A step into the future for console gaming.
It’s no secret that the Xbox One disappointed out of the gate. An underwhelming and controversial reveal set the stage for a generation-long struggle to keep up with the more popular PlayStation 4, which grabbed back a large chunk of the market share the Xbox 360 had accumulated. With Phil Spencer at the helm, though, Xbox has made some noteworthy changes, both in its services and its messaging, shifting toward a focus on subscriptions and the ecosystem to complement its staggered console generations. Alongside the Series S, the Xbox Series X is a sleek, powerful piece of hardware that fits nicely into the current Xbox framework. Its high-powered tech allows for some of the most beautiful games ever seen on a home console, and its speed and efficiency are game changers in the gaming experience. While it lacks a true system seller, the Series X is the most powerful Xbox console that the team has promised for over a year and is a bright light for the future of the platform.
Xbox has put a clear emphasis in recent years on the brand ecosystem over a single piece of hardware and on the Series X as a product for those who want only the most power. On that front, the Series X easily lives up to its promise. Physically, it’s probably not going to be the centerpiece of your entertainment center, but it’s easy enough on the eyes. Though relatively large compared to past Xbox consoles, especially the Xbox One X, its size isn’t overwhelming, and you’ll easily get used to it over time. It’s not as extravagantly designed as the PlayStation 5 and is surprisingly quiet compared to the PS4 or Xbox One, so it should fit right into wherever it’s stored, almost camouflaged aside from its standard Xbox logo light.
"While it lacks a true system seller, the Series X is the most powerful Xbox console that the team has promised for over a year and is a bright light for the future of the platform."
From the first moment you turn on the console, you’ll notice how quick and snappy it is compared to Xbox’s other recent consoles. On first boot, an optional initial setup on the Xbox app on your phone lets you get into it even more quickly, and you’re off and running almost instantly. Booting up the machine from a full powered down state took less than 15 seconds and turning it on from its rest state takes even less. The speed becomes even more impressive in games themselves, too. The SSD, while not quite as powerful on paper as that of the PS5, loads games in what seems like the blink of an eye. Games like Tetris Effect: Connected or Observer: System Redux took less than 20 seconds from the time I pressed their icon to the time I could play, and Forza Horizon 4, a much more taxing load, took around 40 seconds to load what would take the Xbox One upwards of 3 minutes.
What’s most impressive about these speeds is how they subvert what we’ve become accustomed to in gaming. I noticed myself clicking through menus, subconsciously expecting a load to take a few seconds only to find that the load happened virtually immediately. It’s a natural step in the progression for gaming consoles, but to have a system that does it so seamlessly and effortlessly is undoubtedly pleasing. What also breaks our expectations is the new Quick Resume feature, which allows multiple games to sit in background memory waiting to be rebooted without having to restart the full loading process. Instead of having to sit through loading screens, you can switch back and forth between multiple games and get back into it with virtually no waiting. Again, this feature is incredibly convenient, as it takes away a factor of waiting in your decision to play other games. It’s no longer a hassle to jump between games, and it’s so much easier to not have to think about saving and quitting from one to jump to the other. While it doesn’t currently work for every game, it’s the type of feature that I expect will become second nature over time, like games resuming after turning the console off was at the start of the previous generation.
The other half of hardware power is the graphical capabilities, and the Series X brings some of the most stunning graphics I have ever seen on a console. Games that run at full 4K UHD are jaw-dropping, whether it’s the colorful, particle-filled glory of Tetris Effect or the absolutely breathtaking vistas of Forza Horizon 4. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these are easily the most impressive graphics that any console has ever been able to render, and they rival some of the more powerful graphics cards for gaming PCs. Seeing the graphics on a full 4K Ultra HD TV is an entirely different experience than seeing it online, so I highly recommend experiencing the visuals for yourself. Adding to the graphics equation are other possibilities like ray tracing, which is less prominent but very noticeable in games like Observer and Watch Dogs: Legion, and HDR, which is widespread and very beneficial to games like Forza. Even the possibility of having games commonly at 4K/60 FPS or even up to 120 FPS is promising for the future of graphical capabilities and smoothness, and with the addition of ray tracing in more games, the Series X is primed to have some unbelievably beautiful experiences ahead.
