Kena: Bridge of Spirits – full review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been out for three weeks now, and I finally got around to finishing the game the other day. I like to take my time with a game I’m enjoying, so I didn’t blitz through it at lightning speed! I’d been looking forward to Kena: Bridge of Spirits for months, and my first impressions of the game were fantastic. I already knew that I’d found something special in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, but having gone through the full experience I can now say with certainty that this is by far the best game I’ve played in all of 2021.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a rare offering: a visually beautiful game taking advantage of the best of modern graphics combined with an older style of gameplay that feels intuitive and uncomplicated. As silly as it may sound, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is unapologetically a video game – it doesn’t pretend to be an interactive movie. It also ignores many of the tropes of modern gaming: no “expansive open world,” no cluttered heads-up display with arrows pointing exactly where to go, no pop-up tips telling you precisely what combination of buttons to press to solve a puzzle. The game plays, in some respects, like a 3D action-platformer from the Nintendo 64 or PlayStation 1 era – and I’m absolutely there for that kind of classic gameplay style!

Promo artwork for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

There are three main “levels” plus a brief tutorial, and with each stage the titular heroine Kena learns a new power that helps her navigate the game world, solve puzzles, and engage in some occasionally complex platforming. Each of the three sections is dedicated to helping track down relics and memories necessary to help a wayward spirit so that Kena can ultimately make her way to the mountain shrine. The story is mostly contained within cut-scenes that are seamlessly woven into gameplay, with Kena triggering a cut-scene upon beating a major boss or discovering a memory.

At first three levels broken down into a few different parts might not seem like a lot, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t the world’s longest game by any stretch. My playthrough, in which I completed the game and found as many hidden items and unlockables as reasonably possible, clocked in at 11 hours and 43 minutes. Anywhere from 9-12 hours seems to be a good guide based on online sources. For £30-35 (approx. $40) I felt that the game offered excellent value at that length.

Kena collecting one of the Rot.

Speaking of unlockables and collectibles, Kena: Bridge of Spirits didn’t go overboard in the way some titles do. Collecting the Rot – Kena’s adorable little companions – didn’t only feel like a natural part of gameplay, but having more Rot on your team allowed for more attacks and more powerful attacks which gave Kena an advantage particularly during boss fights. This made looking for hidden Rot feel worthwhile, and not just like typical open-world busywork in the way collect-a-thons in many modern games can.

There were also gems to collect, which were found hidden in chests, barrels, pots, and the like across the map. Gems can be spent on Rot hats, and while these aesthetic elements don’t have a gameplay impact, it was a lot of fun to collect the various hats and give different Rot different looks. By the end of the game, my 80+ Rot had dozens of different styles, including absolutely adorable ones like a dinosaur hat, a baseball cap, and even a cowboy hat. Anyone who loves animals or cute things will have a blast with the Rot and their hats, that’s for sure!

A Rot wearing the dinosaur hat – with examples of other available hats at the hat cart.

The Rot added a lot to gameplay as well. Kena could use the Rot to heal herself in combat, and the limited number of Rot Actions meant that timing became a consideration, particularly during long boss battles. Figuring out when to use the Rot and in what way added a much-needed extra dimension to combat. Otherwise, Kena had a light and heavy melee attack, a light and heavy ranged attack, and eventually a bomb as well. Each of these could be upgraded to deal more damage or to give Kena extra ammunition, and each could also be upgraded to give a Rot-powered attack.

The choice in some combat encounters was often between using a powerful Rot attack or using the Rot to heal, and it wasn’t always an easy decision to make! My personal favourite was the Rot-upgraded ranged attack, known in-game as the Rot Arrow, as this powerful attack was effective against many different enemies.

Kena using an upgraded Rot attack.

Kena was also equipped with a shield, which could also be upgraded, and a dodge/roll ability. By the end of the game she had also learned one final power: dash. In some boss fights, keeping out of range of a powerful boss who could do a huge amount of damage meant hitting the dodge button repeatedly! As the game progressed and Kena encountered a number of different enemy types, combat encounters became more varied. There were flying enemies, ghostly enemies that needed to be made corporeal before any attacks would harm them, and a range of different melee and ranged enemies, and they would appear in different combinations during combat.

If I were to make one criticism of the combat it would be that there were a couple of random difficulty spikes. At a relatively early point in the game I encountered a boss who, even on the easiest difficulty setting, could kill Kena in three hits. After he’d struck once, Kena was sent flying through the air and before she could recover had been hit a second time. This boss fight took a few attempts to complete, and while I admit I’m by no means the world’s best gamer, I felt that this spike in difficulty was noticeable. The boss was so much more difficult to defeat than any enemy before him, yet after beating him the game seemed to return to normal. It was odd – and frustrating!

This early boss fight was particularly difficult for some reason.

Aside from those couple of particularly difficult boss encounters, combat in Kena: Bridge of Spirits was outstanding. The relative simplicity of giving Kena one weapon – her magical staff – but allowing it to be used in three very different ways was interesting and fun. It also kept things uncomplicated, and I never felt like I had “forgotten” about some powerful attack or spell! Some games which offer a huge variety of weapons in a player’s arsenal can be overwhelming, and when the majority of players only use a handful of attacks at the most, there’s something to be said for keeping the options simple.

Despite that, there was still plenty of variety. Kena had light and heavy options for both melee attacks and ranged attacks, as well as a bomb – and then there were the aforementioned Rot-upgraded attacks that dealt more damage. There were enough options that I felt I had a choice of how to take out enemies and bosses, but not so many options that I felt overwhelmed or that combat was too complicated.

Kena using her ranged attack.

Kena’s magical staff and its different abilities also played a major role in traversing the game world. Arrows could be fired at targets that pulled Kena across long distances, and bombs could be used on certain highlighted areas to create new platforms for Kena to jump across. Arrows could also be fired to rotate platforms into the correct alignment, and later in the game Kena could use her dash ability to cross through portals and even jump across gaps too wide for her standard jump or double jump. Combining different powers and abilities led to plenty of variety when it came to exploring the game’s stunningly beautiful world.

There was a lot of platforming in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and I loved that. When handled well, 3D platforming can be a huge amount of fun and offers incredibly rewarding gameplay, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits absolutely nailed that aspect of gameplay. Puzzles were complicated enough to not be incredibly obvious, yet simple enough that I never once needed to look up a solution online. I was always able to figure out what to do, where to go, and how to solve the platforming puzzles that the game presented based on what I’d learned through gameplay, and that’s a difficult balance for a game to get right!

Kena has to combine her powers and skills to traverse the game world.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits doesn’t hold your hand, though. After introducing you to a new power or attack that Kena can use, the game drops you into a new section of the map where that power can be used to its full effect. But there are no other hints pushing you in the right direction nor telling you how to solve a puzzle. It’s up to the player to use what they’ve learned and figure out how to get from point A to point B to keep the story moving, and I like that the game is bold enough not to offer too much help.

Many modern games across practically every genre hold players hands the whole time. I’ve played racing games that literally have an on-screen arrow the entire time, pointing exactly where to go, telling you when to slow down, speed up, etc. And games like Skyrim started the fad of having on-screen pointers guiding you to your precise destination. I’m a huge believer in accessibility features for disabled gamers, as I’m disabled myself, but even I consider that some of these features go too far for my personal taste. Kena: Bridge of Spirits was delightfully old-fashioned in that regard. It doesn’t drag you along the path it wants you to take, instead setting you down with all of the skills you need to walk the path alone and leaving you to do so.

Hanging from a ledge early in the game.

Fun combat and great platforming wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable, though, if Kena: Bridge of Spirits didn’t have an interesting and engaging story holding it all together. I was very keen during my playthrough to avoid spoilers, and the game was definitely much more enjoyable for experiencing the highs and lows of Kena’s journey first-hand.

Kena’s quest to reach the mountain shrine is motivated by the loss of her father, and this aspect of the story was quite emotional. Seeing Kena as a young child at one point really hammered home how this quest has been years in the making for her. At the same time, though, Kena was incredibly empathetic to the spirits she met along the way – even those she had to do battle with. Defeating one of the game’s three big bosses didn’t kill them – instead Kena, as a spirit guide, helped them overcome whatever was keeping them trapped in this world and make the transition to the spirit realm. She showed genuine empathy to everyone she encountered, and while she was on a mission of her own, she showed no hesitation when it came to getting side-tracked to help others.

Kena with her younger self in the spirit realm.

At the same time, going off in different directions didn’t feel like Kena was being sent on some disconnected side-mission. Helping Taro, the game’s first spirit, and Adira, the second spirit, were both presented as the next step to reaching the mountain shrine, and Kena was happy to help both of those spirits along with helping herself and moving her quest forward. The story thus flowed smoothly from point to point with nothing feeling unnecessary or like time-wasting fluff.

The third spirit Kena had to help was Toshi, and he was directly in the way of Kena’s progress to the mountain shrine, so once again this felt like a natural progression of the story.

That being said, I think the way the game was structured meant that coming to the aid of three spirits was probably the maximum the story could’ve gotten away with. Adding in any more might well have made them feel like unnecessary hurdles, and the fact that each spirit had three relics to collect before engaging in a boss fight would have risked becoming repetitive had it been repeated many more times. Three spirits was a good number, then, based on the way the game chose to handle each of them.

Kena helped several spirits while on her journey.

As well as learning of Kena’s father, the game had a number of emotional moments. Each of the spirits genuinely wanted to help their families or the people of their village, and letting go of what was anchoring them made all three cut-scenes after the big boss battles feel genuinely emotional. I may have shed a tear on more than one occasion!

Toward the end of the game, having collected many Rot (and many Rot hats) in different places and in different ways, Toshi stole all of the Rot from Kena after the first of two epic climactic battles. Seeing her lose her companions was heart-breaking – and definitely got me riled up for the next phase of the fight! After saving the Rot and defeating Toshi, allowing his spirit to achieve peace, the Rot were transformed back into their true form, a form which resembled a giant panther or cat. As a cat lover myself, this was an incredibly sweet moment; the high point of the game’s final story.

The Rot – restored to their true form.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits does seem to have left things open-ended, though. We didn’t get to see what happened after Kena achieved her goal and meditated at the mountain shrine, with the credits rolling after she settled down to meditate having saved and restored the Rot. Did she find her father, or information about him? Did she find something else that she didn’t know she was seeking?

