When Microsoft first revealed the Xbox One X – codenamed Project Scorpio at the time – few knew how the console would actually work. There was talk of teraflops and power, but a lot of the tangible concepts like visuals, frame rate, and resolution were still close to a year away.
Now that the Xbox One X’s release is imminent, the console’s appeals and drawbacks are now fully in view, and after spending dozens of hours with the device it’s safe to say this is the premiere console gaming experience. Until Sony copies Microsoft or we jump to a new console generation, the Xbox One X will be the best gaming console on the market, plain and simple. But, it might not be as essential to some gamers as it will be for others.
The design of the Xbox One X is minimalist – no crazy angles or rounded edges – with a focus on the elements inside not the look outside. With a matted black finish, the Xbox One X easily blends in with most electronics hardware and it doesn’t take up a lot of space in an entertainment center or on a desk/table. It features true buttons (power and eject) with tactile feedback to avoid any inconsistencies that came from the touch sensitive options on the original Xbox One.
At $499, some might be expecting an Xbox One Elite controller with the X’s package, but the console only comes with the current XB1 model. It’s still a great controller for gaming and the focus was always going to be on the hardware anyway.
Setup and Installation
When it comes to installing the Xbox One X there is nothing outside of the ordinary. The retail box comes complete with a power cord (no outside power brick) and an HDMI cable, and users can connect an optical out cable for audio as well. Like the Xbox One, the Xbox One X also has an HDMI input connection, for those that still want to use the console to watch TV. And yes, the console even supports Kinect, despite the fact that Microsoft officially declared Kinect dead this week. The only caveat is that you will need to purchase an adapter for the Xbox One X; the console does not come with the standard Kinect port.
Once connected to a TV or monitor, the Xbox One X will try to download an update to get everything up to current spec, but outside of that the console is ready to go. You may need to download some apps to take full advantage of the console, like a Blu-Ray Player or Netflix, but gaming is not far away once the Xbox One X is unboxed.
Gaming on Xbox One X
Instantly, users will be stuck how much snappier the Xbox One X is compared to the standard Xbox One. Moving between menus, loading games, and switching between active apps is significantly faster and ensures that booting up any activity is only a second or two away. A faster dashboard experience is a small change, but it’s a crucial one if Xbox One X is going to become an integral piece of a gamer’s console collection.
Of course, ease of use is a great bullet point to include with the Xbox One X, but the real question is how does it run. In our extensive testing of the Xbox One X, across a wide variety of games and applications, Microsoft’s new console never missed a beat, delivering a true 4K experience as advertised with plenty of upgrades to boot. Those games that do run at 4K look stunning on a 4K TV with HDR 10. Much like with 1080p back in the early 2000s, 4K might not seem like a worthwhile investment until you see games running at the resolution. After that, it’s really hard to go back. Most importantly, because the Xbox One X is a closed system there is no concern of dipping resolution or inconsistencies of experience. If a game is Xbox One X enhanced, it will run at 4K (potentially HDR as well), and likely has a few additional embellishments.
The improvements afforded by the Xbox One X vary between games, with some taking full advantage of the new hardware and others only experiencing a slight bump. Games like Super Lucky’s Tale and Gears of War 4 leverage the hardware to deliver improved textures, lighting, effects, and a 60fps frame rate (on top of true 4K), while titles like Quantum Break bump up textures to meet the higher resolution. Third party games like Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed Origins have their improvements as well, but the only through line is the 4K resolution.
Gaming at true 4K really is a sight to behold and it makes for textures that pop in ways most gamers have never experienced before. Even games that might seem like "lesser" experiences have an added pop with 4K and HDR, and the top tier titles like Call of Duty: WW2 will leave many gamers blown away. Yes, PC gamers are well versed when it comes to 4K, but for the console gamer this is the new peak.
But even at 4K, games are extremely impressive and things will only get better from the Xbox One X launch forward. No question first party software from Microsoft will take the most advantage of the console, but as third parties spend more time with the Xbox One X, their games will draw out new benefits as well.
Should You Buy an Xbox One X?
Ultimately, that is going to be the Xbox One X’s struggle out of the gate: convincing gamers to invest in future benefits more than current ones. Without any major software available this fall season, Microsoft does not have a showpiece for the Xbox One X. Third party games do well to deliver that 4K experience, but Xbox One X is more than just 4K resolution. Higher frame rates, better lighting effects, and as many PC-like bells and whistles as possible should be standard on a lot of Xbox One X enhanced games, but only a few boast that complete suite currently.
There is a lot of promise to the Xbox One X; it is an impressive piece of hardware that showcases several years of learning. But ultimately, the console is currently not a must-have for those that don’t care about 4K resolution (although they should) or are not invested in the Microsoft family already. There will certainly be more and more games that take advantage of the console’s power but we are about to enter a lull for game releases. It’s rare for a console to also require another peripheral to take full advantage of its strengths, but the Xbox One X is such a device. If a 4K TV or monitor is a distant future for you, then it’s hard to justify the purchase right now.
But those who want to be at the top of the food chain for consoles at all times are strongly encouraged to pick up the Xbox One X. Playing games at true 4K is the next leap forward for console gaming, and is compelling all on its own. At this point, it’s hard to imagine playing multiplatform games on anything but the Xbox One X when given the option. Yes, a $499 price tag is steep, but if you’ve already invested in a 4K TV you owe it to yourself to take full advantage of it.
Microsoft’s Xbox One X releases November 7, 2017 for $499. Microsoft provided an Xbox One X for the purposes of this review.