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Xbox Series X|S | Critical Consensus

Reviewers like quality-of-life improvements on Microsoft's new systems, but recommendations come with big caveats

The embargo on Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S reviews expired this morning, leaving a variety of outlets free to give readers a verdict on the initial experience of Microsoft's next-gen hardware.

From the reviews we've perused, the reception is generally positive for both the high-powered Series X and the more affordable Series S, with high marks for quality-of-life improvements offset by a number of issues that kept the outlets from giving unqualified recommendations to buy into Microsoft's next-gen for now.

In his review of the Series X for Polygon, Chris Plante struggled with how to convey the system's virtues, saying it fulfills the expectations around a console but "elegantly delivers on these expectations in the least exciting ways."

"The Xbox Series X is boring, but after a month with the console, I can say, confidently, that boring is underrated. In fact, boring is better"

Chris Plante

"Nearly everything just works," Plante says. "So, the Xbox Series X is boring, but after a month with the console, I can say, confidently, that boring is underrated. In fact, boring is better."

As an example, he pointed to the Series X's solid-state drive, which allows for faster load times and a Quick Resume function that lets players jump back and forth between games without needing an initial load time.

"Old games load almost instantaneously," Plante says. "The system itself boots in seconds. And I can hop into large open-world games like Watch Dogs: Legion so quickly that when the load screen appears, I no longer instinctively check my phone to kill time. And if, like me, you have a short attention span, the console's Quick Resume feature, which lets you rapidly swap between games and apps wherever you left off, is a godsend."

Plante recommended the Series X for Xbox fans and gaming newcomers who want the best experience and are willing to pay for it, but said it wouldn't make sense for people with no plan to invest in a 4K TV, current Xbox One owners who don't really feel a need to pay on max settings right now, or high-end PC owners.

USgamer's Kat Bailey raised many of the same points.

"The Xbox Series X really is practical to a fault," Bailey said. "Microsoft's push to fully integrate it with the Xbox One makes it feel like an extension of the previous console generation rather than a fresh start -- convenient, but also kind of boring. Swapping between the Xbox Series X and the Xbox One X -- they barely even changed the name -- is an exercise in déjà vu. They even have the same dashboard."

"On more than one occasion I've found myself wondering, 'Is this really it?'"

Kat Bailey

She added, "On more than one occasion I've found myself wondering, 'Is this really it?'"

As in virtually every review we saw, Bailey pointed to the Xbox Series X|S launch lineup as a particular weak spot, given that Halo Infinite was delayed and the systems are launching with no actual exclusives.

"The lack of a killer app at launch is the Xbox Series X's biggest downfall right now," Bailey said. "Without a true must-own game to call its own, I'm skeptical that Xbox Series X will be able to differentiate itself from the competition. I love Xbox Game Pass, but is it enough to sell consoles on its own? The Xbox One's track record suggests that it probably isn't."

Chris Tapsell echoed many of these points in his review for Eurogamer.

"Maybe it's because there's quite literally nothing exclusively new to play on it, but my experience with the console over the last few days, above all, has felt like an experience of Game Pass' potential - not just to be a nice bargain or player-friendly add-on, but to genuinely change how we think about games," Tapsell said.

That change wasn't just limited to the business model, as Tapsell said the Series X's speedy loading and Quick Resume functionality changed his play patterns as well.

"A few days with the Series X tells me it doesn't really need [tentpole games]. It's the console itself I actually want."

Chris Tapsell

"I can play half an hour of Arkham Knight for the first time, decide it's decent but I'm craving a challenge so swap into Sekiro, and hop back into a few rounds of Geometry Wars to cool off, or pass the pad to my kid, if I had one, to go straight back into where they were in Minecraft without me losing my spot," Tapsell said. "It's hard to sell without sounding like you're actively trying to sell it, but it's a small tweak that feels genuinely transformative."

As with many reviewers though, he noted the lack of key games to sell the experience. The bigger difference between the reviewers was not in identifying the things the systems did well or poorly, so much as in whether that combination of qualities justified a purchase right now.

"This is a console that, like the PS5, is coming roughly six to eighteen months earlier than its truly tentpole games, but a few days with the Series X tells me it doesn't really need them," Tapsell said. "It's the console itself I actually want."

Perhaps the least impressed reviewer we read was CNN's Shannon Liao, who acknowledged strengths like speedy loading, but didn't find them quite so transformative.

"That's a feature that could be really important to impatient gamers, but you may not notice it if you're not paying close attention," she said.

"[Xbox Series S is] a staggeringly accessible gateway to next-gen gaming, all for £200 less than a Series X"

Emma Kent

Likewise, she compared the graphics of the Series X games she played to those of their Xbox One X counterparts, saying, "while the improvement in graphics does feel exciting, not everyone will notice the difference."

There were also a handful of reviewers who assessed the less expensive, less powerful Series S unit, and they generally found it to be a good option for some specific audiences.

"It's a staggeringly accessible gateway to next-gen gaming, all for £200 less than a Series X," Emma Kent wrote in her review for Eurogamer. "But the question is whether you're willing to pay for it in a lower max resolution, reliance on digital downloads, and - crucially - only 364GB of usable space for games and apps."

Space was brought up by reviewers of the Series X as well. Microsoft's solid-state drives are fast, but they aren't especially large. Kent noted that Call of Duty: Warzone takes up 104.6GB on a Series S console, meaning the device can get crowded with just a handful of space-hogging AAA games downloaded.

"The storage situation may be irritating for some, I'm sure, but when you look at the price and size of the Series S, it's hard to get too mad at it," Kent said. "That £249 price tag future-proofs you for next-gen titles, and gives you most of Xbox's next-gen features for nearly half the price of the X."

Keza MacDonald reviewed both the Series S and the Series X for The Guardian, and offered the closest we could come to a sentiment summing up the critical consensus around Microsoft's new hardware.

"Despite the value of the Series S and the performance of the Series X, though, these new Xbox models are rather uninspiring. They feel more like upgrades than revolutionary new options," MacDonald said, adding, "Nothing about the Series X or Series S screams 'buy me RIGHT NOW!' in my opinion, but equally, there's not much to criticise: they do everything they promised to do, and they do it well."

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