"Games like Tetris Effect: Connected or Observer: System Redux took less than 20 seconds from the time I pressed their icon to the time I could play, and Forza Horizon 4, a much more taxing load, took around 40 seconds to load what would take the Xbox One upwards of 3 minutes."
In keeping with the Xbox ecosystem, the other, more universal aspects of the Xbox brand are constant from console to console. The user interface on the Series X is identical to that of the Xbox One and Series S, though it is naturally faster to navigate. Aside from small added filters to incorporate games that are optimized for the Series X, you couldn’t tell the Xbox One interface from that of the Series X, and anyone familiar with the Xbox experience over time will be able to jump right in. This includes other aspects of the UI, such as the store and game details, which are also identical to the Xbox One interface. Expectedly, the existing issues present with the interface are still present, from the sometimes cluttered home screen to the difficulty navigating to more obscure spots. Of course, it also inherently limits the possibility of making the new console an entirely unique experience, as the joy of opening up the new console and learning its quirks is almost entirely nonexistent. With that said, the UI is still highly navigable and rarely confusing, which, compounded with its much improved speeds, makes it an even better experience.
The new Xbox controller is, similarly, highly familiar. Unlike PlayStation’s route with the DualSense, Xbox has made just a few adjustments to its controller in the name of keeping everything compatible. The most noticeable change is the addition of grips around the surface and on the triggers, which is a small change that makes the controller surprisingly more comfortable. Also changed is the D-pad, which has been altered to allow for easier multi-directional presses. Otherwise, aside from an added share button and a slightly smaller chassis, the controller is almost identical to the Xbox One controller. Despite this, its additions feel great. It might not have the same jump as the DualShock 4 to the DualSense, but this controller is comfortable in your hands and does a fantastic job at making you feel the game more so than ever before.
The most pressing problem with the Series X right now is its lack of any true system selling exclusive. After the delays of Halo Infinite and The Medium, there are very few games right now that truly make it feel like the hardware is being utilized to its potential, especially within the exclusive game department. The most notable exclusive at launch is Tetris Effect: Connected, which, alongside a smattering of other small games, make up a measly list of exclusive content that the Series X is made for. Of course, third party games like Watch Dogs: Legion and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and past exclusives like Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 are ready to be played, alongside the hundreds of games on Game Pass and in backwards compatibility, but it is yet to feel like a system you have to buy for any particular game. You will certainly not be short on actual games to play with the existing library, but it doesn’t feel like there are that many reasons to buy a Series X right now for anyone who doesn’t care about its sheer power.
"You will certainly not be short on actual games to play with the existing library, but it doesn’t feel like there are that many reasons to buy a Series X right now for anyone who doesn’t care about its sheer power."
Building into a new generation of Xbox, the Series X is a fantastic hardware entry to make the ecosystem that much more enticing. Paired with Xbox Game Pass, the Series X allows games to be both unbelievably fast and jarringly beautiful and is on the pedestal as the best Xbox console on the market right now. Its familiarity is comforting, but its new features and incredible power make it feel like it’s pushing into a new era of gaming for the first time. Its lack of games at launch makes it a harder sell for those who don’t have an investment in the ecosystem or don’t care about the power, but for everyone who does, this console is everything it promised to be and portrays a bright future for games to come.
Incredible speed; Quick Resume’s usefulness; Sleek design; Unbelievable graphical capabilities.
Persisting UI issues; Lacking launch library.
Despite the lack of any true killer app, the Xbox Series X is one of the most astonishing pieces of gaming hardware on the market, whose familiarity is comforting and whose speed, power, and graphical capabilities are jaw-dropping and promise an incredible future for console gaming.