Xbox Series X six months on: a powerful console that still hasn’t reached its potential

Xbox Series X
(Image credit: Microsoft)

It’s been six months since the Xbox Series X and its more affordable alternative, the Xbox Series S, officially launched. In that time, we’ve seen Microsoft implement some much-needed improvements to its new Xbox consoles as well as the release of some great games to take advantage of the latest hardware. We’ve also had the promise of some mouth-watering Xbox Series X exclusives on the horizon.

But since the release of the Xbox Series X, the biggest issue for many players has simply been getting their hands on the damn thing. Between a global chip shortage, huge demand, scalpers and the pandemic, getting hold of an Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S isn’t exactly easy.

So is the Xbox Series X worth it? Six months on, I still don’t think the Xbox Series X is an essential purchase right now - here’s why.

Gathering dust

Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Micosoft)

My Xbox Series X has been gathering dust in recent months. I just haven’t been given a reason to actually use it. After the launch and the novelty of playing optimized titles on the new Xbox, I found my interest waned. I’ve been jonesing for a brand new Xbox Series X title to make the most of the console’s sheer power but have been left at somewhat of a loss. Meanwhile, my PS5 has been a much more enticing proposition, offering the likes of Returnal - which takes full advantage of the new PlayStation hardware - and Resident Evil Village - which offers PS5 3D audio and DualSense support that the Xbox Series X version doesn’t. 

It’s a real shame because the Xbox has all this horsepower and no room to gallop. While playing a backlog of titles on Xbox Game Pass initially filled the void, I’ve now become less interested when offered the chance to play a brand new first-party PS5 game instead. And it doesn’t look like that’s going to change for a while yet. As I look to the months ahead of Xbox, I know that while there are some amazing titles on the distant horizon, there’s not much that looks like it will encourage me to throw my PS5 to one side and jump back into the Xbox Series X.

It’s hammered home that the Xbox Series X seems to primarily be a vessel for Xbox Game Pass. But given the price of the vessel, I would hope that there would be something that made it a bit more than that. Six months on, it simply doesn’t feel that way.

An extra boost

Xbox Motes dynamic background

(Image credit: Microsoft)

That being said, since the Xbox Series X launched, Microsoft has implemented some much-needed improvements and features that make the Xbox Series X experience smoother. Perhaps the most welcome of these new features is FPS Boost. While the Xbox Series X launched with Auto HDR, which added HDR to backwards compatible games played on the console, FPS Boost goes one step further, improving the framerates of these titles and making their performance more stable - in some cases increasing an older game’s framerate to 120fps.

"While FPS boost is great, I can’t help feeling that I want more of a focus on brand new games rather than improving older offerings. It continues to feel like Microsoft, to a degree, is trying to fill the Xbox lineup hole."

At present, FPS Boost only applies to Xbox One games, and to a specific selection of games. But the list is fairly extensive and we’re likely to see this feature rolled out to Xbox 360 and original Xbox games in the future. FPS Boost is a fantastic upgrade, particularly for those with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, as it allows Xbox One games to utilize the power of the Xbox Series X. So, for compatible games, it feels less of a technological step back when you decide to revisit some of your favorite Xbox One games. 

This is particularly useful for those who are still playing multiplayer games like Battlefield 5 on the new console, as the increase in framerate means that you actually feel like you’re utilizing the Xbox Series X’s power, even if you’re not playing an Xbox Series X title. But, while FPS boost is great, I can’t help feeling that I want more of a focus on brand new games rather than improving older offerings. It continues to feel like Microsoft, to a degree, is trying to fill the Xbox lineup hole.

In addition to FPS Boost, we’ve also seen Microsoft roll out some overall quality-of-life improvements. I already loved the Xbox Series X’s Quick Resume feature, allowing you to jump between a handful of games at your leisure without having to reboot them from scratch. But Microsoft rolled out some welcome improvements to the feature in May which has made it even easier to navigate - and faster than before.

This update made Quick Resume more reliable and made it easier to actually see which games are stored in Quick Resume. Previously, I found a degree of trial and error was needed to work out exactly which games were stored in Quick Resume - and which were compatible with the feature - only realizing that a game wasn’t stored when you were greeted with a boot-up screen again.

Handily, you can now see when a game supports Quick Resume and which are currently suspended, with the ability to simply select each game from the My Games and Apps menu. It’s an improvement that makes an already fantastic feature even better and, for me, it remains one of my favorite Xbox Series X features.

Another big update we’ve seen to the Xbox Series X is the inclusion of dynamic backgrounds. This is something I felt should have launched with the console as, until recently, you had to look at some pretty boring static backgrounds. Dynamic backgrounds aren’t necessarily a big deal but given that the Xbox UI hasn’t received much in the way of exciting updates, and still feels considerably last-gen, the offer of some personalization is welcome. Though, I still hope at some point that Microsoft will give the Xbox Series X UI a major overhaul, adding a bit of extra pizazz that separates it from its predecessor. 

Xbox Wireless Headset 

Best Xbox Wireless Headset EQ

(Image credit: Microsoft)

From its launch, the Xbox Series X has provided an amazing audio-visual experience thanks to its 4K Blu-ray player, access to an abundance of streaming services, and support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision. And while every headset can take advantage of Dolby Atmos - with some games offering native support  - Microsoft decided to go one step further and release its own Xbox Wireless Headset back in March.

