Console war…console war never changes, but thankfully the consoles do. On Tuesday, November 10, the second-most significant Tuesday this month, the next generation of console gaming officially begins with the release of the Xbox Series X and its discless sibling, the Xbox Series S. This teraflop-filled bad boy will help usher in a new era of console gaming, which is basically becoming PC gaming but with less RGB and more sitting on couches.
That said, let’s cut to the chase: the Xbox Series X is an incredibly powerful, surprisingly thick console that feels and plays like the next generation of video gaming even if it looks like it’s a mini-fridge cosplaying as the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The leap may not seem as gigantic at first glance as the jump from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One, but from lightning-fast load times to incredible graphical fidelity, the Xbox Series X is well worth your hard-earned money if you’re in a position to upgrade your console. Especially if you have a sickness for thickness and an appropriately sized entertainment center.
What’s the SSDifference?
The most striking feature of the Xbox Series X isn’t how good everything looks or how the subtle changes to the controller make it feel better in your hand; it’s how quickly everything runs and loads. The Xbox Series X’s much-touted Velocity Architecture and solid-state drive reduce load times, which lets you get right into gaming. It’s also going to effectively mean the death of loading screen tooltips unless you’re really, really good at speed-reading.
While the speed with which individual games load is dependent on the software itself, every title I tested—from next-gen games like Yakuza: Like a Dragon to optimized current-gen games like Gears 5 to Xbox 360 titles like Mass Effect—they all loaded incredibly fast. Even titles like Grand Theft Auto V, which has load times long enough for you to cook a three-course meal, loaded from the home screen to in-game significantly faster than I’d ever experienced on a console.
Equally impressive, though, is the Xbox Series X’s Quick Resume feature, which lets you run multiple games at the same time and switch between them in a matter of seconds. Even after turning the console off, going to bed, and starting it fresh in the morning, Quick Resume let me continue turning my enemies in Gears 5 into a fine, red mist as though nothing had happened. I did run into some issues on occasion where the feature would not load back into a particular game or I had to restart my console, but those were far and few between. As with any newer technology, your mileage may vary, but for the most part, it worked seamlessly.
The biggest limiting factor will likely be storage. Even with a native 1TB of storage space, next-gen games are awfully big, which means that you’ll likely need to drop some extra scratch on an Expansion Card for additional, high-speed SSD storage if you like having a large gaming library at your fingertips. Like previous consoles, you can plug an external hard drive into the console’s USB port but it won’t benefit from the same crazy fast load times as the built-in SSD or the expansion card slot will. It may seem like a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, but worth nothing for people who aren’t fans of constantly playing “Sophie’s Choice” with your game library.
How are the graphics?
The hardware beneath the Xbox Series X is undeniably powerful. It’s a beast of a machine capable of running 60FPS at 4K and other games up to 120FPS. Everything I’ve played so far looks absolutely stunning. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty about teraflops, check out what the folks at places like Digital Foundry put together, but everything looks gorgeous and plays fantastically so far. From the way light reflects off of water to shadows dancing on the walls to breathtaking little details like the way a character’s hair is rendered, the Xbox Series X is closing the graphical gap between PC gaming and console gaming in a big way.
But the problem, thus far, and I use “problem” loosely, is that it will be difficult to truly assess just how powerful the Xbox Series X is until game developers push the hardware to its limits. Hotly anticipated games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite seem like they’ll be better indicators of what the machine can truly do, but they are unfortunately delayed while the devs crunch to the finish line. That said, the difference in nearly every game I have played so far is night and day, especially in titles like Sea of Thieves or Forza Horizon 4, which are optimized for the Xbox Series X.
What about backwards compatibility?
The Xbox 360.
The Xbox One.
The Xbox One X.
Long ago, the four console generations…well, three and a half console generations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Xbox Series X attacked…our antiquated notions of backwards compatibility for older consoles. One of the single biggest selling points of the Xbox Series X for me is the fact that it can play practically any game from every previous console generation. In addition to loading older titles faster than ever, the Series X automatically adds HDR support to games created well before the existence of HDR. Even better, it does so without adversely impacting your CPU or GPU’s workload.
This feature mostly works well. When I tested it on Mass Effect, for example, it gave the game a film grain quality almost, which made the cut scenes feel even more cinematic. However, the Auto-HDR blew out certain lighting effects and resulted in a weird motion blur that made me question whether or not it was a technical error or if I had so much coffee and anxiety in my body that I was vibrating through the fabric of space and time itself. Anyway, my point is that while the feature is definitely a net positive, it might not be a perfect 1:1 fit for every game in the sprawling backwards compatible library.
What games can we actually play though?
Speaking of games libraries, let’s talk about one of the biggest criticisms of the Xbox Series X that I’ve seen so far: it doesn’t have as many exclusives as the PlayStation 5. But considering that Microsoft keeps dropping significant chunks of change on studios like Bethesda to become a part of Xbox Game Studios, that is a minor complaint. As next-gen games continue to roll out, we’ll have a better sense of which console’s game library reigns supreme, but if you’re the kind of person who wants to play a wide variety of titles at launch, well, you can basically play any previous generation game you own or you can sign up for Xbox Game Pass, which at the Ultimate tier will let you play 100+ games on your console, Android phone or tablet, and select titles on PC too.
Still, pour one out for no Halo Infinite at launch. Best of luck to all the devs. Can’t wait to play it when it’s finally out.
The $499 question: Should you buy it?
The answer is yes, yes you should if you’re in a position to upgrade your console and spend the money, and if having the latest and greatest technology is important to you. Your life will not be markedly worse if you keep using your Xbox One, but your user experience will be markedly better if you upgrade to the Xbox Series X.
As with all next-gen console releases, you might be better served by waiting until there are more next-gen games, optimized last-gen titles, and more user data. But if you are looking for a top-tier video game console that will let you experience the best of next-generation gaming while playing basically any game that came before it, then you can’t go wrong with the Xbox Series X.
If you’re a diehard PlayStation fan, then this probably isn’t going to sway you, but the good news is that you can always just buy a PS5 instead. Stay tuned for our coverage of that console too. But for $499 for the Xbox Series X and $299 for the Xbox Series S, Microsoft has created a worthy successor to the Xbox One that raises the bar in all the ways that matter.
Featured Image: Xbox
Editor’s note: The Xbox Series X review unit was provided by Microsoft for the purposes of this review.
Dan Casey is the creative director of Nerdist and the author of books about the Avengers and Star Wars. Talk to him on Twitter about video games