Xbox Series X Game Review Roundup: Gears 5, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, NBA 2K21 and more

A quick look at some of the Series X's biggest launch titles

NBA 2K21

Given the compressed nature of the Xbox Series X’s review program, we unfortunately weren’t able to put together in-depth looks at every game releasing for Microsoft’s new video game console.

Like our round-up of PlayStation 5 launch titles, we’ve decided to give a selection of the Xbox Series X’s launch lineup the same mini-review treatment.

Along with taking a look at Xbox Series X’s backwards compatibility features, this story also delves into titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, The Falconeer, Halo: The Masterchief Collection and more.

It’s important to note that not all of these games are exclusive to Microsoft’s new consoles and that performance is generally comparable across the PlayStation 5 when it comes to most of the third-party titles in this list.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, Stadia
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Price: $79.99

At times, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a bloated, shockingly glitchy, far too expansive mess. On the other hand, it can also be stunning, and genuinely pushes the long-running franchise in exciting directions.

For instance, the game’s Medieval setting, which includes intricate gothic castles, rolling hills and a level of detail not present in its predecessor, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, is one of the most compelling worlds Ubisoft Montreal has ever created.

Of course, as has become expected from Ubisoft’s open-world games, Valhalla is also a bit of a mess. Enemies aren’t very smart and will sometimes stop pursuing you for no apparent reason, environmental objects occasionally float (one time we saw a whale float through the ocean) and overall, it’s just not a very polished video game. Further, despite a streamlining of the series’ quest system, you’ll still find yourself grinding out the occasional side quest to push the story forward or to level up protagonist Evior.

On the more positive side of things, health no longer replenishes automatically, adding a level of stakes to battles not present in recent Assassin’s Creed titles. Also, the weapon and armour system is far more streamlined than in other recent titles in the series.

With all that said, Valhalla remains one of the best-looking video games available for the Series X and is a good indication of what to expect from the Xbox Series X in terms of graphics when it comes to future Ubisoft titles.

For more on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, check out Patrick O’Rourke’s in-depth look at the game.

The Falconeer

The Falconeer

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, PC
Developer: Tomas Sala
Publisher: Wired Productions
ESRB rating: T for Teen
Price: $38.99

Acting as an unintentional spiritual successor to Xbox airplane combat game classic Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, The Falconeer was developed by just one person: Tomas Sala.

With that in mind, the game’s impressive aerial combat is compelling, though, unfortunately, gets repetitive after a few chapters. Between moments of intense combat, a relatively simple story unfolds that involves several different factions and uncovering secrets that have been lost to the sea.

It’s also worth noting that while The Falconeer isn’t very long, it’s one of the few titles that support 4K 120Hz on the Xbox Series X. All things considered, it’s cool to see an indie title like this launching on the Xbox Series X alongside big-budget titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. As long as you set your expectations appropriately, there’s a lot to like about The Falconeer.

Gears 5 leads the enhanced pack

Gears 5

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Xbox
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Price: $39.99 (on sale for $9.99) Game Pass

Despite Gears 5 already being one of the best-looking Xbox One titles, Vancouver-based The Coalition has managed to improve the game’s visuals in several ways on the Xbox Series X. While the game still utilizes dynamic resolution scaling, it hits a far more consistent 2160p. On the multiplayer side of things, Gears 5 now features a shockingly smooth 120Hz frame rate and, as a result, a slightly lower resolution than the game’s campaign mode.

Gears 5‘s detail level has also been bumped up significantly across the board, with the Series X version of the game adopting higher quality PC-like volumetric lighting, improved shadows and more. Of course, the game also loads much quicker thanks to the Series X’s NVME SSD.

In what feels like an effort to fill the void left by Halo Infinite‘s delay, Microsoft offers several “enhanced” backward compatible Xbox One titles. For example, Ori and the Will of the Wisps runs at a smooth 120Hz, and Forza Horizon 4 — a game that already looked incredible on the Xbox One — now runs at native 4K and 60fps on the Series X. Sea of Thieves, Rare’s boat-filled pirate adventure, runs at a consistent 4K/60fps on Microsoft’s new console as well.

It’s also worth pointing out that all of the titles mentioned above are part of Microsoft’s excellent $16.99 per month Game Pass Ultimate subscription service, giving you access to a wide range of games for a relatively low monthly fee.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Halo The Masterchief Collection

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Xbox
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Price: $49.99 or available through Game Pass

Outside of Gears 5Halo: The Master Chief Collection is perhaps the biggest older game to get Series X/S optimizations. Impressively, 343 Industries has introduced a slew of enhancements across the collection’s several games — both on the campaign and multiplayer side. This means that Series X and S players can enjoy 120fps single-player and multiplayer modes on top of improved splitscreen play and adjustable FOV. Series X owners, specifically, can benefit from 4K resolution.

We haven’t played the Master Chief Collection since the vanilla Xbox One days, so being able to play the classic Halo games at 4K/120fps on Series X was a real treat. While we didn’t personally notice much of a difference between 60fps and 120fps, it’s still a welcome change that does impact gameplay to a degree. What’s more impressive is the crisper visuals, making Halo‘s iconic maps look absolutely stunning as we shot, punched and Spartan Laser’d my way through them. Meanwhile, the consoles’ faster load times mean you can jump into levels more quickly. Amusingly, 343 actually had to rein in the load times so they didn’t affect matchmaking.

Overall, the optimizations certainly don’t fill the void left by Halo Infinite‘s delay, but they’re nonetheless nice to have in the meantime.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, Stadia, Windows
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Price: $79.99

Positioned as the definitive version of Mortal Kombat 11, the game’s new Ultimate edition includes Kombat Pack 1, the aftermath Expansion and the Kombat Pack 2, giving players access to 37 playable characters, two full story campaigns and a wide array of modes. For reasons that remain unclear, Rambo is also in the game now and voiced by Sylvester Stallone himself (yes, you read that correctly).

If you’ve played a Mortal Kombat title before, you’ll know what to expect here. The game is rife with sometimes disgusting over-the-top blood-filled violence, features the same wacky franchise mainstay characters and a plotline that really doesn’t make sense. With all that said, there’s still something charming about Mortal Kombat 11‘s simplified special system and generally stripped-back combat. Nearly anyone can still pick up the game and have a great time button mashing away. There’s also a wealth of tutorials available if you want to understand the game’s mechanics on a deeper level.

Apart from improved load times, Mortal Kombat Ultimate also runs at a 4K dynamic resolution on the Series X.

NBA 2K21

NBA 2K21

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, PC, Google Stadia, Windows
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
ESRB rating: E for Everyone
Price: $79.99

NBA 2K21 is an extremely graphically impressive video game. This is because it’s one of the few third-party titles built from the ground up to take advantage of the ample power the Xbox Series X offers.

Everything from players’ faces and animation, to even the sweat dripping down their faces looks stunning in dynamic 4K 60fps with HDR. If you’ve seen videos of NBA 2K21 in action on YouTube, they truly don’t do the game justice given the limitations of video quality on the platform. That said, there are moments where the visuals fall apart, like, for example, when a player stares off into the distance for no reason — say hello to the uncanny valley.

On the negative side of things, NBA 2K21 is full of obtrusive microtransactions and pay-to-win mechanics across nearly all of its modes. It’s also really not that much of an upgrade over last year’s game in terms of features and gameplay, with most of the upgrades being purely visual. The only notable change to gameplay is a surprisingly compelling new shooting mechanic that requires the player to aim their shots and have precise timing.

Still, as far as sports titles that actually take advantage of what the Xbox Series X has to offer, NBA 2K21 is in a league of its own.

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