It's felt at times like the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S were never going to land at our doorsteps in 2020, but against all odds, the future of Xbox has officially arrived. Welcome to the next generation!
You probably know the score by now - Microsoft has positioned the Xbox Series X as its premium offering for devoted gamers, while the Xbox Series S arrives as a $300 console for more casual Xbox fans who aren't necessarily bothered about a disc drive or playing games in 4K, but still want plenty of those next-gen benefits moving forward.
Ahead of its release on November 10th, Microsoft recently provided us with an Xbox Series X review unit which we've been using extensively for the past couple of weeks, giving us the chance to get hands-on with various games and features, and ultimately determine whether it lives up to our lofty expectations. Has it succeeded? Let's find out!
Xbox Series X Review: Unboxing & Setting Up
We've already gone into detail about unboxing the Xbox Series X elsewhere on Pure Xbox, but to recap, the experience is genuinely a very enjoyable one, and it's clear that Microsoft has gone the extra mile with the design of the packaging to make a great first impression.
The console itself is wrapped with a neat "Power Your Dreams" banner and thin, black covering, while the accessories are housed away in a hidden compartment at the back of the box. Included is the new Xbox Series controller with two AA batteries, the power cable, a helpful start-up manual and most importantly, an Ultra High Speed HDMI 2.1 cable which allows compatible TVs and monitors to display content at 4K, 120Hz where applicable. You don't need to go out and buy anything extra for this.
Next, you'll be ready to set up your system, which is now integrated into the new Xbox app for mobile. To make the process more seamless, you can head to the app, input the code displayed by the Xbox Series X, and customise the console's settings from your phone while it prepares itself for a first-time use. This actually conjured up a few error messages in our case, but it's definitely a welcome timesaver assuming everything's working as intended.
Xbox Series X Review: Design
You've probably seen images of the Xbox Series X from various angles at this point, so it'll come as no shock to hear that it's a significantly bulkier console - at least in terms of depth - than that of the Xbox One S or Xbox One X.
That said, Microsoft has made a big deal about how the system (along with the Xbox Series S) is designed to "blend in with the environment", and based on our experiences with it so far, it certainly adapts to the home pretty well. It's clearly designed from an aesthetics standpoint to be placed vertically, but we've been using ours horizontally due to TV cabinet restrictions, and it still doesn't look out of place or dominate the room as part of our setup. In fact, you might be surprised by how much smaller the console looks in person.
One of the reasons the Xbox Series X blends in so well is that it makes very little noise whatsoever, even when playing games optimised for the next generation. It's hard to tell the giant fan is even spinning unless you're literally sitting right next to it, and while it remains to be seen how quiet the system will prove in years to come as dust build-up and gradual wear-and-tear becomes a factor, we can say that for now, this is a very quiet console.
There were also plenty of rumours earlier this year that the Xbox Series X might give off an excessive amount of heat, but again, based on our experiences with it to date, this isn't the case. We've been running it daily for two weeks, sometimes for the entire day, and while it does emit an obvious warmth from the top of the fan (which is hotter when you're playing more intensive games), it's nothing unexpected. It's toasty, yes - but we've never felt like the system is straining itself under the weight of anything we've thrown at it.
We'd be remiss for not touching on the system's ports as well, especially as they're a little different to the Xbox One. To go with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray drive, there are three USB 3.1 ports (two on the back, one on the front), an ethernet port, an HDMI 2.1 out port and an expansion slot for the optional Seagate 1TB Storage Expansion Card (more on that later).
Xbox Series X Review: Controller & User Interface
The new Xbox Series controller isn't a major overhaul compared to the standard Xbox One design, but it adds plenty of quality-of-life improvements that result in a more comfortable and enjoyable next-gen experience.
For example, the new Share button allows for quick screenshot and video captures at the click of a button, while the revamped d-pad now shares more in common with the Elite Series 2 controller with its rounded design. We're actually the most impressed by the new bumpers which feel more robust and responsive compared to their Xbox One counterparts, and textured grips have also been applied to both the handles and the triggers, which adds further comfort and ensures your fingers don't slip too often.