Perhaps the game is teasing an expansion or sequel in future, and if that’s the case I’m absolutely going to be there! As it is, though, after the emotional loss of the Rot, the big battle to save them, and ultimately letting them go to restore their true form and bring balance back to the forest, for Kena to just plop down and close her eyes risks feeling like a bit of an anticlimactic ending. We saw her reach the goal she’d been working towards for the entire game, but we didn’t get to see what, if anything, that moment meant to her.

Kena made it to the mountain shrine… but what will happen next?

This could certainly be setting up a continuation of Kena’s story, and I’m okay with that. As things sit, her story doesn’t yet feel complete. I’m wondering what the future might hold for her! At the same time, developers Ember Lab did such a fantastic job on what is their debut game that I’d love to see them tackle a different project in future. Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been a huge success, topping the charts here in the UK and elsewhere, so the studio has the world at its feet. Should they simply move on to a sequel right away, or might they want to turn their attention to other projects?

Overall, I had a wonderful time playing Kena: Bridge of Spirits. It’s by far the best game I’ve played all year, and I don’t think it will be surpassed in the next couple of months before 2022 rolls around! It was one of those games where I didn’t want to rush through it too quickly; I wanted to preserve this moment in time and keep enjoying it for as long as I possibly could.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a visual masterpiece, a uniquely-styled game pushing modern-day graphics to their limit. It’s also a wonderful return to a style of gameplay that has fallen out of favour in recent years. Every element has clearly been lovingly crafted and honed to near-perfection, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the copyright of Ember Lab. Some promotional artwork courtesy of Ember Lab. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Knights of the Old Republic is being remade!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Minor spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

Remember that rumour earlier in the year about a new Knights of the Old Republic game? Well the project was officially revealed at a recent PlayStation event, and instead of being a sequel or spin-off, it’s a remake of the first title!

Unfortunately all we were treated to was a tiny CGI clip of the villainous Darth Revan. The project seems at a relatively early stage of development and likely won’t see a release for at least a year. Interestingly, the remake is being handled not by BioWare – who developed the original title – but by Aspyr, a studio known primarily for porting games to new platforms. Aspyr has previously worked on Knights of the Old Republic, bringing the game to Mac, iOS, and Android over the years. So at least they have some experience with the title!

Darth Revan was seen in silhouette in the CGI teaser.

If you’re not familiar with the plot of the original game, I encourage you to stop reading now. Not only that, but try to avoid any Knights of the Old Republic spoilers from now until release; the game is so much more enjoyable if you can experience its story unspoiled.

Speaking of story, then, while Lucasfilm Games and Aspyr have pledged to stay true to the original narrative, there is already talk of the game being “re-written” and writers are known to be attached to the project. It’s possible, then, that there will be some incidental changes along the way, even if the overall thrust of the plot remains intact.

For my two cents, I think that’s actually a positive development. Remakes should aim to be ambitious, and to adapt the stories they tell for new audiences. There’s nothing wrong with Knights of the Old Republic in its original form, but shaking up things like side-missions would be no bad thing. Remember that we’re dealing with a game from 2003 that was released on the original Xbox; there’s room to potentially expand the game beyond what it was. Levels could be redesigned to be larger and more densely-populated, for example, and characters could be given additional lines of dialogue.

The remake is being developed by Aspyr.

With the game being a full-blown remake, it seems that the dialogue will be re-recorded. This opens up possibilities for expanding the things that characters have to say, as mentioned, and it could be possible to give the game’s protagonist a voice as well. In the original game, the player could choose what to say at certain points, but the player character wasn’t fully-voiced like NPCs were. Redoing the dialogue also means that at least some characters – including fan-favourites – will be recast. However, as voice acting in video games has arguably improved since 2003, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Interestingly, Star Trek: Voyager’s Ethan Phillips (Neelix) had a voice role in the original game. I wonder if he’ll come back?

Though Knights of the Old Republic got an Oblivion-developed sequel a year after its release, the stories of Darth Revan and the Jedi Exile were left unfinished thereafter. Though it’s very early for such speculation, it seems at least plausible to think that Knights of the Old Republic II – my personal favourite of the duology – could also get the remake treatment if this project is deemed a success. From there, could the story finally get the sequel that fans have been asking for for more than fifteen years? Perhaps that’s too much to hope for right now and we should just be happy that Knights of the Old Republic is coming back at all! But I can’t help feel that there’s at least a glimmer of hope in that regard!

Is a sequel on the cards if this remake proves to be a success?

One area where Knights of the Old Republic could definitely do with an upgrade is its character creator. The original game offered players a handful of pre-designed male and female faces to choose from, and one of three starting classes. Three additional Jedi classes were available later in the game as well. This is one aspect that has huge room for improvement! Firstly, I’d love to see a non-binary gender option alongside male and female, perhaps with the character creator including a choice of pronouns. Secondly, a detailed character creator – like the kind seen in recent games such as the Saints Row series, Black Desert Online, or even Cyberpunk 2077 – would allow players to craft their own unique character, which is something I’d argue is an essential component of any role-playing game.

There’s a lot to be hopeful for when it comes to this project, and I can add it to the list of upcoming titles I’m looking forward to. Last year I had a great time playing through Jedi: Fallen Order as well as Star Wars Squadrons, so after a few years where there weren’t many Star Wars games the franchise has enjoyed some successes in the video game space. Coming after the disappointing way the sequel trilogy ended, a return to Knights of the Old Republic and a setting millennia before the films could be the palate cleanser that Star Wars fans desperately need.

The original game’s basic character creator is one element crying out for a major update!

Ironically, it was after two disappointing Star Wars films that the original Knights of the Old Republic appeared on the scene. The game (and its sequel) went a long way to rehabilitating the Star Wars franchise for me at the time, and gave me a reason to be excited for Star Wars after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had left me decidedly underwhelmed. Hopefully this remake is poised to do the same.

After several recent hotly-anticipated titles have crashed and burned due to being launched too early, my advice to Aspyr and Lucasfilm is to keep working on Knights of the Old Republic until they get it right. Don’t try to push out the game before it’s ready; the “release now, fix later” business model has been a plague on the modern games industry and players shouldn’t have to put up with bug-riddled, disappointing titles. This is a remake that many Star Wars and role-playing fans have been waiting for for a long time – it’s incredibly important to absolutely nail it!

A closer look at Revan and his lightsaber in the CGI teaser.

One of my favourite memories as a gamer is sitting with the Xbox control pad in my hand, mouth open in shock as Knights of the Old Republic dropped its huge story twist. I hadn’t been expecting it as the game’s wonderful storyline unfolded, and it hit me in a way that very few moments in all of fiction ever have. It’s got to be right up there with “no, I am your father!” in The Empire Strikes Back as one of the best twists in all of Star Wars, and I can’t wait to see how the remake will approach that amazing moment. Even though I’ll know it’s coming this time, I’m still ready to be blown away all over again!

So as you can tell, I’m quite excited for Knights of the Old Republic! But I’ll do my best to avoid boarding the hype train and to keep a level head. We don’t know much more about the project at this stage, other than it’s planned as a timed PlayStation and PC exclusive, so it’ll probably be at least a year after release before it’ll come to Xbox. I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website, because if we get any significant news about the project I’ll try my best to break it down and analyse it. When the game is finally ready, I’ll almost certainly review it – and maybe do a complete playthrough too!

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is being developed by Aspyr and will be published by Lucasfilm Games for PC and PlayStation 5. No release date has been announced. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Thoughts on the PlayStation 5 downgrade controversy

As we approach the PlayStation 5’s first anniversary in just a few weeks’ time, I don’t see how anyone could possibly challenge the assertion that Sony launched the console far too early. The PlayStation 5 has been out of stock since day one, and occasional shipments of consoles are either sent out to folks who pre-ordered one months earlier, or else are snapped up by bots or the occasional legitimate buyer within minutes of becoming available. To be fair, this isn’t something exclusive to Sony – Microsoft has had similar problems with the Xbox Series X and S.

As a result of ongoing shortages, Sony is clearly scrambling to make more units available as quickly as possible. Failure to do so will see the brand continue to take a hit, and if there isn’t sufficient stock in the run-up to Christmas, with parents and gamers forced to either go without for the second year in a row or buy from a scalper at over-inflated prices, the PlayStation 5 might take a long time to recover. Enter the downgrade controversy, which has been doing the rounds online in recent days.

The PlayStation 5 is still out of stock around the world.

In short, newer PlayStation 5 consoles appear to have smaller, lighter cooling systems, which obviously saves Sony a bit of money and presumably makes consoles easier and cheaper to ship around the world. The internal components are otherwise the same, but the heat-sink and cooling apparatus have been significantly changed. Many folks are calling out Sony for this, saying this represents a significant downgrade. Controversy and argument has ensued.

Let’s get the obvious things out of the way first. No one is suggesting that PlayStation 5 consoles are suddenly going to burst into flames or melt or explode or set your house on fire. That’s the dumbest, most pathetic straw-man argument I’ve seen put forward by some Sony fanboys as they try to defend the company. But it is clear that Sony has started using smaller, presumably less effective cooling solutions in newer consoles, so what’s going on? And is it a risk or a potential problem?

An original PlayStation 5 cooling setup (left) and a new one side-by-side. The new model is clearly a lot smaller.
Image Credit: Austin Evans via YouTube.

Heat is bad for sensitive electronics, like the microprocessors used in video game consoles and PCs. The reason why manufacturers spend such a large amount of time and energy on figuring out the best cooling solution is because of this plain and simple fact. If an electronic device – like a PlayStation 5 console – runs at a higher temperature, there’s a higher chance of its components wearing out sooner than if an identical machine could be cooled better and more efficiently. That’s the heart of this discussion – not straw-man arguments about “catching fire.”

So the question I have is this: was the original PlayStation 5 cooler over-engineered? Or to put it another way: was the original version essentially “too good” at its job, providing a level of cooling that the PlayStation 5’s internal components didn’t need? Anyone who’s ever built their own PC can tell you that it’s possible to go overboard with cooling – eventually you hit a point of diminishing returns where cooling is as efficient as possible. Adding more cooling capacity is meaningless if a component or machine is already cooled as efficiently as possible.

