Earlier this year, two things were announced that made it difficult for many of us digest them into our daily lives – the coronavirus and the Xbox Series X. Alright, I may have exaggerated that out of proportion for the Xbox but for us gaming enthusiasts, or gamers (as you all like to call us), the Xbox Series X promised things that no console in the history of humanity has ever said. Ray tracing! 120 fps gaming! 8K HDR output! Freaking SSDs for storage! Insane, right?
Just like the coronavirus, we started to accept the claims the new Xbox made. A month earlier, Microsoft shipped a unit of the Series X to my place, and ever since then, that little black box sitting under my TV has held itself well to my PC-gaming instincts (you know how us PC gamers like maxing it out ruthlessly). And you know what? The Xbox Series X never felt like a console, like it predecessors. This thing is what the console gamers needed badly for a long time.
The Xbox Series X costs Rs 49,990 in India but finding one on the shelves is tough currently. Microsoft says it could take up to April of 2021 to fill up the stocks of the Series X. Hence, you have got some time before you see it in the stores and if you are making up your mind, spare 5 minutes and read on my about my experience with the Series X for a month.
Ever since the first teasers came out almost a year ago, we have all laughed at how Microsoft borrowed the design from refrigerators. We all assumed it would be massive, like a custom-built gaming PC. After the PS5’s launch though, there were sides and I found myself in team Xbox. The Series X looks exactly the way a serious gamer would want his/her system.
After the horizontal slabs that the Xbox One X was, the towering Series X is a breath of fresh air. Whichever orientation you choose, the Series X has a sense of coolness that the PS5 lacks, in my opinion. It looks stealthy with its box-like design and while you are having guests, it won’t scream for attention. Even when you switch it on, the backlit Xbox logo would impart a sense of you switching on your regular PC or a DVD player.
I get the understated looks of the Series X but Microsoft could have used some sort of mood lighting to liven it up. Maybe the top fan vent could actually glow green instead of the plastic green accents. There’s nothing wrong with the way the Series X looks but as a gamer, I would have liked to see Microsoft kicking up the visual drama on this bland black box. I mean, aren’t consoles bought by kids of all ages? Kids like drama on their play toys.
In my regular Indian household, the matte black Xbox Series X loved collecting smudges from oily hands, as well as dust. I had to keep wiping it regularly to maintain that “newness”. Microsoft bundles an HDMI cable, a power cable, as well as the new Xbox controller. More on the controller later.
The Xbox chassis itself offers all the necessary ports one expects from a console. There’s the customary Blu-ray drive that you can use to load older disc-based games. There’s also a USB-C port that I found useful on the days when I exhausted the controller’s batteries. This was the port I used to hook up the controller via a USB-C port. Turn it around and you will see a proprietary storage expansion slot for the 1TB Seagate card. There are two more USB-A ports for connecting external drives, an Ethernet port, an HDMI port, and a power connector.
Microsoft has boasted of big numbers while announcing the Series X. The new Xbox has as much power as a high-performance gaming laptop, but not as much as the absolute best. There’s a custom AMD Zen 2 CPU clocked at 3.4GHz that’s running the show. Joining it alongside are an AMD RDNA 2 GPU with 12 Teraflops of power, 16GB RAM, and 1 TB NVMe SSD storage. A PC with similar specs will set you back easily by Rs 1 lakh at the very least.
Unlike the previous generations, that’s not all. There’s some tinkering with the OS and now you get a smarter system that makes the most out of the available resources. Quick Resume is the most significant upgrade to the Xbox family since its inception and it totally changes the way you play games. The idea that you don’t have to save a game while leaving, and carry on from that point even after a reboot – this is one blockbuster idea.
Quick Resume currently works on limited titles and lacks the consistency of working as advertised. For example, I played Forza Horizon 4 every day for a week and it used Quick Resume to load up, even when my brother tried out some other title. However, as soon as I didn’t touch the game for a few days, I found the game loading up from scratch. Same was the case with Assasins Creed Valhalla, Marvel’s Avengers, Need For Speed Heat, and some more titles.
