Xbox One X Review: 4K Game Changer Or An Unnecessary and Expensive Upgrade?

Tom Regan
Xbox Games
Xbox Games

Let’s get this out of the way first: the Xbox One X is comfortably the most powerful console ever built.  With a jaw-dropping amount of tech whirring away under its slim matte black hood, Microsoft’s mid-generation console upgrade plays games at native 4K, offers lightning-fast loading times. And yet, somehow manages to be the smallest Xbox ever built.

No matter how you look at it, it’s an incredibly impressive kit.

However, while Microsoft’s latest is an undeniably brilliant gaming machine, there’s only really one question that matters: does the Xbox One X do enough to justify its hefty $500 price tag? After living with it for a week, the answer is: sort of.

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What Is The Xbox One X?

For many, the beauty of console gaming lies in its simplicity. While PC gamers love the flexibility of having their own upgradeable rig, most consumers take comfort in buying a single gaming machine and simply knowing it’ll play the latest games for the next five years.

Yet, unfortunately for these couch-loving gamers, Microsoft and Sony have both suddenly agreed to make consoles a tad more complicated. In a surprising shift from the norm, the two companies have adopted a PC-style business model for the first time by  offering hungry HD gamers a tantalising mid-generation console upgrade.

With the Playstation 4 Pro kicking off the 4K console revolution last December, Microsoft’s big bad new competitor has finally arrived. Yet, with the Pro costing $100 less and the Xbox One X hitting shelves almost a year later, does Microsoft’s new 4K hardware really offer a significantly better gaming experience?

Xbox One.5

On paper at least, it certainly does. Capable of running 40% faster than the PS4 Pro, and running vastly more games in full, native 4K than Sony’s aforementioned “4K” console, the X’s key selling point is that its raw power delivers a bold new gaming experience.

Yet, with all the Microsoft marketing buzz about “true gaming power” ringing fresh in our ears, the first time we booted up our shiny new Xbox One X, everything about this brand new console felt surprisingly… familiar.

After a pleasingly dramatic startup sequence, we were simply thrown straight into the same old dashboard you’d find on the bog-standard Xbox One. While this isn’t necessarily a problem, after shelling out $500 for “the best console ever made”, you want to feel like you’re playing the premium-feeling game-changer you’ve been promised, not the same old box you’ve already got.

Thankfully though, after booting up our first Xbox One X enhanced game, that disappointment began to fade away. While during our testing period most games were still awaiting their respective 4K patches, games like Gears Of War 4, Forza 7, Assassin’s Creed Origins  and Middle-earth: Shadow Of War do a pretty solid job of showing what the X is capable of.

4K VS 1080P

Playing on a 60 inch TV, the sharpness that 4K brings to gaming is immediately noticeable. Whether it’s in the stunning detail it brings to the cars and tracks of Forza 7 or the breath-taking scope it adds to the sprawling deserts of Assassin’s Creed Origins, the increase in fidelity is certainly nothing to sniff at. Yet, as anyone with a PS4 Pro will attest, once again HDR is arguably the real game-changer.

With the lighting tech breathing new life into Gears Of War 4’s brightly-lit skyboxes  and flooding Shadow Of War’s once drab environments with a sea of colour, these two experiences almost threaten to overwhelm your retinas with sensory information.

For those lucky enough to actually own a 4K/HDR TV, there is a lot to love about the Xbox One X. Yet, given the console’s reliance on those two features, testing our console on various different sets yielded results that varied dramatically. While 4K sets always boasted a vast improvement over their 1080p counterparts, the quality of the TV seems to make a huge difference as to the kind of wow-factor you’ll get out of the X. The lesson here? Don’t cheap out on your TVs, kids.

In fact, in order to get the most out of the Xbox One X, you’ll actually need a pretty sizable 4K and HDR enabled TV. While you will obviously get a sharper picture on a 40inch 4K monitor than a 1080p, the wow-factor improvements to image quality only really become clearly apparent on screens bigger than 50 inches.

Still, for those 1080p gamers determined to upgrade, there are a few other nice improvements in store. The X features vastly improved loading times, auto update downloads and of course, allows gamers to run titles at vastly improved frame rates. With the new console also employing 4K “downsampling” to 1080p, the overall image quality offers a noticeable improvement over the standard Xbox One.  Yet, despite featuring some decent 1080p enhancements, they’re hardly worth shelling out $500.

Is The Xbox One X Any Good?

With both the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X running exactly the same games as their “basic” predecessors, for many gamers these 4K boxes are still a tough sell. Yet, if you’re one of the few who have already splashed out a small fortune on a 4K TV, the X’s eye-watering $500/£450 price tag will definitely be an easier pill to swallow.

Yet, when it comes down to pitting the Xbox One X against the PS4 Pro, the visual fidelity really isn’t that much better. While the X is undeniably packing far beefier innards than Sony’s latest console, the Pro’s “checkerboarding” rendering does a surprisingly convincing imitation of full 4K.

Ultimately though, both the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro serve a very niche audience. While the X is a hugely impressive technical achievement, currently it feels like an extravagant purchase that’s difficult to justify. Still, those with a  4K TV and a passion for Master Chief and everything Xbox will happily shell out the extra $100 for the X, and with the X also including a 4K Blu Ray player, its arguably a better value proposition than the PS4 Pro.

The X is a brilliant glimpse into gaming’s future then, and depending on your gaming preferences, one that is definitely worth getting… at some point. Yet, with decent 4K TVs still going for eye-watering sums, our advice would be to wait it out until both 4K TVs and this beast of a console become a bit more affordable.

Tom Regan
Having written for everyone from Trusted Reviews to The Guardian, Tom is a London based writer who can't stop talking about games. Now he's joined the team at Fandom as gaming editor, we have to constantly remind ourselves that he's not actually Ed Sheeran.
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