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PS5 one year later — the good, the bad and the ugly

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Today, November 12, 2021, the PS5 celebrates its one-year anniversary. While you may never have actually seen one out in the wild, the PS5 is definitely out in the world, and has been both delighting and frustrating gamers for 12 whole months.

Tom’s Guide has had the PS5 since a few weeks before it launched. As such, we’ve had a lot of time to develop strong opinions on the console, from its unconventional design to its excellent roster of exclusive games. One year later, it seems clear that the PS5 has begun to deliver on its vast promise — and that Sony’s latest console still has a long way to go. Of course the PS5 wasn't the only console launched 12 months ago, and we've also taken a look at how the Xbox Series X fares one year later.

PS5 one year later: The good

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart Spybot location

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Before we take a deep dive into the PS5, it’s probably worth noting that the console itself is firmly in the “good” category. It has a robust library, solid backwards compatibility, excellent performance and a decent assortment of bells and whistles. The primary purpose of a gaming console is to play games with a minimum of fuss, and in this respect, the PS5 succeeds. That may sound like faint praise, but bear in mind that not every console has had such a smooth first year (the Xbox One, to take an example from recent memory).

The PS5 has achieved standout success in two categories: exclusive games and performance.

Otherwise, the PS5 has achieved standout success in two categories: exclusive games and performance. Sony promised a robust library of games that you couldn’t play anywhere else, as well as significant advancements in loading times, graphical fidelity and audio. For the most part, the company has made good on its promise.

Over the past year, the PS5 has had at least six exclusive games: Astro’s Playroom, Demon’s Souls, Destruction AllStars, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal. Apart from Destruction AllStars (which is unremarkable), each of these games is one of the best PS5 games you can buy. Returnal demonstrates that the roguelike structure can work in a fully 3D environment. Astro’s Playroom makes full use of every hardware feature the PS5 has to offer. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is simply one of the best platformers in ages.

This is to say nothing of games that aren’t truly PS5-exclusive, but aren’t available on the full console-and-PC spread, either. The PS5 is arguably the best place to play games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, Deathloop and Kena: Bridge of Spirits, thanks to subtle controller haptics and rapid load times.

The PS5’s performance has also lived up to what Sony promised — which is somewhat remarkable, when you remember that Sony claimed that the PS5 was 100 times faster than the PS4. But Sony implied that the PS5 would render loading times essentially instantaneous, whether you were loading up a game from scratch, fast-traveling between distant map points or even jumping across worlds in the middle of a level. It’s rare for a PS5 game to spend more than 10 seconds on a loading screen, even if you’re loading a whole save file from scratch. Having 4K resolution, 60-120 frames per second and 3D audio doesn’t hurt, either, particularly if you have one of the best TVs on the market.

PS5 one year later: The bad

PS5 DualSense Controller new colors

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Even if you’ve been lucky enough to get a PS5, the system is far from perfect. Some users are still having trouble with Rest Mode working properly, and Sony didn’t do much to ease a kerfuffle over fan efficiency in the latest PS5 model.

There’s also the issue of the DualSense controller. While the controller has the potential for some extremely impressive haptic effects, few games have taken full advantage of this feature. Returnal has; Deathloop has; Rift Apart has. But for the most part, a lot of DualSense functionality boils down to “you can press the trigger halfway down sometimes, and all the way down other times.” For a controller that’s much bigger and more unwieldy than the DualShock 4, the tradeoff doesn’t always seem worthwhile.

While the PS5 can play some excellent games, Sony has not shown much interest in letting you take those games to other platforms. PS5 Remote Play is a cumbersome process on PCs, PS4s and smartphones; you can’t even use a DualSense controller wirelessly if you play on Windows. Trying to transfer save data back and forth between a PS4 and PS5 version of a game is a labyrinthine process that can drain hundreds of gigs of data.

Compare and contrast with Microsoft’s Xbox strategy, which lets you buy a game once (or subscribe to the impressively equipped Xbox Game Pass) and play it seamlessly on an Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC or mobile device — either Android or iOS. Microsoft’s approach to game distribution seems downright futuristic compared to Sony’s “buy a PS5 game; play it on the PS5” model.

Aesthetics are always a matter of personal taste, but I don’t like how the PS5 looks. Asymmetrical design rarely works in tech, and Sony’s lopsided disc tray is no exception. But even the PS5 digital version doesn’t fare much better, with its odd, oversized chassis wings and fingerprint-prone front plate. Flipping the system from a horizontal to a vertical configuration is also a pain. If the PS5 is anything like the PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4, there will eventually be a redesign, and I hope that Sony gives us something a little more traditional when the time comes. If nothing else, at least the PS5 could finally get official swappable faceplates.

PS5 one year later: The ugly 

Sony PS5 with PlayStation DualSense controller

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While this isn’t necessarily Sony’s fault, the biggest problem with the PS5 is simply that most people still can’t find one, as evidenced by the massive popularity of our constantly updated PS5 restock guide. A year ago, I wrote that gamers could rest easy with their PS4s, as developers would continue to release PS4 versions, with free upgrades, for the foreseeable future.

The situation is somewhat more urgent now, though, particularly since PS4 gamers are missing out on excellent titles like Rift Apart and Intergrade. While PS4 versions of newer games haven’t tapered off completely yet, they won’t last forever, either.

It’s high time to upgrade to a PS5. But due to a global shipping crisis and an ongoing semiconductor shortage, it’s just not feasible, unless you want to treat tracking console restocks like a second job. “The product is so popular, retailers can’t keep it in stock” would usually be an enviable position for Sony, but between manufacturing woes and empowered scalpers, acquiring a PS5 is much more frustrating process than it should be.

PS5 one year later: Outlook 

PS5

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If you have a PS5, there’s admittedly not much to complain about. It has a strong and growing exclusive roster, and it plays both first- and third-party games beautifully. While the console itself isn’t gorgeous, that’s easy to ignore when you have your eyes glued to gorgeous visuals and inventive gameplay on a TV screen.

On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to get a PS5 — and if you do, you’ll pretty much be married to it, even while other gaming companies move toward multiplatform parity. Once you finish the exclusives (and there aren’t that many, at present), you may find it more convenient to play third-party titles on Xbox or PC.

If supply issues really do ease up in 2022, Sony will have its work cut out for it. Right now, the PS5 is eminently desirable, in part because no one can get one, and that appeals to our scarcity mindsets. Once anyone who wants a PS5 can get one, the much more difficult work of pleasing a long-term fanbase will begin. 

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.