Like the controller, the Xbox Series X user interface and dashboard is again very similar to that of the Xbox One, with some minor next-gen specific improvements thrown in. Navigation is still handled the same way, from installing games to managing your settings, but keep in mind that Microsoft recently applied a new Microsoft Store experience and dashboard update for Xbox One - these were clearly built with the next generation in mind, and perform much faster and smoother on the Xbox Series X.
Ultimately, the overall functionality is very similar to the Xbox One in many ways, which might disappoint those looking for a more elaborate overhaul, but the big benefit is that everything just works. The majority of accessories support cross-compatibility, so connect an old Xbox One controller, and it's detected right away. Plug in a USB hard drive, and your games library is instantly updated. You can even copy over the settings from your Xbox One and apply them to your Xbox Series X. The transition between the two systems is far more intuitive and painless than ever before.
Xbox Series X Review: Next-Gen Performance
The Xbox Series X has been described by Microsoft as "the most powerful console the world has ever seen", boasting a next generation custom processor, Variable Rate Shading, support for DirectX Ray tracing, HDMI 2.1 innovation, a super fast SSD 1TB storage drive and much, much more.
But how does that translate in terms of performance? It's still a little too early to say given that we haven't had access to much of the console's launch line-up thus far aside from various enhanced first-party titles such as Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, Sea of Thieves and Gears Tactics, but for reference, the general performance target for games on the Xbox Series X is 4K resolution at 60 frames per-second, as opposed to the 1440p, 60FPS on the lower-priced Xbox Series S.
The Coalition's Gears 5 is a great example of a game that, despite first being released over a year ago, legitimately feels like a next generation title on the Xbox Series X. The studio has bumped up the visuals to a considerable degree, running at 4K, 60 frames per-second (even during cutscenes), and the game looks absolutely stunning as a result. Multiplayer even gets the added benefit of 4K resolution at 120 frames per-second on HDMI 2.1 compatible TVs and monitors, and while the vast majority of displays won't be able to take advantage of this feature for now, it certainly results in a super smooth experience with notably low latency if your setup can handle it.
It's a given that we're going to experience a boost in visual quality on the Xbox Series X, but as pointed out by Xbox boss Phil Spencer on numerous occasions throughout the past year, it's the feel of playing games and using the Xbox Series X in general that might surprise you. The games we've tested on it so far run at highly stable framerates and boast very short loading times, with everything feeling snappier and more responsive as a result. The sense of immersion is heightened, and you're no longer reaching for your phone every time a loading screen pops up.
That's not to mention the new Quick Resume feature, which allows you to switch between various titles near-instantly without having to load them again from scratch. This can save massive amounts of time in the long run if you're constantly jumping between the same three or four titles, and it even survives the console being turned off for days at a time, which is really impressive. The only downside (at least for now) is that it doesn't provide any indicators as to which games are currently utilising the feature, and we've also suffered a few issues with some titles due to a pre-launch bug which Microsoft had made us aware of.
Xbox Series X Review: Storage & Backwards Compatibility
As with the Xbox Series S and even Sony's PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X boasts super fast loading times thanks to its custom (1TB) internal SSD. However, this now means you need to be extra careful with storage management as games built for the system will only run off this drive or a separate, expensive Seagate 1TB Expansion Card, with USB drives now limited to just pure storage and/or playing backwards compatible games.
At the very least, we'd recommend investing in some kind of external drive for storing the majority of those original Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One games, or you're very quickly going to make use of the 802GB of usable storage available to you on the Xbox Series X, especially with games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War clocking in at 136GB!
Speaking of backwards compatibility, the Xbox Series X works with all non-Kinect Xbox One games, as well as all previously backwards compatible original Xbox and Xbox 360 titles, and based on our experiences with them so far, they all appear to function without issue. You can access them the same way you always did on Xbox One, and many of them now benefit from smoother performance, visual improvements and - if you store them on the internal SSD - significantly faster loading times.
We've sampled plenty of older titles that now run much better on Xbox Series X, including some notoriously janky games that even struggled on Xbox One X, which years later are now finally able to achieve a consistent framerate on console. There are limits with these older titles in terms of framerate caps and visual quality, but you can rest assured that the Xbox Series X gets as much out of them as it possibly can.
