XBOX SERIES X – First Impressions

Microsoft Xbox Series X Console

Since the introduction of the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft and the additional issues brought on by the pandemic I have been in search of a console of my own. Both Sony and Microsoft’s consoles have been basically unobtanium since launch.

Generally for the last few months the Xbox Series S has been easily available and in stock at most retailers here in Canada that are selling them. The Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 in both digital and Blu-ray versions have not been available. Both PlayStations being the worst.

Well I can finally say that I was able to procure an Xbox Series X almost a year after launch. This has been the longest I have ever had to wait to get a hold of a new console. Typically I pick up the new consoles within a few days to a couple months of launch. Or at least I have in the past starting with the PlayStation 3. 

For the longest time I had given up on this generation of consoles but perhaps it was fate when late one night I decided to do some late night stock checks on the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5. I landed on Best Buy’s website and learned that they were now offering the Xbox All Access instalment program along with several other retailers in Canada besides just EBGames (OK, I know it’s GameStop now but I will always call it EBGames). Xbox All Access bundles an Xbox Series S or X with 24 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate which includes access to tons of games either available to stream or download. It also includes EA All Access.

I can afford an Xbox Series X outright but they were not showing stock available but I decided, what the heck? Why not go through the Game Pass application and see what happens? The process was pretty easy. In fact there was never a check to even see if a console was available for purchase. I just finally wound up on a page confirming my order for an Xbox Series X with Game Pass Ultimate. 

Sure enough the console shipped the next day and when I returned home from my latest trip a box containing another box with an Xbox Series X was awaiting me. 

I have to applaud Microsoft for limiting the waste in the packaging and for packing the console so securely. There was no marking on the box declaring this was an Xbox All Access system so I initially did wonder how that would be activated but we will talk about that later. Inside the box is the Xbox Series X which I have to say has quite a bit of weight to it. Other than that there is a controller, batteries, HDMI cable, power cable (NO POWER BRICK!) and a safety pamphlet. That’s it.

It was very easy to set the console up, as it should be. Currently I have it plugged into my Zowie 24” 1080P monitor. Admittedly that’s putting the console to waste as it’s really a 4K monster. I have a 4K HDR10 television but at the moment I don’t have a place for the Series X in the entertainment centre below the wall mounted TV. 

Microsoft Xbox One Controller
Microsoft Xbox One Controller

The console fired up right away with no issues initially. The controller was paired correctly as well so it also worked on start up. Can I just say, Microsoft nailed the controller. I mean this is just a slight revision to the old Xbox controller but the textured triggers are great and that new D-Pad, oh man what a great experience. I have had a chance to use the new PS5 controller as Dan has a PlayStation 5 and it feels very good as well, but I think the Xbox controller has it beat. Just. Only miss here is no included play and charge kit. This is getting a bit ridiculous Microsoft. For the price of the Series X it should come with a rechargeable battery and charge cable. Sony has been doing this since the PlayStation 3.

Microsoft Series Controller
Microsoft Series Controller

Microsoft pushes really hard for you to set up the console with the Xbox companion app. I did it but I don’t understand why I needed to do so. I don’t need the notifications that just popped up on my Xbox while playing to also show up on my android phone as notifications as well. I’m already perfectly aware of them. Admittedly it did speed up the process as after the Xbox connects to the internet the first time it takes a while to download an update. While it’s doing that you can finish the setup process on your phone and when the Series X is finished downloading and installing the update it will just take you to the home screen immediately.

It’s during this process that the console answers the question about how it knows about my Game Pass Ultimate subscription. I expect it is attached to the serial number of the console by Best Buy before it ships out. A screen pops up that informs you of the items that the Xbox Series X has attached to it. Mine showed that I could redeem 24 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. I tried to redeem it and it errored out. I concluded at that moment that perhaps it was just because the console hadn’t finished installing and thus perhaps it was erroring out. Hindsight, that was a stupid thought as then why would Microsoft put that activation screen at that point in the process? Of course, it is Microsoft we are talking about so anything could happen.

