We're getting closer and closer to November, and with it the launches of the two ninth generation consoles: the Xbox Series X|S and the PlayStation 5. By the time you're reading this, pre-orders would have already mostly sold out, and people will be doing what they can to secure a console for post-release.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on an Xbox Series X and I couldn't be happier. There's a lot of complex—as well as some very understandable—reasons why I decided to buy an Xbox Series X|S at launch instead of a PlayStation 5. No, it's not just because I think a fridge looks better than a router.
Looking for the opposing argument? Check out our other features about the next generation of consoles.
- The 2020 Console War: Which Next-Gen Console is Right For You?
- Why I'm Buying the PlayStation 5 Over the Xbox Series X
The Xbox Series X Library of Games
One of the big things that Xbox has been working on in the lead up to this generation is PR talk, because we all remember how that went the last time... While a lot of what is said about the Xbox Series X is correct, there are those few asterisks that need to be looked at. The biggest line they've been touting is that the Series X will launch with the largest lineup of games ever on a console. Is it technically correct? Yes, but there's more to it.
Series X Launch Titles | Let's Be Honest... It's Slim Pickings
For both consoles the lineup is dominated by cross-generation titles with very few true exclusives. Even those exclusives seem to have a PC port attached now, or at a later date. At launch I'm looking forward to playing Yakuza: Like a Dragon, hopping back into Destiny 2: Beyond Light, and finally getting around to playing Gears 5. A western port of a PS4 game, a long-running FPS, and a port of an Xbox One game upgraded to Series X. It's certainly not a traditional launch lineup, and it's definitely missing something; there's no big "you need this new console to play this new game." Even Halo, when it was a launch title, was planned to be available on Xbox One, a now seven-year-old console.
This cross-generational list of launch titles will make people questions "Why do I want to get this console?" and it's for the same reason a lot of people might have upgraded to the One X or the PS4 Pro. Funnily enough, this kind of problem isn't just one that Microsoft is having either, with the only large PS5 exclusive being Demon's Souls.
We're at a point where each console generation isn't just about fitting more polygons into a screen, which leads the way to putting games across all platforms. Buying the Xbox Series X at launch isn't to be able to play games that no one else can, but it's playing those game in the best place possible. What buying at launch does mean is that as more and more quality titles get published, they'll have a home in my media cabinet.
Series X Launch Window and the Future | Halo from the Other Side
The future is where things look brightest for Series X, and I write that with full irony, knowing that Xbox fans have been saying that for the past five years. Xbox has historically had Halo, Forza, and Gears year after year, and while that's been tiding over many, it isn't doing it for everyone. The portfolio of games and developers that are now under the Xbox Games umbrella now spans a wide variety of genres. In terms of known quantities on the horizon, we have Halo: Infinite, The Medium, Hellblade II, Scorn, Fable, and Avowed. While some of these are over a year out, big titles like The Medium and Scorn are planning to bring the true next-gen experience that some would say the launch window is lacking.
Microsoft's 23 first-party studios span a wide range of genres encompassing not just racing and shooting, but platforming, role playing, and horror. We still don't even know what The Initiative is up to with their self-described 'AAAA' game. What we do know is The Initiative consists of industry professionals with a history working in big titles such as Apex Legends, Uncharted 4, God of War, and Doom 2016 to name a few. In all honesty.... we don't even know if their game will be good, but whatever it is, it's going to be big. Chances are, whatever they're working on will be the kind of large-scale narrative blockbuster to rival Sony first-party titles like Uncharted and The Last of Us.
The latest in the Xbox family of acquisitions came not too long ago with the purchase of Zenimax and all of its development companies. This again adds value to the future of Xbox but also Xbox's present. While I was already all in for my purchase, the continual drive that Xbox has been showing to guarantee bang for my buck continues to astound. It's the long play—one that should have started sooner—but as we move into 2021, it's going to continue to bolster the Series X.
This diverse lineup might not mean that every Microsoft game is made for you, but that someone out there might find a game that they love playing. Even this year, these first-party developers have begun to really deliver on quality titles. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a technical masterpiece, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an amazing sequel to an already fantastic game, and Gears Tactics spun the franchise on its head. From where they were five years ago to now, the quality and consistency has done nothing but improve, and there's no signs of that momentum slowing down.
