But just how accessible is Microsoft's latest console and what have they done to develop the hardware and software further compared to previous designs?
I personally got sighted assistance to cut these seals, as they are very strong, but if you can't do that or are comfortable giving this a go yourself, there's one on the top, one on the bottom and two on one side of the box to your left, if you position it as I did. There are no defining markings to allow me to provide a greater reference point than this unfortunately. It would've been good to have some kind of aid to orientation, even if it said "this way up, front of box" or similar in Braille for those who can read it.
Once all the seals are cut, rotate the box so that a large flat face is on the bottom and the section the seals were holding in place is facing to your left. If you gently lift the top of the box to your left as if opening a book, you should see that the right-hand side of the now open package contains the large cuboid shape of the console (more on that shape once we've unwrapped it later.
Now, back to the rest of the box.
Extracting the controller is as simple as pulling the tape from where it meets the wrapping and lifting the controller out of the resulting hole. There are also a pair of batteries here that can be placed into the controller if needed, wrapped in the same material. I did not actually need these myself.
The power and HDMI cables, which were somehow partially entangled with each other during my unboxing, can be found underneath the controller and are both sealed with ties that can be removed by pulling their respective tabs. You can put these to one side as well, especially if you're going to use your existing setup.
The method I used was to hold the console in one hand and move the foam inserts away from the underside of the console with the other, carefully lowering the console down afterwards to place it gently on a flat surface.
The next step is to remove the cardboard band surrounding the console (which, according to sighted assistance, says "power your dreams" on it). This has a tab that can be pulled outwards, allowing the band to move aside.
Finally, we have to unwrap the console itself from the same material as the controller. There are two tape seals, one at the top and one at the bottom. Reaching underneath the tape with a thumb and finger and holding the console still with your other hand, you should be able to break one of the seals. Once done and the material is moved away from the unit on that side, you should be able to stand the console vertically on the end you just worked on and, again holding the console still, remove the material using the tape as leverage.
If done correctly, you should now have an Xbox Series X standing proudly with no wrappings attached.
If you want to use the console vertically, as an aid to orientation, feel around your console and you'll find a square face of the unit with numerous holes. This is actually the top of the console when positioning it vertically.
If you want to use it horizontally, however, you can find 4 rubber feet along one of the sides. These domed-style feet are not like those seen on the One S and One X and are less likely to physically separate from the console.
When laid horizontally on the aforementioned feet, with this "top" face directly in front of you, the right-hand side is where you'll find the various ports and connections to hook your console up to whatever setup you're using. In an interesting move, partially an evolution from the raised line above the HDMI in port on the One X models, a number of raised, easy-to-locate dots indicate what port you'll find below said tactile markings on this side of the unit: USB ports have 3 dots, the HDMI in port and Ethernet connection each have 2 dots and the power cable has a single solitary dot above it.
On the left-hand side of the console, rather than being at the bottom edge, the power button is at the top corner, with the eject button and the disk drive being along to the left relative to it. The sync button for pairing controllers, as well as the third and final USB port are found at the bottom of this face of the Series X, towards the left-hand side. I've used the Series X this way through the entirety of my testing as the size of the unit did not let it easily fit into my existing space and have had no noticeable issues so far.
As I found out during my unboxing, positioning the console vertically, though it might seem confusing at first, is as simple as placing the unit with the large, rubberised circle facing downwards. This keeps it stable and prevents it from moving too much, whilst also allowing the heat to exit the unit at the top, through the previously mentioned holes.
Getting sighted assistance to set up the console with the mobile app, I found Voiceover on IOS to work very smoothly with it. Entering the code read out to me wasn't difficult, though a lack of narration from the console at that point in time was disconcerting to say the least. Once done, I used the console for a while (more on the testing side of things later in this review), but I wanted to see if there was a way round this issue so that those who wanted to use their consoles without needing assistance to get started could do so.
Fortunately, as you'll see below, you can still have Narrator as a part of the setup process, though you don't unfortunately get to use the same workflow involving the mobile app.
