Xbox Series X console review: It’s a marvellous monolith, but is it worth buying?
When the Xbox Series X console arrived at my home, it was slightly surreal to actually behold it in real life. Almost a full year on from the console being revealed, we’ve seen it in countless memes by this point – to such a degree that Microsoft is actually considering whether to make an Xbox Series X fridge.
But how does the actual console feel? What’s it like to play on? Considering its dimensions and weight, how hard is it to fit this monolith into a home set-up? And above all, as we near the console’s release date, is the Xbox Series X price worth paying? These are the questions I’m going to try and answer for you now.
So let’s get cracking. I’ve spent over two weeks testing out the Xbox Series X console, and this review consolidates all my first impressions and opinions. Of course, the experience of using the console will change over time, what with new games and updates in the pipeline, but this review experience I’ve had should be pretty similar to what early-adopters and day-one players experience. Here we go, then, with my Xbox Series X review…
When I first saw a picture of the Xbox Series X, late last year, I wasn’t immediately convinced. I joined in with the fridge-comparison jokes, and I wondered whether this big black blob would look alien and weird when you put it into a real home.
Jump forward to the day I unboxed the console at home, though, and I’ve found myself coming around to its unique design: yes it looks more like a PC tower than a traditional console, but at least it doesn’t just look like an Xbox One clone – that would be worse, surely?
In either position, it looks cool.
And despite that fact that it’s bigger and chunkier than the PS4 which has dominated my living room for the last few years, the Xbox Series X doesn’t look out of place wherever I’ve tried to put it. Some days it stands up tall on my desk. At other points, it lays down flat in the unit under my TV. In either position, it looks cool. Sleek, even. Sometimes I catch myself just staring lovingly at it.
Also, we needn’t have worried about this console standing out or jutting too far into our lives. When you actually set it up and use it, it looks like it belongs, and you won’t find yourself worrying about the design. If anything, you might wish it had a bit more pazazz – it’s a marvellous monolith, but it is a bit on the plain side. But don’t worry – the main thing is, you don’t actually have to force a fridge into your TV stand.
Quick Resume is one of the cool new features which I was really looking forward to using: the ability to jump between different games in seconds, without having to worry about going through all the start screens and menus again, is the kind of quality-of-life improvement which all gamers can enjoy.
And I’m pleased to report that when Quick Resume works, it’s every bit as magical as you’d want it to be. The feature appears to be running on every single Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox game in the Game Pass library – you can pause a game in Fusion Frenzy and hop over to Banjo-Kazooie in seconds, without losing your progress in either game.
Also, here is something which I didn’t know about until I saw it with my own eyes: the Xbox Series X console is capable of remembering your saved Quick Resume state even when it is powered off! For example, I was playing Resident Evil 7 on Game Pass one day, and I turned the console off to nip out and get some lunch. When I settled back down a couple of hours later and turned the console on again, and then clicked on the Resi 7 icon, it loaded me straight up into the game. No menus, no start screens, no loading screens – just a brief ‘Quick Resume’ holding screen while the console automatically fetched my saved state.
every bit as magical as you’d want it to be
However, Quick Resume does not currently work with every game on the console, as I found when I jumped out of a Forza Horizon 4 game and into Fusion Frenzy. When I finished my round in Fusion Frenzy and tried to hop back over to Horizon, the game went through the rigmarole of menus and start screens again. (I should note that I was playing the next-gen optimized version of Horizon, rather than the standard one that was on Game Pass at the time.)
Going back to those old ways of menus sure does sting when you’ve gotten used to Quick Resume. But, thankfully, I’m told by an Xbox PR person that Microsoft is working with developers on these Xbox Series X optimized games where Quick Resume is currently not working, with a view to updating them and fixing the issue.
Quick Resume isn’t the only new feature here, either: sharing your screengrabs and capture is now easier than before, for example, and both the console specs and controller design have changed since the Xbox One era. All in all, the features of the console make it feel like a proper upgrade on the generation before, especially when Quick Resume is firing on all cylinders.
The design shift from the Xbox One controller to the Xbox Series X controller is a little more subtle than the changes in the console itself, but it’s still worth taking a minute to talk about this new gamepad and how great it feels.
Once again, the team at Microsoft have delivered a controller that simply feels awesome when you use it. The buttons still have a nice click to them, the triggers have a good amount of give to them, the vibration feels very multidirectional, the sticks are satisfying, and the tweaked D-pad is also properly ergonomic (although some gamers will argue that the left stick and the D-pad should be swapped).
a controller that simply feels awesome
The overdue addition of the share button is very welcome, too, making it nice and easy to grab a screenshot and fling it on Twitter at a moment’s notice. All of these wins add up to make a controller that just feels right, and will surely become a go-to gamepad for a lot of us.
However, one thing that did slightly rankle with me: the controller still needs AA batteries, and although you do get two in the box with the console, you will eventually have to spend some money to replace them. You could either buy more batteries, pick up a third-party battery recharging station, or buy Microsoft’s official charging pack. Whichever option you choose, it does feel a bit old hat in the year 2020.