Newer PlayStation 5 consoles may look identical to older ones, but they’re lighter and with smaller coolers.

If that’s the case, and the original PlayStation 5 had more cooling capacity than it could reasonably need, then perhaps this downgrade is perfectly understandable. The difficulty with figuring this out is that the console is less than a year old, and any long-term effects from overheating aren’t known right now. These things can take several years to fully manifest, and by then it could be too late for players who’ve bought a downgraded console if indeed there is an issue there.

From Sony’s point of view, this is already a PR problem. Disassembly videos and articles by popular tech websites and YouTube channels have already highlighted the downgrade, and whether or not it represents a genuine threat to the longevity of newer PlayStation 5 consoles and their internal components, there’s no denying that some people are concerned. Not only that, but it risks Sony looking cheap, like they’re skimping out on the PlayStation 5’s internals. That perception – regardless of whether it will actually cause a problem for the average player – is a real danger for the company.

Headlines like these – from reputable outlets – could be incredibly damaging for Sony, creating a perception that will be difficult to shift.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, the launch of the PlayStation 5 has been rocky at best for Sony. “Supply chain issues” has become a buzzword for all sorts of companies over the past year or so, but the public’s tolerance for such things is limited. Add into the mix the perception that Sony is trying to circumvent some of their shortages by cheaping out on something as important as cooling and you have the makings of a significant challenge for the console’s reputation – and the company’s.

Sony will need to address this issue, and do so quickly. Their response will be significant for the future success of the PlayStation 5, because if they allow the console to acquire a reputation for being hit-and-miss or for having cheap, low-quality components, that will be hard to shift. Microsoft had to spend a lot of money repairing the damage done by the Xbox 360’s dreaded “red ring of death” in the mid-2000s, not just in terms of replacement hardware but in terms of the console’s reputation. Sony doesn’t have the financial resources of Microsoft, so they need to get this right first time around.

This could turn into a major problem for the PlayStation 5 if Sony doesn’t act fast.

In summary, then, I’m not sure whether this downgrade is a significant issue. If the original PlayStation 5 had an unnecessarily large cooling capacity – which seems unlikely, but you never know – then perhaps all this is is an attempt at efficiency. My suspicion is that Sony is trying to find ways to cut the costs of shipping given the sudden jump over the past year in the price of sending products around the world – reducing weight is a great way to save money right now, and PlayStation 5 consoles are heavy. This downgrade does have the potential to be damaging, though, as sensitive electronic components that aren’t sufficiently cooled will wear out more quickly. Any impact, however, seems likely not to arise for months if not years.

Where Sony needs to worry is in terms of reputation and PR. Right now there’s a growing image among consumers that the company is skimping out on the PlayStation 5’s internal components, and they need to act fast to prevent that from becoming the headline – especially with the holiday season approaching. The PlayStation 5 has already endured a difficult launch, but until now the biggest issue Sony has had is that folks want to buy a PlayStation 5 but haven’t been able to. If this perception sets in and takes hold, the company could soon find that many of those would-be PlayStation 5 buyers have changed their minds and don’t want a console after all – and that will be a much more difficult problem to solve.

The PlayStation 5 is out now – assuming you can find one. PlayStation, PlayStation 5, and other properties mentioned above are owned by Sony and/or Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Another surprising twist in the Cyberpunk 2077 saga

Having said all I wanted to about Cyberpunk 2077 both before and after its release, I was content to sit back, wait for the patches and updates to be rolled out, and not discuss the game again until I’d played it for myself – something I still hope to do some time next year. But out of nowhere came a truly shocking piece of news and I just had to add my two cents to the conversation. If you somehow missed it, here’s the lowdown: Sony has removed Cyberpunk 2077 from sale on the PlayStation Store and is offering a refund to every single PlayStation player who picked up the game.

People throw around words very easily these days, so forgive me for emphasising this point: this action is unprecedented. Sure, some games do get removed from sale from time to time, sometimes for rights or licensing reasons, sometimes for copyright, sometimes because they were literally cobbled together from pre-bought assets and barely function. And of course Nintendo has its “forced scarcity” business model that we’re seeing with Super Mario 3D All-Stars, which will be pulled from sale in March.

Cyberpunk 2077 is being removed from the PlayStation Store.

But in all the years I’ve been involved with the games industry, I have never seen such a major release as Cyberpunk 2077 being removed from sale. Never. Nintendo and their anti-consumer practices aside, the only games that tend to get pulled from shelves are the non-functional pre-bought asset “games” that have been put together by amateurs. A major release on this scale has, as far as I know, never been unceremoniously de-listed in this way. It is wholly without precedent.

On the one hand, I actually sympathise with CD Projekt Red (the developers behind Cyberpunk 2077). There is a process involved in getting a game onto the PlayStation Store in the first place – as indeed there is for any digital shop. Part of the process requires approval from Sony, who will have been given pre-release access to the game to test for themselves. So from CD Projekt Red’s perspective, they may feel that Sony acted unfairly, and that if they didn’t want to sell the game they could have denied it access to their platform weeks ago.

Cyberpunk 2077 was developed by CD Projekt Red.

However, as with everything to do with major corporations, it’s more complicated than that! In a competitive market, with Sony up against Microsoft both with the Xbox One/Xbox Series X and PC gaming, they could hardly be the only place Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t available. In short, if there was going to be a prohibition of the game’s sale due to bugs and glitches, if Xbox didn’t follow suit it would hugely disadvantage Sony in the short-term. Secondly, I have no doubt that CD Projekt Red wooed Sony with promises of day-one updates and patches to some of the major issues that they surely uncovered during their own tests.

But most importantly there’s a legal component to what’s happened. CD Projekt Red initially offered refunds to anyone disappointed with Cyberpunk 2077 on their platform of choice. Sony, by some accounts, had difficulty processing those refunds when players requested them. In order to avoid legal action from players who had been promised a refund, or from players who may claim the game was not as advertised, Sony have stepped in and used the proverbial “nuclear option” as a last resort.

Cyberpunk 2077 launched in a broken state.

When I first saw this news break I thought the individual writing about it must have got confused or been exaggerating for clicks. It simply did not seem possible that a major game from a huge company would be pulled from sale entirely on the PlayStation. After all, Cyberpunk 2077 has hardly been abandoned; patches, hot-fixes, and updates have already been rolled out and more are already scheduled. Even if the game is buggy at launch, improvements are on the horizon. I was stunned to learn it was true, and it’s even been covered by mainstream news outlets here in the UK.

It’s hardly the first time a major game has arrived with bugs and glitches. Fallout 76 a couple of years ago was truly awful on that front (in addition to being just an awful game all around) yet it remained on sale. As did the likes of Skyrim, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and Assassin’s Creed Unity. Despite having incredibly buggy launches, none were pulled from sale in the way Cyberpunk 2077 has been. And this must surely irk CD Projekt Red.

The notoriously buggy Assassin’s Creed Unity is still for sale on the PlayStation Store.

Despite what I said a moment ago about feeling a pang of sympathy, let’s not overdo it. This is entirely CD Projekt Red’s own fault. Despite having been willing to delay the game twice, they ultimately decided to force a release before the title was ready – if indeed it ever can be ready on current-gen consoles given its obvious PC and next-gen focus. There are two reasons I can see why they chose not to delay the game into 2021 – a desire to get the game out in time for the Christmas season (also known as the E.T. problem) and perhaps because the board game upon which Cyberpunk 2077 is based is called Cyberpunk 2020, and there was a clear desire to release the game in this calendar year.

When I wrote about Cyberpunk 2077′s first delay all the way back in January, I said that “the response from the [gaming] community when any game is delayed is almost always overwhelmingly positive.” That is a universal truth. There are a handful of troublemakers and brain-dead idiots who get upset and say stupid things – such as making death threats – when a title is delayed, but everyone else understands. We would rather play a good game in six months than a broken one now.

We’ve been talking about this game for a while!

In the case of Cyberpunk 2077, the hype bubble got out of control. Partly what’s happened is a result of CD Projekt Red trading on past success and their good reputation; they hadn’t released a new game since 2015, and it’s easy to seem like a good, pro-consumer company when you aren’t in the trenches. Perhaps the insane hype that grew around the game is why the company chose not to shift their focus entirely to next-gen hardware and higher-end PCs. That would be a difficult pill for many players to swallow, but had such a decision been made a year or more ago, by the time the game finally made it to its launch date practically all of that would have abated.

So the question now is: what happens next? CD Projekt Red have completely botched this launch. Many players found the game so bad it was unplayable, and by now the plot and even the side-missions have all been spoiled for a lot of people. The excitement of playing the game for the first time has gone, and for players who had a disappointing experience, even if it’s patched and fixed over the next few months, they can never get that back.

Cyberpunk 2077 will not be available on PlayStation 4 for the foreseeable future.

Given that the PC version is generally more stable, I can’t imagine the big PC gaming shops like Steam and Epic Games will be willing to follow suit and refund everyone who bought it. Microsoft might, though, and it’s possible in the coming days (or even hours) we’ll see Xbox make a similar announcement.

I’m still shocked. Even though I could tell the hype bubble around Cyberpunk 2077 was completely out of control, and I expected at least some players to find the game underwhelming, I had no idea what was coming. CD Projekt Red have gone from one of the best-loved games companies to one of the most criticised in a matter of days, and it’s not unfair to say that the hype bubble has completely burst. Cyberpunk 2077 is not the amazing, barrier-breaking, genre-redefining interactive experience that fans hoped for. As I predicted, it’s just a game. A bug-riddled game that’s so “unplayable” for many that Sony had to step in, refund everyone who bought it, and pull it from sale. Absolutely extraordinary.

Cyberpunk 2077 is out now for PC and Xbox One. The Xbox One version is compatible with the Xbox Series X. Cyberpunk 2077 is the copyright of CD Projekt Red. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The real price of next-gen consoles

Were you lucky enough to secure a pre-order of the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5? If so, congratulations! You’re one of the few who managed that feat. Both consoles sold out as soon as pre-orders were available, meaning a lot of people hoping to pick up one of the new machines this year were left disappointed.

