Xbox Series X – Two Months Later
I have been living with the Xbox Series X for two months since its release on November 10th 2020. During this time, I have had the chance to use it as my daily console, asses how it builds upon the Xbox One generation and see how it lays the groundwork for the future of Xbox.
While I am happy to say Microsoft delivered a fantastic console experience, the Xbox Series X isn’t without its flaws. To help break down where it excels and faulters, I will be looking specifically at four aspects of the system. These being the hardware, the controller, user interface and games.
The Xbox Series X offers a clean, compact design that echo’s the previous consoles Microsoft has released. Its form factor personally makes it looks far superior in a vertical orientation however it can be laid horizontally too. Throughout all of my playtime it has remained whisper quiet if not completely inaudible during gameplay, which is likely helped by the extremely large fan and air vent. This system is also incredible fast. Loading games from the internal SSD is significantly faster than the previous generation even when playing games that aren’t optimised for the Series X. This improvement speed is only exaggerated with the consoles Quick Resume feature.
Quick Resume allows for the Series X to create suspend states for several games at once. When a game is in this suspended state you can switch back to exactly where you left off, with only a 5-8 second title card load screen. This allows you to switch between massive games with ease and without the need to fully load in each game every time. This isn’t limited to a single play session either. You can turn off your Series X and even completely unplug it while still preserving the save states of games. From my experience the Series X can keep around five games in Quick Resume at once. These are the last five games that you use rather than a list of games that you choose, however I expect this to be more than enough for most people.
As for storage, the Xbox Series X comes with a 1TB SSD of which, 802GB is usable to store games. While this isn’t a huge amount, it is just enough to store a selection of larger titles. You can use external storage if you wish however Xbox Series X games will need to be played either from the internal SSD or from the 1TB expansion card that can be purchased separately.
The Xbox Series X controller definitely favours evolution rather than revolution when compared to the Xbox One controller. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the Xbox One controller is considered one of the best controllers of all time. For those hoping for changes however, you will be left underwhelmed by what the Series X is offering. The main enhancements offered on the Xbox Series X controller are the addition of a share button, improved texturing for grip, a hybrid D-Pad and revised bumpers. The textured grip definitely makes the controller feel much more comfortable to hold while also helping it feel less plasticky. This can be found across the main body of the controller as well as on the tiggers which is a nice touch. The Share button, although not a new concept, does make it more convenient to capture screenshots and footage for those that wish to do so.
Personally, the controller offers a fantastic input method for Xbox games but doesn’t offer any significantly new. Especially when compared to what Sony is offering with the PlayStation 5 DualSense, the Xbox Series X controller is feeling a little basic. I imagine many appreciate the simplicity the Xbox Series X controller offers but for me, it is always nice to see gaming companies push the boundaries and try new things.
The user experience of the Xbox Series X mirrors that of the controller, evolution over revolution. The redesigned dashboard released initially on Xbox One almost a full month before the Series X released. With it came a few tweaks to make navigation more streamlined but the biggest improvement was the overall speed at which it functioned. This, I imagine, was laying the groundwork for when the Series X/S released but it did make a noticeable difference on the Xbox One also.
While the speed and slight changes were appreciated, plugging in my Xbox Series X on November 10th and booting it up felt almost too familiar. Microsoft absolutely designed the experience to intentionally be a seamless transition between console generations but that has a drawback. Booting up my Series X didn’t feel new. It felt faster and more responsive but it lacked that excitement you typically get exploring a new console for the first time. While I have grown the like the Xbox dashboard, I don’t love it. It has improved significantly over the past few years, but it still feels too much like Windows and therefore, a little over complicated at times. As predominantly a gaming machine I think the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch do a far better job of keeping the focus on the games, while keeping the other settings and features you need easily accessible. Where Microsoft may have the advantage though, is that they have proven they are happy to completely rework their console UI at any point and therefore they could learn from the competition and implement significant changes when they feel the time is right.
Another aspect that Microsoft seem to be taking their time with are games. While this was used as a criticism during the Xbox One generation, that was largely due to us not knowing what was in the pipeline. With reboots of Fable, Perfect Dark and Forza Motorsport all in development, they certainly have big games on the horizon. Sadly, though the launch line up wasn’t as impressive. Halo Infinite was meant to be the big AAA release at launch, but it has seen a delay until the end of 2021. While this is undoubtable the right decision to make sure the game is a quality experience, it did leave a void at launch that will stretch into 2021.
The ace up Microsoft’s sleeve though is Bethesda. Back in September 2020 it was revealed that Microsoft has reached an agreement to purchase game publisher Bethesda, with the deal set to complete in 2021. While details on potential exclusivity have not been revealed it is now highly likely that franchises such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Doom could all become Xbox exclusives once the deal is finalised. This would massively bolster the Xbox portfolio and, along with fifteen existing Xbox Game Studios, provide fans with regular first party releases going forward.
After two months living with the Xbox Series X, I am certainly impressed by the hardware that Microsoft has developed. Games run incredibly well, and the speed of the console makes interacting with it way more enjoyable than the Xbox One generation. Where I think they can improve this generation is with the user interface, which I admit is a personal preference, and in the first party game offerings. For those that want those Xbox exclusive titles, you could probable hold off making the jump to the Series X for now. That said, I would highly recommend the Xbox Series X to those that predominantly play third party titles as all the games you love will load faster and mostly run significantly better too.
Be sure to keep an eye out for my breakdown of the PlayStation 5, as well as my comparison between the two systems in the coming weeks.