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Xbox One X Review – Power For What Purpose?

by Andrew Reiner on Nov 06, 2017 at 02:44 PM

Inside the Box
  • Xbox One X console
  • Wireless controller
  • HDMI cable (4K capable)
  • Power cable
  • 1-month Xbox Game Pass trial
  • 14-day Xbox Live Gold trial

Microsoft branded Xbox One X as “the world’s most powerful console,” a lofty claim I can now say is true. The Xbox One X is a monster of a machine that delivers native 4K graphics, lifts framerates from 30 to 60, and slashes load times in half. Simply put, it elevates game performance in significant ways, but what titles benefit from this showcase of power?

That’s the big question that sadly delivers an unsatisfactory answer at launch. Xbox One X’s impressive technology isn’t used to usher in a new generation of gaming, and you won’t find any games made exclusively for it. For better or worse, Xbox One X is just another Xbox One – a powerful and expensive version geared for people who want to get the most out of their 4K displays. Yes, last summer’s Xbox One S was positioned to bring 4K experiences, but it benefited movie aficionados more than gamers with an Ultra High-Definition Blu-ray drive and 4K streaming.

A year ago, Sony gave us a better glimpse of what a high-end console alternative could be with the supped-up PlayStation 4 Pro. While select first-party games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Infamous Second Son show noticeable graphical enhancements, we’re not seeing many tailored games from third-party publishers taking advantage of the hardware. Microsoft’s intent with Xbox One X – at least for the foreseeable future – is to elevate the performance of the existing Xbox One library to 4K. The Xbox One X is considerably more powerful than PlayStation 4 Pro, making true 4K results a reality. Although support is strong at launch, with over 130 games being overhauled to take advantage of this powerful hardware, the lineup favors older games over new releases.

By the Numbers
The Xbox One X is easily the most powerful console on the market. Here’s a breakdown of what is inside the machine.

CPU: Custom CPU @ 2.30 GHz, 8 cores
GPU: Custom GPU @ 1.172 GHz, 40 CUs, Polaris features, 6.0 TFLOPS
Memory: 12 GB GDDR5 @ 326 GB/s
Flash Memory: 8 GB
Internal Storage: 1 TB HDD
Optical Disc: 4K UHD Blu-ray
PSU: 245W, interal
HDMI: 2160p @ 60Hz, AMD FreeSync, HDMI Variable Refresh Rate
HDR10 Support: Yes
HDMI Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM 2.0, 5.1 & 7.1, Dolby TrueHD w/Atmos 11
Connectivy: 3 USB 3.0, 2 HDMI (1 HDMI 2.0b out, 1 HDMI 1.4b in), S/PDIF, IR receiver/IR Blaster port, IR Blaster
Dimensions: 11.81 x 9.44 x 2.36 in
Weight: 8.40 lbs

In terms of exclusive first-party support, the Xbox One X couldn’t have hit at a worse time for Microsoft. Although PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is slated to launch as a console exclusive on Xbox One in December, Microsoft’s first-party lineup for the holidays is razor thin, with Forza Mortorsport 7 and Super Lucky’s Tale being the only “notable” new releases tailored to take advantage of Xbox One X.

Forza thankfully is a great showpiece of what Xbox One X can do, running at a native 4K and a consistent 60 frames per second. The high-definition visuals bring Forza’s races to life in breathtaking detail, showing a clear upgrade in quality over the Xbox One and Xbox One S versions, which both run at a locked 60 frames per second in 1080p. The difference between 4K and 1080p is most notable in objects and textures in the distance, which look fuzzy and less detailed in 1080p, yet retain clear photorealistic qualities in 4K.

Antialiasing is also used effectively in the 4K version of Forza to reduce the flicker on smaller objects like fences and power lines, but it doesn’t remove it completely. Some small details still shimmer or break as they draw near. Objects in the rear-view mirror, such as sizeable fences that protect the crowd, don’t appear to take advantage of the same antialiasing techniques, and are a little distracting in how much they flicker. The PC version of Forza handles antialiasing slightly better, but is otherwise fairly indistinguishable in visual clarity. I know I’m harping on a small detail, but as visuals in games continue to improve the little oddities jump out more.

Although Microsoft doesn’t offer many new titles, the Xbox One X lineup is bolstered by an array of enhanced versions of older first-party games, such as Killer Instinct, Gears of War 4, Quantum Break, Halo 5: Guardians, Halo Wars 2, and ReCore. Gears of War 4 is enhanced the most, offering native 4K visuals at 30 frames per second for all avenues of play, including wide color gamut HDR and Dolby Atmos support. Alternatively, the campaign and horde mode can be played at 60 frames per second in 1080p. Prior to entering the game, the player simply needs to dive into the options to select whether they want the performance or visual boost. Gears of War 4 looks great in any resolution, but is truly something to behold in 4K. The vibrancy of this war-torn world really pops. I hope more games down the road offer up options as to how the player wants to use the power of Xbox One X.

Xbox One X’s saving grace at launch is the third-party lineup, which consists of enhanced versions of new releases like Assassin’s Creed Origins, Call of Duty: WWII, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Madden NFL 18, FIFA 18, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, The Evil Within 2, and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.

Some of these games only offer a baseline enhancement of HDR support (which may also work on the Xbox One S), but a good number of the third-party games showcase 4K visuals (either via upscaling, checkerboard rendering, or native) and/or some kind of performance bump. Assassin’s Creed Origins is a great example of showing how much a cross-platform game can take advantage Xbox One X for performance, starting with a nice reduction in load times. On PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S, the load time for a new game takes roughly 33 to 35 seconds, whereas it’s just 23 seconds on Xbox One X. Fast traveling from the same location to the homestead takes 20 seconds on Xbox One X and roughly 28 seconds on PS4 Pro and Xbox One S. Origins also looks far nicer on Xbox One X than the other consoles, reducing the pop-in of objects and offering more detail in the texture work.

