Xbox Series S Review: Tiny Gaming Magic

November 5, 2020
Xbox Series S review Japanese studios

PC gaming has always been my focus. I’ve never followed consoles all too closely, I’ve never much cared for their plug-and-play convenience when I’ve had unbridled power and a tolerance for cable management. However, with my hands now on the entry point of next generation of gaming with Xbox Series S, I’ve realised how much of a fool I’ve been until now.

We’ve spent a few days with Microsoft’s Xbox Series S – you can watch our unboxing here – and, despite its budget price, the compact next-gen machine feels distinctly premium as an entry point into the next five-or-so years of gaming. Despite knowing its tiny dimensions of 6.5cm x 15.1cm x 27.5cm going in, it’s impossible to not be continually blown away with just how much performance is packed into the console’s tiny frame.

A good solid box is surely to everyone’s tastes, especially one that feels this sturdy, and Microsoft’s white gaming slab is one that’s surprisingly unnoticeable in the living space, as Phil Spencer sneakily proved around the consoles initial unveiling. It’s a machine that blends into its space, it might be a next-gen gaming machine but it’s one that’ll definitely stand out less than your cable box.

Regardless of where you’re keeping it, the Xbox Series S has an undeniably clean face, with just a few satisfyingly clickily buttons for power and synching controllers on its front. The digital-only system does lack a disc drive to save on cost, leaving the machine looking eerily bare, drawing your eyes instead to the huge black circular expanse of the air vent on top. Thankfully, there are nifty rubberized nubbins on the bottom and sides to position the console in a way that makes you comfortable.

Giving up the disk drive does leave you relying exclusively on digital downloads for games and streaming services for entrainment. It’s not too much of an issue for most city folk, but those with a struggling internet connection will be held at the mercy of slow downloads. However, with Xbox’s comprehensive digital storefront and the phenomenal deal of Xbox Game Pass boasting an ever-increasing roster of day one releases, there’s always something to play.

[shunno-quote] Quick Resume on Xbox Series S felt as simple as alt-tabbing between programs on PC, only for multiple AAA games. [/shunno-quote]

Xbox Series S
The Xbox Series S does look a tad weird without a disc drive, but it’s sleek form factor means you can hide it pretty much anywhere.

The lack of disks however does leave you at the mercy of the Series S’s in-built storage. With modern titles each vying for a serious chunk of the 512GB SSD, and with only 364GB available for actual games storage, space will certainly be a commodity that mandates some uninstalling and game shuffling, probably moving games between internal storage and an external hard drive just so you won’t have to redownload massive games, especially for those that can’t afford the extremely expensive Seagate Memory Cards.

What we wouldn’t give for an Xbox Series S crystal edition.

Thankfully, Microsoft has said that games should see 30% smaller game sizes on the Series S. While this will likely only be consistent for first-party games, it’s a welcome promise that will hopefully hear fruit. With only so much storage to go around, it’s a problem bound to crop up in an all-digital console.

Losing 148GB of storage may seem like a lot for just system operation, but that space is also housing the Xbox Series S’ most impressive feature: Quick Resume. Thanks to the blistering speed of the SSD and some serious technological wizardry known as Xbox Velocity Architecture, you’re able to instantly switch between cached game states on up to five titles at one time.

This may seem rather gimmicky at first, after all you can only play one game at a time. In practice, however, it’s outstandingly impressive, even as just a party trick to marvel at, let alone the saving grace for an indecisive gamer who’d welcome to switch from one game to the next with barely a few seconds between. A perfect match for Xbox Game Pass.

[shunno-quote]the lack of Xbox One X enhancements on backward compatible games does rid some experiences of the premium next-gen feel[/shunno-quote]

In our testing, we switched from game to game without issue. Watch Dogs Legion to Gears 5 to Forza Horizon 4 to The Touryst and back to Watch Dogs. It felt as simple as alt-tabbing between programs on PC, an impossibility for five AAA games without hitting some seriously low performance values. On Series S, performance is kept at perfect levels, it feels like magic.

Quick Resume is a testament to the sheer power housed inside the Series S, as every other component keeps up without fail to its phenomenal drive. With an eight core CPU at 3.6 GHz, a four teraflop, 20 compute unit GPU @1.565 GHz, and 10GB of GDDR6 ram, the Xbox Series S is more than worthy of the title of next gen.

All those fancy numbers and specs come together to deliver games targeted at 1440p at 60fps, with support for 120fps and even higher should the developers support it. Which means games both look and feel absolutely fantastic on the occasion that they hit those numbers. Some games don’t hit those high resolutions, and the lack of Xbox One X enhancements on backward compatible games does rid some experiences of the premium next-gen feel. But then you remember the price: this is next-gen at a mild cost.

The consistent buttery smooth 60 and 120 fps gameplay is a feat the Xbox Series S seemingly tackles with ease thanks to its whisper quiet fans and near faultless consistency. It’s not just all about speed either, with the GPU even able to tackle ray tracing to create some staggeringly gorgeous scenes that barely feel possible despite watching them unfold.

Xbox Series S controller
The Xbox Series S controller isn’t too different from its current-gen counterpart, but it is a refined pad.

A console could have all the power in the world, but it would be nothing without a solid line-up of games to play. While, for this review period, the Series S doesn’t have true next-gen exclusives, it’s library of over 80 games optimised and enhanced for the console (30 of which will be available at launch) as well as extensive backwards compatible games running natively gives you plenty to show off the Series S’ prowess.

Even with a game library brimming with enhanced titles, you won’t get anywhere without a controller. Thankfully, the newly revamped Xbox Series S controller is a welcome step up from the included controllers of yore.

As touched upon in our unboxing, the new textured back of the controller is the most immediate upgrade from the base Xbox One controller. Alongside that, bumper buttons have perfect activation and tactile clicks and the vastly improved D-pad finally gives Xbox players a fantastic experience for fighters.

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Overall, the Xbox Series S is a remarkable little machine made outstanding by its price. It may not have the sheer staggering performance of its big brother Series X, but for only £250 you have an incredibly quick machine for a generation of gaming that doesn’t require you to run out and buy a 4K TV to make the most of it. With full backward compatibility, Quick Resume and the backing of Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s Xbox Series S is certainly worth the entry into Xbox’s ecosystem.

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