In the absence of any explosive hot new exclusive video games, Microsoft still has some legendary software engineering tricks up their sleeve. Right now Game Pass is arguably the biggest feature of their ecosystem, but I think that FPS Boost may one day be a close second, especially for fans of legacy Xbox content like myself.
You’ll need to own an Xbox Series X or S to take advantage of the FPS Boost program, which only supports a small handful of titles so far but also only launched a couple of weeks ago. Essentially, games that are added to the FPS Boost list get at least a doubled level of frame rate performance, without any need for the developer of the game to push out a new patch. All of the work is done internally by the backwards compatibility team at Microsoft. They can use the Xbox OS and DirectX to take control of an individual game’s renderer, and allow it access to the extra power and speed of the new consoles without making massive changes to the game’s original code.
The only caveat is that a couple of supported titles do need to drop down a little bit from a full 4K rendering resolution on the Series X in order to make this work, but for the resolution-conscious out there you can toggle the feature off and see the game as originally intended.
This week, Microsoft added support for five Bethesda titles, and when I saw Fallout 4 and Skyrim on that list I knew I was in big trouble. There goes my productivity. Neither game is the newest or latest-and-greatest graphically, but up until this moment you’d need a PC to run them at a locked 60 frames per second. Some fans had used the mod support of the console versions to try and get the games running faster on the new Xbox Series consoles and the PS5, and while that does technically work…it doesn’t have the same kind of official support that FPS Boost does, and using mods with these games turns off achievements.
I immediately re-installed both of these life-sucking video games once the news came out and plunged back in, starting a new character on both. I only own a Series S, but I can confirm that FPS Boost works flawlessly in both titles, even in areas that might bog down on an older console. It’s awesome to play both of these games with PC-like performance and fast load times on a machine that sells for $300.
Microsoft seems fully dedicated to marching through their huge back catalog and applying FPS Boost to as many games as they can. The first round of supported games contained some older Ubisoft titles, as well as New Super Lucky’s Tale, UFC 4, and Sniper Elite 4, and I think the random nature of that batch was meant to show that they’re dedicated to applying this wherever it will work.
Right now, Sony doesn’t have any kind of program like this, and the random occasional glitches with PS4 games running on PS5 demonstrate their relative lack of focus on the large pile of legacy content they have available. Sony has never had to worry about generating excitement over their new exclusive games, and they’re easily leading the race on new content right now, so I don’t exactly blame them for not making their backwards compatibility solution more robust.
Even so, it’s nice to see that Microsoft actually cares about supporting their whole game library rather than just the newest titles. These new consoles are more like a PC upgrade than any console ever released in the past, with all three using off-the-shelf components that are fine-tuned rather than the truly custom hardware of earlier machines. It’s awesome that Microsoft is putting in the engineering effort to let gamers take better advantage of this new hardware across games they may already own…and of course, it’ll also be a long term benefit to the Game Pass library as well.
Playing these older Bethesda releases at a high framerate on consoles is both awesome, and also further highlights how old Skyrim is. Even in its Special Edition form, the interior lighting and texturing didn’t receive much of an upgrade. The outdoor areas benefitted from new effects developed for Fallout 4, but the interiors remained largely untouched and show their age even more aggressively when the performance is so pristine. Skyrim also still has some of the same bugs it’s had for years, like the trays on this table near the start of the game that magically begin to flop around thanks to haywire physics.
Fallout 4 is a much more impressive spectacle despite its age. Running the game this smoothly is a tough task for my slightly-aged i7 6700/GTX 1070 PC, and the tiny Series S stands up to it remarkably well. I checked out the first hour or two of the game and didn’t notice a single hitch. The load times are breathtakingly fast. And the graphics have aged much more gracefully than Skyrim’s, in spite of not quite being a match for the highest settings (or mods) on a PC.
There’s a real value to a large gaming library. I know that it’s not “cool” to play older games. I know that the gaming journalist/YouTuber/Influencer crowd always has to talk about whatever big new releases have come out…but increasingly, that’s not what the vast majority of gamers are actually playing or enjoying on streaming sites. We all have favorites that we love to revisit, and in the past, these games would get a few months of support then slowly fall into the ether. It’s a wonderful new direction for Microsoft to actually lavish some attention on older titles, and I think this attitude and the concept of Game Pass both better reflect the way real people like to enjoy video games.
I used to personally try and keep up with all the new releases, especially when I was reviewing Xbox 360 games for a local tech magazine. But now I have just as much fun revisiting old favorites (or games in my backlog that I never quite finished) as I do with new games. FPS Boost, Auto HDR, and the load time improvements of the “Velocity Architecture” all combine to make the Xbox Series consoles the best place to play older games. That might not be the easiest thing in the world to market, but I have no doubt millions of gamers will enjoy it over the coming years.