Microsoft are back with a bang.
Since I received an original Xbox crystal edition with a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved for my birthday back in 2004 I have been in love with Microsoft’s consoles. So nothing is more pleasing than seeing Microsoft release its latest round of hardware onto an eager public.
Since 2013, it has been painful to be an Xbox fanboy, with the disastrous launch of the Xbox One and Microsoft’s PR disaster meaning that the last 7 years have been spent playing catch up to Sony. Now, in 2020, the company have finally got their console launch right, with a strong focus on games, no irritating peripheries being shoved down our throats and a reasonable price tag, there has been a considerable amount of buzz surrounding the Series X.
Yet, with the refocus on games it’s shocking that when reviewing the Series X, one of the main talking points it the lack of a killer App. With Halo Infinite delayed until 2021, there is no real stand-out exclusive to the Xbox to draw fans in. While Sony has new titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Sackboy: A Big Adventure to entice fans, Xbox is relying on upgraded versions of older games such as Gears 5 or Forza Horizon 4 or third-party games such as Watch Dogs: Legion shared across consoles.
However, the lack of games is the only real drawback to an excellent hardware release.
Nestled in the centre of the packaging the console comes in is…the console itself. That says a lot, and ties in nicely to Microsoft’s mantra that Xbox should be the centre of your gaming – and entertainment – experience. The design of the packaging is satisfying also, highlighting the green hue of the Series’ X fan and making the machine feel truly futuristic, although the sight of Master Chief plastered all over the back feels like a slap in the face now that Halo Infinite has been pushed back for months.
The design of the Series X is minimalistic and a far cry from the VCR-sized monstrosity that was the original Xbox One. While still hefty in its size and dimensions, the PC-esque look of the console makes it feel at home in any entertainment system or on any desk. Black from top to bottom, with only the disc-drive, power button and controller sync button on the front, the new console is nondescript and easy on the eye. One neat touch is the colouring of the panels on the top of the console, which thanks to their bright green colouring make the console seem alive, even when powered off. The only real downside to the design is that the Series X was made to stand upright with the power button and sync button all pointing to this fact. When placed horizontally the console looks downright odd.
When I first had the pleasure of picking up the controller for the new Series X, my first instinct was to wow at how light it feels in the hand. It weighs very little and is smooth to the touch, much like the console this controller has a decidedly premium feel to go along with the $499/£450 price tag. The controller feels as familiar as ever to anyone who has used the Xbox One controller while still feeling fresh in its refinement with a sleek design and matte paint finish, much like the console itself. Seriously, I think I have spent more time handling the controller than actually playing games.
From the moment the console is booted up everything feels familiar, right down to the notification sound made when powering on. The interface too will feel instantly welcoming to anyone with an Xbox as it is the same as the one Xbox fans have been previewing for a few months now. The interface remains clean and easy to use, with squares and rounded edges giving the guide a smooth feel. The guide is fast and fluid too with everything being easy to access and the simplistic design making it easy for newcomers to learn quickly, with games and apps easy to find.
The biggest selling point for the Series X is the speed and graphical upgrades made from the Xbox One X. After a week with Microsoft’s latest hardware I have to say that the promises made have been delivered on. Download times and loading times have been reduced significantly, games boot up and are ready to go in seconds. While downloading games – particularly large ones such as Fallout 76 or Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War – remains a chore, downloads are slightly faster, despite my choppy internet connection.
The Series X launches with a suitable suite of apps to choose from. All the essentials are there like Netflix, Youtube and Spotify along with all of the other streaming heavyweights. Sport and entertainment fans will be satisfied, while Microsoft’s own store offers a wide variety of films and shows. There isn’t much else to offer as of yet, but with Microsoft’s newfound onus on gaming above all else, this feels appropriate. Microsoft is still playing it safe when it comes to the Xbox’s ability to be multi-functional and provides only the essentials alongside a decent suite of games.
For the launch of the new console I picked up three launch titles, Assassins Creed: Valhalla, Watch Dogs Legion and the Beyond Light expansion for Destiny 2 while also briefly diving into Gears 5 and Dead by Daylight, both optimised for the Series X. Of course, I also had a range of backwards compatible games to enjoy. Despite the lack of a killer app in Halo, the variety on offer via Gamepass – now including EA Play at no extra cost – provides more than enough to whet the appetite. There are plenty of large, open-world games that you can sink hours into too. Most important of all, every game looks gorgeous and runs smoothly, with the only issues coming from Call of Duty, for some reason I have had a large amount of framerate drop while playing Zombies mode. But overall, games perform well and the visuals are stunning.
Having had the new Xbox Series X for a week now I can say with confidence that Microsoft has made a strong start to the next console generation. With a nondescript design for the box making it a smooth fit in any entertainment system, the Series X is as beautiful as the games it runs. The UI is speedy and feels fluid with ease of navigation clearly first and foremost in the designers’ minds. While there are many great games to get you started in this new chapter, the lack of a blockbuster release does put a dampener on the experience. And yet, there is more than enough here to fill Xbox fans with excitement and hope that the next few years of gaming are going to be spectacular.