One year later, the PlayStation 5 has made an incredible first impression, but its future is a little more up in the air.
Late last year, I was incredibly lucky to buy a PS5, which helped me keep my sanity through a difficult locked-down winter through a combo of great exclusives, 4K visuals and an amazing DualSense controller.
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But we’re in a very different place 12 months later. Xbox is really growing from strength-to-strength with its monthly Game Pass subscription service, which makes Sony’s traditional model of buying a box and buying games for it seem a little archaic.
Does the PS5 hold up after its first year? Will people still love it going forward? Let’s find out.
PS5: The console
At its first unveiling last summer, I loved the visual design of the PS5. Weird Sony returned and gave us a console that looked like a skyscraper in Dubai, to stand out from the sea of black and white boxes under your TV.
Impressions do change over a year, though, and I’ve certainly soured a little on the looks of this system. It’s just obtusely massive, to the point that it causes real problems in fitting in your typical TV stand. Speaking of which, the included stand that prop up its asymmetrical design is hit or miss when horizontally mounting it, and the sheer weight makes it hard to lug around between rooms.
However, there are some big wins at play for the PlayStation 5. The custom AMD Ryzen 8-core CPU and RDNA 2-based GPU with 16GB GDDR6 memory produced an impressive level of 4K ray tracing-capable power — all of which loaded super fast on the custom-built SSD.
The removable faceplates unlock a world of customization that is only just beginning with new colors. The choice to support NVMe Gen. 4 SSDs is a great one (here’s how to install an SSD into your PS5), and you immediately feel how “next-gen” this system is thanks to the DualSense controller.
It’s so weird to say that out of all the hardware elements of this beast, it’s the controller that took my breath away, but it truly did. The varying tension of the adaptive triggers provide a fascinating dimension to gameplay, but the real star of the show is the haptic feedback.
You’ve sampled traditional controller vibration, but this is a whole new level — providing impressive immersion and incredible interactivity. You can physically feel the surfaces your character walks upon, the subtlety of raindrops falling around you, and feel a true difference between all the guns in games such as Deathloop. It’s crazy how much haptics can change a game, and Sony is leading the way.
All in all, the looks may be a turn off, but the capabilities of this system makes that easy to forgive.
PS5: The games
So, you switch it on and do what you do: play. Beyond the standard third-party crop of games, Sony brought the heat with the likes of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Astro’s Playroom, Bugsnax, Demon’s Souls, Sackboy: A Big Adventure and more. It was a great slate of titles that gave you enough new stuff to play, new stories to experience and amazing games that you can find only on PlayStation.
That said, let’s address the elephant in the room here: backwards compatibility and upgrading previous-generation games is a mess. While Xbox makes this simple with smart delivery, the rules for PS5 upgrades vary wildly between free downloads and $20 upgrade passes.
While the PS5 does go some way with backwards compatibility to support PS4 titles, this ignores a vast array of incredible games for the PS3, PS2 and the PS1. In a time when Microsoft has gone to great pains to support two decades worth of games, this is simply inexcusable.
I mean, if your competition is better at PlayStation backwards compatibility (here’s how to turned your Xbox Series S into the ultimate retro emulator) then something’s gone wrong in your vision of game preservation.
PS5: The future
This is where it gets a little dicey for PlayStation.
Sure, in terms of first-party exclusives, PlayStation Studios are going to continue to fire on all cylinders with Horizon: Forbidden West, God of War Ragnarok, Spider-Man 2, Wolverine, Gran Turismo 7, alongside whatever else is yet to be announced from the likes of Naughty Dog, Pixelopus, Bend Studios, Sony Japan Studio and more for the rest of this console cycle.
With a shopping trolley full of exclusives coming day one to Xbox Game Pass, will PlayStation’s more traditional model of asking people to buy their games make sense in a couple years time? Of course, the quality of these Xbox games is going to be crucial, but in a likely world where there will be stellar releases, Game Pass’ monthly cost will be so much more attractive than paying $70 for new titles.
Sony will inevitably have to launch its own subscription service, but it seems doubtful you’ll see the latest God of War drop on day one on this rumored service, especially since the initial plan was always to make a loss on the hardware, but profit on the software. Does this mean it's already destined to fall to the might of Game Pass?
We could be stunned by something special from a reinvigorated PlayStation Now, but at the moment, Microsoft looks like it's played a blinder and is ready to overtake Sony soon.
Out of the two new consoles, PlayStation 5 has made the best first impression. The games are awesome, the controller feels properly next-gen, the use of NVMe SSDs is a far more wallet-friendly storage expansion option to Xbox’s memory cards, and sales data certainly indicates that this system has the advantage.
Rather than face Sony under the same rules of a traditional console launch, Microsoft is rewriting the entire rulebook and the result is a more consumer-friendly vision for the future of gaming that the PS5 is simply behind the curve on. Not only that, but the minefield of upgrading your games is a mess compared to Xbox’s smart delivery. Plus, the lack of backwards compatibility beyond PS4 still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Whatever happens, the next few years are going to be a fascinating time in the games industry and, at the end of the day, we’re all going to win because of the ongoing competition between Sony and Microsoft.
The PS5 has started strong, but there’s a lot of change coming for this console and I can only hope Sony keeps up.
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Jason brought a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as a writer at Laptop Mag, and he is now the Managing Editor of Computing at Tom's Guide. He takes a particular interest in writing articles and creating videos about laptops, headphones and games. He has previously written for Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus. In his spare time, you'll find Jason looking for good dogs to pet or thinking about eating pizza if he isn't already.