Reviews

Xbox Series X Preview – The Speed Sold Me On Next Gen

We’ve all done the song and dance of starting up a big, open-world game: First you power on your console, then select the game, sit through the screens of logos, select your save file, then pick up your phone and scroll through social media while you wait for the game to load. When our Xbox Series X arrived this week, I wanted to put the system through its paces; both Xbox and PlayStation have touted the blistering speeds at which you can load your games on these new systems, thanks in large part to the solid-state drives that have become the next-gen standard. I knew this was one of the major selling points of the system, but even as someone who is well aware of the value of an SSD (I essentially changed the face of my gaming PC by adding one), I was still shocked at how much the Xbox Series X improves the experience of playing my Xbox One library.

While the Xbox Series X I’m using is retail hardware, the software/operating system experience is still in a non-final state. However, the experience of playing my Xbox One, Xbox 360, and original Xbox games is the focus of what I want to talk about. Not only is the experience of getting my games library to load super smooth on the Xbox Series X (on my Xbox One X, it can take minutes to load my library), but the games load so fast it legitimately makes my Xbox One X, not that long ago touted as the most powerful console ever made, feel like a relic of yesteryear. 

A Game of Numbers

I can provide anecdotes about how smooth the Xbox Series X experience is when compared to my Xbox One X all day, but I wanted to provide hard numbers to compare the two. I downloaded a wide variety of games to both systems, then pulled out the stopwatch on my phone. I loaded the same level with the same characters and recorded how long it took to progress past the loading screen. As you’ll see, the advantages provided by the Xbox Series X are noticeable across most games, but they are particularly obvious with large, open-world titles. Some games, like Street Fighter IV and Dead Cells, still perform better on Series X, but the differences are negligible on a standard load. Others, like Final Fantasy XV and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, deliver night-and-day differences.

 Xbox One XXbox Series X
Final Fantasy XV1:14.8115.29
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey44.3419.20
Red Dead Redemption 21:57.1139.63
Hitman 220.548.82
Sonic Forces6.383.45
Ori and the Blind Forest8.893.85
Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition10.609.95
Dead Cells7.262.14
Fuzion Frenzy1.871.68

As soon as I click on a game tile in my library, I’m greeted with the same splash screen as when I load it on the current-gen hardware. However, it stays on the screen for substantially less time, and before I know it, I’m at the main menu. While certain actions, like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey checking for additional content before dumping me into the main menu, still take some time, the process of actually loading into the games is a fraction of what it would take on my current-gen hardware, particularly for large, open-world games (see sidebar). I can’t wait to see how games that are designed with the SSD and the rest of this hardware in mind perform.

Additionally, the Quick Resume feature is awesome. This allows you to jump between games and pick up in the same state where you left off. Using this, I could play a mission in Hitman 2, then jump to play a stage in Sonic Mania, before hopping in for a mission in Red Dead Redemption 2, before going back to Hitman 2 without having to load the games back up. When you click into the tile of a game you’ve recently played, you’re greeted with the splash screen art for a brief moment, with the words “Quick Resume” in the upper corner. Then, within seconds, you’re dumped back into the game in the precise moment you left off. This won’t work well with online titles like Overwatch or Destiny 2 that time you out of the server for inactivity, but being able to jump between games with nary a load screen is incredible.

Check out this completely unedited video I recorded for an idea of how the functionality works:

Aesthetically Speaking

While the focus of the current preview state of the Xbox Series X is on how the hardware handles backward-compatible games, I did want to provide some brief impressions on the hardware itself. As expected, I had a difficult time finding a spot in my entertainment setup for the behemoth console. The horizontal slots on my TV stand are too narrow for the Xbox Series X, even if I lay it on its side. Since my stand is the perfect width for my TV, my only option was to push the TV forward a little bit and place the Series X behind it on the stand. It’s not the end of the world for my setup, but if you don’t have flexible options such as this, the Series X could provide some problems with your configuration.

As for the controller, I’m very impressed. While it doesn’t initially look like any radical changes were made from the Xbox One controller, the wireless controller included with the Xbox Series X is excellent. The new grip feels good in my hands, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how great the D-pad is; playing side-scrolling games like Sonic Mania and Dead Cells felt awesome and precise on the hybrid design, plus the D-pad has a nice click to it. However, the most functional addition is the new Share button in the middle of the gamepad; if you press it quickly, it automatically takes a screenshot, while a long press records video, meaning you no longer need to worry about halting the action to capture your favorite in-game moments. I don’t think I’ll end up ditching the Xbox Elite Series 2 I bought last year, but I would definitely choose the Xbox Series X controller over the Xbox One controller.

After spending time with the Xbox Series X, I finally fully appreciate the appeal of what the next-generation consoles hope to accomplish. The notion of getting the player to the fun as quickly as possible is on full display through what I’ve experienced with the Xbox Series X to this point. I look forward to seeing how the experience evolves as we approach launch, as well as how true next-gen games play when they become available.

Xbox Series X launches alongside Xbox Series S on November 10. Stay tuned for more in-depth impressions and coverage in the future.

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