off. You can finally say goodbye to those annoying moments where you’re hurrying to find save points or having to leave the console idle at a particularly important section.
This feature might seem like a relatively small addition and it probably won’t be the Series X’s main selling point, but it is one that demonstrates just how capable this console truly is.
Powerful performance at a fraction of the price
While the Xbox Series X may not feature all the bells and whistles of the very best PC builds, it does offer great graphical fidelity and performance at a more affordable price. The Series X aims to deliver a stable 4K experience at 60 FPS, with support of up to 120 FPS depending on the title. Those with 8K TVs will also be able to enjoy greater visual clarity, albeit at a cost to performance.
While there is no way to check the Xbox Series X’s FPS internally, every game tested seemed to maintain a consistent frame rate at 1440p. Even when the onscreen action got particularly heated, the Series X kept performance steady and never hindered the overall experience – an area that has often been a rarity in past console releases.
This led to buttery smooth gameplay that felt akin to playing on a mid-range PC. If it weren’t for the weighty Xbox Series X controller, it would be difficult to remember that you’re actually playing on a home console. This is especially true when the Series X is paired with a high refresh rate monitor. Shooters feel snappy and quick, platformers are incredibly responsive, and racing games deliver fluid and fast performances. There was no game tested that the Series X couldn’t handle.
Raytracing and higher resolutions bring each world to life
If you’ve been following recent developments in gaming technology, then you’ll know just how keen developers are to utilize raytracing. This sharp lighting effect brings each game’s world to life by creating dynamic reflections and shadows, giving greater visual fidelity than ever before.
Both the Xbox Series X/S and PS5 will mark the first time that consoles have ever had access to this graphical enhancement, making it a significant selling point for those that wish to truly immerse themselves in a game’s world.
While a number of upcoming titles will feature raytracing upon launch, it is Gears of War 5 that showcased a glimpse of how these dynamic reflections and shadows will look on the Series X. Not only do the visuals look absolutely stunning on the Series X, but the shooter also runs extremely well. In fact, the ruins of Azura prove to be the perfect environment to test out the Series X’s superior lighting capabilities and it doesn’t disappoint.
Bright rays of natural sunlight protrude through the jungle’s treetops and bounce off the glistening waterfall, while the dimly lit depths of the COG bunkers cause shadows to dance upon the walls whenever bullets streak down the flooded hallways.
It is a marvel to see a feature that doesn’t result in any significant drops in performance when running at 1440p. Of course, this could change in games that feature intensive lighting and shadow effects, but it’s encouraging to see this kind of performance so early on.
Cool and quiet
The Series X isn’t very loud at all. In fact, you can only hear the fan when you remove your headphones and turn the game audio off. Unlike the Xbox One, the Series X also keeps cool after several long hours of rigorous gaming. This is largely down to the vertical placement of the console’s fans, which helps to dissipate any heat directly above the console. For those with limited surface space, the vertical fan placement is a godsend.
Minor controller changes make for a smoother experience
The Xbox Series X controller doesn’t boast any major all-new features, but there are a few minor adjustments that make it more appealing than its predecessor. Firstly, the tactile mini dots featured on the under grip and triggers help keep the controller firmly in your hands no matter how sweaty your palms get. This makes it great for those late-night grinding sessions or when you need to remain on point during adrenaline-fueled multiplayer modes.
The Series X’s triggers don’t share Sony’s adaptive functionality, which makes the triggers harder to push down when using certain items such as a bow – However, they are very responsive and feel good to press in.
Alongside the usual button inputs, there is now a dedicated share button – One press of this little button and you’ll be able to effortlessly take screenshots and save those montage-worthy clips in an instance.
However, there is one old feature that has made a comeback – the return of the classic circular D-pad design. While the very thought of this may worry a lot of players, the Series X’s D-pad actually works like a charm. Unlike the 360’s nightmarish D-pad of doom, Microsoft’s latest controller allows for even greater precision when it comes to registering vertical inputs.
The stronger indentations of the D-pad’s diagonal buttons allow for greater precision than ever before. Gone are the days of wrestling with the D-pad to pull off those all-important directional inputs. Now you can simply click the D-pad in the exact direction you want in order to unleash those lethal combos.
Lacking Launch Day exclusives
The only gripe with the Series X is the lack of available launch day exclusives. This obviously won’t be a problem for those that are looking to pick up a Series X or S after the console’s initial launch as upcoming exclusives include Halo Infinite, Fable, Forza Motorsport, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, and State of Decay 3. However, right now, we don’t have enough killer games that are only available on Xbox.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some top titles available to play on the new console, and they will, as detailed above, look great. The likes of Dirt 5, Assassins Creed: Valhalla, Destiny 2: Beyond Light, Tetris Effect: Connected, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon will release alongside the Series X and S on November 10. There’s also the addition of Xbox Game Pass, which will allow players to indulge in over 100 games and backward compatible titles.
In addition to new releases being optimized for both the Series X and S, Microsoft are also targeting previously released titles. These include Forza Horizon 4, Gears 5, Gears Tactics, Sea of Thieves, and The Touryst – all of which have received various changes to make use of the console’s increased specifications. To make matters even better, Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda will give Xbox Series players access to the likes of the ever-popular Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchise.
The Netflix of gaming
Microsoft continues to make gaming more accessible than ever thanks to its affordable Game Pass subscription service. Being able to indulge in 100+ games for as little as $9.99 / £7.99 a month is always going to be a huge bonus for any player, particularly those that wish to skim through the digital pages of its ever-growing catalog.
While the lack of launch day exclusives may disappoint many Xbox fans, it’s Microsoft’s emphasis on Game Pass and the stalwart dedication it has to backwards compatibility that makes the Series X so tantalizing. This backward functionality is an area that has remained a strong focal point in gaming, especially when you consider how strange it really is.
Imagine if there was a new wave of Blu-Ray / DVD / Video players every five years and you couldn’t watch any of your old films on the new machine, it would certainly seem a little off. However, Microsoft fixes this issue and allows Series X and S players to enjoy higher resolutions, faster load times, and more stable frame rates from Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Original Xbox games.
Not to fan the flames of the console war, but it’s important to note that Sony’s PS5 doesn’t offer this same luxury to its users. If you’re looking to play any PS2 or PS3 games, then you’re fresh out of luck when it comes to this area.
Is Xbox Series X worth your money?
The Xbox Series X seeks to further blur the lines between PC and console thanks to its killer combo of speedy load times, buttery smooth gameplay, and high graphical fidelity. While it won’t topple the best PCs on the market, it’s certainly hard to pass up for those that want fantastic performance at a fraction of the price.
Microsoft have certainly set out to make a strong statement, and the Xbox Series X is more than capable of making its mark in the highly-competitive world of console gaming.