I am on record as buying an Xbox Series X despite not being very hyped for it. I spent most of the day with one eye on my FedEx tracking information to see as soon as it would get dropped off, but the guy brought it up to my apartment door and rang the bell after he dropped it off, which was nice of him.
The packaging was smaller than I expected, and the console is actually pretty compact. I am used to launch Xboxes being these giant unwieldy things, but this is quite reasonably sized and not very heavy. It is probably the best form factor for an Xbox ever. It fits perfectly beneath a small side table I have next to my TV for my PSVR and has lots of room to breathe there, so there it will remain.
The controller is a very lightly modified Xbox One controller, though the textured grips give it a slightly different feel, and the disc based D-pad is probably the best one they’ve ever made. It is also, I think, a very little bit smaller and denser than the Xbox One controller. Regardless, it’s very comfortable and responsive. Given how innovative the PS5 controller apparently is they may end up wishing they’d been more ambitious, but the Xbox One controller was very well designed so it’s hard to complain. There’s a reason the Switch Pro controller is modeled on it.
Installation and set up was…mostly painless, though it did try to get me to use an Xbox app on my phone that I installed but couldn’t get to work so I had to set it up manually. Took about 10-15 minutes with no problems. The UI is literally the same UI I have on my Xbox One X, and honestly while I don’t dislike the Xbox UI as much as a lot of people I kind of wish they’d done something else with it. It’s snappier on the Series X than it is on the One, but buying a new console only to be using basically the same controller and the same UI as you were using before takes a little bit of the “new hardware” excitement out of it. The controller and UI are so similar that it’s hard to feel like I’m actually using a new box, and if I hadn’t unhooked my Xbox One X and moved it into another room I would believe that I had accidently turned on the wrong console.
Speaking of turning on the console, I’ve had a couple issues with the power on this thing. I have it set to power save mode and it seems to turn itself off so thoroughly that I have to physically press the button to get it to switch back on and cannot use a controller to do it. This is not a massive problem but it’s slightly annoying. More annoying is the fact that the system turns itself off after 10 minutes idle. It stays on fine if it’s actively doing something like streaming a video or playing a game but if I just leave it idle it turns itself all the way off. It also doesn’t download stuff when it’s off (I’m sure it does if it’s set to instant on rather than power save mode) so I am going to have to switch to “instant on” mode and off power save for now because I have a lot of software to download right now. I especially want to try Forza Horizon 4 on this thing. It’s kind of annoying that I have to be actively doing something to keep the system on and downloading stuff. And yes I checked the settings and it’s set to dim the screen after 10 minutes inactive and turn off after an hour, so it may be turning off when it’s supposed to dim the screen.
I’m sure these are issues that will get ironed out in future patches, though they weren’t problems I had with my Xbox One X, which uses the same UI.
Having my full library of digital Xbox games available immediately is almost overwhelming. I’ve collected a ton of games over the 13 years since I got an Xbox 360, and my library is full of stuff that ranges from spectacular to terrible. It’s a little daunting to see just how much there is, but you can easily organize and filter the list so this is not so much a complaint as an emotional reaction. For me each console generation has been a chance to start fresh and kind of leave the last generation behind, at least for a while, and that just doesn’t feel like the case here. Even your save games follow you to the new box because they’re all in the cloud. I could download Killer Instinct, which I played on the Xbox One’s launch day, and it would still have all my unlocks and statistics stored and ready to go. It’s just another way in which the Series X is a continuation of what came before.
So how does it play? I’ve only tried one game so far, Dirt 5. It looks very nice. I’m not sure if I’d say it looks better than every game on Xbox One X, but there seems to be no draw in, a very solid frame rate, no resolution drops etc… The loading is not quite as snappy as I expected, but I’m also downloading a bunch of stuff in the background so that might have slowed things down. I did get an audio glitch where the sound broke up and then dropped out altogether, but it only happened once and was fixed when I restarted the game so it’s hard to know if that’s an issue with the console, Dirt 5 in particular, or some combination of things. I would say that what’s most impressive about Dirt 5 on the series X is not so much how it looks but how cleanly it runs, which is not surprising when you crank up the power on a piece of software that’s also designed to run on less powerful systems.
My first impression of the Xbox Series X is…respect. It seems like a well put-together system and there’s nothing bad about it per se. I like the Xbox One X so I like this. It’s really that simple, especially because outside of the power level and the quick resume feature it basically is an Xbox One X. More or less the same controller and same UI. This feels like a half step console in many ways. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s a very powerful machine and it doesn’t fix the things that weren’t broken. It’s just not exciting. There’s no thrill here.
That’s okay though because for now I’ll enjoy having great versions of a lot of games, new and old, to play, and the new games will come when they come. Just cutting loading times significantly will be a serious value upgrade. Being able to play games with rock solid frame rates, better image quality, and no resolution dips is also a big plus. We’re never going to see that mind blowing PS1 to PS2 or even PS2 to PS3 upgrade again. It’s all about a slightly better, smoother, faster, experience.
It’s a neat and functional box with a ton of potential. With Gamepass and the Games with Gold I’ve accrued I will never run out of stuff to play. I feel good about my purchase so far. Not everything needs to be exciting. Sometimes an incremental improvement is enough. But if you haven’t been able to snag one out you’re not really missing anything. This baby’s just getting started.