A lot of factors came together to make this happen, and we’ll look at them in turn. First is the confusing way in which both Sony and Microsoft made their consoles available. Pre-orders for the PlayStation 5 “accidentally” went live hours ahead of schedule, meaning a lot of people who had planned to pre-order at the promised time missed out. There is no one place where consoles may be pre-ordered either, with retailers from big outlets like Amazon and supermarkets down to smaller specialist games or electronics shops all offering to take customers’ money. As many found out later, problems with stock availability and allocation meant that a lot of pre-orders were either cancelled, rejected, or could not be fulfilled on launch day.

The newly-released PlayStation 5.

Then there are the “bots.” Automated computer programmes bought up a significant percentage of the available supply of new consoles, leaving many machines in the hands of touts and scalpers. These consoles are currently being re-sold for well over the asking price to disappointed gamers who missed out.

Finally there’s the question of how many machines were manufactured. When coronavirus hit China hard earlier this year, production of next-gen consoles was majorly disrupted. Some factories were closed for weeks, others cut back their output, and the consequence for both Sony and Microsoft was that far fewer next-gen consoles were available in time for launch than they expected. I noted this a few months ago when I asked the question: is now really the right time to launch these machines?

There was always going to be high demand for these machines, and both Sony and Microsoft knew that they’d sell out on launch day. In fact that’s usually part of the plan; selling out makes a machine look exciting and cool, and fear of missing out drives sales. No company wants to see images of huge numbers of unsold machines sitting on shelves in the period after launch.

An Xbox Series S/X control pad.

But even in that environment, the reduced manufacturing capability has had a huge impact, make no mistake. The plan had been for millions more consoles to be available; Sony told us this directly when they announced a few months ago that they would have several million fewer consoles ready to go on launch day than they initially planned. When their business model was already based around artificial scarcity, the loss of several million units has made an already difficult pre-order process practically impossible when combined with the other factors listed above.

So on to the title of this article: how much does an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 really cost if you want to get one before the end of the year? I went to a popular auction website and compiled a short selection of listings. Take a look:

A selection of auction listings for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles in the UK on the 17th of November 2020.

As you can see, prices are approaching double the recommended retail price here in the UK, with scalpers and touts even selling pre-ordered consoles that they don’t actually have in their possession yet. Anecdotally I’ve heard from friends in the United States of PlayStation 5 consoles being sold for upwards of $1200 – well over double the asking price.

In a way, this is “pure capitalism.” This is what happens when companies don’t have enough stock for consumers; the law of supply and demand kicks in. If someone is willing to pay £900 for a PlayStation 5, then there will be a market for that. The true price of these machines right now, in November 2020, is not the recommended retail price of £450. It’s £700, £800, or £900. And with no indication of the availability of either console improving before Christmas, those prices may yet rise further.

Companies are totally fine with this. It doesn’t matter in the slightest to Microsoft or Sony whether a genuine player buys a console or a bot picks up that console for a scalper or tout to re-sell later. They still make just as much money no matter who the buyer is, so they have absolutely no incentive to find ways to stamp out this behaviour. Likewise, retailers from game stores to supermarkets to giants like Amazon don’t care – and it’s through online retailers that the vast majority of pre-orders have been taken.

The market – that amorphous entity that economists love to talk about – determines the price and value of products. If people are willing to pay £900 for a PlayStation 5 then that’s its true value. But is it worth it? Could any video game console possibly be worth £900?

It will come as no surprise to you to learn that my answer is a resounding “no.” Not only are these machines not worth such a ridiculous amount of money, they’re probably not even worth their official price right now.

This new console generation is, at best, a minor improvement over the current one in most of the ways that matter. Add to that the fact that practically every game currently available for the PlayStation 5, and every single game currently available for the Xbox Series X, are also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, most players would find it hard to tell the difference between playing on a current-gen or next-gen machine. There are iterative changes, such as faster loading times, better controller battery life, and so on. But there’s nothing significant in terms of graphics or gameplay that make either console a “must-buy” in 2020. Any such improvements won’t be seen for a year or more; perhaps by 2022 you could make the case that games are getting better thanks to these machines. But not yet.

There was a lot of hype and buildup to the launch of these new consoles, as is to be expected. And a lot of players were sucked in by the hype and decided that they needed a new Xbox or PlayStation on launch day no matter what. If they paid over the odds for their machine from a scalper or tout, I bet a lot of them regret that investment today.

With the new consoles offering small improvements at best, there’s no need to get one right now. Don’t reward the scalpers and touts with their scripts and bots who bought up as many consoles as they could. Jump off the hype train and be patient, and enjoy the exact same games on current-gen hardware. Chances are you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway.

The Xbox brand – including the Xbox Series X and Series S – is the copyright of Microsoft. The PlayStation brand – including the PlayStation 5 – is the copyright of Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Is it the right time for new video game consoles?

A lot of things in the world are a mess right now, upended by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the tragic loss of life we’ve seen lockdowns, job losses, and economic chaos on a level unseen for a long time. And tech companies – including Sony and Microsoft – have suffered as a result of major disruption to supply chains and manufacturing facilities. Yet despite all that, both companies are pressing ahead with their new video game consoles, scheduled for release in November. But is that the right decision? Or might it have been better to wait a year or two?

One of the things that struck me most when looking at all the gameplay and footage released by both companies is how absolutely minuscule the so-called “upgrades” are, at least in terms of the way games will look on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Both companies use graphics as one of their major selling points, yet when you stack up a current-gen and next-gen version of the same title side by side, it’s hard to really see a difference.

Perhaps some consumers who have an incredibly fancy (and incredibly expensive) television – or superhuman eyesight – will notice a big change. But I didn’t, and from what I can tell by reading and listening to the reaction from players, a lot of other folks can’t either. There is more to a good game than graphics, but when it’s a key selling point I think it’s not unfair to say that players expect something more than either new console is able to offer.

The trouble is that even on the oldest version of current-gen systems – those consoles released in 2013 – games look pretty good. Players have been enjoying the visual style of titles like The Witcher 3 for years, and even some launch titles from 2013, like Ryse: Son of Rome, look fantastic. Any upgrade was always going to be minor, and things like slightly more realistic controller rumble or faster loading times are difficult things to market to the average player. The result? It’s hard to escape the feeling that the two new consoles already feel like a minor upgrade at best… and a waste of time and money at worst.

That’s before we account for the fact that disruption across all areas of the industry has massively complicated matters.

The Xbox Series X is going to be released without its key launch titleHalo Infinite. This game should have been one of the console’s selling points – despite its simultaneous launch on Xbox One. Without it, the Xbox Series X will be released with some cross-platform games and not a lot else.

However, things are even worse for Sony. The company recently announced that they were producing several million fewer PlayStation 5 consoles than expected. As a result there has been pre-order chaos. Initial plans to hold a “lottery” to determine who could pre-order a machine didn’t pan out, and the console sold out within minutes of being made available. Reportedly, some shops have either cancelled pre-orders outright, or informed irate gamers that they may not receive their console on launch day despite thinking they’d secured a pre-order.

We’ve seen consoles launch without sufficient stock numerous times. Here in the UK, getting a Nintendo Wii was nigh-on impossible in 2006 and throughout most of 2007, such was the lack of stock. Even with that in mind, though, this feels worse. Reducing the number of units available worldwide is clearly indicative of a company struggling with production, yet rather than delay or take steps to rectify the situation, Sony has been quite happy to make the PlayStation 5 impossible to get hold of – something which will only be to the benefit of shady resellers who’ll happily sell the console for double its asking price in the run-up to Christmas.

All of this comes at a time when many people are in financial difficulty or face an uncertain financial future. As the pandemic drags on and the idea of “getting back to normal” seems further away than ever, companies are closing left and right, and as temporary schemes like the furloughing of employees come to an end, many people will be out of work. A £450/$500 outlay in that environment is an impossible ask, and feels decidedly anti-consumer. This is made worse by price rises of games themselves, many of which look set to retail for £65/$70 when the new generation arrives.

As we approach what could be a bleak and lonely Christmas for many people, players and parents are looking at these companies and asking themselves how they could possibly have the audacity and lack of awareness to go ahead with something like this. The minor upgrade that most people perceive is incredibly overpriced at £450, and even the Xbox Series S with its lower price will still be out of reach of many in 2020.

I look at these consoles, and the footage the companies selling them have released, and I’m asking myself who would be interested? At least Microsoft can say that their policy of releasing games on Xbox One for the next couple of years – bizarre though that is in many ways – means that players can stick with their current systems and don’t need to shell out a ton of money for this minor upgrade. But Sony still plans on having exclusive games, and are in effect gating off those titles behind a very expensive paywall, one which will prove insurmountable for many players in 2020.

“Big companies do something anti-consumer” is not a surprising headline, either in the games industry or beyond. And as someone who worked for a large games company in the past, I understand that there are many factors at play, including research, development, and manufacturing contracts that were almost certainly too far along to be undone at the time the pandemic hit. Even so, I’m struggling to see how releasing these machines now is a good idea. A one year delay would allow both companies to resolve manufacturing issues, produce far more stock, and allow more development time for launch titles in order to overcome pandemic-created problems. We might even see marginally better graphics as a result. And a delay of a single year wouldn’t mean the internal components of either machine would feel out of date – they would still be cutting-edge devices even if they weren’t launched until November 2021.

Regardless of what some of us may think, the console launches are going ahead. Manufacturing is well underway, and with mere weeks to go until launch day it would be very difficult – if not outright impossible – to slam the brakes on at this late stage. Despite my misgivings both machines will still sell, and will be picked up by enthusiasts with enough disposable income. The beginning of a new console generation always leaves behind those who can’t afford to make the switch; this time around there’s just more people in that position. Hopefully things really will get back to normal soon so everyone can enjoy the next generation of consoles… and the minor changes they have to offer.

The Xbox brand – including the Xbox Series X – is the copyright of Microsoft. The PlayStation brand – including the PlayStation 5 – is the copyright of Sony. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be released in November 2020. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some next-gen ports are receiving a well-earned backlash

Whenever a new console generation kicks off, it’s inevitable that there will be some games that are released on both new and old systems. This is perfectly understandable in many cases, as games which are new and have had a lot of time and effort put into their development want to get the widest audience possible. Many titles in this category go unnoticed, or at most some reviewers will point out that the game may not be fully-optimised for new hardware. But some other titles are the subject of pretty heavy criticism, and I can fully understand why.

