I've been testing the Xbox Series X for a few weeks now and the smaller Xbox Series S over the past week. I played old games, new games and even optimized ones to get a feel for what the next gen actually means for Xbox.
Xbox Series X
The larger Xbox Series X, comes closer to a PC like experience for consoles than we've ever seen before. Everything looks and feels like an Xbox, but it all feels a lot smoother and a lot faster without being radically new.
If you're upgrading from an Xbox One, the dashboard looks the same. All of your controllers and accessories will work just fine and all of your existing games will run just fine, except they'll just run a lot better. It's like upgrading a PC to get faster frame rates, better load times or just prettier graphical settings, except this isn't a PC so you don't get any of those Windows update problems or driver issues or any of that sort of really bad PC stuff.
The $499 Xbox Series X looks like a miniature PC, but hardware isn't the whole story here. This next gen Xbox is missing out on the truly next gen games that really show off the performance of the console, and just the thrill that you get from something brand new, at least for now.
The Xbox Series X is a big and boxy console. It looks best standing vertically like a smaller PC tower. And if you set it down horizontally, it kind of looks like it fell over because you can't remove the stand.
Up top there's a green color underneath the grill, which isn't actually an led. It's where the fan sits to push out warm air. I've never heard this fan at all, not even once. I felt the air exhausting out of the top, but it's pretty much the same as my Xbox One X, never really been an issue and not too hot to touch.
I think most people are going to have to carefully consider how and where they slot this into their existing TV stands, because you won't want to enclose this console in due to air flow, but it's spotty size might make it difficult to fit into most TV stands, especially if it's standing up vertically. It's also a massive fingerprint magnet. My review unit already has plenty of smudges. At the rear there's an ethernet port, two USB ports, a HDMI 2.1 port, the power connector and a expandable storage slot to increase the one terabyte of storage that comes built in.
Both of these new Xbox consoles also come with an updated Xbox controller. The key difference is a USB-C, a new share button and an updated D-pad. You'll still need to use the same AA batteries or purchase a rechargeable Play and Charge Kit separately for 24.99.
There are also one terabyte expandable storage cards to increase the storage capacity.
These are priced at $219 and you'll need them for games that are enhanced for the Xbox Series X and Series S. You can of course, just store games on cheaper USB storage and then copy them across to the console when you want to them. You'll even be able to play older Xbox One games from USB as long as developers don't update them with enhancements for the Xbox Series X that require the SSD.
If you were hoping for a brand new dashboard on the Xbox Series X, then I'm sorry, it's the same one from the Xbox One, but with some minor tweaks, and new animated backgrounds. Microsoft has mostly cleaned this dashboard up so it's less of a hassle, but I still find the guide a little bit cumbersome to use at times.
The real changes I started to notice for the Xbox Series X are with the games that you play on this console, everything just feels faster. Frame rates are higher in certain games, load times are better, and everything just feels just genuinely smoother in gameplay overall.
Warframe loads in around 30 seconds on the Xbox Series X, while on the older Xbox one X, it takes almost a minute longer. I mean just look at how long this takes to load on a Series X. I usually have time to grab a drink you know, check some emails or run around the block before the Xbox One X had even loaded a game. But now, you know, the Xbox Series X it's just, everything's a little bit faster.
I've been to play some of the optimized patches for Xbox Series X games, and I'm blown away by how much existing games can change. Sea of Thieves has jumped from taking more than a minute to load, to loading in less than 30 seconds. It's also moved from a sluggish 30 frames per second to 60 frames per second. And it feels like I'm playing on the PC now. It's that much of a radical jump.
I've also been testing out Dirt 5 and Gears 5, which both include a new 120 Hertz mode. In Dirt 5 the resolution drops into 1440p rather than 4k, but you get nearly a constant 120 frames per second and buttery smooth gameplay. It makes a big difference to input latency. So when I'm cornering, the car just feels that much more responsive. It's the same in Gears 5, which also has 120 frames per second mode in the multiplayer version of the game. Running around the arena feels really smooth and responsive.
These modes also had similar options in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, a great for player choice. There are even more games, coming with 120 frames per second support. And I'm hoping we see more titles, continue to let players choose between 4k or performance modes, or just lots of flexibility in between.
I love this freedom of choice and it reminds me of the graphical options you get on PC. The Xbox Series X also has a new quick resume feature, and this is one of my favorite additions. It actually quickly swap between multiple games and they all individually resume in around 10 seconds or so of swap time.
This feature takes advantage of the SSD on the Xbox Series X and I was able to quickly swap between five games freely. The limit will depend on what type of games you're playing, but it still works after you've powered down the console fully, or even rebooted it for updates.
This means you can quickly continue where you left off in a variety of games, which is great if you're busy tackling a single player campaign, and then a buddy invites you to play some Fortnite. You can just tap on the invite and you don't have to worry about save points.
