Today’s Xbox Series X Previews Revealed Mostly Good News

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Today’s Xbox Series X Previews Revealed Mostly Good News
Photo: Microsoft

Over the past week or so, Xbox Series X preview units were made available to select members of the media. Microsoft did not send us one of these units. I’m not sad, but, earlier today, I was cutting onions and peppers while listening to Phoebe Bridgers, and then, without thinking, I rubbed my eyes. True story. This morning, the embargo for coverage clearly lifted at the same time for those who were granted hands-on previews of the Series X. Here’s everything I learned today about the Xbox Series X.

First, the bad news: Don’t expect to use that whole terabyte of storage.

Microsoft has long touted the Series X’s 1TB solid-state drive (SSD) as a major feature of the upcoming console. As anyone who owns an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 will tell you, a notable chunk of the internal storage is reserved for files that aren’t games, at least for current-gen machines. That will, apparently, be true with the next generation. According to IGN, of that 1TB, you’ll really only have 800 gigabytes to work with. The outstanding 20 per cent is partitioned off to save space for the console’s operating system and other files.

We don’t know how large Xbox Series X games will be. But it stands to reason that, with all those snazzy 4K textures and whatnot, some marquee entries will surely make Halo 5: Guardians look like an iPhone app. (For the sake of comparison, on the Sony side, we know some launch titles, including Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the remaster of Demon’s Souls, will clock in at the 50-60GB range.)

Of course, there are some known workarounds. Microsoft will sell a 1TB expansion card for the Xbox Series S and X for $359. That’ll let you play games as if they’re running on the console’s SSD. Xbox One games stored on external drives will also work on the new consoles from day one. For those who want to stick with the console’s shipped state, though, get ready for some data management Tetris.

Boot-up times are fast.

Next-gen games weren’t made available for testing but some Xbox One games that will be playable on the Series X were. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that, across the board, games load faster on the Xbox Series X than they do on the One X. What might surprise you is just how much master those load times are.

According to tests conducted by The Verge, Warframe took 91 seconds to load on the One X, but just 25 on the Series X. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which took 67 seconds to load on the One X, loaded on the Series X in 30. The Outer Worlds, meanwhile, managed to boot up in just 6 seconds on the Series X, compared to 27 seconds on the One X. (Check out The Verge’s whole list for more comparisons.)

The Xbox Series X itself also loads in a snap. A VentureBeat video pegged the console’s cold boot — the length of time between pressing the power button and seeing the system menu — at around 10 seconds flat. Last night, I was more or less fine with how long it took to get from a powered-down Xbox to the “action movies” submenu of the HBO Max app. Now? I’m craving a feature I didn’t know I wanted. (It’s here that I should note that all of the Xbox Series X consoles sent out for demo were preliminary builds. Though the hardware is the same, these things aren’t final. Anything could change between now and the November 10 launch date.)

It’s also pretty fast at moving games between external storage drives and the internal SSD, something players will want to do to take full advantage of the console’s performance. According to VentureBeat’s testing, it took a little over two minutes to move Assassin’s Creed Origins (a roughly 50GB game, if you don’t count the DLC) from an external USB 3.0 SSD to the Series X’s internal SSD. For the return trip, it took four-and-a-half minutes. With a USB 3.0 HDD, it took a little under eight minutes to get Origins onto the console’s internal drive, and ten-and-a-half minutes to get it back onto the external HDD.

The new startup noise is awesome.

Seriously, take a listen (0:46):

Some old games will see noticeable improvements.

According to VentureBeat testing, the Xbox Series X offers performance upgrades for some current-gen games, but not all. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice saw its average framerate jump from 37 FPS on the One X to a solid 60 on the Series X. Similarly, Final Fantasy XV leapt from 42 on the One X to 59 on the Series X (in the game’s “Lite” mode, for what it’s worth).

Meanwhile, the folks at Digital Foundry found that some notoriously laggy segments of popular games — including the Paris level of Hitman 2 and the Geothermal Valley in Rise of the Tomb Raider, both of which hover at or slightly above the 30 FPS mark — held strong at 60 FPS on the Series X. Dead or Alive 6’s 4K mode, which is stuck at around 30 FPS on the Xbox One X, was also able to hit that “full framerate,” per Digital Foundry.