When it was announced that Grand Theft Auto V would be ported to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, many fans were upset. This was a game initially developed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and it’s going to be ported again? Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this console generation after getting its start in 2013, but after more than seven years fans are itching for a new entry in the series.

Grand Theft Auto V was originally released in 2013 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

In 2014, when Grand Theft Auto V was re-released on current-gen consoles, it was barely a year old. No one at the time begrudged Rockstar the chance to port the title to new hardware because there was an understanding that the game had been a big undertaking. As the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era drew to a close, it made sense to bring some new titles to the new systems.

But that was six years ago, and in that time Rockstar has developed and published precisely one new game – Red Dead Redemption II. There are arguments to be heard that the pace of game development as a whole has slowed, and I don’t want to ignore the reality that developing an open-world game on the scale of Grand Theft Auto V is a colossal undertaking. But that doesn’t excuse what seems to many fans to be the company taking shortcuts.

Red Dead Redemption II is Rockstar’s only game in seven years.

What’s worse is that the time and effort spent on creating a next-gen port could arguably be better spent creating a new title. Even in a studio with the financial resources of Rockstar, porting existing games does take time, resources, and personnel away from other projects. So it’s not just a case of corner-cutting – fans feel that the company is wasting time.

Practically every current-gen title is going to be “forward-compatible” with new hardware anyway. What that means is that any Xbox One game should work on the Xbox Series X, and any PlayStation 4 game should work on PlayStation 5 by default – including titles like Grand Theft Auto V. So there’s no need to spend time and money reworking a seven-year-old game for new hardware; existing versions will work just fine.

Both next-gen consoles will be backwards-compatible with current games by default.

If the upgrades were going to be free, allowing players who own a current-gen copy of the game to experience the tweaks and changes on new hardware, I don’t think anyone would mind. In fact, players have praised companies like CD Projekt Red, whose 2015 title The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is receiving such a free upgrade. But Rockstar – and other companies too – plan to re-release their old games and get gamers to shell out more money for the next-gen version. It feels decidedly anti-consumer.

Even though I’m not a big online multiplayer person, I recognise the appeal that Grand Theft Auto V has as an online experience. But after seven years I feel that online experience has run its course, and most players will be ready for a new challenge. Those who want to stick with what they already have can either continue to play on Xbox One/PlayStation 4 or can even bring their existing copy of the game to the new consoles; there’s no need to buy it all over again.

Grand Theft Auto V is getting a next-gen re-release in 2021… eight years and two console generations later.

Another company that has been roundly criticised for its approach to next-gen is 505 Games, publisher of Control. This is a game I’ve been looking forward to playing, as it has great reviews, but it’s another example of next-gen upgrades being denied to existing fans. The only way to play Control will be to buy it again on the new consoles, and to many fans the small upgrade seems like a big expense.

The Last Of Us was similarly criticised at the beginning of the PlayStation 4 era for being re-released in a “remastered” state less than a year on from its PlayStation 3 debut. At the time I was genuinely shocked by the gall of developer Naughty Dog; how can a game less than a year old be remastered already? But The Last Of Us sold very well on PlayStation 4, cementing this business model in the minds of executives as one that works and will rake in cash for comparatively little effort.

The Last Of Us was re-released on PlayStation 4 mere months after its PlayStation 3 premiere.

At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. Money. Re-releasing a game with a few minor upgrades and hardware-specific tweaks is relatively inexpensive and offers companies huge financial rewards. It should be no surprise to learn that a big company wants to make more money, and I get that we live in a society where profit and growth matter. It’s just that it feels so anti-consumer, and even big companies need to be aware of their reputations. It’s easy to dismiss criticism and backlash as coming from just a whiny minority of hardcore fans, but companies like Electronic Arts have found – to their great cost – just what can happen when they push players too far.

It’s only in the last console generation that the idea of cross-generation releases has been such a big deal anyway. In the days of the SNES and the Nintendo 64 the idea of a game from one system being ported wholesale to new hardware just didn’t exist. There were ports, but they tended to be things like Super Mario All-Stars, which was a compilation of several games instead of a single title, and offered players good value as a result.

There weren’t many ports in the SNES era, and those that did exist were bundles like Super Mario All-Stars.

But if you’d told me in 2005, when the Xbox 360 was launched, that the original Halo game was just going to be straight-up ported to the new system and that players would be expected to “just buy it again” I’d have been absolutely gobsmacked. What a nonsense idea that would have been even as recently as 2005! We’ve come to accept some of these things in the fifteen years since, but even by today’s standards, some of the proposals for next-gen re-releases are drawing well-earned backlash.

Though it wasn’t possible to predict the impact of the coronavirus pandemic even a few short months ago, the changing situation in the world should be something companies take note of. There’s a good chance that many folks are going to have less disposable income at least in the short-term, and being asked to re-purchase a seven-year-old game on a new console is definitely not something that should be considered under current circumstances. Even were it not for the pandemic, I think this practice would still be inappropriate and anti-consumer. But given where things currently sit, it’s even worse.

This is the kind of practice that can start big companies on a slippery slope to reputational damage and more widespread criticism, and I would advise them to tread carefully. Rockstar – or any other company engaged in a similar practice – could garner a lot of goodwill today by announcing that the next-gen version of whatever game they’re working on will be free to anyone who currently owns it. Or, on the flip side, they could continue to draw criticism and ire for their greed and lack of care.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

How long can Sony and Microsoft get away with hiding their prices?

For me, the beginning of September has always marked the start of the slow march to the holiday season. It’s the end of the summer holidays, kids return to school, the weather slowly cools, leaves begin to fall, and sunset gets earlier – all signalling that autumn has begun. It’s around this time of year when thoughts turn to the holidays, and to budgeting for big expenses at that time of year. With that in mind, now that we’re into September, it’s a surprise to me that we don’t know how much the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are going to cost.

It’s pretty obvious that both companies are playing a high-stakes game of “chicken” – neither wants to announce first so they’re both holding fast, waiting for the other to make the first move. Looking back at past console launches, the cheaper system has been by far the best-seller. The Xbox 360 undercut the PlayStation 3 and enjoyed great success in that console generation, and the PlayStation 4 came in $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, and while in that case price arguably wasn’t the only factor in the Xbox One’s troubled launch, the fact that the cheaper console sold significantly better is clearly impacting Microsoft and Sony’s decision-making at this critical time.

The upcoming Xbox Series X. Price? Unknown.

But in past cycles, prices were announced much earlier. By the middle of June 2013 we knew the prices for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – more than five months ahead of their launches. Microsoft promise the Xbox Series X is coming in November, and it’s assumed that the PlayStation 5 will follow suit. But November is literally in just a couple of months now, and there’s still no price information.

If it were good news, I think it’s fair to assume we’d know by now. If either company were planning to launch a system for less than say £350, they’d have made that abundantly clear and would be using it as a selling point. The fact that they’re keeping their pricing plans secret is in part because of how they’re in competition with each other, but it’s also at least in part because it’s bad news – both consoles are going to launch with a hefty price tag, which is not a good look in 2020 with the economy flailing.

Microsoft has perhaps the most riding on pricing. As I’ve said before, undercutting the PlayStation 5 is perhaps their last good strategy for the already-beleaguered Xbox Series X, which has seen incomprehensibly bad business decisions already hamper its launch. If the Xbox Series X could find a way to be a hundred dollars (or more) cheaper than the PlayStation 5, suddenly it seems a better proposition and Microsoft is back in the game.

The soon-to-be-released PlayStation 5. How much will it cost? Nobody outside Sony knows.

Sony seems better-placed than Microsoft right now, with a good lineup of exclusive games that are being built from the ground up for the PlayStation 5 instead of being limited by current-gen hardware. But an excessively high price could see them repeat the problems faced by the PlayStation 3 two generations ago, and even if they don’t end up charging $600-650 as some have suggested, if Xbox is able to undercut them they could still suffer. So while Microsoft has arguably the most to gain from a positive reaction to pricing, Sony certainly has the most to lose from a negative reaction.

At this late stage, though, both companies are going to suffer criticism and negative feedback for as long as they keep their prices covered up. With two months to go until launch, players and parents need to know how much to budget; keeping this information private is incredibly anti-consumer. Both Sony and Microsoft know their prices by now, having worked out how best to break even and turn a profit. They’re staying quiet on purpose, and people are starting to talk about that.

These are undoubtedly going to be pricey machines.

Sooner rather than later, both sides are going to have to rip off the metaphorical bandage. If the prices are high, reaction will be negative, especially from players whose jobs are under threat in a seriously disrupted economy. But going into the launch with that negativity around their necks will be harmful to Sony and Microsoft, and the more time they have after making price announcements means more time for their marketing and PR departments to spin it in a positive way – or at least blunt the edge. In short, if it’s bad news, giving players more time to get used to it rather than going into the launch window with potential buyers still reeling from the shock announcement will be beneficial.

A delay helps no one, and in the end will backfire on both companies and hurt them as they go into their most important sales window in seven years. In the absence of news, people will make their own assumptions – and the assumption right now is that if they had something good to say on pricing, they’d have said it ages ago and built their marketing around it! The conclusion gamers are drawing is that both consoles are going to be expensive – perhaps the most expensive machines ever, even topping the $600 mark. That’s putting people off right now, as in the current economic climate it’s increasingly hard for many people to justify such a large expense on a “luxury item” like a games console.

We need to see both companies make immediate announcements on price and stop messing around. The corporate game of “chicken” has gone on too long, and its anti-consumer nature is already causing both companies and their brands harm. They can’t keep this up any longer – players have a right to know how much they’re going to be expected to fork over for the new consoles.

At this stage I don’t know when we could expect an announcement. It may be imminent from one or both companies… or it may not be something we’ll get for weeks or even until next month. That would be a mistake for the reasons I’ve already given, and at a time like this, consumers need clarity. Both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are going to be expensive pieces of kit. We get it. But please just tell us how expensive so we can either start saving up or get the disappointment out of the way.