Microsoft has even gone the extra mile to make older games look more impressive with techniques such as Auto HDR. This is a feature which applies HDR to games that never received it the first time around, making them appear more vibrant. It works really well with a game such as Insomniac's Sunset Overdrive, which is bursting with brightness and colour, and even impresses with older games such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. All of this is implemented without any work required from the original developers, which is quite the feat.
Xbox Series X Review: Verdict
It's very difficult to sum up the Xbox Series X after just two weeks of use, especially when it's clearly built with the next few years in mind. As of now though, we can tell you we're having an absolute blast with it, and it certainly makes the Xbox One (and even the Xbox One X) feel particularly sluggish in comparison.
Microsoft has really built up the hype and made a lot of promises with this system over the past year, and based on our experiences with it so far, it definitely appears to have been worth the wait. It's evidently powerful, super responsive, virtually quiet at all times, and most importantly, makes playing games across all four generations of Xbox more immersive and enjoyable than ever before.
Is it worth buying right now? That might depend on how you feel about the launch lineup. The vast majority of those early titles will be available on Xbox One as well, so you'll need to weigh up whether the advantages are worth it, but keep in mind that you also get access to plenty of next-gen optimisations via Xbox Game Pass, while the Xbox Smart Delivery service ensures compatible games get a free upgrade for Series X|S.
For us, the Xbox Series X is ticking all the right boxes. We're really impressed with the design and functionality of the system, and can't wait to see how developers harness its potential in the weeks, months and years ahead.
It's an exciting time to be an Xbox fan!
Liked the review? Is there anything you want to ask us about the Xbox Series X? Tell us down below.
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Next Generation starts (Nov 10). Microsoft starts Next Gen off.
Microsoft made investments at right places and right reasons, future proofing the hardware for a long console life cycle.
Great review, Fraser! I'm so excited now.
Excellent review Fraser, glad you're enjoying it so much! Excited to hear everyones impressions on Tuesday!!
@FraserG fantastic job with this review, I'm hyped to get my hands (and therefore fingerprints) on it in a couple of weeks!
It all sounds amazing for sure!! Excellent review and congratulations to all who are awaiting the Series X/S release for themselves.
Now, my wait begins for the final upgrade console version before I purchase anything next-generation. All those going in early, enjoy and game on!!
@FraserG Smashing review! You've got me even more hyped for collecting my Series X on Tuesday. Bring it on!!
I'm excited to get my Series X, but I'm more excited for the Game Awards. I assume we will hear something about some Xbox games from there. I don't know what I'll even play day one to feel next gen. PS5 has Demon Souls, Miles, and a few others, but I'm not sure for Xbox. Maybe AC? I just wish we had one thing that was super pretty and new, or even remade.
Still hyped, but just wish I was excited to play something.
5 days to go... New telly set up.. can't bloody wait.
@Bdbrady well there's the New Super Lucky Tale...you played that yet? It's not a long wait for the Medium, gears tactics is also going to be there at launch. I'm playing "old" games that are brand new to me as I'm new to the ecosystem.... come on Ryse!!! I'm keeping Lucky as my xcloud game when necessary.
@Krzzystuff Thank you very much! I'll look into that.
Wait so you can store all og Xbox, 360 and One games to an external HDD/SDD and play them from that storage device but not for the Xbox Series games?
"Xbox Series X - The Fastest, Most Powerful Xbox Ever" ..... no kidding?
...... get outta town!!
Great review, I'm so excited for Nov 10th..
How is the dpad? Deadzones on the sticks? The controller review was a bit sparse.
Nice, series X seems like a solid choice, but maybe not right now. I'm looking forward to the ps5 review tomorrow and the comparisons beyond that.
@Ryu_Niiyama D-pad is nice, I wouldn't call it a major improvement but just a bit more comfortable.
I couldn't tell you about deadzones in comparison to Xbox One, it's not something I've ever really paid much attention to.
I'm curious to what happens if you attempt to boot a Kinect game or plug a USB adapted Kinect in.