Initially, my controller wasn't paired with the Xbox, but doing that was as simple as turning on the controller by pressing the "Xbox"/"guide" button (the circular one directly above the Share button) and holding the sync button on both the console and controller for a little while until I thought they'd connected, as there is no sound cue for pairing of controllers.
At that point, press and hold the guide button again until you feel a slight vibration or hear a UI sound from the console. Then press the menu button and you should hear Narrator say "dialogue, no button" or similar. This means that Narrator has kicked in and is asking you to enable it (you can choose whether to turn it on and not have this prompt display again if you prefer, which I did).
Once you enable Narrator, you can select a language with up and down on the DPad. The languages are even identified as "not supported by Narrator" where necessary too, which is useful for players in regions that might not have support for the feature just yet.
As I chose English, I then met with what was described as a "variety of English" prompt, to which I responded with UK.
The voice then changed to a British accent as it started "checking your connection", with the response that it was connected to the internet.
Next comes the "where do you live?" screen which, though it might sound a little scary for those concerned about privacy and the like, is just a location check (likely for what store you're looking to use).
Selecting UK told me "you do not need an update. Restarting." This is probably because all the updating happened the first time I booted up the console and set it up with the mobile app as above. If this is your first time setting up the console though, be prepared for an update. Once the restart happened, I was met with a prompt saying "to continue, connect a controller and press the A button" as well as a similar option for keyboard users.
Pressing this took me to a sign in screen. Filling in the required information was relatively easy even on controller, a testament to just how fluid the UI is on this new hardware and how comparatively easy the new DPad is to get used to.
Now comes a screen that doesn't read automatically for some reason, informing you that Microsoft collects required data, giving you the opportunity to learn how that data is used. I simply just pressed next during my setup.
Now we have the option to send Microsoft additional data to "help make your Xbox experience better", which in this instance, I opted not to do. There is also, again, a "tell me more" button on this screen. Both this and the previous screen worked with left and right rather than up and down arrows for navigation.
The final data screen concerns usage data shared with publishers, which, again you can learn more about via the similarly named button on this screen.
Given I'd plugged in a hard drive with a backup of previous settings on, I received a prompt to apply my settings or not, as per my choice.
After opting to apply my settings, knowing I can change them later, I then moved on to a screen where you choose whether you instantly sign in, sign in when a linked controller is turned on, or to skip.
The final screen in the setup process shows an offer for Game Pass Ultimate, the ability to "use a code" and a no thanks button. Since I didn't have any codes, I selected "no thanks". The equivalent of a "finish" button in an installer appeared, with the words "take me home", spoken in the US voice that suddenly reappeared and persisted with no way to change it, oddly enough.
If you've been reading my reviews for long enough, you can probably have a good idea of the first game I launched on this console: Killer Instinct. Having played a fair amount of the Windows Store PC version over the past few years (without the issues that a subset of players experience), I can safely say that the Series X runs this game as close to if not better than my own rig. Loading into a fight takes around 3 seconds, comparable if not superior to the 4 or so I experience on my personal setup with an SSD and, at least on the audio side, the game runs just as smoothly as I could've wished. Combos and counter breakers are just as easy to execute, regardless of whether you're using combo assist inputs or full directional ones and, though you have to adjust your timing to account for the smoother gameplay, it definitely feels rewarding when you manage to hit a relatively complex move on the AI.
Given it's been quite the popular title in terms of the various official videos of these new consoles, I thought I'd test out Doom Eternal via CoPilot. Having beaten the game recently as of the time of this review's first publication, I was curious to see how the missions from right back at the beginning of the game felt with an upgraded Doom Slayer and a new console. Needless to say, neither aspect disappointed, with the loading times being lightning fast, a common theme and great improvement over the Xbox One family of consoles. Additionally, the responsiveness of the new controller was clearly a step up, I didn't feel like I had to wait too long between animations to hit the next button and when I did, the reaction from the game was instantaneous, showing how well the hardware and software work in harmony with each other.
