Forza Horizon 5 was released in November for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. It took a little while, but after spending quite a bit of time with the game over the past few weeks I’m finally ready to put pen to paper and share my thoughts!
Forza Horizon 5 is a big game. There are different kinds of races and events to participate in, ranging from multi-race championships all the way to smaller challenges and mini-events. The game’s open world is huge and offers varied terrains and scenery. And perhaps most importantly for a racing game, Forza Horizon 5 offers a veritable smorgasbord of cars to choose from.
What Forza Horizon 5 is not, though, is massively different from its predecessor. If you’ve played Forza Horizon 4 at all, you know the formula. This time around there’s more: the game world is bigger, there are more roads to drive on, more races and events to take part in, and so on. But it isn’t a fundamentally different experience – aside from the scenery changing from the quaint English countryside to the deserts, jungles, and beaches of Mexico, it’s basically an iterative instalment of the series. I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem for Forza Horizon 5; it’s a riff on the same concept, expanding it in some significant areas but without really breaking new ground. However, when the formula works, why shake it up too much? As the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Horizon spin-off series has always taken a more casual approach than mainline games in the Forza Motorsport series, and that trend continues here. There’s a party atmosphere that runs through the entire game, with a handful of named characters who all take a very laid-back approach to running the titular Horizon festival. That feeling extends to gameplay, too. Races are organised seemingly haphazardly, and there’s a lot of fun to be had simply by exploring the open world, making your own fun, and driving some fancy cars at high speed!
Forza Horizon 5 is perhaps the most accessible racing game I’ve played – except, maybe, for Mario Kart 8. The game is geared up for fans of arcade racing, with a “pick-up-and-play” attitude that feels perfectly aligned with the aforementioned casual, laid-back approach taken by characters within the game itself. That isn’t to say that Forza Horizon 5 presents no challenge – not at all. But this is a game that allows players to tailor the kind of challenge or fun that they want to the way that they like to play. There are options to tweak practically every aspect of single-player gameplay, meaning Forza Horizon 5 would be a great introduction to racing games for a complete newbie – but a game that experienced racing fans can enjoy as well.
As a gamer with disabilities, I always appreciate games that go out of their way to be accommodating. In Forza Horizon 5, it’s possible to slow down single-player gameplay to give players more time to react or make moves. It’s possible to see a guide line on the ground or along racetracks pointing players in the right direction. And there are different levels of assistance; cars can be set up to brake automatically, for example, as well as change gears. Forza Horizon 5 also recommends specific cars for specific races, ensuring that players who aren’t familiar with cars or racing games won’t find themselves in an unwinnable situation.
None of these things have to be used, and they can all be turned off for players who want a more realistic or challenging racing experience. The game has pre-set difficulty options, but within those pre-sets it’s possible to tweak many different individual characteristics so players can get the kind of experience that they want. This really does open up the game to many different skill levels, and Forza Horizon 5 would be a great game for someone brand-new, a kid seeking a more realistic racer than the likes of Mario Kart, and everyone else all the way up to racing simulation fanatics.
Forza Horizon 5 also brings a lot of customisation options to the table. Every car (at least, every car that I’ve unlocked so far) can be customised. Cars can be repainted in every colour of the rainbow, and can have custom liveries applied – including advertising logos for famous brands. There’s already a bustling customisation scene, with players from all over the world sharing their custom creations for others to download and use in-game. I love a game with strong customisation elements, and Forza Horizon 5 absolutely delivers in that regard!
As I was getting started with Forza Horizon 5, I actually found myself getting a little emotional. As you may know, I’m non-binary – meaning that my gender identity falls in between male and female, and I prefer to use they/them pronouns. When setting up my Forza Horizon 5 character, the option to use they/them was present alongside male and female pronouns – something that was amazing for me, and for other non-binary players as well I hope. It’s still quite rare to see games offer this option, so it was an incredibly welcome surprise.
I’m not the world’s biggest car enthusiast. My knowledge of cars mostly comes courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the crew of Top Gear! But for people who know more about cars than I do, I reckon Forza Horizon 5 has a lot to offer. Although the game goes out of its way to be accessible and to have cars ready-to-race from the moment of being unlocked or purchased, there are still plenty of tuning options to fiddle about with. At the game’s uppermost echelons, where elite players are duking it out and races are won or lost by the millisecond, perhaps some of these things will make a difference. I’m not at that level – but some folks are, and there are tuning and customisation guides already for many of the game’s vehicles.
Although Forza Horizon 5 includes a lot of ultra-expensive supercars from manufacturers like Bugatti, Koenigsegg, and Lamborghini, I think it’s great that the game offers classic cars, “normal” street cars, and even some novelty vehicles or cult favourites as well. For example, the game includes a classic Land Rover (a personal favourite of mine), as well as every nerd’s favourite car: the DeLorean! There’s a VW Camper available, a classic Mini, a Morris Minor, as well as a Hummer, and even a car taken straight from Hot Wheels! In short, there’s fun to be had with some of these vehicles, and while some may not be suitable for winning every race or clocking the fastest time, for having fun driving around the game’s open world I think some of these additions are absolutely fantastic!
Some racing games offer light-hearted fun, and for me, Forza Horizon 5 is absolutely that kind of game. I can pick it up for even just a few minutes at a time, hop into a race or two, and then put it down knowing I can do the same thing again later on. It absolutely can be more than that; players with the inclination can take it more seriously, spend more time on their vehicles, and really push hard to get the best lap times and reach the top of the various leaderboards. That’s not the way I personally play – but the fact that Forza Horizon 5 has plenty to offer to all kinds of players is a huge mark in its favour in my book!
I’m a subscriber to the PC version of Xbox Game Pass, so for me Forza Horizon 5 was available on release day to download and play at no extra cost. On that basis, I’m thrilled with the game. That being said, for folks who don’t like the idea of a subscription or who like owning games outright, I can absolutely recommend Forza Horizon 5 as a purchase. Game Pass is a great service, but I recognise that it isn’t for everyone. When I looked at Halo Infinite a few weeks ago I said that paying £55 for just the campaign felt a bit much, so getting the game on Game Pass made a lot of sense. But there’s a heck of a lot of value in Forza Horizon 5 for players of varying skill levels and with varying levels of interest in cars – so it feels like a solid buy.
I think that’s all I have to say about this one! I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with Forza Horizon 5 and I’m looking forward to jumping back in and getting into my next race. See you on the track!
Forza Horizon 5 is out now for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. Forza Horizon 5 is the copyright of Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios, Xbox Game Studios, and/or Microsoft. Promotional images and artwork courtesy of Xbox and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
It’s been a whole year since the launch of the Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5. The consoles debuted a week apart in early November 2020, and I thought I’d mark the occasion by taking a look back on what has to be considered a pretty rough year for both machines.
At time of writing, both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are out of stock in the UK – and this has been the case for twelve months. Occasional deliveries of consoles to retailers are either sent out to folks who pre-ordered or are snapped up within minutes of going on sale – often by bots. Availability of the less-powerful Xbox Series S has been spotty, but generally better than its more powerful cousin, which is good news for gamers on a budget. However, availability overall has been poor.
These aren’t the first machines to launch without the supplies to meet worldwide demand, and it’s likely that they won’t be the last. But as I argued last year, this particular console launch feels far worse and more egregious than practically any other. It’s certainly true that other consoles in the past had supply issues. Getting a Nintendo Wii in the UK in 2006 and into 2007 was difficult, for example. But this feels far worse than that, and when compared to the launches of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2013 it’s pretty damn bad.
As we keep hearing on the news, issues with “supply chains” abound across the world, and this was true a year ago as Microsoft and Sony prepared to launch their new consoles. Many components involved in the manufacture of the machines – from silicon to microprocessors – were feeling the pinch due to a number of factors. The pandemic had hit manufacturers in China and Taiwan hard earlier in 2020, but there were also additional pressures from a growing cryptocurrency mining craze that ate up vast numbers of graphics cards and other components. As a result of all of these factors and more, both the Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5 launched with far less availability than necessary.
