Hands-On with Xbox One X

Posted on September 20, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox One with 34 Comments

Hands-On with Xbox One X

I was finally able to get my greedy fingers on Microsoft’s stunning new Xbox One X at a showcase event in New York last week. And I have nothing but good news.

So let me cut the chase. From a performance perspective, the Xbox One X appears to meet Microsoft’s claims. But as important, perhaps, this new console is a natural new member of the Xbox One family. And it’s an obvious upgrade for gamers of all kinds.

Finally getting to experience Xbox One X was like being a kid in a candy store. I spent a few hours that morning, bouncing from gaming station to gaming station, taking it all in. Here it was, for real, Microsoft’s new console. And some of the top games that it will run.

Three new games—Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Cuphead (Cuphead!!!), and Forza Motorsport 7—occupied most of my game-playing time that day, as I suspect each will do in the weeks and months ahead.


But there was more. Games I’d either completed already or played for hours, like Gears of War 4Minecraft, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Quantum Break, that had been enhanced for Xbox One X.

Gears of War 4 in 4K/UHD

There was new hardware, too. A Forza Horizon 3 Hot Wheels bundle for Xbox One S that had not been announced yet (it has since been). The gorgeous new Xbox One S 1 TB Minecraft Limited Edition bundle, which I want against all reason.

And of course the Xbox One X.

Having previously canceled my trip to Los Angeles for E3, I was eager to finally go hands-on with Xbox One X. I was as eager to speak to someone from Microsoft first-hand about the console’s most burning questions, to understand how and why the Xbox One X is both superior to Sony’s curious half-step to 4K, the PlayStation 4 Pro, and a logical step up for Xbox gamers.

And I like what I heard.

“Xbox One X is the most powerful video game console by 40 percent,” Microsoft senior marketing manager Ryan Moore told me, cutting right to the chase. “This is true 4K gaming, increased frame rates, faster load times, richer textures, HDR, and Dolby Atmos sound. It’s a full fidelity experience.”

In other words, Xbox One X is about more than “just” 4K graphics, it’s the full experience. As Apple stressed for its Apple TV set-top box during its recent press event, HDR (high dynamic range) capabilities also have a dramatic effect on visual quality over a standard dynamic range of colors, and Dolby Atmos creates a 360-degree sound field that needs to be heard to be believed. (Those without such a system can use simulated Dolby Atmos over headphones.)

OK, but what does it all mean? I asked about how Microsoft was approach 4K compared to say, the PS4 Pro, where 4K resolutions in games are fairly rare.

Moore explained that it was opening the full power of the box to developers and allowing them to tailor each title to their needs and goals. The “Xbox One X Enhanced” logo will inform consumers that the game maker took special care to take advantage of unique Xbox One X power and functionality. And that, as of last week, there were over 100 games being enhanced for the new console. (Today, we know that number is now over 130 titles.)

Put simply, all Xbox One games work normally on the new console. (And, of course, all Backwards Compatible Xbox 360—and original Xbox—games work normally as well.) But when it comes to new or existing Xbox One titles, developers have options.

Those games that are never updated for Xbox One X will still run better on the new console thanks to smoother frame rates and faster load times: The performance improvements in Xbox One X will benefit everyone.

Those games that are updated for the new console and know about the new hardware can, of course, offer even better experiences. Some will get a 4K/UHD icon on the packaging to indicate that the resolution has been upped. Some will get an HDR icon. (Some will get both.) Some will get the Full Meal Deal: The Xbox One X Enhanced logo.

But being enhanced for Xbox One X doesn’t necessarily mean 4K all the time. Some developers will opt for perfect frame rates over resolution: Shooters, for example, typically fall into this category. Other developers will prefer to aim for 2160p for the entire game and allow the frame rate to vary according to the complexity of the on-screen display. Some will use some combination of these choices. I could see the single player and multiplayer versions of certain games split the difference, for example. (Call of Duty falls into this category in the sense that single- and multiplayer are essentially two different games anyway.)

Forza Motorsport 7 is the showcase launch title for the Xbox One X,” Moore told me. “This game runs at 4K/UHD and 60 frames per second for the entire experience. The developers knew about the Xbox One X from the beginning and built the title from the ground up to support it. It’s just a killer visual showcase.”

(He’s right about that. In my 30 minutes or so of Forza time, I was blown away by the visual quality. (And by my terrible driving.)

According to Moore—and to a growing body of third-party accounts—developers have found the process of enhancing games for Xbox One X to be incredibly easy. This speaks, I think, to the genius of Microsoft’s Xbox strategy, which has moved from a single hardware platform for the lifetime of a console generation to a family of products that evolves over time, with each offering bringing unique and better new capabilities. (And let’s not forget about the Windows 10 angle, since some games are Xbox Play Anywhere compatible and can be played on PCs too.)

“When we first shipped out the dev kits, game makers were up and running within days,” Moore said. “They’re updated older games to great effect. Halo Wars 2, for example, and Gears of War 4, which went from 1080p to 4K/UHD on the Xbox One X. The differences are really obvious.”

Moore and I spoke about a few other topics—the new Xbox Dashboard, Mixer, and so on—but my head was spinning, and I wanted to spend some time, alone in a corner, with Microsoft’s new console.

What they had at the showcase event was the final console in Project Scorpio guise, in photo-op worthy locations. And then prototype versions of the Xbox One X, in the final console body, attached to various games. Some games were also being used with Xbox One S, and a few—like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds—were on Windows 10 PCs.

Xbox One X prototype

Naturally, I went right for the Xbox One X games first. More specifically, Forza Motorsport 7, where I lost the next 30 minutes lapping up—see what I did there?—the game’s various gameplay modes and, more important, its sheer visual brilliance. The thing is, Forza games have always been Xbox showcases, visually, so this was an obvious choice for Xbox One X. But there are moments in the game that are so real, so visually perfect, that it almost defies description. (I assume you can see what I mean by trying out the demo on a 4K/UHD-based PC. That box would be very expensive.)

Gears of War 4 was next: Here, Microsoft was providing four demo sequences that showed of the enhanced title’s new 4K/UHD graphics. So I completed the “Gate Crashers” level, which comes towards the end of the game and is arguably the highlight of the entire experience: You get to pilot a giant mech and take down an army of baddies as you make your way through a town and the surrounding countryside.

I also looked briefly at Rise of the Tomb Raider, which I’ve experienced on both Xbox One and Windows 10. And as you’d expect, it works nicely on Xbox One X, with incredible graphics and, in the sequence I explored, amazing lighting effects.



Oddly, the two other games I found to be the most captivating at the showcase, Cuphead and Assassin’s Creed: Origins were running on Xbox One X. I would have spent more time on the former if I could have, but there was a line due to its popularity. That said, Assassin’s Creed: Origins wasn’t a bad choice, either: I spent about a half hour exploring the beginning of this game and will be getting it (as I will with Cuphead) as soon as its available.

Long story short, the Xbox One X is the real deal based on my admittedly brief time with it last week. But I’ll be getting the console for review and will, of course, but it through its paces. I can’t wait: The Xbox One X looks amazing, and whatever you think of the platform’s place today in the market, it’s clear that Microsoft is doing the right thing.


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