Series X Backwards Compatibility | No Xbox Gets Left Behind
It's not just going forward that is exciting for the Series X but also continuing to play games you currently own. Xbox has been working to build up this back catalog for a long time, making sure that everything doesn't just work, but it works better than before. In previous generations getting the new console has meant setting systems aside, or trading out one for the other. For the first time, I'll be unplugging my One S and putting the Series X in place. No games, saves, or purchases lost.
Upgrading from a One S, I'll also finally be able to make use of all the shiny One X enhancements, including 4K textures and enhanced performance modes, even for some Xbox 360 titles. This jump in fidelity and performance makes it feel like more of a generational gap instead of another half-step. For those who adopted the mid-generation power boost, I can understand why both next-gen consoles might have you scratching your head, wondering why to upgrade.
Backwards compatibility is also fantastic for the launch lineup too. I know even before the launch of a new console, I have more than enough games sitting in my backlog waiting to be played. After getting through those few Series X launch games, I don't then have to swap back to my old console to pick up where I was in Shadow of War or Yakuza 0. Some of my games will stay as Xbox One versions and others will bet upgraded to Series X versions.
We've also heard Microsoft be very vocal about how they believe that Series X|S upgrades for games should be free. So far in practice, this has been shown through the Smart Delivery program, as well as the promise that they will be giving free updates with the first-party titles that receive these upgrades.
It's not just the backwards compatibility for software that is a focus for Microsoft either. Peripherals and current external hard drives are also compatible. There's no need to buy another controller for multiplayer if you're like me and already have two or three laying around the house. External hard drives with hundreds of Xbox One games installed will just be plug and play.
This is also big for Microsoft's movements with accessibility and that any custom-made disability controller, or Xbox Adaptive Controller, will also continue working as players have already expected.
The Xbox stance on games being released on all platforms to give access to more gamers, the willingness to push for free upgrades for next-gen features, and the continued dedication to accessibility and not having customers pay for something again is an approach that I've been absolutely loving out of Microsoft as of late.
As someone who already owns over 200 Xbox One games digitally, knowing that they're not going anywhere is a good feeling. Knowing that I invested in the previous environment is one of the more obvious reasons I'm going to invest in the Series X. Yeah, it's all good PR and it gets people talking about Xbox more, but it's good PR that isn't just flashy lights and false promises. I'm looking forward to the new games I'll get to play on Xbox Series X, as well as the older titles that I love going back to—some I'll return to a better experience than I last left with too.
Backwards compatibility is where Sony has been having some real issues not only in their messaging, but also execution. The PlayStation 5 can only play PS4 games, but anything users own on the PS3, or the PS2 for PS4 collection is now lost in the ether. Sony's brief stint in porting 50 or so PS2 titles had promise, and then went absolutely nowhere.
Additionally, the continued complication of the Cell Architecture of the PS3 is going to keep those titles locked away (aside from streaming services where the games are running on original hardware). There's even a vague reason why I can play a PS4 game with a DualShock 4, but the DualShock 4 can't be my player-two controller for any PS5 game.
It's good that the PS4 titles are at least backwards compatible, but it seems like something that's reactionary, instead something they actually care about. The dedication that Xbox has shown makes me much more confident that not only will backwards compatibility support continue, but likely get expanded upon.
Game Pass on the Xbox Series X
Just this past week, I've played Dishonored 2, realized I don't have the stomach for Resident Evil 7, played the odd Hypnospace Outlaw via PC, and hunted down Orcs in Shadow of War. I'm not sure I would have ever gotten around to playing any of these games if it weren't for Xbox Game Pass.
The continued dedication to not only expanding the roster of games available on Game Pass, but also the commitment to day-one first-party Xbox Series X titles joining the lineup means the subscription pays for itself—if you play a lot of games. Combining the focus on backwards compatibility, the day-one Series X titles, and carrying all of that forward to their next console experience is big.
For those who enjoy buying new games physically and returning/reselling them, the monthly entry point replicates the idea of renting a game. Whether staying subscribed, or picking it up for a month to catch up on a few games, there's a workable version of this service for everyone. The inclusion of first-party titles becomes an even stronger selling point compared to the increasing game prices of other publishers like Sony's and EA's titles.
No additional cost vs $70, or even €80, is no laughing matter once you start adding up purchases. I'm not here to argue whether it's right or wrong that the prices are increasing, but it keeps making Game Pass a better deal.
It's hard to not talk about Game Pass as a fan and sound like you've drunk the Flavor Aid, but after buying a $500 console, a measly $10 subscription for a months' worth of access to 250 games, including Series X launch titles, is an incredible thing.
