There was one guest at the XBox E3 2017 presentation who made a bigger impression than any other, and that is the Xbox One X. At last we know the final name, specs and price for “Project Scorpio”. Xbox One X might be difficult to get your mouth around, but it’s also difficult to get your wallet around. We have to wonder who the target audience is. Watching E3 there were things to get excited about, but Microsoft have revealed a console that begs the question – who is going to buy the Xbox One X?
Microsoft have lost ground to Sony this console generation and knew that they need a come back plan. Their solution over the last few years has been to take everything that people criticised about the Xbox One and make it better than their rivals. We have seen significant moves away from the media and entertainment side of the Xbox, the removal of the Kinect 2.0 (remember that?) and an improvement and simplification of the user interface. With the arrival of the XBox One X Microsoft are attempting to tackle the one thing that they couldn’t before – graphics.
There is no doubt the Xbox One X promises to be a graphical power house. The specs stack up well against a high end PC graphics card like the Nvidia GTX 1080, which is a monster and our preferred card here at BrandNeutron. The way the Xbox One X is built (with shared system and VRAM) mean that direct comparisons at this stage are difficult, but Microsoft are very open that they are aiming for true 4K gaming. This is initially perplexing – the GTX 1080 won’t hit 4k60fps on most games. However console optimisation means that it’s highly likely that we will see true 4K, or at least adaptive resolution similar to what was seen in Gears of War 4. Console gamers tend to be more accepting of 30 frames per second gameplay than PC gamers, so it is likely that we could see a lot more of that. Right on cue, Microsoft have announced that Gears of War 4 is getting a day one Xbox One X patch that means it will run at 4K30fps for the campaign.
Now, here at BrandNeutron we love us some good graphics – just look at how we gushed over Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. That said it’s also fair to say that games like The Order: 1666 prove that good graphics do not a good game make. So what does the Xbox One X do, other than good graphics, to justify the $499/£450 price tag? Well as far as we can tell… not much.
Sure, there is HDR support, UHD disc playback and 4k playback, it’s the smallest console that Microsoft have ever produced and it looks great. Beyond that however, we struggle to see much that differentiates the Xbox One X from the less powerful (and much cheaper) Xbox One S. Making matters worse, Microsoft are saying that all games will be playable on both consoles. This means that whilst you might get bragging rights on graphics and load times, the likelihood is that the actual gameplay is going to be the same.
Who is this for?
The obvious answer is two groups of people. The first are people who own a 4K TV and are so desperate for the greatest graphics that they are happy to spend $499/£450 to upgrade their Xbox. The second group of people are those who do not yet own an Xbox, but think this is the right time to dip into the brand.
Clearly we all know people in that first category, and the Xbox One X will fly off the shelves initially into the eager hands of this group. They will be able to tell everyone in the playground that games like Assassin’s Creed Origins look better than their friend’s PS4 Pro. The Xbox One X’s price tag make this a difficult upgrade to justify, and the law of diminishing returns means that the graphical leap from each console generation to the next has been smaller each time. Furthermore if games are required to run on both, presumably the slower hardware (the One S) is going to throttle any actual game changing developments.
The second group of people are even harder to persuade. If you haven’t picked up a console by now, chances are you aren’t that interested. If you go to a shop most of this group are likely to pick up the cheaper Xbox One S. Also, this group tend to be more casual gamers, and as such will gravitate towards whatever console their friend’s own, where the PS4 has an automatic lead.
So what would make any gamer buy an Xbox One X? There is one concrete answer, and that is great games. This has been Microsoft’s real Achilles heel this generation, with a lack of exclusives compared to their rivals. Even their once mighty exclusives such as Halo and Gears of War have begun to look tired and lack the blockbuster status they once had. Looking at the Microsoft press conference there were brilliant games on display, but only Forza Motorsport 7 and Crackdown 3 are true AAA exclusives. Meanwhile games like Assassin’s Creed Origins and Anthem look fantastic, but given they will be the same game with slightly inferior graphics on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S, do they really justify an upgrade?
Ultimately I can’t see the Xbox One X being a failure, but also I can’t see Microsoft overhauling Sony’s significant lead in this console generation. Given that the console generations are blurring with the release of two halfway console, we might not see another true generation ever again. If this is the case then there is only one way to win people over: Gamers follow the games.
At the moment, Microsoft just don’t have enough of them.