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Xbox Series X Review: Amazing Next-Gen Performance

by : Jonny Lee on : 06 Nov 2020 15:10
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So, the next generation is finally here – well, for those of you who managed to actually pre-order one of the upcoming consoles. The question is was it worth the wait? And are the new consoles worth the hefty price tags? I’ve been gaming on and Xbox Series X for a little over a week now and these are my first impressions.

First, let’s talk about design. The Xbox Series X is nothing special really. We’ve all seen it by now, and yes it really does put the BOX in Xbox. It’s very clean, very boxy design doesn’t look bad though, and it definitely won’t look out of place underneath or next to your telly. For me, it looks by far at its best when standing vertically, where you can really notice the cool green detailing on the vents at the top. I also suspect that because of how it’s designed it will cool itself even better while standing upright as well.

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Anyone who owns a PS4 knows just how loud badly cooled consoles can get when running demanding games, and by comparison, the Series X is a breath of, quiet, fresh air. When running Gears of War 5 at 60 frames per second in 4k it’s so quiet that if the telly was switched off you wouldn’t even know the Xbox was on. It’s excellent.

In-person it was a little bit smaller than I was expecting, but it’s still by no means small. It also isn’t light. The first thing that struck me as I got it out of the box was how heavy it was. This isn’t a problem, but it’s definitely something to be aware of when you’re deciding where to put it.

The I/O on the front is extremely simple, there’s a disk tray and a USB port. To get at the rest of the ports you’ll have to flip it around where you’ll find two more USB ports, a HDMI port, an Ethernet port, an external storage slot, and of course, a power input.

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Before moving onto the actual hardware and performance, I’m going to very briefly mention the controller. And trust me it will be brief. The controller is pretty much exactly the same as the old one. There’s a new share button and an updated D-pad… and that’s it. I guess if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but I really wish Microsoft would have done a little bit more with it. Especially now that details about the PS5 controller have started to emerge and it sounds pretty damn good.

Now it’s time to get into the truly important stuff, the hardware and the performance. On paper, this is where the Xbox Series X is head and shoulders above the competition. It’s powered by an AMD Zen 2 8 Core CPU, a 12 Teraflop AMD RDNA 2 GPU, 16GB of DDR6 RAM and it has a 1TB NVME SSD. All these specs put together result in a machine that’s targeting 4k 60 frames per second gameplay with support for up to 120 frames per second in certain games – if your TV is capable of it.  The big question is does the Xbox Series X actually hit these lofty targets? From what I’ve played so far the answer is yes, mostly. The kicker is every game I’ve played so far is current-gen. But before going into that I’ll talk a bit about what I’ve actually played.

The few games that I’ve played that have already been optimised for Series X and Series S have, to be fair, been very good experiences. The highlight for me has been playing Gears of War 5 in 4k at a stable 60 frames per second. Those of you who know their stuff will point out that this was technically possible on the Xbox One X, and yes you are right, but the Series X version of Gears 5 has also had a number of visual upgrades that make it look even more spectacular.

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The frame-rate is much much more stable than it is on the Xbox One X version of the game. Forza Horizon 4, which has also been optimised for Series X and S, also looks and runs superbly. So does Sea of Thieves and Gears Tactics. Even a lot of games that haven’t been optimised for Series X and S benefit from the upgrade in hardware. Old games without a framerate cap will generally run at a locked 60fps now where in the past they wouldn’t have got close. The best example I’ve played is Monster Hunter World, which on Xbox One X ran at between 30 and 40 frames per second most of the time. On Series X that framerate is pretty much locked at 60. But honestly, the thing these older games benefit from most is not the juiced-up CPU or flashy GPU, it’s the super-fast NVME SSD.

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You get 1TB of internal storage which can be upgraded using pricey external memory cards, you can also run current and last-gen games off a hard drive, but no next-gen games. As you’d expect though, thanks to the SSD loading into your games is faster than ever. A level that would have taken almost a minute to load in Gears of War 5 on Xbox One X now takes under 10 seconds on Series X. The difference this makes to your overall experience is huge. And the quick load times aren’t even the best thing that this new SSD can do.

The best thing it can do, without a doubt, the new ‘quick resume’ feature. This is probably the best thing about the new Xbox. You’ve probably seen it before, but for those who haven’t, let me set the scene. You’re in the middle of playing through the Gears 5 campaign and decide you fancy playing a bit of Doom Eternal instead, so, you start that up from the home screen and play that for a bit. After 30 minutes or so of blasting your way through demons in Doom, you get bored and decide you want to jump back into the Gears 5 campaign and finish off the level you were playing earlier. So, you go back onto the home screen, start Gears of War 5 back up and after about 10 seconds of waiting you are dropped back in exactly where you left off. It is, excuse the pun, completely game-changing.

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You don’t have to wade through startup splash screens and menus anymore, you just open the game and after a couple of seconds, you’re right back into the action. I mainly play my games on PC, and I am extremely jealous of this feature. I’m also a serial game hopper, it takes me a while to settle on what I fancy playing of an evening, and those of you like me will be glad to know the Xbox stores the states of a couple of different games at once. This means you can have multiple games on the go, all in quick resume, ready for you to stop and start at your leisure. It really is brilliant.

The Series X is absolutely the best place to play your old games as well. Because Microsoft has worked so hard on back-compatibility on the Series X you have access to Xbox games all the way back to the original Xbox, and credit to them for making that possible. Not only do you get access to all these old games, but they’re also drastically improved, with better performance, higher resolution and Microsoft’s new ‘auto HDR’ feature which uses AI to give even the oldest Xbox games high dynamic range. From now on this is something that every new games console should be doing.

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Now, the elephant in the room. I haven’t actually played any ‘next-gen’ games on the Series X yet. And until I have it’s difficult to do a proper full review. Yes, Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 do look the best they’ve ever looked on the system, but they were built to run on the base Xbox One with its comparatively pitiful Jaguar CPU and measly GPU. Because of this, I feel like I can’t give a final comment on what the Series X is truly capable of. I do also worry that because all upcoming next-gen games have to run on its less powerful smaller brother, the Xbox Series S – the Series X may never get to fully show off what it can do with all that hardware muscle. I need to play a couple of titles built from the ground up for next-gen like Watch Dogs Legion with its fancy ray tracing to really push the Series X to its limits, but even then that game does actually have a base Xbox One version.

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Honestly, at release, the Xbox Series X is just a souped-up One X. All the games I’ve played on it do look great and run great, and playing them is easier and more convenient than ever, but they’re still the same games I’ve been playing for years and no amount of extra pixels or extra frames per second will change that. I think if you are an early adopter and decide to pick up a Series X on release you’ll be thrilled with the new quick resume feature, and you’ll be impressed by the improved loading times and performance in some of your games, but you might be a little bit disappointed that you don’t really have any new next-gen exclusive games to play on it. The ‘Smart Delivery’ feature means most cross-gen games you buy for your Xbox One will be upgraded to their ‘next-gen’ counterparts for free when you get a Series X or Series S.

Right now, the lack of that killer next-gen exclusive game paired with the existence of the Smart Delivery feature means there isn’t a super compelling reason to get a Series X at launch.  At the moment all the beefy hardware make the Xbox Series X an incredible machine, but a lack of new, next-generation launch titles means it’s not yet an essential console.

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Topics: Technology, Now, Review, Tech, Xbox, Xbox Series X