The Xbox Series X Preview: Next-Gen Is The Best Place For Last-Gen
Hey, so, Microsoft sent us a working Xbox Series X - really. It powers on, it plays old games, it plays new games, it does that awesome quick resume thing where you can jump between all the games you have open (right from where you left it). It's also kinda hot to touch at the top, but also it's really quite cold at the bottom - that's just how air circulation works, folks. And you know what? It's pretty damn impressive.
Before I begin it should be worth pointing out that this preview is based on a 'non-final' experience, and some things may change by the time you get hands-on in November.
So, let's get into the nitty gritty - this is the GAMINGbible Xbox Series X Deep-Dive
Console Design and Features
Right away, you can't get away from the fact this this thing is chonky. The brutalistic next-gen box is really tall, it's really thick, and it's also, unsurprisingly, really quite heavy. At first I wasn't the biggest fan of the design - I placed it under a variety of televisions in the house and it never really fit in any of the set-ups that we have already established (in fact, I'm pretty sure the weight of the console would have buckled one of these shelves if left there for too long). But after a while, after a bit of fiddling and rearranging, I found a spot that just worked - and now I can't imagine my living room any other way.
I should also point out now that the PlayStation 5 is even taller, and has a pointy top. Both consoles can be put on their sides, which looks fine, I guess - but right now, for both of these next-gen machines, you're gonna have to make some adjustments in your gaming setup.
It would have been nice (as in: why the hell is this not a thing) to be able to remove the baseplate and allow the Xbox logo to rotate for the mass of people out there who will need to place their console horizontally. I know the PS5 needs to be practically taken apart just to be placed sideways, but this seems like an oversight in design and honestly looks pretty messy if you have the console on display. Oh, and boy does this thing pick up fingerprints - although I doubt many of you out there will be moving your Series X around as much as I have.
Although, back to the positives, and I can't mention the design without pointing out the console's tactical input indicators - small, braille-like bumps that indicate the location of each input while seemingly revealing the orientation, too. A perfect addition to Microsoft's already stellar application of accessibility features in the Xbox ecosystem.
At the end of the day, the design of the Xbox Series X is function over appearance. It feels less like a statement piece, compared to the PS5. It's something that sits at the side of your TV (or out of view in a well-aerated TV unit) and plays games - and plays games really bloody well (and bloody quietly too!).
It should be pointed out that, no, there aren't any USB-C inputs - which to those with USB-C external SSDs may come as a disappointment if you were hoping to take full advantage of those speeds. But next-gen Series X'S games can't be installed and played off any external device except the proprietary Seagate Expansion Card, which we will come to later. All backwards-compatible titles can be played off an external drive though - and will still take advantage of the console's excellent Quick Resume feature.
On the topic of Quick Resume, yes it is a game changer, and yes every one has made that joke... The thing is, it kind of is.
Taking advantage of the console's Velocity Architecture, players can hop between what seems to be three to seven games (depending on game size and console generation) and load back in exactly where they left it.
Now, in one gaming sitting this isn't the biggest deal. Not many people hop between games constantly in the space of a few hours. But it is amazing over the space of a week, where you may find yourself jumping between titles. Say you fancy a bit of Red Dead Redemption 2 over the weekend, chilling out galloping across the plains; but after a stressful day at work on Monday you need to shoot demons in DOOM Eternal. On any other console, opening DOOM would shut down RDR2; but now, say you have a blissful day off work on Wednesday, you can hop right into RDR2 exactly where you left it without having to load up the game or close DOOM Eternal.
Now also factor in that one night you could be playing Black Ops Cold War campaign but your mate invites you into Warzone. You can load up Modern Warfare and leave Cold War exactly where you left it come back to later - all while still having DOOM Eternal and Red Dead Redemption 2 ready to instantly hop back into at any moment.
For the purposes of filming the console for the video version of this article, I obviously moved the Series X around from room to room to get a variety of shots and test out the suitability of the form factor - but one thing I didn't expect was for Quick Resume to still hold onto a save state from cold boot. Even after a full shutdown I could jump into Red Dead Redemption 2 right where I left it, and then hop over to some DOOM Eternal - so the power conscious amongst you don't need to worry about missing out on this feature.
What this also makes apparent, is that the Quick Resume really isn't about bouncing between games in one session - something none of us ever really do - but to instantly jump into the three or four games you might play on different days.
However, if you play your Xbox games on any other device or over xCloud, unfortunately Quick Resume won't update your save state from those devices. A shame for sure, but Quick Resume doesn't actually load a save game, it just keeps the current game state stored in console memory to launch when needed.
The New Controller
As you'd expect with any new console generation, there's a brand-new controller - although at a passing glance it's hard to notice. The new controller doesn't bring a whole host of obvious changes to the already pretty spot-on Xbox One controller (it's better than the DualShock 4, fight me) but does add a few quality of life improvements as well as a share button.
