Here’s what Microsoft wants you to think about the Xbox One X: “The year’s best games are going to play best on it.”
While the world’s most powerful console has the processing grunt and graphical heft to deliver on that promise, I honestly can’t tell you whether it’s got the games to deliver. From Crackdown 3 to Middle-Earth: Shadow of War we’ve seen a litany of stunning new titles for Xbox One X. Alas, many of them aren’t scheduled for 2017 and plenty of big names weren’t promised as being ‘Xbox One X enhanced’ with 4K, HDR and all the rest.
Having played the One X in on a developmental model there’s no doubting its prowess. Forza Motorsport 7 is the best game I have ever seen on a console, and it wipes the floor with anything you can play on PlayStation 4 Pro.
How best to describe the Xbox One X then? It’s complicated.
Xbox One X design: A mean machine
There’s no doubting the Xbox One X is a marvel of engineering. While the PS4 Pro vaguely resembles a big black pizza box, Microsoft’s new console retains the One S’ stylish aesthetic while squeezing its 4K oomph into a smaller frame. Honestly, that’s just ridiculous.
You only have to see the One X’s ‘Scorpio’ dev kit to appreciate the design work that’s gone into this thing. Whereas the dev kit is big, chunky and reminiscent of the original One, the One X is the smallest console Microsoft has ever made. It’ll tuck right under your TV without any fuss and probably be the prettiest thing sitting there, even if that doesn’t actually count for all that much.
Cosmetically speaking, the One X is very much a downsized One S that comes in black rather than white. You get the same connections and ports as with the One S - so an assortment of HDMI, USB and digital audio ports - and you’ll be using an identically specced controller as well. Since the One S did such a fine job of polishing up its next-gen Xbox fundamentals, none of this is a problem. Right now, Microsoft has the two best-designed consoles of this generation, one of which is the most powerful. And that’s what you really want to know about, isn’t it?
Xbox One X performance: ridiculously powerful
Right. To be very clear here, dev kits are not the same thing as a final retail product. So we’re likely to see the proper Xbox One X make even more use of its monumental power when it sees the light of day in November. For now, just know that Microsoft's new console is a monster both in theory and practice. The kind of performance that was previously available only to PC owners can now be found in a games console, and that is genuinely exciting.
You don’t have to know anything about specs to understand the One X’s appeal, but the details are genuinely impressive to those in the know. Eight 2.3GHz processor cores are paired with a six-teraflop graphics processor, 12GB of GDDR5 RAM and 1TB of storage all amount to a very capable machine. One that has the power to deliver 4K gaming at 60 frames per second with High Dynamic Range enabled. And yes, you can totally tell the difference from standard Full HD fare.
Having seen Minecraft, Gears of War 4, Forza Motorsport 7, Sea of Thieves and Assassin’s Creed: Origins all running on One X, we’ve been blown away. While Microsoft’s first-party titles seem to make most use of that extra power so far, every game will undoubtedly look better than on Xbox One S. Especially those that are rendered in native 4K, like the drop dead gorgeous Forza Motorsport 7.
Splashed out on a 4K telly with HDR 10 support already? The One X feels like an essential purchase. Especially since it’s also been lavished with an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive for 4K movies and Dolby Atmos support for immense surround sound. Truly, this thing is a home cinema geek’s dream.
While loading times for non-One X enhanced games should drop significantly, we’re curious to see how speedy this new console is with games that make the most of its power. While the Forza Motorsport 7 demo we played wasn’t slow, it did take a reasonable amount of time to get all those gorgeous 4K assets ready. So what does this all mean? We know the Xbox is the most powerful console ever made but what that actually amounts to in practice isn’t quite so clear. Also, if you haven’t made the televisual upgrade to 4K?
Don’t bother with the One X yet. While Microsoft says it’ll downscale its 4K visuals so games look better than they would on a standard One S, you’re going to miss out on so much after spending such a huge amount of cash. Especially since the One X doesn’t come with a refreshed controller or any similar trimmings. This machine is all about the power it’s packing.
Xbox One X exclusive games: Coming soon
As a games machine, there is just no beating the Xbox One X. I’ll talk about its price in a bit, but the thing is an absolute beast. What is not so impressive is the current lineup of titles Microsoft has assembled for it this year.
Yes, Forza Motorsport 7 looks phenomenal but many people will prefer the series’ more bombastic Forza Horizon offshoot. Crackdown 3 seems fine, Cuphead is going to have limited appeal as an indie game and Master Chief won’t be making a return until at least Christmas 2018. What this all means is that the Xbox One X seems to lack a system-seller akin to Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Especially since no games are going to be exclusive to Xbox One X; you’ll be able to play them all on Xbox One and One S as well. Just without the ludicrous graphical fidelity.
It’s worth having a bit of perspective over this exclusives shortfall though, Microsoft unveiled 22 such titles at this year’s E3 and most of them should be out within six months of the One X’s release. Online pirate-fest Sea of Thieves looks to be a blast, State of Decay 2 promises zombie carnage aplenty and Ori and the Will of the Wisp is a sequel to arguably the Xbox One’s best game yet. Also Microsoft has had to cancel Scalebound and Fable Legends within the last year, both of which should have been turning up this year.
Either way, the One X is going to rely on third-party titles to deliver 'day one' console owners outside of the absolute Xbox hardcore, and this is where things begin to get confusing.
Xbox One X enhanced games: A mixed bag
In an ideal world, every major Christmas console release should be Xbox One X enhanced. Trouble is, that’s a long way off the current state of play. Destiny 2, Call of Duty: WWII and FIFA 18 are all games that haven’t yet been confirmed to look best on One X.
Microsoft says the kits are with developers, but that’s no guarantee they’ll deliver the goods. Most curiously EA has already confirmed Madden 18 and Need For Speed: Payback for the enhanced treatment, but not the PlayStation-affiliated FIFA. Something’s up, basically, and that could mean 4K patches that are console exclusives.
As of right now, the two major third-party titles that are going big on Xbox One X compatibility are Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed: Origins. One of those looks awesome and the other is the new Assassin’s Creed game. You see, according to Microsoft the ‘enhanced’ tag won’t mean the same thing for each game. So while Shadow of War’s orcs beam with malevolent-but-pristine intent, the hero of Ubisoft’s new open-worlder didn’t seem to have been sculpted with the same fidelity.
We’ll find out more soon, but it’s likely that there’ll be a difference between some games that go big on graphical flourishes that only the Xbox One X can produce and others that just replicate their PS4 Pro patch. Which - let’s face it - is much less exciting.
It’s not just brand new games that are getting the ‘enhanced’ treatment though. A litany of recent games are too, including the likes of Resident Evil 7, Injustice 2 and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. More significantly, several of these haven’t had the same treatment for PS4 Pro wil Doom, Minecraft and The Witcher III all ranking under this category. The moral of this story? Enough money will buy you anything.
Oh, and naturally several of Microsoft’s recent first-party games are going to have the enhanced tag including Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3 and Halo Wars 2. Having seen the Gears of War 4 patch in action I’d say it’s a small but significant step up for what was already a jaw-dropping affair.
So, to sum all that up, not every big third-party game seems to be getting Xbox One X enhanced and the games that are being patched won’t all look alike, but properly enhanced games seem to be the business. Not an ideal state of affairs, is it?