Xbox Series X Review: A Natural, Meaningful Evolution

After sinking hours upon hours into the Xbox Series X, it’s evident Microsoft's next-gen console is something special. Forget crunching the numbers and pulling up side-by-side comparisons with what it’s competing against and what the Series S looks like – It’s simply got some great ideas built into it, and it’s a significant step up from what we’re used to. Not all of its strengths will be made apparent right away, but it’s clear this is the natural evolution for anyone who’s heard the startup sound of the Xbox One on a daily basis.

But perhaps it’s also a smart next step for anyone who hasn’t historically favored the Xbox One. This all comes from someone who’s played on a PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro almost exclusively this generation while only returning to the Xbox One for a select few games. Maybe the PlayStation 5 will match or overtake the strengths of the Series X – it’s impossible to say since I haven’t gone hands-on with Sony’s next iteration yet – but, if not, it already feels like it’ll be hard to go back.

Reviewing a console is tricky business since there’s so much to unpack, especially when you consider how the hardware you’re reviewing is essentially just a vehicle for the greater experiences you’ll create. Console comparisons can and should wait for another day, though, because there’s much to say about the Series X on its own.

The Design and Setup

Design of a console and the setup process go hand in hand, since those two facets of the Xbox Series X are what you’ll experience first. Premium packaging and refrigerator comparisons aside, the Xbox Series X is nowhere near as cumbersome as initial impressions made it out to be. Different from past members of the Xbox family, its design means it should fit snugly into most modern setups. Vertical or horizontal, a rectangle is about as unobtrusive as it gets.

The talking points of the Series X’s design don’t go much further than that, but it’s overall a slick, covert build that should mesh well with other consoles. Green splashes inside the top of the console remind you it’s an Xbox, in case you’d forget.

As for the actual setup, the process couldn’t have been easier. With everything plugged in and ready to go, the Xbox app was a lifesaver for someone who hasn’t fired up an Xbox One since Minecraft Dungeons launched in May 2020 and was already getting a headache at the idea of recalling logins and moving things over. After a few simple prompts and an update or two, you’re part of the next generation.

The Launch Lineup

After the initial excitement subsides, the next big decision to make is a common afternoon query: what to play? With the Xbox Series X, unless you’re planning on picking up some third-party releases, the answer will likely be “what you were already playing.”

Launch lineups are synonymous with console releases, and the Xbox Series X simply doesn’t have one that would sway undecided shoppers on its own. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing Yakuza: Like a Dragon on the Xbox Series X and look forward to continuing with third-party games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but it’s a strange feeling to not have a stand-out, must-play game right away.

It will be a while before the Series X’s compatibilities and optimizations with next-gen versions of games are fully realized anyway, so the sting of a lackluster launch lineup isn't as prominent. Microsoft's cross-gen champion, the Xbox Game Pass, is there to ease that pain. The time spent building up that catalogue of games unlocked via subscription was a bonus before and a buffer now. Between old favorites and third-party releases mixed with what Xbox Game Studios has coming, there’s still plenty to play.

Load Times and Quick Resume

Things like reaching 8K resolutions and even more attainable goals like 4K at 60FPS for more intensive games can wait until those optimizations are ready. For now, we’ve got the Xbox Series X's blazing fast load times to appreciate, which are made possible by the console’s SSD we’ve heard so much about.

Here’s an example or two of what to expect: turning the console on while in a powered-down “Instant On” state brought me to the main menu in 2.14 seconds starting from the time I heard the Xbox’s startup sound. After selecting Yakuza: Like a Dragon and waiting another 3.58 seconds, I was back in the streets of Yokohama, not just the game's main menu. That’s a 5.72-second wait time from a console being off to being in the game, and while more demanding titles will likely increase that wait as developers are able to better utilize the power, the loading times are hard to beat now. You can largely forget about load times between cutscenes and the like, as well, because even if they still exist, they're so far improved from the Xbox One you hardly end up waiting at all.

The same goes for the Quick Resume feature. While it couldn’t be tested on every game, jumping back and forth between titles supporting the feature was a seamless, quick process. Moving from the matchmaking menu of Apex Legends to the fields of Minecraft Dungeons took a whole 5.87 seconds before I was in control again. If you’re indecisive and have a vast collection in front of you, Quick Resume will be one of your best friends.

The Controller

If you’re going from the base Xbox Elite controller to the Series X’s, your handheld, next-gen experience may not be as profound. If you’re making the jump all the way from the Xbox One’s base controller to this one, you’re in for a treat.

The way a controller feels in your hands is everything, and the new Series X controller has that part down without issue. The texture on the grips is just rough enough to be functional without being off-putting, and I constantly found myself absent-mindedly appreciating the texture during cutscenes. The same goes for the triggers, which respond instantly and have a similar no-slip grip.

Having a “share” button built right into the face of the console is a nice touch, as well, and it fits snugly into the “natural evolution” part of the console overall. It captures whatever you need instantly, and you’ll wonder why it wasn’t always there.

The Verdict

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I’m sure there’s much more tucked away in the Xbox Series X to appreciate and more potentials to unlock, but the time spent with the console so far has yielded an overwhelmingly positive experience. Microsoft’s proudly touted it as the most powerful Xbox console ever and sometimes as the most powerful console in general during the road to launch, and after going hands-on with it, I’m inclined to believe the former 100% and perhaps someday the latter, too. If you spend time with your Xbox One even three to four days of the week and are looking for a better experience, you owe it to yourself to get the Xbox Series X. For those on the fence, it’s hard to imagine you’ll be disappointed with what you find.

An Xbox Series X was provided to ComicBook.com by Microsoft along with games including Yakuza: Like a Dragon for the purposes of this review.