Both companies have been looking at this situation selfishly. Microsoft sees a pathway to a better-than-expected launch, and Sony fears losing the dominance they’ve enjoyed for years. But both companies’ selfishness has crossed a line into being something decidedly anti-consumer, and it needs to stop. At this point, I’d even wager that the company willing to make an announcement will get at least some positive reaction simply by demonstrating they’re not covering up their price. Either of them could even stage an event based around how their competitor is keeping their price a secret – something that could give them at least a temporary boost.

Either way, this has gone on too long. It’s past time that players around the world got to learn how much they’ll have to play for next-gen gaming in a couple of months’ time. We shouldn’t be in this position of having to ask and ask and ask – this information should have been available ages ago. From this point on, every day that Microsoft and Sony continue this cover-up is going to hurt them – and hopefully when they see that, they’ll finally come clean.

The Xbox Series X is the property of Microsoft, and the PlayStation 5 is the property of Sony. Both consoles are due for launch before the end of 2020. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Video game prices set to rise

As I hinted at last time, video game prices may be going up when the next generation of home consoles launch later this year. Currently, brand-new video games cost $59.99 in the USA and £49.99-£54.99 in the UK, but this could rise significantly – potentially hitting $69.99 in the US, with a comparable rise in the UK to £59.99-£64.99. If prices go up in one market, it seems a sure thing they’ll rise elsewhere as well, so we mustn’t be fooled into thinking this is a US-only issue.

It’s felt for a while as though games companies were playing a long game of “chicken” when it comes to being the first to announce a price hike. No company wanted the criticism that would inevitably come with going first, but 2K Games could wait no longer and announced that the price for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions of their basketball game NBA 2K21 would be $69.99 in the United States. Now that the proverbial dam has a crack, I expect the whole thing to come crashing down as other major publishers follow suit. While at time of writing only NBA 2K21 is priced this way, it really feels like an inevitability that many other next-gen titles will join it.

NBA 2K21 is the first game to announce a significant price hike for next-generation consoles. More will surely follow.

Video game prices have been static for years. Prices rose when the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were launched, but since then there hasn’t been any change – at least not to the price of the basic version of games. In 2005-06, downloadable content and in-game microtransactions were rare – DLC primarily consisted of large-scale expansion packs, and microtransactions, where they existed at all, were mostly just in massively-multiplayer online games. The gaming landscape has changed significantly since, and many games today – even those that retail for the full-price of $59.99 or £54.99 – still have in-game marketplaces, in-game currencies, microtransactions, single-use items for purchase, lootboxes, and myriad other ways to vacuum up cash from players. Many of these systems debuted in mobile games and free-to-play titles, but they have become commonplace in full-priced games too. So while it’s true that the surface price for video games hasn’t changed in almost 15 years, in order to get a complete game it often costs far more than that initial offering.

Some games take this to extremes. I’ve written before about Civilization VI, a turn-based strategy game for PC that I greatly enjoy. The base game costs £49.99 when not on sale, but in order to buy the complete game including all of its DLC packs – some of which consist of only a single new faction and a small number of missions – costs a whopping £144.91 if you were to buy it on PC without any discounts. And that’s not even the worst example: Europa Universalis IV, another strategy title, would cost over £300 to purchase the full game plus all of its DLC. This issue isn’t unique to strategy games either: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey costs over £95 to buy its “Ultimate” edition, Shadow of the Tomb Raider costs over £80 for its “Definitive” edition, and the “Ultimate” edition of FIFA 21 can currently be pre-ordered for the limited-time special offer price of £89.99. So it’s definitely the case that the “basic” price of video games may have been static, but buying a complete game has cost well over $59.99 or £54.99 for years.

Strategy game Europa Universalis IV costs over £300 including all of its DLC packs.

If you looked at my article about this year’s Steam Summer Sale you’ll recall that I said sales like that make PC gaming much more affordable. And that is true – aside from Animal Crossing: New Horizons and The Last of Us Part II, I haven’t paid full-price for a video game in a long time. It’s only on rare occasions, where a title is an immediate must-buy for me, that I’m willing to consider paying full price. But on consoles in particular, where sales like those on PC are less frequent and less generous, many people are stuck paying full price or close to it for most games they purchase. A £10 increase on a £54.99 title represents a price hike of 18%; a $10 rise on a $59.99 title is similar at over 16%.

If it were a black-and-white choice between paying a higher price for a complete experience versus having to buy DLC and navigate various editions, I think many gamers would be okay with the price rise. It would streamline the buying process, it would mean any game purchased would be complete without needing to buy expensive add-ons down the line, and it would be generally seen as an improvement. But no one is seriously entertaining the possibility of that being the case. The basic price of games will rise, and if we’re incredibly lucky, the prices of DLC packs and special editions will just stay the same. Those things won’t disappear because prices go up. In fact, what seems more likely to happen is that some games will hike up the prices of DLC and in-game content as well.

Gaming looks set to become a more expensive hobby going into 2021.

I’m not unsympathetic to companies who put up their prices after keeping them the same for well over a decade. But video gaming as a hobby has been growing steadily for years, and with it, the profits of games companies have grown too. While the new console generation may seem like good cover for a price hike and even a good excuse, there’s no actual reason for it. Developing a game for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 doesn’t cost substantially more than developing a game for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and when games already bring in money by the bucketload it’s hard to justify a price hike.

After the financial crash of 2007-08, it took a long time for the economy to recover. In the UK, it’s only in the last couple of years or so that austerity policies had begun to be relaxed. The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on the economy all over the world, and some economists are suggesting the longer-term effects will make 2008 look like a walk in the park. Even if that’s an exaggeration, many people are not in a good financial situation at the moment, which makes it an even worse time for an arbitrary and unnecessary price rise.

However, all that being said, if the big companies of the games industry go ahead with plans to raise prices on next-generation titles, there really isn’t much we can do about it. Some have suggested boycotting games using that price, but very few online-organised gamer boycotts have ever accomplished anything. If 2K Games uses this pricing model for its other titles and other big companies follow suit, practically all new games released for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be in that $69.99 and £64.99 price bracket. People who bought new consoles will have no choice but to buy games at that price if they want to have anything to play, and with sports games like NBA 2K21 in particular being exclusive licensed titles, it isn’t possible to shop around or go elsewhere. If you want a licensed basketball game with your favourite team and players on your new console, it’s NBA 2K21 or nothing. We need only take a cursory glance at history to see how any company that has a monopoly can get away with charging whatever it wants for that product.

The PlayStation 5 will see higher prices for games than the current-gen PlayStation 4.

As the games industry marches ever closer to an all-digital future, that extra £10 or $10 per title will all go straight back to the company. Physical game shops – like Game here in the UK or Gamestop in North America – have been on incredibly shaky ground for years; if the coronavirus pandemic and months of closure hasn’t killed them off they won’t last much longer. With no need to share the extra money their games bring in with shops – as well as needing to produce an ever-decreasing number of physical copies of games anyway – companies look set to enjoy a significant increase in profits on a per-unit basis. If games were profitable at $59.99 or £54.99, they’re now raking in potentially 16-18% more revenue – and that’s all pure profit.

It’s true that a significant amount of money earned by big games companies is re-invested in making new games, and we shouldn’t ignore that as it potentially means bigger budgets for some titles – hopefully leading to better and more polished experiences. But a lot of that money goes to shareholders and investors, as well as to highly-paid CEOs and managers. Raising prices for consumers at a time of international crisis to reward a tiny number of shareholders, investors, and corporate leaders is pretty unfair.

At the end of the day, across-the-board price hikes are going to happen. 2K may have gone first, but sooner or later others will follow. Maybe the backlash – though it seems fairly muted right now – will be offputting in 2020 given all the issues in the global economy, meaning some companies hold off. But even if they wait until 2021 or 2022, the days where games cost $59.99 or £54.99 are numbered.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

2020 is halfway done!

Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major spoilers, minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries listed.

The end of June is the halfway point of the year, and it’s a nice opportunity to take stock for a few minutes. This isn’t going to be a major recap of what’s come before (I’ll save that for my “end-of-year” article in December) but I thought it could be fun to talk about some of the things I’m looking forward to in the next six months.

I don’t really enjoy the summer season. The weather is too hot (yes, even in the UK it gets hot sometimes), there are annoying insects buzzing around all the time, and the sun rises at an obscene hour. Seriously, it gets light here by 4 o’clock! The summer months are also when television schedules tend to be lighter, as more folks concentrate on their summer holidays. The standard “television season” runs from September to April or May, and while of course there are still lots of things to watch at this time of year, there tends to be less of interest to me. The decline of traditional broadcast television as we enter an age of on-demand streaming has lessened the impact of this, however, which is fantastic!

Summer – wonderfully represented by this stock photo – can honestly just piss off. It’s the worst season of the year.

The biggest story of 2020 is of course the coronavirus pandemic. This has massively disrupted production and release schedules across the entertainment industry, and what should have been a big summer season for films is practically nonexistent right now. Even the Olympic Games, which were to take place in Tokyo, and the Euro 2020 football tournament have been postponed until next year, both of which would have been big events to enjoy this summer.

So under the circumstances, what am I most looking forward to? It has to be Star Trek, of course! You probably already knew that. Star Trek: Discovery’s third season is due out any time now, and I’m still hopeful that we’ll see Lower Decks debut before the end of the year as well, per the original plan. I’m really interested – and a little nervous – to see what kind of story Discovery will tell having left its 23rd Century setting behind. I’ve already taken a look at the trailer for the upcoming season, and you can find my thoughts on it by clicking or tapping here. I really expected that we’d have seen a tentative release date – or even just a release window – when Star Trek: Picard was on the air, as using that show to plug Discovery would’ve made sense. The latest news seems to be that post-production work is practically finished; I’m anticipating a release date any day now.

Star Trek: Discovery will be back any time now… I hope!

We should also be seeing the fifth season of The Expanse before the end of the year, and perhaps a second season of Netflix’s The Witcher series. The Expanse is an absolutely fantastic near-future sci-fi show, and if you haven’t seen it yet I honestly cannot recommend it enough. After an extensive fan campaign to save the show from cancellation, Amazon bought the rights and it’s currently available on Amazon Prime Video – which is where you can also watch the first season of Star Trek: Picard if you haven’t already.

