The Xbox Series X is the penultimate step in the redemption arc that Microsoft has been on for the past seven years. The Xbox One finished the generation strong off the back of the Xbox One X and Xbox Game Pass, but when that giant slab of plastic first launched, enormous camera in tow, it’s fair to say that the gaming world was not impressed. It was underpowered and confused in its target audience, trying to be an entertainment center first and a games console second.
But Microsoft took that drubbing to heart and has come back swinging this time around. The Xbox Series X is the most powerful video games console in the world, able to effortlessly display stunning games in 4K resolution and 60 frames per second. It’s near silent when running, has all but eliminated load times and offers the best value service in gaming - Xbox Game Pass. The Xbox Series X isn’t just the best console that Microsoft has ever built, it might be the best console that anyone has ever built… but it’s not quite there yet.
While we have very few complaints with the console itself, a games console is nothing without its lineup of games to play, and the Xbox Series X offers precious few must-have exclusives for gamers to sink their teeth into. We have no doubt that the games are coming, but in the meantime what we’re left with is a superpowered box that plays all the same games our old Xbox One does too.
It's also worth noting that this is only one of two consoles that Microsoft has just released. While the Xbox Series X is the all singing, all dancing 4K gaming machine, the Xbox Series S is also a compelling option for people with HD TVs.
So consider this an upgrade to your device, rather than a revolution. But as upgrades go, this is the full package and certainly one of the best video games consoles you can buy. Keep reading below to see our full Xbox Series X review.
Xbox Series X review: Price and availability
- $499 MSRP.
- Sold out almost everywhere.
- Xbox All Access offers cell plan style payment option.
The Xbox Series X has an MSRP of $499 - the same price as its main competitor, the PlayStation 5. It also shared another thing in common with the PS5 in that it's sold out absolutely everywhere. If you're lucky you might catch one in stock online or in store, but they're disappearing quickly.
The other option is to pay above the normal price to buy one from a scalper - we highly advise against doing this unless you're desperate to get your hands on one.
When Xbox Series X's do come back in stock, there is also an interesting method of payment being offered up by Microsoft. It's called Xbox All Access, and it's very similar to plans offered by the best cell phone providers.
You pay $34.99 per month for 24 months and in return you get an Xbox Series X and 24 months subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This works out at about the same cost as purchasing these items separately, but you get to pay monthly instead of dropping a lump sum.
We think this service offers exceptional value and really takes the edge off upgrading to a next gen console, though be sure you can afford the monthly payments before you sign up - stop paying and your console goes back to Redmond.
Xbox Series X review: Hardware
- Phenomenally powerful.
- Super quick load times.
- Monolithic design isn't for everyone.
After falling behind in the power race at the start of the previous generation, it’s clear that Microsoft has learned its lessons, as the Xbox Series X is an absolute powerhouse on the specs front. It has an eight-core AMD Zen 2 processor running at 3.8GHz, 16GB of RAM, and a 12 teraflop custom GPU.
OK, cool, but what does literally any of that mean, we hear you ask? Well, it means that the Xbox Series X is twice as powerful as the Xbox One X was, and around nine times more powerful than the launch Xbox One/Xbox One S. This means better graphics, better performance across all your games. You can expect smoother frame rates, better load times, and fancy graphics techniques like ray tracing.
It’s not just more powerful though - it’s much quicker too thanks to the 1TB NVME SSD which runs the system and stores your games. Loading times are greatly reduced on the Xbox Series X when compared to the same games on the Xbox One. Take Destiny 2 for example, it takes around 30 seconds to travel from one planet to another on the Xbox Series X, compared to over double that time on our Xbox One X in testing. All this means more time gaming and less time waiting for things to load.
Much like the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X’s visual styling has divided opinions, but for the opposite reasons. While Sony has made its box brash and exuberant, Microsoft has presented us with a black obelisk. Both look like sci-fi creations, so it’s just down to whether you’d prefer to have the starship enterprise or the monolith from 2001 in your living room. For what it's worth though, we like the simple styling of the Xbox Series X, and there are some nice visual touches like the green lined vents on the top that give it a little more character.
One of the biggest surprises for us was just how quiet the Xbox Series X is when it's running. Even while playing a demanding game like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the Xbox Series X is basically inaudible - you need to be right up next to the fans to hear them at all. Considering that the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X could both turn into jet engines when running some games, this is a welcome comfort.
The controller itself has barely changed. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it seems to have been the mantra and after an entire generation of tweaking the design, Microsoft has basically cracked it. There are some slight adjustments though - the grip is textured so you don’t have to worry about dropping it during those sweaty palms moments of intense gaming. There is also a new button on the face which serves as the screenshot button, letting you instantly snap a cool moment in your games and share it online.
Xbox Series X review: User interface
- US is identical to Xbox One.
- Quick Resume is a fantastic.
