Xbox One X review: Game-limited pow-er!

Nathan Lawrence 3 November 2017

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The most powerful console ever made, but with a serious lack of killer-app games.

Just one short year after Microsoft’s refresh of the original Xbox One, the Xbox One S, along comes another Xbox One that’s more ‘revolution’ than ‘refresh’. What once was called Project Scorpio is now officially known as Xbox One X, and if you look at its innards, it’s a beast of a machine.

Microsoft likes to brag that the hardware is 40 percent more powerful than any other console. Though unnamed, that nearest competitor is obviously the PlayStation 4 Pro: Sony’s recent 4K upgrade for the PlayStation 4. The biggest problem with the Xbox One X continues to be the problem that hangs over the head of all things Xbox One: limited first-party games and third-party exclusives.

Though the recent capture of PC Early Access phenomenon PlayerUknown’s Battlegrounds for exclusive Xbox One release is a neat console-exclusive coup for Microsoft, if you’re running out on day one to buy the Xbox One’s new-release “killer app” game, you’ll be found wanting.

Unless you count the cutesy, cartoony Super Lucky’s Tale, but let’s circle back to that later. It’s a shame, really, because the Xbox One X is a powerful machine, for more than just gaming.

Yes, it comes in black

Like the Batmobile, the Xbox One X comes in black. Exclusively. This isn’t a con as much as it is expected, even if the crisp white design of the Xbox One S looks more attractive at first glance. Actually, the Xbox One S and Xbox One X look very similar during that same first glance (outside the colour). Look a little closer and you’ll notice the UHD Blu-ray tray is lower on the Xbox One X, pretty much flush with the narrower base. Outside of that, they might as well be twins, aesthetically.

Despite the hardware bump over the Xbox One S, the Xbox One X is still in a comparably smaller form factor, measuring in at 30x24x6cm, and weighing around 3.8kg. Compare that with the Xbox One S’s 30x23x6cm dimensions and 2.9kg weight. The Xbox One X is effectively the same size as the Xbox One S, but the hardware beneath the hood is a lot more powerful (more on that later).

In terms of ports, it’s identical to the Xbox One S, most notably with the lack of a dedicated Kinect port and its three USB ports. The lack of additional USB ports for the Xbox One X is particularly concerning for this otherwise future-proofed console, given the additional storage space required for Xbox One X-enhanced games (4K textures ain’t tiny) means you’re pretty much guaranteed to want to expand the storage via at least one USB 3.0 external hard drive.

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If you want to take advantage of the spatial-sound benefits (like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X) with a decent set of cans that use an external amp, there’s another USB port gone. For those who want to capture footage onto an NTFS-formatted drive, for easy plug-and-play editing between Xbox One and PC, that’s the last port spoken for. That means no charge-and-play, and you’ll have to hot-swap between items on the lonely front USB port, especially if your Xbox One X is tucked into a TV unit and you don’t want to mess around with the rear ports.

Initially, I was worried that Microsoft had reverted back to the original Xbox One controller, but while they look identical, the Xbox One X controller boasts the same textured grips as the Xbox One S controller. It feels as good as the Xbox One S controller but pales in comparison to the almighty Xbox One Elite Wireless controller.

Mighty 4K innards

Without getting overly technical, the Xbox One X’s hardware is beastly, and that’s coming from the perspective of a born-and-bred PC gamer. It has a faster CPU than the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro, a more powerful GPU than both, and even beats out the PS4 Pro’s impressive 9GB with 12GB of faster system memory. On paper, it lives up to the claim of the most powerful console ever, but it’s tricky to fully acknowledge its power pre-release without the right kind of games to show off its glory.

For instance, my go-to game for showing off the power of the PlayStation 4 Pro is Horizon: Zero Dawn. That game looks stunning in 4K, and easily showcases the power of the system. Granted, Horizon: Zero Dawn wasn’t available at the release of the PS4 Pro. For the Xbox One X, I’ve really only been able to appreciate it in all of its 4K glory with Gears of War 4.

Gears of War 4 has always been a pretty game, whether playing on the original Xbox One (which I did), or the Xbox One S (which I also did recently). But when performing some comparison tests between the three consoles recently, the Xbox One X version of Gears of War 4 looks positively stunning. More important than this, The Coalition has empowered players with the option to prioritise 4K fidelity at 30fps, or boost the frame rate to 60fps, for a consistent 60fps gaming experience across modes [LINK to the Gears 4 comparison piece, when it’s live].

Despite Horizon and Gears being both third-person games, the difference is in the worlds. Where Gears of War 4 funnels the player through restricted area while looking beautiful, Horizon: Zero Dawn looks stunning in a sprawling open world. The fidelity on top of the scope of the open world is what adds to the double-punch of what makes Horizon’s technical achievements so impressive.

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With Crackdown 3 bumped to 2018 (it was originally slated as an Xbox One X launch title), and the release date of Xbox One X-enhancement patches up in the air for a number of titles, it’s been slim pickings this past review week. Sure, the family-friendly Super Lucky’s Tale platformer looks prettier on Xbox One X than it does on the older Xbox Ones, but its cartoony art design means the power of the Xbox One X loses its impact.