The fourth season of Rick & Morty wrapped up only a few weeks ago, having been split into two blocks of five episodes. It had debuted back in November last year, and while I’d be surprised to see the fifth season show up so soon after the fourth – especially given the series is notorious for its long waits between seasons – I can’t help but be a little hopeful that Season 5 could follow Season 4’s model and kick off in the run-up to Christmas.

The Terror – a horror anthology series – had a great first season and an okay second season, and while there hasn’t been any official confirmation yet, it would be great to see Season 3 some time this year too. The Terror made great use of two historical settings; another mini-series coming out in August with an historical basis is The Good Lord Bird. This will follow a fictionalised portrayal of real-life abolitionist John Brown in the years immediately prior to the American Civil War. As a history buff, I’m hyped for that!

Ethan Hawke will star in The Good Lord Bird.

The 1932 novel Brave New World is being adapted as a series, and will star Alden Ehrenreich (of Solo: A Star Wars Story fame). Not to be confused with Strange New Worlds, the upcoming Star Trek series, this is one that I’m tentatively adding to my watchlist when it debuts in July. Also coming in July is Intelligence, a sitcom set at GCHQ – the UK’s cyber-security headquarters and starring David Schwimmer.

July is a big month, as it could additionally see the Disney+ original Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe. The exact release date hasn’t been revealed yet, which leads me to think it may have been delayed. Regardless, I’m a huge fan of Phineas and Ferb so I’m looking forward to it! Although several characters from the animated show have popped up in Milo Murphy’s Law, this will be the first proper reunion since 2015. Could a fifth season be on the cards if this one-off special is successful?

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe will debut on Disney+ sometime soon.

Changing genres – and tones – entirely, American Crime Story: Impeachment has nothing to do with the current occupant of the White House, but will instead focus on the impeachment of Bill Clinton. The first season of this anthology series back in 2016 looked at the trial of OJ Simpson, and I’m curious to see its dramatic take on the Clinton scandal. On CBS All Access – the new digital home of Star Trek in the USA – a new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand is scheduled to premiere. I put the first adaptation (from the 1990s) on my tongue-in-cheek list of things to watch while self-isolating, as it’s set in the aftermath of a plague. I’m curious to see how this new adaptation will unfold.

Speaking of plagues, The Walking Dead is getting a second spin-off. While I no longer follow the main series, as I feel it became repetitive and uninteresting somewhere around its fourth or fifth season, the new spin-off titled The Walking Dead: World Beyond promises to take a different look at the apocalypse. Fear the Walking Dead told a story set during the first days of the zombie apocalypse – something arguably missing from the original show – and World Beyond plans to look at the world more than a decade later, focusing on a new cast of younger characters. I’m curious, at least, to see what the producers have in store.

The Walking Dead: World Beyond will pick up the story more than a decade into the zombie apocalypse.

In film, there’s slim pickings at the moment. With cinemas tentatively set to reopen over the summer, at least here in the UK, things could pick up – but I think we need to be prepared for further delays and disruption if the pandemic situation changes. That being said, there are some films due out in the next few months as things begin to get back to normal. The King’s Man is the third entry in the Kingsman series of action-comedies, and has the potential to be a fun romp when it’s released in September. I enjoyed the first entry in the series as a send-up of Bond-esque films.

That leads us neatly to No Time To Die, which is set to wrap up the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films. Postponed from its original April slot, the film won’t release until November (which means I won’t get to see it until 2021). I’m expecting it to be an explosive finale – leading to a soft reboot of the 007 franchise in the coming years.

No Time To Die will be Daniel Craig’s last film in the role of the famous spy.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is the third entry in the series that helped make Keanu Reeves a household name. This one strikes me as an odd choice; the previous Bill and Ted films were very much of their time – the late ’80s/early ’90s. Returning to the franchise almost thirty years later is a bold move – will it pay off?

Starring Russell Crowe, Unhinged is billed as a thriller about a woman being stalked after a road rage incident. It has the potential to be interesting when it’s released in August. An adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, a follow-up to the successful 2017 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, is set for release in October. Though I’m not a big fan of horror in general, Antebellum looks potentially interesting, at least in its premise – a modern-day black woman is sent back in time to be a slave in the American south.

Disney is releasing another live-action remake of one of their classics: this time it’s Mulan, which is scheduled to arrive in late July; the film will feature Rosalind Chao of Star Trek fame in a co-starring role. The original Mulan was great, but I haven’t really felt any of the live-action remakes that I’ve seen so far have lived up to their source material. Hopefully Mulan can buck the trend!

Mulan will star Liu Yifei in the title role.

Another remake of Dune will be released in cinemas in December, and this time there will be an all-star cast including Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, and Stellan Skarsgård. I’m half-curious, half-nervous about this one. The novel Dune has been notoriously difficult to adapt, and the 2020 version aims to be the first part of a duology – the second part of which, I fear, may never see the light of day if the first part isn’t well-received.

The video game industry is already gearing up for the release of the next generation of home consoles. The Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 are set to launch in time for the holidays – probably in mid/late November. Along with the new consoles will be a slew of launch titles and exclusives – PlayStation seems to have the upper hand in that department.

The Xbox Series X (pictured) and PlayStation 5 are coming later this year.

Cyberpunk 2077 will be a huge title when it releases in November. From famed developer CD Projekt Red, this game has been on a lot of folks’ radars since it was announced way back in 2013. After being delayed twice already, and with the new console generation looming, the pressure is on to meet this latest release date.

Rocket Arena, which was announced during June’s EA Play presentation, looks like a fun multiplayer title in the vein of Overwatch. EA Play also showed off the trailer for Star Wars: Squadrons, which is set to release in October. A Star Wars game all about piloting X-Wings and TIE Fighters has been something people have been asking for for ages – older titles like Rogue Squadron were great, and this looks to be a modern incarnation of titles like that. Also coming in the Star Wars franchise is Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

Promotional artwork for Star Wars: Squadrons.

As a history buff, and a fan of strategy games, I’m interested to see what A Total War Saga: Troy brings to the table. The Total War series has been running for a long time, and I remember fondly its earlier iterations like Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War – the latter of which must’ve been one of my most-played games of the early-2000s!

Ghost of Tsushima could well fill the role for the PlayStation 4 that The Last of Us did for the PlayStation 3: being the console’s swansong and ending the generation on a high. A third-person action-adventure following a samurai as he battles the Mongols, this game has been looking amazing in pre-release marketing.

There’s still the possibility that Watch Dogs Legion and the remake of Star Wars Episode I Racer will be out before the end of the year. And there will be new entries in EA Sports’ annual franchise games, such as FIFA 21. I will be curious to see how, if at all, the sports games address the massive disruption to this most recent season in their career modes and commentaries. Having not picked up a FIFA title since FIFA 18, I had been considering FIFA 21 – it’s hard to justify buying new iterations annually, but after a three-year gap I should hope to find improved gameplay!

Placeholder image for FIFA 21.

There will be a weird Marvel’s Avengers game – weird because the developers didn’t get the rights or licenses to make their characters look like the actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite the game seeming to make use of an otherwise similar aesthetic. Hopefully that won’t be too jarring! Twin Mirror and Tell Me Why are also scheduled for release this year, and are from the team behind Life is Strange and Vampyr. And finally, a second remake of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 is due out in October. Unlike the version currently available, which took the older titles of the Dreamcast era and upscaled them, the new game bills itself as a full-on remake.

So that’s it. Well, that isn’t necessarily it, but that’s all I could think of that I’m looking forward to between now and Christmas based on what’s been announced (and what we can guess or assume is coming). Hopefully there will be a few surprises in there too.

If I had to pick a number one right now, it would be Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. But there are plenty of other things to look forward to!

All titles and properties listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, broadcaster, developer, publisher, or company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

At least the PlayStation 5 will have exclusive games…

The PlayStation 5 presentation.

Xbox undoubtedly lost the current console generation. Sales estimates put the PlayStation 4 at more than double the sales of the Xbox One, which is a bit of a surprise coming on the back of the Xbox 360’s dominance in the previous cycle. Aside from an incredibly rocky launch, where the Xbox One’s online-only model, inability to share or trade-in games, and forcing the console to be bundled with the Kinect were all criticised, Xbox One’s biggest problem through the whole generation has been a lack of exclusive games.

Just off the top of my head I can name a number of PlayStation 4 exclusives, many of which were well-received are considered among the best titles of the generation: there’s God of War, Uncharted 4, Spider-Man, and Horizon Zero Dawn, as well as remasters of titles like The Last of Us and Uncharted 1-3. What does Xbox have in response? The Halo series, but with the recent release of those titles on PC, only Halo 5 remains a true exclusive. Other Xbox One titles, like the Forza series, Sunset Overdrive, and Sea of Thieves were also released for PC. That doesn’t have to be a problem, but not having any exclusive titles robs a console of one of its major selling points. The fact that Xbox’s lineup of titles have been generally thought of as average rather than great definitely didn’t help, and Xbox One has been an underwhelming console ever since it launched in 2013.

The PlayStation 5 family of devices, which were shown off yesterday.

I didn’t see anything in yesterday’s PlayStation 5 reveal presentation that blew me away. As I wrote previously when looking at Microsoft’s Xbox Series X gameplay trailer, the biggest selling-point for new consoles since at least the era of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 has been graphics. And none of the titles on show either for Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 look significantly better than what’s currently on offer. As a result, in order to stand out in a difficult market, the consoles are going to really have to push their exclusive titles, and this is where PlayStation 5 has the upper hand.

The issues Xbox has had this generation are not going away. In fact, they’re compounded by the strange decision to make all Xbox Series X titles also available on the Xbox One for at least the next couple of years. This means that any new Xbox title is constrained by the system specifications of 2013’s Xbox One and will need to remain compatible with that device. So far it seems like PlayStation has avoided this pitfall, but even so I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat thinking how amazing PlayStation 5’s graphics were.

Games in 2020 look great. PC games can run in 4K resolution with high frame rates, and even the oldest versions of the current crop of consoles manage to output decent-looking titles. The Nintendo Switch, despite its small form factor, can run games like The Witcher 3, and even titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons look great on that system. PlayStation and Xbox have long billed themselves as the “hardcore gamer” brands, and they’ve both put a big focus on graphics and how games look. While it seems that the reaction to the PlayStation 5 announcement is generally positive, I’m disappointed that neither brand is really doing anything different.

