A graphic showing the new Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S along with Microsoft game characters.
Microsoft

Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and S consoles have a heavy emphasis on backward compatibility with previous Xbox consoles. They can run almost every Xbox One game—and that’s just the start. Here’s how backward compatibility works.

Series X and S Embrace Backwards Compatibility

Both Xbox Series consoles arrive with an impressive list of compatible titles, with everything that currently works on the Xbox One family also running on the Xbox Series. The only difference between the Series X and S is whether you are running from physical media, as the Series S lacks an optical disc drive.

Xbox Series X and Series S
Xbox

The Xbox Series X and S are backward compatible with almost every native Xbox One game, 568 Xbox 360 games, and 39 original Xbox games. The only Xbox One titles that won’t work on the Xbox Series are those that require Kinect, as the Kinect is no longer supported.

That makes a total of three generations of consoles on a single machine, not including new games designed for the Series X and S. Check out the full list of backward compatible titles on Microsoft’s website.

Some Games See Big Improvements

Many of these titles will see big improvements to the way they run thanks to the improved performance of Microsoft’s latest consoles. This includes many current and upcoming Xbox One (previous generation) releases, which will receive updates that allow modern hardware to push games even further.

On Xbox, most of these upgrades will be free. For example, Cyberpunk 2077‘s Xbox One version will not only work on Xbox Series using the same disc, but it will also receive a free update sometime after launch to make it look even better. Other publishers, like Activision, have chosen to charge an upgrade fee for titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War.

Microsoft calls these after-market upgrades Smart Delivery, and it’s a method of optimizing the title regardless of which console is being used. While both Series X and S are getting Smart Delivery, Series S owners will need to wait for Series S optimizations to become available (while Series X users can take advantage right away.)

As of the console’s release on November 10, 2020, there are at least 40 games (both released and upcoming) that are signed up for free Smart Delivery updates. This list includes first-party titles like Halo: Master Chief Collection and Sea of Thieves, plus third party behemoths Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Doom Eternal, and Far Cry 6.

Even if Xbox One games don’t get an upgrade, they should perform better than on any previous Xbox thanks to the added power. Many reviewers have noted “transformative” changes to games like Just Cause 3, which reviewers have called borderline unplayable on the older consoles due to performance dips.

Auto-HDR is another new feature that can help improve the look and feel of a game. It’s an optional setting that converts standard video into high dynamic range video. Not every game supports the feature, but most do. Microsoft has made it opt-out, not opt-in, so only games with issues will have it disabled.

What’s amazing is that Auto-HDR works on titles all the way back to the original Xbox. In some games, the effect can be a little overblown and contrasty, but it can be disabled under your console’s settings if you’d prefer.

Most Old Accessories Work Too

Except for the Kinect, officially licensed Xbox One accessories will work fine with the Xbox Series X. This includes controllers, which can be used to play everything from classic Xbox titles to the latest Series X and S releases.

Xbox One Controller
Xbox

Some optical headsets may require firmware updates to work with the new console, and if the manufacturer doesn’t provide those updates then these won’t work on the latest hardware. Microsoft has launched the “Designed for Xbox” program to make buying accessories easier in the future.

The list of compatible accessories includes Microsoft’s excellent Adaptive Controller for gamers with physical disabilities, smartphone adapters like the Razer Kishi and MOGA XP5-X Plus, and the all-metal $180 Elite Series 2 wireless controller.

Transfer Xbox One and Xbox 360 Save Data

Microsoft has also made it possible to bring your save data with you from an old system, including both the Xbox One and Xbox 360. On the Xbox One, this is as simple as enabling cloud saves, something most Xbox One owners will have already done.

Note: You don’t need Xbox Live Gold (or any premium subscription) to bring your Xbox One saves across, but you do need Xbox Live Gold to transfer save files from an Xbox 360 console.

To enable the feature, turn on your Xbox One, head to Settings > System > Storage > Cloud Saved Games, and select “Enable Cloud Saved Games.” If the setting is already on, your saves are already stored in the cloud. If the setting was disabled, allow some time for your console to upload the data.

Xbox console
Xbox

When you play an Xbox One game on your Xbox Series X or S, the console will check the cloud for any saved data. Simply select your old save data when prompted to carry on from where you left off. Unfortunately, the process isn’t quite as simple for the Xbox 360.

On the Xbox 360, cloud saves must be enabled manually for each game. This is done by moving save data from the hard drive to the cloud. To do this, head to Settings > System > Storage and select the local drive on which your save files are stored. Now select Games and pick a title, then select the save and hit Move > Cloud Saved Games.

Repeat this as necessary for any other games (or all of them). There’s no way to do this manually via USB, or en-masse via the cloud.

Store and Play Older Games on External Drives

Storage space is at a premium on the latest consoles, with a 1TB solid-state drive included on the Series X and 512GB on the Series S. While this storage is fast and bound to do wonders for load times, you might want to hold off on using it for older Xbox titles.

Xbox Series games that are designed for the latest consoles require the use of the SSD to run. Without the added speed afforded by the internal drive (or proprietary expansion card), these games won’t work. You won’t be able to install next-gen titles like Halo: Infinite on a regular USB hard drive.

Older titles don’t have this requirement, since older games were designed with slower mechanical hard drives in mind. As a result, Microsoft has made it possible to store older games on external drives. It’s up to you whether you go for an old fashioned spinning hard drive, or something a little snappier like an external solid-state drive.

Early analysis from Digital Foundry showed that an external SATA SSD offers the best performance in older titles that aren’t stored on the internal drive, with an external NVME SSD coming in a very close second. Spinning hard drives are still an option, but the technology is showing its age now.

To set up a hard drive or move games between drives, press the Xbox button on your controller, and select Profile & system > Settings. Navigate to System > Storage to see a list of drives. Select a new drive and choose “Format” to prepare it for use. Select a drive followed by “Move of copy” to see a list of installed games. Select as many games as you like and choose “Move selected” to transfer data to an external volume.

Using an Xbox One with External Drive? Easy Mode!

Already own an Xbox One with an external drive? Turn off your old console, disconnect the drive, and plug it into the new console. Provided you are using the same Gamertag your Series X or S will recognize the hard drive and any games installed on it.

You’ll need to re-download any games that were stored on your last console’s internal drive, or manually copy them across using the Storage section under Settings > System.


If you’re not sure which new Xbox to get, check out how the Xbox Series X and S stack up.

RELATED: Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: Which Should You Buy?

Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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