In 2016 Microsoft would finally announce what many had already been expecting. Microsoft was secretly working on two new consoles that would be released to market, one was the expected redesigned Xbox One Slim version of the console, but rumours were circulating that Microsoft was also working on an upgraded Xbox. This was rumoured to be so powerful that it would rival what PCs at the time, and in the near future could do. This was to have performance far beyond the original Xbox One and the marginally more powerful Playstation 4, but also go beyond what the unannounced PS4 Neo could do, later renamed and announced to be the PS4 Pro.
When Phil Spencer was on stage at E3 2016, he did make the announcement for the Xbox One S, a slimmer Xbox One. From there he would go on to finally confirm the rumours that many people already knew. Microsoft were indeed working on a new console – this would still be within the Xbox One console family so it would play all existing and future Xbox One games, plus the backwards compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox games. This system was not going to be a small upgrade but something much more powerful and that would deliver the performance and power that gamers had wanted since they first saw what they saw as a slightly underpowered either generation of consoles. Without knowing the the specifications of the system entirely, Microsoft did state that this was going to be a console capable of delivering 4K games and it was going to achieve this predominately with its 6TF GPU. For comparison the original Xbox One has a GPU of 1.3TF, the PS4 has 1.8TF and the PS4 Pro has a 4.2TF GPU. Coupled with the 12GB of GDDR5 RAM and Microsoft was packing this box full of power.
Fast forward to E3 2017 and we finally got to the design of the system and had its final name – the Xbox One X. What Microsoft managed to do was squeeze all of that power in a casing that was slightly smaller than an Xbox One S and with the power brick built into it. On November 7th, eager gamers finally got their hands on the worlds most powerful system, around 18 months after it was first announced. Once plugged in, gamers would also realise that this system was damn quiet.
But could Microsoft really deliver on their promises of a system that could rival a high end PC? Could it really give gamers that performance and was it going to deliver on the promise of a true 4K box? When images, videos and performance tests started to leak it was clear that this system was definitely delivering on its promises. From the stunning Forza Motorsport 7 to Rise of The Tomb Raider and Halo 5, this hardware could push out some serious graphical eye candy. But was it 4K? Much of the games that would see updates were 4K but there were also games that used a dynamic resolution whereby it would decrease of increase the resolution based on what was happening on screen.
Even when not being a true 4K image this machine was still pumping out graphics beyond what the year old PS4 Pro was doing. Where Sony decided to release an upgraded console earlier than Microsoft, the extra time Microsoft had meant they could include more powerful hardware for an affordable price. But with the extra time, gamers expected more of the system to. Microsoft was delivering on a 4x pixel increase over 1080p on most games but we were seeing other enhancements to our games that the console could provide. We were going to get 4K texture packs to some games and also better environmental and lighting effects which were not capable on the previous systems. For those with a 4K TV, we were going to get HDR capabilities, further enhancing the graphical fidelity of the games. But even for those gamers without a 4K TV, the Xbox One X was going allow existing games to perform better and still have all the new graphical features, just down scaled to the resolution of the TV.
Microsoft was back to having the most powerful console and this wasn’t a small increase but a substantial upgrade from the 2013 consoles and a large increase in power over the PS4 Pro. But now that Microsofts new console was out of the bag, gamers shift was over to games and whether Microsoft could have the games for this new piece of hardware. Powerful hardware is not as attractive without the games and Microsoft was struggling on the exclusive front. Games such as Sea Of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and State Of Decay 2 would be getting the 4K treatment but these were unreleased and gamers had known about them for years. Where were the new games? Where was the new IP? After the disappointment that was the Scalebound cancellation, Microsoft have chosen not to announce games to early so, whilst we know there are new AAA games in development, we don’t know what they are and Microsoft didn’t have a true blockbuster show case for the new console at launch.
What this meant was that apart from Forza Motorsport 7 which was already released, Microsoft needed to rely on third party developers to showcase their new system. With games like Shadow of War, Assassins Creed Origins and Rise of the Tomb Raider, gamers were seeing a leap in graphics that rivalled top PCs. All for $500US. What was good to see, and which also exists on the PS4 Pro on some games, is the inclusion of being able to choose graphical resolution or higher frame rate options in some games.
So did Microsoft deliver on the promises of a 4K games machine? The answer would be mostly yes. Sure there are some games which aren’t native 4K but it’s much more complicated than that. Developers are free to use the power how they wish. Does a developer just want to hit 4K resolutions or do they favour 1800P or a dynamic resolution and instead push better quality textures, more advanced lighting and shadows or higher frame rates? Apart from the fanboys clashing if something is native or not native 4K, this is better for the gamers and gives developers more freedom to meet their vision for the games they create.
I have been hugely impressed since having the Xbox One X and it is definitely an upgrade to any other console hardware on the market and it’s good to see a system that really does rival a high end PC. PC will always have the edge though and with that edge comes the high cost of entry for such a powerful system. This cost and the most powerful hardware components can also provide a large increase in frame rates to compared to their console counterparts. With consoles aiming for the coveted 60FPS, PCs are able to attain much higher than this.
Its good to see Microsoft pushing the industry forward with such great new hardware but their focus needs to now shift to software, and needs to shift for a handful of years. These games need to, and will, tap into the power of the Xbox One X and we as gamers will benefit from it. I’m hoping we see game worlds, physics and enemy AI that truly impress us on top of the resolution and graphical upgrades. With the introduction of the new Game pass from Microsoft where new games are available on it on launch day, this will ensure a healthy future for the console and for these games. With gamers having even more choice than ever before it will be interesting to see the lifecycle of the Xbox One X and how it evolves especially when Sony release a PS5.
For the industry, with such stiff competition between Sony and Microsoft, the battle will continue and neither of them can ever truly win. But we as gamers most definitely will.