@Xiovanni Kinect games have a little symbol on their game tile showing them as not compatible. I'll try and demonstrate this if I can.
Great review, and glad to see a little more detail post-embargo! Only 5 more days.....deep breaths, NES, deep breaths!
@Medic_Alert That's pretty cool about external SSDs. Though that depends on how much one is playing BC games versus enahnced games. And how many of those games become genuinely enhanced over time. It costs half as much, but is also half as versatile since then you can't use it for truly enhanced/new games over time, while the NVMe drives can.... I'm tempted, but I'm wondering if the value isn't as good as it sounds over time.
@Ryu_Niiyama I think it takes a certain type of player to have understanding of those kinds of details.... I won't be testing with any FGs right away, but I'll try to give you some impressions after I get mine! (Ironically I might not be playing mine, or at least not much for the first few days as I'm kinda busy next week it turns out!)
@Medic_Alert I may do something like that later. For now I ordered the official drive (which is still too small) and will probably resort to moving games on and off my old spinner from X1 as needed. Maybe it's time to revive my old external enclosures I bought for X1 but had issues with power states. I had USB 3.1 enclousures but X1 couldn't utilize that speed. Even a spinner is much faster at real full speed than what the USB2 on X1 could utilize.
Great review! 👍🏻
And I’m excited to see what this next generation has in store for us!
Very nice, I am definitely going to pick one up eventually, but I am waiting for the expandable storage to be more plentiful and cheaper. I know from experience how quickly the built-in 1TB will fill up and there isn't much in the way of games that really standout for taking advantage of the added power of the Series X over the One X in a significant enough way for me to rush out for one.
@fraserg have to add my voice and day great review, not too long or short, etc.
Looking forward to midnight launch here in UK.
This year has been pants, but in another positive way - What A Time To Be Alive!
Thanks for the kind words everyone!
Is the external storage slot usable from the get go? I saw the PS5 expansion slot will not be active at launch so curious.
So best next-gen console in terms of power, efficiency and next-gen features, best console for backwards compatibility, best console for third-party games and, arguably, best controller. In a few years, it will also have some of the best next-gen exclusives. Well done, Microsoft.
I'm still confused on the Smart Delivery for physical games. On PS5, you can put in the PS4 disc and download the PS5 version. On Xbox X obviously games that released before console launch, it's essentially the same thing, but what about games at launch or after? They're one disc. Are both versions on the disc? Is it the Xbox One version on the disc and I download the X version? Therefore is Internet required for ALL Xbox X games? I can't find an answer to this anywhere.
Great review, Fraser. I'm sure I'll have a lot of fun trying out all of the past-gen releases on this new system.
Awesome. Looking forward to next week and getting stuck into the systems myself.
Not expecting it to be as exciting as a typical new console release, but that's fine. Xbox have been refining what they're about for the last few years and it seems positive.
I dunno I've lost my enthusiasm. If real series x games won't be coming for two years. God knows when halo will come out. Why not wait for a Xbox series XX model
Has Microsoft released a new headset to go along with the Series X? Mine broke a while back and was waiting for the console launch to buy a new one; but I can’t see an official one launching with the console; which is a bit of a shame. If there is, can someone point me in the right direction?
@FraserG Thank you for the reply!
@NEStalgia cool, thanks! I have a stick for my one so that should be fine when I actually get the system but I was asking more for action games and platformers. You know I would never use a pad unless its house rules. Sometimes dodging and character control becomes frustrating if the dpad is mushy or the sticks have dead zones the size of craters.
@Ryu_Niiyama Haha, yeah, same here (And thankfully XSX allows old peripherals to work so our older sticks will be fine with new games. Not sure if PS4 sticks will work with PS5 games, but based on the controllers I'd assume no unless confirmed otherwise.)
Hopefully MS didn't change much about the sticks. They've always had very tight deadzones. The dpads....those always could have used some work. Though I do love the one on the elite, I'm not betting they put that one on the basic controllers. We'll see.....4 more days!
Nice review, but I'm hanging on to see a Series S review as well as I think I might be tempted to grab that instead.
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