As we move into the fourth iteration of Xbox consoles, the lines are starting to become more blurred between these generations. Whereas before you could, from a graphical standpoint, more easily identify which console generation a particular game was from, as we move between console cycles graphics do start to plateau off. But with the Xbox Series X, I was not expecting the console improvements to feel like they were beginning to plateau off as well.
The Xbox Series X arrives against all the odds; many of us had expected the new generation of consoles to have taken a hit to their release with everything that 2020 has thrown at the world. But arrived they have, thanks to the hard work of thousands of people.
When first opening the box, I was surprised by how little was actually inside. There was the console itself, the new style Xbox controller (with batteries), a HDMI cable and a power cable. Impressively, the Series X does not require an external power brick. But there was also a lack of headset included; as someone that already uses a third-party headset this isn’t so much of an issue, but newer gamers may find this a drawback.
After everything is plugged in, the console was incredibly easy to set-up, providing you have a smartphone with the Xbox app installed, at least. Much like transferring to a new phone, moving from the Xbox One to the Series X is virtually pain free. Also, being the same OS between the two generations means that any external drives are instantly recognised and do not require any formatting.
However, being the same OS does bring about repeat problems. Several times already the console has required a full shutdown because the Xbox bleep bloop noise has gone quiet. And the Store app constantly requires an ‘update’, before failing every time. These are bugs straight from my Xbox One, and countless forum searches have produced no permanent fixes.
I am, however, quietly a fan of the monolithic and brutalistic aesthetic the console has. Though it is bigger than any of the pre-release pictures led me to believe, and the space previously occupied on the TV unit by the Xbox One was too narrow for the new machine. As such, it is now ‘hidden’ away behind the TV itself, stood vertically. But such is the design that I have left the left-hand side poking out so that it is still visible, and from this position I can still reach the disc slot and on/off button without any fuss.
But, oh boy, is this console quick! By now you will have all seen the comparison videos between generations, but even when trying it for myself on games such as Watch Dogs: Legion, Forza Horizon 4 and Halo: MCC it is very impressive. Of course, much has been said about there being no real dedicated Xbox Series X|S game released, but with the upgrades to existing games across the board this is far from a dealbreaker for people with backlogs.
Despite the lack of next-generation exclusives, many of the recent releases have been optimised for the new consoles, including many of the recent Xbox Game Pass additions. Gears Tactics has made the jump from PC to console and is a great starting point to show off the power of the Series X running at a smooth and constant 4K 60FPS. On the complete opposite side of the colour spectrum is Planet Coaster – another day one addition to Xbox Game Pass – that with the power of 4K and HDR visuals behind it really pops off the screen. In the same way that Viva Pinata was a colourful way to show off the HD prowess of the Xbox 360, Planet Coaster is a delightfully colourful game.
Of course, with all the new additions to Xbox Game Pass and the improvements to existing games – not to mention the like of The Falconeer, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, Yakuza: Like a Dragon and more that timed their releases in accordance with the new consoles – you’ll likely have several on the go. Good thing that Microsoft have developed Quick Resume then. Or, at least, it would be if it was reliable.
It is fair to say that Quick Resume is going through some teething issues in the first few weeks, so we cannot be too harsh on it as a function. Let’s not forget this is a feature that most high-end PCs do not utilise currently – the ability to freely switch between several active games on the fly. During the first few days, Quick Resume worked once for me, but I put that down to the Series X having to download a lot of 4K assets for existing games. This is me coming from a launch day Xbox One experiencing 4K gaming for the first time, so there is a lot of downloading new assets to be done.
In the days since, Quick Resume has fared slightly better: some games like Gears Tactics and Planet Coaster work every time. My other main game I have been playing – Yakuza: Like a Dragon – has had the feature turned off for now. Allegedly that is, as once or twice recently it has still worked for me. On other occasions however, the game hasn’t gotten past the splash screen, and requires me to restart the console before it allows me to actually play the game. Once in though, loading times are that quick that I don’t have time to read the loading screens hints and tips. The same goes for Watch Dogs: Legion, which works well with Quick Resume as long as you avoid the fact you are signed out of the Ubisoft servers: whereas before I had time to get a drink during the initial load or doomscroll Twitter, I’m jumping straight into this dystopian future.
All this quickness is due to the quite frankly absurd horsepower the Series X is currently packing. I won’t bore you with talk of terraflops or SSDs that you or I realistically don’t know enough about, but I will talk about the RAM. When the Xbox One released in 2013 it housed 8GB DDR3, which came as a bit of a surprise as that memory generation was already showing its age in comparison to DDR4 and GDDR5, which was underneath the bonnet of the PlayStation 4. Now though, both the Series X and PlayStation 5 are running with 16GB GDDR6, which is huge and should help them maintain their speed throughout the generation as games we don’t even know about yet begin to push the boundary.
And ultimately, that’s what the Xbox Series X feels like at the moment – an investment for the future. It doesn’t quite feel like the generational leap forward we are used to with new consoles, but give it time and it will reveal its true power.
With a lack of true next-gen games on the system as it currently stands, many people will feel like it isn’t worth the price just yet, and that makes a lot of sense. This particularly resonates with those that currently use an Xbox One X, but for folk like me with a standard Xbox One I’d argue the investment is worth it right now. A few teething issues aside, the Xbox Series X is a very powerful console that improves on almost everything that has been before it, and will only show its true potential in the next 18-24 months.
The Xbox Series X feels a bit like a caged animal: a nice addition to look at, but when that gate finally opens with true next-gen games it will really fly out of the traps and show us what it has been capable of this whole time.