Xbox Series X Console Review

By Pointus Blankus on 2nd December 2020

Upon first impressions, the Xbox Series X doesn’t look like a next-gen console. Unlike its main rival, the Series X sports a much simpler design. It quite simply is a large black cuboid with very rigid edges and corners. Even when you switch the console on, the entire interface is essentially the same as the Xbox One. When you switch the console on, it makes a similar sound to its predecessor, and even the controller is the same apart from a couple of new additions. With all of that in mind, is the Series X really a next-gen gaming console? The answer is a resounding “yes”, and it’s entirely down to the fact that this is the most powerful gaming console that you can buy today.

UNBOXING EXPERIENCE

Microsoft may not have made its console look futuristic, but make no mistake that the Series X is a much easier console to blend in with your entertainment setup than its main rival. From the moment you receive your Series X, Microsoft puts the gamer front and center of an unboxing experience that is unmatched in the console gaming industry.

When you finally cut through the sealed tape of the outer box and lift the lid, you’re instantly presented with Microsoft’s main tagline for next-gen gaming: “Power Your Dreams”. The console sits perfectly wrapped in thin foam-paper, but surrounded with thick foam-padding to ensure that it cannot move during transportation. Lifting the console out of the box is as simple as tucking your hand under the available slot and picking it up slowly.

There is a separate cardboard box that contains all of your necessary peripherals including one Series X controller, an HDMI cable capable of supporting 8K and 120Hz, and finally a power adapter. It of course also comes with a series of instruction booklets. Unboxing the console will take a matter of minutes and it won’t take long before you’re ready to connect the console to your TV or monitor.

CONSOLE SETUP

Setting up the Series X is as simple as wiring up your existing gaming console. At its rear, the console comes with two USB-A ports, an Ethernet port for a wired online connection, HDMI out, the power port and finally an expansion card slot. All of these ports are self-explanatory apart from the expansion card slot. This slot allows you to purchase additional storage in the form of an official Seagate storage expansion card. Currently, you can buy a 1TB card, but the issue is that it costs half the price of the console! You can buy it for £219.99 from Amazon, and that is a very hefty price to pay for 1TB. Also, I do wish that the console had at least one USB-C port. It seems strange that Microsoft only stuck with USB-A. There is a third USB-A port in the front of the console. I’m also saddened that Microsoft has dropped the optical out and the HDMI in ports. They were very useful on the Xbox One X. A lot of gamers will be frustrated that they may need to purchase brand new gaming headsets if their current ones won’t receive firmware updates for the Series X.

To set up the console, you really just need to connect the power cable and the HDMI cable. Ideally you should use the HDMI cable provided with the Series X but this isn’t mandatory. I would also highly recommend you connect your console to the Internet via a wired connection, since this will always provide a better online gaming experience.

The USB-A ports can be used for additional accessories e.g. headsets and charging stations for controllers.

When you fire up the console, you’ll be asked to set up the console. This includes logging into your Xbox account (or creating a new one if needed), network connectivity and downloading any new firmware updates if they exist. This process was a breeze thanks to Microsoft leveraging its smartphone app to let you connect to the console and then input all of your settings via a phone. What should have taken me 20 minutes only took me about 5 minutes just by setting up the console through my phone.

Although I didn’t go for this option, if your old Xbox is on the same network, the setup will also let you decide if you want to transfer all of your games from the old console to your new one.

CONSOLE DESIGN

The Series X’s design is simple. If you have a home entertainment setup, it is very possible that the Series X won’t immediately catch someone’s eye if it’s sitting alongside a Nintendo Switch or a PS5. However, it is compact compared to the PS5 and considerably more manageable. It can also stand tall or even be sat on its side. One of the sides of the console will have four sets of rubber feet for you to rest the Series X horizontally if that works better for you.

The real appeal of the design is the top. This is the only part of the console that has an actual noticeable curve. The top is covered with large holes that are meant to provide the Series X with the ventilation that it needs. Microsoft has gone the extra mile by giving a green accent inside each hole. From any angle, at first sight it looks like the green accent is a light that shines from within the console. I absolutely love this effect.

