As a console gamer, there are some things we come to understand. We won’t get many real-time strategy games. If you have problems in a game you can’t use the console to fix them. We can’t use a mouse and keyboard to control games… this probably informs the first problem. Mod support is grossly limited. More important than anything though is the fact that most consoles are relatively underpowered when they release. By the time they finish a five to seven-year life cycle they’re intensely underpowered compared to mid-end PC’s.
Even though our consoles have been slowly turning into PC’s, none have exemplified that quite as much as the Xbox One X. For the first time, we have a console that is competitive with what the do-it-yourself crowd can put together.
Upon opening the Xbox One X you’re presented with a rather stark design. When they designed the X1X they went with a very minimalist shell. It’s all black corners and smooth surfaces. It reminds me a bit of the PlayStation 2 but without the blazingly obvious branding. I’ve had friends describe it both as nicely pretty and looking like a cable box. Personally, speaking I find it to be a rather appealing design when comparing it to my PlayStation 4 Pro’s slatted design. The only design decision I found slightly odd is the location of the disc tray. Most of my games are digital now but to use the built in 4k Blu-Ray player you'll need to use that tray. It's not exactly comfortable to get games in and out of it since it sits under a slight overhang. Not a huge issue, just kind of weird.
As part of Microsoft’s drive to make it easy as heck to swap over to the new Xbox, you can just unplug your Xbox One Slim and put it right there. The cables all go right in and you’re off. All previous accessories will still work with the X1X so I had no problem pairing up my controllers, plugging in my hard drive and getting the headset working with it. If you have a Kinect you’ll need to purchase a separate adapter to make it work since there is no dedicated slot for that peripheral.
Another part of Microsoft’s drive to make it easy for players to swap over are the various transfer systems. If you don’t have an external hard drive you can enable a network transfer, plug it in and move your data. It’ll go much faster, and be easier on your network, than a straight reinstall. Should you have an external hard drive then you can simply move your data to that and use a new feature called “Back Up My Settings.” This will save your system settings, profile and many preferences. Booting up your X1X with this drive plugged in skips many of the install steps. You can boot it up, install the day one patch and you’re right into the games.
But all of this is just ease of use and design. How does the console fare in practical use? Microsoft has made a huge deal of the various improvements the X1X has over the base Xbox One, and even Sony’s offerings, so there’s a lot riding on the actual performance of the console. To that end we tested several aspects of various games on two different displays.
Booting up the console from a fully off-state with automatic sign-in turned on.
- Original Xbox One: 80 seconds
- Xbox Slim: 75 seconds
- Xbox One X: 50 seconds
So, the Xbox One X loads up about 32% faster than the slim and nearly 40% faster than the original Xbox One.
From there we began loading up games. We checked to see how long the game would take to reach the main menu. We tested three AAA games and one indie release for this step.
Forza Motorsport 7 – Time to opening cutscene
- Xbox One Slim: 53 seconds
- Xbox One X: 43 seconds
Gears of War 4 – Time to main menu
- Xbox One Slim: 63 seconds
- Xbox One X: 50 seconds
Destiny 2 – Time to main menu
- Xbox One Slim: 43 seconds
- Xbox One X: 23 seconds
The Coma: Recut – Time to main menu
- Xbox One Slim: 35 seconds
- Xbox One X: 52 seconds
Overall, in our experience, the game loaded up in the ballpark of 25 – 30% faster across our tests.
The speed doesn’t stop once the game boots up. Most games have drastically increased in-game loading. Assassin’s Creed Origins, for example, has almost no loading when the protagonist deploys his eagle to get a lay of the land. Even just something as simple as the speed with which the AI plays in games like Blood Bowl 2 or Lies of Astaroth have been improved. The travel time when moving from one area to the next in Pillars of Eternity is down by about half and the lag when opening menus are nearly eradicated. Quality of life improvements all around.
Graphics have been increased in a wide variety of ways due to the sheer power of the console. Games that carry the Xbox One X Enhanced will carry a variety of improvements, ranging from HDR, 4k resolution or other changes that improve the graphics and other elements. But the graphical improvements are rather noticeable.
In games like Gears of War 4 you can clearly see the details in the various adornments on their armor and skin. Lights are less flared but shine brighter when in a darker environment. But that’s what we expected, what I didn’t expect was the massive draw distance increase. When playing on the original or slim, just beyond the range of your normal aim distance graphics start to pixelate unless you use the Longshot’s sniper scope. With the X1X you can see clear from one end of a stage to the other with any zoom. I was making headshots in Horde from clear across the level with a Marzka and Hammerburst. It’s awesome. This happens even if you don’t have a 4k television since the console is powerful enough to present these graphics. It’s awesome.
This is part of what sells the Xbox One X, even to those who already have an Xbox One. Initially it was being sold as “it will make games prettier if you have a 4k television and it will make them better.” Those statements were rather nebulous. Now that we’re seeing them in practice it makes it very easy to recommend upgrading.
It really boils down to this: Do you have a 4k television? If so, you should buy this console. Unless you just cannot afford the price tag, which is admittedly steep, this improves every aspect of your gaming experience. Games will look prettier, run better and have some features you might miss out on (like running at 60k). Even if you lack HDR you’ll still see noticeable improvements based on resolution alone. If you don’t have a 4k television, carefully consider if the loading improvements and helpful tweaks are good enough for you. Previously I didn’t think it would be but after spending hours with it, the boon is good enough that I’d happily buy another.
Editor’s Note: An Xbox One X was provided by Microsoft for the purposes of this review. Several games were also provided to test with the console.