My First Week with the Xbox Series X: Speed, Power, but Is It Worth $500?


Photo courtesy of Microsoft

The new generation of consoles are upon us. Over the past week I’ve spent some time playing around with Microsoft’s entry into the next-gen console race, the Xbox Series X. This $500 gaming system is touted as Microsoft’s most powerful console to date, but does it live up to the hype? While the console probably won’t be readily available (due to mass pre-orders and pesky scalpers) until sometime in early 2021, this could end up being a blessing in disguise for many gamers. Microsoft’s approach to this generation of consoles is more akin to how Apple handles it’s iPhone generations, rather than how gaming companies have approached console generations in the past. When it comes to the iPhone, the major differences between any given generation are traditionally minor. At the end of the day an iPhone 7 and an iPhone 12 both present the same functionality. You can talk, text, browse the internet, and all the other amenities we’ve come to expect from our cell phones. Microsoft has taken a similar approach. Comparing the Xbox Series X to the Xbox One, you will certainly find many major technical improvements, but to the untrained eye there might not seem to be much improvement. It plays the same games as the Xbox One (for now), has a nearly identical user interface, and the controller isn’t drastically different. But these aren’t necessarily bad things. Microsoft has simply fine-tuned their console to be their quickest, sleekest, and most seamless gaming system to date.

There are many things to consider when discussing the release of a new console, but perhaps the most important is the games themselves. Unfortunately (for both Microsoft and Sony) this could be one of the weakest lineup of launch games for a console generation. Consider this: the Xbox Series X technically released with no exclusive games. With Halo: Infinite getting delayed, the Series X launch lineup consists of new entries into the Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty franchises, NBA 2K21 (all available on Sony’s PlayStation 5 and prior generation consoles), Gears Tactics (already released on PC), and a wide-range of indie games. Unfortunately, without Halo, Microsoft doesn’t have a must-have, console moving game, so if you’re a gamer that cares strictly about what games you’re able to play, there is no real rush in scooping up a Series X. What Microsoft does have on the gamefront however, is Gamepass, and Series X Optimization. If you’re not familiar with Gamepass, it is essentially Netflix for Xbox. for $15 a month you gain access to hundreds of titles of all sorts. Microsoft has made the commitment that all of their first party games will launch on Gamepass, meaning if you’re a Gamepass subscriber, every entry in the Gears of War, Halo and and Forza franchises is available to you at the press of a button. Games do occasionally leave Gamepass, but there are far more added each month, and Microsoft always gives a notice so you have time to finish up any game you might have started before it leaves. This leads to so many opportunities to discover exciting games that you might not have otherwise. Microsoft also recently partnered with EA to bring several of their biggest franchises to the service, including Star Wars, Battlefield, and the plethora of sports titles. Several of these titles are “Optimized for Xbox Series X|S”. You can easily tell which of your games are optimized thanks to a handy X|S logo on the game within your home screen. But what does that exactly mean?

The Xbox Series X is undoubtedly a graphical powerhouse. The Series X runs games at true 44 120 frames per second. It comes with a 1TB solid state drive 12 terfalops, and ray tracing technology. All of that basically means that the games run incredibly smooth and look incredibly sharp. The first game I jumped into on my Series X was Apex Legends, the first-person shooter battle-royale from EA. Apex Legends is optimized for the Series X, and while the graphical upgrades may not be jaw dropping, they are noticeable and welcome. The first thing I noticed was how much the colors popped and how much the details in buildings, landscapes, and weapons really shine through. The green grass in the games map subtly sways in the wind and compared to the Xbox One, the game just runs smoother. Zooming in your gun and tracking enemies across the map feels great, as the camera crisply slides from one zoom level to the next. 

Another great aspect to gaming on the Series X is quick resume, a new feature that Microsoft had started to build towards with the Xbox One’s quick start. Quick start allowed you to pick up from where you left off in a game after turning off your console. Quick resume takes that to the next level, letting you jump back into whatever you were doing in up to half a dozen titles (note: this number is not confirmed by Microsoft, it was just the most that I tried). For example, I was playing Gears Tactics, working my way through a mission when some friends texted me to play NHL 20 with them. I closed out Gears, loaded up NHL and played for a few hours. When we were done playing  NHL I went back to Gears, expecting to have to watch the game open up, go through the main menu, and load my save file. Instead, I was delighted to find that the game jumped right back to where I was when I got off. No loading, no waiting, just right back into gaming. A few days later when I went to play NHL again, I was taken straight to the online menu, again, no main menu, no loading save files, straight back to where I left off. This feature is quite simply, amazing, and drastically improves the quality of life for people that enjoy rotating between several games. The only downside to the feature is it can at times be a little hindered when trying to switch between multiplayer games. The game will oftentimes need to reconnect to the online server for the respective title, but it is still quicker than loading up from scratch like on any other console. Also of note are the load times in general. Thanks to the internal power of the Series X, games load in a flash. Load times within games that used to be minutes now take seconds, letting you get into the action faster.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft

The physical design of the Xbox Series X makes it perhaps Microsoft’s best looking console to date. The low-key black box sits about a foot high, in a rectangular cube like shape. The top of the console is concave, with subtle yet eye-catching hints of green. The console looks great yet un-intrusive on an entertainment stand. The console itself is easy to set up, and I was able to transfer my game library quickly thanks to an external hard drive. This can also be done if both consoles are connected to the same network. The console features a clean front, with a small glowing power button in the top left, a USB plug in the bottom right, a disc drive and a sync button (for controllers and headsets), the back comes with an additional 2 usb plugs (I use them for my external hard drive and controller charger). Despite how powerful the console is, it also runs much quieter than the Xbox One. The controller has minor improvements from the last generation’s controllers, but at this point Microsoft is just improving on perfection. A nice, grippy texture adorns the back and sides of the handles, and the bumpers have a smoothness to them that feels great on the fingers. The share button is perhaps a generation too late, but a welcome addition nonetheless. Press the button to capture a screenshot, hold the button to record a video. On the Xbox One this was done via hitting the home button and then either X or Y, so it’s nice to have the ability without having to move away from the game. 

The user interface is again nearly identical to the Xbox One, but there are some welcome changes. The addition of motion backgrounds (by default, a simple mono-color wave slowly ripples across the background) brings some life to the home screen. Everything else still works the same, the store, pins, and game library are as expected and still function very well. 

So is the Xbox Series X worth the $500 price tag? It depends on what you want out of your console. If you just want to play games with your friends then you’re probably fine with an Xbox One, or the lower end Xbox Series S (still a graphical improvement, just without as much power as the X). Eventually games are bound to stop releasing for the Xbox One and instead be exclusive to the Series X, but that day seems to be far out. However, if you’re looking for the smoothest, quickest, best looking gaming experience on a home console, then the Series X is for you. Quick resume and it’s incredibly fast load times will have you jumping from game to game, quicker than you could previously load into just one. The 4K gaming experience is quite simply, better, and a serious delight for anyone that has never experienced it. Games on the Series X look great, feel great, and play great.


-Neil Hazel