USER INTERFACE

The Series X’s user interface will create the most divide amongst gaming fans. For some reason, people just expect a brand new UI as part of the next-gen experience. However, Microsoft only updated their dashboard recently and they had been working on that UI for many years. Just because the Xbox One has the same interface as the Series X doesn’t mean that the Series X isn’t next-gen. Instead, Microsoft has decided to go down the route of providing a seamless transition from current to new-gen. Anyone who doesn’t own an Xbox should naturally treat this as a new UI. For the gamers who are transitioning from an Xbox One to Series X, at least they won’t need to learn how to navigate a whole new interface. There are a huge amount of options in the Xbox dashboard and learning how to navigate through them all over again could frustrate some users.

The only improvement Microsoft needed to make on the dashboard was the speed. I often found it sluggish to use on Xbox One. However on Series X, going from menu to menu is incredibly smooth and more responsive. I am a major fan of the existing dashboard and therefore I’m happy that they have kept the existing design.

SERIES X CONTROLLER

The Series X controller is perhaps the one area where Microsoft falls slightly short. I have no issues with the shape or the positioning of any of the existing buttons; I already felt that the Xbox controller was one of the best. However, apart from the addition of a new share button and a grippier texture on the back of the controller (which by the way, is one of the best), there is nothing else new about the controller. Microsoft could have gone the extra mile in various ways. They could have made the Elite controller as the standard offering. They could have made it rechargeable out of the box. I’m not a fan of the fact that the Series X controller still requires two AA batteries to operate unless you purchase an additional play and charge kit (or a third party battery pack).

Despite the upgrades being very minimal, it does provide one positive. All of your old controllers will still work on the Series X, even with games that are exclusive to Series X. Considering how expensive controllers are, you’ll be relieved to know that your previous investments will continue to last throughout the life cycle of Series X. If you own an Elite controller or a third party controller from companies like Scuf Gaming, it will give gamers a huge sigh of relief knowing that they are still fully functional.

SERIES X PERFORMANCE

The performance of the Series X is why Microsoft’s latest offering is truly next-gen. I genuinely believe that Sony won the battle of power when Xbox One was pitted against PS4, however this time round, Microsoft wins the battle. With 12.1 teraflops of computational power, it makes it twice as powerful as the Xbox One X and also better than the PS5. You get this additional power at no additional cost when compared to the price of Sony’s new offering.

The Xbox One X was the console that helped solidify 4K gaming. However, those games could only be played at 30fps. When you play Assassins Creed Valhalla in 30fps, it is extremely noticeable. The Series X however, introduces 4K gaming at 60fps. In fact, the console even supports games in 120fps, however it just doesn’t have the library of games yet. Currently, there are some games that let you play in 120fps, but the resolution will be downgraded to regular 1080p. This isn’t a limitation on the console. In fact, the primary limitation lies with the TVs and monitors. There are only a select few TVs that support HDMI 2.1 (4K and 120Hz), and you’re not likely to own one yet. In all honesty, the difference between 60fps and 120fps is not noticeable enough yet. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a monitor or TV that supports HDMI 2.1 yet.

The performance of the console isn’t purely down to its graphical power. Microsoft has also loaded the console with a 1TB NVMe SSD drive. This results in significant improvements when it comes to load times of games and menus. We’re not talking an improvement of 10-20% either. Sometimes, the load times are reduced by 50% or more! As an example, I played half of Assassins Creed Valhalla on the Xbox One X. One of the most frustrating aspects of any Assassins Creed game is the load times. I often wait 30-60 seconds every time I have to fast travel. On the Series X, it took about 5 seconds to do the same. The SSD in the Series X is truly next-gen level. In fact, if you’re used to playing games with long load times, just having a Series X to enjoy the faster load times will make you feel like you’re experiencing next-gen gaming.