Ever wanted to download a game you don't even own whilst you still have the internet bandwidth to do so? Know you're going to play a game on the day it comes out but don't want to wait hours if not longer to actually get started? The new Xbox app on mobile allows you to actually do this and it also works with Series X, allowing me to pre-load Watch Dogs Legion and a small placeholder file for Assassin's Creed Valhalla without needing to be anywhere near my console.
I did this by going to the store page for the game in the app, which is as of the time of writing complicated by the fact that there is no actual store to browse through, instead making you search for games. Once you've found the game you're looking for, which is (again as of the time of writing) very much hit or miss, there should be an icon that says download to console, with text below it saying "game sold separately" or similar. Pressing the button to download the game and following any on-screen prompts makes the game start downloading to whatever console you choose and you can continue to go about your business as the next interesting title is remotely installed and ready to play on release.
When the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S were revealed to have no optical out port, I was pretty frustrated, having got a Logitech Z906 5.1 surround system a couple of years prior and not just enjoying but benefitting from the immersion and additional auditory detail such a system adds to the gaming experience, including the understandable one of hearing enemies actually behind you. I didn't want to give that up or spend at least a few hundred pounds, if not over £1000 on an audio video receiver that may or may not be accessible unless I absolutely had to. As a result, I attempted to go for a much cheaper option.
After looking around on Amazon and talking to a couple of people, I bought an HDMI audio extractor. I'd hoped to be able to use one of these devices to just convert the HDMI audio, which isn't supported by my setup, to optical audio and provide a full surround experience.
However, one key issue arose: not all the surround channels were being utilised to their full potential as they were with an optical audio only setup, meaning that I was unable to effectively call out enemies in Doom Eternal or Gears 5 for instance and leading to numerous deaths when I thought enemies were in front of me when they were, in fact, behind me. I will update this review when I find a working solution, including if that means purchasing an AVR as previously mentioned.
If you're a gamer without sight who doesn't rely on surround sound this probably won't be a dealbreaker for you, but as someone who enjoys the full room experience of games like Doom Eternal and Gears 5, it'll be interesting to see how this situation develops.
Now back to the unit itself and more testing.
A much-touted feature of this new generation of hardware is the Quick Resume feature, allowing you to have multiple games running at once and jump between them to exactly where you left off. I thought I'd test with a couple of the games featured in the demos, including Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Minecraft Dungeons amongst others. Though the UI didn't speak for resuming during my tests (something that hopefully can be rectified with a firmware update), the speeds were astounding. Being able to go from fighting enemies with a lightsaber to shooting skeletons and zombies with a bow and arrow and back again, all without having to fully reload the respective games was a useful feature.
Though I may not see myself using this too often at present, as games become more and more accessible and I need less sighted assistance to play them I can see it becoming a regularly used part of the next generation ecosystem.
Though most probably wouldn't need to utilise a Titan 2 controller adaptor/converter, given that CoPilot exists, for those that do, including myself via Parsec and for instance those using alternative controller setups, it's crucial to see if they work with new consoles. Given it had worked on the Xbox One X and PS4 consoles prior, I did not update the device at first and plugged it into the Series X. As I went to plug in my new Series X controller, I found an interesting problem.
I'm not referring to actually wiring everything in, but the fact that the new controller does not come with a cable out of the box. I looked at leads that other controllers from the previous generation (i.e. Xbox One controllers) worked with and discovered that they didn't fit. It turns out the only cable I had that fitted was for my Elite V2 Xbox One controller, specifically the cable that you use to charge the controller or plug it into a PC.
Consequently, I realised that this controller works via USB C, which is an issue for me as I don't have any other cables other than the previously referenced one for my Elite. Hopefully Microsoft starts packing a cable in the box in future, partially as it would make it easier to sync your controller as well, since then you can just plug it in and off you go, instead of having to find the sync buttons and hold them both down simultaneously.
On connecting everything together as described above, I discovered my controller was unresponsive. I disconnected the Titan 2 and found my controller worked again. I figured this was due to me not having updated the device, so went ahead and checked for firmware updates.
Sure enough, there were updates for both the GTuner software and the Titan 2 firmware and, once I plugged the device in with everything connected, both sets of inputs registered as I'd hoped.
