“The Xbox Series X is an extremely powerful console, but it still struggles to deliver console-selling exclusives.”
- Gobs of potential
- More storage than PS5
- Accessible library through Game Pass
- Good value
- Lacking big exclusives
- Difficult to fit in most A/V cabinets
- Next-gen potential is untapped
Timing is everything.
When a console launches, it’s critical. Every component of a new system — from hardware to software — has to come together to meet the expectations of an eager and often hypercritical fan base. And when the
At first, the
That’s changed in the two years since the console’s release … but not by much. Major releases like Halo infinite and Forza Horizon 5 have helped give Microsoft’s powerful sports car a little more gas, but the Series X still struggles when it comes to delivering big exclusives that truly put its power to the test. Instead, Microsoft has doubled down on Xbox Game Pass to fill the gaps. When you’re fully bought into the full Microsoft ecosystem, the
But that’s the catch — you’ll need to pay that monthly subscription fee to make the system feel worthwhile. Game Pass means there are plenty of games to play on the system, thanks to backward compatibility and optimizations on some third-party titles, but is it worth plopping down $500 on a new console when the same games already work on the old one or your PC?
Digital Trends originally reviewed the
Gamers know to expect a day one patch, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. The initial download was less than 1GB, and that was separate from any required game updates. The controller also requires a patch.
The result is a setup process that will likely take 10 minutes to an hour of your time, depending on the speed of your internet connection. Certainly, it’s better to receive a patch than to not, but the conflict between major day one updates and the desire to load up a game the instant you turn on the console is an issue the blazing new solid-state hard drive can’t fix.
Otherwise, setting up the console is a breeze. Microsoft pushes using the Xbox app to do so. It really is a timesaver, letting you copy your settings, GamerTag, Wi-Fi password (assuming you don’t have a hardline internet connection for your console), and other information over quickly, drastically simplifying the setup.
Microsoft has shouted about its superior hardware at nearly deafening levels since it first teased the Series X (called Project Scarlett at the time). By now, you likely know the specs and buzzwords: 120 frames per second (fps),
Despite its performance, the Series X is surprisingly quiet. The cooling structure of the system is so efficient that you’ll sometimes wonder if the console is actually turned on. The Xbox One, in comparison, is like a jet engine.
The Series X is not, however, an easy fit in most home entertainment centers. Microsoft (like Sony) built its next-generation system to be a showcase item. The Series X is smaller than the
Once you have the opportunity to put the Series X to the test, you’ll find an extremely powerful machine that lives up to Microsoft’s performance promises. Games like Forza Horizon 5 and Microsoft Flight Simulator look stunning on Series X and will likely play better there than they will on your PC, unless you’re dealing with a high-end rig. But those experiences are still few and far between, even two years later. I imagine we’ll see the console’s hardware pushed to its limits more consistently as Microsoft scoops up publishers like Activision Blizzard, but for now, the power bump over the Xbox One hasn’t felt as impactful as it should be.
The Series X comes with acceptable, though not optimal, storage space. The 1TB hard drive (compared to the Series S’s 512GB) is on par with the Xbox One X. You’ll only have 802 GB available, though, after subtracting the amount used by the system’s operating system. That should be fine initially, but as this generation progresses and games require more space, it could be problematic.
Bumping system memory to 2 TB could have future-proofed the console, though it certainly would have affected the Series X’s $500 price (a key selling point for Microsoft).
If 1TB isn’t enough, you can expand Series X’s storage. Players can hook an external hard drive to the system. Testing by Digital Foundry discovered that, at least for backward-compatible titles, an external solid-state hard drive was almost as fast as on-device storage.
The console also has a Storage Expansion Card slot that can double memory size, but at $220, it isn’t inexpensive to do so. The
Controllers are our connection to the games we play, and they’ve become increasingly important over the past few generations. Microsoft has stuck close to the same design for the past two generations, and there aren’t any major changes this time around.
The Series X controller fits nicely in your hands and has been ergonomically tweaked to make it slightly more comfortable. It’s a bit more social than previous Xbox controllers thanks to the addition of the capture and share button, which allows players to record screenshots and video clips and quickly post them online.
It continues to use AA batteries, rather than internal rechargeable ones but is anything but a power hog. Still, the use of batteries feels a little dated. The
When we originally reviewed the
The launch lineup undoubtedly looked amazing at the time. Gears 5 ran incredibly smooth at 120 FPS, which raised hopes for titles still to come. The issue is that we’re largely still waiting for Microsoft to capitalize. Outside of Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite, there’s virtually no single piece of software that’s as enticing as the
Microsoft’s long-term play is Xbox Game Pass and it’s working to an extent. The subscription service is a tremendous deal, giving players access to a whole library of titles. If you asked me what the best console currently on the market is, I’d say
So how do games actually benefit from the Series X hardware? Reduced load times are the big draw, though I’ve found that the
Quick Resume, the touted feature that suspends games much like you suspend an app on your smartphone, is a strong selling point. On several occasions, I’ve had multiple games open at the same time and been able to seamlessly jump in and out of them. It feels like a magic trick and remains one of the Series X’s most impressive tech features.
The Smart Delivery feature, which ensures players get the best version for their system, is a nice touch that will save frustration, but the fact that it’s not available for every game is annoying. It’s not even available for every Xbox Game Studios game, which is positively baffling.
Microsoft feels it has something to prove in this console generation. The Xbox One stumbled out of the gate and never fully recovered. That’s not the case this time. While the lack of software is bothersome, it’s hard to fault the company entirely, as the pandemic continues to put long-term strains on everyone in the gaming world
It’s an insanely powerful system that, once the company’s internal teams begin to showcase its power, could wow the gaming world.
Microsoft is making a compelling case for the value proposition of Series X with Game Pass. There’s a reason it’s touting the huge library of backward-compatible games and the Smart Delivery option. No, you won’t get a deep library of AAA exclusives that could keep you occupied for a year. And you may not for quite some time. But Microsoft argues that this is a perfect opportunity to play games you never got around to or are currently enjoying (as well as the slew of third-party games coming this holiday) in an enhanced environment.
It’s not a bad argument, by any means, but it’s more sensible and practical than emotional. Console launches were once a chance to show off new gaming experiences that simply weren’t possible before. The
Is there a better alternative?
Yes. Sony’s PlayStation 5, unlike the
How long will it last?
Should you buy one?
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