Launching earlier this year, the Xbox Series X has made bold promises with its hope to “power your dreams” and become the most powerful console on the market. For the most part, its power is what puts it over the top of any previous Xbox console, and what it lacks in exclusive games it has been able to make up for with increased visual fidelity and refresh rates that push the limits of the screens many of us play on. Compounding the machine’s power are its new features like Quick Resume and drastically reduced load times that have improved the experience for virtually every game in the library. We’ve gone in-depth with eight of the console’s biggest games, from tentpole exclusives like Gears 5 to third-party powerhouses like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, putting Microsoft’s newest hardware to the test against its predecessor, the Xbox One X, and seeing how its new features and powerful specs fare on their own.
It has become so commonplace in gaming that the loading screen when booting up a game for the first time is a seemingly never-ending cycle of tips and tricks as you wait for that opening cutscene. The Xbox Series X is trying to alleviate a lot of the impatience these opening load times cause, and in our tests, it almost universally improves the wait times for the first stages of each game to begin. While games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Ori and the Will of the Wisps jump immediately into unskippable cutscenes that serve as veiled loading screens, others have tangible loads whose duration has noticeably decreased.
On the Xbox One X, Watch Dogs: Legion’s initial load before its first cutscene plays took about 73 seconds to complete, but on the Series X, our tests captured the load time at just 25 seconds, and if you skip its cutscenes, you can be into actual gameplay in less than 10 seconds. Every game we tested that had this tangible loading screen had a comparably significant decrease in load times. Forza Horizon 4, one of the heftier visual games in the entire catalog, loaded into its first cutscene in under 20 seconds, compared to just over 50 seconds on the One X. Gears Tactics, too, took just 11 seconds before loading into its opening cinematic, compared to about 45 seconds on the console’s predecessor.
Load times within games are similarly affected. Even the games that jump immediately into opening cutscenes have loading times elsewhere that are impressively decreased. If you want to skip these first cinematics and jump as quickly as possible into gameplay, the console has you covered, too. Yakuza: Like a Dragon opens with five consecutive scenes, each of which took less than 3 seconds to load on the Series X, compared to about twice that on the One X. If you want to skip all of them, though, you can jump into gameplay in less than 30 seconds. In Gears 5, you can do the same and reach gameplay in under 13 seconds, compared to a little more than 20 seconds on the One X, though much of this is taken up by unskippable portions of cutscenes. The Falconeer loads almost instantly into its first cutscene and has virtually no observable load times afterwards, even when jumping between chapters or after dying and restarting a mission. Watch Dogs: Legion’s fast travel system is also impressively quick, again happening effectively instantly, compared to the process that would take at least 5-10 seconds on past consoles. It’s difficult to overstate how snappy some of these loads feel when you’re so accustomed to putting the controller down for a few seconds every time.
Load times aren’t the only upgrade we’ve seen with the new console, though, as the visuals throughout almost every game are vastly enhanced, especially when you can play in full 4K. Among the games tested, Gears 5 was easily the most well-rounded technical feat when considering its almost unbelievable visuals and fluid refresh rate to complement its enhanced load times. The visuals in Gears 5, alongside those in Forza Horizon 4 and even in the isometric environments featured in Gears Tactics, are some of the most crisp, stunning textures an Xbox console has ever been able to achieve, and they’re worth playing just to experience the atmospheres alone. Horizon 4’s seasonal changes and neon lights are jaw-dropping in their diversity and clarity, fostering further excitement for what’s to come both for the Forza series and what’s possible on this hardware itself. Ori and the Will of the Wisps shines similarly with its already-gorgeous visuals taken up another notch, but the frame rate is more impressive, as it can push 120 frames per second if your monitor allows.
The third-party games are similarly improved, but their open worlds are helped even more by the console’s SSD than its graphical capabilities. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s open world contains almost no load times whatsoever after its opening cutscene, and its vistas are as bright and vibrant and its world as expansive as any Assassin’s Creed’s have ever been. Watch Dogs: Legion’s world is fittingly connected as well, with its load times short outside of its fast travel. There are a few sprinkled in when you switch between indoor and outdoor environments, though, and these do leave a bit to be desired. Legion does have some of the more impressive visuals of any third-party game tested, though, most acutely noticeable through its ray-tracing, which adds another level of realism to an already stunning London. Yakuza: Like a Dragon, unlike Watch Dogs or Assassin’s Creed, has less of an approach to realism in its visual style, opting for the series’ traditional art style but making it as clean as ever. Textures are smooth, and load times, again, are almost non-existent within the open world, which feels as large as any in the series.
Arguably the console’s most impressive new feature is not the power to handle any of these games running independently, but its ability to put virtually any of them in the background without closing them through Quick Resume, a feature that the Xbox One X lacks entirely. In our experience, Quick Resume worked for six of the eight games tested, with only Watch Dogs: Legion and The Falconeer failing to utilize it entirely. Every other game took advantage of the feature and stayed running in the background as other games took the spotlight, with games even staying open through console power cycles and with multiple other games having been played in the meantime.
We did have some inconsistencies with having Quick Resume work every time, especially with the third-party games infrequently failing to resume and having the feature take a noticeable amount of time to put you back into the games, though these are likely to be fixed through future updates. For the games that utilize it, Quick Resume takes significant amounts of time off from games having to load entirely when you’ve closed them, and even if the time to resume a game is longer than expected, it is still much shorter than the overall time it would take to reboot it every time.
The Xbox Series X’s power proposal is lofty, but in our testing, it blows almost every statistic for the Xbox One X’s performance out of the water. Load times have been emphatically reduced, in some cases becoming almost altogether nonexistent in places they would have otherwise been intrusive, and the visuals, especially those that utilize ray-tracing and full 4K or 120 FPS, rival many high-end PCs, not to mention Microsoft’s previous hardware. You can say what you want about the catalog of exclusives or the platform behind it, but Xbox’s newest piece of hardware walks the technical walk and improves on virtually every aspect of its predecessor, forging an exciting future for the coming years of gaming.