Xbox One X: Early Impressions

It has been a week since my shiny new Xbox One X was delivered. I was always going to pick up an Xbox One X on launch day, that much was certain. My current Day One Edition Xbox One had been starting to show its age over the last few months with the UI becoming painstakingly slow, discs not reading properly, my controller dying and (in general) the hardware showing a lot of wear and tear from a fair bit of use. I felt it was time for an upgrade.

However, there was always an element of scepticism nagging at the back of my mind. I mulled over the same questions constantly. Questions such as: “Surely this console can’t be everything they’ve said it is?” and “There are no way games can run at a native 4K resolution on a console whilst maintaining a consistently high framerate, can they?”. Thankfully, most of that scepticism was unwarranted. Over this last week, I’ve had ample opportunity to test out just what “the most powerful console ever” can do with some of the software that I have at hand and it’s pretty damn impressive for the most part.

The Hardware

There are two things you’ll notice when removing the Xbox One X from its box for the first time – how unexpectedly heavy it is and how small it is in comparison to a launch day Xbox One. I’m by no means an expert when it comes to tech and most of Microsoft’s talk about teraflops and such goes straight over my head for the most part. But the fact that so much cutting-edge technology has been squeezed into such a tiny box is not only impressive, it may very well be witchcraft.

Like the Xbox One S before it, the Xbox One X also does away with the cumbersome power brick of Xbox consoles of old. It’s amazing how much space I managed to free up around my television by finally getting rid of the brick.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the Xbox One X is a damn sleek console sporting a completely matte finish (which means no more fingerprints!) and has a physical power button and disc eject button too. No longer will your cat/dog/gerbil be able to inadvertently turn off your console by brushing their tail against a touch sensitive button! Rejoice!

The console looks great in a set up alongside my other hardware and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb like the old unsightly VCR looking Xbox One did.

The Xbox One X is a very quiet console as well. What noise it does make isn’t nearly enough to distract from gameplay and/or movie watching.

After booting up the console for the first time you’ll probably notice that the dashboard feels smooth, snappy and responsive. The UI for the Xbox One has always been a bit sluggish and I finally think we’re seeing what Microsoft always intended it to be with the Xbox One X.

My one concern so far from a hardware perspective is the problem of heat. The Xbox One X has fans on the side and rear of the console to help dispense the massive amount of heat generated from games running at higher resolutions. I’ve not had any problems with the console overheating itself, but the amount of heat it can generate can be a cause for concern even when it’s not running and simply downloading things in the background. The console does sport liquid cooling as well to hopefully keep on top of any overheating problems, but this is one aspect I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on in case anything does eventually go wrong.

The Games

This is where things get interesting. The Xbox One X has a fairly sizable library of updated “Xbox One X Enhanced” games at launch and a lot of them are damn impressive with what they accomplish. There were just over 60 enhanced games at launch – with nearly 150 games confirmed to be launching with enhancements soon. Of those games, I’ve had the opportunity to try Gears of War 4, Halo 5: Guardians, SMITE, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, ARK: Survival Evolved and Star Wars: Battlefront II in their Xbox One X enhanced modes. Other games that I have not got around to trying out with enhancements that I own include Rise of the Tomb Raider, Diablo III and Elite: Dangerous. I will detail them in a follow up to this article.

To begin with, Gears of War 4 is a standout title that is a great stepping off point for those new to the Xbox One X hardware. You’ve got two easy to understand options to pick from “Visuals” or “Performance”.

Visuals improve texture quality and allow you to play at a native 3840 x 2160 resolution (4K) at 30FPS (60FPS in versus multiplayer). Performance allows you to play the entire game (Campaign, versus and horde) at 1080p at 60FPS.

Both of these modes do a great job of showing off what the Xbox One X can do and allows even the least technologically minded player to jump in and experience 4K gaming with no questions asked. Personally, I enjoy the performance mode more as I found that Gears of War 4 had a tendency to chug along and struggle at points on original Xbox One hardware. Being able to play horde mode at a higher framerate is a joy for me.

Halo 5: Guardians shows a few minor, but welcome, changes with the jump to 4K. Given that a massive focus was placed on having Halo 5 run at a locked 60FPS on original Xbox One hardware compromises had to be made in the visuals department. The game barely managed to reach a 900p resolution before the Xbox One X came onto the scene but now manages to hit 1080p without breaking a sweat. The resolution goes up to just shy of true 4K and it really shows with textures looking cleaner and more defined than they were before. All the while, Halo 5 still manages to reach its gold standard 60FPS and sticks to it better than ever.

