The Xbox Series X is a hearty machine with excellent performance and a great range of features, but it’s held back by future-proofing that means its best features won’t peak for years to come. While it promises ‘up to’ 8K HDR gaming and 120 frames per second for some games, these glorious heights will be unobtainable for most gamers (and development teams) for years. Still, the console features impressive, ground-breaking graphics and has the potential to change the gaming world forever.
This story has been republished to coincide with the Xbox Series X’s global launch today.
Gaming on the Xbox Series X is flawless
The Xbox Series X has gut-busting graphics and excellent all-round performance whether you’re playing Xbox One-era games or gorgeous, ‘optimised’ Series X titles. The console turns on instantly and lets you jump into game you like with minimal fuss and zero noise. You certainly won’t have to turn your TV up over the fans like in the current Xbox One X / PlayStation 4 Pro era.
Instead, it simply loads up games and you can jump in quick as you like. Most games boot into gameplay in under 15 seconds, with some taking as little as 2. You can view some of the loading times for the Xbox Series X here.
When you jump into your games on Xbox Series X, there really is a noticeable leap up in graphics compared to last generation. For the ‘best’ results you will need a TV compatible with HDMI 2.1, but you’ll still benefit on older 4K TVs. (TVs supporting HDMI 2.0 will also be able to run games at 1440p and 120Hz.)
Frame rates are completely smooth, transitions between cutscenes and gameplay are seamless and you can hop in and out of games easily with the click of a button.
Graphics are also extremely impressive for optimised titles, with Gears 5 and Gears Tactics spotlighting some of the prettiest textures and details you’ll ever see. Sweat shines, skin looks soft and plants have a photoreal look to them. Water flows smoothly and looks gorgeous, and landscapes often hard to believe. The graphics of optimised Xbox Series X titles are genuinely impressive.
While not all titles are optimised or generate the same awe as the upgraded Gears series, we’re likely to see more games take advantage of the newer hardware in the years to come.
But the lack of launch titles is a major catch
Games should be a big selling point for new consoles. New graphics, better immersion and novel ways to play are key for ringing in the next generation of gaming and attracting new audiences. For many reasons, this year has put a major spanner in the works for developers. Some of the games planned for launch on the Xbox Series X (like Halo Infinite) have been delayed. Others have experienced teething issues in the shift towards working from home.
Either way, the launch lineup is very thin.
Outside of the 30-odd optimised Xbox One games for Series X owners, the console also gets games like Yakuza: Like A Dragon, Tetris Effect: Connected and Observer: System Redux. None of these are Xbox Series X exclusives (Tetris Effect originally came out on the PS4 and PSVR in 2018). If you already own a Windows PC or Xbox One, you’ll be able to play those games on your existing consoles with some graphical improvements available on the Series X.
The lack of exclusivity means gaming on the Xbox Series X feels less special. Until exclusives are in full swing, there’s no real incentive to make the upgrade.
Xbox Game Pass is the real winner here
That’s not to say it’s all doom-and-gloom for the Xbox Series X launch lineup. First, the console is backward compatible, so most of your current Xbox One and Xbox 360 will work via disc. (Some original Xbox games are also compatible, but check this list for more information.)
Then you’ve got Xbox Game Pass. If you’re unfamiliar, Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service for Xbox and PC users containing over 100 Xbox Series X, Xbox One and Xbox 360 games available for players to download as long as they have an active subscription. When the Xbox Series X launches on November 10, it’ll also include games from EA Play for Ultimate subscribers, making for a very hearty Xbox games lineup.
While the subscription fees ($10.95 a month or $15.95 a month for Games Pass Ultimate, which also includes PC games) may turn some off, it’s the best value for money in modern gaming. Rather than forking out $80-100 for individual titles, Xbox gamers will be able to grab games from Xbox Game Studios on launch, as well as gaining access to hundreds of other titles.
Many of the games being ‘optimised‘ for Xbox Series X are also offered through Xbox Game Pass, so if you’re grabbing a new console you’ll be able to access a sturdy launch line-up for a relatively small fee.
