Hands-on with Xbox One X, Age of Empires Definitive Edition, and Halo Wars 2 DLC

Microsoft recently showcased its soon-to-be-released super console, and it didn’t disappoint.

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Hands-on with Xbox One X, Age of Empires Definitive Edition, and Halo Wars 2 DLC

It’s a weird time to be a PC gamer. As much as I still love the PC platform, there’s no denying the cost investment required to flip games up to that rarefied Ultra setting. And then there’s 4K to consider on top of that. I recently priced a desktop upgrade—well, I say “upgrade”, but it’d have to be a whole new machine because my core components are more than six years old—and let’s just say it wasn’t cheap. Basically, the cost-to-gains ratio was a wee too tipped in the favour of “cost” for my liking.

Because it’s not just the new innards I’d need; I’d also need a 4K screen to run it all. And while I’m at it, I might as well chuck in a new gaming monitor that handles both G-sync plus a high refresh rate. I am, after all, getting old and need such peripheral advantages to feel competitive (and, currently, 4K screens max out at 60Hz). Digression aside, it was much easier for me to justify the purchase of a 4K TV recently. My girlfriend and I do watch a lot of TV shows and movies, and we could split costs.

After all was said and done, my investment in a 4K TV, Xbox One S (for UHD playback; it’s the cheapest player, after all), a PlayStation 4 Pro, and compatible cables cost me around half of the high-end 4K-capable desktop I’d priced up. To be fair, that desktop was priced with the intention of not having to upgrade it for at least a few years. While I like the added eye candy of the PS4 Pro, there’s no denying that the specs of the Xbox One X—which Microsoft is touting as the most powerful console ever—have made me realise I might be able to scratch my 4K gaming itch on a non-PC platform (gasp!) at a fraction of the upgrade cost.

Microsoft recently held an event in Sydney to show off its upcoming console refresh, and the Xbox One X is poised to tick all the right kind of boxes. If Microsoft finally adds keyboard/mouse support for games, well, it’d be a serious contender for distracting me away from my PC. I’m not much of a fan of racing games, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the 4K 60fps gameplay of Forza Motorsport 7. The level of detail is astounding, whether checking out a car in the garage, choosing a new driver outfit, or chasing pole position on the track. Even if you’re not into racing games, it’s like the Crysis of Xbox One X games that people will undoubtedly use to show off the power of their 4K gaming investment.

The good news for patient people who never bought an Xbox One console and are interested in the Xbox One X but don’t own a 4K TV is they can still benefit from better visuals. One of the developers talked me through how the One X uses supersampling to drop the resolution of 4K assets to 2K for 1080p screens, but still maintain a higher level of detail. The before-and-after shots of 2K vs 4K screenshots were particularly impressive.

For those concerned about preserving download quotas—an unfortunate but real concern in Australia—the same dev mentioned that only the Xbox One X will download 4K assets for games, whereas the older Xbox One consoles will only download and use 1080p assets. That’s enough about platform specifics; let’s talk about games.

The most crowded game on hand was PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. To ensure the two stations could find a game, they were cheating, in that a PC version of the game had been configured to the Xbox One level of expected fidelity, and we had to play with a controller. It’ll be interesting to see how the Xbox PUBG meta evolves, given the inaccuracy of joystick aiming, but suffice it to say there wasn’t a whole lot of joy to be found playing against mouse-wielding warriors. I still managed to get a kill, so I count that as a small win. RIP random player who ate buckshot at the school during my aggro round.

Cuphead continues to prove that it’ll charm you while kicking your arse. I had another crack at it cooperatively, and didn’t make it too far. The particular boss we were fighting was made trickier by the screen that was pushing us forward, while we were simultaneously platforming and avoiding incoming projectiles. We were also supposed to be doing damage to a specific part of the boss, which made it all the harder. Fans of challenging games are going to love Cuphead. I just want to play it for the amazing art style and incredible jazz soundtrack.

There are a number of upgraded games on the way to the Xbox One X, too, for those looking to replay previously played titles in 4K, or to experience them for the first time with tastier eye candy. Quantum Break and ReCore—both of which I never got around to finishing, so will be perfect fodder for the Xbox One X’s launch—are two such entries that already looked great, but look even spiffier in 4K. They’re also available on Windows 10, and have both been patched since launch to be incredibly playable and/or include additional free content. Consider them creeping higher on my guilt pile of games to play.

It wasn’t all about the new console, either, as Microsoft had a couple of PC games to show off, too. I played about 15 minutes of Age of Empires Definitive Edition, and basically had to tear myself away because I was worried I could spend the entire session there. The nostalgia hit for Definitive Edition cannot be oversold: it’s fantastic. Microsoft has opted to maintain a faithful look (albeit updated) and the all-important feel of the original classic RTS.

The revamped visuals are as awesome as they are in my memories (but obviously a lot prettier in reality), and even better in 4K, plus the updated sound is pitch perfect. It lands on the Windows Store next month and I’m seriously worried about it distracting me from the slew of holiday releases that I probably should be playing instead of the remake of a 20-year-old RTS.

Speaking of RTS, I also took the Halo Wars 2 DLC for a spin. It’s called Awakening the Nightmare, and I got to play the new Terminus Firefight mode. Essentially, you’re tasked with defending a point on the map by mining resources and building defences, and hoping that your dwindling army is enough to stand up to the increasingly trickier (and never-ending) waves of enemies. I was pretty confident to start with, but by the time the Flood arrived with some towering uber boss, it was clear my conservative approach to base defence wasn’t going to cut it.

As a fan of wave-based modes, I’ll definitely see if I can convince one of my friends to play this in co-op with me to help make it a bit easier. I may be in the minority on this one, but I enjoyed the Halo Wars 2 campaign (a lot more than Halo 5’s campaign, in truth) and am eager to take the story portion of Awakening the Nightmare for a spin, too.

For those who have their eyes on nabbing an Xbox One X console, Microsoft’s new console is slated to land on the 7th of November.

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