If you’ve been driven to the depths of digital despair in your quest to by a PS5 or Xbox Series X, I come bearing good news: You don’t need one. Really and truly. I promise, this isn’t a bait-and-switch for “build a gaming PC instead” or “one of the new consoles is actually terrible.”
Instead, it’s just a gentle reminder that while both of the new consoles seem like they’ll be worth owning in the long run, there’s almost no reason why you absolutely need one a scant few weeks after launch.
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If you can hold off on buying a new console for another month or two, you’ll avoid the crushing cycle of restocks and sellouts. When you’re ready to buy a console, you’ll simply waltz into your retail store of choice and walk out with a brand-new gaming box — or have an even more seamless experience online. In the meantime, I can count the number of brand-new games you’ll be missing on one hand — and one of those, you may have actually played before, anyway.
While it’s admittedly exciting to get a brand-new console within the launch window, there’s usually urgent reason to do so, and the PS5/Xbox Series X generation is no exception. If you have a PS4, Xbox One or decent-quality gaming PC, you already have everything you need to game through the holidays.
This point is self-evident, but it bears stating at least once: Game consoles are for playing games. While game consoles can also play Blu-rays, stream media and browse the web, there are much cheaper, more efficient ways to do those things. If you’ve been hitting F5 on our “Where to buy a PS5” story for the last two weeks, it’s probably because you want to play the latest and greatest games on it.
The fact is, though, that you can play almost all of the latest and greatest games on the hardware you already own. (If you don’t own any current-gen gaming hardware, your need is admittedly a little greater. But you’ve gone this long without playing modern games — what’s another month or two?) The PS5 has a grand total of two exclusive titles — one of which isn’t technically an exclusive at all — while the Xbox Series X doesn’t have any.
Think about the big games associated with each console. For the PS5, it’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Demon’s Souls, and Astro’s Playroom. The first two, you can play on PS4; Demon’s Souls is a pretty close remake of a PS3 game. Only Astro’s Playroom is a true system exclusive, and since you get it free as a pack-in game, it’ll be just as good in January as it is now.
The situation is even starker for the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. The Xbox Series X doesn’t even have “launch titles,” per se — it has “optimized” titles, which are mostly Xbox One games that perform better on Microsoft’s new console generation. These include games you may have already played, such as Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
There’s no denying that both Sony and Microsoft’s exclusives are, for the most part, excellent. But you can play the Sony games on PS4, and the Microsoft games on the Xbox One — assuming you haven’t played them already.
If you’re primarily interested in third-party games, like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, there’s even less reason to run out and upgrade. While it’s true that these games look prettier on the next-gen consoles, it’s not a night-and-day difference, particularly if you have a 4K-enabled PS4 Pro or Xbox One X. Furthermore, in my own testing, I found the graphical differences between console generations very noticeable for the first few minutes of gameplay, then tuned them out entirely. Better graphics and higher frame rates definitely matter, but the jump between last generation and this one is even milder than usual.
Even if you can get pretty much the same games on a PS4 or Xbox One, those consoles can’t deliver 4K visuals, 120 fps frame rates or fully haptic controllers. Isn’t it worth upgrading to get the best possible gameplay experience, even if the game library is roughly the same?
Once again, based on my own experience, the best answer I can offer is “maybe.” First, while both consoles promise up to 8K visuals and 120 fps frame rates, most games still target 4K at 60 fps — and even then, they often make you pick between stable framerate or resolution. The visuals are still very impressive, particularly if you’re coming from a 1080p PS4 or Xbox One. But if you already have a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, it’s a moderate step up, not a literal game-changer.
(This is harder to quantify, but you also acclimate to 4K/60 fps visuals unbelievably quickly. After playing a few hours of Yakzua: Like a Dragon on the Xbox Series X, I didn’t understand what the fuss was about, until I picked up my session on a 1080p display with an Xbox Series S. And, within a few minutes, my eyes had acclimated to that, too.)
Perhaps the PS5 DualSense is the biggest argument in favor of upgrading your console right away. The haptics on the DualSense are so sensitive and precise that the DualShock 4 simply can’t replicate them. However, Astro’s Playroom is arguably the only game that’s taken full advantage of the DualSense so far — and you may not like the haptics, anyway. (I didn’t.) While the DualSense is admittedly an impressive gadget, it’s not yet going to make or break your experience with most games.
Bring your games with you
On the one hand, it’s easy for me to say all of this: I have both a PS5 and an Xbox Series X in my home, since I need them to do my job. But if I didn’t have them, I don’t think I’d be in any huge rush to get them. I haven’t bought a console at launch since the PS2, and I regretted that purchase as soon as I realized that I didn’t really want any of the launch titles.
The fact is that a console is only as good as its games, and while the PS5 and Xbox Series X are excellent, the PS4 and Xbox One are very nearly as good on that count. If they’ve served you well this long, they can almost certainly last you until early 2021.
Furthermore, most new games have free automatic upgrades from PS4/Xbox One to their PS5/Xbox Series X counterparts. Games like Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Spider-Man: Miles Morales even let you take your save data along with you, so there's no risk of lost progress.
Granted, some buyers probably want the new consoles to give as holiday gifts, and I’m a little more sympathetic to that case — getting a Christmas gift sometime in mid-January is probably not ideal. Still, older children probably understand that a brand-new gadget is very hard to come by — and younger children probably don’t need a next-gen with very few kid-friendly games.
So, if you can, kick back with your current console and wait out the shortage. Or, if that’s absolutely out of the question, check out our guides on where to buy the PS5 and where to buy the Xbox Series X. We’ll do what we can, but we make no promises!
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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.