The Xbox One has walked a rockier road than most consoles dare to tread, but the fact that Microsoft has offered up another addition to the hardware family shows just how robust the community is that has built up around the Xbox brand. Sure, the platform has seen better, more popular days, but Microsoft is still in there and competing with Sony and Nintendo, and it's making a good fight of it despite both Japanese companies returning to top form with the PS4 and Switch respectively.
As just about everybody knows the launch of the Xbox One was a total wreck. The unfortunate decisions made around the release of Microsoft's 360 successor have been well documented and we'll not rehash events here, but suffice to say Don Mattrick's team dropped the ball on more than one occasion, and it wasn't until the appointment of Phil Spencer and the abandonment of the Kinect (among other things) that the Xbox One really started to find its feet. Maybe the damage done by that point will ultimately prove terminal when events are viewed with more distance than we can muster here, but Spencer's friendly and open approach and some well-made strategic decisions have at least corrected the company's course and, if there is to be the kind of turnaround that'll see a future Xbox console repeating the success of the 360, it'll be because of the changes made since Mattrick left the building.
Part of Spencer's vision for Xbox One included some big policy shifts, including the abandonment of the generational cycle. By ramping up backwards compatibility with more 360 games and now Xbox originals, and by introducing early access, Windows 10 play anywhere, and cross-platform play, the Xbox family is more expansive and inclusive than ever before. Ironically, we're edging ever closer to something akin to Mattrick's original vision, but now it's refined, honed, and feels less corporate and more consumer-focused.
However, these days vision will only get you so far, and you've got to deliver on that vision if you really want to take over the world. The question is therefore whether or not Microsoft delivers with the Xbox One X. The answer is actually a lot more complicated than the question would have you believe, but over the course of the next few paragraphs we'll attempt to untangle that conundrum and come to some sort of conclusion.
There are two sides to the Xbox One X, although, given the fact that this is an incremental upgrade and that all Xbox One games will run on the platform, the software half of the equation isn't as clear-cut as it would be if this were a standard console launch. Like the PS4 Pro before it, the Xbox One X takes a selection of existing titles and retrofits them with super-detailed 4K textures, improved frame-rates, and general performance boosts, adding a final layer of polish that elevates the games and, for slightly older titles like Quantum Break, brings them bang up to date from a visual perspective. The other side of the Xbox One X is the hardware itself. That's probably the best place to start in terms of this evaluation, so let's get to it.
The console itself looks fantastic. When compared to the original Xbox One, which people mocked for looking like a VHS player back at its reveal, the X is an elegant device. It's not dissimilar to the PS2, which in itself evokes memories of one of the most beloved consoles of all time. The matte black casing and solid build makes this the best-looking Xbox since the second generation of the Xbox 360, and when viewed alongside its stable-mate the Xbox One S, it's hard not to be impressed by the cohesive vision that Microsoft has now put in place. It's even easier to be impressed when you consider just how much they've packed into the box (the smallest Xbox yet), including the infamous power brick that pumped electricity into first-gen Xbox Ones.
In fact, the technicians at Microsoft need a pat on the collective back for their work in building the Xbox One X in general. Everything from the 8-core custom-built AMD CPU (clocked at 2.3GHz) through to the whopping 12GB of GDDR5 graphics memory points to a machine built with the express purpose of delivering high-quality graphics balanced against rock-solid performance. On that front, and when considering the price point of the Xbox One X, it's hard to fault what Microsoft has delivered; this is the closest you're going to get to high-end PC gaming at a reasonably affordable price.
For the most part you won't consciously notice a massive improvement, because the Xbox One was already a capable machine. The load times are generally faster, the visuals are certainly crisper, but otherwise the big picture remains largely the same. However, when you delve a little deeper, it's then that true power of the X begins to reveal itself: it's all in the detail. The 4K textures are, at times, jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Playing Assassin's Creed Origins on a big-screen 4K HDR-ready television is a sight to behold, for example, and even flicking the HDR (high dynamic range) on and off reveals just how much extra pop the image now has. That's not even a new feature, you can see that improvement on the Xbox One S (which is when Microsoft launched HDR), but when you're marvelling at how much more golden the desert is on the X, you'll probably also notice just how gnarled and lifelike your camel is, marvel at some completely unnecessary particle effects off in the distance, or spot a little touch of detail on Bayek's back that you'd missed before.