Xbox Series X Review: Power (and value) on tap
The new Series X is a chance for Microsoft to redeem itself from the somewhat lacklustre performance (and response) of last generation Xbox One
This generation’s gaming wars are finally kicking off, with Microsoft having pipped Sony to the post by launching the latest Xbox Series X and Series S well before the competition and enjoying a clear run at the year-end shopping season in India. Promising a generational leap in computing power and more raw teraflops – a measure of computer speed which stands for trillion floating-point operations per second – than the PlayStation 5, the new Series X is a chance for Microsoft to redeem itself from the somewhat lacklustre performance (and response) of last generation Xbox One. Here’s my considered take on the Series X after playing a whole bunch of games on it for well over a month.
Unpacking the Series X, you get what can best be described as a black monolith, with the green perforations for the vent on the top serving as the only element of flair in an otherwise staid look.
It’s functional, almost PC-cabinet-esque, to the extent that you get the feeling Microsoft deliberately didn’t want the styling to get in the way of the performance- and gaming-first conversation. There is the more eye-catching Series S (Rs. 34,990) in a slimmer white avatar, but where the Series X has a Blu-ray disc drive, 1TB of storage and the ability to push out 4K and up to 120 frames per second, the S has no disc drive, 512GB of storage and supports 1440p gaming resolution. Of the two, there’s no question which one you’d prefer for performance – the Series X is a processing beast, with AMD’s Zen 2 and RDNA 2 platforms pushing 12 teraflops of power with support for ray tracing, while the Series S pushes out a third of the X’s raw processing power. It’s no slouch, but while the Series S will upscale games to your 4K TV, it won’t be as smooth and frame rates might take a hit, depending on the game you’re playing.
Common to both consoles is a superfast NVMe SSD, which really puts every bit of the experience of interacting with the console on steroids. Load times are near-instant, and you can switch between games almost like you’re switching between different channels, it’s that seamless and instantaneous. The Quick Resume feature which enables the fast switching between multiple games doesn’t work on all games, but when it works, it removes so much of the inertia of dropping back right into the game play without going through all the menu screens. Bear in mind, the obvious downside of having an SSD is limited storage (1TB), which starts filling up fast when you install 12-15 of the big-ticket game titles. There is an expansion slot with proprietary expandable storage that I didn’t get to try out, or you could plug in a USB 3.0 hard disk and move some of your games into cold storage if you run out of space.
What hasn’t changed, at least not by much, is the game controller. Sure, it has some extra texturing to help the grip, a slightly less angular shape and a new improved D-pad, plus a new Share button (for in-game screen capture), but it’s largely built around the same design. The controller lacks built-in rechargeable batteries, though. You can even use your existing Xbox One controllers on the Series X, if you’re coming off the older console. The interface is also the same, with Windows-style tiles showing the games and apps, and while the interface helps with familiarity, a fresh coat of paint for a modern 2020 console wouldn’t have gone unappreciated. At launch last year, there were no exclusive games to accompany the new console – instead, you had a bevy of the last generation’s greatest hits remastered for the new consoles, which quite frankly, was a bit odd.
But it all comes down to gameplay, doesn’t it? The Series X has no shortage of power to run optimized for Series X/S titles like Forza Horizon 4, Dirt 5 or Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, or even titles like NBA 2K21 and Gears 5 which support ray tracing.
Environments are detailed, the gameplay is smooth on games that support a 60fps frame rate, and there’s little to fault here. I loved playing AC Valhalla on the Series X, what with the gorgeous environments, beautiful 4K texturing and smooth 60fps gameplay. If you’re bringing over your titles from the Xbox One, you can transfer them over by using the local network, and they’ll automatically run at a higher resolution and frame rate with no updates needed. And if you’re the sort who dates back to earlier generations, the Series X can run games all the way back to the original Xbox - a consumer-first move that I cannot applaud Microsoft enough for.
One bit that deserves mention is how transformative Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription service is on the Series X, particularly in a landscape where developers think nothing of charging over Rs. 4000 per game. With Game Pass, you get a whole bunch (hundreds, in fact) of games at under 500 bucks a month, including games like AC Valhalla, but one hopes to see more first party exclusives come onto the platform in the months to come.
Look, if you have a series of titles from previous Xboxes, and that Xbox 360 is feeling a bit long in the tooth (it is!), close your eyes and pick this up. The Series X is a solid proposition, Game Pass makes the deal sweeter with more first-party titles on the way…and the hardware even supports a few features like Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos that Sony has overlooked with the PlayStation 5, which launches next week. Granted, Sony brings a stronger legacy and firepower to its exclusive launch content, but this will change with updated exclusives (Halo Infinite and Forza Motorsport) coming later. The Series X does everything it set out to do, and it does it well.
Highlights: Microsoft Xbox Series X
Pros: Raw performance and power on offer, SSDs benefit gameplay and load times, Game Pass is great value, 4K 60fps gameplay, backward compatibility with earlier Xbox games, 8K/120fps will be unlocked in the future, Quick Resume
Cons: Staid design and interface, lacks next-generation exclusives, expansion slot for storage is a proprietary, unchanged controller
Price: Rs. 49,990
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar