Much ado has been made about the guts of the Xbox Series X and S, two new next-gen consoles Microsoft will release next week. It’s all “velocity architecture” this and “teraflops” that—technical stuff Microsoft says will cut loading times dramatically. But lingo and lofty promises are secondary to the one thing that matters most: how fast these consoles perform in the real world.
We’ve had our hands on the Xbox Series X and S for a few weeks now; I’ve been using the X, while Kotaku EiC Stephen Totilo has been using the S. Yes, they’re faster than Microsoft’s current-gen offerings. To illustrate just how fast, we made use of the iPhone’s fancy internal stopwatch to see how fast some popular games load on both current-gen and next-gen machines.
In all cases, these games were loaded from the internal storage, rather than off of an external drive. We also wanted to show how long it takes to get from the game’s dashboard app icon to actual gameplay, rather than just to the main menu (or from the main menu to gameplay). Sometimes, that meant tapping “A” to select the right profiles and power through “continue” screens. Being professionals, we mashed “A” as quickly as possible, but sure, some milliseconds might have been left on the table. Anyhoo, here’s what we found.
On last-gen machines, Gears 5 was saddled with some seriously excruciating load times. It’s one of several games receiving an “optimized” version for the Series X and S, which will increase performance across the board. There’s also a notable difference in file size between the two new systems—77.2GB on the Series X, 55.1GB on the Series S—indicating that it might take less time to load the smaller file. Well, here’s how long it took to get the main menu, where you’re able to select which mode you want to play.
- On an Xbox One S: 1:27.64
- On the Xbox Series S: 1:17.72
- On the Xbox Series X: 1:16.63
Not too much daylight between those three times, right? But when you factor in what it takes to load up gameplay, it’s a different story. Here’s how long it took, in total, to go from the Xbox’s home screen to the third chapter of the main campaign’s third act on various machines. (Just to note: We opted to continue a suspended campaign, rather than create a new lobby to form a new one.)
- On an Xbox One S: 2:34.72
- On the Xbox Series S: 1:38.35
- On the Xbox Series X: 1:39.93
Sea of Thieves is another game with a gulf between file sizes, clocking in at 46.6GB on the Series X and just 17GB on the Series S. Loading up the menu, where you’re able to decide which mode you want to play, was one thing:
- On an Xbox One S: 2:03.71
- On the Xbox Series S: 45.00
- On the Xbox Series X: 35.13
But Sea of Thieves is a game of variables. It demands connectivity, which can affect how a session loads. There’s also the factor of how else that internet is gobbled up: sharing it with other people (thanks to the demands of a work-from-home arrangement), downloading other massive games, and the general neighborhood-to-neighborhood volatility of New York City internet. With that in mind, in the interest of parity, here’s how long it took to boot up the Adventure mode, on a galleon, with a closed crew, from the Xbox home screen.
- On an Xbox One S: 5:15.49
- On the Xbox Series S: 1:18.54
- On the Xbox Series X: 59.95
When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 came out in September, we quickly named it one of the best games for the Xbox One. It’s even better on the new machines, chiefly because of how quickly it loads. Here’s how long it took to get from tapping “A” on the game’s icon to shredding in the iconic Warehouse stage:
- On an Xbox One S: 1:21.51
- On the Xbox Series S: 28.36
- On the Xbox Series X: 35.30
Forza Horizon 4 races on next-gen consoles. Here’s how long it took to go from opening the game to hearing that familiar sultry greeting—“Welcome back, Chunk”—and putting the pedal to the metal. For those familiar with the game, we loaded in near the Horizon Festival central grounds. (Also, Stephen might have a different chosen Forza name. I didn’t ask.)
- On an Xbox One S: 2:32.76
- On the Xbox Series S: 49.79
- On the Xbox Series X: 56.53
We started fresh with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Here’s how long it took to go from a standstill at the dashboard to sitting in Kaer Morhen, the first location you can access in a brand-new, post-bathtub game. These saves made use of a save set right at the start, so there weren’t any cutscenes to go through. (As if you could go through any Witcher 3 cinematics in under a minute.)
- On an Xbox One S: 1:41.63
- On the Xbox Series S: 47.03
- On the Xbox Series X: 50.08
Even Xbox 360 games get an apparent boost from next-gen tech. The original Mass Effect, which is available through backward compatibility via Game Pass on both the Xbox One and the Xbox Series consoles, loads notably faster on the new machines compared to the Xbox One. You even get to sit through that trademark green-and-white Xbox 360 woooosh. Talk about a throwback!
- On an Xbox One S: 59.39
- On the Xbox Series S: 44.09
- On the Xbox Series X: 44.85
Last month, Xbox chief Phil Spencer told Kotaku that Xbox Series S games might end up loading faster than their Xbox Series X counterparts. In most cases of our testing, save for Sea of Thieves (which is saddled with a galleon of variables), we’ve found that to be the case—but only marginally, by seconds, not minutes. In terms of load speeds, the Series X and S have another, more crucial thing in common: Across the board, they’re a hell of a lot faster than the Xbox One. Isn’t that what a new console generation is all about?
Speaking of: We’ll be comparing some load times on the PlayStation 5 tomorrow, and plan to do some cross-platform tests once we have access to games that can run on all machines.