E3 2019: Microsoft Xbox Briefing Impressions

I woke up at 6AM AEST to watch the Microsoft Xbox E3 2019 briefing and I felt a little indifferent after it ended. There were some moments I was like, “yeah this is going to be awesome”, and then there were moments like “next game please”. Frankly it was not their best showcase (for me anyway). I watched it again before writing this blog post and took notes down as the event progressed so I could at least have some references and ideas to go off. You can watch the VOD here (I have time stamped it to the start of the event so you don’t have to sit through 25 minutes of a countdown timer).

Xbox Game Pass is king

The biggest take away from the entire Xbox event IMO was that Xbox Game Pass is going to be such an attractive offering to gamers on Xbox and now on PC that it would be foolish to not consider the subscription service, especially that for a limited time it is $1 for the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. Nearly every single game that was announced or shown was going to be available at launch of Xbox Game Pass, which is fantastic news. Not only that but with their new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription at $15.95 AUD per month you get your standard Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass for PC. I’ve just subscribed to the ultimate service as it is too good to not use. Well done to Microsoft for offering such an enticing and worthwhile bundle. Using this service I have bought less games but I have played more games, and even games that I had held out on or was hesitant to pick up such as Homefront: The Revolution and Vampyr.

The future of Xbox

The new Xbox console was also teased, code-named Project Scarlett. With four times the power of the current Xbox One X, it is going to be one beast of a machine. It appears the focus for the new Xbox console is to have games play faster/smoother, load quicker, while also look amazing (obviously). As a gamer you should be excited by this. As Phil Spencer said, “The new Xbox has been designed, built and optimized for one thing and one thing only, gaming…”. Unfortunately we need to wait until Holiday 2020 but on the bright side I am going to have the time to save up for the console and any game I want when it comes out.

There was also a very brief mention of Project xCloud but there was not mention of the network specifics or how it will function or even how much it will cost, so we will need to wait and see for that. There is also a new console streaming service that will be available too, where your own personal console can be setup as your own personal xCloud server so that you can play your games anywhere you want which is cool.

I already have an Xbox Elite controller, but version two of the controller is going to be coming out soon. From what they showcased in the trailer (you can see that here) it looks like that they listened to the gamers and have made some really good improvements like fully wrapped grips, adjustable-tension thumbsticks, and more. Having Bluetooth connectivity is a bonus as is the USB-C connection, but I am not entirely sold on the internal battery which from the looks of it is not removable. Many people have said the first iteration of the controller was poorly built and did not withstand the use from long gaming sessions; I have not had problems with my and the grips, etc. are all still going strong.

So many games

When Microsoft said that they were bringing games to the show, they really meant it. There was a crazy amount of games that they showed but there was only a handful of games that really appealed to me from either the cinematic trailer or the gameplay trailer. A quick rundown of the games that interest me included:

  • The Outer World – I was a fan of Fallout New Vegas, and to be able to play an RPG from the creators of New Vegas is going to be great. Plus it is going to be available on Xbox Game Pass at launch.
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps – as someone who is not interested in platformers too much, the original game was absolutely outstanding and difficult. This looks to be much of the same and will also be on Xbox Game Pass at launch. However it looks like the game will be coming out early 2020.
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order – you can check out my breakdown of the gameplay shown at EA Play 2019 here, but the CGI trailer looked decent. However being a single player action game, the replayability does not look very high.
  • Blair Witch – horror, atmospheric and thriller games are some of my favourite. This looked to be right up my alley and gameplay-wise appears to play closely like the Outlast series. I am interested in seeing more of this and as a bonus it is an Xbox Game Pass title.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 – nothing more needs to be said about this game. It will be GOTY. CD Projekt Red are one of the best developers out there. They know how to make fantastic looking RPGs and worlds that are fully immersive. This game looks no different, but we will need to wait until 2020 for this title too 😦
  • Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition – more Age of Empires is always a good thing. As an RTS fan, and a fan of the series I will be playing this game when it launches and it is going to be on Xbox Game Pass.
  • 12 Minutes – this game has me intrigued. It is not a game that would normally interest me. I’ll keep an eye on this game and when it goes on sale I’ll probably pick this up and give it a play.
  • Gears 5 – I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on this title. Everytime I see this game I get more and more excited. The new Escape game mode looked absolutely crazy and is going to be a blast playing with two other mates. The story looks like it is also going to go places where other Gears games have not gone. Releasing in September 2019 on Xbox Game Pass makes this a no brainer.
  • Halo Infinite – it has been too long between main Halo games. The last big Halo game came out at the end of 2015, Halo 5: Guardians. Halo Infinite is going to be a launch title in 2020 for the new Xbox console. 343 Industries went forward with the campaign in Halo 4 and then took great steps forward with multiplayer in Halo 5. All they need to do is now have both packaged together, but I am not sure they can do this; fingers crossed. I have high hopes for the game and it launching through Xbox Game Pass along a brand new console might be what the 18 year old franchise needs.

The next year will be interesting, with many of the games announced coming through Xbox Game Pass and playable in 2020 they will most likely be playable on the current generation of Xbox and next generation of Xbox consoles. Bring on 2020!

My New Xbox One X

I wanted to write this a little while ago, but needed to have some more time playing on the Xbox One X and try to experience as much as possible. Since the launch of the new Xbox One console, I have been having a blast. Yes I am an Xbox fanboy so maybe my view is slightly skewed but Microsoft made an extremely great (dare I say) near perfect console.

Xbox One X Project Scorpio with various Xbox One controllers
Xbox One X Project Scorpio with Xbox One Day One, Elite and Project Scorpio Controllers

To my luck, I managed to pre-order an Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition, I know a number of people that wanted this edition but missed out due to the limited number. After using it for a little while I thought I might sum up the experience I have had with it so far and also areas where there is some contention on the Internet.

Breakdown

Price

I knew I wanted to purchase the Xbox One X when it was still called “Project Scorpio”. From what I was reading and the rumours swirling around the Internet , I knew it was going to be a powerful console and it wasn’t going to be cheap. A high price tag was not going to discourage me from purchasing it. I pre-ordered the Xbox One Elite controller and that was $200 AUD, so paying around $700 AUD for a new, and powerful console was not an issue. I mean a GTX 1070 is still going for $700 AUD. For the power and convenience the console provides it is super cheap, plus I have a large library of Xbox games so I am not going to invest in another console.

4K and HDR

Weeks before the lead up to the release of the console there were many gaming sites that posted about how “unnecessary” or “wasted” it would be to purchase the Xbox One X console if you do not have a 4K TV or one that supports HDR. Funnily enough there were none of these articles written when the PS4 Pro was coming out/released (bias “journalism” maybe). I don’t know where these so called “journalists” got this information because Microsoft to their credit on numerous occasions highlighted the benefits a gamer would have if they only had a 1080p display.

I personally do not have a 4K/HDR supported TV; mine is still a 65” 1080p Panasonic plasma TV. The games (enhanced or not) all look gorgeous. Gears of War 4, Halo 5 Guardians, Quantum Break, etc. all look brilliant with their enhancements. Even the games that haven’t gotten the enhancements look slightly crisper and cleaner to me like Battlefield 1. I have spoken to a number of friends on Xbox Live who do have 4K TVs with HDR and have an Xbox One X, and there has been a unanimous agreement that the visual fidelity is high class.

Performance

I knew the Xbox One X was powerful and would help with load times, framerate, etc. but boy did I underestimate how much of an improvement there would be. Off the top of my head I can think of two games where the load times have significantly improved. Destiny 2 and XCOM 2 (I’ve been playing these recently). Loading to the Tower or any planet in Destiny 2 took it’s sweet time on my original Xbox One. On the Xbox One X the time it takes to go to those same locations is easily halved.

XCOM 2 on the original Xbox One was a disaster when it came to loading. If you tried loading a save, loading a mission, or coming back to your ship, it could easily take one minute. On the Xbox One X it loads in under 15 seconds. Before I could go and grab a drink from the fridge and come back to still see that the game is still loading, and now on the Xbox One X it just loads too quick to do any of that.

Games like Halo 5 Guardians, Gears of War 4, Battlefield 1, etc. all feel smoother. They feel like they are hitting higher refresh rates (or targets that they were originally supposed to be reaching). I don’t know, I can’t measure it and maybe I’m just imagining it, but the games feel like they play better. It is the same as going from a monitor that doesn’t support 144Hz to one that does and you reach that refresh rate, the game just feels so much better. So overall I think the Xbox One X is on a completely higher tiered level to the original Xbox One. Kudos Microsoft for squeezing so much performance out of such a dense little box.

Good Internet

My current Internet download and upload is 100Mbps and 40Mbps respectively (again I am fortunate enough to be able to have fibre connected directly to my house). I also do not have a data cap. Both of these (speed and data) are extremely important when considering the Xbox One X. The game updates to handle the 4K assets, etc. are massive (some games nearly double in size). So if  you have slow Internet download speeds or have a relatively small data cap then it will seriously hamper your ability to play the recently updated Xbox One X Enhanced games. From what I can tell there is no way to not download these updates if you have an Xbox One X console.

I did notice that downloading titles on the Xbox One X seemed slower than on the original Xbox One. I am on the Alpha Insider Preview ring so there may be some OS issues, but other people I have talked who are not Xbox Insiders pretty much agree that their downloads seem to be going slower on the new console. I’ll be keeping an eye on this and if it persists then I may have to have a little chat with the Microsoft Support team or raise an issue.

Storage Space

Along with these large downloads to support the 4K assets comes the need for more storage space. This is one area I think Microsoft needed to do a little better. A 1TB internal storage device is not nearly enough to support all the new Xbox One X Enhanced games that a gamer could potentially have. My internal HDD is near capacity with all the updates my games have received recently (I only have 75GB left). I do have an external HDD but may need to consider purchasing another. So do invest in another storage device to ensure that you do not run out of space.

Final Thoughts

Who is this Xbox One X console for? Well due to the high price tag I don’t imagine it is for the casual gamer, or someone who is not interested in playing the latest games at the highest fidelity possible on a console; for that I would suggest the Xbox One S. The individual who would buy this console would be one of these I believe:

  1. Looking to buy a new console where money is not a purchasing factor.
  2. Looking to upgrade your old or original console where money is not a purchasing factor.
  3. Looking to upgrade your old or original console to play the latest games at the highest console fidelity possible.

Do you need a 4K/HDR supported TV to enjoy the Xbox One X? Absolutely not. I don’t have one and I am having a blast; everything looks amazing and the games play better than before. There is a noticeable difference even in 1080p 🙂

Do you need a good Internet to use the Xbox One X? Unfortunately I believe yes. I cannot see in the settings anywhere to disable 4K updates if you don’t have a 4K TV. Downloads could take an extremely long time and you may hit your data cap if you have one. This is one of the downside of 4K gaming.

If someone off the street right now asked me, “Would I recommend the Xbox One X?” I would say “yes” in a heart beat with no hesitation. I would tell them that they don’t need 4K or HDR to experience what the Xbox One X offers, I would even mention to be mindful of the download sizes for game updates.

I don’t give technology a numbered rating but if I had to give one to the Xbox One X, it would easily be a 9.5/10. I cannot fault Microsoft for the product that they have built.

Kudos Microsoft.