Xbox Series X: The Kotaku Australia Review

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Xbox Series X: The Kotaku Australia Review
Image: Kotaku Australia

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

quick resume xbox series x s
Image: Gears of War 5

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

yakuza dragon chronological order where to start
Screenshot: Yakuza: Like A Dragon

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

xbox series x review xbox one comparisons
Image: Kotaku Australia

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

Image: Kotaku Australia

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?

xbox series x
Image: Microsoft

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.

Comments

  • Great review, thanks.
    Hard decisions incoming! I’ve never owned an Xbox but geez I’m tempted this generation. The hardware + game pass just seems like a winner.

    • The thing I really love about the game pass is that it just removes any barrier to entry on stuff you might be interested in, but maybe not enough to sink some costs into it.

      I’ve played some just really amazing indies on there that I would’ve passed on otherwise, and I’m so glad I did. For me, a serial game sampler, that makes the thing worth its weight in gold.

      Eg: I was skeptical about Streets of Rage 4 until actually having it in-hand and playing it, and finding it not only faithful to the originals but a welcome evolution. Vambrace: Cold Soul, Sea Salt, Astrologaster, Bloodstained, Children of Morta, State of Decay 2, Eastshade, Phoenix Point, Grounded, Indivisible, Faeria… I don’t think I’d have ponied up the dough for ANY of those and would’ve missed out on some pretty damn great gaming experiences as a result.

      Of course, if you’ve got a good gaming PC, game pass isn’t really a reason to buy a neXtbox. You can get close to the best of both worlds getting a PS5 for its much-stronger exclusives and having a good gaming PC for everything game pass offers.

  • Just want to add a vote for the game pass. Game pass is a serious benefit that everyone who plays games regularly should consider. Hell, I don’t even USE my xbone and I get unrivalled value out of it for its PC implementation. And every now and then (Surge 2, Nier: Automata) I get some use out of it on the xbone. Having next-gen optimization built in should make it a no-brainer for anyone plopping the thing down and plugging it in on launch.

  • Now if only I can get my hands on one before my birthday at Christmas time, here’s hoping.

    Does anyone know if I’ll be able to use my USB drive from my Xbox One X that has all my games on it and plug it straight into the Series X?

        • Yes, that’s a good point. You can still store Series X games on external storage but they need to be moved back to internal storage in order to play them. I was just about to say that likely applies for One games that have optimisations for Series X as well, but perhaps not — Digital Foundry listed a lot of upgrades for Gears 5 but it does not use Velocity Architecture so theoretically it will still run off external storage.

  • I’ll be going from a day one Xbox One to a Day one Xbox Series X. Plus the addition of a relatively new 4k tv has got me pretty excited for Tuesday.

  • Thanks Leah, great coverage on the new Xboxes. I’m definitely going to pick an X up when they’re widely available next year.

    I don’t mind the current UI design, the major downside to it is it’s SLOW on my One S, spinning wheels for minutes loading updates for example, and slow opening game pages in the store. Is it much quicker on the Series X?

  • Thanks for reading, dazzler!

    Everything is super quick on the Series X. Like, expect not to wait for anything, you barely have to wait for games. Updates are also very quick and easy.

  • Wish I could get one before Xmas, but I’ll happily join the line and wait for when they become more readily available next year……I guess. At least I have a launch ps5.

  • For me, without touching it, it all just looks so safe. There is nothing really screaming ‘buy’ or no real huge steps into a new gen. Eg the controller and UI. Naturally I will reserve my judgement until I play with it next week (my bro’s family is getting one), but honestly as long as it is faster on all the important way, that’s still a huge win and worth an upgrade

  • Really, Ps4 pro and Xbox One X can take a lot of the blame for both the new consoles seeming a little uninspiring; they were both really solid mid generation upgrades that are robbing the new gen of a lot of the drama and spectacle that normally comes with the upgrade.

    That I’m most excited about the two new controllers than the consoles themselves speaks volumes.

    • ps5 gets a new UI which is nice, but you’re right. The main thing I’m excited about with the ps5? I don’t have to listen to my ps4 pro’s fan SCREAMING all the time. Seriously it’s just stupid loud.

      But I’m totally aware that I’ll be playing the same games, they’ll just be loading a bit faster. Still, I’d rather buy a new console than upgrade my gfx card right now. The prices for those are ridiculous!

      • True! I was all set on a 3070/3080 to keep my rig going for a few years, but then I saw the inflated local prices. Wowsers!

        Can almost get a PS5 AND a Series X for that much.

        • You’re not wrong about the pricing for the new graphics cards right now lol. I’ve got an RTX 3080 pre-ordered and at this point, I’m sooooo much more excited for the PS5 given that I have no bloody clue when the new graphics card I’ve had pre-ordered since September 18th will even get to me.

  • I’ve got a pre-order in for a Series X (for my son’s birthday….mostly). Has anyone had a delivery notification yet or are we expecting them not to be sent until the day of release?

    • A mate in NZ through mighty ape was shipped yesterday and a friend here through Telstra expected to ship today. I did store pickup to be safe from EB.

      • Mine was through Harvey Norman – they didn’t send it until late today.

        But it’s for my son’s birthday as I said, so it’s no biggie, but if it was for ME I’d be a little salty about that.

        BUT – the pre-order process through Harvey Norman was completely painless compared to what happened on EB Games (I was trying to pre-order through 4 sites at once…first one to checkout fully was the winner).

        • IN THE END – it took until Friday for the Xbox to travel the 4.5km from the store to my house. Absolutely rubbish effort by the courier company.

  • If this plus game pass is to replace my PC (or my home theatre set top box)…

    can it mouse and keyboard?
    Can it media remote?
    How well does all the graphical improvements work with media apps like Netflix or Disney plus?

  • Got my shiny new xbox. It doesn’t work. Won’t connect to my wifi, and refuses to boot the operating system without doing so. I’m sure patches will improve this, but suspect that many people have ended up with a substandard piece of hardware.

    • Did you set up via the mobile app? I and about 5 friends have had no issues setting it up. My only complaint is all the series x optimised games have 50gb updates.

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