It’s that time again, folks: Time to light all the candles you own, place them in a circle and pray to the Black Friday gods that the consoles you did not pre-order are in stock and some bot monitoring the website won’t rob you of your chance to experience the future of video games. Yes indeed, we are entering the next generation of home gaming with the Nov. 10 release of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S along with the Nov. 12 release of the Playstation 5.
For consoles that have been brewing since the start of the previous generation in 2013, there is notably less hype around the new hardware. This may be due to the sudden release of mid-generation upgrades — the Xbox One X and Playstation 4 Pro — or the many delays caused by the pandemic, but dear reader, there is still much to be excited about. Next-gen consoles are bringing blazing fast loading times and ray-traced 4K graphics outside of the high-end gaming PC zone and into the home of the common consumer. Some of that may sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo hullabaloo but I promise that this guide is made for you, now with 100% less mentions of teraflops and dedicated RAM.
Let’s start off with Sony’s ivory tower, the Playstation 5. The console turned heads with its sleek, futuristic design and got many people gathering tools to cut a hole in their media displays to fit this behemoth under their TV. There are two versions of the console coming to market: the $500 version with an optical disk drive and a $400, digital-only version. The only difference between them is this disk drive: The internals are the exact same otherwise. Both carry a custom 825GB SSD for lightning quick loading, an ethernet port and a very impressive CPU. The only reason to get one version over the other is if you are a stickler for physical media. Not only does a disc have a smaller download, it just feels nicer to own than a digital copy. Yet it’s on a person-by-person basis whether or not that $100 price difference is worth the decreasing novelty of physical purchases. Whatever version you buy, you’ll also receive the Dualsense, the new iteration of the Playstation Dualshock controller, which promises to use enhanced technology to give more haptic feedback to immerse players even deeper into the game.
Speaking of those purchases, a console launch is only as strong as its launch line-up, which is something Sony has over Microsoft in spades. The Playstation 5 launches with a few knockouts including “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” (the semi-sequel to the best-selling PS4 game) the “Demon’s Souls” remake, “Sackboy: A Big Adventure” and the always bizarre “Bugsnax.” This is on top of the third-party multi-platform releases of “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.” I haven’t even mentioned the near limitless library of backwards compatible PS4 games that will receive graphical buffs and other improvements when played on the PS5. For both the new and old to the Playstation ecosystem, there’s also the PS Plus Collection, an online library of some of the must-have PS4 games, made available for free. With all these different ways to play, there is no question that the PS5 will keep you entertained and busy from launch day through the holidays.
One of the biggest missteps for Sony was their insistence that games were for PS5 exclusives, only to completely U-turn two months before launch when they revealed most launch games will be released on the PS4 as well. While I applaud this for accessibility, it also completely undermines the exclusivity of these games for Sony. Their sales pitch went from “buy our exclusive must-haves” to simply “buy the new, shiny, technologically advanced thing that happens to have nicer versions of these games you can already play.” That’s not to say this is a bad thing — Microsoft crafted their messaging around the same thing — but the very late announcement from Sony blindsided many excited consumers who had made peace with the idea of dropping hundreds of dollars for things they couldn’t have anywhere else. Now with a cheaper, existing option available, it’s up to them to decide whether purchasing an entire new system is worth it.
Stumbles aside, the PS5 will be the place to be for new games that are almost wholly crafted for the next generation. Every game will run smoothly and beautifully on either PS5, taking full advantage of the higher graphical fidelity and load times. With even more exclusive games coming out in the coming months, like “Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart” and “Horizon Forbidden West,” Playstation makes a strong case that their console may be the definitive way to experience the next generation of video games.
Xbox Series X
If Sony’s console is a white behemoth, Microsoft’s flagship console is a black refrigerator full of power and enough energy to fry an egg. The console has considerable dimension, being both considerably tall and considerably wide, so it will also be a struggle to fit standing up in an entertainment center. On the inside though, the Xbox Series X is a beast of a home console: A custom 1TB SSD for super fast loads, a super powerful CPU and a very quiet fan (along with a whole bunch of technical internals) make this console a very viable contender with Sony’s powerhouse. The new Xbox controller, while not as drastically different as the Dualsense, seems to have minor accessibility improvements that makes the controller even more comfortable and user-friendly than before.
All that power has to be used for more than just screensavers, that’s where the software comes in. Or, well … would come in, if Microsoft had any exclusives to offer at launch. “Halo: Infinite” was supposed to be the Xbox’s killer app and main draw, but delays and creative directors leaving mid-development pushed the game to an unknown date in 2021. So that puts the burden on the previously mentioned big third party games, enhanced ports (“Borderlands 3”) and indie games. Normally this would be a death sentence for a new console, it’s hard to convince people to purchase new hardware without games to play with it, but Microsoft has an ace up its sleeve with Game Pass.
A much broader and in depth version of the previously mentioned PS Plus Collection, Xbox Game Pass is sort of a Netflix for games. For $15 a month, players get access to a vast library of big name AAA games as well as acclaimed indie games, reaching all the way back to the Xbox 360. Also included now is EA Play, adding many games from the American games giant, and cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a service where you can stream games to your phone or laptop and play games without the need of a console. All one needs is a controller (any controller from after 2013 will do) and a good internet connection and you have access to arguably one of the best deals in gaming. Microsoft also promises that any future first-party game, like the upcoming “Halo: Infinite” or Obsidian’s fantasy game “Avowed,” will launch on Game Pass the day of release, saving users the increased $70 price tag. All in all, this is arguably one of the best deals in gaming right now and it’s one you can take advantage of with a new Xbox, your PC or even your Android phone.
It’s hard to wholly recommend the Xbox Series X for anyone not already deeply entrenched in the Xbox ecosystem; Microsoft simply doesn’t have the new games to back up the hefty price. But the ever-growing deal of Game Pass, which adds games monthly, is certainly worth your time should you purchase it.
Xbox Series S
Lo and behold, there is a cheaper option! The Xbox Series S is essentially the little brother to the Series X: Much smaller, no disc drive and less storage with about 364GB of usable space. The trade-off for all these downgrades? A price tag of $300. For two-hundred less dollars than either flagship console, the Xbox Series S offers ultra-HD gaming (with 4K upscaling), the same fast loading and the power of the Series X. The smallest Xbox ever, the little white box has a large black blemish on top (its fan) but still manages that sleek style this generation is going for.
There aren’t many other differences between the Series S and Series X, they both have access to Game Pass and all new third party games. Both can output 4K graphics, even if the Series S doesn’t do that natively. In a generation defined by how groundbreaking and breathtaking the graphics are, it is obviously a downside to be running a less powerful console. There’s also the issue of existing Xbox users being unable to play any of their old games they bought on disc, you’ll either have to rebuy them digitally or hope they go on Game Pass. But if neither of those are deal-breakers for you, the Xbox Series S represents a cheap entry point into the next generation of gaming for those who don’t want to be left behind.
With the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series of consoles, the next generation of gaming is truly upon us. Whether you buy from a company you swore your allegiance to, jump ship or enlist in the console wars for the first time, this is shaping up to be an interesting start to a new decade in gaming. Either way you go, Sony or Microsoft or *gasp* somehow Nintendo, whatever console you pick, I’m sure you’ll be able to play Skyrim on it someday.
Daily Arts Writer M. Dietz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.