Ever since the transition from 2D to 3D, it’s taken game developers a while to truly get to grips with new hardware and release games that can fully take advantage of the computing power on offer. As a result, for at least a couple of years following the launch of a new console many games are in transition – looking slightly better, perhaps, than the prior generation, but still nowhere near as good as they could. With the diminishing returns on offer considering that Xbox One and PlayStation 4 titles could already look decent, many games released for the two new systems over the past year haven’t really felt new or innovative.
This generation, like the one before it really, will almost certainly go down as an iterative step rather than a transformational one. When consoles from the previous generation could knock out visually-stunning titles like Red Dead Redemption II, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and Ghost of Tsushima, it really feels like there’s limited room for improvement! Put the average player in a room with the best-looking games of the last generation and some of the first titles from this generation and they’d struggle to tell the difference.
There’s a case to be made that Microsoft and Sony should’ve waited. Rather than letting down their audiences by having totally inadequate supplies, if they’d delayed their releases by a year and used that time to build up stock in anticipation of a bigger launch in 2021, we could be talking about the new consoles releasing this month. It’s still possible that they’d both sell out just like last year – but it’s also possible that the extra manufacturing time, without the pressure of fulfilling pre-orders from increasingly irate customers over the past twelve months, would have led to a better launch window for both consoles.
So I guess that’s where I come down on the issue. The consoles were launched callously by both companies without adequate levels of stock to meet the demand that they knew existed. The predictable outcome has been that scalpers and touts have been re-selling consoles all year long for close to double the recommended retail price, lining their own pockets in the process. It seems as though Sony and Microsoft don’t care about this in the slightest, and they’ve been content to leave the problem of bots and reselling to retailers. Some retailers have tried to put in place mechanisms to prevent bots from buying up every available machine, but as we’ve seen all year long these reactions have been more miss than hit.
In terms of games, both Microsoft and Sony – as well as practically all third-party developers – have pursued a year-long policy of making titles available on last-gen consoles as well as the two new machines. Only a handful of titles have been true exclusives, with PlayStation games like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal carrying their flag. Microsoft fans have to be content with basically no exclusives right now, with games like Forza Horizon 5 and the upcoming Halo Infinite also launching on PC and Xbox One.
Might there be some buyers’ remorse among PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X players? I would think so – especially if they paid over the odds for their console to an eBay scalper. Neither machine feels like particularly good value even at their recommended retail price, let alone at the prices folks have actually had to pay to get their hands on them! The handful of exclusive games are backed up by “enhanced” versions of last-gen titles, but in many cases I’ve genuinely struggled to tell the difference between different consoles’ versions of the same title. The improvements on offer over the past year have come in terms of things like frame rate – jumping to 60fps from 30fps for certain titles – and then in comparatively minor areas like controller battery life. These things are hard sells.
There have been some changes over the past year, though. Microsoft’s aggressive pursuit of the Game Pass model represents great value for players on a budget, opening up an entire library of titles for a relatively low monthly fee. Sony still hasn’t caught up and doesn’t have a functional Game Pass competitor yet. Both companies have also made big moves into supporting PC gaming – with games that were once PlayStation exclusives making their way to a new platform. In lieu of having enough PlayStation 5 consoles to sell, perhaps that’s something of a consolation prize for Sony!
Overall, I can’t even be generous enough to call the past year a “mixed bag.” There are far more negatives than positives as I see it, and unless both companies can get to grips with the supply and demand issue, this Christmas will be the second in a row where folks are either going to have to pay silly money for a new console or go without. That isn’t a good look, and the longer these problems drag on the worse it will get for the reputations of both Sony and Microsoft.
Last year I felt that it was wrong to launch the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X given the low levels of stock and the myriad other issues that a pandemic-riddled world was facing. The past twelve months have done nothing to change my mind or convince me I was wrong about that. Inadequate manufacturing capacity has kept both consoles out of too many players’ hands, and those who did succeed at getting a pre-order – or more likely who paid close to double the price to a scalper – have found a perishingly small number of exclusive games on a machine that doesn’t feel like much of an improvement over the last generation. The Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5 have potential – but over the past twelve months, neither have come close to reaching it.
Xbox and all other related properties mentioned above is the copyright of Microsoft. PlayStation and all other related properties mentioned above is the copyright of Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Starfield.
The in-engine teaser trailer for upcoming space-themed role-playing game Starfield was a bit of a let-down at E3 back in June. There’d been a lot of hype and rumours before the event that something big was coming from Bethesda and that we’d get our first major look at the game, so to only see a highly stylised teaser that might as well have been totally “fake” wasn’t the best. But the company has recently put out three new mini-trailers showing off three of the locations in Starfield, as well as dropping some more tidbits of information about the game, so I thought we could take a look at what’s been revealed and start to get excited!
Remember, though, that too much hype can be a bad thing! Just look at the disastrous Cyberpunk 2077 as a case in point. As fun as some of these bits of Starfield news may seem, it’s worth keeping in mind that we haven’t yet had a real look at the game itself. And as much as I hate to be too negative, Bethesda doesn’t exactly have a good track record in recent years when it comes to big releases. Their overreliance on a massively out-of-date game engine is also a concern. But Starfield is still over a year away, so hopefully there’s enough time to iron out all of the issues!
With that caveat out of the way, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about Starfield since E3 – with a healthy pinch of speculation and guesswork thrown in for good measure!
The United Colonies is described as “the most powerful established military and political faction in the game.” Their capital city – or capital planet, not sure how best to describe it! – looks like a futuristic Dubai or New York City; a wealthy, clean megacity. This is the city of New Atlantis, and it’s described as being a “melting pot” of different peoples.
The “melting pot” reference is clearly meant to give the city and the faction an American vibe; the United States often likes to see itself as a mixture of cultures. But it could also mean that the United Colonies is akin to something like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets – semi-independent cultures and worlds co-existing, perhaps under some looser federal form of government.
I could be way off base with this, but it seems like the United Colonies isn’t going to be an evil or villainous faction. I didn’t get the sense that this was something like Star Wars’ Empire or First Order, but the fact that it’s described as being powerful – and with a strong military to boot – could mean that the player character is operating outside of the law, or that large parts of the game take place in areas beyond the United Colonies’ jurisdiction.
There were trees on New Atlantis, so the United Colonies clearly have some respect for greenery and the environment – even if just for aesthetic reasons. This is also something I think we can assume to be positive, as at least New Atlantis doesn’t have that overly industrialised, dystopian feel of some sci-fi megacities.
If I were to hazard a guess I’d say that only parts of New Atlantis will be able to be explored and visited. The teaser image depicted a huge building complex with more buildings and lights in the distance, but it seems like making all of that part of the map might be too difficult to pull off; the last thing any of us want is a bland, mostly empty map that’s superficially large but has nothing going on or no one to interact with (looking at you, Fallout 76). New Atlantis was specifically mentioned in the context of a spaceport, so perhaps the spaceport and surrounding area will be able to be visited.
Going all the way back to 1994’s Arena, Bethesda has created contiguous open worlds – that is, game worlds that are one large, single space. There have been examples where smaller areas branched off from the larger game world – such as Morrowind’s expansion pack Tribunal, for example. But by and large we’re talking about single open worlds. Starfield, with different planets to visit and a spaceship being used to travel between them, seems like it will be a game where the game world is broken into smaller chunks. Some of these planets may be quite large, but the concept represents a change from the way Bethesda has worked in the past.
Moving away from the United Colonies brings us to Neon, a watery planet with a facility run by the Xenofresh Corporation. This floating city resembles a large oil rig, and although the upper levels look well-lit and probably quite wealthy, I wonder if the lower levels of the platform might be home to the kind of sci-fi dystopia that didn’t seem to be present on New Atlantis!
