A month from now, gamers will begin getting their hands on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. And after a few weeks with the Xbox Series X, I’m ready to move on from the current generation of consoles. I can talk about my full experience with the console now, but my original impressions story is still relevant. I don’t want to go back to Xbox One or PlayStation 4. The Xbox Series X is so much better.
By now, if you’ve paid attention, you know what to look forward to. You won’t see a striking difference in screenshots. We’ve hit a point of diminishing returns for game visuals. But playing games on the Xbox Series X is faster, more responsive, and all-around more pleasant. It’s especially noticeable when going back to the Xbox One X to make some comparisons. Unlike that aging console, the Xbox Series X feels like it was built by people who believe in video games. Maybe they have plans to sell you TV and video content, but the obvious primary goal is to get you on Xbox Game Pass and playing more games than you ever have before. And the Xbox Series X is a joy to use for that task.
What about those games, though? So far, I’ve only had a chance to play a couple of games that are getting updated for the Xbox Series X. Those include Dirt 5, a demo of Yakuza: Like A Dragon, and Gears Tactics. But these are, at best, “cross-generation” games. It’s difficult to tell if they are taking advantage of all of the Xbox Series X’s features — let alone the full capabilities of those features.
I’m not expecting launch games to blow me away. It’s going to take time for developers to build worlds around the more powerful CPU and SSD. We might get one or two like that in the first six months across the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X out of dozens of new releases. For now, I’m happy to have a better place to play Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Rocket League.
Let’s get into why the console is so great so far.
Raw graphical horsepower
I’ve pointed it out in a number of stories about next-gen consoles at this point, but that’s because it’s worth repeating: Hardware is not really the thing holding game visuals back anymore. You can make a stunning game on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One with enough time and money. Look at graphical showcases like Gears 5 or The Last of Us: Part II. Those games didn’t need next-gen machines — they needed gigantic budgets and patient stakeholders.
But this doesn’t mean games can’t look or run better, and the Xbox Series X is proof of that. I’ve played mostly backward compatible games, but I’ve also started getting my hands on games that Microsoft and other publishers are updating for Xbox Series X. That includes the aforementioned Dirt 5 and Yakuza, but it’s also games like Gears 5. I’m not sure if any of these games were built from the ground up with Series X hardware in mind. But Microsoft updated Gears 5 to run at 120 frames per second in multiplayer. Same with Codemasters updating Dirt 5.
It’s amazing to see games running at 120Hz. And I definitely notice a difference, but I don’t think everyone will. The great thing here is that if we’re talking about 120 frames per second in select instances, I’m confident that many more games will hit a consistent 60fps throughout this generation. Getting Hitman 2 at 4K on the high-graphics mode running right around 60 already makes this feel like a next-generation experience.
Xbox Series X’s SSD is what they promised
I don’t need to go over everything that I covered when I talked about backward compatibility. But I’ll repeat a few key points.
The Xbox’s SSD is a revelation. Sure, it loads games faster, but it also makes everything else you do with the console quicker.
The system starts faster. That “instant-on” mode really does happen in an instant. And thinking about it, of course it works that way. Windows did the same thing when we got SSDs in PCs 10 years ago. But even if you unplug the Xbox Series X from the wall and turn it back on, that process happens in under 30 seconds.
Navigating the interface is also more responsive. I’m not using the final launch version of the Xbox Series X UI, but this preview build is a great start. It feels snappy, and I don’t have to wait for the system to catch up with me.
I think even system updates are happening faster. I know that Xbox One was supposed to handle that stuff in the background, but at least with my One S, I have started it up in the last few months and had to wait a very long time for it to go through upgrades. The Xbox Series X has had a number of updates so far, but I only notice because I get new features or more backward compatible games are unlocked the next time I turn the device on. Maybe I’ll encounter a larger, more intrusive update one day, but I do expect this system to handle that more efficiently.
What about Quick Resume, expanding storage, and install sizes? We can dive deeper into all of that now.
Quick Resume is like a virtual bookmark
Quick Resume is something I also tested in my previous story, so I’ll reiterate that it has continued to work really well for me. And this is not just about jumping between four games all in one gaming session. Instead, it’s about getting back into that game you put down a week ago because you picked up a new release. Your save state is going to stay in memory throughout multiple shutdowns. That’s the magic here.
I’ve also investigated a littler further and found that Quick Resume seems to handle online games well. Fallout 76 kicks me out to the main menu when I reconnect, and that’s what I expected from any game with a server. But Hitman 2 picks up where I left off and quickly reconnects to the server without issue. This is a sign that developers could potentially work this feature into the flow of their games.
