I’ve been playing the PS5 for a year — and it doesn’t feel like a next-gen console

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Over a year has passed since the PS5 launched. Despite the ongoing global chip shortage, Sony’s current-gen system has surpassed all expectations. As of October 2021, PS5 had sold 13.4 million units and is currently the fastest-selling PlayStation console in history.

The PS5's library of first and third-party titles is extensive, especially when you factor in backward compatibility with PS4 games. The PS5 DualSense controller is one of the coolest controllers ever made. Objectively speaking, the PS5 is an overall solid gaming console, and it's easy to see why it's so hard one during PS5 restocks.

I’ve owned a PS5 since launch and am generally pleased with it. Being able to play all of my PS4 games is convenient and having almost all current-gen titles run at 60 frames per second has made it difficult to return to 30fps gaming. The blazing-fast load times are also a plus. Performance-wise, the PS5 crushes the PS4.

Though I’m satisfied with Sony’s newest console, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s more of an upgrade to the PlayStation 4 Pro than a true “next-gen” system. Yes, the console is a technological marvel and is selling well but it doesn’t feel like a true successor to the PS4. Even now, a year after the PS5’s release, I don’t believe that it’s a must-own system.

Before I move on, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to disparage the PS5. Nor am I seeking to fuel the perpetual console war we often see on social media. Most of my complaints with PS5 can also be lobbied at the Xbox Series X. However, I’m focusing on the PS5 because it is my primary gaming console. And right now, it doesn’t quite meet my expectations for a “next-generation” system.

Next-gen feels a lot like last-gen 

I bought a PS4 Pro when it launched in November 2016. Switching over from the base PS4 was a relatively smooth transition thanks to PlayStation Plus’ online storage feature. I signed into my account, downloaded my previous games and saves and was ready to go. I also had the option of transferring data between my PS4 and PS4 Pro with a LAN cable or via my Wi-Fi network. I opted for the cloud storage option since it was easier for me.

It’s hard for a console to feel next-gen when most of its new releases are playable on last-gen systems.

Why am I bringing up my experience setting up the PS4 Pro? Because I went through the exact same process when making the jump from the PS4 Pro to PS5. This wasn’t a problem in and of itself, but it left me feeling like I had simply upgraded my PS4 Pro, not that I bought a brand-new next-gen system. Friends who also own PS5s often joke that the console is a PS4 Pro Plus. I can’t disagree with that sentiment.

Cross-gen titles (games released on both last-gen and current-gen systems) are another reason why I don’t feel I’ve truly stepped into the next generation. Cross-gen releases ensure that everyone, regardless of system, has access to the same titles. This is a mantra Xbox has wholeheartedly embraced. It releases its first-party titles across consoles, PCs, mobile devices and streaming platforms. From a business perspective, it would be unwise for game companies to only release titles on systems with relatively small install bases — especially when many can't get a PS5 or Xbox Series X due to the ongoing global chip shortage.

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I’m all for more folks having access to games, but if new titles have to also run on eight-year-old systems, we’ll continue having last-gen experiences on new hardware. Despite their respectable graphics, titles like Resident Evil Village, Far Cry 6 and Tales of Arise look like last-gen releases. Why? Because that's exactly what they are due to also being available on PS4 and Xbox One. It’s hard for a console to feel next-gen when most of its new releases are playable on last-gen systems.

I should point out that cross-gen titles aren’t new. For almost two years after their late 2013 launches, most major releases on PS4 and Xbox One were also available on PS3 and Xbox 360. It wasn’t until late 2015 that we saw the effective end of cross-gen. Will we have to wait that long this generation? Seeing as how many upcoming 2022 releases will continue the cross-gen trend, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Enhanced PS4 titles

We’ve seen a slew of PS4 games get enhanced on PS5. Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut, God of War and Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade look and play beautifully on PS5 — with smoother frame rates and higher resolution textures. If you’ve never played these games before, you’re going to have a wonderful experience.

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However, if you’re like me, then you’ve no doubt already beaten all or most of these titles on PS4. Aside from the Iki Island portion of Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut, I didn’t play more than 10 or 15 minutes of these and other enhanced titles before moving on to something new. I appreciate that the games look and run at their best on PS5 but those are novelty upgrades for someone who has already played them. They are still the same old games underneath the shiny new veneer.

PS5 exclusives*

As noted in our PS5 one year later — the good, the bad and the ugly piece, the PS5 currently has six exclusives you can only play on the system. These include Astro’s Playroom, Demon’s Souls, Destruction AllStars, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal. Unfortunately, each one comes with certain caveats that prevent them from being true must-own system exclusives.

Demon’s Souls, arguably one of the best games on PS5, is a remake of a PS3 game from 2009. Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade's Episode Intermission DLC (the only portion exclusive to PS5) is 5 hours long at best. Astro’s Playroom, for all its whimsical charm, is a tech demo that showcases the DualSense controller's haptic and rumble features.

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Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal were built from the ground up to run on PS5. But as great as these titles are, neither are exactly mainstream. Platformers like Ratchet & Clank are no longer en vogue and Returnal’s steep difficulty alienates most players (a problem Demon's Souls also shares). I have no hands-on experience with Destruction AllStars but it hasn’t connected with the Twitch audience it appears to be intended for.

The PlayStation 5 will receive a number of notable first-party games in 2022. Horizon Forbidden West and God of War Ragnarok will no doubt be system sellers and rank among the highest-selling games on the system. But like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, they will also be available on PS4. They are not true next-gen experiences. It may be some time before PS5 receives a bonafide must-own blockbuster system exclusive.

Will PS5 ever feel next-gen? 

I’ve come to accept that we’ll likely not see the same graphical jumps between console generations that were so prevalent in the past. Instead, we’ll see incremental improvements over the course of a generation. PS4 games released in 2021 look superior to titles released in 2013. The same will be true for PS5 games eight years from now. But don’t expect the PS6 to deliver the same graphical upgrade we saw between the PS1 to PS2 or PS2 to PS3. Those days could be over.

Though the PlayStation 5 is an impressive video game console, you don’t need to own one to enjoy the latest and greatest games. Yes, it has some PS5 system exclusives, but you can argue that any are truly must-own titles. If you settle on a PS4 or PS4 Pro, either by choice or because you can’t find a PS5, you won’t miss out on much.

I’ll continue playing my PS5 and enjoy it for what it offers. But I’ll also look forward to the day when it will finally feel like a true next-generation console.

Tony Polanco
Computing Writer

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on X/Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.