When quick resume works, it works really well, but not every game supports it. I haven't been able to use it in Forza Horizon 4. Even new titles like Watch Dogs: Legion and older titles like GTA 5. It's really disappointing that not every game supports it, and Microsoft hasn't really said why.
Xbox Series S
The Xbox Series X isn't the only next gen Xbox though. There's also this tiny $299 Xbox Series S. Unlike the larger Xbox Series X, the Series S is really designed for 1080p and 1440p gaming up to 120 frames per second.
Now you can hook it up to a 4k TV and games will be upscaled, but I think most people are going to be buying this for a bedroom TV or for their kids to play Fortnite.
You could position the Xbox Series S vertically, or lay it flat down horizontally. And I think the Xbox logo at the front, shows you that this was clearly designed to lay flat. That's a good thing because this should fit in most TV stands, unlike the bigger Xbox Series X. I also just love the size of this thing. It's just so tiny and compact.
Microsoft is promising that the biggest changes between these two consoles are down to resolution. If you don't care about 4k or you play on a 1080p TV, this little Xbox feels like the one to get.
I've been playing games like Sea of Thieves or Forza Horizon 4, both at 60 frames per second 1080p thanks to new optimized patches that are slowly rolling out. These feel like a big upgrade over what's possible on current Xbox consoles. Most existing backward compatible games will run essentially as if it was an Xbox One S. While that's not ideal, new games and existing ones that are still very popular should get updates for things like 120 Hertz modes or higher resolutions, better frame rates and even faster load times.
We're already starting to see that with Dirt 5, Gears 5 and games like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War that will all have 120 Hertz modes on both the Series S and the Series X. Even Destiny 2 is getting updated next month to deliver 60 frames per second, at 1080p on the Series S.
This smaller Xbox, can deliver the PC like smoother gameplay experiences, and all of the load time benefits that you get on the Xbox Series X. And while I've not been able to test enough optimized games or truly next gen games, to really tell you exactly what this Xbox Series S is capable of. The ones I have been testing with the optimized patches they feel like an Xbox Series X, just a lower resolution.
I've been impressed with the 4k upscaling from this tiny Xbox Series S, but I think most people should be pairing it with a 1080p TV anyway. If you really want 4k, the Xbox Series X is really the console for that right now.
The Series S uses the same CPU found in the larger Xbox series X, but it's clocked slightly slower and there's 512 gig of SSD storage. I think both of these are key additions here and make the biggest difference in games right now. It also has the same ports as a Series X, but no disc drive. So you'll need to use the same expandable storage found on the Series X. And this storage situation on the Xbox Series S is the biggest problem I see right now. You only get 364 gig of usable storage here.
So if you go and install a game like Call of Duty: Warzone, then you're left with just over 250 gig. Realistically, that means only five or six games before the drivers full, or maybe even less if you're playing games like Call of Duty. The only option for storage, is a one terabyte storage card priced at $220.
Now if you go for this, that puts the total price up to $519 for the Xbox Series S, which is more than the 499 on the Xbox Series X. Now I'm hoping Microsoft brings out more of these storage cards with different sizes in the coming months, but for now, I feel like the storage situation on the Series S could be a problem for a lot of people.
Both of this next gen Xbox consoles, deliver some key improvements to existing games and just a general boost to speed. They feel closer to a PC experience than I've ever seen from a console before. That seems like a very deliberate choice by Microsoft, and you could feel it throughout their Xbox Series X and S.
If you upgraded from a GTX 1060 gaming PC to the latest RTX 3080, Windows 10 would be the same Windows 10 you know, and all the games would be there that you've had for years, but everything would look and feel a little bit faster and just look better. And that's exactly what the Xbox Series X and the Series S feel to me.
You take everything you already own, even accessories and it all works and it runs better. I think what Microsoft has done here is really impressive. We've had dedication to making sure that all existing games run smoothly.
The thing that's missing is the thrill of next gen games, a shiny new dashboard or even some significant changes to the controller. I've played with the DualSense on the PS5 and the haptic feedback is genuinely game changing.
The strength for the Xbox Series X, is a thrill of feeling games running at 120 frames per second, or going back to an old game and seeing it run like you've never seen it before.
Microsoft has created a different type of next gen experience here. And I think it's one that a lot of people are gonna enjoy. If you couple the Xbox Series S with everything that the Xbox Game Pass subscription offers, you get an incredible value, but I really want to see some truly next gen game experiences here. Whether that's from Microsoft's own studios or other developers. We saw a brief glimpse of ray tracing in Watchdogs: Legion the other day.
But I think we really need to see a lot more. Powerful hardware and a sleek user experience is only one part of the mix. Microsoft will have to deliver its own games to really make the Xbox Series X, feel like something truly brand new.