The PS5 and Xbox Series X are just weeks away, promising a new generation of games that take full advantage of true 4K graphics, high frame rates and fast loading speeds. But I’m mostly just excited to use them to play my big backlog of old stuff.
Both next-generation consoles are promising comprehensive backwards compatibility: The PS5 will support nearly every PS4 game, while the Xbox Series X and Series S will play three generations' worth of titles dating back to the original Xbox. This marks a dramatic change from when the PS4 and Xbox One launched in 2013, effectively forcing us to leave our old game libraries behind (at least for a while).
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But the PS5 and Xbox Series X won’t just play current-gen titles: both consoles will make many older games run significantly better. We’ve already seen hands-on evidence of the Xbox Series X nearly doubling the frame rates of games like Sekiro without any extra work on the developer’s part, and many of the best games of the past few years are going to be optimized manually to perform better on the new consoles.
As someone who still hasn’t finished Ghost of Tsushima, I’m thrilled to go back in November and enjoy the game at a silky 60 frames per second thanks to the PS5’s Game Boost mode. I’m even more excited that my PS4 copy of Mortal Kombat 11 will be upgraded to the PS5 version for free at launch, allowing me to take advantage of features such as dynamic 4K resolution and much faster load times.
Some of my favorite Xbox One games, like Forza Horizon 4 and Gears 5, will be optimized for Series X on day one, complete with 4K 60 fps gameplay for the former and silky 120 fps multiplayer for the latter.
Back to backwards compatibility
Just a year ago, I felt unenthusiastic about the prospect of new consoles, since they seemed like they would be incremental, PC-style upgrades that would do the same thing as the previous generation, only better. Now, that’s the very reason I can’t wait to get my hands on the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Part of my excitement stems from the fact that I just built a powerful gaming PC last year, and was blown away at seeing my Steam library and cross-compatible Xbox games running at much higher resolutions and frame rates than before. If the new consoles can provide that same experience for the millions of PS4 and Xbox One owners out there, they’ll be worth the price of admission for that feature alone.
Day-one backwards compatibility is nothing new, of course. Nintendo's always-evolving Game Boy handhelds supported previous-gen titles for close to two decades, and the PS2 played most PS1 games, just to name a few examples. But backwards compatibility was shoddy at best during the PS3 and Xbox 360 era, and nonexistent at the start of the PS4 and Xbox One generation.
Microsoft found a way to retroactively add backwards compatibility to the Xbox One in 2015, a feature that has since expanded to hundreds of compatible games dating back to the first Xbox. This approach has been at the heart of Microsoft's messaging around Series X, and it's hard not to feel like Sony has taken notice with its own efforts around the PS5.
I can’t wait to play true next-gen games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, but I’m also excited to see my existing PS4 and Xbox One libraries get new life on next-generation hardware. For the first time in a while, the next console generation will deliver new experiences without leaving behind the libraries we’ve spent years building up, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.