We’re four sections into this review and it’s finally time to talk about games! The weird thing is, though, that there aren’t really any properly exclusive launch titles to talk about here. Although Microsoft has already shared a 30-strong list of games you’ll be able to play on day one with the Xbox Series X, you will also be able to play all of those games on the old Xbox One. And there’s a huge catalogue of backwards-compatible titles on Game Pass for Series X, all of which you can also run on Xbox One.
This does raise the question of why? Why would you spend £449 on an Xbox Series X if all of its current games can also run on older, cheaper systems? In a year like this one, that will be a huge amount of money for a lot of people to part with. However, having spent some time with a wide selection of games on the console, I think I am now starting to understand who exactly Microsoft is targeting with this machine.
there aren’t really any properly exclusive launch titles
One camp of people that might be tempted by the Series X are those who don’t currently have a modern console, but are thinking of making an investment and jumping into the gaming world. With lockdowns around the globe still being a reality for plenty of people, there shouldn’t be a short supply of prospective buyers in this camp right now.
And certainly, with a deep library of games to jump into and the promise of on-going support from Microsoft, the Series X would be a fairly future-proof investment for any newbies to the market. (The cheaper Xbox Series S might also looking tempting to those people, though!)
a fairly future-proof investment
Another camp would have to be the hardcore fans and followers of the Xbox brand – the kind of people that want to play the next Halo game with the best possible graphics and performance. Microsoft is already catering to these fans with next-gen optimizations for games like Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4, and it’s on-going franchises like those which will draw certain schools of gamers over the console easily.
The Xbox Series X may not be an obvious sell like “here’s a big shiny exclusive that you can’t play anywhere else”, but there’s no denying that the Xbox Game Pass library and all of Microsoft’s franchises will look very tempting to the right people. And of course, with Microsoft planning to buy Bethesda, there will be a lot more to come!
So the Xbox Series X houses a lot of games, it looks unique, and it has some neat upgrades to its specs and its controller… but what about performance? How do games actually play on the console? What are the graphics and frame rates like?
These questions are a little bit tricky to answer, considering that a lot of my time testing the console was spent with backwards-compatible older titles on Game Pass – but one thing I will stress straightaway is that the Xbox Series X does feel like a powerful gaming machine, most of the time.
Playing the next-gen enhanced versions of Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 gave me some great glimpses of what this console can do: the detail in the graphics is richer than you will have seen on an Xbox before, and the reflections of light on puddles show off what raytracing can do. These games do feel and look slightly better than they did before, although we wouldn’t exactly say that it’s a jaw-dropping difference that will make you forget that you spent £449 to get here.
a powerful gaming machine, most of the time
A lot of noise has also been made about loading screens in the next-generation of gaming. Depending on whose hype you listen to, you may well have heard suggestions that loading screens are now a thing of the past. It’s time for a reality check on that front, though, because I’m here to tell you that isn’t actually true.
In some games, sure, the loading times are now so quick that you barely have time to read the tip on the screen before it’s gone – I particularly noticed this in the Xbox One title New Super Lucky’s Tale, the loading screens on which now fly by in a couple of seconds. In fact, most of the older titles on Game Pass seemed to run very quickly through their loading for me.
But there are still some loading screens that hang around a bit longer – both Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 have shown me loading screens that last more than two seconds, which really stands out compared to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it loading from New Super Lucky’s Tale. Compared to the Xbox One, the loading screens on the Series X are certainly shorter, but you’ll want to lower your expectations if you were hoping to never see a loading screen again.
the loading screens on the Series X are certainly shorter
Another thing worth noting is that the Xbox Series X is seriously quiet – at some points, I was downloading multiple things and hopping between multiple titles, and it still barely made a sound. You do sometimes get a bit of heat coming out of the exhaust ports at the top of the console, but hey, that’s what they’re for.
The real test, of course, will be when we start to see brand new games that are made specifically with the Xbox Series X in mind. Having seen great graphics and performance from the console so far, for the most part, I’m hopeful that the growing team at Xbox Game Studios will provide plentiful ‘wow’ moments in the years to come.
For now, though, I’d say that Quick Resume is the most impressive part of the Xbox Series X’s performance. That’s the biggest wow I’ve had so far, but, hopefully, the great games which really showcase the console will be along soon.
Quick Resume is like magic, when it works
The Xbox Game Pass library is still awesome
The controller and the console both look and feel great
Graphics and loading times have both improved
£449 still feels like a lot for a console without exclusive titles
Loading screens do still exist
Quick Resume doesn't work on everything (yet)
There's no controller-charging solution in the box
All things considered, the Xbox Series X is in a pretty strong position for a day-one console. There’s a big library of games here (albeit without exclusives), and there’s enough evidence to make us feel confident about those key promises: this powerful new console can trim down on loading times, improve graphics and performance, and help us swap between games quicker than ever before.
There may not be a system-selling ‘killer app’ just yet, but this will still look like a future-proof investment to new gamers and hardened Xbox fans alike. If you’re a gamer that already has a console and isn’t too fussed about any of Microsoft’s franchises, you might be harder to convince, but Microsoft is playing a long-game here with mould-breaking things like xCloud in the pipeline as well – so they might just get you later!
For now, those of us that do jump into the Xbox Series X are sure to have a good time, but it might be a while before the investment fully feels like it’s paid off.
READ MORE: Check out the latest Xbox Series X news here