As we look upon the Xbox Series X with its release happening this week, it seems like only yesterday we were looking at the Xbox One. The seven-year cycle of the previous console gave us a lot of titles and memories, but as amazing as it was to have a high-quality HD gaming console from Microsoft, it kind of felt like a half-step up for us. It added some nice features and tech, but nothing that we couldn't get or improve on in a PC. It helped contribute to the progression of VR and reintroducing it to the public in general as a viable form of gaming again. But ultimately it didn't shatter any barriers in gaming. (To be fair, neither did the PS4.) So when the Xbox Series X was first rumored under its weird code names and eventually revealed over the summer, we had high hopes that this was going to shake things up and change stuff. But how well did it succeed? Microsoft and the Xbox team sent us a console to review, and after messing with it for a while and playing some games on it for a few weeks, we have a good idea of how we feel.
So let's start off by saying this is not going to by your a-typical hardcore review of a console. If you've been reading up on this thing for the past five months, you already know all the technical specs about it. Gamers tend to fall into one of two categories when it comes to tech specs: you either care a lot, or you don't care at all. It's really cool there's a Custom Zen 2 CPU, and 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU, with a 1TB internal SSD, being able to go up to 8K HDR, etc. But we recognize that a good chunk of people reading reviews on the console are average gamers, and while a lot of that sounds fancy, it's a foreign language to them. So we're not going to spend a ton of time on the internals beyond telling you this is a very impressive unit and the fact that it's on the market for $500 is kind of a steal. And that's coming from someone who just spent $1,500 upgrading some parts in my PC tower. To be clear, not buying a full tower, just parts. So for those of you who are not tech-literate, this is an awesome system both in design and functionality, and it's at a decent price for what it can do.
As far as the outside of the console is concerned, the front piece has your usual connection button for the controller, power button using the icon, a 3.0 USB drive, and a disc slot for both games and 4K Blu-ray titles. The back of the box, as you can see below, comes with two more 3.0 USB slots, Ethernet port, power port, HDMI out port, and the additional Storage Extension slot (which will get to in a sec). You also have two cooling ports on the back and the large one on top. The base is a circular rubber mat, but if you want to put it on its side, there are four nubs on the right side to do just that. Something to take note of that disappointed us is that there's no longer a second HDMI port. Over the past few years, the market has boomed with retro mini consoles for practically every system made between 1974-1995. Most of them taking up an HDMI port on your TV, and unless you own a specialty TV/monitor with several ports, chances are you're limited to three-to-four. That extra slot provided a way to hook something else up to the Xbox One and play that through the console. That option is now gone and is sorely missed.
We mentioned the Storage Extention port on the back, which has been created specifically for the Seagate SSD Drive you see below. The card they currently have for sale adds a 1TB SSD to the console, but it's a card that only Seagate makes (as of right now, who knows what companies will develop a card down the road). There are some pros and cons to this, the pros being you are getting a chance to upgrade memory directly into the console that's designed to work with it and not cause a delay or create issues. The cons being its currently a proprietary addition that's expensive. As of when we're writing this, 1TB is $220. This is laughable considering you can go to any electronics department or box store and buy a 1TB SSD external drive for $90 that you could hook up to one of the USB ports. It's nice and fancy, but it's also super annoying. That being said, we haven't been able to test it out and see if it's worth the cash because they didn't send one with the unit. If they decide to send us one for review now that we have the Xbox to use it on, we'll give it a proper review down the road.
Getting into the software, the menu has greatly been cut down on the clutter. One of the issues we had with the XB1 is that it was too much of everything. How many links do I need to get to the store? Yes, I know its a game console, I know I can buy and download stuff, I don't need an option to do so in ever menu. The Xbox Series X version of the home menu has been simplified and greatly separated. It makes finding things much easier, although there is still sometimes an annoyance in needing to access stuff right away. For example, there's no main menu item to go straight to your friend's list, you have to access that by tapping the Xbox logo on your controller to bring up the left menu and selecting it from there. I was also a little annoyed that we still have to download software just to play a 4K Blu-ray, as if that wasn't an automatic feature. Your library is easily accessible too, as you can transfer games from your XB1 to the XSX if they're on the same wi-fi network, or anything you have stored on an external drive will immediately work on the new console. One of the bonuses to this menu system is that it can be accessed from a browser or smartphone app, so if you need to download a firmware update, you can do it from your phone while the console is off. It gives a lot more access to remote options, which is amazing.