Killer Instinct looks better in 4K, for sure, while crucially maintaining its 60fps frame rate. But like Super Lucky’s Tale, Killer Instinct has a highly stylised art design that makes it tricky for the lay eye to appreciate the fidelity boost. Similarly, games like Disney Adventures, Rush: A Pixar Adventure, and Zoo Tycoon all look better on Xbox One X than on older systems, but they’re not exactly system-sellers, and they have that same stylised art-style issue.

Other games I’ve either played or seen played in preview form, in 4K on Xbox One X, are currently unavailable, and Microsoft hasn’t been able to provide solid release dates for them, pointing me, instead, to this list, which is reportedly updated daily. It means the stunning games I’ve experienced in 4K previews, like Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Forza Horizon 7 were unavailable to be played and compared during this pre-release period, which is both a shame and a missed opportunity.

What’s more impressive for the impatient gamer is faster loading times. Microsoft claims the internal hard drive (still HDD, alas, and not solid-state drive) is 50 percent faster, assumedly compared to the Xbox One S. I’m used to gaming on a PC where all of my games are installed on an SSD, so loading times tend to be a lot faster than consoles. That said, as an impatient gamer, I do appreciate the shorter loading times, even if it feels marginal.

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Better, though, was the ease of getting ready for the Xbox One X. By ticking the right boxes in the settings of my Xbox One S, and choosing to install games on an external drive, I was able to pre-download enhanced games. Then I simply had to disconnect the hard drive from my One S, plug it into the Xbox One X, and I was ready to go. Players can also do this with network transfer, or even mirror games between Xbox Ones on a home network, with the only catch being that these transfers only work if a game isn’t being played or updated.

One of the biggest points of difference next to the PlayStation 4 Pro is the UHD Blu-ray drive. If you’re armed with a 4K TV and don’t yet own a UHD Blu-ray player, the $649.99 price of the Xbox One X may well be more appealing knowing it can handle both 4K gaming and UHD playback. I had no issues with playing UHDs in the Xbox One X (they all, understandably, look and sound stunning). I even tested an imported 4K Blu-ray, and it played without any issues.

Xbox One, two, three

The real question, though, is this: who’s it for? If you already own an Xbox One S, it’s tricky to justify the cost, especially considering that Microsoft’s plan is to not have Xbox One X exclusives. Exclusive enhancements, sure; but not exclusive games. On top of this, the trend seems to be that online multiplayer games will have their frame rates balanced based on the lower-model Xbox One consoles, meaning if it’s 30fps on Xbox One or Xbox One S, it’ll also be 30fps on Xbox One X. So, you’re not buying a competitive advantage with the Xbox One X, in this regard, unless you’re playing a game where faster loading times are advantageous.

If you don’t own a 4K TV, there is actually a reason to consider the Xbox One X: supersampling. This fancy compound word means your games will look better, even on a 1080p screen. The Xbox One X achieves this by using 4K textures but rendering them at a lower 2K resolution. While the image won’t be as crisp if you stacked it next to a 4K display, games played on Xbox One X on a 1080p screen will still look better on the X than on the Xbox One S (or the original).

And, really, that’s what it all boils down to: how much fidelity matters to you. Given the limited range of currently available Xbox One X-enhanced games (which will surely change for launch), it’s hard to point to more than one instance (Gears 4) to best show off your shiny new box. If anything, early adopters are future-proofing themselves, or hanging out to play third-party titles on a more-powerful console which, even pre-release, was already starting to pull ahead in terms of pretty when next to comparable titles on PS4 Pro [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzPsxUyoe3E].

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The bigger concern for all of this visual flair, though, is a problem that Microsoft can’t control: namely, Australian internet. Updating your existing library of Xbox One games to their enhanced versions has the potential to chew through a download quota, especially considering you can’t opt out of downloading the enhanced versions of games on an Xbox One X console (even if you’re on a 1080p TV). Similarly, while the Xbox One X supports 4K capture and even the streaming of 4K content, the former uses up a stack of storage, and the latter is reliant on 25Mbps bandwidth (minimum).

If you own a 4K TV, love Xbox One games, and don’t own the Xbox One S, the Xbox One X is an easier recommendation. In the same breath, if you’re looking for a boost to your third-party gaming, the Xbox One X is already flexing its fidelity muscles over the PlayStation 4 Pro. As we move into 2018 with titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Anthem, this may prove to be more relevant than it is at the launch of the Xbox One X. And, really, that’s where Microsoft has to compete with Sony – on the third-party front – because Sony is too far ahead with its library and line-up of exclusives.

Newish releases like Assassin’s Creed Origins, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, and Call of Duty: WWII should look sufficiently stunning when their respective 4K updates drop. Legacy titles, like Titanfall 2 and Rise of the Tomb Raider should also enjoy similar treatment, if the PS4 Pro versions are anything to go by. At the end of the day, though, the Xbox One X isn’t an essential purchase at this point of time, and that’s okay. For those who don’t need to own the latest, greatest tech on day one, your patience will likely be rewarded in 2018 when the true power of the Xbox One X is showcased in multiplatform third-party titles and first-party titles like Crackdown 3.

Compare Xbox One X prices below

ProductProviderPrice
Xbox One X 1TB Console
Xbox One X
EB Games $649.95 More info
Xbox One X 1TB Console
Xbox One X
The Gamesmen $649.95 More info

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