There’s no two ways about it, the Xbox One X is the new most powerful games console, more than capable of pushing Microsoft’s “True 4K” goal when the hardware is in the right hands, and meeting the demands of the latest 4K TVs with support for HDR. However, even bearing that in mind, the question remains, is it worth the money for those with an Xbox One and can it entice PlayStation 4 and lapsed Xbox 360 owners back to Microsoft’s platform?
For my money, the Xbox One X is now the best looking game console on the market. Though it’s still very box-like and squared off, in the same vein as the Xbox One S, it manages to be sleeker and more appealing to look at than the slimmer PlayStation 4 or the triple-decker design of the PlayStation 4 Pro. In fact, there’s a certain PlayStation 2-like quality, with the main body of the console overhanging the base in a way that helps disguise the console’s size even further.
Of course, a big part of the console’s sleekness comes from just how compact it now is. It’s dramatically smaller than the original Xbox, coming in at roughly the same size as the redesigned Xbox One S. Stacked up against its 4K rival the PlayStation 4 Pro, it’s roughly as tall and wide when placed horizontally, but there’s significantly less depth, which is only partly accounted for by the PlayStation 4’s signature slanted design.
The redesigned cooling makes use of fancy manufacturing techniques and technologies such as vapour chamber heat pipes and matching the heatsink to the chipset to ensure the best possible fit. The console might be smaller than the PS4 Pro, but despite packing more processing power, its fans don’t seem to get much louder when pushed by 4K gaming and the likes of Gears of War 4. As 4K patches continue to roll out, we’ll see if that’s true across the board, but it feels like it offers quieter gaming when pushing to extremes.
Whether it’s 1080p or 4K gaming you’re after, video games have ballooned in size over the past few years, and games are regularly pushing toward the 100GB mark once you take DLC into account. With the One X having 12GB of RAM, the expectation and reality is that games are going to get even larger with higher detail textures for this console, so that games will be tangibly larger in size, such as with Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Forza Motorsport 7. Thankfully regular Xbox Ones default to ignoring the 4K assets, but that’s no solace to those on One X. With 1TB of space inside on an SSHD, 780GB of which is available to users, ardent gamers will find themselves butting into the storage limits very soon without investing in an external drive.
Those upgrading will quite likely already have an external drive stocked with games – needing to download hundreds of gigabytes of games on a standard broadband connection has not been fun – and if you don’t, then investing in one will make the upgrade process immeasurably smoother, letting you simply copy or move games to the external and then simply plug it into the new One X and be on your way. Additionally, the Fall Update and redesign includes provisions to let you select to download 4K assets and copy your profile and console settings to the drive to make that initial set up even smoother, with local network transfers another option.
Either way, you’ll have to live with an overly long system software update the first time you turn the console on, and likely have to become accustomed to the Xbox One’s main OS. The Fall Update is still rather cluttered, with half a dozen links to try and drag you into Microsoft’s community or their storefronts for games or video. It’s not too onerous to ignore and simply duck into your games library, and you can easily access recently used games through the Guide quick menu that is where most of the system’s real functionality lives. Oddly, the menus are not in HDR which means the TV has to switch back and forth between SDR and HDR modes. This won’t be a problem for certain makes but is for others – our Samsung KS7000 handles these shifts seamlessly while a Sony XD93 cuts to black every time I return to Home or Settings.
A game’s console is nothing without games and a 4K console is irrelevant without 4K games to play on it. The filters in the My Games & Apps section easily let you expose those that have been enhanced for One X or are awaiting patches, doing a much better job of showing this to players than the PlayStation 4 Pro does. What they haven’t been particularly great at doing is saying exactly when those patches are coming out.
Third party support is extensive, with most major publishers and many smaller developers happy to jump on with both existing and future titles. Most of this year’s major titles, such as Assassin’s Creed Origins, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and FIFA 17 all have One X enhancements announced – find Microsoft’s full list here – but in the week we’ve had the console, few have had their patches released. This includes Microsoft’s own titles, which you would expect all to be updated by launch, but of their marquee titles only Gears of War 4, Halo 5: Guardians and Quantum Break have been updated so far, the latter two being updated yesterday with a 15GB and a staggering 95GB download respectively. AC Origins’ update, meanwhile, was a mere 1.7GB to add 4K support and HDR for all consoles.
