The Xbox One X does wonders for Halo 3. Splashed onto a big 4K telly by Microsoft’s ultra-powerful new console, Bungie’s decade-old first-person shooter looks better than most shooters released today. I dipped back into Halo 3 while waiting for bigger, well, massive modern games to download onto the Xbox One X’s 1TB hard-drive, and Master Chief did a merry dance to my plucked nostalgia-coated heartstrings.
Oh look, Halo 5 has just downloaded its Xbox One X enhancement update. Let’s give that a whirl. Well, it turns out Halo 5 in 4K is an absolute stunner, certainly one of the best-looking games of this generation. Halo 5 looked about as good as it could on the much-maligned Xbox One, but on Xbox One X it sings from the rooftops: “look at meeeeee!”
What I love about the Xbox One X is it shows games at their very best, and despite the gameplay purists who might scoff at every Digital Foundry comparison that zooms in on a muddy texture, the sheer power of this console is hugely compelling. Playing Call of Duty: WW2 in native 4K and a blistering 60 frames per second, with all the graphics settings doing that Marty McFly guitar amp thing, is a wonderful experience. Assassin’s Creed Origins, one of the best-looking games currently available, is all singing and all dancing on a 4K telly with an Xbox One X powering Ubisoft’s virtual Egypt. Gears of War 4 now gives you the choice to play its campaign at 60 frames-per-second, and it is a revelation for the feel of The Coalition’s third-person shooter.
I’ve missed revelling in console graphics. Playing the Xbox One X rekindles memories of spotting Gran Turismo running on a PS2 on a massive telly positioned just so that all those who walked by my local GAME would be drawn in by it. The Xbox One X is certainly a head-turner.
I also love that the Xbox One X is a console that feels like it’s built to win me back. Microsoft’s done fantastic work improving the Xbox One user interface over the last few years and it translates seamlessly onto Xbox One X. There’s a 4K Blu-ray player. Games load faster. The console itself is small and quiet (anyone else’s OG PS4 now sound like a wind machine?). Would the Xbox One X be what it is if Sony hadn’t trounced Microsoft this generation? Who knows? But I do know healthy competition is very much a good thing for players, and the Xbox One X proves it.
And yet! There is something missing. Games, I think. I’ve always believed – and now the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X are both out I believe this more than ever – that the beating heart of a video game console is fuelled by the video games you play on it. And this is where the Xbox One X has palpitations.
A 4K patch does not make Halo 5’s campaign better. An Xbox One X enhancement update does not make Gears of War 4 all of a sudden exciting. A near 100GB version of Remedy’s Quantum Break doesn’t miraculously make Remedy’s schlocky shooter essential. The Xbox One X doesn’t change the fact that Minecraft is still best played on PC. And Halo Wars 2 is still easy to ignore, facelift or no.
Going back even further, Halo 3 and Fallout 3 and Assassin’s Creed all running beautifully in 4K is great, but these are 10-year-old games I’ve already pumped thousands of hours into. Backwards compatibility is one of the best things Microsoft’s ever done in the video game space, and I appreciate the engineering effort that goes into making it happen, but let’s be honest: no-one’s forking out £450 to finish the fight. Again.
Where are the new and exclusive Xbox One games that grab you by the scruff of the neck and demand you buy an Xbox One X at launch? Well, there’s indie platformer Super Lucky’s Tale, but with the deepest respect to Lucky, your tale’s not worth the price of entry alone. Forza 7 is a technical tour de force, but if you’re not a racing game fan, why would you care? Crackdown 3 is delayed amid worrying rumours about its ambitious multiplayer. State of Decay 2 comes out in 2018 at some point, as does Rare’s Sea of Thieves. And then there’s Halo 6, whose dramatic arrival on Xbox One X I imagine as if Gandalf speeding towards the console war on the first light of the fifth day – at dawn, loot to the East!
I do think the Xbox One X is a great shout if you’re looking to upgrade from an Xbox One. This comparison is where the difference in visuals and performance is most keenly felt. This also says as much about the original, underpowered Xbox One as it does this new, ultra-powerful Xbox One X. In so many ways, the Xbox One X rights the wrongs of the disappointing Xbox One. It is an answer to its flaws.
But should you buy it if you already have a PS4? I don’t know about you, but my friends list moved over to PS4 from Xbox 360 at the start of this generation, mainly to play Destiny. Now, it’s a big ask to ditch my reliable friends list on PS4 for a lonely 4K resolution on Xbox One X – and pay £450 for the privilege.
For this reason, I reckon I’ll stick with my trusty (and loud) PS4 for multiplayer games, for the likes of Destiny 2 and Call of Duty, but the Xbox One X is all of a sudden my killer single-player games machine. Assassin’s Creed Origins? You’ve got me, Xbox One X. Shadow of War? I’m there. Wolfenstein 2 – or anything Bethesda puts out? You and me, Xbox One X, in front of my living room telly as the clock powers past midnight. And the more developers that offer a 60fps campaign option, as Gears of War 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider do (I’m looking at you, Bungie) the better.
The upshot is the Xbox One X solves Microsoft’s console power issue, but it does nothing to solve its crippling video game issue. Microsoft’s had a first-party/console exclusives problem on Xbox One for some time now, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon, with or without the ultra-powerful X. Microsoft counters this point by declaring the Xbox One X is the best place to play this year’s biggest games, and of that there is no doubt. But unless you’ve got a 4K telly and you’re big into your video game graphics, you’re probably perfectly happy buzzing away on your PS4 with your friends.
The Xbox One X at launch is a console of exciting potential. I see a glimpse of this bright future now, in the option to play some games at 60fps, which is more important to me than an ultra high definition image. But the Xbox One X feels like a console we won’t enjoy the true benefit of until later in 2018, by which point I dearly hope 60fps is a standard on the console and Halo 6 has emerged from behind closed doors. Early adopters will no doubt purr over the Xbox One X’s beefy innards, and after four years of insults about the power of the Xbox One, Microsoft will enjoy being on the winning side of the console graphics war. But outside this bubble, the Xbox One X is of limited appeal.
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