After the revelation that Elden Ring runs at its smoothest frame-rate on PlayStation 5 using the backwards compatible PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game, we were left with one question: could the same back-compat 'hack' work on Xbox Series X? Actually getting the last-gen rendition running on the latest and greatest Xbox machine is challenging to say the least - and the bad news is, performance barely improves over Xbox One X. However, in figuring why 60fps is completely off the table and how the experience is actually enhanced instead, we do learn some interesting new characteristics about the From Software engine.
So why pursue this line of testing in the first place? Well, it turns out that native code running on any PlayStation or Xbox console fails to consistently hit 60 frames per second. The base last-gen consoles are 30fps or under, with poorly implemented frame-pacing to boot. Xbox One X and PS4 Pro both run unlocked but can't get close to hitting the magic 60fps, while both quality and performance modes on the current-gen machines also fall short. Running non-native PS4 code on PS5 does the trick, however, but it's an option only available to those who own digital copies of the game - the physical disc is PS5 only.
Bizarrely, the situation is reversed on Xbox Series X. You must own a physical copy of the game - digital downloads via Smart Delivery block out access to last-gen code. To make this work you need to take your Series X offline, disable auto-updating in the dash and then install the disc. After the installation finishes, go online again and try to run the Elden Ring from the Xbox front-end. Crucially, you must now hit cancel on the 'Series X/S optimised' update, then go offline again. Now you are ready to play Xbox One X code on Xbox Series X. It's not a great solution clearly, for all manner of reasons, but most obviously because online elements of the game are closed off to you, along with any title updates for the game.
But the real kicker is that running the Xbox One X rendition of Elden Ring on Series X actually delivers frame-rates lower than the new console's quality mode, and far, far lower than its performance alternative - in stark contrast to the silky smooth 60fps from PS5 running last-gen code. Not only this, but grass density is clearly pared back compared to the native app, matching the Pro version in appearance. Typically, the One X version on Xbox Series X is 2-3fps slower than the native Series X version's quality mode and it's only marginally improved over the same code running on the far less capable Xbox One X hardware.
All of which raises a single question: why? It seems to relate to a feature also present on PC: titled 'auto-detect best rendering settings'. On the Xbox One X code, at least three elements are dynamically adjusted based on rendering load: resolution, ambient occlusion quality, and motion blur. We see this in effect on an actual One X console: looking to the sky, and then back down at a complex scene sees ambient occlusion disappearing from all trees after a second, once the frame-rate drops too low. In short, if frame-rate drops, settings drop accordingly to improve performance.
Comparing this state of affairs between Xbox One X and Xbox Series X paints an intriguing picture, as the more powerful machine produces a richer image: you can see the more powerful GPU channelled into dynamically improving visual settings rather than boosting its frame-rate. This is quite unlike PS5 running the Pro code, where GPU power equates to a higher frame-rate. As long as frame-rates are in the 30-40fps range, Xbox Series X is happy, using those GPU cycles to push a higher native 4K image, enabling motion blur and ambient occlusion. Series X also pushes more pixels in matched scenarios, maxing out at full 4K resolution, while Xbox One X always renders between 1512p at a minimum and 1800p at the maximum, veering more towards the lower bounds in general play.
In summary, using PS5's 'hack' to gain access to a fully locked 60fps Elden Ring doesn't work on Xbox consoles and ultimately, none of the Microsoft machines can sustain 60fps. Attempts to brute-force 60fps using last-gen code sees From Software's engine amp up quality settings and resolution instead, something that native Series X code does already. However, while that silky-smooth 60fps feeling may be off the table, if you have access to a 4K screen supporting variable refresh rate (VRR), we contend that Series X offers the best console version of the game: the many dips below 60fps are mostly smoothed out by the game-changing display technology.
Is there any hope at all for a more consistent experience without resorting to last-gen hacks or higher-end displays? Assuming Elden Ring isn't CPU-limited, a potential option would be a more aggressive dynamic resolution scaler - but ultimately, the ball's now in From Software's court and it'll be interesting to see if a more consistent console experience is a priority for the developer.