Xbox Series S & X: a Guide to Backward Compatibility

Xbox Feature

The Xbox Series X is here, and the name of the game of Microsoft’s new console is backward compatibility. Without any major launch titles, the backward compatibility catalog is most of what’s out there for new Series X & S owners, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with what works and what to expect.

This article will give you an overview of how backward compatibility works across both of Microsoft’s next-gen consoles, as well as take a look at how these games perform on the new consoles and what you can expect from them.

What’s backward compatibility on Xbox Series X & S?

The simplest way to explain the backward compatibility situation of the next-gen Xboxes is this: All Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One games playable on Xbox One will work and play better on Xbox Series S & X. This means Xbox One games, over 500 Xbox 360 games and over 30 original Xbox games, will work on Series S & X, the full list of which can be found on Microsoft’s website.

Xbox Compatibility 360

The Series S, however, can only play digital games without a disc drive, so you won’t be able to play old Xbox disc games. With the Xbox Series X, any Xbox One games you have lying around will likely work out of the box, but your Xbox 360 and Xbox games will usually require an online search first to check if they have been updated to support backward compatibility.

What Microsoft hasn’t made clear about backward compatibility

While Microsoft has been quick to advertise their wide catalog of backward compatible games, how exactly these games will run has not been made clear. This is because the situation is fairly complicated and differs from game to game.

Xbox Series X

Across all your backward-compatible games, Microsoft does support automatic HDR and variable refresh rates on supported displays, but beyond this there are complications. What’s important to know is that there are a few tiers of backward compatibility:

  • Simple backward compatibility: games that run on the Series X & S. There aren’t changes to resolution or framerate beyond the original code. Although, these games can look and run better if they didn’t meet their framerate caps or had dynamic resolutions originally.
  • Microsoft’s hand-tooled backward compatibility: older games Microsoft has individually tweaked to run at higher resolutions or framerates.
  • Developer-supported backward compatibility: Xbox One games that run at higher framerates and/or resolutions than they did on Xbox One or Xbox One X because of a developer update for the Series X or S.

Microsoft is happy to say that the Xbox Series X is the most powerful console ever made and that games in backward compatibility use the Series X’s and Series S’s full clock speeds, but this does not mean the Xbox Series X and S are always the best ways to play these games on a console.

A surprising note on backward compatibility

In fact, both versions of the PS5 can run multi-platform games that were released on PS4 and Xbox One better than the Series X. While this may sound strange considering the Xbox Series X has a more powerful CPU and GPU than the PS5, it’s true because of the different ways last-gen games ran on not just PS4 and Xbox One but on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro as well.

Backward-compatible versions of Xbox One games can play differently across the Series S and X. The Series S won’t play the One X versions of Xbox One games, which often came with higher fidelity, refresh rates, and resolutions than their Xbox One counterparts. Furthermore, not all Xbox One games were updated with Xbox One X support. This means there’s a number of Xbox One games that run at 900p and 30fps on both Series S and X, whereas on PS4 and PS5 these games often run at 1080p and 30fps.

Xbox Compatibility Original

Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that while backward compatible games may use their Xbox’s full clock speed to run and generally load faster because of the built-in SSD, these games won’t be taking full advantage of the hardware, as they weren’t coded for it. This does mean there can be stutters, hiccups, and FPS drops on occasion, but this isn’t a reflection of the Series X’s or S’s power.

Like PC gamers have for decades, now on your next-gen Xbox, it’s likely advisable to do a search online for the game you’re looking to play to see how the backward compatibility was implemented. Sometimes you may be surprised by an unexpected high-resolution update or the removal of a 30fps cap, but other times you may be stuck at a less-than-impressive framerate or resolution.

Is backward compatibility enough for you to pick up an Xbox Series X or S at launch? You may also want to check out these alternative Xbox controllers or simply remove Xbox from your Windows PC if you are not a gamer.

Ruben Circelli
Ruben Circelli

Ruben is a Staff Writer at Make Tech Easier. Ruben has a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he graduated with honors and summa cum laude. Ruben is, in fact, a normal enough guy, even if his day job is writing about tech!

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox