The X, the S, and all the Ones Before It...
As you read this, you're able (or at least you were able) to pre-order the Playstation 5. It is less than a week until one can pre-order the Xbox Series X. I'm not going to go into the hardware differences because there are numerous sites out there that handle that aspect of the console war. Still, I want to discuss my thoughts about the current console generation as we are on the eve of the curtain falling on both the Xbox One and Playstation 4.
The original Xbox was my very first console, having received it as a Christmas present in the early 2000s. I remember playing the hell out of games like the original Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. I bought the Xbox 360 when it came out and also purchased the Xbox One on its launch. I have been a member of Xbox Live Gold since at least 2007 and, as of last Friday, earned a gamerscore of 200,000, which means I have played a lot of games over the years.
It is safe to say that I am an Xbox "fanboy," and I will be the one to say this with all sincerity.
The Xbox got pretty handily thrashed this generation.
Let me be blunt here, in terms of exclusive games, Microsoft completely dropped the ball with the Xbox One, hell, even coming out the gate, they completely hamstrung themselves with how they first marketed the new console. The fact that it cost $100 more than the PS4 didn't help. But exclusive titles are where Sony took Microsoft behind a woodshed and beat them with a bat.
The PS4's best games were Bloodbourne, Ratchet & Clank, Days Gone, Shadow of the Colossus, God of War, Spider-Man, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, The Last of Us Remastered, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, and you could probably safely put Last of Us 2 on that list as well. I'm not going to count the Final Fantasy VII remake because it's a timed exclusive. The Xbox One's best games were Halo Wars 2, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Halo 5: Guardians, Sea of Thieves, Gears of War 5, Forza Motorsport 7, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Sunset Overdrive, and Forza Horizon 4.
Of course, any best list is entirely subjective, but the big difference is that the PS4 had more variety in its best-of list, in my opinion. And while I hold up Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps (which are both Xbox exclusives) as some of the finest platforming games ever made, they were never going to move the needle much like say Spider-Man would.
Xbox One also suffered from some bad PR before its launch. There was a long list of complaints: the Kinect was "always-on," you wouldn't be able to trade used games with friends, requiring a persistent internet connection, and the idea that the Xbox would become the multimedia center of your home. There was no end to the amount of crap that gamers discussed with the new Xbox.
The irony of all the stuff people bitched about? Microsoft was completely right and pretty much predicted the way technology was going. While the Kinect was never going to last (motion gaming was always a gimmick to me, and I never thought it would be a long term thing), virtually any device you activate is "always-on" and always listening to you. Whenever you talk to your Alexa, iPhone, etc. and voice-activate it, it is always listening to you, it has to for that feature to work.
While I understand the idea that the Kinect, something with a camera in it, was "always-on," it's laughable now to think of how violently people reacted to the idea that something was always listening to you. Also, always needing an internet connection? How's your all-digital game library working out for you so far?
All digital game libraries require some form of authentication for you to play them. I have always thought the argument of "WHAT IF I DON'T WANT TO PLAY ONLINE!?!?" was a little ridiculous. Gamers mainly play in their homes and likely have a constant internet connection, whether from their computers or phones. Things like cloud save (a godsend, let me assure you) meant that I don't have to worry about my saves being lost should something happen to my Xbox. Still, it required an internet connection, which was never a significant problem for most people who own consoles.
Also, ironically at least for myself, the Xbox did indeed become a multimedia center for my house. Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Video, and Hulu all found homes on my Xbox, and honestly, I'm glad to have it all centralized to one place.
It always struck me as funny that the Xbox One pretty much was ahead of the curve in terms of where gaming would end up, and Microsoft was given nothing but shit for it. However, as mentioned earlier, where the Xbox fell behind was in its lack of killer exclusives. But can Microsoft right the ship?
The Xbox Series X has a lot of ground to cover to make up to catch the Playstation 5. The question is, can they do it? Simply put, they definitely can. I want to stress this point; Microsoft, if it genuinely wanted to sink money into its games department, could bury Sony as an entity. Microsoft has earned $143 billion while Sony has earned $76 billion through Q2 of 2020. I would argue Microsoft has been moving in the direction of attempting to get back to relevance.
As for the last few years? They've been acquiring game studios. In 2018 they bought Compulsion Games, inXile Entertainment, Ninja Theory, Obisidian Entertainment, Playground Games, and Undead Labs. In 2019 they purchased Double Fine Productions, not to mention they still own Rare and Mojang Studios. One issue with those purchases is that it takes years for a game studio to make a "must buy" video game, and some of the stuff I've seen were probably things they were developing before their acquisitions. I think the Xbox Series X will swing some good exclusive games, but we're probably not seeing many of those games until some time in 2021.
Also, it appears that Microsoft is going hard on the Game Pass, which honestly looks a little bit attractive to me as time is going on. As you already know from my previous articles, I loathe the idea of not owning my games, but there are many, many games out there that I would love to play but are unable to due to the cost involved. My Xbox game wish list currently sits at around 90 games. How many of them could I be playing with Game Pass? Not to mention that with EA Access now joining up with Xbox Game Pass, it means that I can play any EA game before I purchase it. I'm not going to lie to you; Game Pass gets more and more tempting to me by the day. And to their credit, Microsoft has been pushing to be more inclusive with their services, games, and even controllers.
HP, Microsoft, and PC gaming giant Valve (who runs Steam) announced a partnership to develop the "next generation" of VR headset together earlier this year. While I'm not sold on the idea of VR headsets, Valve and Microsoft's idea starting to work together could mean the eventual forming of a partnership that could see Xbox gain thousands of PC games that haven't gotten a console release yet.
But what about the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S? I strongly believe that both the Playstation and Xbox could be seeing the last generation of physical media gaming consoles. Both the Xbox Series S and the Playstation 5 Digital Edition are experiments by both Sony and Microsoft to see if the market is ready to move to all digital. As I said earlier, Microsoft was roundly criticized in 2013 for the idea of always needing an internet connection. But now, in 2020? That is pretty much a reality and generally speaking, both the Series X and the PS5's life cycles will probably end sometime near the end of this decade, and it's hard not to imagine that digital sales won't make up the bulk of game purchases by then. Statistically speaking, physical game sales have been dropping steadily year by year since 2009, while digital sales have been rising. I could easily see physical gaming being a "niche" market in a few years.
As for the Xbox Series X itself, I laugh when people call it a "trash bin" and mention how beautiful the PS5's flowing lines are. My response has always been, "Who cares?" it's supposed to play games, not be a talking point for your mom's book club meetings ("Ooooh Emily, is that the new console?"). If I told you that there was a console that could play Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo, and every game system going back to the Atari in 4k resolution with 120 FPS, but it was bright pink with glitter and looked like a wad of spit-up chewing gum would you say no to it? Me? I'd say get that glittery son of a bitch into my entertainment center. People who argue form over function have baffled me because I want the thing to do what it does well, and unless it looks like a life-sized version of Jeffrey Epstein, I don't care how it looks.
Pre-orders open for the Series X and S on Tuesday, and I plan to get one day one. I get why people might want a PS5, and hey, I probably will eventually pick one up in 2021 for some of the exclusives. But the thing I always tell people is to be happy with whatever you get. If you are fortunate enough to afford a $300, $400, or $500 console on the day it comes out, be glad you can purchase it and don't try and be a dick and spoil anyone else's good time.