Under Quick Resume, I clocked a maximum duration of 30 seconds for any title to pick up from where I last left. This feature alone shows the capability of the new hardware – it all makes the experience so fast. Honestly, I miss this every time I switch to the gaming laptops that I have at my disposal. If you are choosing between PS5 and Series X, Quick Resume is one big feature that weighs heavily towards the new Xbox.
What about the games? Unlike the Sony PS5, Microsoft does not have exclusive launch titles, even a month after its release. However, the Xbox team ensured that existing games from their studios make use of the new firepower with enhanced textures, special effects, and more. For example, Forza Horizon 4 ran consistently in 4K at 60 fps with textures that I haven’t seen previously on the PC platform. Horizon 4 is truly a beautiful game to be enjoyed on the new console. Gears 5 ran well and so did Forza Motorsport 7.
While these titles are great, it is the next-gen games that show what the new Xbox is capable of. Codemaster’s DIRT 5 is a blatant demonstration of the new ray-tracing capabilities on the Series X. In the quality mode, I was getting a consistent 60 fps frame rate but with the best textures employed. The special particle effects, the high-res textures and the solid gameplay dynamics are all taken up a notch by ray-tracing. Those reflections truly make for a stunning slush-fest. And, even after a month, it is hard to believe that a gaming console is now able to do it.
DIRT 5 also has a 120 fps mode but sadly, my TV does not support it. Hence, if you are one of the lucky few to have a premium TV capable of hosting 120 frames per second, you can enjoy that as well. Do note that in this mode, the game switches off ray tracing and dials down certain textures – are these the hardware limitations the Series X will have since day 1? Or, will game developers need to better optimise their games in the future?
The hardware limitation is visible more on games like Watch Dogs Legion. I tried out Legion on a Lenovo Legion 7i (get the pun? Did you, did you? Ah!) equipped with the top-of-the-line NVIDIA RTX 2080 Super Max-Q GPU and Intel Core i7 10th Gen. The graphics quality was definitely a notch up than what I saw on the Series X. The laptop was able to 60 fps with ray-tracing effects set to high whereas the Series X was struggling with the frame rates highly. I guess with ray tracing, the frame rates are limited to 30 fps.
Assassins Creed Valhalla does not have ray-tracing and hence, I did not find any difference in quality between the laptop and the Xbox Series X. In fact, I found the Xbox more consistent with its constant 4K output at 60 fps over the laptop.
Other recent titles such as Marvel’s Avengers, Cricket 19, Ori & Will of Wasps, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, Need For Speed: Heat, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and more ran at their best graphics.
The thermal performance was good and I didn’t notice any throttling even after 2 hours of continuous gaming. Yeah, the top of the Series X smells toasty and the fan runs silently to dissipate all the heat but never did any of that bother my gameplay experience. The refrigerator-inspired design offers great ventilation. That said, I would advise you to keep the Series X in an open area, with both the top and bottom away from any obstacles.
With gaming consoles, the controller becomes the primary way you interact with the games. The Series X gets a mildly modified controller from the last-gen Xbox One X. What are the modifications? All I found was the new Share button as well as the new USB-C port up front for connecting to the console.
Rest of the controller layout is identical to what we have seen previously on the older Xbox models. The build-quality is solid and the matte plastic finish works well to resent the dirt as well as sweaty palms. The sticks are comfortable and even under ruthless thumbs, the keycaps seem like they won’t budge from their positions. The Xbox key is key (pun again, see?) to the multitasking experience as well as all the social features. The shoulder buttons, as well as triggers, have great responsiveness and you can vary the amount of input to suit your gameplay. Nothing new for existing Xbox customers, right?
While gaming, the controller highlights good haptic feedback but I expected a bit more here. All the Sony PS5 reviews have talked highly of the controller feedback and while I haven’t tried it for myself, I feel the Xbox controller lacks in the kind of precision and strength in the vibrations I was expected for a new-gen console controller. The trigger keys often became sticky after long sessions.