The backstory of Neon was interesting – and perhaps the closest we’ve got so far to any “lore” of Starfield. The Xenofresh Corporation established Neon as a fishing platform, but soon stumbled upon a drug called “aurora” that they used to turn Neon into a pleasure city. Neon clearly operates outside of the jurisdiction of the United Colonies, and is the only place where this drug is legal.
Previous Bethesda games allowed players to take drugs and drink alcohol, complete with screen-wobbling consequences! I can’t imagine that the developers would mention this aurora drug at this stage if players weren’t going to be able to try it for themselves in-game, so I think we can be pretty confident that aurora will play some role in the game’s story. Perhaps smuggling it from Neon to planets where it’s illegal will be an option for players to make some extra cash! Neon also gave me vibes of Star Trek: Picard’s Freecloud – a similarly independent, pleasure-centric world.
The final location shown off was Akila. The Freestar Collective, of which Akila is the capital, is described as “a loose confederation of three distinct star systems.” Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but singling out the word “confederation” could indicate that this faction is villainous or adversarial. The Confederacy or Confederate States was the official name for the pro-slavery southern states that seceded in 1860-61, instigating the American Civil War. We’ve also seen the name “Confederacy” used in Star Wars, where the Confederacy of Independent Systems was the antagonist faction in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
Perhaps I have recent news reports on the brain, but something about the concept art for Akila reminded me of Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. The mountainous terrain, smaller buildings, and hooded or cloaked figures all gave me the impression of that kind of settlement. Perhaps a better analogy, though, would be a Wild West frontier town, and this is reinforced by the narrator saying that all of the people in the Freestar Collective place a strong emphasis on personal freedom and liberty. The whole faction seems very libertarian, then!
Akila was definitely the most Star Wars-seeming settlement, and there are several locales from the Star Wars franchise that Bethesda may have used for inspiration here. It was on this planet that we learned about the first confirmed alien enemy – the ashta, described as being a mix between “a wolf and a velociraptor.” Yikes! As above, there’s no way this critter would be mentioned at this stage if it wasn’t going to be something players could interact with, and like other iconic Bethesda open-world monsters like Fallout’s deathclaw or The Elder Scrolls’ slaughterfish, I think this is something we’re going to do battle with!
So we know of three locations, each of which is controlled by a different faction. Presumably the Freestar Collective has at least two other planets under its control, as the narration specifically mentioned that the faction controls three star systems. Whether all three will be able to be visited or not is not clear, so I guess watch this space!
The Xenofresh Corporation could easily be in control of more worlds or settlements; I got the impression that it was the kind of mega-corporation that we often see in sci-fi, and thus it seems plausible that it controls holdings on other planets as well as its settlement of Neon.
The United Colonies would seem to be the most widespread and populous faction, but if players are potentially operating outside of its jurisdiction we may not get to visit all of the worlds that make up the United Colonies.
Then there’s the player’s faction or group – the organisation called Constellation, described as “the last group of space explorers.” The ship shown in the E3 teaser appears to belong to this group, so it’s assumed that the player will have some kind of relationship with them as well. If this faction is interested in exploration, they may not have a large settlement or permanent colony – but that’s pure speculation!
So that’s it for now. Starfield is still on course for a November ’22 release, but it goes without saying that that’s subject to change at any point between now and then. I’m tentatively looking forward to it, and nothing we’ve seen or heard so far has been offputting. If anything, these little teases are intriguing and make me want to learn more about the game, its backstory, and its factions and locales. I’m a little surprised that Bethesda didn’t include some of these details at E3; it would’ve been more impressive to give players a bit more information about the game rather than just sharing that stylised teaser trailer, and none of what’s recently been revealed seems like it couldn’t have been included a couple of months ago. This is all just backstory and concept art – things Bethesda certainly had at the time. But regardless, we’ve got another little tease of Starfield to pore over!
Starfield will be released on the 11th of November 2022 for PC and Xbox Series S/X. Starfield is the copyright of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. Concept art featured above courtesy of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
A few months ago I briefly touched on the Microsoft buyout of ZeniMax – parent company to Skyrim developer Bethesda. The deal, which was announced back in September last year, has finally gone through after months of behind-the-scenes legal wrangling, meaning that Microsoft now officially owns Bethesda Softworks, its subsidiaries, and all of the games they’ve developed and produced. This is a significant acquisition for Microsoft, and looks sure to shake up the games market – at least the single-player games market! It will also certainly provide a big boost for Xbox Game Pass, which has already been touting the arrival of Bethesda’s back catalogue to the service.
Almost all Bethesda titles for at least a decade have been multiplatform, with releases on Sony’s PlayStation consoles and some select releases on Nintendo hardware too, and those games aren’t going to be taken away. Microsoft has also pledged to honour existing contracts for upcoming titles, meaning that both Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo will still have timed exclusivity on PlayStation 5. After that, however, we can expect to see future titles arrive exclusively on Xbox Series S/X and PC.
Some games industry commentators seem taken aback at this notion, asking with mouths agape if Microsoft will seriously make upcoming Bethesda projects like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI Xbox/PC exclusive. To those folks I ask a simple question: really? This seems like a surprise to you?
Microsoft paid $7.5 billion for Bethesda, and for that huge investment they’re going to want a lot more than a few new titles in the Game Pass library. Exclusive games sell systems, and in 2021 exclusive games drive subscriptions too. Microsoft fell way behind in the last generation as the Xbox One was massively outsold by the PlayStation 4, and a lack of decent exclusive games was a huge factor in explaining why that was the case. Microsoft has tried to rectify the situation by acquiring Obsidian Entertainment, Compulsion Games, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, and other studios, and guess what? Those studios now make games for PC and Xbox only. Some of these investments will take time to pay off, but as the new console generation rolls into its second and third years, I think we’ll see a big push from Microsoft with some of these new exclusive games.
Titles from Microsoft-owned franchises like Halo, Gears of War, State of Decay, and standalone games like Sea of Thieves aren’t going to be released on PlayStation (or Nintendo) so I’m afraid that people are getting their hopes up if they expect to see future Bethesda titles on any other platform. Microsoft wouldn’t have spent such a huge sum of money not to capitalise on their acquisition, and while in the immediate term nothing is going to change, give it a couple of years when Starfield is ready, The Elder Scrolls VI is preparing for launch, and Bethesda are working on new entries in the Fallout or Doom series and you can guarantee they will be Xbox/PC exclusive.
Sometimes I sit down to read through opinion and commentary by other games industry writers – including some pretty big names – and I’m surprised how they can get it so wrong. It seems naïve in the extreme to be banking on any future Bethesda title – including huge ones like The Elder Scrolls VI and a potential future Fallout title – to be anything other than exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms. That’s how these things work, and it’s why Microsoft was willing to get out their wallet in the first place.
Though it may seem “unfair” to lock games to a single platform (or pair of platforms, in this case) it’s how the industry has operated since day one. Nobody got upset about Marvel’s Spider-Man being a PlayStation 4 exclusive, even though that game wasn’t made by Sony, but rather one of their subsidiaries. It was just expected – Insomniac Games make PlayStation titles, just like 343 Industries make Xbox titles. Bethesda’s acquisition means they join Team Xbox. It may not be great fun for PlayStation gamers who had been looking forward to a future Bethesda title, but that’s the reality of the industry.
Be very careful if you hear an analyst or commentator saying that they believe Bethesda titles will still come to PlayStation. Rather than getting your hopes up or setting up false expectations, it may be better to plan ahead. If Starfield or The Elder Scrolls VI are games you’re dead set on playing, consider investing in Xbox. The Xbox Series S is a relatively affordable machine at £249/$299, and if you only need it for a couple of exclusives that you can’t get elsewhere it could be a solid investment – certainly a lot cheaper than a gaming PC.