While PlayStation Plus Collection similarly offers download-ready games, the smaller scope and range means it doesn’t really measure up. For now, Sony doesn’t have an answer to Xbox Game Pass and it’s a massive plus for the Xbox Series X and Series S. If you’re planning on purchasing either console without Xbox Game Pass you should reconsider, particularly given future AAA Xbox-developed games will release on Xbox Game Pass at launch. It’s a solid deal, and nearly makes up for the console’s slim launch lineup.
The Xbox Series X isn’t a huge leap from the Xbox One X
The biggest difference between the Xbox One X and the Xbox Series X is the newer console is capable of better graphics with far less effort. Loading speeds are reduced on the Xbox Series X, graphics are brighter and more realistic, and performance is seamless. You won’t hear the fan going flatchat, and you’ll be able to play every game in a jiffy.
These changes may not be enough for those looking at purchasing a new console.
Xbox CEO Phil Spencer recently said exclusives were counter-intuitive and emphasised the need to make gaming accessible for everyone. However, that approach also means the Xbox Series X is stuck between worlds and lacking unique appeal.
Its graphics and performance are very impressive. But right now, it’s only a few notches above the Xbox One X. Sure, there’s some unique features like Quick Resume, but for most people this won’t be enough to justify upgrading.
It feels like the Xbox Series X is only a ‘nice to have’ with no aggressive incentive to buy in. If you’ve already got an Xbox One X, you’re better off waiting.
The Xbox Series X UI experience
Important to note is the Xbox Series X also features the same UI as the Xbox One S and One X — a factor contributing to its lack of ‘newness’. Because it feels so familiar, it’s hard to see the Xbox Series X as a different console to its predecessor. It’s just as cluttered and difficult to navigate, with advertisements for Xbox Game Pass and alternative entertainment littering the homepage.
Essentially, the menu system is designed as an all-in-one entertainment hub. If you’re just in it to play games, you’ll struggle with the UI and how it prioritises Microsoft Store purchases.
It makes it much harder to see which games you actually own, and which games you’re in the middle of playing. A minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, but it does dampen the experience somewhat.
The Xbox Series X has a bright future
Even if you skip the Xbox Series X console at launch, you won’t miss out in the long run. The console is stuffed to the gills from a technical perspective, with 12 teraflops worth of graphical processing power and the potential for “up to” 8K. For now, the console operates comfortably at 4K, with most games optimised for between 60-120 FPS. It’s solid, but its peak feels firmly in the future.
While it is technically capable of outputting an 8K signal, you’ll first need games operating at that resolution and a TV set capable of handling this pace. As it stands, the majority of people won’t have access to a HDMI 2.1 TV for years to come. These TVs start at around $1,800 but they’re still so new there isn’t wide adoption just yet.
Give it another two or three years and these TVs will become far more affordable. There’ll also be full support for Dolby Vision in games, and developer support and understanding of raytracing will be massively advanced.
True 8K gaming is probably still a generation away — even Phil Spencer isn’t optimistic about it. But the other hardware benefits, especially the support for higher refresh rates and the new SSD drives, are already making a massive difference in games. The full potential of the Xbox Series X hasn’t been realised, and we’ll likely only start to see what it’s truly capable of in 2022 or beyond when other hardware catches up.
Should you buy an Xbox Series X now?
The Xbox Series X is a great console. It’s backed by robust hardware, the excellent Xbox Game Pass and eye-popping graphics. But its peak is years off and with a fairly disappointing launch lineup, you shouldn’t rush out to buy one just yet.
If you’re new to Xbox, you’ll definitely find something to love about the Series X and its blistering performance, but if you already own an Xbox One X, there won’t be a huge world of difference here. You might be better off sticking with your current gen console until the Series X really comes into its own.
Exclusives have been played down for this generation of consoles, but the lack of a killer app really is a blow for the Xbox Series X. Asking people to pay $749 for marginally better graphics and processing than a current gen console in 2020, when everyone is currently dealing with the financial impacts of the coronavirus, is an unfortunate challenge. Really, the timing couldn’t have been worse, but you can never predict when a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic will hit.
For now, it doesn’t feel like there’s any major reason to purchase the Xbox Series X at launch. There’s plenty of time for the console to find its feet (and plenty of exciting games on the horizon) but for now, the Xbox Series X doesn’t feel like a must-buy.