I wish that Microsoft gave us 2TB to play with. Digital games require a lot of real-estate in terms of space. Even though the console comes with 1TB, you only have 800GB to work with. If you’re a Halo fan, the Master Chief Collection takes up 120GB alone. I can’t imagine how much Cyberpunk will take up. I want to be able to have at least 10 next-gen games saved up at any one point, but it looks like I’ll be lucky if I can get 8 games downloaded. Fortunately, Xbox One games can be run from an external USB 3.0 drive, but this is only a stopgap. Eventually, I will only want to play Series X games. When that happens, I’m stuck with 800GB, or I have to buy the very expensive expansion card.

The most impressive feature of the Series X is Quick Resume. It is seriously life changing. Imagine the following scenario: you’ve been playing Valhalla for 3 hours and decide to put your console to rest mode. You then eventually fire up the console, but this time load up Forza Horizon 4 to play some online events. After your races, you want to go back into Valhalla. When you fire up Valhalla, the Series X instantly (and I mean instantly, within seconds!) takes you back into Valhalla as if you had paused it since the last time you played it! Quick Resume is such a fantastic feature that I’m shocked Microsoft hasn’t done an entire ad campaign showing off its potential. Quick Resume will let you instantly carry on any game from where you last left off without even having to go through that game’s menu system. I cannot stress enough how powerful this is, and it’s only going to get better when games with major single player campaigns like Cyberpunk and Halo: Infinite launch.

SERIES X LAUNCH LINEUP

There is no denying that the Series X first-party launch lineup is weak. Halo: Infinite was meant to be a launch title but that got delayed. What’s interesting is that the actual lineup of games that are upgraded for Series X is not weak. You can play Assassins Creed Valhalla, FIFA 21 (from 2nd December), Rainbow Six: Siege, Forza Horizon 4, Gears of War 5 and many others. In fact, with Xbox’s Game Pass Ultimate, you have access to an incredible library of games to download at no additional charge (including EA Play’s full catalogue), many of which are upgraded for Series X. My personal favourite has to be Ori and the Will of the Wisps. In 4K and 60fps, this game is breathtaking.

With that in mind, the problem with the launch lineup isn’t that there aren’t any games for Series X. The issue is that there are no exclusives for the Series X, and this means that there aren’t any games designed specifically to show off the potential of the console. Also, if existing Xbox gamers have completed all of the games that are now available for upgrade, they may not want to replay those games just to enjoy the upgrade in visuals and performance. They are all valid points and concerns. If you’re looking to buy a Series X hoping for console exclusives right now, then you’re better off waiting. However despite a weak exclusive lineup, there are enough games that are upgraded to match the capabilities of the Series X. It is absolutely worth buying the console now. If the hugely successful launch window is anything to go by, the Series X won’t be dropping in price anytime soon!

SMART DELIVERY SYSTEM

Microsoft clearly wanted to focus on a great customer experience with the Series X. Everything from unboxing to transitioning from an older Xbox has been implemented with the customer in mind. The transition process is where the smart delivery system comes into play. I already mentioned that during the setup of the console, gamers can move their games from their old console to the Series X. The smart delivery system takes this a step further, by letting you enjoy the best version of the game depending on what console you’re playing the game on. Again if we take Valhalla as an example, if you already had it on Xbox One, the moment you get your Series X, you can download the optimized version of the game on Series X for no additional cost. In addition, your game will progress seamlessly between the consoles without you having to do anything.

FINAL VERDICT

I don’t know why, but I’ve heard some negativity around the Series X because of its simplistic outer shell and the lack of changes in the user interface or controller. Whilst there is absolutely room for improvement in some of these areas, Microsoft has delivered where ultimately, it will count the most. The Xbox Series X is the most powerful console that you can buy right now and although there are no games taking advantage of that just yet, we won’t have to wait long to start getting some Series X exclusives. The truth is that both the PS5 and Series X are great consoles. You’ll ultimately get the console that the rest of your friends will also want to get. If however you’re thinking about a next-gen gaming console as a future investment, Microsoft tends to release first-party titles that are more geared towards the eSports market (Halo, Gears of War, Forza etc.) whilst retaining the full library of third party eSports games like Call of Duty and FIFA. The only difference is that with the Xbox Series X, you’ll know that you’ll be playing on the most powerful console to date – a statement that only the Series X can make. 

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