September is coming to a close, putting us just one month shy of the launch of the next generation of consoles. Despite such an imminent console launch though, there hasn't been much in the way of hands-on impressions. At least, that is, until today.
The preview embargo was lifted on coverage for the Xbox Series X consoles that recently went out to a select few media outlets. Ours was not among the first wave of media, but we did go over some other sites' coverage this morning, including sister site Digital Foundry, and gathered up what we thought were some of the most substantial takeaways.
From their impressions, it seems like writers mostly spent time with last-gen games, exploring the backward compatible lineup that Xbox will boast at launch. There are, however, several things we can still glean from this. Here's what stuck out to us:
Faster Load Times
Fast load times have been a major talking point for next-gen console manufacturers. There might be no more bottleneck action or sliding through thin crevices to mask loading. While that specific use case isn't on display, another aspect of it shows just how a next-gen console might improve your overall life by maximizing your in-game playtime.
It looks like early players of the Xbox Series X are reporting much, much more improved load times compared to last-gen consoles. Over at The Verge, they made a handy table showing the difference between Xbox Series X and Xbox One X load times. Games like Sea of Thieves and Warframe saw massive improvements, with load times being a full minute faster. GameSpot shows similar load time improvements in games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Final Fantasy 15.
Measurements vary, but by and large, it looks like even if you're just playing older games, you'll see big improvements. The Verge notes that games like Destiny 2 saw marked improvement going through menus and options, and those time saves could really add up to mean more time playing and less waiting.
It sounds like Quick Resume, Xbox's feature for jumping between multiple games, really does work. The Game Awards' Geoff Keighley lists it first in his impressions thread on Twitter, saying he loved being able to "instantly jump in exactly where I left off." GameSpot's Michael Higham reports keeping six different games simultaneously suspended, with swapping taking about five to eight seconds. "Game states even persist after powering the console off," Higham says. With so many persistent online games, like Destiny and Marvel's Avengers, that's a handy feature to have.
Last-Gen Bumps Are Real
Of course, the hardware inside the Series X should be putting out more power than the Xbox One X, and backward compatible games should shine because of that. For the results, we head over to the best place for these tidbits: Digital Foundry.
In the Foundry's lengthy analysis of the Xbox Series X, you can really see how improved last-gen games are. Turning off the FPS caps in games like IO Interactive's Hitman shows how smoothly and effortlessly the Xbox Series X is handling these last-gen games.
What's been interesting to see is also how the Xbox Series X bumps games outside of resolution and framerate. In Digital Foundry's written impressions, they discuss Auto HDR a bit, the AI algorithm that maps standard content into HDR. Though it causes some odd quirks and it's been disabled on some games where the effect doesn't work, it could be a big game-changer, similar to Death Stranding's DLSS on PC.
Between shorter loading times and games that can take advantage of uncapped or boosted framerates, it certainly seems like there won't be much reason to break out the Xbox One again if you buy an Xbox Series X.
Most of this has been about the games, but a new controller is on the way with the Series X as well. VentureBeat's analysis speaks a bit towards the new controller, which is essentially the old Xbox controller but with some nice upgrades. The biggest change is the new share button, but in terms of feel, VentureBeat's Jeff Grubb seems impressed by the heft, grip, and materials. For my own money's worth, Microsoft has been making fantastic controllers since the 360 era, and even if I'm not picking up a Series X right away, a new controller for my PC could be in my future.
External Drives Offer Side-Grades
One interesting point with the Xbox Series X is its storage situation. The price tag on Microsoft's storage upgrades for the Xbox Series X and S were understandably head-turning. The console will also allow you to load up games off internal drives that have been plugged in, which seems from the outset like a good way to pre-load and prep some Xbox One-era games for Series X launch day.
VentureBeat's writeup delves into the external options, which lets you both play legacy games and store unused Xbox Series X games, which you can shift between external and internal storage. A surprising facet was how fast it was to move those games around: Grubb reports that moving Assassin's Creed Origins, a 49 GB game, from an external USB 3.0 SSD to the internal SSD took about two minutes and 18 seconds. That is lightning fast.
Granted, external USB solid state drives are fairly expensive. This isn't really a way to save cash, but if you have one laying around for whatever reason, it's an option. Games are fairly large these days, so even if it's a case of offloading games onto drives instead of downloading and reinstalling them over and over, it can save some bandwidth to do that.
There hasn't been a clear picture yet of what a next-gen game looks like in the hands of reporters quite yet. All of today's previews center on the litany of older Xbox games that will be available to play on the Xbox Series X. In that sense, it seems like a major takeaway is that Xbox Series X will play a lot of older games better.
Still, for a console generation that is leaning on its back catalog quite a bit, showing off the power the Series X can put behind older games certainly makes it stand out. Games that struggled to maintain a solid performance on the Xbox One can shine on the Series X hardware, and it might lead to a resurgence of popularity for some. With just over a month to go, Xbox Series X is laying out a foundation for its holiday launch. How the PS5 will handle backward compatibility, and what kinds of improvements we could expect to see on Sony's console, we'll hopefully see before November.