Ark: Survival Evolved promises to use the increased performance in a number of interesting ways, including a local split-screen update that severs the tether that forced players to stay within a confined proximity. These players can explore the islands independently. Ark also boasts a new “Detail Mode” that runs at 30 frames per second in 1440p, with higher texture quality, longer draw distances, and a variety of environment enhancements, including volumetric clouds and sunlight scattering. Ark is also playable at 60 frames per second in 1080p.

Other notable games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, The Elder Scrolls Online, and Titanfall 2 offer a variety of upgrades. Titanfall 2 offers dynamic super scaling and always outputs at 4K, yet alters the resolution based on the GPU load to smooth out the framerate. The Witcher will receive all-around performance boosts, including better shadows, ambient occlusion, and texture filtering, all in 4K. Load times are roughly a minute less on Xbox One X – a significant drop (even without the Xbox One X patch). Fallout 3 runs in 4K with increased sight lines and a smoother playing experience.

Even without Xbox One X patches, most games benefit from the machine’s raw horsepower, reducing load times and upping visual clarity of textures. Halo 5 is great example of a game that looks much better on Xbox One X in its standard form, and is even more of a stunner when the enhanced patch is installed.

Don’t expect too much in terms of performance alterations from multiplayer games, however, as most developers (and Microsoft) want 100 percent parity between all three Xbox consoles. A player gaining an edge in a game just because they have a newer console wouldn’t be fair.

At launch, all Xbox One X-enhanced games offer free updates, but keep an eye on internet data limits when downloading the 4K content, as most of it is sizeable. Gears of War 4’s download is 103.3GB, Forza Motorsport 7 clocks in at 95.6GB, Quantum Break (with the episode pack) is 178.1GB, and Halo 5: Guardians is 98.5GB. The Xbox One X can be set to automatically download the patches that developers add to the marketplace. Games can also be sorted under a new “Xbox One X enhanced” tab – a nice way of seeing which games received an update.

Streaming Services
If you don’t intend to watch movies and television shows using the UHD player, Netflix offers a nice selection of content supporting both 4K and HDR. Amazon’s app also supports 4K, but HDR is not available for any of its programs. YouTube currently doesn’t support any 4K content. Any of these providers could provide updates to up their high-definition content.

Given just how big these games are now, Xbox One X shipping with just a 1TB hard drive is puzzling. The Xbox One S shipped with a 2TB drive in some models. Microsoft is clearly banking on the idea of players using external hard drives to store their games, and even recommended we use one for this review.

The Xbox One X hardware design echoes the launch lineup, looking almost identical to the Xbox One S. One nice change is the removal of the dust-catching vent from the top of the machine. The vents are now on the sides and in the back. Most of the heat during my review was released from the back vent, and regardless of what I play, the system is whisper quiet (but is louder when the disc drive is used). The only other distinction is the front-facing USB port moved from the left side of the console to the right. The Ultra High-Definition Blu-Ray player also appears to be the same one that came with the S, but don’t take that as a complaint – it’s a hell of a player, capable of bringing out the best of this physical medium.

Video game console launches rarely give us a clear picture of what the machines are capable of in the long run. Unless Microsoft changes its stance on Xbox One X being just another Xbox One, this launch tells the full story: The same gaming experiences that may look and/or play better, especially if you have a 4K display.

For people who have upgraded to 4K, Xbox One X is the only console that delivers triple-A games in native 4K without sacrificing much in terms of performance. Is it worth the lofty $500 price point? If you want to see what your 4K display is truly capable of, or simply like the idea of games running and looking better (even on TVs that don’t support 4K), the answer is “yes.” If developers continue supporting in similar ways to what we are seeing in the launch lineup, games are better on Xbox One X.

If you don’t care about resolution, framerates, or subtle gameplay enhancements, stick with the hardware you have now. Unless Microsoft changes its stance on all games working on all three versions of Xbox One, you won’t be missing out on any adventures if you stick with or purchase the lower-end model. While Xbox One X attains the rank of the most powerful console on the market, it still cannot touch high-end PC gaming, which can be pricey, but will continue to scale to maximize what can be seen in 4K.

Xbox One X is a sound investment at launch, and but Microsoft needs to do a better job of supporting it with first-party games. Rolling out the classics isn’t an enticing way of selling new hardware.

The Bottom Line: 8 out of 10

Launch Games
More than 130 games are in development for tailored Xbox One X support, but not all of them are available at launch. Note: Other games will run better without updates. Here’s what has been patched for day one:
  • Ark: Survival Evolved
  • Ashes Cricket
  • Assassin's Creed Origins
  • Call of Duty: WWII
  • Crossout
  • Danger Zone
  • Dead Rising 4
  • Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
  • Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
  • Disneyland Adventures
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • F1 2017
  • Fallout 3
  • Farming Simulator 17
  • FIFA 18
  • Forza Motorsport 7
  • Gears of War 4
  • Gridd: Retroenhanced
  • Halo 3
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Halo Wars 2
  • Injustice 2
  • Killer Instinct
  • L.A. Noire
  • Madden NFL 18
  • Mafia III
  • Mantis Burn Racing
  • Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite
  • Morphite
  • NBA Live 18
  • Need for Speed Payback
  • Outlast 2
  • Paladins
  • Path of Exile
  • Portal Knights
  • Project Cars 2
  • Quantum Break
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure
  • Slime Rancher
  • Smite
  • Sonic Forces
  • Super Lucky's Tale
  • Super Night Riders
  • Titanfall 2
  • Transcripted
  • World of Tanks
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
  • Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection