Since its entry into the console gaming space nearly two decades ago, Microsoft positioned the Xbox brand as one that focused on power. The original Xbox, and the Xbox 360 reflected this, with both of them having some of the best looking and technically astounding games of their respective generations, such as 2001's Halo Combat Evolved and the original Gears of War from 2006. While the Xbox One has a few visually slick gems such as Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4, it’s not the powerhouse fans have come to expect, ceding ground to the PS4 and more so, the PS4 Pro. This changes with the Xbox One X.
The Xbox One X is Microsoft’s answer to the PS4 Pro, it’s a more powerful version of the Xbox One and last year’s redesigned Xbox One S. The Xbox One X enables games with 4K visuals, HDR, and smoother frame rates - but is it worth buying? We tell you.
In terms of build quality and aesthetics, the Xbox One X is similar to the Xbox One S — which is not a bad thing. The familiar Xbox One controller with a headphone jack and a slightly better grip comes with the Xbox One X, as do trials for Xbox Game Pass — the Xbox equivalent to Netflix — and Xbox Live Gold. The real difference comes in when you look at the console's specifications. There’s a new cooling system, 12 gigs of RAM, a 2.3GHz AMD Jaguar processor, and a 1TB hard drive that has around 780GB of usable space.
Before we could get to checking out games on the Xbox One X, we were faced with colossal downloads. Microsoft-developed games like Halo 5 and Gears of War 4 had us downloading all the game files totalling around 200GB, instead of just their update files, due to the company’s inconsistent and erratic download system. Third-party games like Diablo 3, Hitman, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Shadow of War fared a lot better, simply letting us download their Xbox One X updates rather than the entire game file.
As for the games themselves, Halo 5 in 4K looked sharp. Be it in multiplayer or single-player, it was a treat to play. It’s a marked upgrade over the 2015 release even without HDR, which developer 343 Industries claims is absent due to technical reasons. Recent fare like Forza 7 also sees a perceptible upgrade. The Xbox One X patch brings sharper car models, immersive weather, and a sense of realism that, in retrospect, felt missing from the Xbox One release (though its micro-transactions still exist, even in 4K). Gears of War 4 lets you choose between quality visuals upto 4K at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps with some new graphical enhancements. It’s welcome leap from the 2016 original.
The option to choose between frame rate and resolution extends to third-party titles like Hitman, which shines over and above its PS4 Pro and PC release, sporting a more consistent frame rate and smoother gameplay. Rise of the Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy XV, and Assassin’s Creed Origins all benefit from the added horse power of the Xbox One X as well, making the Xbox One X versions of these games the definitive way to play on consoles.
In other titles, the difference was so pronounced that it fixes issues we faced with them earlier, such as poor frame rate and long loading times in Mafia 3, which we highlighted in our initial impressions. Others like ReCore saw terrific gains in terms of a higher frame rate, faster loading times, and enhanced visuals too which trounced what we played on the Xbox One S a year ago.
An interesting feature of the Xbox One X is that at a system level, games that have 4K assets or resolutions higher than 1080p would be super-scaled to fit regular full-HD screens. What this means is, even those who don’t have a 4K TV can benefit from sharper image quality. Be it the likes of Shadow of War and Rise of the Tomb Raider or even Halo 5 and LA Noire, every game we tried looked great on either display. This is a far cry from the PS4 Pro, wherein the game developer has to provision for it. Hopefully Sony decides to go the Xbox way with a future update. Until then, games on the Xbox One X have an advantage in terms of graphical fidelity.
Resolution aside, HDR is a welcome addition too. Games that support it, like Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Assassin’s Creed Origins, take full advantage with stellar lighting leading to a more natural image. Though it’s strange to see some games, like the aforementioned Mafia 3, claiming HDR to be exclusive to the Xbox One X. Could this be a sign of things to come where tech like HDR or 4K graphics are only on one platform and not all that could make use of it? We sure hope not.
This isn’t all. You can play select games from the original Xbox such as Mech Warrior, Crimson Skies, and Knights of the Old Republic with support for more on the way, while games from the Xbox 360 are playable too. While this feature exists on the Xbox One and One S, a few games like Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed have visual upgrades and enhancements exclusive to the Xbox One X. It’s a nice nod to the Xbox legacy and makes the Xbox One series of consoles closer to the PC with an unprecedented level of backwards compatibility.
Our grouses are few. You’ll need a fast Internet connection with a generous bandwidth cap or FUP as it’s known in India, and we found ourselves not being able to install more than 15 to 18 games on the 1TB hard drive, which means you’ll need an external hard dive sooner rather than later. Even if you buy games on disc, you’ll still need to install all the data on the Xbox One X hard drive - a decision that the company has stuck with since the Xbox One’s 2013 launch.
Should you get one? Well it depends on if you can find it. The Xbox One X launched globally earlier this month for $499 (round Rs. 33,000) and at the time of publishing this review, Microsoft India has not announced a release for India or a price just yet. If you own a 4K TV or plan to get one and have a good enough Internet connection, it’s definitely a superlative option right now. If you already own a PS4 Pro or a PS4, it could shape up to be a decent complementary system provided more developers support it in terms of Xbox One X enhancements.
All in all, the Xbox One X is quite possibly Microsoft’s biggest triumph in recent memory. It’s a throwback to its focus on power and a statement to its forward thinking all in one compact package.
Rating (out of 10): 9