Quick Resume also worked even between accounts. Again, another good sign. This means that if you’re working on the Titanfall 2 campaign, you can pick that up when your roommate or sibling get finished with Hitman 2 for the night. You cannot, however, create two separate Quick Resume saves for the same game across two different accounts. Only one person on a system can have a game active at a time.
You don’t need the 1TB Seagate Expansion Card
What about that expensive storage, though? The 1TB Seagate Expansion Card is $220. Well, I wrote a whole story about tearing that down, and you can read that for the details and a look at its components. So let’s just get down to what matters here. You don’t need this expansion card — at least not yet. Xbox Series X and S native games will only run off of the internal storage or one of these add-ons. But you can store games on an external, USB storage device.
Backward-compatible games also run off of USB storage. And you’ll get really fast loading times for those games if you go with some sort of external SSD solution. A SATA SSD with a third-party connector cable should give you a relatively affordable option.
Then wait for a while. See if you actually fill up the Xbox Series X storage. If it takes a year, then maybe the Seagate card will go down in price in that time.
Are games bigger on Xbox Series X?
What about the size difference between games on the Xbox Series X and Xbox One X? Well, right now, I don’t have a lot of Smart Delivery games to see that difference. When I looked at Gears Tactics, however, I found that it seems like it’s smaller on the next-gen console.
|Xbox Series X||Xbox One X|
|Gears Tactics (size in GB)||27.9GB||28.35GB|
This is too small of a sample size to come to any conclusion. Maybe the Series X version doesn’t have as much redundant data that the One X version relies on to speed up data seek times. Or maybe it’s a fluke.
Xbox Series X is cool, quiet, and power efficient
Over the last two weeks, the narrative around the Xbox Series X is that it’s so hot it will burn your flesh and incinerate your home. This is nothing more than anxious fanboys trying to cause fear, uncertainty, and doubt about a product from a corporation that isn’t their favorite corporation. The reality is that the Xbox Series X does exhaust hot air, but in my tests, that air is cooler than what comes out of the Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro by a significant margin.
You can read my full temperature breakdown right here, but here’s the quick breakdown.
During a test where I let the consoles and PC sit off for 30 minutes and then turned on and immediately booted up the Mumbai level of Hitman 2, the Xbox Series X ran cooler than the One X or PS4 Pro. Here’s a look at the numbers:
|Temp (C)||Xbox Series X||Xbox One X||PS4 Pro||RTX 3080/Ryzen 9 3900XT|
This test isn’t perfect, but I think it’s illustrative of the general thermal performance of each box. Outside of the Hitman 2 test, I was able to push the Xbox Series X to a high of 58.6C. That was in a Gear Tactics, which is taking advantage of more of the Xbox Series X hardware. The Xbox One X, meanwhile, got as hot as 60.3C. I couldn’t get the PS5 hotter than 65C.
What’s especially impressive about all of this is that the Xbox Series X is running cooler while also running significantly quieter. I haven’t done decibel testing because I almost don’t see the point. I never hear the Xbox whether it’s under full load or not. I’m going to have to take it into a completely quiet room and maybe run a long HDMI cable to a TV in the next room to see if I can hear it without anything else around.
A major reason that the Xbox Series X is running cooler, however, is that it’s more energy efficient. During that Hitman 2 test, I took a measurement of how much wattage the Xbox Series X and One X were drawing from the wall. The Xbox Series X averaged around 165W while the One X averaged 173W. And keep in mind that the Series X is also running Hitman 2 at a higher framerate. So the performance-per-watt is significantly higher.
Keep in mind that next-gen games will likely use more power. I was hitting an average of 182W from the wall while playing Gears Tactics.
Final thoughts for now
My time with the Xbox Series X preview hardware is going to end soon. For now, I’ve come away impressed. The obvious point of weakness is big exclusive games that people want to help justify the big upfront purchase of a console. And the greatest engineering in the world cannot cover that up.
But I don’t know why Microsoft would go through all the effort of building such an excellent piece of kit if it didn’t intend to put it to good use. This isn’t the Xbox One. Microsoft didn’t know what it wanted to do with that console, but it was clear that it didn’t really want to focus on games. By comparison, the Series X feels like a company taking gaming very seriously.
Like I said at the beginning, this is the machine you build if you believe in games. If you’re Microsoft, and you think that the future of Xbox is in delivering gaming content, you’d design the Xbox Series X.
And that’s what I want from all of the big companies in games. I’m not all that invested in whether they succeed or fail in some key performance indicator. I want them to believe that they can only succeed by making games because that’s when publishers and hardware manufacturers are at their best. And I think Microsoft is on the cusp of being at its best.
You can’t solo security
COVID-19 game security report: Learn the latest attack trends in gaming. Access here