Despite all of this, I still feel Sony has the upper hand in the exclusives department, at least for now. It will be a couple of years or more before Microsoft can fully take advantage of their new acquisition, and other titles from developers like Obsidian – who are working on a game that looks superficially similar to The Elder Scrolls series – are also several years away. Sony, on the other hand, has games out now like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the Demon’s Souls remake, as well as upcoming titles like God of War: Ragnarok and Returnal to draw players in. Microsoft is still pursuing a frankly bizarre policy of making all Xbox Series S/X games available on Xbox One for the next year or so, so for exclusive next-gen gaming in the short term, Sony is still the way to go.
I remember when Microsoft entered the home console market for the first time in 2001. A lot of commentators at the time were suggesting that Microsoft were buying their way in, that they would throw their wallet around and other companies would find it hard to compete. It never really happened, though, at least not to the extent some folks feared. The acquisition of Bethesda is a big deal, but Bethesda and all its subsidiaries have published only around 20 games in the whole of the last decade, so in terms of the wider gaming market, and considering how many games there will be on PC, Xbox Series S/X, and PlayStation 5 in the next few years, it’s a drop in the ocean.
That doesn’t mean it won’t sting for PlayStation fans who want to play Starfield or The Elder Scrolls VI, though. Better start saving up for an Xbox!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Were you lucky enough to secure a pre-order of the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5? If so, congratulations! You’re one of the few who managed that feat. Both consoles sold out as soon as pre-orders were available, meaning a lot of people hoping to pick up one of the new machines this year were left disappointed.
A lot of factors came together to make this happen, and we’ll look at them in turn. First is the confusing way in which both Sony and Microsoft made their consoles available. Pre-orders for the PlayStation 5 “accidentally” went live hours ahead of schedule, meaning a lot of people who had planned to pre-order at the promised time missed out. There is no one place where consoles may be pre-ordered either, with retailers from big outlets like Amazon and supermarkets down to smaller specialist games or electronics shops all offering to take customers’ money. As many found out later, problems with stock availability and allocation meant that a lot of pre-orders were either cancelled, rejected, or could not be fulfilled on launch day.
Then there are the “bots.” Automated computer programmes bought up a significant percentage of the available supply of new consoles, leaving many machines in the hands of touts and scalpers. These consoles are currently being re-sold for well over the asking price to disappointed gamers who missed out.
Finally there’s the question of how many machines were manufactured. When coronavirus hit China hard earlier this year, production of next-gen consoles was majorly disrupted. Some factories were closed for weeks, others cut back their output, and the consequence for both Sony and Microsoft was that far fewer next-gen consoles were available in time for launch than they expected. I noted this a few months ago when I asked the question: is now really the right time to launch these machines?
There was always going to be high demand for these machines, and both Sony and Microsoft knew that they’d sell out on launch day. In fact that’s usually part of the plan; selling out makes a machine look exciting and cool, and fear of missing out drives sales. No company wants to see images of huge numbers of unsold machines sitting on shelves in the period after launch.
But even in that environment, the reduced manufacturing capability has had a huge impact, make no mistake. The plan had been for millions more consoles to be available; Sony told us this directly when they announced a few months ago that they would have several million fewer consoles ready to go on launch day than they initially planned. When their business model was already based around artificial scarcity, the loss of several million units has made an already difficult pre-order process practically impossible when combined with the other factors listed above.
So on to the title of this article: how much does an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 really cost if you want to get one before the end of the year? I went to a popular auction website and compiled a short selection of listings. Take a look:
As you can see, prices are approaching double the recommended retail price here in the UK, with scalpers and touts even selling pre-ordered consoles that they don’t actually have in their possession yet. Anecdotally I’ve heard from friends in the United States of PlayStation 5 consoles being sold for upwards of $1200 – well over double the asking price.
In a way, this is “pure capitalism.” This is what happens when companies don’t have enough stock for consumers; the law of supply and demand kicks in. If someone is willing to pay £900 for a PlayStation 5, then there will be a market for that. The true price of these machines right now, in November 2020, is not the recommended retail price of £450. It’s £700, £800, or £900. And with no indication of the availability of either console improving before Christmas, those prices may yet rise further.
Companies are totally fine with this. It doesn’t matter in the slightest to Microsoft or Sony whether a genuine player buys a console or a bot picks up that console for a scalper or tout to re-sell later. They still make just as much money no matter who the buyer is, so they have absolutely no incentive to find ways to stamp out this behaviour. Likewise, retailers from game stores to supermarkets to giants like Amazon don’t care – and it’s through online retailers that the vast majority of pre-orders have been taken.
The market – that amorphous entity that economists love to talk about – determines the price and value of products. If people are willing to pay £900 for a PlayStation 5 then that’s its true value. But is it worth it? Could any video game console possibly be worth £900?
It will come as no surprise to you to learn that my answer is a resounding “no.” Not only are these machines not worth such a ridiculous amount of money, they’re probably not even worth their official price right now.
This new console generation is, at best, a minor improvement over the current one in most of the ways that matter. Add to that the fact that practically every game currently available for the PlayStation 5, and every single game currently available for the Xbox Series X, are also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, most players would find it hard to tell the difference between playing on a current-gen or next-gen machine. There are iterative changes, such as faster loading times, better controller battery life, and so on. But there’s nothing significant in terms of graphics or gameplay that make either console a “must-buy” in 2020. Any such improvements won’t be seen for a year or more; perhaps by 2022 you could make the case that games are getting better thanks to these machines. But not yet.
There was a lot of hype and buildup to the launch of these new consoles, as is to be expected. And a lot of players were sucked in by the hype and decided that they needed a new Xbox or PlayStation on launch day no matter what. If they paid over the odds for their machine from a scalper or tout, I bet a lot of them regret that investment today.
With the new consoles offering small improvements at best, there’s no need to get one right now. Don’t reward the scalpers and touts with their scripts and bots who bought up as many consoles as they could. Jump off the hype train and be patient, and enjoy the exact same games on current-gen hardware. Chances are you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway.
The Xbox brand – including the Xbox Series X and Series S – is the copyright of Microsoft. The PlayStation brand – including the PlayStation 5 – is the copyright of Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.
The launch of the Xbox Series X earlier today marked the beginning of a new console generation – and thus the end of one too. That generation began in November 2012 with the release of the Wii U, and saw both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 arrive a year later. I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the last eight years to have played a number of different games across all four major consoles, and while I need to say for the record that there are still plenty of big titles I haven’t got my hands on, there’s certainly enough to put together a list like this.
As we say goodbye to the current generation of consoles and jump headfirst into next-gen, let’s take a few minutes to look back at some of the best gaming experiences of the generation… in my subjective opinion!
But before we dive into the list, here’s a short recap of each of the major consoles. The Wii U came first, but was blighted by horrible marketing (even months after release, many gamers were confused as to what the Wii U even was, with many believing its clunky plastic controller to be nothing more than an accessory for the Wii). Nintendo began making losses during this period, and even laid off a number of staff. The console saw some very fun games, but I was one of less than fifteen million people who bought the machine – which in 2012 was clearly not good enough to cover Nintendo’s costs – making the console an expensive failure. For the sake of comparison, the original Wii sold over 100 million consoles, and the Switch is currently sitting at over 60 million a mere three years after release.
Next came the PlayStation 4. Only a few months earlier I’d bought a PlayStation 3, the first Sony machine I’d ever owned. I’d done so solely to play The Last Of Us, and I wasn’t disappointed! After the Xbox One suffered a rocky run-up to launch (we’ll come to that in a moment) PlayStation seized the chance to convert gamers to their platform after running behind for the entirety of the previous generation. And many folks who had previously been invested in Xbox made the switch – PlayStation 4 has almost certainly sold twice as many units as Xbox One, and that couldn’t have happened without Xbox 360 players jumping ship. PlayStation 4 has also had by far the better crop of exclusive games, and that’s another huge factor in its success this generation.
Xbox One arrived only a week after the launch of the PlayStation 4, but it was not a smooth road for Microsoft’s console. From the moment the console was announced it attracted the ire of gamers. First was its complicated always-online nature, which Microsoft had to backtrack on. Next was the issue of trading in games or sharing them with friends, with Xbox initially seeming to “lock” each disc to a specific user account. This was also something Microsoft U-turned on. Those fiascos were bad enough, but next came Kinect. Bundled with the system – and with no way to opt out – Kinect bumped up the price of the Xbox One at launch, making it $100 more than PlayStation 4. Looking back over several console generations, the cheaper machine usually sells better, and so it proved again. Xbox One also struggled with a lack of decent exclusive games to compete with those available on the PlayStation 4. Despite all of that, however, Xbox Game Pass (a paid subscription service which gives players access to over a hundred titles) definitely found a foothold as the generation drew to a close.
Finally, 2017 saw the launch of the Nintendo Switch. Where the Wii U had been Nintendo’s attempt to recapture the “hardcore gamer” market, the Switch saw Nintendo realise that its success with consoles like the Wii and the handheld DS and 3DS lineup was due to their appeal to casual players. A console deliberately less powerful than its two competitors, the Switch retained the motion controls that had proven popular on the Wii alongside a new gimmick: the console is a hybrid that can either be played as a handheld device or connected to a screen. After the disappointment of the Wii U, the Switch proved a success from day one, and eclipsed the Wii U’s total lifetime sales in a matter of months.
So those were this generation’s consoles. Now let’s look at some games!
This list is in three parts. The first part consists of titles that I consider to be incredibly important to the overall gaming landscape of the generation, even if they weren’t “my thing” and/or I don’t have much personal experience with them. The second part of the list contains a handful of titles that failed hard, and whose failures had an impact on gaming in some way. And finally the third part of the list is what you’re all here for – my personal top ten games of the generation.
Without any further ado, let’s get started!
As stated above, this section of the list consists of a few titles that, for whatever reason, weren’t necessarily something I enjoyed or bought into, yet were landmarks in gaming this generation. No “games of the generation” list would be complete without their inclusion.
Number 1: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (2017)
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – or “Pub-G” as some insist on calling it – was the first truly successful battle royale game. There’s debate over the origins of battle royale, and at one point PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds attempted to patent the format, but there can be no denying that this is the game that brought it to mainstream attention. By doing so it revolutionised online multiplayer gaming, and for a while was the most-played game in the world.
Considering how big battle royale titles still are, no end-of-the-generation list would be complete without PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Though the game is still being played, it has arguably been eclipsed by some other titles in the genre it spawned – most notably Fortnite. In that sense it’s one of the most influential games of the generation… even if it isn’t one that’s enjoyed as much ongoing success.
Number 2: Fortnite (2018)
If PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds kicked off the battle royale craze, Fortnite took it to the next level. This title became a powerhouse in the gaming world; a phenomenon the industry hadn’t seen since Minecraft. And it’s a free-to-play game. Many of Fortnite’s biggest fans have never paid a penny despite spending hours and hours playing it, yet it’s managed to become one of the biggest and most financially successful titles in gaming. Ever.
Fortnite isn’t innovative with its gameplay, nor is it innovative in being free; mobile games in particular have used a free-to-play model for years. But Fortnite has taken the world by storm by refining those things and putting them with a fun, cartoony aesthetic that has widespread appeal, especially to younger players. For many kids, Fortnite has been their ticket into a brand-new hobby, and the importance of expanding gaming beyond where it was even a few years ago is immeasurable.
As with any successful title, other games have tried to imitate Fortnite’s success, and in some ways we can assign some degree of blame to Fortnite for making lootboxes and microtransactions more acceptable. However, it isn’t only this game’s fault that companies continue to pursue in-game monetisation!
Number 3: The Witcher 3 (2015)
With so much focus on multiplayer this generation, The Witcher 3 really stands out as a comparative rarity. It demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that there is a market for well-made, expansive single-player games at a time when many companies seemed to be abandoning them. It’s widely considered one of the best games of all-time, not just of the generation, and the success of The Witcher 3 did much to demonstrate to the industry that single-player games could still be critically and financially successful.
As I mentioned when I took a look at a few great games that I haven’t played, The Witcher 3 is on my list and I hope to eventually get to it. Single-player fantasy role-playing games are exactly my kind of thing, but I haven’t got around to this one yet! As a standout title that really boosted the medium, though, I can appreciate The Witcher 3′s success from afar.
Number 4: Grand Theft Auto V – online mode (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this generation, having initially been released on the previous generation’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For the last seven years it has seldom dropped out of the top ten bestselling games, which is an incredible achievement. The success is largely due to its online mode, which has made developers Rockstar an insane amount of money.
Competitive online gaming really isn’t my thing, but no list appreciating the generation’s finest should ignore Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer mode. Taking the beautifully-crafted world of Los Santos and opening it up to players for jobs and heists together has been a masterstroke on Rockstar’s part.
I was, however, a little disappointed to see that Rockstar simply plan on porting the game to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. I get that it’s been a phenomenally successful title this generation – but I had hoped for a new entry in the series (or a new title altogether) as the gaming world moves on. They see things differently, however, and given Grand Theft Auto V’s success and bustling online scene, maybe they’re right.
Number 5: Undertale (2015) and the whole indie scene
I chose Undertale as an example because it has been widely praised, but this entry also stands to represent titles like Dead Cells, Cuphead, Untitled Goose Game, Donut County, Shovel Knight, and many more indie titles that have wowed audiences this generation. Making a game as an independent developer is a difficult and often expensive undertaking, yet many of these titles – including Undertale – have been fantastic and received critical acclaim.
There’s a perception that all indie games are pixel-art 2D platformers, and while there certainly are titles which fit that description there’s also much more going on in the indie scene. Some of these games go on to inspire whole sub-genres, and as we go into the new generation its a great thing that there are so many independent, smaller developers out there. It keeps the games scene interesting!
Disappointments and Disasters
This section looks at a handful of controversial, disappointing, or outright bad games which nevertheless impacted the games industry this generation. Not every innovation or change to the way games are made comes from success, and some titles may be better-remembered for serving as bad examples than good games.
Number 1: Star Citizen (Unreleased)
How can a game that hasn’t even been released be one of the biggest disasters of the generation? Simple: it’s become the textbook example of how crowdfunding can go wrong in the gaming realm. StarCitizen’s troubled development began way back in 2012, before any of the current-gen systems launched. And it raked in millions of dollars in crowdfunding from eager gamers – only to miss release window after release window, while continuing to beg and scrounge money out of its remaining loyal fans.
At this point, in late 2020, the team behind Star Citizen have raised – and mostly spent – over $300 million. That’s an utterly insane amount of money for any video game, and if reports and rumours are to be believed, it’s still nowhere near complete. What happened with Star Citizen is basically this: a developer had a decent idea for a game, put together a small team, and began work. But as the crowdfunding campaign took off the developers began to promise more and more features, leading to more development time. More development time in turn meant they needed more money, which meant more crowdfunding, which meant more features were promised, and the whole thing has spiralled out of control to the point where the game is an overhyped undeliverable mess.
Star Citizen isn’t a “scam,” because I firmly believe there were good intentions behind it. But the developers needed someone competent to manage the project before it got unwieldy, and someone in charge to prevent it from ever getting so out of control. The idea of selling in-game content for an unreleased game is already pretty shady, but when some of that content can cost thousands of dollars I think someone has to step in and say that it isn’t acceptable. It’s still possible the game will see a release – one day – but even if it does it’s hard to imagine it will be anything less than underwhelming in the extreme for fans who’ve waited years and hyped it to oblivion.