In short, if you want to use a Titan 2 with the Xbox Series X, make sure your unit is running the latest firmware and that GTuner is updated as well and you should be good to go.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order may not be a very accessible game without sighted assistance as discussed in my previous review of the title near its launch, but it's certainly a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable combat experience when you do have someone to play alongside you. I wanted to see just how smoothly, given how quick the loading times were, the game ran in combat scenarios and during exploration.
It's not so much that I remember having responsiveness issues of any kind on the Xbox One X whilst playing through this game (other than those encountered whilst streaming from the console directly at the same time), but it definitely seems like the Series X's power can be most easily observed when things just happen dynamically, for lack of a better expression. For instance, when myself and my CoPilot entered a new area, a battle kicked off almost instantaneously and I was blocking blaster fire then throwing my lightsaber at the nearest trooper as soon as the inputs registered, before I really even knew what was happening. It felt even more surreal, not only knowing these abilities were at my fingertips, but that they were so easy to tap into with no performance hits that I could notice and that's the key, no performance hits, everything running smoothly. As much as that's not an accessibility feature directly, not having to put up with additional frustration of things like inputs not registering can significantly improve the overall experience and make games far less stressful.
Though maps are common in most videogames nowadays, when the game is not accessible, constantly having to go in and out of a map can be frustrating especially as the seconds loading in and out of it can definitely add up. Whilst playing Fallen Order and Doom Eternal, both of which require extensive use of your map to navigate, the smoothness of zipping into and out of the map UI is much smoother than I'd anticipated. Though this is a small aspect of gameplay, it's certainly something to consider when playing games that require large amounts of double checking of your location, intended destination and path to said area.
Having used PlayStation's Remote Play features before with The last Of Us Part II, I was aware of the potential for being able to continue a game even when you're in, say, another room in your house, without your console in front of you. Using the new Xbox App I was able to connect into my console on my iPhone SE (not the recently released one for anyone wondering) using an Xbox One Controller via Bluetooth and, after waiting a little while with the app saying "getting your console ready", narrator began to speak. Considering this is an iPhone SE (the model from around 4 years ago or so, to reiterate), I was shocked at the lack of latency even with the menus and launching games. As a side note, the Xbox button won't actually work in Remote Play, instead you have to double tap the "Guide" button on your phone to bring it up. A little inconvenient perhaps, but definitely workable.
I tested both with Killer instinct and Gears 5 and, other than slight elements of input lag in both, as well as a lack of haptic feedback/vibration (unfortunately expected with current cloud gaming applications), the experience was extremely fluid, allowing me to hit similar shots in Gears 5's Horde mode to those I'd hit whilst playing on the Series X hardware itself, even if it was made more difficult by the aforementioned shortcomings.
The Xbox Series X is, without a doubt, a powerful console and, with the UI to back it up, it seems like Microsoft has managed to achieve something great: launch a console with a fully (or near fully) accessible interface, the setup process. Without sighted assistance, if you have all the necessary cables, you could quite easily get setup on your own, installing games and trying them out.
Even if the selling points are mostly just "loading times" and "games run more smoothly" at present, there is one key issue: As a gamer without sight, there are not enough accessible games to justify the upgrade from, say, a One X to a Series X. I hope that, with the combination of features in The Last Of Us Part II causing such a positive buzz around accessibility, it will not be long before we start seeing Xbox Game Studios pumping out games that everyone can play on a very regular basis.
The new controller is also a well-designed piece of hardware, feeling even better than the Xbox One family of standard controllers. The Share button is certainly something I'll use, though its positioning does make it difficult to remove the battery cover. The fact that it is backwards compatible with Xbox One consoles is also a great idea, meaning that theoretically you could use one controller to play all your games, regardless of whether you have an Xbox One, One S, One X or a Series X.
Whilst the sheer size of the Series X may put some players off, if you can find a good place for this mammoth unit, you'll certainly enjoy what it delivers in terms of speed and power. Hopefully "accessible games" can be added to that list of reasons to upgrade or purchase one of these high-performance cuboids in the near future.
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