The Xbox One X is in its fourth month out in the wild. Many games now proudly display the words “Xbox One Enhanced”. But is Microsoft’s top of the line console really performing?
I’m a PC gamer. I review games on a PC that kicks some serious arse. But I also like to play games on consoles. It’s nice to start a game without having to worry about video card drivers and the like. Sure, I sometime have to faff around a looking for a disc and there’s the continuous stream of large updates that only reveal themselves when you go to play the game, but on the whole, consoles provide trouble-free gaming.
The introduction of the Xbox One X closed the gap that has been steadily growing between gaming PCs and game consoles. Sony’s PlayStation Pro helped, but the almost exponential increase in graphics card power over the last few years has kept PC gaming, for the most part, well ahead of consoles.
The original Xbox One came out four years ago. With every generation of console this is usually the time when my current PC starts making console look embarrassingly shit. Whilst the god-like power of my ASUS-based i7 7700K with 2x GTX 1080ti will probably still hold its own against the Xbox Two or whatever we get next, even your average game rig is going to beat a vanilla Xbox One.
But the Xbox One has an even greater problem than just keeping up with PCs. Modern TVs with their huge 4K high-dynamic range display, are placing extra demands on consoles – not just in moving around more pixels on the screen, but making sure that they fill the screen with 4K, HDR goodness.
Considering the embarrassing about-face that Microsoft had to do with the Xbox One (remember that MASSIVE launch-day patch), the Xbox One has done very well. The original intent was to have a permanently internet-connected device that farmed out some of the processing tasks to Microsoft’s Azure servers. That launch-day patch removed the need for the need for an always-on connection and developers’ guaranteed access to the Azure cloud-based servers. So, it’s pretty impressive that the Xbox One has managed to hold its own against the PS4 with relative ease.
Still, this generation of game consoles from both Sony and Microsoft have been a bit lack-lustre. It’s as if they were designed by accountants. Under-powered and over-priced, both the PS4 and Xbox One have struggled to keep up with the PC technology.
The catalyst for Sony’s PS4 Pro was likely due to the PlayStation VR being a little too needy for the vanilla PS4. With Microsoft not needing to power a VR headset, it’s pretty clear that the Xbox One X exists for one thing: 4K gaming.
Equipping the Xbox One X with an UHD Blu-Ray drive was to be expected, as Microsoft’s Xbox One S features the same. But extra horsepower is required to REALLY push a 4K-load of pixels around a screen.
The PlayStation 4 Pro handles 4K, but most of the time it’s via upscaling and sneaky-tricks that still result in a thirty frames-per-second display. With the Xbox One X, Microsoft are aiming at native 4K and 60fps. Before you cry BS, be mindful that whilst the Xbox One X has only a slight lead over the PS4 Pro in the CPU stakes, the GPU is a good 30% more powerful than Sony’s enhanced machine.
The proof is in the pudding and Microsoft’s tentpole game, Forza Motorsport 7 shows exactly what 4K gaming can achieve. Forza 7’s blisteringly fast visuals at sixty frames-per-second are guaranteed to make your smile. For me, the January Xbox One X update for Forza Horizons 3 is an even better showcase of the sort of visuals that the Xbox One X can knock out.
It’s with third-party games, like Assassin’s Creed Origins that I start to raise an eyebrow. Don’t get me wrong, Ubisoft did an appalling job optimising Origins for PC, as well, even compared to AC: Syndicate. But Assassin’s Creed Origins does not run that well on the Xbox One X. It’s OK, there’s lots of detail, but the visuals are not as smooth as I’d like and the machine does seem to be struggling a bit at times.
Likewise, with Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. Compared to the Steam version of the game, the Windows 10 Store version of the game runs like a donkey on PC. The Xbox One X version is better, with great detail and the 4K cinematics really nice, but it’s still not as smooth as I’d like.
EA Sports, on the other hand really kick the proverbial ball out of the park with FIFA 18, and most especially the jaw-dropping 4K visuals of Madden NFL 18, looking the business on the Xbox One X.
The real surprise, since the launch of the Xbox One X, is the amount of Xbox 360 games that now boast Xbox One X enhancements. Assassin’s Creed, an eleven-year-old Xbox 360 game, looks like a crisp new 4K re-issue. Same goes for EA’s Original Mirrors Edge, which even has HDR support. Elder Scrolls fans can revisit Oblivion, in 4K, with smooth, crisp visuals.
The, very understandable, requirement set by Microsoft for games to still be playable on regular Xbox One consoles is probably what is going to hold back seeing an abundance of stunning Xbox One X games, that really push the hardware, any time soon. Developers are not going to create games that look shit on an Xbox One and only shine on an Xbox One X. The regular Xbox is going to be the lead platform with a few extra bells and whistles for Xbox One X owners: 4K visuals, HDR, better draw distances and higher resolution textures.
As games start to push hardware, and as developers get to grip with how best to use the extra power that the Xbox One X afford, I can see regular Xbox One owners having to accept 30fps, lower resolution textures and a fair bit of pop up than their Xbox One X equipped brethren.
But right now, it’s players after the ultimate 4K gaming experience will want to upgrade to the Xbox One X. Players happy with a compromise, or still playing on an HDTV will be fine with a regular Xbox One.
For PC gamers, the Xbox One X narrows the gap between a moderately-spec’ed PC and game consoles. It’s also an easy way to enjoy 4K gaming without having to re-mortgage your house for a 4K gaming monitor and a SLI / Crossfire GPU set-up (with the associated driver woes).
Four months down the line, I’m very happy with my Xbox One X upgrade. It’s not the technological leap that the Xbox 360 to Xbox One was, but I never expected it to be. It provided me with the best way to play my existing Xbox One game collection (and even a large chunk of my Xbox 360 collection), in uncompromising 4K. Even so, part of me thinks that the Xbox One X, was the Xbox One that we should have had four years ago.
It is still early days, of course, and first-party developers have the advantage over third-party outfits who are required to service different platforms as well. But, with new titles like Monster Hunter: World, Metal Gear Survive and Kingdom Come: Deliverance all boasting Xbox One X enhancements, the console’s future looks very bright, indeed.