Number 2: Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)
Battlefront II saw the bubbling lootbox controversy boil over. Though it’s been over three years since its 2017 launch, the ramifications of that are still being felt as jurisdictions across the world move to regulate or ban in-game gambling. Electronic Arts has, for years, pushed the envelope for what gamers will tolerate in terms of in-game monetisation. And with Battlefront II they finally pushed too hard and too far.
The game itself is perfectly playable today, but only because EA ripped out as much of the gambling as they could before it hit shelves. Battlefront II also had poor timing, causing controversy in the Star Wars fandom at a time when The Last Jedi was already proving hugely divisive. The combination of the poorly-received game and film meant that Star Wars was in a dark place going into 2018.
Number 3: Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) and Anthem (2019)
Oh, Bioware. How heroes fall! For a number of reasons that boil down to project mismanagement, both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem were rush jobs, put together in months instead of years. And it showed. Andromeda was memed to death, and even though the worst of its bugs and visual glitches were fixed within days of launch by patches, the damage was done and the game’s reputation never recovered.
Anthem overpromised based on a trailer at E3 that was entirely fake. Players who did buy into the game found a half-finished and underwhelming live service experience, and promises of updates and more content weren’t enough to convince more than a few to stick around. As of late 2020, Anthem’s “roadmap” for further updates has been cancelled, and the game is essentially dead.
For a studio like Bioware, these failures feel so much worse because we know that they’re capable of producing some incredible games. Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and the first two parts of the Mass Effect trilogy are among my favourite role-playing games of all time, so to see the buggy overblown side-mission that was Andromeda and the live service failure that was Anthem is nothing less than a colossal disappointment. There may be light at the end of the tunnel for this once-great developer, however, with a Mass Effect trilogy remaster having been announced a couple of days ago.
Number 4: Fallout 76 (2018)
As above, a developer once revered for its amazing experiences churned out a buggy, underwhelming online multiplayer title. Fallout 76 came after years of declining quality of Bethesda’s own titles, which included port after port of Skyrim and little else. I could never get past the fact that this was a Fallout game with absolutely no non-player characters. The heart of any game like this is its story, and a story needs characters. Fallout 76 thus contained little more than a moderately pretty environment – one built on an ageing engine meaning even the game’s visuals were hardly spectacular.
After walking around, checking out the scenery, and battling a few monsters, there was literally nothing to do. The gunplay was also mediocre to poor, something the Fallout series’ VATS system had masked in previous titles built on the same engine. But with multiplayer there was no way to implement VATS properly, meaning the game’s shooting had to stand on its own… and it fell down.
The first of these points – the missing NPCs – was eventually addressed in an update. But Fallout 76 has been own goal after own goal from Bethesda, including crappy product tie-ins that got recalled, a $100 premium membership, and more besides. The game was a bug-riddled disappointment.
Number 5: Shenmue III (2019)
Shenmue III is one of the biggest disappointments to me personally. Other titles in this section have their problems, but when it comes to my most-anticipated games ever, Shenmue III had been at the top of the list since 2001. After a dedicated group of hardcore fans raised an incredible $7 million through a crowdfunding campaign, the only thing I expected from Shenmue III was that it would finally finish Ryo Hazuki’s story.
In 2001, Shenmue II ended on a cliffhanger, with Ryo’s quest for revenge incomplete – and having just taken an interesting turn. But the failure of the Dreamcast – and the game’s lacklustre sales – meant no sequel was forthcoming. Yu Suzuki, the game’s creator, had always said that the Shenmue saga was an ambitious project, and that’s to be commended, but while I can’t claim to speak for every Shenmue fan, really my only expectation going into Shenmue III was that it would bring the story to a conclusion. If there was too much story to tell in a project this size, then someone had to come in and make cuts to all of the unnecessary fluff to make it fit. For some inexplicable reason, that didn’t happen. Fans raised millions of dollars to end on another cliffhanger. Does Yu Suzuki seriously think he’ll raise millions more to make Shenmue IV and Shenmue V to keep telling this story?
And that’s why it’s such a disappointment. It had one objective as far as I was concerned: finish the story. Fans donated their own money to make that dream a reality, but the developers blew it. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a dead, failed series to come back to life and finish its ambitious story. I can’t get over the truly awful decision-making that meant it didn’t happen.
Games of the Generation
Now we come to my personal top ten. I played and loved all of these games this generation, and while there are many more that could have made the list, when I whittled it down these are the titles which made the final cut. These titles are not in any particular order, so this isn’t a ranked list. All ten titles are very different, and thus they’re all my Games of the Generation!
Number 1: Mario Kart 8 (2014)
Originally released for the Wii U in 2014, Mario Kart 8 has since reappeared – in “deluxe” form – on the Nintendo Switch. It isn’t particularly ground-breaking, simply refining and polishing the Mario Kart experience for the high-definition screens that became commonplace over the last decade. But that’s absolutely fine, because Mario Kart doesn’t need a radical overhaul; what keeps players coming back for race after race is that it’s pick-up-and-play fun.
The Switch version bundles the original game with its two DLC packs and adds a few new characters to the roster too. And that’s the way most players have experienced Mario Kart 8, since so few people owned a Wii U! It’s a shame that Nintendo chose to paywall its originally-free online multiplayer, and that decision deserves criticism as it’s awful to implement paid online features to a game that once enjoyed those same features for free.
Regardless, Mario Kart 8 is a lot of fun. Some will argue that the fun is best shared with friends, and though you could certainly make that claim I still find myself picking up the game for a quick race or two against the AI.
Number 2: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019)
I played through Jedi: Fallen Order earlier this year, and I had a wonderful time. In fact, I’d go so far as to call the game the best Star Wars experience I’ve had in a long time, far surpassing some recent film and television attempts from that franchise! Cal’s journey from the shipbreaking yards of Bracca to, well, spoilers, was truly exciting.
This kind of linear, story-focused game has fallen out of favour with many of the bigger games publishers this generation. The rush to make every game an online experience (with recurring monetisation) has unfortunately seen less of a focus on titles like Jedi: Fallen Order; the Star Wars brand saw only the two Battlefront games in the years before its release. However, the success of this title both critically and commercially has already led to a sequel being developed – and hopefully demonstrated once again that there’s life in these kind of games!
Though I did encounter a few bugs and other issues during my playthrough nothing spoilt the experience. There were some great voice acting performances, interesting and varied planets to visit, a couple of neat cameos by characters from the films, and truly beautiful visuals that really brought the setting to life and truly immersed me in a galaxy far, far away.
Number 3: South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of South Park. Its social commentary can be biting and funny, but sometimes it goes over-the-top to say the least! However, while I haven’t been a regular viewer of the series since I lived in the United States in the mid-2000s, the game South Park: The Stick of Truth managed to catch my attention early in the generation. I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did!
The game’s visual style is practically identical to the television series, and that alone makes it interesting. Animated shows have been adapted as games many times, but rarely is the appearance so remarkably similar. I think that’s what first captured my attention, but what I found when I played the game for myself was a surprisingly fun role-playing experience.
Not every joke landed, and a few moments in The Stick of Truth were just plain silly. But as an authentic South Park experience that really feels like playing through an extended episode of the television series it’s something unique – or it was until a sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, was released in 2017.
Number 4: Ori and the Blind Forest (2015)
Ori and the Blind Forest never pretends to be a AAA blockbuster. It’s relatively short, with an average playthough lasting around eight hours, but those hours are spent in a beautiful, artistic world. The levels are diverse, and are interesting and challenging in equal measure as protagonists Ori and Sein bid to save their forest home.
Words like “masterpiece” and “beautiful” are thrown around all too easily these days, but I genuinely feel that both apply to Ori and the Blind Forest. For a game about spirits and sprites it’s surprisingly emotional too.
In a generation where Microsoft and Xbox lagged well behind Sony in terms of the quality of their exclusive games, Ori and the Blind Forest was a rare win. It’s since been followed up by Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a sequel which builds on everything the first game got right. Both titles are available on Xbox Game Pass, and are well worth a play for anyone who likes 2D platformers.