The new PlayStation 5 controller – the DualSense.

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X – which has a truly awful name – feel like minor iterations of what we already have. There will be some quality-of-life improvements for sure: better battery life in the control pad, faster loading times as a result of using SSDs instead of hard drives, a better rumble/vibration feature in the control pad, etc. But beyond these small things, there are no new genres being pioneered as there had been in the past. There are no new ways to play – both systems have control pads scarcely any different to current generation controllers. The graphics on display look great, but graphics already looked great and I didn’t see anything in the PlayStation 5 or Xbox presentations that wouldn’t feel right at home in the current generation. In short, is there really much point to a new generation of consoles in 2020?

If the new consoles can’t do anything fundamentally different or transform players’ experiences in new ways, there’s definitely an argument to be made that it would be better to continue with the current consoles, even though they’re into their seventh year of life. Nintendo at least offers innovation – the Wii introduced motion controls, and the Switch is a hybrid between a handheld system and a home console. Xbox and PlayStation are really just offering more of the same.

In this environment, what will matter is exclusive titles. Whichever brand is perceived as having the best exclusives and the most exclusives will benefit, because when the graphics look samey, when the consoles look samey, and when it’s hard to really upsell a small difference in loading times or longer batter life, exclusive titles are what players will be focusing on. While PlayStation 4 won the argument this time around, any time a new console generation kicks off it’s a case of the slate being wiped clean. It should be up for grabs, and both companies should be going for it. But they aren’t.

Horizon Forbidden West will be a sequel to 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn.

PlayStation 4 will pass the baton of varied and great exclusive titles to PlayStation 5, as they demonstrated last night. Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Project Athia, Returnal, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Destruction All-Stars, and Horizon Forbidden West, as well as a remaster of Demon’s Souls makes for an impressive-looking lineup. None of the titles blew me away in terms of their graphics, but they all look like they have the potential to be great games. And this matters! Exclusive titles are going to be a huge selling point this generation, and if Xbox Series X doesn’t offer many, and only has multiplatform titles like Assassin’s Creed or FIFA, it’s hard to justify picking up that console instead of a PlayStation 5, which offers those same titles plus a bunch of exciting exclusives.

PlayStation is playing essentially the same hand that it has since 2013. Why mix it up too much if it works, right? Xbox looks set to stumble into the same trap it did this generation too.

All that’s left now is for both companies to sort out their price structures – and to make sure that the coronavirus pandemic won’t disrupt their launches. If I were advising Microsoft, I’d suggest the best chance they have right now is to try and undercut the PlayStation 5 in a big way. If Xbox Series X could manage to be £100 or more cheaper, it suddenly seems like a better option, even if its exclusive lineup is lacklustre. But we’ll have to wait and see.

All brands and properties mentioned above belong to their respective owners. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are scheduled to release by the end of this year (2020). This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

My thoughts on the “console war”

Barring a major shift in circumstances, which we may yet see if the coronavirus pandemic isn’t sorted out in the next few months, Xbox and PlayStation plan to launch new consoles before Christmas. They will replace this generation’s Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which were released in 2013, and will join the Nintendo Switch to form the “big three” gaming platforms heading into 2021 and beyond.

When I’m in a gaming mood I’m primarily a PC player. I find PC to be a more versatile platform, and the abundance of digital shops on PC means that sales and discounts are aplenty, which I absolutely feel makes PC an appealing choice even if the up-front costs can be higher than a console. But that’s a whole different article!

When Google Stadia launched towards the end of last year, I felt it had the potential to be disruptive to the gaming market in all kinds of good ways. To understand why, we need to step back in time.

The Xbox Series X was unveiled late last year.

For a brief moment just after the millennium, there were four companies in the home console market, and they were, broadly speaking, all trying to appeal to the same core audience of gamers. There was Sega, with the Dreamcast, Sony, with its PlayStation brand, Nintendo, and Microsoft, which launched its first Xbox console in 2001. This moment wasn’t to last, of course, as the Dreamcast would prove a failure forcing Sega out of the market altogether. Nintendo’s GameCube was also not a resounding success, and the lessons the company learned led to the creation of the Wii in 2006, and from that point on, Nintendo has been fishing in a different pond to the other two console brands.

So since the mid-2000s, when Nintendo decided to go in a completely different direction with the Wii, Xbox and PlayStation have been the two main brands in direct competition. Nintendo’s current offering, the Switch, is a very different platform from anything Microsoft and Sony have, being half-handheld and half-console, and has a very different hardware setup. As a result, many gamers (myself included) will have a primary platform for playing most games and a Nintendo for playing their titles. I’m currently in the early stages of building my island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons so stay tuned for my thoughts on that at some point!

The two main competitors, PlayStation and Xbox, have taken very different routes since 2013, and the console market is in danger, I feel, of becoming a monopoly. It needs something major to shake things up – hence my excitement at Stadia potentially doing so. Microsoft’s Xbox brand has been focused on being a “multimedia” brand instead of purely gaming, and its output reflects that. Microsoft has also seen a steady growth in the PC gaming market and has chosen to release some previously exclusive titles on PC as well – the most significant being Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is as close as Xbox has to a signature franchise. Only Halo 5 remains a console exclusive right now, and I have to say it feels like only a matter of time before that, too, is ported to PC. Microsoft have been working hard to turn the Xbox One into a multimedia centre – something people could have in their living rooms to watch television, use streaming services, and even do things like make video calls.

As a result of Xbox’s foray into the PC space and using their platform to promote things like video streaming as much as gaming, PlayStation has been the dominant force in this console generation. They’ve offered many more exclusive titles, and the PlayStation 4 has outsold the Xbox One by at least two-to-one, perhaps even more. While Xbox as a brand is still healthy and commercially viable, it doesn’t leave the overall state of the market feeling especially great, as competition between the two companies is necessary to keep quality high and for developers to keep pushing the boundaries.

The DualSense controller is all we’ve seen of the PlayStation 5 so far.

Google Stadia is clearly not going to be the disruptive force I hoped for, at least not any time soon. Its minuscule userbase and tiny library of games has seen to that, though I hope Google will continue development as the core technology is interesting at least. And as far as I know, no one else is planning to get in on the home console market right now. There have been past attempts, like the Ouya and other android-based consoles, but none have been particularly successful. It took a company with the clout and financial resources of Microsoft in 2001 to break into the market for the first time as a newcomer, and if Google is unable to successfully enter the gaming space I can see that failure being offputting for anyone considering investing significant money into a new home console.

So we’re left with a two-plus-one situation in the home console space. PlayStation versus Xbox, with Nintendo off to one side largely doing its own thing. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be comparable in terms of their internal hardware, especially as both seem to be using AMD’s Zen chips and incorporating ray-tracing graphics, so the choice between systems will be more about marketing than technology. Xbox has already signalled that their multimedia and PC plans will continue into the new generation, and it was even suggested at one stage late last year that every Xbox Series X game will also be available on Xbox One for the first year or two of the new console’s life. This combination will, I feel, give the PlayStation 5 a distinct advantage.

So where do I stand? I’ll be honest, I don’t really have a dog in this fight any more. As someone who plays primarily on PC it’s less important to me. Later in the generation, when prices start to come down, I can perhaps see myself picking up a console, but it would only be if there was some must-play exclusive that didn’t make it to PC. And of the two, PlayStation seems most likely to offer something along those lines so it’s not impossible I’d pick up a PlayStation 5 in the next few years. It certainly won’t be at or near launch, though.

However, I’ve never really been a big PlayStation gamer. In the generations after the first PlayStation launched I owned a Nintendo 64, a Dreamcast, an Xbox, and then an Xbox 360. It wasn’t until much later when I picked up a second-hand PlayStation 3. By then I was less into gaming and I’ve only played a handful of PlayStation 3 and 4 titles over the last few years. This is purely subjective, but as someone who likes to play some games with a controller instead of keyboard and mouse, I find Xbox controllers more comfortable to use. The original Xbox controller from 2001 – known as the “duke” – is actually one of my favourites, despite the justifiable criticism it received at the time for its large size!

The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will join the Nintendo Switch in the home console market.

Looking in from the outside as someone who has no plans to purchase either of the new consoles imminently, what I hope is that both are successful for their parent companies and that both are going to be great platforms for gaming. I’d like to see a bigger stride this console generation than the last, particularly where graphics are concerned, but it seems unlikely. Many PlayStation 4 and Xbox One titles don’t look much different from games released in the latter part of the previous generation, and gameplay and graphics in general have not advanced nearly as far over the last few years as they had in previous generations. Earlier console generations brought huge advancements over their predecessors. The Nintendo 64, for example, was an incredibly powerful machine compared to the Super Nintendo, which was itself streets ahead of the earlier NES. I remember in the late 1990s and early 2000s when there was talk of genuine photorealism by 2010, 2015, or 2020. While some projects can come close to that, we aren’t there in a general sense. And to make a long story short, the fact that the next generation of consoles will be a progression or iteration on what is already available in terms of graphics and gameplay makes them less exciting to me personally.

What we will see are smaller quality-of-life improvements. Things like longer battery life in wireless peripherals like controllers, as well as a move from hard discs to solid-state drives will give console gamers something to appreciate. There might also be things like faster download speeds, quicker installation from optical discs – which are still going to be present – and support for 4K resolution and video playback. With most new televisions being 4K that makes a lot of sense.

Overall, the biggest issue that is currently facing Xbox and PlayStation is the pandemic. Both in terms of disruption to their manufacturing and logistics and the wider economic impact on consumer spending, the launches scheduled for later this year may yet be delayed, and if they aren’t, sales may not initially be as strong as they were in 2013 or 2005/06. The consoles themselves will be of some interest, but what I’m most interested to see is how new games plan to take advantage of some of the new hardware capabilities. Pushing the boundaries and creating games that are bigger, better, and more visually impressive than ever is something I’ll always be interested to see, even though I don’t really mind which brand or company “wins”.

All brands mentioned above are the copyright of their respective parent companies. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.