Xbox One X First Impressions

The latest contender in the battle of Ultra HD and HDR console gaming has entered the ring, and it packs a serious punch.

While Nintendo focuses, as per usual, on innovation and substance over style (because that worked out so well for the Wii U), Sony and Microsoft are locking horns in a fight to the death. Indeed, the Xbox One X is quite the reversal of fortune for Microsoft, after spending the past few years being consistently outperformed by Sony’s rival, the PlayStation 4. The introduction of PS4 Pro, with 4.2 teraflops of power and Ultra HD/HDR capabilities, was thought to be ringing the death knell for the Xbox One, which had fought a well-documented struggle to keep up with even the base version of Sony’s console, offering just sub-1080p resolutions in multiplatform releases.

But no! Here we have the Xbox One X, with SIX teraflops of power, enough power to provide many games with native 2160p resolutions, as opposed to the PS4 Pro’s reliance on dynamic resolution or checkerboarding techniques. Truth be told, as someone who has to have the best of everything, immediately if not sooner, whether my pocket allows it or not, I’ve always felt a little burned by the PS4 Pro. I traded my base console to get a Pro on launch day, but I never truly felt as though it came into its own.

It remains to be seen then, whether the Xbox One X will suffer the same fate. So far, first impressions of this new machine are very positive, and Microsoft has witnessed the highest-ever pre-order figures in Xbox history. It’s certainly the most physically attractive console on the market at the moment—another role-reversal, considering how hideously ugly the original Xbox One was. The X improves on the much-refined Xbox One S, somehow managing to squeeze all of this extra power into an even smaller form factor, and returning to a sleek, black colour scheme. Unpacking the machine, it looks and feels very shiny and expensive, a good thing considering its comparatively high price-point.

Set-up is simple, and Microsoft have done some great work to ensure those transitioning from an older Xbox to the X suffer as little as possible. I was able to unplug my external hard drive containing all my games from my Xbox One S and plug it into the X, immediately accessing all my content with absolutely no fuss whatsoever. However, this is not a machine for those without high-speed internet. Firing up Rise of the Tomb Raider, one of my games that I knew had received some impressive new X-exclusive features, I was greeted with a 29GB update. “Wow!” I thought. Then I clicked on Quantum Break and was notified that a 55GB update was needed. “Come back, Lara, all is forgiven!” Of course, none of this is much of an issue with the quality of internet services in the majority of locations these days. Just don’t expect to be leaping around Siberia in glorious UHD on day one.

While we’re on that subject, clearly the most important one, the games do look absolutely phenomenal on my Samsung KS7000 TV, comparable to a high-end PC gaming rig with all the settings turned up high. Rise of the Tomb Raider comes with three separate options for harnessing the X’s additional power.

  • “Enriched Graphics” combines two of the PS4 Pro version’s settings together, outputting a checkerboard UHD image with the Pro’s 1080p-mode graphical upgrades.
  • For those who value frame-rate above all else, RotTR on Xbox One X features the 60FPS mode from the PS4 version.
  • Personally, I’m a sucker for squeezing as much detail out of images as I can, even at the expense of extra effects and performance, so for me the Xbox One X-exclusive “Native 4K” setting is king, providing a surprisingly noticeable boost to sharpness when toggling back and forth between it and the “Enriched” checkerboard option. Rise of the Tomb Raider also features HDR capabilities—the real game-changer in my opinion, no pun intended.

2987126 syria 01 4k tif jpgcopy 1Click image for full 2160p resolution.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins looks even more beautiful following its latest patch to introduce UHD and HDR features. There was a little confusion to start with, as the game menu’s HDR Settings option is still greyed out. HDR is active within the game, it just isn’t adjustable—presumably a future upgrade will allow some control over HDR luminance. The downside is that Origins’ performance suffers in its Ultra HD mode, regularly dropping frames and stuttering, but many of us have come to expect that from Ubisoft titles. It’s still very early days for the Xbox One X and I’m hopeful that developers will be able to properly harness its power before too long, patching these early issues out.

Another win for Microsoft over Sony is its handling of backwards compatibility. Not only is there a massive range of Xbox 360 and now original Xbox titles that can be physically downloaded to the Xbox One, those who own these titles on disc can access them for free. On the other hand, on PS4, Sony’s paid-for subscription service PlayStation Now has a comparatively-weak line-up of games on offer, doesn’t provide disc owners any sort of concession, and streaming the titles as opposed to playing them from the hard drive has a huge impact on image quality and introduces heavy input lag, massively detracting from the overall experience. Most exciting for me, some of these backwards compatible titles have also been updated to use the power of the One X, such as Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, two favourites of mine.

Sadly, I’m still waiting for everything to finish downloading before I can see for myself, but patience is a virtue and I have it on good authority that some excellent work has gone into these updates. Overall, I’m impressed with the Xbox One X at this early stage. My only hope is that it will make a far greater impact on the industry than the PlayStation 4 Pro has. Here are some other comments from the initial reviews.

“If you’re the kind of gamer who stops to look at the scenic vistas in games like Skyrim, The Witcher or Dragon Age, or a streamer who can point out a 4 frame-per-second difference while looking at two videos side by side, the Xbox One X is a worthwhile investment. That said, if you’re a gamer who just wants a console that plays great-looking games without digging too deep into your pocket books, the Xbox One X is a bit overkill – save some money and buy yourself an Xbox One S … preferably the one with a 2TB hard drive”. — Nick Pino, TechRadar

“Really, it all comes down to whether you own a 4K screen or are considering investing in one. The right ultra HD display with decent HDR support really does offer a huge improvement in many cases over standard 1080p. Forza 7’s precision lines and often beautiful lighting are a world apart from the base Xbox One experience, while the richness of detail in Gears of War 4 (or the doubling in frame-rate, if you prefer) are transformative experiences. Work needs to be done on beefing up the lacklustre 4K media support, but as a top-tier games machine, Xbox One X is an excellent piece of kit”. — Richard Leadbetter, Eurogamer

“Multiplatform titles will almost certainly look better on Xbox One X than on PS4 Pro, sometimes very noticeably (and elements like increased draw distance and smoother frame-rates can have a palpable effect on your gameplay experience), but is it worth the extra £100? That’s a conversation you need to have with your aesthetic standards and your wallet”. — Keith Stuart, The Guardian

“If you’re already satisfied with the games on your old Xbox One, $500 is a lot of cash to part with for graphical improvements and tweaks for a subset of the same available games (and if you don’t have a 4K and/or HDR TV, the value proposition looks even worse). And if you’re looking to buy your first console to go with your new 4K TV, you should probably decide between the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X based more on their competing software libraries (and prices) than any sort of overwhelming performance difference. If you want the best-looking versions of games like Halo, Gears of War, and Forza Motorsport for much less than a 4K-capable PC, though, the One X is here for you”. — Sam Machkovech, ArsTechnica

The Xbox One X is available now, retailing at $499.