Xbox Series X gameplay reveal: 5 biggest takeaways

Chorus for Xbox Series X
(Image credit: Deep Silver)

The Xbox Series X gameplay reveal on May 7 was a highly anticipated event, as it marked the first time we’d get to see games on Microsoft’s new console in action. In practice, it was kind of a quiet, low-key event. Yes, we saw gameplay, but only as part of pre-cut trailers, and usually only for a few seconds at a time. Some of the games on display, like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, were hotly anticipated titles from major developers. Others games, like The Ascent, were decidedly more niche.

Basically, though, Microsoft made good on its promise, and we can expect to see similar reveals over the next few months. (If you were waiting for first-party titles, Microsoft will show those off during its Xbox 20/20 livestream in July.) 

With a solid 45 minutes of content to analyze, there are some very exciting things about the Xbox Series X’s first big roster of game reveals, as well as some decidedly underwhelming choices. Here are five big takeaways from the latest, but not last, of Microsoft’s monthly Xbox reveals.

1. Microsoft wants something for everyone

xbox series x gameplay reveal

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Xbox Series X gameplay reveal reminded me of nothing so much as a Microsoft E3 press conference. Back in the day, Microsoft used to focus almost exclusively on shooters, sports and racing. That’s fine for a certain segment of the Xbox crowd, but it put the rest of the fanbase to sleep. Since then, Microsoft’s E3 press conferences have showcased a little bit of everything, from ambitious indie fare, to over-the-top anime games, to deliberately paced horror titles.

Microsoft took the same approach for the May 7 reveal. It kicked things off with a shooter, sure, but the shooter was also kind of a stealth/melee/vehicle combat game, and it came from a single-person development team in China. Whatever else you can say about Bright Memory Infinite, it’s not yet another Call of Duty or Battlefield.

Over the course of the next half hour, Microsoft showed off open-world games, action games, horror games, racing games, space shooters, cooperative shooters, RPGs and even a gorgeous indie title. I doubt that every viewer came away thinking, “I absolutely have to play one of those,” but I do think every viewer came away thinking, “There’s something in there that I’d like.”

2. There wasn’t much actual gameplay

xbox series x gameplay reveal

(Image credit: Microsoft)

When Microsoft first teased an Xbox Series X live gameplay reveal, with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as the star attraction, I had a very specific picture in mind. I assumed that Microsoft would play the reveal like an E3 demo, where a live person took control of the protagonist and walked us through a mission for 10 minutes or so, exploring the world and discussing the myriad gameplay options. This would have been a great opportunity to see how quickly the Xbox Series X loads assets, how smooth the frame rate is and whether the new console facilitates gameplay in a way that the Xbox One couldn’t.

Instead, “gameplay” meant “a few seconds of in-game footage during a trailer, rather than prerendered cutscenes.” Once the trailer ended, I kept waiting for the actual demo to begin — and then Microsoft moved right on to the next project.

The pattern was pretty similar for every other title that Microsoft showed. While I can’t rewatch the entire presentation right now, I don’t recall more than 15 consecutive seconds of gameplay in any one of the trailers. Yes, we technically saw gameplay, but not in a way that actually helped us contextualize what actually playing a game on the Xbox Series X might feel like.

3. Smart Delivery will be key early on

xbox series x gameplay reveal

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Smart Delivery, as its name suggests, is a smart idea. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Smart Delivery is a feature that lets you buy an Xbox One game, and get its Xbox Series X equivalent for free. (Or vice versa, but that’s probably not as common a scenario.) In other words, suppose you can’t or don’t want to get an Xbox Series X on launch day. You can keep buying Xbox One titles until you’re ready to make the jump, and you’ll have a library of next-gen games waiting for you when you do.

Of the 13 games showcased today, 10 of them will have Smart Delivery enabled. If this trend holds for other early Xbox Series X titles, it’s Microsoft’s way of making a commitment to potential buyers: “We won’t pressure you into upgrading your console right away. Your games will be there whenever you arrive.”

Consoles are always hard to find at launch, and given how the COVID-19 pandemic might affect the supply chain, that could be doubly true this year. Smart Delivery lets fans enjoy the latest games while they wait. Furthermore, it’s not yet clear whether Sony will offer a similar feature on PS4 games for PS5. If it doesn’t, fans will have a big incentive to pick up games on Microsoft platforms instead.

4. Xbox Series X graphics look very similar to Xbox One

xbox series x gameplay reveal

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Every console generation, a chorus of naysayers reminds us that video game graphics are hitting a point of diminishing returns — and each successive time, they’re a little more right. The graphical jump from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One wasn’t nearly as noticeable as the jump from the original Xbox to the 360. Compare the PS2 to the PS1, and it’s even more striking.

Console game graphics aren’t exactly photorealistic yet, but it seems pretty clear that the primary difference between Xbox One and Xbox Series X games will lie in how they run, not how they look. Faster loading times and smoother frame rates are vital to a good gaming experience, but they’re a little harder to quantify than an extremely pretty screenshot.

Granted, of course early Xbox Series X games aren’t going to look as impressive as what will come out later in the console’s life cycle. But we may be hitting the “this is as good as it gets, until 8K goes mainstream” point, and gamers will make to make peace with that.

5. We should always hear from developers

xbox series x gameplay reveal

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Everyone I spoke to about the Xbox Series X gameplay reveal agreed on one point: They loved hearing from the developers. Seeing a game in action is fun, but getting to hear about the thought process behind a game is fascinating. The developers can speak to the triumphs and challenges of creating a game for a brand-new platform, as well as what inspired them to make a particular title in the first place.

“Gamers like to hear from developers” isn’t exactly a shocking breakthrough, I know, but game reveals do often just let the trailers speak for themselves and move right onto the next thing. Talking with developers helps the audience digest what it just saw, and can help showcase a different side of the game.

Remember, the only point a trailer can get across is, “This game looks so cool/moving/scary/realistic/fun/etc.” It might grab your attention, but it doesn’t say anything that interesting. But hearing developers talk about English history, the effects of communism on Poland, or the most exciting racetracks in the world can make gamers feel just as passionate about a topic as the devs.

Marshall Honorof

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.