Number 5: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016)
As with Jedi: Fallen Order above, Uncharted 4 is a linear, story-focused game. This generation has been dominated by sequels, and Uncharted 4 brings to a close the tale of Nathan Drake which began on the PlayStation 3 in 2007. What I love about the series is that it feels like a combination of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones, setting up a mythical-historical mystery for Drake and his comrades to uncover.
The first three games in the series were fantastic, but Uncharted 4 was a step up. Truly stunning visuals that pushed the PlayStation 4 to its limit really helped with immersion, and the swashbuckling story was perfectly-paced and well executed. Naughty Dog is a fine studio, and they refined this style of gameplay to perfection by the time of Uncharted 4‘s release.
The PlayStation 4 has had some amazing exclusive games this generation. Whether Uncharted 4 is the best of them will always be a matter of debate, but for me it has to be at or near the top of any such list.
Number 6: Minecraft (2011)
This one is a total cheat since Minecraft was released a full two years before any of the current-gen consoles. But it isn’t unfair to say that the game has enjoyed continued success this generation, which culminated in parent company Mojang being acquired by Microsoft in a deal reportedly worth $2.5 billion. That’s a lot of money for a game I initially dismissed as a scruffy-looking pixel graphics mud hut-builder!
Minecraft became the best-selling game of all-time, and a phenomenon that took the world by storm. It introduced the gaming hobby to millions of new players, including many children, and its ubiquity on practically every platform helped that immeasurably. Even nine years after its initial release the game is still being played and replayed over and over. The Minecraft brand has also been expanded upon, with titles like Minecraft: Story Mode and Minecraft Dungeons set in the same fictional world.
Where I had the most fun with Minecraft is in multiplayer with friends, starting from scratch and building whatever we wanted. I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours were lost digging tunnels, mining resources, and planning how to build a castle with a lava moat or a city in the sky.
Number 7: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)
The world of Middle-Earth has been ripe for video game adaptations ever since The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit cinemas in the early 2000s, and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor follows some truly outstanding games from years past. It took a step back from the books’ familiar characters, introducing players to Talion, an Aragorn-esque Ranger, as he takes the fight to Sauron.
What made Shadow of Mordor stand out mechanically as a video game was its revolutionary “nemesis” system. The game’s AI would track which Uruk commanders that Talion battled – and there were many! Those Uruk could not only become more powerful by killing the player, but defeating them was a key part of the gameplay experience. Orcs and Uruk could be promoted within Sauron’s army, and the aim of the game was to encounter and defeat them. Even now this gameplay mechanic is innovative, and it makes Shadow of Mordor a game with plenty of replay value.
Unfortunately the series was tainted somewhat by the in-game monetisation forced into its sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. While most of that has since been removed, the reputation of both games suffered. It’s a shame, because Shadow of Mordor is one of the best and most immersive experiences set in Tolkien’s world, and is still worth playing today.
Number 8: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Super Mario Odyssey took everything that had been great about 3D Mario games and condensed it into one phenomenal title. It dropped gimmicks from Mario Sunshine and Mario Galaxy and returned the series to a style much closer to the beloved Super Mario 64, which remains to this day one of my favourite games of all-time.
The level design was brilliant and incredibly varied, with water levels, desert levels, and even a voyage to the moon all on Mario’s agenda as he races to – once again – save Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. Hardly an innovative premise, you may say, but the fun of Super Mario Odyssey is in the gameplay rather than the story. There are very, very few titles about which I’d say something like that – so that should show you just how outstanding this game really is.
Despite being brand-new, Super Mario Odyssey gave me a hit of nostalgia and took me back to the mid-1990s when I played Super Mario 64 for the first time. It really does feel like an updated version of that classic game.
Number 9: Fall Guys (2020)
Fall Guys came out of nowhere this summer and surprised me! From the moment I heard the concept – jelly bean-like characters running obstacle courses in a video game homage to the likes of Total Wipeout – I knew I had to give it a try. And despite my general dislike of online multiplayer titles, what I found was a truly fun experience.
Fall Guys makes it easy to jump into game after game, and because each round is so short, even losing doesn’t feel that bad. The different ways in which people play makes every round unique, and while it certainly has its frustrating moments the core gameplay is plenty of fun. A cheating problem plagued the PC version for a while, but an update brought in anti-cheat software and that issue has now all but died out, restoring the fun!
If you’d asked me at the start of the year – or even in June – what my top ten games of the generation were likely to be, Fall Guys wouldn’t have even been on my radar. And when I was putting this list together I was wondering if including it would seem like recency bias; ignoring older games in favour of one I picked up just a few weeks ago. But looking at it on merit, I had a lot of fun with Fall Guys, and I’m happy to include this fun, casual title as one of my top games of this generation.
Number 10: Subnautica (2018)
In the wake of Minecraft’s success many games attempted to recreate its survival and building/crafting features. Many of these so-called “Minecraft clones” were crap, but one survival game that took the genre to wholly new places was Subnautica. The game has an interesting story as players find themselves crash-landing on a watery planet and must explore, collect resources, and build their way to freedom.
Subnautica is one of the few games even in modern times to really get its underwater world feeling right. Many games are notorious for bad underwater sections or levels, and when the whole game is based around swimming and moving underwater, this was something Subnautica couldn’t afford to screw up! The skill and attention to detail that went into this aspect of the game really is incredible.
The underwater setting also made the game feel like something genuinely different in a survival genre that was full of samey titles. Subnautica managed to be something unique as well as plenty of fun, and that combination is greatly appreciated.
So that’s it. A few of the best games of the generation – in my opinion, at least. There are many, many titles that could have made this list, including games I’ve played but forgotten all about, and games that I didn’t get around to yet.
This generation has offered up some truly amazing experiences, and even as we begin the transition to new consoles, there will be more to come. Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite are both due in the next few months, and there will be a number of other titles released before production fully shifts to the new machines over the next couple of years.
On a personal note, this has been a generation where, for a number of reasons, I found myself playing fewer games than I had in the past. A combination of health, ageing, work, and other factors are to blame – if indeed blame needs to be assigned. Despite that, I had fun with all four of this generation’s major home consoles, something I can say for the first time as a generation comes to a close!
I have no immediate plans to purchase an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, so there won’t be new console reviews coming on the website any time soon. But I can save you the trouble: both machines will be iterative improvements on their predecessors, offering things like faster load times, better controller battery life, and so on. It will be several years before we see any significant improvement in game design or graphics, simply because most upcoming titles are cross-generation and will continue to be limited by the requirements of this generation’s hardware.
Hopefully this has been a fun and interesting look back at some of the highs (and lows) of this generation on the day we mark the official beginning of the next one.
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studios, developers, and/or publishers. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
I’m a couple of days late on this one, but if you didn’t know already, Microsoft surprised and upended the games industry by announcing a deal to buy ZeniMax Media. ZeniMax is the owner of Bethesda – the company behind such titles as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 76. The deal also includes id Software, developers of Doom and Doom Eternal, as well as several other associated companies, including the developers of The Evil Within, The Elder Scrolls Online, and the Wolfenstein series. Wow.
I’ve seen a lot of… interesting commentary to have come out of this acquisition, including people who seem to think this means there can be no more console-exclusive titles ever, and some overly-optimistic PlayStation fans still expecting their favourite Bethesda/ZeniMax titles to come out on that platform. A lot of the details of the deal and its fallout (pun intended) are still under wraps, but I think we can make some reasonable assumptions – and cut through some of the nonsense.
