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Xbox Series X review – A powerful ode to the Xbox ecosystem

In my Xbox Series X review, I explore how it’s a portal to something grander, a golden door leading to a network of fantasy.

It’s been seven years since I last purchased new gaming hardware, and that was an Xbox One on launch night. That’s right, I never bought into the Nintendo Switch, didn’t bother with the PS4 Pro, and missed the boat with the One X.

You may be wondering how on Earth I even managed to get through the past seven years with launch hardware, but I did: I’ve played thousands of hours, and never experienced so much as a crash, malfunction or power surge. I just never had the urge to upgrade. I was satisfied. The hardware was great.

My Xbox One has truly lasted the test of time, much in the same way I feel the PS4 did. Where the 360 and PS3 were struggling students eventually coming into their own by the end of high school, the Xbox One and PS4 were flourishing college students.

xbox series x backwards compatibiliy

So what of the Series X? It’s a matured young adult, with a clear direction in life, yet still with plenty to learn about the real world. The ceiling is very high, and there’s a heap of potential, but question marks hover. Nothing’s absolute, and the Series X is certainly no exception. But the path could well redefine an industry.

I was lucky enough to snag a launch day Series X (but not lucky enough to get a pre-release review unit) and so almost a week into my time with the console, I have a pretty firm grasp on what the console stands for, what it wants to be, and where it currently sits.

You might be thinking right now, “Why Xbox?” It’s a completely reasonable question to ask, and it’s one I get asked a lot. I’ve absolutely nothing against PlayStation — I grew up only playing PlayStation — but somewhere down the line, probably midway through the 360’s life, I found myself embedded in the Xbox ecosystem.

xbox series x phil spencer

To me it’s now ultimately a decision of priorities: I have a young family, plenty of wants in life, and more needs. I classify the Xbox Series X as a need: gaming is a fundamental component of my mental health, and is in many ways the glue that keeps me together.

I own more than 200 games on Xbox, have a Game Pass subscription, many, many friends, and countless peripherals designed specifically for that ecosystem. As it stands, the PlayStation 5 is simply a want, something I’ll likely invest in another time. It’s not a matter of exclusives, nor UI or power: it’s simply a matter of where my gaming identify sits, and that’s with Xbox.

Interestingly, that ecosystem is now the true power behind the Series X. The hardware itself is impressive — you know that and so I’m not going to go into great depth about it here. It’s slick, tall, and imposing, yet weirdly unintrusive. It reminds me a bit of a security guard at the front of a not-so-busy bar. From a technical standpoint the console has the potential. But I’m not really reviewing the system here. The hardware is merely a portal to something grander, the golden door towards a network of fantasy. I’m also not Digital Foundry, so there’s that: I’m not going to pretend like I even know what a teraflop is. I just love my games. And I want to know what the power offers me, not what it’s capable of.

xbox series x hands on

Of course, that “offer” is completely relative to your interests. I’d love to see more exclusives on the Xbox Series X, and we’ll probably get that via ZeniMax and who knows who else Microsoft ends up purchasing. But beyond that, at the very least I know that when I turn on the system, I have my favourites there, front-and-centre. A bit like logging into Netflix for the first time in weeks. There’s that “trending now” panel that you know is made just for you, because there’s no way Casino and Goodfellas are also trending for my wife, who watches Christmas romcoms in July.

This is a design philosophy that began with the Xbox One, and has smoothly transitioned to the Series X. This isn’t so much as a “new” experience as it is merely an upgrade, really not all that unlike the One X. But the upgrade is noticeably significant: games just look far better, certainly than they do on my launch day Xbox One. Turning on my Series X, and the core fundamentals of navigation, activation and overall experience are unchanged: the sheer efficiency of the experience is ultimately what’s gone through the most amount of change.

You could argue that this is all to the detriment of the Series X’s intended appeal, that not all that much changes. But it all goes back to my point about an ecosystem. I know that ecosystem exists on PlayStation, but not quite to the same degree. The sheer level of compatibility, functionality and accessibility across generations means this is about “Xbox” as a brand, and not about the “Series X”. I’m an Xbox gamer, not a Series X owner. The hardware is ultimately irrelevant: it just brings me back into the ecosystem faster.

xbox series x pre order

With that enhanced speed will come grander experiences, that’s to be expected. It is a new generation of hardware, after all. But when people ask me, “Wow, how is the new Xbox?” I always respond with, “It’s….good? About what I expected. And exactly what I need.” That’s what makes the Series X great. It’s not here to reinvent the wheel. That much is evident in its design. It’s not here to compete with Sony. That much has been evident since 2013.

The Series X is here to provide a doorway to a far grander world. Nothing’s perfect, and it likely never will be. But if you’ve walked through the doorway before, chances are everything will be familiar. But the main difference between the Series X and its predecessor is this: what was a jumbled vision emerging from a harsh winter with the 360, has become a linear goal with a firm direction.

If you invest in a Series X, don’t do it for the hardware. I mean, obviously you buy a gaming console for more than the hardware itself, but try to disregard the hardware completely here. You’re ultimately investing in a grand vision, an ecosystem and a world that provides a single service. No major player better embodies the “games as a service” idea as much as Xbox, and that’s why it’s difficult for me to step away.

xbox series x hands on

The hardware is not without its faults: it does get quite warm, and I’ve had some syncing issues whereby the controller stays connected even once when I turn the console off, leading the console to automatically switch back on again. I then have to remove the controller’s batteries to turn the controller off, to ensure the console will stay in standby. But such is the life of launch hardware, I guess.

But in the seven days that I’ve had my Series X, I’ve gone back to classic EA games like SSX and Black, restarted the original Mass Effect trilogy, played Battlefield V for the first time, reinvested in Forza Horizon 4, replayed Gears 5, and dived into Valhalla. I know what you’re think: “big deal”, right? But only one of those games wasn’t included in my Game Pass subscription.

All of this was possible on the Xbox One, something I fully acknowledge, but the Series X appears to be the full release of the Phil Spencer vision, where Xbox One was the beta. And with that, even as an ode to that original idea, it stands a trailblazing symbol of an ever-changing industry.

What are your thoughts on the Xbox Series X, and how do you think it will go over the next few years? Sound off below!

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