The transition to the next generation of consoles should be quite different from what we experienced in the past, with both Sony and Microsoft committed to support backward compatibility on their next-gen consoles. Because the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will both use the same x86 architecture as the PS4 and Xbox One consoles, supporting backwards compatibility should now be much easier than before.
In a blog post on Xbox Wire this morning, Xbox head Phil Spencer shared more details about Microsoft’s plans for Xbox Series X backwards compatibility, as well as cross-gen experiences for games that will ship on both Xbox One and Xbox Series X. First of all, Spencer reiterated today that Xbox Series X will support four generations of games.
Our commitment to compatibility means existing Xbox One games, including backward-compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox games, look and play better than ever before. Your favorite games, including titles in Xbox Game Pass, benefit from steadier framerates, faster load times and improved resolution and visual fidelity – all with no developer work required. Your Xbox One gaming accessories also come forward with you.
We already know that Xbox Series X should be able to run all existing Xbox One games, with better framerates and other minor improvements. This shouldn’t be much different from existing Xbox One backwards compatibility, with Xbox 360 and OG Xbox games running better on Xbox One consoles, with some titles even supporting 4K graphics on Xbox One X. As you can see in the video below, the Xbox 360 version of Halo 3 enhanced for the Xbox One X looks quite beautiful in 4K, but it's still not as good as the Xbox One remaster included in Halo: MCC, which runs at at 60 FPS with better detailed 4K graphics.
Following the release of the Xbox One X in 2017, we’ve also seen game devs release Xbox One X enhanced versions of their existing and new Xbox One games. With a new console generation incoming, it’s still not exactly clear if we’re gonna see game devs enhance their existing games for the new consoles free of charges, or if we're going to see another wave of paid remasters. Things should also get more complex for new cross-gen games that will ship on both 8th gen and 9th gen consoles, but that’s exactly where Microsoft’s new Smart Delivery technology for Xbox Series X comes into play. Spencer explained:
This technology empowers you to buy a game once and know that – whether you are playing it on Xbox One or Xbox Series X – you are getting the right version of that game on whatever Xbox you’re playing on. We’re making the commitment to use Smart Delivery on all our exclusive Xbox Game Studios titles, including Halo Infinite, ensuring you only have to purchase a title once in order to play the best available version for whichever Xbox console they choose to play on. This technology is available for all developers and publishers, and they can choose to use it for titles that will be release on Xbox One first and come to the Xbox Series X later.
With Smart Delivery, Microsoft will allow game developers to release Xbox Series X upgrades for their games that will be free of charge for consumers. So, if you buy Halo Infinite on your Xbox One later this year and decide to upgrade to Xbox Series X later on, you’ll be able to play the Xbox Series X version for free.
It’s important to note that Xbox Series X upgrades for Xbox One games should be much different than playing the the Xbox One version on Xbox Series X. With Xbox Series X upgrades, game developers will be able to leverage new features like Variable Rate Shading, higher framerates, hardware-accelerated ray tracing, Quick Resume, and more. In other words, we should go from minor improvements through backwards compatibility to a true next-gen experience.
Today, Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red announced that the much-anticipated game that will ship on current-gen consoles later this year will get a free Xbox Series X upgrade at some point. This is very good news for console gamers, especially since 8th gen consoles are really starting to show their age in 2020.
Gamers should never be forced to purchase the same game twice or pay for upgrades. Owners of #Cyberpunk2077 for Xbox One will receive the Xbox Series X upgrade for free when available. https://t.co/nfkfFLj85w
— Cyberpunk 2077 (@CyberpunkGame) February 24, 2020
4K was probably the wrong target for this console generation, as there are still way too many games that are still capped at 30 FPS: late gen high-profile games such as Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Red Dead Redemption 2, Metro: Exodus, Control, or even Microsoft games like Sea of Thieves or Crackdown (not the most photorealistic games out there) are all locked to 30FPS, and it would be really surprising if Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t come with a 30FPS cap either. Some games do offer a much more comfortable 1080p/60FPS option on Xbox One, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Truth be told, it's just much better to play these games on PCs with unlocked frame rates.
Fortunately, the just-announced Xbox Series X upgrade should unlock faster framerates for games running on Xbox Series X, also allowing them to leverage all the aforementioned features such as VRS, ray tracing, and more. Again, this should be much different than playing Xbox One games on Xbox Series X.
Microsoft made it pretty clear today that it will be up to developers to support Smart Delivery for the digital versions of their games. If they do, this could be the end of console generations as we know it, with consumers no longer needing to repurchase their old games for newer consoles. However, we really doubt that lucrative remasters are going away.
Microsoft is willing to promote a forward-thinking approach with its upcoming first-party games, starting with Halo: Infinite later this year. The launch title for Xbox Series X will also ship on Xbox One, but Xbox fans will only need to buy it once or play it for free on Day 1 with Xbox Game Pass. Overall, Microsoft's message today is that gamers should be confident to purchase digital games on the Xbox Store as these games will all run better on Xbox Series X, either via "simple" backward compatibility or via a much more significant Xbox Series X upgrade that will be free of charge. Compared to Microsoft's confused messaging ahead of the Xbox One launch seven years ago, this is definitely a welcome change.