As far as gameplay is concerned, this is a gamer's dream. The 4K resolution for everything, even games that haven't been fully upgraded, is fantastic. Load times have been cut down significantly as we tried out Star Wars: Squadrons on this console and noticed a significant difference between loading times and menu changes. When this game first came out last month, it took a minute for some modes to load. That's been completely cut down to things taking 10 seconds at best. We tried it on other 2020 titles like DOOM Eternal, NBA 2K21, and Overcooked! All You Can Eat. As well as past XB1 games from the more recent Mega Man 11 all the way back to the 2013 version of Killer Instinct, with improvements across the board when it comes to performance and gameplay.
This is the kind of console that speedrunners are going to relish as it gives them a new playing field, not to mention anyone playing esports on a console. It was also great to discover the saved status feature, where if your home happens to lose power or you unplug the console from the wall, the console will stay exactly where it is with your game's progress if you have one left open. We left it unplugged for over a day with DOOM running, and once we turned it back on, we were back in the game in 15 seconds. That's a major change for gamers who have lost many a game on some sort of power issue in their lives. While Sony did not send us a PS5 for review, we've read a number of comparison reviews over the past week to where it's clear the XSX is out-performing it. If you have to choose based on gameplay alone, it seems this is the choice to make in that regard.
As far as accessories go, you don't get much. There's an HDMI cord, the power cord, and your controller. No other fancy options added as we're sure anything else will be a separate accessory to purchase later. The controller, however, is something worth talking about as this feels like one of the best-balanced controllers they have ever released for an Xbox console. I have a few different versions of the XB1 controller sent to me over the years ranging from the in-box one all the way to the Elite Wireless. While the design hasn't changed that much on the Xbox Series X version, the weight and the grip have been improved and the D-Pad has been smoothed out so this feels much more intuitive when you pick it up and not something bulky in your grip.
That being said, we do find it annoying that this is 2020 and Microsoft is still making controllers that require two AA batteries. Third-party manufacturers have been making charged wireless controllers for their consoles since 2007. We swear the ONLY reason this still exists in standard controllers is that Microsoft has had deals with Duracell in the past. It's an annoying pet peeve that we still have to go throw money away on a 20 pack of batteries for gaming emergencies or buy an Elite controller. We know what some of you are going to say, "But it has a port on there to make it a wired controller, so you don't need batteries." This is true and would be convenient… if Microsoft had bothered to include that cord, which they didn't. (See the "purchase later" comment we made above.)
Overall, the Xbox Series X is mighty impressive. There's a lot to love about this, even with the complaints we included in this piece. This isn't a half-step like we referred to on the XB1, this is a full upgrade top to bottom. The only hindrance it has going against it, which is not the fault of Microsoft or any game developer, is the current COVID-19 pandemic we're going through as we write this. A number of games, including the long-awaited Halo Infinite, have been delayed. So if you decide to purchase the console now, you're going to be waiting on some major titles as well as first-party games. (Which, we might add, Sony is going through the same thing as well, so we're not holding it against either console.)
If you're truly a hardcore gamer, this is a must-own as it's going to end up being the norm anyway in about six months. That's not a guess, that's just fact based on the track record of how the company treated the original Xbox and the 360. Microsoft may still support them and make their games backward compatible, but no one is setting their sights on making a new game for just the previous gen. The XB1 has an expiration date on it, it's just a matter of when. So the real decision comes down to whether you need to have it now and get the most out of your current library before major titles start rolling in, or if you can wait a moment and get it when your favorite game pops up. At the very least if you buy it now (having already brought up previous features), it is still a media player that will handle streaming media like Netflix and Hulu, play your music, play everything from a 4K Blu-ray down to regular DVDs, and will interact with emulators if you decide to hook one up through and of the 3.0 USB ports. As a nice little bonus, all of your XB1 peripherals will work with it as well, such as your controllers, headsets, remotes, etc. All games you purchase on the XB1 will transfer over and, depending on the developer and date it was released, it will keep your progress and even get an upgrade to the content.
It's a mighty fine console that's worth the cash. And if you have to choose between this and the PS5, to be blunt, this is the more powerful system at the moment. Granted, there will always be brand loyalty and we're sure PlayStation loyalists are scoffing at that. But if you're an average gamer with a limited budget and you're on the fence, the XSX is probably the way to go for now if you can only pick one for a while or can only afford one period.