Because of this, we will have to revisit the One X’s enhanced library of games next week, but of those we have seen both with final release code and through events over the last few months, the results are impressive. We’ve not been able to add to our array of 4K videos, but from preview events you can see Assassin’s Creed Origins, Super Lucky’s Tale, Halo Wars 2 and Rise of the Tomb Raider all captured on Xbox One X and in 4K.
Naturally Microsoft’s own studios are best equipped to get the very best out of the One X, and they are setting the gold standard of native 4K, HDR and 60fps where it’s needed. In some ways, the power deficit of the original Xbox One helps them to achieve this, as they’ve had to optimise greatly to hit 1080p on that platform, while the Xbox Play Anywhere and the Xbox One S has helped broaden their experience with varying levels of power.
Click to open. Note the differences in self shadowing, improved texture filtering and the One X at 1080p having more refined anti-aliasing. Image does not factor in HDR.
Gears of War 4 is a shining example of this. Very well optimised on Xbox One, it also had HDR support on One S and the game on PC scales very well. On Xbox One X, the HDR can add a greater vibrancy to the image, while finer details in the distance are so much easier to pick out in 4K extends further into the distance. It looks fantastic compared to the relatively soft image you get on Xbox One, but if you demand performance then an added bonus is that you can play Campaign and Horde mode at 1080p and with 60fps, where these are normally 30fps.
One pleasant surprise announced just a couple weeks ago was that certain Xbox 360 games available through backward compatibility would also be receiving Xbox One X enhancements, with key titles like Halo 3 and Fallout 3 benefitting from tricks that PC-based emulators have enjoyed for decades. While assets have all remained identical, the underlying game resolution has been boosted dramatically, and in Halo 3’s case, a 10-bit colour space has been enabled, meaning that TVs will switch into HDR mode and greater lighting contrast can really come to the fore. You’ll still have the 360’s 720p UI, meaning that menus are noticeably low resolution, and the game doesn’t make use of the Xbox One’s trigger rumble, but letting TVs enter HDR mode makes this version look and feel better than Halo 3 as seen in The Master Chief Collection. It’s essentially a full remaster for free.
Click and open. The One X Enhanced backward compatibility now runs at 4K vs. 720p on original Xbox One, while The Master Chief Collection boosts the game’s overall brightness. TMCC will receive One X Enhancement in 2018. Image does not factor in HDR.
Another key advantage for both One X and One S is the inclusion of the Ultra HD Blu-ray drive, which could be a competitive advantage over the PlayStation 4 Pro. When a standalone player costs around £200, that can be a deciding factor for those looking for the very best quality for watching films, whether they can stream 4K or not. Planet Earth II looks simply stunning in HDR, and there’s a staggering amount of detail to the image, while jumping back and forth between regular and UHD Blu-ray for Mad Max: Fury Road, the film in HDR has much more nuance to the environments and lets the natural colours and tones come through.
The biggest problem that the Xbox One X faces is bringing prospective gamers to the table with compelling and unique games. Microsoft Studios have stumbled in the last year or so and it’s really showing with the lack of exclusives this autumn, with Forza Motorsport 7 their one marquee title and the only major exclusive game coming alongside the One X is indie platformer Super Lucky’s Tale. Charming though it is, there’s no major first person shooter or action adventure from Microsoft to lead the line on day one. When the PlayStation 4 Pro has been on the market for a year, when it has more exclusives from Sony, and when it can often get close enough to 4K that most people won’t notice the difference despite being £100 less, that puts Microsoft at a real disadvantage.
The Xbox One X is an impressively powerful console, capable of bringing Microsoft’s hyped up “True 4K” tagline to gamers, delivering a huge step up in graphical quality and finally dispelling the power deficit that hampered the platform. Microsoft now really need to back it up with a strong series of stand out exclusive to make people want to come and play.
Our Xbox One X was provided to us by Microsoft for review purposes.