Microsoft’s next-generation of consoles officially released on Tuesday (11/10/2020), bringing the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S into the Xbox family. I was lucky enough (persistent enough) to snag a pre-order back in September and have been eagerly awaiting 11/10 since that point.
I will preface this post by admitting that I haven’t nearly had as much time with the new hardware as I would have hoped, but I’ve seen enough that has impressed me enough to share both my “day-one” experience first impressions.
I was up bright and early (5:30 AM to be precise) Tuesday morning to swing by my local Best Buy for my Xbox Series X pre-order, opting for store pick-up as opposed to waiting around for UPS all day. For a little context, Best Buy had sent out an email a few weeks ago suggesting I book an “appointment” time for launch day. Being the eager nerd I am, I chose the earliest timeslot available, which was the 6:00 AM – 6:30 AM timeslot. I’m guessing they just didn’t want crowds of socially-non-distanced people lining up outside their store all at once. Regardless, there was actually more people picking up their Series X|S than I expected. There was a steady stream of early bird nerds going in and out with their new consoles as I was parking and it was just a few minutes after 6:00! I meant to ask a store associate how many launch consoles the store received, but in my excitement I spaced and completely forgot to inquire.
I had thought about doing an entire “unboxing” video, but given the strange PR circumstances of 2020, influencers and press have already had the console for weeks at this point with thousands of unboxing videos across all media — so I figured it was a bit redundant. Instead, enjoy some quick snapshots I took as I opened everything up:
Being the hype machine I am, I had already watched more than my fair share of unboxing videos, so I knew what I was getting into. The thought and engineering that went into package is quite evident as soon as you open it up for the first time. It gave me Apple vibes with the attention to detail and slick presentation. I feel like Microsoft respects that you just paid $499.99 (plus tax) for a big black box of teraflops, and shows that in their attention to detail in the presentation of the box’s contents. It’s something simple and small that goes a far way.
One of the main bummers of both consoles this November is that they have a distinct shortage of games that are exclusive to their respective console. Luckily there is still a decent selection of games that have been “optimized for Series X|S”, which essential means the game has been updated to take advantage of the new hardware. I can only speak for a few optimized games at the time of this writing: Watch Dogs Legion, Borderlands 3, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Tetris Effect Connected. I have more in the queue for install, but those are the examples I have actually played. I plan on going into deeper detail about game performance and graphics later on, but I will say that AC: Valhalla and Watch Dogs Legion are the most “next-gen” looking of them all.
I can easily compare it to the previous two games in the franchises, having played both AC: Origins and AC: Odyssey on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X respectively. As impressive as those games looked on the One X and PS4 Pro, they still felt like a few notches below the PC counterparts. Valhalla and Legion on the Series X actually feel like you’re playing a game built for the bleeding edge. I haven’t played Valhalla on a PC rig sporting an RTX 3080, but I’d imagine this is what it would look and feel like. It’s downright jaw-dropping at some points and the ray-tracing in Legion just gives a depth to the world screen-space reflections just can’t do.
“Smart Delivery” is one of those things that just seemed like a PR buzzword until people finally started to get their hands on the new consoles and saw how messy the cross-gen situation has made things. Anecdotal stories of PlayStation 5 users playing the PlayStation 4 version of games speaks to how clean and seamless Microsoft’s answer to this cross-gen-dilemma really is. On Microsoft’s unified “Xbox” platform, your game library is just your game library. I still have all my games I’ve bought digitally or acquired through Games with Gold, all the way back to the OG Xbox and Xbox 360. If I go to install a game that has recently received an optimized for Series X|S patch, it will know that I have the Series X and install the optimized version automatically. Smart.
The Xbox Series X has given new life to those games I’ve had in my backlog from the 360 and One consoles, because I know I’m playing the best version of them – whether it’s the insane improvement to load times that the SSD has given them, or the auto-HDR sprucing up the look and lighting of them.
I’ll have more to say about specific games in the weeks to come.