Microsoft’s whole ethos for a while now has been one of accessibility, and being able to play your games wherever you want. As a result, it’s trying to leave the traditional generational jump behind. While this is great for gamers everywhere, it does mean that the Xbox Series X feels more like a continuation of the Xbox rather than a massive leap forward. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the user interface, which is identical to that of the Xbox One. The store layout is the same, the menu system is the same, it’s all the same.
But while this does deprive you of that new gadget feel, it also means that you don’t need to learn an entirely new interface if you’re upgrading from your old Xbox One. It also means that Microsoft hasn’t had to throw out years of tweaks and improvements to the UI. Games and apps are easy to access, as is the store page. The store itself had a major overhaul just prior to the Xbox Series X launch.
One of the most impressive arrows in the Xbox Series X’s quiver is the quick resume feature, which keeps multiple games lined up in the background, exactly where you left them. This means you can play Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, then jump over to Gears 5 and it will instantly load up your game where you left it - simply unpause and off you go. No need to start the game and sit through the loading screens, you’re just instantly back in the action.
It’s not just one game either - while Microsoft hasn’t given an exact number, we’ve found that titles we played at least eight games ago still quick resumed when we went back to them. Combine this with the fast loading times from the SSD, and there is very little wasted time on the Xbox Series X.
Xbox Series X review: Games
- Lacking first party exclusives at the moment.
- Excellent suite of third party titles including Cyberpunk 2077.
- Xbox Game Pass is still the best value in gaming.
So, we have the world’s most powerful games console and an incredibly polished user interface. Now all this games console needs is some exclusive games to draw people in…. Ah, well this is awkward. With the delay of Halo Infinite to Spring 2021, the Xbox Series X has launched without a killer launch title.
That’s not to say that there is a lack of games on the Xbox Series X of course. There are blockbuster third party games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs: Legion, and Call of Duty: Cold War, and Cyberpunk 2077 is launching in December too. But the issue is that none of these games are exclusive to the Xbox Series X. You can play them all on the old Xbox One S/Xbox One X and indeed on the PlayStation 4/PlayStation 5 too.
So, why should you upgrade? Honestly, if exclusive games are the biggest draw for you, the honest answer is that you shouldn’t. Not yet anyway. With Microsoft’s recent spending sprees leaving it with a whopping 23 internal studios, we can be certain that the Xbox Series X will have an exceptional exclusive lineup in a year or two’s time..
Microsoft also has a trump card when it comes to the games department - Xbox Game Pass. This is Microsoft’s game subscription that is often described as the “Netflix of gaming” and it has been the feather in Xbox’s cap for some time now. Xbox Game Pass costs $10 per month ($15 for Game Pass Ultimate, which includes Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass for PC) and gives you access to an evolving library of over one hundred games to download and play, including all new first party games as they launch.
Game Pass is constantly being topped up with new titles, with Blockbusters like DOOM Eternal and Control joining the service recently. You can comfortably go without ever buying a full-price game again with Xbox Game Pass - it’s the best deal in gaming now and it’s Xbox’s real secret sauce.
Xbox Series X review: Streaming and apps
- All the streaming apps you'd expect: Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max.
- Edge browser for internet browsing in a pinch.
It might be a video games console first and foremost, but Xbox has long been pushing itself as a multimedia machine as much as a gaming device. As a result, you’ll find all the best TV streaming services have apps on the Xbox. This includes mainstream favorites like Netflix and Disney Plus, along with more niche streaming platforms like Crunchyroll and Shudder.
You’ve also got music streaming apps like Spotify, which can play music in the background while you’re gaming if you want - this is ideal for racing games where you don’t want to listen to the in game radio.
There is also an in-built version of Microsoft’s Edge browser, so you can browse the web on your Xbox if you so wish. It’s a little clunky to use with the controller, but the Xbox Series X does support keyboard and mouse if you’re so inclined. It's a useful feature to have when you get stuck on a boss and need to Google tip though.
Overall, the Xbox Series X is a fantastic media machine that has all the apps you could ever want out of a smart device. Sure, most smart TVs have most of these apps included too, but the Xbox’s interface is much simpler to use than fiddling around with your TV remote.
Should you buy the Xbox Series X?
Yes, you should absolutely buy an Xbox Series X. It’s the best console Microsoft has ever built with powerful specs, a streamlined UI and a great library of games, all backed up by Xbox Game Pass. But do you need to buy an Xbox Series X right now? Eh, probably not.
The power upgrade is excellent and the near removal of load times is a game changer, but there are very few games that you can only experience on the Xbox Series X right now. With a reinforced first party studio lineup and Game Pass leading the charge, Xbox gamers will be overrun with exclusives in a year or two, but for now the Xbox Series X is all dressed up with nowhere to take us.
You should also probably only consider the Xbox Series X if you have a 4K TV to take advantage of its power. If you're still using a HD TV then the smaller Xbox Series S will give you the same gaming experience at a fraction of the cost.
So, the excellent review score that we’re giving the Xbox Series X is based somewhat on the promise of what this exceptional games console could, and almost certainly will offer you as a long term investment. We reserve the right to revise this score if Halo Infinite turns out to be absolute pants, but we’re not worried about that.