If you wanted to take my Xbox Series X from me, you’d need to pry it from my cold dead hands; I adore that big black box. But now the ‘next-gen’ consoles are more readily available, I often get asked which one is worth splashing the cash on.
Obviously, I’m an advocate for both. But not everyone has around $1,000 to drop on a new games console. So when pushed I’d have to choose the PS5.
Now it’s pretty clear to see that in the here and now, the PS5 has the exclusive games advantage, even if some of the big hitters like God of War Ragnarok are also available on the PS4 (but seriously, play it on a PS5 for the right experience). In comparison, the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S share their exclusive games with Windows PCs, meaning if you have one of our picks for the best gaming PC or best gaming laptop, you arguably don’t need an Xbox.
But it’s not the games that have me favoring Sony’s aesthetically bizarre machine. Rather it’s the experience the PS5 delivers.
For the players
While some people play games for the challenge or multiplayer competition, I’m all about the experience they deliver, whether it is the captivating story of The Last of Us Part 1, the incredible exploration of Elden Ring, or the smart systems of Hitman 3.
I look for the feeling of an occasion when sitting down to play a game. This is a tricky thing to describe. But it’s the sensation delivered by sitting down in just the right spot on the sofa, having your TV in game mode, popping on a great pair of headphones, picking up an excellent controller, and having something suitably strong to drink nearby.
Now I’m not saying you can't do that with the Xbox Series X, but Sony’s approach just hits differently.
My little ritual of popping on the Pulse 3D Wireless Headset and taking the DualSense Edge out of its smart carry case feels like the gaming equivalent of dressing up for a date or event. From there, tapping the PlayStation button on the controller to awaken the PS5 with a percussive beep (something some don’t like but I love) and seeing the blue light on the console switch from blue to white, it's almost ritualistic — using the night out analogy, it’s like spritzing oneself with a perfume that just works for you.
While the Xbox will greet me with a familiar interface that one might argue is tired, the PS5 presents a slick fresh UI with pleasing ambient music. On my LG C1 OLED it also not only looks great but runs at a smooth 120Hz, which is a very fine touch.
That’s enough to put a smile on my face. But the PS5 keeps adding to the experience by playing snippets of game music when a particular title is highlighted. God of War Ragnarok has a low-key version of its main surging theme, while Horizon Forbidden West has a snippet of the game’s energetic menu music. And there’s no need for No Man’s Sky’s music to go as hard as it does when you’re hovering over the game card, but I love that it does.
Added to this, below each game card are snippets of information pertaining to your progress, achievements and other tidbits. It’s a neat touch that focuses your attention.
Comparatively, select a game card/tile in the Xbox Series X or Series S and you're served up… absolutely nothing. This isn’t a bad thing, just it’s not exactly a high point in the gaming experience.
And then it comes to the actual experience of gaming on the PS5.
The way it's meant to be played
Games boot up in mere seconds, thanks to the super-fast SSD meaning that while you can't as easily bounce around them as you can using the Xbox Series X’s Quick Resume function, it’s easy enough to quickly flip between titles. It also means that when I mistime a roll from Kratos or fluff a run in Deathloop, I can quickly get back into the action rather than waiting on a lengthy load screen.
Yet it’s the interplay of other PS5 custom features integrated into the first and third-party games that really build out the PlayStation experience.
While I was initially a little iffy on the DualSense controller’s advanced haptics, feeling that they can take me out of the game, the more I used the controller and the better integrated its haptics are in games, the better it became to use. From the tension on Aloy’s bow string in Horizon Forbidden West to the subtle feeling of modulating braking in Gran Turismo 7, the DualSense is really at a place where it now boosts immersion. Add in the extra buttons and configurability of the DualSense Edge and you’ve got a fantastic gaming peripheral.
Ultimately, I prefer the overall feel and design of the latest Xbox Wireless controller, but it doesn't add much to my experience of gaming; it’s my controller of choice for Elden Ring though.
And while I appreciate Dolby Atmos and 3D sound capabilities on the Series X, I find the 3D Tempest Audio engine of the PS5 combined with the excellent Pulse 3D Wireless Headset really augments audio in games. The games mentioned above that specifically tap into Sony’s proprietary audio tech have sound that to me just feels more precise and immersive for gaming than the equivalent on Xbox. It’s also dead easy to get the Pulse headset set up on the PS5.
Even when I get tired of the straightforward slouched-on-a-sofa style of gaming, the PS5 offers literally a more immersive gaming experience with the PSVR 2. I can't say it's an essential purchase, given there are but a few standout games — Sony still needs to build out its next-gen VR game library. Yet it’s another device that has a distinctly PlayStation feel to it, further augmenting the feeling of something special being delivered by the PS5.
Now I appreciate there are likely some very vocal Xbox fans reading this and are tempted to rush to the comments and throw criticism at me. And, yeah I get it. But I also acknowledge that Xbox is going for something else. It’s not aiming to be a single system offering the best gaming experience, but a combination of platforms and services that bring Xbox gaming to all manner of screens. That’s something I find very exciting and massively applaud Microsoft for.
However, if you’re trying to decide which console to get for a strictly next-gen gaming experience, I think at the moment I’d have to say go for the PS5. Of course, I caveat all this with the fact that Starfield is due in September, and that game could make the Xbox Series X an absolute must-have.