I have to be honest, the idea of reviewing a game console has always seemed, well, stupid. While there are plenty of factors to consider when deciding whether to upgrade when there’s a generational change — price, upcoming games, status of your current console, etc. — choosing between consoles of the same generation really just comes down to which one has the most exclusive games you want to play. If you like Gears Of War but not God Of War, you buy an Xbox. If you prefer Forza over Gran Turismo, you buy a PlayStation. And if your favorite games are Halo, The Last Of Us, and anything with the word Mario in the title, well, your kid ain’t going to college.
But when the good people at Microsoft sent me an Xbox Series X so I could continue my career as a freelance game journalist who writes reviews for multiple outlets, I thought I’d write a review of my new console, in part out of a sense of obligation, and in part because I’ve never done one before and wanted to see what it was like. And while it didn’t change my opinion about console reviews or how someone should decide which system to buy, I still found that I more to say that just, “Well, what games do you like?”
For the most part, the controllers included with the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S are essentially the same as the one for the Xbox One. And, in fact, Xbox One controllers — as well as other accessories — will also work with the Xbox Series X and S. While it does add a dedicated button for capturing screenshots and videos, as opposed to using the power button, the buttons feel essentially the same. And the same is true for the triggers, bumpers, and thumbsticks.
That said, there are a couple noticeable differences. For starters, the hand grips are textured, not smooth. The controller’s recharge port is also different; it uses more recent USB cables like new Android phones and tablets.
But the big change is the directional pad. Rather than continue to use the four-point plus-sign looking kind they’ve had for years, the Xbox Series X / S controller uses the indented circle kind they first added with the Elite controllers. Y’know, the ones you never bought because they were $179.00. This is a definite improvement because while the circle works the same when you’re pressing up, down, left, and right, it’s noticeably better when you try to press upwards and left or downward and right and so on.
It should come as no surprise that both the Xbox Series X and S are technologically more advanced than the Xbox One. What would be the point otherwise? But the X (the one that looks like the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey) is also more powerful than the S (the one that looks like Apple made a hotplate). According to Xbox’s website, The CPU in the X is, “8X Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.66 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU,” while the S’s is “8X Cores @ 3.6 GHz (3.4 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU.” Similarly, the GPU is “4 TFLOPS, 20 CUs @1.565 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU” while the S’s is “12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU.”
Thanks to all this computing power, both systems will run games at 60 frames per second, with the Xbox Series S doing it in HD, while Xbox Series X can do it in 4K as well as HD. The X also supports High Dynamic Range up to 8K HDR.
It also means the Xbox Series X and S are faster, both when starting up and when starting games. Not only does my Xbox Series X start up instantly, but Gears 5 loaded just as quickly, both when I first started the game from the system menu, and again when I started playing the campaign. Which isn’t to say you’re going to skip past all the corporate logos when you first start playing a game; rather that when you’ve been playing it, you won’t have to wait long for things to load.
In fact, the Xbox Series X and S’s tech actually allows you to play multiple games at the same time…sort of. If, for example, you’re playing the campaign in Gears 5, and get invited to play some “Team Deathmatch” in Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, you can do so without saving or worrying that your progress in Gears 5 will be lost, you can just switch over. Then, when you go back to Gears 5, it will be right where you left off, not at the last checkpoint you reached or wherever you last saved.
To test this, I loaded up Gears 5, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, and Marvel’s Avengers, and spent a moment flipping between them like I was flipping between news channels on election night. It also works with streaming apps, as I learned when I stopped playing Gears 5 to watch a couple episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent on Peacock, and then went back to my game.
The Xbox X and S are also backwards compatible, and will play any game that has worked before on Xbox One — whether it was made for that system, the Xbox 360, or the original Xbox — save for those which use the Kinect, which is not compatible with the new Xboxes.
Even cooler, many of Xbox One games that are going to be rereleased on Xbox Series X and S will actually get upgraded for free, including Gears 5 (which will be upgraded when the Xbox Series X / S launches) and Destiny 2 (which gets upgraded December 8 with the launch of the new “Beyond Light” expansion).
This is also true of future releases being released for both generations. If you buy Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox One when it comes out December 10, and then get an Xbox Series X or S for Christmas, you can reload it onto your new Xbox and it will automatically be upgraded to the Xbox Series X / S version. And this is true whether you buy the game on disc or digitally, though you will need an Internet connection to download the upgrade, obviously.
As for how big of a difference this will be, well, it seems to be small but noticeable. In playing a little bit of Gears 5 to test — since it’s the only game I’ve played before that has already been upgraded — I noticed that the graphics were slightly more detailed, and the same was true of how well the characters moved. So, we’re not talking about the kind of visual upgrade that Resident Evil 3 got when this GameCube- and Dreamcast-released game was remade for Xbox One, but considering that some upcoming games are being made for Xbox Series X and S, as well as Xbox One, the differences could be more considerable in other games.
Even games that haven’t gotten graphical and technical makeovers work better on the Xbox Series X / S, as I saw when I replayed some Crash Bandicoot 4 and Avengers, both of which I’d already played on Xbox One (and the latter of which will get an upgrade next year). While both worked — no surprise there — and both looked and played the same as they did when I played them on Xbox One, they loaded up faster, and I was also able to switch back and forth between them without incident.
But while, as I mentioned, this upgrade will be free for many games, it won’t be for all of them. Activision, for example, have said they’ll charge $10.00 to upgrade Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War from the Xbox One version to the Xbox Series edition. Though with such companies as Sega (Yakuza: Like A Dragon), Electronic Arts (Madden NFL 21), Capcom (Resident Evil Village), Square Enix (Marvel’s Avengers), 2K (Borderlands 3, NBA 2K21), Codemasters (DIRT 5 — my review of which you can read here), and Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs: Legion, Far Cry 6, ) all making the upgrades for those games free, it seems like Activision may be the odd one out.
Xbox Series X Vs. S
As I mentioned earlier, the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S are different from a technical standpoint. But there are other differences between them worth mentioning.
For starters, the Xbox Series X also has a disc drive, while the Xbox Series S does not, which makes the former necessary if you buy games, rent them, or borrow them from friends. The same can also be said for people who buy movies or TV shows on disc, as the Xbox Series X can play 4K Blu-rays, something the S obviously can’t.
The Xbox Series X also has a bigger hard drive than the S. The X has a 1 terabyte drive, while the S’s is 512 gigabytes, or slightly more than half the size. Which makes the X better if you want to have a lot of games on hand, though both can be expanded with external hard drives. Though 512GB is still a lot of room. My Xbox Series X currently has three games loaded — Metro: Exodus, Borderlands 3 (with its DLC), Metro: Exodus, and Pinball FX3 (for which I own many, many tables) — and it’s only 31% full, which would be around 60% of an Xbox Series S’s memory.
And, of course, there’s the price: The Xbox Series X is $499.99, while the Xbox Series S is $299.99. Which is a substantial amount of money, especially when think in terms of how many more games you could buy.
In the end, it’s clear: If you want to play Halo Infinite, Forza Motorsport 8, and Gears Of War VII: Adrian’s Revenge, you’re going to want an Xbox Series X or S; the former if you have a 4K TV and need a lot of storage space; the latter if you only buy games digitally, delete them regularly, and want to save money for more games. Either way, though, both the Xbox Series S and S are impressive game machines, ones you’ll get lots of use out of for many years…well, until the next one comes out.