At the main menu you are greeted with a simpler interface than what was on the Xbox One but still I believe overly complicated. I do like being able to change the theme. I have made the background and highlight colours match the original Xbox. 

I then went on to try and activate my Game Pass Ultimate. It still would not activate. I was a little peeved about this. So the first thing I have to do, instead of playing a game, is contact Microsoft to figure out what was going on. It wouldn’t even give me an error code. 

So an hour later after trying to figure out how to chat with someone at Microsoft I now had an answer. Because I was still subscribed to Xbox Live Gold I could not activate my Game Pass Ultimate subscription. I was baffled as to why it wouldn’t just automatically upgrade to Game Pass Ultimate but the fellow I was chatting with from Microsoft said it would have allowed me to upgrade once my Gold subscription ran out. He gave me the option to cancel Gold and switch immediately to Game Pass Ultimate or wait until Gold expired and then activate my Game Pass Ultimate subscription. I opted for cancelling Gold right away. 

A couple minutes later I was downloading games off Game Pass Ultimate. The person that I chatted with was very helpful and I genuinely enjoyed the experience even if I don’t think it should be something I had to do in the first place. 

Game Pass Ultimate is great. I don’t think it replaces hard copies of games but it is nice to be able to just download something and play it. That said even on a relatively speedy connection games are big enough they still take some time to download. The next day I played some Forza Horizon 5 after it had been downloaded. Something of note to those that have never used Game Pass, the games do not include all the DLC so you will still need to purchase that (that is unless the game says it includes the DLC – Forza Horizon 5 does not include it’s DLC or season pass). I have since downloaded a lot of other titles though I have not had a lot of time to mess around with them since I am not home a lot.

Sonic Colors Ultimate
Sonic Colors Ultimate

I did buy one Xbox Series X/S game during the Cyber Monday sales on Amazon as I wanted to try out a physical game. I picked up Sonic Colors Ultimate which also came with the cutest Sonic the Hedgehog keychain modelled after young Sonic from the recent and quite entertaining Sonic the Hedgehog movie. As soon as the disc goes in the Xbox Series X immediately starts installing it. It didn’t take too long to install but what I didn’t expect was the console to then download an update the size of the install. That was not very impressive though I understand the purpose.

I am impressed with the performance of the Xbox Series X. This is coming from a guy that has a pretty impressive gaming PC (Ryzen 5800X, 32GB RAM, Radeon 6800 XT). It starts quickly, and loads games impressively fast especially compared to the previous generation consoles. Past that, it’s the experience I’ve come to expect from Microsoft. If you’ve played on an Xbox One X/S, you’ve played on a Series X/S. The experience is just faster on the Series X/S. 

We also need to talk about the physical console design. Microsoft pulled no punches here. They designed something that was compact but thermally efficient. It’s heavy but moving it isn’t something you would be doing often. It can also be stood on one end or on its side. I think it would be the best to stand it though as the cooling solution will be better that way. It’s a nice looking console if not plain. The only thing I would have loved to have seen is that green they have on the inside of the top grill be back lit in green as well. Not necessary of course but it would have added a bit of a more premium feel for the money spent. 

So how has my experience been overall? Initially it was rocky but so far I have been happy with the purchase. Did I really need a Series X? No. I could have just purchased Game Pass Ultimate and played a lot of the games I wanted to play on my gaming PC. But sometimes the simplicity of a console is a nice thing to have as well. I have been a console gamer since my first Nintendo Entertainment system all the way on up to this Series X. And while I don’t have all the time in the world to play like I used to I still prefer gaming on a console. Everything just always works. In a year from now perhaps I will have a PlayStation 5 and be able to compare both consoles but until then I expect I will be pretty happy with the Series X. 

Well done, Microsoft. Now all I have to do is track down the Xbox fridge…

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