Those of you who read my PS5 vs. Xbox Series X face-off (I can hear you sharpening your knives) know that I came down, very mildly, on the side of Microsoft’s new console. They’re very similar overall, but the Xbox Series X has slightly more powerful hardware, a much more elegant design and a more robust library of backwards compatible games. While the “better” console will always be subjective, I’m comfortable saying that of the two, I prefer the Xbox Series X.
That’s why I’m somewhat surprised to find that for the past few weeks, I’ve been spending most of my gaming time on the PS5. I got the two consoles roughly a day apart, and spent a few days taking deep dives into each one for our console reviews and supplementary coverage. But once that was done, I booted up the PS5 and have returned to it for a few hours almost every night.
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The reason why is prosaic: The PS5 has brand-new exclusive games, whereas the Xbox Series X doesn’t. I was all caught up with my Xbox library before the Series X came out, and while the new console optimizes games beautifully, I’d rather play something I’ve never played before.
Exclusive launch games
To be fair, this is not the first time that Tom’s Guide has brought up a lack of launch exclusives as a potential downside of the Xbox Series X. My colleague Roland Moore-Colyer pointed it out in his written Xbox Series X review:
“Ultimately, there's no one flagship game to nail to the mast of the Xbox Series X,” he wrote, calling the launch lineup “lackluster.”
I made a similar point in my video review, saying, “It’s hard to shake the feeling that the Xbox Series X hardware launched before there was software that absolutely needed its power.”
Compare and contrast the PS5, which comes pre-installed with the surprisingly fun Astro’s Playroom, and features the impressive Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the system-selling Demon’s Souls. As soon as I finished one game, I wanted to go right on to the next. And while the first two games are short, Demon’s Souls is definitely not. Even if you didn’t bring any backwards compatible PS4 games along for the ride, there’s a lot of new stuff to play on the PS5.
Conversely, Xbox Series X has a list of 30 optimized games at launch, including Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Some of these games have been out for months; others are brand-new. But the thing they all have in common is that they’re also available on the Xbox One — and often available on the PC, or even PS4. The games themselves are above reproach, but they don’t feel like software that takes full advantage of a brand-new console’s unique abilities.
What to play next?
At the moment, I’m fully engrossed in the PS5’s launch library (as well as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which I started on the PS4, and have continued on the PS5). But even exclusive games end eventually, and I have to ask myself: What’s next? With all due respect toward Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Demon’s Souls is the last PS5 exclusive that I want to play start-to-finish right now; after that, the horizon looks pretty clear until Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
This, I think, is where the Xbox Series X can really shine. While multiplatform games work just as well on the PS5 and the Xbox Series X, the latter has one big advantage when it comes to game selection: Xbox Game Pass.
I’ve written about this before, but Xbox Game Pass is perhaps the single most important Microsoft project of this console generation, outstripping even the Xbox Series X. For one flat monthly fee, you can download more than 100 games to the Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and Xbox One. Most of them are also available on PC, and many of them are now available to stream on Android devices as well.
Even as an advocate of buying the games you want rather than renting them indefinitely, I have to admit a begrudging respect for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Not only does it have a lot of games that I want to play; it also has games I may never have tried out, but wound up loving. As an example, Yakuza: Like a Dragon was one of the games I received to test out during my Xbox Series X/S review period. I thought it was fun, but wished I knew more about the ongoing series structure and lore. I logged into Xbox Game Pass and discovered the first three games, just waiting for a download.
From Gears of War to Fable, Xbox Game Pass has been an invaluable tool to catch up on series that I’ve either never played before, or only dabbled in, with very little initial investment, and zero effort spent hunting down used copies of old games. While I would have rather seen Microsoft kick off the new console generation with an unmissable exclusive, having access to multiple beloved series for one flat fee is a pretty darn good consolation prize.
PS5 and Xbox Series X outlook: The next few months
As someone who has both a PS5 and an Xbox Series X, I’m glad that I can spend some time on each system in the next few months. While the PS5 is delivering on high-quality exclusive titles, I can’t overstate the utility, convenience and quality of Xbox Game Pass.
However, I also realize that the only reason I have both of these consoles is for work. Left to my own devices, which one would I have bought — if either? This is a harder question to answer. As much as I like the Xbox Series X, I would have been perfectly happy playing most of these games on my Xbox One. Regarding the PS5, I could have played Miles Morales on the PS4 — and, technically speaking, I played Demon’s Souls years ago on the PS3.
Granted, all of this may be academic. At the time of writing, it’s nearly impossible to buy either next-gen system, and it looks like it’s going to remain that way until at least January. My practical advice, then, would be to spend the next few months finishing up your PS4 and Xbox One backlog, and hope that both systems can deliver a roster of high-quality exclusives in 2021.