Xbox Series X | S review roundup: Microsoft’s vision for next-gen console gaming

For a deeper dive on exactly what to expect from Microsoft’s vision of next-gen console gaming, we turn to the first wave of reviews hitting the web today. We’ll start with the more capable (and expensive) Xbox Series X.

Tom Warren with The Verge shares his thoughts on the console’s ho-hum design:

Microsoft has squeezed all of the components of the Xbox Series X into a boxy, rectangular, tower-like case. It looks like a compact PC but with an unassuming design that looks far better standing vertically than it does laying horizontally (just like most PCs). The base of the Xbox Series X isn’t removable, and (unlike the PS5) the console is not designed to be opened up. When placed horizontally, it’s fair to say that the Xbox Series X looks like it fell over with the base permanently attached. I’m not in love with the design, but I’m also not bothered by it. It’s a black box you stick under your TV and forget about, as long as you’re able to fit it under your TV.

Kotaku’s Mike Fahey gives another perspective on the machine’s aesthetic:

The Xbox Series X is the most boxlike Xbox that Microsoft has ever produced. It’s a cuboid: 12 inches tall, six inches deep, and six inches wide, all right angles and fine matte black plastic. I adore its simplicity. It’s a box with a modest, circular X-logo button in the top left or top right corner, depending on whether you place it horizontally or vertically. Pressing that button causes the system to emit the same three-note beep as pressing the circular X-logo button on the Xbox One.

Personally, I feel the Xbox Series X borrows heavily from the design of Silverstone’s FT03 micro ATX chassis. I’ve even wondered if the two collaborated on the project or if Silverstone licensed the design to Microsoft. Probably not, but it’s just a thought.

Looks only get you so far; it’s what’s on the inside that counts, as Engadget’s Devindra Hardawar notes:

The Xbox Series X is powered by a custom 8-core Zen 2 CPU running up to 3.8GHz and a powerful new 12-teraflop RDNA 2 GPU. That’s impressive, but remember it’s pretty much the same hardware that’s inside of the PS5. The difference is that Microsoft’s console has a larger GPU to eke out a couple more TFLOPs of performance. While they both offer 16GB of fast GDDR6 RAM, Microsoft offers faster bandwidth than the PS5 for 10GB of that memory. The remaining 6GB, meanwhile, runs slower than Sony’s console.

The Series X also features a speedy 1TB NVMe SSD, which is light years faster than the slow mechanical drives in the previous Xbox consoles. If you’ve moved from a laptop with a traditional hard drive to an SSD, it’s pretty much the same leap. The Xbox Series X is able to move large data files much faster and with less latency, which is key for the massive textures 4K gaming demands.

That’s great, but how does it translate to the real world? Chris Burns with SlashGear comments on revisiting some older titles:

Games that I’ve played for months, or years, are revitalized. For example I loaded Sunset Overdrive, a game released in the year 2014. I’ve come back to this game for over a half-decade because it’s a semi-open-world entertainment system of sorts – it doesn’t get old. This is not a game that’s been specifically optimized for enhanced gameplay on Xbox Series X – but it looks better, loads faster, and feels like it’s been given a visual boot in the pants.

The real star of the show, however, is the 1TB NVMe SSD, as IGN’s Ryan McCaffrey highlights:

The Series X’s superstar feature is its 1TB NVMe SSD drive. Games played from there, new and old alike, show tremendously impressive loading time improvements. Red Dead Redemption 2, which takes 2:43 to go from Dashboard to playing on the Xbox One X, does so in just 1:05 on the Series X. Halo 5 improves from 1:07 to 0:25. Control went from 2:24 to 1:03. And State of Decay 2 took just 30 seconds on the Series X versus 1:06 on the One X. The SSD affects absolutely everything on this console in an utterly life-changing way. When you consider all the hours we’ve wasted staring at loading screens this past generation, this is arguably a bigger leap forward for console gaming than 4K.

Choice is also big, as Warren touches on:

I’m also encouraged to see that a choice is emerging in Xbox games. That’s something we’ve seen in current-gen games, with video options like FOV sliders you typically only find on PCs. Dirt 5 and Gears 5 are good examples of this choice, allowing you to enable a 120Hz mode for the higher frame rates and smoother gameplay or focus on a 4K target with image quality prioritized.

I’m hoping we see these choices on many optimized Xbox Series X titles in the future.

(Gears 5 live multiplayer gameplay, 120 fps refresh, Xbox Series X version, courtesy Ars Technica)

But what about the new games? Well, that’s a bit harder to put into words as Chris Morris with Digital Trends notes:

You’d think there would be more to say on performance, but there isn’t, and that (again) is due to the lack of launch titles. This is the part of the review where amazingly beautiful new open-world titles might be discussed. Unfortunately, that game doesn’t exist for the Series X at launch. There’s no question this is a powerful console — by the numbers, it’s (a bit) faster than the PlayStation 5. Unfortunately, the hardware is currently underutilized.

Indeed, this is the point where virtually all of the early reviews converge into the same conclusion: the Xbox Series X is seriously powerful hardware that is in desperate need of some exclusive games. Polygon’s Chris Plante hammers this point home:

Thanks to a series of flashy acquisitions, including the in-progress purchase of Bethesda Softworks, the Xbox Series X will eventually have a smorgasbord of exclusive games of varying genres and scopes. But at launch, it has no major exclusive. None.