Xbox Series X review: a quantum leap powered by Game Pass

A worthy foray into the next console generation, despite the disappointing launch lineup

So, here it is – merry console-mas. The new kids on the block have finally arrived and Microsoft will be first out of the gate on November 10 with the Xbox Series X. I’ve been reviewing the premier console for over two weeks now, which is more than enough time to process Microsoft’s vision for the next generation.

Let’s get the design out of the way first. The Xbox Series X looks like a mini-fridge, with a green gradient griddle on the top. It looks perfect for frying eggs. This makes the new console inoffensive and sleek, like its predecessor. I enjoy how it looks next to my TV – it blends in a lot better than its horizontal forerunners. It’s also silent as a mouse when you’re playing intensive games, and the heat produced isn’t anything out of the ordinary, especially compared to last-gen or my nearby gaming rig.

Xbox Series X Controller
Xbox Series X Controller. Credit: Mircosoft

Microsoft’s controller design has been hard to beat for many generations now, and the new peripheral is also an utter delight. This one is matte black and boasts textured triggers and palm grips that hark back to the Project Scorpio Xbox One X controller. You’re also getting a responsive D-Pad (finally) and a dedicated share button. It shaves seconds off clipping and capping in practice, but it’s still a noticeable boon.

I can hold this puppy for hours on end and it never gets uncomfortable. The battery life is great too, and thank god, we’ve finally made the switch to USB-C charging. I noticed the upgrade when playing games that take advantage of haptics like Forza Horizon 4. As you peel through the snowy countryside, the rumble is awesome. Going back to the textureless controllers of yore feels like a step down.

But when you press that Xbox button for the first time, get ready for a surprise. The console boots up at a startling speed. I would usually go make a drink or run a small errand on my phone while waiting for my last-gen console to boot up, but – not anymore! I timed it, and it’s roughly five seconds from the button being pressed to actual gameplay in Kingdom Hearts III, right where I left off. The Quick Resume feature means that it remembers your place in a few recently played games, so you can swap between them on the fly. It feels like magic.

Most of the time, it’s less than 30 seconds to make the switch to another title, which is still pretty outrageous. If the rigmarole of booting your PC, logging into Steam and opening a game bothers you, the Series X beautifully cuts through the fog. It’s one hell of a benefit to those with limited free time.

Forza 4
Forza 4. Credit: Playground Games

The SSD powering this magic also speeds up the familiar UI, and mitigates loading screens across the board. The Series X is rapid on the Home Screen, and doubles as a handy media console with Apple TV integration, access to Netflix and the like via the Microsoft Store. It’s also great if you’re into Twitch – I spent the past few days binging snacks and watching Hasan Piker’s election night coverage on the big screen via the Series X.

My one minor gripe with the UI is that you can still only record 30 seconds of 4K gameplay or two minutes at 1080p. If you record internally, it’s also needlessly hard to get the files off of the console, just like last-gen. I would have loved an expansion of the sharing system, streamlining it to coincide with the extra button. At the very least, just let me plug in a USB and get my files, instead of having to upload them to OneDrive or Xbox Live.

There’s also the storage situation, which is my main worry about the Series X. With games like Quantum Break and Forza Horizon 4 taking up more than 70GB each, it didn’t take me long to fill up the 802GB available on the console with the games I was testing. It doesn’t help that the official 1TB expansion card is proprietary – and expensive, at £219.99 (US$219.99). If you’re the type of player who likes to have everything installed and ready to go, you may run into some problems here, especially if you’re not willing to fork out.

Not all titles are optimised for the Series X just yet, but the ones that are, definitely leave an impression. Games like Sea Of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4 shine when played in 4K at 60fps as you sail the glistening seven seas and drift through the dirt in a shiny Subaru.

But I had even more fun checking out older titles with the new retrospective Auto-HDR improvements. The Series X gives games like Conker: Live And Reloaded and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion a new lease of life, thanks to Microsoft’s admirable dedication to backward compatibility. Beyond games that require the Kinect, the entire back catalogue of the Xbox One will work on the Series X. Three generations of content at your fingertips – that’s truly unparalleled across the big three console makers.

Sea Of Thieves
Sea Of Thieves. Credit: Rare

I’ve always been of the mindset that refresh rate and fps are a bigger deal than resolution, and seeing games run with such fluidity on the Series X feels like the generational leap consumers will be looking for.