SMITE is a strange one, as its graphical style means you’re unlikely to notice a difference at face value. It plays in 4K and hits 60FPS much like most other games on the enhanced list, but it’s a MOBA and it’s not trying to win any beauty contests when it comes to graphics. The most pronounced difference I noticed with SMITE was the loading times getting into matches and getting out of them. Not the biggest and best advertisement for a high-end console, but a welcome addition for those of us who indulge in the game.

Wolfenstein II is another staple game that shows just what the Xbox One X is capable of alongside Gears of War 4. I played through Wolfenstein II in its entirety the week before the Xbox One X released for the sole purpose of seeing just what had been improved when I played it on the new hardware. The answer to that question is everything. Wolfenstein II looks better, plays better and performs better on the Xbox One X than it did on my original console. The changes are almost night and day in execution. Whilst I was struggling to spot enemies who were further away on the OG Xbox One, I was picking off Nazi’s from a distance like it was going out of fashion (that’ll never happen) when playing at a higher resolution. The framerate holds steady a lot better and the texture quality is greatly improved. Wolfenstein II is one of the gems of the Xbox One X launch and gives me high hopes for other games releasing in the future.

But, as we move on from a gem we get to something of an oddity in the enhanced lineup. I, of course, refer to ARK: Survival Evolved. You may have read my previous impressions of ARK on the Xbox One and PS4 and my love/hate relationship with the game. Even after its official launch, it’s still a mess of technical issues on the console with screen tearing galore, muddy textures, inconsistent framerates and more. On the Xbox One X, we’ve been promised two modes to enjoy: 1440p resolution at 30FPS or 1080p resolution at 60FPS. In my time playing ARK on Xbox One X I’ve barely reached 30FPS in either of those modes and god only knows what resolution I was getting. I won’t deny it, the game DOES run better on the Xbox One X. But it still crashes, it still has screen tearing, it still has inconsistent framerates and it still has muddy textures. I will admit, I enjoyed playing it for the first time in ages given that new content had been released, but this is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Xbox One X when other games with enhancements can put it to shame without even trying. ARK, as a game, just isn’t optimised properly for console hardware.

Finally, I was able to briefly play some of the EA Access trial for Star Wars: Battlefront II with Xbox One X enhancements enabled. Running on the Frostbite engine, the game looks stunning on the Xbox One X. Loading times are fast, textures are crisp and detailed and the framerate holds steady at 60FPS. If there’s one thing Star Wars: Battlefront II gives me hope for it’s that we see other games such as Mass Effect: Andromeda and Battlefield 1/4 getting Xbox One X enhancements too.

The Future

Playing just a handful of enhanced games has me excited for what’s on the horizon and what’s coming in the future. Games such as Destiny 2, DOOM, Fallout 4, Forza Horizon 3 and The Witcher 3 are all getting updates to support 4K resolutions or other enhancements such as improved performance or HDR support. I’m especially excited to play through The Witcher 3 when it gets updated as I’ve been waiting to play the DLC with the enhancements to get a real feel for what’s changed. The Xbox One X is giving me a reason to play through older games in my library again with a new lease on life and I love that.

Not only that, but there are so many games in the future that will be taking full advantage of the hardware to get excited about too such as Monster Hunter World, Crackdown 3, Sea of Thieves, Anthem, Far Cry 5 and PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS to name but a few.

The Verdict So Far…

Whilst I’ve piled on the praise of the Xbox One X in this early impressions article there is something that I absolutely need to acknowledge it. This console is not for everyone. This is a console meant for a niche audience and Microsoft itself has admitted to that fact. The Xbox One X is for people with an already existing and extensive library of Xbox One games – such as myself – who want more from them. It’s for those who will continue to play on their Xbox One’s for years to come. It’s for those people who fancy an upgrade from their ailing launch consoles. If you own a PlayStation 4 or a gaming PC then the chances are you’re already content with what you’re getting there and you’ll find very little to warrant picking one up. The price point is also sure to put people off a bit.

I’ll be the first to admit – as someone who plays on the Xbox platform more than others – that Microsoft needs more console exclusive first-party IP to even think about making people deeply entrenched in the PlayStation camp consider buying an Xbox One X. Things like Super Lucky’s Tale just aren’t going to cut it.

The Xbox One X is a magnificent and astounding piece of tech and I’m glad to own one. The enhanced games that are available now are great and there is much more on the horizon to get excited for. I’m certain I’ll still be playing my Xbox One X for years to come just as I did with my launch day Xbox One.

It’s still early days for the Xbox One X. But if Microsoft can get their finger out with exclusives then they may just be able to flaunt that “most powerful console” claim a little bit harder and convince a few people that if you want the best console gameplay experience, then you’ll find it with them.

Once I’ve had more time with the Xbox One X, I’ll be sure to write a follow up to this article to offer up my final verdict.

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