In our Xbox Wireless Headset review, we called the headset a “sensational product from Microsoft that’s a must-buy for any Xbox gamer”. The Xbox Wireless Headset offers incredible value and while it’s not a specific aspect of the Xbox Series X itself, it is a must-have accessory that only boosts the Series X experience. Again, I just wish I had more titles that made me feel like I want to experience it with a headset on. When you compare playing the likes of Resident Evil Village on Xbox Series X with a headset on and playing it on PS5, where it utilizes 3D audio, the more immersive experience lies on PS5. The more recent Xbox Series X games we’ve seen haven’t utilized that all-important Dolby Atmos and it’s a serious letdown. 

I’m also hoping to see more in the way of first-party Xbox accessories to the quality of this headset in the future, especially with this kind of value. Unfortunately, as it stands, we’re not seeing much in the way of this and the other essential Xbox Series X accessory, the Seagate expandable storage card, remains eye-wateringly expensive. I would love to see Microsoft experiment this gen with more accessories, particularly those which improve accessibility, which will benefit both PC and Xbox players, rather than a myriad of controllers with different designs. 

Game changers

Master Chief holding his helmet

(Image credit: 343 Industries)

As I’ve said before, the Xbox Series X had a pretty lackluster launch lineup, that was primarily made up of Xbox One games that had been optimized for the latest hardware and third-party titles such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. The lack of Halo Infinite left a huge hole at launch and for the months following - and it’s something that, six months on, I’m seriously feeling now.

"At present, while the Xbox Series X lineup is lacking, Xbox Game Pass makes the console a more enticing option, especially when combined with FPS Boost and Auto HDR."

With a myriad of delays, early 2021 was pretty light in terms of new Xbox Series X games to play. January saw Bloober Team’s psychological thriller The Medium releasing to a somewhat mixed reception (though I loved it), a disappointing result given it was the first major Xbox Series X release of 2021 - and the first Xbox exclusive of the year. While the past six months have seen a handful of big hitters release on Xbox Series X and PS5, there’s been very little in the way of Xbox exclusives. 

The coming months look to improve this situation a bit, though. With some Xbox exclusives set to release in the coming months and Halo Infinite finally due this “Holiday” season (November to early January). Though, it looks like it’ll be a while yet before we get our hands on big hitters like Everwild and Fable.

While the next few months for Xbox games still look a bit uncertain, Microsoft has a major ace-in-the-hole: its acquisition of ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda, earlier this year. This is a huge move by Microsoft that could seriously bolster that lackluster exclusive offering, likely meaning that future Bethesda titles like The Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield will come exclusively to Xbox and PC. Now that’s a prospect that makes Xbox Series X very interesting and could give it a serious advantage over the PS5.

This Bethesda acquisition has also allowed Microsoft to hugely improve Xbox Game Pass. While not an included subscription with Xbox Series X, I’ve always said that if you own an Xbox console you should definitely consider picking up Game Pass. In the past six months, we’ve seen even more titles added to Game Pass, including a large number of Bethesda titles, with Microsoft confirming we will see future first-party Xbox games hit the service on launch day - that includes Bethesda games. 

At present, while the Xbox Series X lineup is lacking, Xbox Game Pass makes the console a more enticing option, especially when combined with FPS Boost and Auto HDR. But while Xbox Game Pass is a decent filler, as I’ve found, there are only so many Game Pass games you can play before you start wanting something new that is best experienced on only the Xbox Series X. When I’m looking over at the PS5 grass, it looks considerably greener as the likes of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal and Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales bask in the sunshine.

Worth waiting

Xbox Series X accessories

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

In our initial Xbox Series X review, we stated that while the new Xbox was an absolute powerhouse with a lot of potential, it wasn’t an essential purchase at the time. Six months on, that statement still stands. But it looks like this could change in the future.

The Xbox Series X’s biggest drawback remains its lack of big-hitting exclusives. I want something to really take that powerful hardware to task and, currently, there’s not much offering that. With E3 2021 looming, and Microsoft set to host a joint conference with Bethesda, the game could seriously be changed depending on what is revealed there. However, it looks like we’ll still be waiting a few months for those enticing exclusives we’re wanting from Microsoft. 

While the changes Microsoft has implemented are welcome, and go a way to improving Game Pass, it’s not enough to make us run out and buy an Xbox immediately - or to queue online for hours waiting for a restock.

In another six months' time, I want to be able to say the dust has cleared from my Xbox Series X and I’m truly utilizing it to its fullest potential - and that it’s blowing my mind. I want to be able to point to a confirmed schedule of big hitters that I know are going to make the most of the mammoth console and have a reason to pick up my Xbox controller over my DualSense. I want to be able to look back at this article and regret ever doubting my refrigerator-shaped child. I want to be wrong.

Vic Hood
Associate Editor, TechRadar Gaming

Vic is TechRadar Gaming's Associate Editor. An award-winning games journalist, Vic brings experience from IGN, Eurogamer and more to the TechRadar table. You may have even heard her on the radio or speaking on a panel. Not only is Vic passionate about games, but she's also an avid mental health advocate who has appeared on both panels and podcasts to discuss mental health awareness. Make sure to follow her on Twitter for more.