If you’re lucky enough to own an HDMI 2.1 4K TV, you’ll be able to access 120fps, which is likely to be even more revolutionary. I can’t afford to upgrade my TV just yet, but going from 60 to 144Hz on my PC monitor was far more noticeable than the jump from 1080p to 4K, so make of that what you will – I’ll certainly be saving up for a new television set.

The most mind-blowing games for me were the console-exclusive titles that aren’t available on PC. Here is where you can really notice the improvements and feel like you’re getting a lot of value for your money.

Playing Kingdom Hearts III at a high frame rate and exploring a meticulous recreation of Andy’s Room from Toy Story with Donald Duck and pals provided me with so much joy even though I beat that game many moons ago – it just feels like the way it was meant to be played.

But it’s Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time that sold me on the potential of the Series X. This is a game that rewards frenetic inputs and pitch-perfect movement tech. I was originally playing the game on my One X, but I synced my save files (with startling ease) and finished it on the Series X, and man did it feel like a massive upgrade.

The loading times on the One X were bothering me somewhat – especially given how many times I was dying – and I lacked the enthusiasm to power through it. But as soon as I played a few levels on the Series X, the sprint became a marathon and I ploughed through to the end and thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.

If you’re a fan of obscure Xbox 360 and Original Xbox games, then I’m sure you’ll have as much fun as I did playing through all of the golden oldies. It was like a high school reunion at my house over the past few weeks, as I dug into games like Lost Planet, Mercenaries and Mirror’s Edge in higher fidelity on the new console. The amazing memories from the last three generations came flooding back.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Credit: Toys For Bob / Activision

Obviously, Xbox Game Pass is the other important part of the puzzle. You can gain access to a tremendous library of titles at a relatively small cost per month, and all of these games will run better on the Series X.

At the moment, it’s essential to the enjoyment of the Series X, given that the console is lacking in the launch game department. It’s not like previous Xbox launches have been much better, but the absence of a big first-party exclusive like Halo Infinite is certainly noticeable. You can wait before you pull the trigger on the Series X, if you have reason to, given that many of the games are multi-platform.

However, this also means that the promise of the console is only going to increase over time, as Microsoft’s first-party studios start to gear up and drop big games that will venerate the purchase. The Series X doesn’t have that one first-party launch game that makes the console a must-buy, but at the same time, I can gesture at the entirety of Game Pass, which has many modern classics and past Game Of The Year contenders.

Of course, there’s plenty of big third-party games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla to dig into over the holiday season. But if you’re looking for something new and exciting that you can only play on the Series X, there isn’t a convincing answer. The question is whether that matters to you.

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite. Credit: 343 Industries

The final factor is the price. You’re going to struggle to get your hands on any device that runs games at 4K at up to 120fps for under £450 (US$500). It is well worth the money, but it will all depend on your use case. Whether this is worth it for you will depend on your setup.

This will feel like a serious quantum leap from the Xbox One. But without a 4K TV, you’re going to struggle to see the benefit of the Series X – you might want to consider the cheaper Series S instead.

On the other side of the coin, if you happen to own a souped-up gaming PC, you won’t be missing out on too much here, especially now when all Xbox Series exclusives will also come to PC as standard. The value is all there, it’s just whether the Series X fits your ambitions as we enter the next-generation of gaming.

The Xbox Series X will be released worldwide on November 10.

Our Verdict

The Xbox Series X is a suave little unit with an exceptional catalogue of games, thanks to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass gambit and diligent backward compatibility measures. A laid-back design makes it look lush in your living room, but the ultimate proof can be found in the pudding.

With a game-changing SSD that hacks at loading times and the Auto-HDR, 4K 120fps capability, such horsepower breathes fluidity and new life into old games while simultaneously teasing out the cutting edge of graphics in modern titles. If you can look past the relatively limited storage and the current lack of exclusives, this console is an easy, great value pickup if you’re in the market for a reliable companion to guide you through the next-generation of gaming.

Pros

  • 4K and 120fps for £449.99 (US$499.99) is one hell of a deal
  • Sleek console design and Microsoft’s best controller yet
  • An unparalleled catalogue with Xbox Game Pass and backward compatibility

Cons

  • A lacking launch lineup
  • The UI could have done with a few new features
  • Limited storage solutions
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