But hardware can’t outrun software, and a game like No Man’s Sky, which is locked at 30 FPS, ran at the same frame rate on both machines.

Quick resume sounds like the coolest new feature.

If there’s one thing everyone agrees on, it’s that Quick Resume is a “literally” “game-changing” feature. (Sorry, but a ton of other people made that joke, so I wanted in on the pun-action.) Since the Xbox Series X was revealed, Microsoft has long beat the drum of Quick Resume. Short version: You can suspend any game at any point, pop into another one, and flip between them in seconds. It’s a bold claim, but one that, at least with these preview-approved conditions, seems to hold water. Of course, on current consoles, you can suspend most games if you’re taking a break for the night or something, but you have to quit them if you want to start another.

Tom Warren, at The Verge, was able to suspend five games simultaneously, and could swap between each of them within about five seconds or so. Jeff Bakalar for CNET, meanwhile, was able to switch from Ori and the Will of the Wisps to the staggeringly large Red Dead Redemption 2 in 16 seconds. Michael Higham, at GameSpot, was able to suspend six games, but had to completely close a seventh. What’s more, according to The Verge, some constantly connected games won’t work with the feature; Sea of Thieves, for instance, didn’t support Quick Resume. (Yes, cool as it is,the feature the feature has some limitations.)

Framerates and upscaled resolutions sure sound nice. But Quick Resume, to me, seems like the most “next-gen” upgrade out of all the Series X’s enhancements. As someone who hops between games like a mustachioed plumber between floating platforms, this is one feature I can’t wait to try.

It’s big AF.

But you knew that already.

The controller seems like a minor upgrade.

If you’ve used an Xbox One controller, you have an idea of what Microsoft’s next-gen controller looks and, apparently, feels like. The stick and button layout is more or less identical. The shape, too. But there are a few apparent notable differences.

Photo: Microsoft Photo: Microsoft

For one thing, it seems weightier — not in terms of literal ounce-by-ounce comparison, but in terms of how that weight is distributed. According to VentureBeat, it’s mostly been put into the grips. The new Share button, too, introduces a long-anticipated feature that puts the Xbox Series X on parity with the PlayStation 4 (which has had a Share button all generation). At GameSpot, Michael Higham described the new octo-directional D-pad as “clicky” and “stiff” but “responsive.”

All in all, to paraphrase what seems like a unanimous opinion, it’s a nice controller, but not as nice as the current-gen Elite controllers.

So, what’s the takeaway?

Everyone who tested it seems to have the same thought: Going back to the Xbox One X — let alone a launch Xbox One or an Xbox One S — felt like stepping back into the Stone Age. Like moving into an apartment with central air or trying blueberry basil sorbet for the first time, the Xbox Series X seems to have some of those small life-changers. But there’s still a lot more to know about how these new consoles will fit into our lives and the kinds of gaming experiences they’ll provide. Stay tuned. We’ll have more on Microsoft’s next-gen consoles in the coming weeks and months.

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Comments

  • Glad to hear about the performance improvements on old games without the need for patches. That’s exactly what I’m looking for in getting a next-genner on launch – replacing my old machine and continuing to play my backlog/whatever comes out, but faster and smoother.

    Also, that new startup sound is awful. Goes for way too long. Startup sounds should be brief and distinctive. The xbone’s one was pretty great. The Switch’s ‘click’ is iconic. This new one is like they wanted to do the windows 95 startup sound, but pass it through a metal tube.

    • I will say, how often will you hear the full start up sound though? Unless I have a power outage, I don’t think I ever turn my console off quick bootup mode.

      My TV would probably take longer to boot up than the Xbox will now though!

    • Yeah I watched the digital foundry video comparing the one x and series x frames rates. Most current games (and old gen games) are hitting and dead stable 4k 60fps with no developer tweaks. I know that won’t be the case for every game but that’s freaking awesome!

      • It certainly gives a definitive answer to the question, “Why bother with a next gen console before the exclusives land?”

        If the answer is 4K 60fps, that’s the only answer anyone should need.

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