This is part of the Xbox master plan of allowing every part of the ecosystem to play well together. From cross-saves to cross-gen, Game Pass PC to mobile streaming, it all plays together. So it makes sense that the new Series X'S controller will be compatible with last gen, and all the old controllers will be compatible with next-gen, and to do that both controllers have to be pretty similar.
Syncing an old controller to the Series X works just like any other, by holding the sync button on both devices - exactly the same as previous Xbox generations.
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The new controller now has much more effective grips and a nice and clicky multi-direction d-pad. Overall it just feels better in the hand, and the subtle changes to the top half make it easier for those with smaller hands to reach the triggers. In fact, those subtle changes actually make a world of difference.
When holding up the new controller to last gen you can see that the triggers have been lowered in the body for easier access, and thankfully the horrible shiny and slippery plastic has been swapped to the same matte finish seen on the rest of the device, with some well needed textured grips added to the end - something previously seen in the Elite Controller range.
Appearance wise the finish on the controller, as alluded to before, is much more matte in appearance, now considerably less reflective to light compared to the previous generation's black controller.
My only complaint is that it still relies on AA batteries! The internal battery on the Elite Series 2 is a dream, lasting up to 40 hours before needing to be charged again, so returning to batteries that drain within a week feels like a real step backwards.
The worst thing is the controller now has a USB-C port on the top, which except for those players who like to wire their console for faster response times, feels kind of redundant without an internal battery to charge. I'll invest in some rechargeables soon, but there's nothing worse than seeing the dreaded "low battery" sign in 2020.
Load times and Externals
Other than a brief look at Yakuza: Like A Dragon and Dirt 5, I've not really had the chance to try any truly next-gen games to really stress test the loading times (I mean, every launch game outside of the PS5's Astro's Playroom, Demon's Souls and Godfall is cross-gen). But I was able to try out some pretty big current-generation titles. Here, I compared the Series X against the most powerful current-gen console, the Xbox One X, to see how much more powerful the new machine truly is.
Unfortunately during the preview period not all backwards compatible games have been available, so testing out some bangers like The Witcher 3 hasn't been possible.
Now, obviously if I were to compare these load times to the base Xbox One or Xbox One S, the difference between load times would be even wider. The big one of course is Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that still looks and feels like a next-gen title.
From the in-game menu it takes approximately 40 seconds to load into the campaign mode on Xbox Series X, whereas on the One X it takes a hefty 1 minute and 53 seconds. DOOM Eternal also produced a similarly impressive result, with the Series X loading a checkpoint in nine seconds while the One X dropped me into the action at around 49 seconds.
While I'm at it, here are a few more load comparisons:
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 Warehouse Level:
Xbox Series X: 4.5 Seconds
Xbox One X: 16 Seconds
Gears 5 Checkpoint:
Xbox Series X: 8 Seconds
Xbox One X: 53 Seconds
Also something to highlight with Gears 5 is the character pop-in seen in the campaign lobby is gone on Series X, while it takes a very long time for the models to appear on One X.
Now, we all know that games are big, sometimes too big (looking at you, Modern Warfare) so only having 802GB of usable storage is quite daunting. Thankfully you can still play all your current generation (or is it the last generation, now?) games off an external USB drive, and just like it was running on the internal SSD, so Quick Resume will work too.
The only downside here is that you can't install and play any next-gen games off an external USB drive - instead, you need to use Xbox's own proprietary drives. At the moment there is only one available, the 1TB Seagate Expansion Card. At around £220 these aren't cheap - but they can run all next gen games just like the internal SSD - and just like an external device they're entirely hot swappable.
There are a few things I didn't quite get to in this coverage, like how the new UI is lovely despite being similar to the one seen on Xbox One. It has been streamlined, swapped its hard edges for curved ones, and runs much smoother with a few nice added touches.
There's also the new Xbox app which runs you through the console set up and makes transferring your old console to the Series X a breeze - I mean, all your Xbox saves are on the cloud now if you have Xbox Live Gold (also included with Game Pass Ultimate), so it was never going to be a challenge. And then there's Auto-HDR and 120hz - huge features that are brilliant to behold in person, but hard to convey in an article or through the medium of Facebook and YouTube video (Honestly, seeing HDR in a game that came out for the original Xbox or Xbox 360 is kind of mindblowing, and adds a whole new lease of life, at least visually, to some classics). Oh, and that some backwards-compatible games will play better with practically doubled frame rates and 16x anisotropic filtering to tidy up textures is coming to almost all BC games - it's all so *chef kiss*
My time so far with the Series X has been a really positive one, and in every single way the console has shown how much of an improvement it is over the last generation consoles.
Now I just need to see some true next-gen games.
This Xbox Series X console was provided to GAMINGbible by Microsoft for preview purposes and may not represent the final Series X experience.
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