The Hardware and Software Powering of the Xbox Series X
At the very user-interface level of the Xbox experience, the Series X works because it's uninterrupted. While the systems will run differently, the core interface that ties them all together will be unified. Much like Microsoft's ideas of a seamless way to play games across generations, the way I'll be able to interact with my Xbox is also the same.
My Xbox One S already has the dashboard that will come with the Series X as I subscribe to get those updates early. The Xbox dashboards have been pretty hit or miss over the years in terms of form and functionality. I think even the most diehard Xbox fans will attest to that. Knowing that again no one is getting left behind is a comforting thing to hear from a giant corporation that wants your money. So everything that is facing the customer directly will be seamless, but what about what's running under the hood?
Here's where things begin to get complicated. The One X and PS4 Pro were already doing some level of 4K at 60 FPS, even if it was upscaled, extrapolated, dynamic, and so on. So how is the next-gen hardware even better?
The Gen 9 consoles' CPU and GPU are relatively similar, with the Series X slightly beating out the PS5. The prices and supported resolutions are the same, and both will have HDR and ray tracing. So what makes one better than the other in terms of hardware? The answer, and big buzzword, for this generation, seems to come down to the SSD and storage solutions. The Xbox One has the bigger SSD at 1 TB (500 GB for the Series S) against the 825 GB PS5, and the PS5 SSD can push 5.5 GB/s while the Xbox Series X is at 2.4 GB/s.
The SSD is an important thing to a lot of players; no one wants to sit around for a five-minute loading screen reading the same tips about how to duck under obstacles if you're already 30 hours into a game. Xbox has shown this off most recently with an Xbox Series S loading The Outer Worlds, dropping load time from 53 seconds to 10 seconds. Still not too sure if that's a show of how impressive the loading times are, or if it's something concerning about The Outer Worlds that I've just never noticed.
The speeds of the SSD will allow you to have faster streaming of textures and assets, and while yes, the PS5 SSD does transmit more data faster, Xbox has also shown off some pretty revolutionary technology that will give their SSD a hidden edge. In terms of flat speeds, you're going from 68 MB/s from the Xbox One to 2.4 GB/s of compressed data on the Series S, but using smart design, there's less for the Xbox to transmit too. Using a lot of made-up terms like the Xbox Velocity Architecture and its ability to leverage Sampler Feedback Streaming (SFS), the Xbox is going to need to load less. In layman's terms, it means that the console will only load the parts of textures that your character is able to see.
Games playing in 4K—and by extension the 4K textures—are a big part of why these devices need to be so powerful and have such fast memory transfer. If you're only needing to transfer 1/3 of those assets at any point in time though, then Microsoft has taken a "work smarter, not harder" approach to texture streaming. Ultimately though, like the Kinect and the PS4 touchpad, when it comes to multiplatform titles, the common denominator will decide what features are used. I'd hope that Xbox would make a process like this easy to use so that many developers can maximize its advantages, but that's something we'll need to wait and see.
For Storage options, the Series X already comes with more, and obviously that means I can install more games. In terms of expansions to memory, you can swap out games from the external hard drive, or run backwards-compatible games right off the external. There is a way to add 1 TB of storage that's as fast as the internal storage in the form of the Seagate Expansion Card, recently revealed to be $220 in the U.S. That's a lot for storage, but in a year or so when it's needed, I'd rather know my option than Sony's approach, which is "We'll begin evaluating and approving SSDs that are worthy when they exist."
Really the big takeaway from the technological advances of this generation though... is that the games are going to look and play better than ever. We'll be getting more consistent 4K and not checkerboarded 4K, and we're also seeing games run at 120 FPS, which is exciting for a lot of the hardcore crowd.
The Underlying Message of the Xbox Series X
Phil Spencer and the Xbox messaging have been very clear in the lead up to the release of the Series X and the future of Xbox. They want people to play games with the smallest hurdle to entry while also offering the best home console experience. While you can dismiss it as PR talk and Microsoft wanting people to buy more units, Xbox has not only been talking big, but then backing up their words. Microsoft was clear about not ditching the Xbox One immediately, continuing to support all peripherals, and have even not announced any upcharges to their games for Series X (yet?). Even in messaging from Phil Spencer and from Xbox PR accounts, it hasn't been, "buy our games," but simply, "play games."
The Series X is the most powerful console and allows me to play the hundreds of games I already own. While it will be replacing my One S, it doesn't make it useless through cross-progression, and gives me access to hundreds of games through Game Pass. It is the perfect option for my style of gaming; everything else is just gravy.