There are still a number of high-profile Xbox One X titles still in the pipeline (Forza Horizon 3, anyone?) but two significant upgrades arrived in tandem yesterday. Bethesda's Skyrim upgrade looks to deliver a native 4K experience in line with the PS4 Pro version - and we'll be reporting on that in the next day or so - but it's Fallout 4 that seems to be bringing much more to the table. On paper at least, the 4K resolution offers a big upgrade over the existing PS4 Pro release, while retaining and even improving on the draw distance and god ray upgrades seen on Sony's latest console.
Comparisons with the standard Xbox One title are even more impressive though. The original release featured a dynamic horizontal scaler in order to manage GPU load, but still had profound stuttering issues and drops to anything as low as 20fps, even after successive patches. We also noted problems with storage - the Xbox One code seemed to have issues caching player weapons, leading to split-second pauses as the player cycled through his arsenal. It's been a while since we last looked at the game, but straight out of the gate, there's a night and day difference here.
First of all, the resolution boost is very impressive. Bethesda has indeed delivered a 2160p presentation, though in common with the base version, there is a horizontal scaling component, looking to keep frame-rates more consistent (with varying levels of success). Using our Corvega factory stress test, we noted that resolution hits a minimum of 3264x2160 - essentially 85 per cent of the full 4K. We can't test every area of the game, but suffice to say that the game's ultra HD credentials hold up for the most part, with anything between a 1.91x to 2.25x increase to pixel-count over PS4 Pro, depending on the status of the scaler.
Fallout 4 retains the impressive temporal anti-aliasing component of the other versions of the game. It holds off the jaggies rather well, and in its PS4 Pro incarnation, it did a pretty decent job of delivering a pleasing presentation on 4K screens. For its part, Xbox One X may offer a much higher resolution, but the end result is more an upgrade in overall clarity as opposed to a game-changing improvement over the Sony console's presentation.
Bethesda does a good job of delivering on the promise of the Xbox One X hardware overall. Microsoft's internal objectives for the new consoles are to deliver a 4x boost to resolution with overhead to spare, and the extent of that overhead is apparent when we consider that more of PC's higher quality settings are imported into this new console build. God ray quality - always a touch dodgy on base hardware - gets a pleasingly more refined upgrade, with much less in the way of artefacting where the effect intersects with geometry. Indeed, it seems that the improvement here is actually a touch higher than the PS4 Pro equivalent.
Level of detail settings also get a nice boost as well, and it's here that there are some fascinating comparisons with the unpatched Xbox One code and the PlayStation 4 Pro version. Scaling the Corvega factory and looking out across the vista, there's actually much more mid-distance detail resolved on the old Xbox One code compared to the Pro version. In turn, the Sony system resolves more far-off detail. With the new upgrade installed, Xbox One X effectively delivers a combination of both - the closer detail from the base code remains, backed up by the extensive draw distance offered by the Pro.
On the face of it, Xbox One X is delivering the best rendition of Fallout 4 on consoles to date - it has the detail and the pixel-count to push beyond its rivals, but it's not a completely clean bill of health. One thing we noticed is that running the unpatched Xbox One code on the X with its own out-of-the-box enhancements delivers a higher overall frame-rate than the new upgrade, understandable bearing in mind the much lower 1080p resolution. That said, even with the Scorpio Engine put to work running the game at full HD pixel counts on the older code, there are still deviations from the target 30fps, suggesting that the bottlenecks aren't entirely GPU-based in nature.
On top of that, Fallout 4 on Xbox One X also falls short of the performance level set by PlayStation 4 Pro. In our stress test scenes, a 2fps-3fps gap opens up between the two systems where both systems drop from their 30fps targets. Xbox One X can inch ahead of its rival occasionally, but by and large, we are paying a higher price for that much bigger boost to pixel count. On top of that, despite its beefier CPU, the X has similar issues to the Pro when it comes to streaming in new environment data as we traverse the wasteland with noticeable dips in performance.
There's more. Back in the day, we reported on how Fallout 4 exhibited storage bottlenecks in some situations, resolved by installing the game onto an SSD connected up to the console via USB. Storage issues are improved here, but there is still some occasional stutter that doesn't seem as pronounced on PS4 Pro. Additionally, a disconnect between the view weapon firing and the sound effect kicking in - which we put down to the storage bug - still seems to be in effect even on this revised Xbox One X code.
Overall though, the general impression left by this upgrade is positive - the increased detail and higher resolution deliver, though the fact that the unpatched version and the Pro release can outperform the X-enhanced patch suggests that there are still some GPU limitations in effect, which could perhaps be improved with more flexibility in the dynamic scaler. And it is only the inconsistencies in frame-rate that rankle here - we're getting close to the best Fallout 4 console experience yet in all areas. However, for this upgrade to attain that accolade, work still needs to be done to bring the performance level up to and beyond the standard set by PlayStation 4 Pro.
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of $5. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry