The Xbox Series X is here — if you can find one. However, if you’ve struck out in your attempts to find Microsoft’s next-gen console, I have some good news: You don’t really need one yet. Since the Xbox Series X plays the same games as the Xbox One (or a good gaming PC), you can safely wait until next year, and finish up your backlog in the meantime.
Still, if now isn’t the right time to buy an Xbox Series X, when will it be — if that time comes at all? While this question is relatively easy to answer for the PS5 (“when more exclusive games come out”), it’s harder to do so for the Xbox Series X. That’s because the Series X is simply one element in Microsoft’s larger gaming ecosystem, not necessarily its focal point.
- See our full Xbox Series X review
- Where to buy Xbox Series X — restock updates
- Plus: How I snagged Xbox Series X restock at Walmart — and beat the bots
The truth is, when you buy an Xbox Series X is almost totally arbitrary, since you’ll have access to most of the same games on gaming systems you currently own — and soon, you won’t need a gaming system at all.
Xbox Series X games and the Xbox ecosystem
The Xbox Series X is one place to play all the latest and greatest Microsoft games. But, at the moment, so are the Xbox One and the PC. Instead of exclusive titles, the Series X launched with a list of 30 “optimized” games, from Gears 5 to Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Some of these games are from first-party Microsoft studios; others are from third-party developers. But the common thread is that every single one of them is playable on an Xbox One, and most are also playable on a PC, or even a PS4 or PS5.
There’s no denying that the optimized games look (and sometimes play) better on an Xbox Series X. But prettier graphics alone aren’t really reason enough to run out and upgrade your system, particularly if you already have a 4K-capable Xbox One X.
Furthermore, if you already have a state-of-the-art gaming PC, there’s not much reason to get an Xbox Series X at all. Microsoft has committed to releasing all of its exclusive games on both Xbox and PC in the future. And while the Series X is a powerful system, you can already build something even stronger, particularly if you get your hands on a new graphics card from Nvidia’s RTX 3000 series or AMD’s Radeon RX 6000 lineup.
However, the truth of the matter is that you don’t have to buy individual Xbox games at all. Thanks to the ever-expanding Xbox Game Pass, you can download more than a hundred games — including every first-party Microsoft game, on the day it comes out — for a flat monthly fee.
What’s more: If you spring for the $15-per-month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you’re not limited to downloading games for powerful consoles or PCs; you can also stream games directly to Android phones and tablets. This functionality is still in beta, but Microsoft will expand it next year to both iOS and Web browsers.
The “Web browsers” bit is especially important, as it means you’ll be able to play Xbox games on a full-size PC screen, even if all your computer has only enough processing power to run Chrome. We can’t say how well this feature might work at first, or how long it will be in beta, but it does essentially mean that an Xbox Series X could eventually become a totally optional part of the Xbox experience.
Xbox Series X price and exclusive games
Granted, Xbox Game Pass is only one part of what the Xbox Series X offers, and isn’t particularly useful for gamers who prefer to buy titles à la carte. But it does reinforce the idea that Microsoft wants you to buy the Series X whenever you feel like it — if you buy one at all. Once Game Pass streaming hits Web browsers and iOS, just about everyone with a connected gadget could have access to a big chunk of the Xbox library.
As such, the Xbox Series X will appeal primarily to core gamers with 4K HDR TVs, who prefer living-room gaming to a computer nook. And, based on how quickly the Xbox Series X sells out with every new restock, they’re perfectly happy to pay $500 for the privilege. Since I don’t think the Xbox Series X is going to have any kind of meaningful price drop in the next year, it’s not worth delaying your Xbox Series X purchase to save money.
It’s also worth considering when the Xbox Series X will get some of its exciting exclusive games, such as Halo Infinite, Fable 4, Hellblade II: Senua’s Saga and Avowed. Many of these games don’t have hard release dates, though, which means that your guess is as good as mine as to when the Xbox Series X goes from “nice-to-have” to “indispensable.”
Beyond that, I’m not aware of any big feature updates that Microsoft has planned for the Xbox Series X. So the overall experience isn’t likely to be much better at the end of 2021 than it is at the close of 2020. For better or worse, the Xbox Series X looks to be a much more consistent console than the PS5, and that means you can pretty much buy it whenever.
Outlook: When to buy Xbox Series X
At the risk of giving a non-answer, if you want an Xbox Series X, you should buy it whenever you can find one. And if you don’t want one that badly, you may not need one for a long time, if ever. The games you’ll want to play will be available on other systems, and via methods other than just buying them one at a time. The Series X is a useful, but not necessary, component to the wider Xbox ecosystem.
As far as when Xbox Series X consoles will be easy to find, that’s anyone’s guess. Historically, if a console launches in November, its stocks stabilize somewhere between late January and late March. However, 2021 is now in full swing, and the system is still nowhere to be found. According to AMD, supplies might not stabilize until this summer, or even later. You might just have to hold out until then.
Even so, if you can manage to find an Xbox Series X, it's worth picking up. You may not get to play any true exclusive titles, but at least you’ll play the games you already own with absolutely gorgeous graphics and performance.
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.