The ninth console generation is finally upon us and Microsoft and Sony have taken a slightly different approach this time around. Instead of pushing one single unit, as they have done historically, both manufacturers have opted to produce two separate machines that will appeal to different corners of the gaming community. Of Microsoft's two new machines (the Xbox Series S and X), it's the Xbox Series X that is the real flagship offering, and it has the bragging rights of being the most powerful console on the market.
On day one, the Xbox Series X will retail for £449.99 in the UK, and there will also be the option to pay for the console in monthly instalments through the Xbox All Access program. Those seeking this option can pay £28.99 per month (0% APR) for 24 months, and this also includes a subscription to Games Pass Ultimate for the duration. This I would say is a pretty wise move on Microsoft's part, as it ensures that the console is affordable for even those on a tight budget. There's no need to even spend money on games upfront, as Xbox Games Pass is stacked with many quality titles from both first and third party studios.
Dimensions, the controller and system specifications
The console itself is an absolute beast (its measurements are 301mm height x 151mm width x 151mm depth) and it humorously resembles a mini fridge. On the front of the console there's, of course, the disc drive, a controller pairing switch, and a single USB port. On the rear you'll find a HDMI port, two USB ports, a slot for memory expansions, as well as an ethernet port. Gone is the chunky power brick for the Xbox One, Making the console itself present minimal clutter within my TV setup. You can choose to sit the console on its side if you don't have the room to stand it vertically, but annoyingly, there's no option to unscrew the stand underneath it.
Microsoft has taken an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' approach to the controller on the Xbox Series X, but there are a few minor revisions. A new share button has been added to the centre that allows players to capture photos and videos in an instant without having to fiddle around with the Guide. The D-pad has also been revamped and resembles what was seen on the Xbox Elite Controller Series 2. For me, this felt like a massive improvement, as it felt snappy and precise and not slippery like the old d-pad. Its size has also been scaled down ever so slightly, and the triggers are now coated in bumps.
The Xbox One may have lagged behind the PS4 last generation when it came to raw power, but fortunately, it is not the case this time around. Underneath the hood, the console has a 12 teraflop GPU, an 8-core 16-thread 3.8GHz CPU, a 1TB SSD, and 16 GB GDDR6 memory. The PS5, on the other hand, only has a 10.3 teraflop GPU, and its CPU is clocked at 3.5GHz. Things do look better for the Xbox on paper, but what it really comes down to is how well the titles are optimised for the machine itself. The PS3, for example, had the edge on the Xbox 360, but some developers found the system notoriously difficult to develop for, so some titles even ended up looking better on the less powerful system.
Visuals and storage
So, with all of this in mind, how do games actually look on the Xbox Series X? Admittedly, I skipped out on the Xbox One X, so my jump from the vanilla Xbox One to the Series X felt like a significant one. The games that I was able to play before launch and served as a test were Gears Tactics, Gears 5, and Dirt 5 which were all capable of achieving 4K 60fps. It was first-party offering Gears 5 that really blew me away with its performance on the console, despite being a year old and launching originally on the Xbox One. This enhanced version ran incredibly smoothly during the action, its colours appeared bold and vibrant, and its shadows and textures appear greatly enhanced when looking back at the original Xbox One.
Something of which felt revolutionary to me on the Xbox Series X was its severely reduced loading times due to the internal SSD. When testing games like Dirt 5 and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, it only took me roughly five seconds to jump into the game after cutscenes. This was a significant time saver and felt especially great in Dirt 5 when I needed to restart a race after slamming into the barrier. It's not just newer games that can take advantage of this feature, as the full library of backwards compatible titles load faster than ever.
The internal hard drive may perform well when it comes to speed, but I did find its size to be lacking considering the size of modern day games. 1TB itself wouldn't be great, but after the operating system has been installed, you actually only have 802GB free to install games. With titles like Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Call of Duty: Warzone taking up roughly 100GB each - you can see why this storage space might not last too long. There is the solution to expand the storage with expansion cards, but the only one currently available from Seagate will set you back £219.99 (almost half the price of the console). You could also use an external hard drive, but you won't be able to take advantage of the SSD.
Quick Resume, day one playable titles and user interface
A headline feature of the Xbox Series is Quick Resume. With Quick Resume, players can suspend and resume up to five games at a time without having to boot them up from scratch. When I toyed with Quick Resume it took me roughly 10 seconds to boot up my progress, and the incredible part is that the console retains your progress even when powered off. This was such a convenience as it meant that I no longer had to rely on autosave states being reliable. It also meant that I could just jump into a game for a relaxing break if I found that I was getting my ass kicked on Dark Souls.
We can't talk about a new console without also mentioning games and when it comes to the launch line-up for the Xbox Series... it's well, admittedly lacking when compared to the PS5. Halo Infinite was set to provide us with that next-gen Xbox experience, but sadly it was pushed back to 2021, now the hole within the line-up is a pretty evident one. Sure, there's Gears Tactics, Yakuza: Like a Dragon (timed Xbox console exclusive until 2021), and The Falconeer (Xbox console exclusive), but these are all playable on the Xbox One. The PS5, on the other hand, has a much stronger line up from its first-party studios with the likes of Demon's Souls, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure coming day one.
What the Xbox Series does have over the PS5, however, is an entire catalogue of backwards compatible games that span all the way back to the original Xbox. As well as the entire Xbox One catalogue, over 500 titles from the Xbox and Xbox 360 are compatible and these have been enhanced with improved visuals and faster loading times. This catalogue includes classics such as Red Dead Redemption, the Mass Effect Trilogy and Beyond Good and Evil. Those who have stuck with Xbox throughout their gaming journeys will be able to take their entire libraries with them, and it's just as simple as logging into your account.
When it comes to the operating system, it's the exact same software that is running on both the Xbox Series S and previous Xbox One consoles. Some may find it disappointing that there aren't any further bells and whistles in this respect, but I do like how there is a fluidity between the whole family of Xbox consoles. I don't find the UI to be as clean as it is on the PS4, but the Guide makes navigation simple, and there's plenty of room for customisation on the home screen as players can pin their favourite games and apps.
Microsoft has really come out swinging this generation with the Xbox Series X. The console boasts some seriously impressive specs underneath the hood, and its SSD and Quick Resume feature means that gaming is quicker and more convenient than ever. I do, however, wish that its internal hard drive was larger than 1TB, and that its launch line-up of games consisted of more real 'must-have' titles. Still, I'm sure these issues will be remedied as more games and revisions of the console are released later down the line. As for now, the Xbox Series X is a beast, and you should seriously consider it for your next console upgrade.
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