X-Factor — Microsoft Xbox Series X Review

Preordering
The morning the Xbox Series X went up for preorder, I was sitting in a hospital room with my wife who had just given birth to our beautiful baby boy, Elijah.

I was able to carve out an hour when nothing was happening to try and log onto several sites with the hope that the hospital wi-fi wouldn’t fail me.

With customers across the country given adequate time to prepare — Microsoft made it a point to give notice of where, when, and how to preorder the new consoles — it was pretty much a given that things wouldn’t go smoothly.

And they didn’t.

Though I was able to get the console into my cart on one website, I wasn’t able to check out and confirm the purchase. One store didn’t even have their preorders up on time, and once they made the console available to purchase, I ran into issues there as well.

After about an hour of coming up short, I accepted the possibility of not being a day-one owner of a new Xbox and continued on with my day. I ran home for some errands and a hot shower and then returned to my wife and baby.

I checked Twitter — because misery loves company — and saw posts about resupplying and canceled orders. Someone else posted that someone they knew had just bought a console.

The post had been made recently, so I gave it a go and checked the store’s website. I saw a console still in my cart from the previous attempt, and I was able to go straight into checkout.

It seemed to be good to be true, but a few weeks later, I got an email asking me to reserve a date and time to pick up the console.

Receiving
The new Series X comes in a box built for maximum presentation. Flip open the lid, and there it is — a machine sitting right in the middle of some foam padding that actually resembles something like a miniature fridge.

Except for the disc slot, USB port, and the Xbox-button that lights up when the console is turned on, the Xbox Series X is a sheer monolith that can be set on its side or upright on its attached circular base.

At the top — or the side, depending on how you position the machine — you’ll find the fan exhaust. At an angle, you can see the trademark Xbox green underneath the slightly concave grill.

The new controller follows the console’s design aesthetic with a minimalist face that, at first glance, looks like a smoother version of the Xbox One’s controller. Look closer and you’ll see that a sharing button has been added, the directional pad has been changed, and the grips have been stamped with non-slip texture.

In terms of cabling, a high-speed HDMI cable comes included for customers who have televisions that support 120Hz.

Inner machinations

Ever since the Xbox 360’s red ring debacle, Microsoft made it a point to ensure it wouldn’t lose another $1.1-billion dollars fixing consoles due to design flaws.

The Xbox One was designed to avoid critical failures by adding redundancy to the chips and having systems in place that could reroute power to cooler areas.

The Xbox Series X has a motherboard split into two, and its chambered design allows air to flow evenly throughout the heat zones in order to keep the system cool. If ever anyone wondered why the Xbox Series X has taken the form of a literal box — they need only to glimpse the custom-designed innards that look like someone went ham on a PC’s innards

Microsoft

Much has been made of the Series X’s 12-teraflops of GPU power (courtesy of AMD’s Zen 2 and RDNA 2 architectures), but what exactly is a teraflop?

They’re a measure of a computer’s speed that, according to Oxford Languages, is “equal to one million million (1012) floating-point operations per second.” Back in the day, CPUs were measured in the MHz and then GHz to give customers something to base their purchasing decisions on. Microsoft has decided to market the speed of its AMD GPU on its capacity to calculate up to 12-trillion floating-point operations per second — which is incredibly fast.

In comparison, the Xbox One had a GPU capable of 6-teraflops.

Does this mean the Xbox Series X is going to run away with the title of best console because it has more teraflops than the PS5 — well, there’s more to the story than just teraflops.

In addition to its powerful system on a chip which has a CPU processor that’s four-times faster than the Xbox One’s processor, Microsoft has also padded the console’s stats by including 16GB of GDDR6 memory. With another 10GB of GPU memory rated at speeds of 560GB/s, the bottleneck that limits data transfers is diminished. A 1TB NVME SSD, capable of sending 2.4 GB/s, lays the foundation for the Xbox Velocity Architecture that allows games to load faster.

All of that engineering supposedly gives the system the oomph to run 4K graphics natively at up to 120fps with sights set on running games at 8K.

Best. Console. So far.
After I powered up the console and updated it along with the controller, I checked out the interface which is pretty much the same as the preview-version I was using with the Xbox One. There is a marked change with the snappiness of it all — the responsiveness gives you the sense that this is the best iteration of the Xbox yet.