Then there are the batteries. Unlike the Sony controllers, the Xbox controllers still rely on AA batteries. Microsoft rates stamina of 40 hours on regular alkaline batteries and I did get something close to that with the supplied cells. However, the additional cost of the batteries is something that adds to the operational costs if you play a lot wirelessly. I exhausted the batteries after just two weeks and I started relying on the wired mode more often. If you have a set of rechargeable batteries, you are good for a while. On the plus side, your controller’s life does not depend on the battery life and you can keep using it as long as batteries exist.
This is a weird topic to talk about in a review article. Of course, you need to use these for years to have some clarity on how they fare. While Microsoft will take away the Series X in a few weeks from me, I think there will be good support in the years to come. In my month of living with the Xbox Series X, I witnessed some updates as well as improvements to the OS itself.
The Series X at launch ran on a similar OS as the one of the Xbox One X. Hence, the interface, as well as the layout, was similar to the previous-gen Xbox consoles. You get the same tiles-based UI with massive icon art, an easy-to-navigate app store, and the same not-so-easy-to-use on-screen keyboard. The Xbox app for Android and iOS still seems half-baked and you can exercise limited control over the system. You can remotely install games and manage the storage as well.
There are two key factors that will either make or break the Xbox Series X over the months to come:
1. Microsoft is using the Xbox consoles as a means to sell its Game Pass subscriptions in order to keep its cash register flowing. You get a few subscription models but the best one is the Game Pass Ultimate, which also offers access to EA Play titles. A monthly subscription will cost Rs 699 per month and includes Live Gold membership for multiplayer services. This is a substantial price you have to pay but on the plus side, you have access to a vast library of good games. There’s a cheaper plan at Rs 489 per month but you miss out on multiplayer services as well as the EA titles.
Now, I went over the entire Game Pass library and there are only a handful of titles I actually got interested in. I expect Microsoft to offer more popular titles, given the premium I am paying as a customer. Of course, you can buy the games during sale events from the Xbox store but the discounted prices are nowhere close to what you can save during sale events on Steam.
2. The Series X comes as standard with 1TB storage and that sounds more than enough. That said, Series X titles weigh on an average over 70GB with all the 4K textures and after 6-7 of such titles, I was low on storage. This is given that the Series X only offers around 800GB for game installations. You can expand the storage via the Seagate 1TB expansion but you can’t buy one in India. Moreover, you can pre-load the game from your external hard-drive but you will miss out on the speed and Quick Resume.
It remains to be seen how Microsoft manages the storage issue in the days to come. Surely, it can find some clever way to compress the game files, or offer options to customers to choose which parts and versions of the game they want to experience.
Over a month, I saw one major update to the OS that squashed some bugs, fixed issues, and brought in some new features. Series X and Series S users can now choose from dynamic background styles, which is a nice way to liven up the homescreen. That said, I would still love to see some Sony PS5 levels of flair on the homescreen.
Oh, and since we are on the subject of longevity, that Xbox controller feels like it will hold up well for years. Microsoft’s idea to stick to AA batteries will elongate its life. Plus, it already works with PCs, which is great for compatibility. As a gamer from 2020, I don’t see the point of the Blu-ray drive and I don’t mind if Microsoft does an all-digital version of the Series X later to bring down the price.
Is the Xbox Series X worth buying? It is not as easy to answer this as I would have imagined but I will try to make it as clear as possible for all of you.
Provided that your parents hand over a good chunk of monthly pocket money, or you have a job that allows for a healthy disposable monthly expense, the Xbox Series X is a great option if you love gaming without being involved in the fuss of maintaining your system. In terms of gaming performance, the Xbox Series X offers a superior experience over a similarly-priced custom gaming PC. Not only are the games well optimized to take utmost advantage of the resources at hand, but the exclusive features like Quick Resume and Game Pass subscriptions change the way you look at console gaming.
While the Series X console costs only Rs 49,990 to buy, it is the operational costs that do make gaming on it expensive. The games themselves are expensive and so are the subscriptions. I also feel Microsoft could have worked on an improved controller with better haptics to justify the premium it asks over the Series S.
However, it all boils down to the core gaming experience and that’s where the Xbox Series X shines brightly. It can comfortably do 4K gaming in great graphics without sweating for hours. That is what matters to me as a gamer and I would love to have the Xbox Series X for that wholesome experience.