For the past year or so, both Sony and Microsoft have been shouting "The next generation of games is here!" from every rooftop that they could find. Spec sheets were shown off, phrases like FPS, teraflops, 4K, and ray tracing suddenly became the hot new words of the day, and everyone fantasized about what the next generation of games would actually look like. It seemed like every month, videos would be released showing how the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X would lead to a renaissance in game development, mostly because these new consoles were packed with the latest in mass-produced gaming hardware. With such high expectations, one can’t help but to think about whether or not such claims bore any fruit now that the average consumer can theoretically get their hands on one of these new machines.
Of course, there is some objective truth to the claims that the PS5 and Xbox Series X would lead to a new era in gaming. They’re basically extremely cost-efficient mid- to upper-tier pre-built gaming PCs. But what does this mean for the average person? For last-gen games like Destiny 2, loading screens practically don’t exist anymore. That’s just the most basic, tangible benefit from the raw hardware upgrade.
If a game’s developers went the extra step to optimize their last-gen games, then you will almost certainly notice that everything is smoother. In-game assets can be seen more clearly from a longer distance away, objects that were once somewhat blurry are now crisp and sharp, and most major games now offer an FOV slider so you can see much more of the world in front of you. There’s no real way to convey exactly how satisfying the graphical upgrade is without seeing it in person, but rest assured that if you care about graphics and general performance, then the price of admission is well worth it.
They’re certainly not bad games, but who can honestly say that a fresh coat of paint is going to make Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed 10/10 must-play experiences when the gameplay itself is so formulaic?
Anyone who has been using a modern gaming PC that is roughly as powerful as the PS5 and Xbox Series X will also tell you that the hardware jump is going to be a massive boon for developers who actively choose to take advantage of it. For example, it’s hard to imagine a game like Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord running on last-gen consoles, certainly not if you want the full experience. It’s theoretically possible that last-gen consoles can have hundreds or perhaps thousands of NPCs fighting on a blank map all at once without grinding to a halt, but once you throw in all the other features that make Bannerlord what it is, that idea may as well go out the window. Unfortunately, this is one area where next-gen expectations and next-gen reality get muddied, as it is generally accepted that it will be a while before any "true" next-gen titles are released. It would be like trying to predict the level of detail that is in a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 while playing the first Red Dead Redemption at launch.
Speaking of games, both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are off to an admittedly unimpressive start. That’s not to say that there are no games available for either console. In fact, there are about two or three dozen games that have been optimized for the new generation that you can play right now. The caveat is that most of these games are also available on last-gen consoles or PCs. On top of that, the launch lineup of both consoles isn’t exactly brimming with games that push the boundaries of gaming as an art form. You’re basically stuck with Call of Duty, a couple of Ubisoft open-world games, and a few remakes or last-gen ports. They’re certainly not bad games, but who can honestly say that a fresh coat of paint is going to make Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed 10/10 must-play experiences when the gameplay itself is so formulaic?
Of course, that’s also a very dismissive way to look at the start of the new generation. Games like Call of the Sea, Bugsnax, Demon’s Souls, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales are basically must-haves because they provide a glimpse of what can be achieved with the leap in technology. Great graphics and or art style mixed with fun or at least engaging gameplay is all that anyone can reasonably hope for at this stage, and those games deliver. Even the more disappointing launch titles, like Cyberpunk 2077 and Godfall, have some redeeming features that point to the potential of the now current-gen platforms.
However, if you’re looking to upgrade, there’s no two ways about it. Due to a lack of unique games, there’s no real need to buy a PS5 or Xbox Series X right now. Higher FPS and quicker load times are great, but you’re not exactly missing out on too much when it comes to getting something new to play, especially if you already have a PC. Frankly, if it weren’t for the fact that there is a limited supply of PS5s and Xbox Series Xs, it might be prudent to wait several months until more games come out. Weirdly enough, it seemed like Sony and Microsoft were aware of this flaw prior to launch. It would certainly explain why Sony was trying to land console exclusive deals left, right, and center while Microsoft beefed up their Game Pass lineup by several dozen games over the last few months. Ironically, it’s not a terrible idea to upgrade to a Xbox Series X purely to get access to hundreds of older games via Game Pass, especially now that games cost $70.
In any case, just because there’s nothing particularly new to play now doesn’t mean that the new consoles will still have nothing to play in the future. There’s plenty of evidence (i.e. Cyberpunk 2077) that the PS5 and Xbox Series X have the hardware to run significantly better looking and more expansive games with minimal load times compared to their predecessors, or some PCs for that matter. By that metric, the PS5 and Xbox Series X more or less lived up to the marketing. Everything else, unfortunately, relies entirely on developers creating games that bring out the best in the new consoles. After all, it’s been proven time and again that graphics aren’t everything when it comes to delivering a good gaming experience.