To test out the new console’s gaming capabilities, I purchased Yakuza: Like a Dragon. I recently finished the game — I’m currently working on the last two achievements — and I can tell you the shift from last gen to now feels almost like the shift from cartridge to disc.

I’ve been around long enough to know what it was like to play cartridge games when load times didn’t exist. The switch to disc-based systems, like the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn, were difficult for me. But I came to accept the necessity of load times. As games got bigger and more ambitious, patience was required.

With the Series X, we’ve returned to the golden age. Load times can be comically short, thanks to all those teraflops. Those load screens with hints and tips — sometimes they appear only long enough to show you that they exist. I don’t even bother to read them anymore because I’m not even sure I can finish reading them before the game starts back up again.

It’s fundamentally changed the way I play.

Imagine finding a tough opponent. Do you risk it or do you run away to grind? Games with load times in the minutes would leave you in a time-out for every death or mistake. If you made the wrong moral choice in a game or if you missed out on an achievement, heading back to the title screen to reload felt like you were shaving time off your life.

Now that I see load times in the seconds, I find myself taking more risks. I’m throwing myself into situations I might have had to restrain myself from in previous console generations because I’d beat myself up for not being able to execute perfectly.

If this is the new norm, the consequences for failure are minimal, and it opens up the realm of playability because you can explore and test your limits. Sure, you still have to see that game over screen — but it’s less of a tax.

On a smaller scale, the quick resume feels like a quicker version of the Xbox One’s quick resume that let you jump into a game right where you left off for the last game or app that you ran. This one lets you use the feature for multiple games and apps at a time, which is great if you feel the need to use it. I’m more of a one-game-at-a-time kind of guy, so I haven’t really used this feature to its full potential, but it feels good to know that it’s there.

The ecosystem
In the previous section, I said this was the best version of the Xbox so far.

It has become very clear that Microsoft views the Xbox as an ecosystem that’s more than just the latest console. The Xbox Series X and the Series S consoles are just doorways into that ecosystem — the PC and, more recently, your mobile phones are also doorways. With a stronger marketing push for the Game Pass and emphasis on community features, Microsoft wants customers to look at Xbox the way Apple users and Android users look at the phones as one piece of a larger system.

Sure, the new iPhone has a better camera than the previous one, but the physical product is just one component of a larger part that involves access to apps, ease of use, and quality of service.

Granted, there are fans who will ride or die with their system of choice, but Microsoft is trying to create a compelling argument to entice people to pay $499 — or $299 for a Series S — who are looking for a quick way into the ecosystem that doesn’t involve building a new gaming computer that would cost a considerable amount and take up a bit of time setting up.

Microsoft

Not a necessity
While the Xbox Series X makes gaming more enjoyable for me, the current lack of a killer app or exclusive game for this system makes it more of a luxury buy at this time.

If you do not currently own an Xbox One or Xbox One X console, now is a good time to get onboard. You can either subscribe to Game Pass or grab a handful of used games from the several generations of libraries thanks to backwards compatibility. If there’s a spot in your entertainment center for an Xbox console, a Series X will do you proud.

But if you’re playing with an Xbox One X right now, and you also don’t have a 120Hz-capable television, upgrading might not be the biggest priority. That goes maybe double for those who have a gaming PC outfitted with top-of-the-line parts because of the ecosystem being available to PC gamers.

If Microsoft had waited possibly another year to release the console with a stronger catalogue of launch titles, I don’t think anyone would have minded the decision. But early adopters need not feel regretful — the backwards compatibility and fact that all Xbox One accessories work with the new system make heading into the next-generation this time around a less expensive one compared to a complete overhaul.

So don’t feel the need to completely replace your controllers, headsets, and accessories if you’re partial to them.

As more people purchase the new console and developers create games with the Series X in mind — with versions lowered to the capabilities of the Series S and One — I think the Series X will eventually cement itself a solid position in the video game market. Right now, if you have a Series X sitting next to your television, consider it early access.

If you weren’t able to score a preorder, or you’re just waiting for the second wave in case the first batch had bugs, your patience will hopefully be rewarded with a plethora of games that maximize on what the Series X can do.

And while I could rate this system now and give it another rating a year later — I think we can go with the higher score because, ultimately, the price of this isn’t going down any time soon. And the games — they will come.

It’s just a matter of time.


Xbox Series X
Microsoft

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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