First off, let’s clear something up. Microsoft wouldn’t spend $7.5 billion on this company and its subsidiaries for no reason. There are unquestionably going to be changes as a result of this deal. There are several ways it could manifest, but if we look to recent history we can pick out a couple of examples. The Outer Worlds was late into its development when Microsoft purchased developer Obsidian. With the game already scheduled for release on PlayStation, Microsoft honoured that commitment and didn’t make any changes. Likewise when they bought Mojang, Minecraft didn’t become an Xbox/PC exclusive. Those games were either already released or releasing imminently, likely with deals and agreements already signed, so Microsoft kept to those agreements.
The titles people seem most concerned about are The Elder Scrolls VI, which was announced a couple of years ago but is still several years away, and the next game in the Fallout series. No announcement has been made of a new Fallout title, but the assumption is that there may be one in pre-production. As someone who worked in the games industry for a time, I really feel that no company in Microsoft’s position spends this much money not to have exclusive titles. Unless this is part of some longer-term strategy to force Sony to bring their exclusive titles to Microsoft’s Xbox and PC platforms – which it almost certainly isn’t – we can say goodbye to the idea of any upcoming games being multiplatform. Despite Microsoft’s statements that they don’t care what platform someone plays on, they obviously do or they wouldn’t be investing so heavily in the Xbox brand and in PC gaming.
The Elder Scrolls VI is far enough in the future that I’d argue it won’t affect the purchasing decisions of 99% of gamers in 2020/21. Even hardcore Elder Scrolls fans should feel confident buying a PlayStation 5 if they want to this Christmas, because the next game in the series is years away and there will be time to get a cheaper Xbox Series S later if necessary. But thinking strategically and thinking long-term, the reality is that if players want to guarantee access to upcoming titles in any of these franchises, they’ll need to look at Xbox. That could be in the form of a console or it could mean getting a PC capable of running newer games. Either way, right now there’s no guarantee any of these titles will come to PlayStation – and if I were advising Microsoft, I’d say they’re in a rock solid position to demand compromises from Sony if Sony want to make any of those games and franchises available on their new system.
As we gear up for the launch of the two new systems, it’s hard to see that many people who had been planning to get a PlayStation will be swayed by this move – at least not in the short-term. All titles which have already been released – including the likes of Doom Eternal, Fallout 4, etc. – will still be available on Sony’s systems. On PlayStation 5 specifically, upgraded and/or re-released versions of some games are coming, and backwards compatibility with PlayStation 4 will mean all current-gen titles will run on the new system. Also the upcoming Ghostwire: Tokyo and Deathloop, which have already been announced for PlayStation 5, seem certain to keep their console releases. So anyone looking ahead to the next year or two need not be too concerned. It’s the longer-term prospects that may worry some PlayStation gamers.
With this acquisition, Microsoft will be bringing all of Bethesda’s titles – including upcoming releases – to their Game Pass service. I wrote recently that Game Pass is already a pretty great deal, not to mention the cheapest way to get into current- and next-gen gaming. Add Bethesda’s titles into the mix and the value of the service goes up even more.
This is the real genius of the move. Exclusivity will certainly pull in some players, as those unwilling to miss out will have no choice but to buy into the Xbox ecosystem in some form. But Game Pass is Microsoft’s killer app right now; a subscription service offering players hundreds of games for a monthly fee instead of shelling out $70/£65 per title is not only in line with the way people consume other forms of entertainment (like music and television) but also feels like a good value proposition as we enter what could be a long-term spell of economic uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Game Pass is already available on Xbox and PC, and has been steadily growing its subscriber base. It doesn’t have the library that a service like Steam has, but I can absolutely foresee a time in the future – the near future – where Game Pass will be the platform of choice for many players, perhaps with Steam as a backup to buy occasional titles that aren’t available elsewhere. And once someone has signed up for Game Pass, Xbox Live, and started racking up achievements and making friends, they’re hooked into the ecosystem. It isn’t impossible to switch or leave, of course, but Microsoft will make staying as appealing as possible.
As far back as 2000/01 when Microsoft decided to jump head-first into the home console market, commentators were wondering when they’d start throwing their wallet around. A company with the resources of Microsoft is in a unique position to spend, and we’ve seen them do so several times. On the whole, for players mostly interested in single-player titles I can understand why this feels huge. It is. But at the same time, the deal to buy Mojang a few years back was probably more significant!
In summary, this is good news for PC and Xbox players, and anyone who’s a Game Pass subscriber or on the fence about the service. PlayStation players shouldn’t notice any major short-term ramifications, but if you desperately want to play an upcoming game like the sequel to Doom Eternal, Starfield, or The Elder Scrolls VI, I think you’re going to need a PC or an Xbox.
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. The Xbox brand is the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
A lot of things in the world are a mess right now, upended by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the tragic loss of life we’ve seen lockdowns, job losses, and economic chaos on a level unseen for a long time. And tech companies – including Sony and Microsoft – have suffered as a result of major disruption to supply chains and manufacturing facilities. Yet despite all that, both companies are pressing ahead with their new video game consoles, scheduled for release in November. But is that the right decision? Or might it have been better to wait a year or two?
One of the things that struck me most when looking at all the gameplay and footage released by both companies is how absolutely minuscule the so-called “upgrades” are, at least in terms of the way games will look on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Both companies use graphics as one of their major selling points, yet when you stack up a current-gen and next-gen version of the same title side by side, it’s hard to really see a difference.
Perhaps some consumers who have an incredibly fancy (and incredibly expensive) television – or superhuman eyesight – will notice a big change. But I didn’t, and from what I can tell by reading and listening to the reaction from players, a lot of other folks can’t either. There is more to a good game than graphics, but when it’s a key selling point I think it’s not unfair to say that players expect something more than either new console is able to offer.
The trouble is that even on the oldest version of current-gen systems – those consoles released in 2013 – games look pretty good. Players have been enjoying the visual style of titles like The Witcher 3 for years, and even some launch titles from 2013, like Ryse: Son of Rome, look fantastic. Any upgrade was always going to be minor, and things like slightly more realistic controller rumble or faster loading times are difficult things to market to the average player. The result? It’s hard to escape the feeling that the two new consoles already feel like a minor upgrade at best… and a waste of time and money at worst.
That’s before we account for the fact that disruption across all areas of the industry has massively complicated matters.
The Xbox Series X is going to be released without its key launch title – Halo Infinite. This game should have been one of the console’s selling points – despite its simultaneous launch on Xbox One. Without it, the Xbox Series X will be released with some cross-platform games and not a lot else.
However, things are even worse for Sony. The company recently announced that they were producing several million fewer PlayStation 5 consoles than expected. As a result there has been pre-order chaos. Initial plans to hold a “lottery” to determine who could pre-order a machine didn’t pan out, and the console sold out within minutes of being made available. Reportedly, some shops have either cancelled pre-orders outright, or informed irate gamers that they may not receive their console on launch day despite thinking they’d secured a pre-order.
We’ve seen consoles launch without sufficient stock numerous times. Here in the UK, getting a Nintendo Wii was nigh-on impossible in 2006 and throughout most of 2007, such was the lack of stock. Even with that in mind, though, this feels worse. Reducing the number of units available worldwide is clearly indicative of a company struggling with production, yet rather than delay or take steps to rectify the situation, Sony has been quite happy to make the PlayStation 5 impossible to get hold of – something which will only be to the benefit of shady resellers who’ll happily sell the console for double its asking price in the run-up to Christmas.
All of this comes at a time when many people are in financial difficulty or face an uncertain financial future. As the pandemic drags on and the idea of “getting back to normal” seems further away than ever, companies are closing left and right, and as temporary schemes like the furloughing of employees come to an end, many people will be out of work. A £450/$500 outlay in that environment is an impossible ask, and feels decidedly anti-consumer. This is made worse by price rises of games themselves, many of which look set to retail for £65/$70 when the new generation arrives.
As we approach what could be a bleak and lonely Christmas for many people, players and parents are looking at these companies and asking themselves how they could possibly have the audacity and lack of awareness to go ahead with something like this. The minor upgrade that most people perceive is incredibly overpriced at £450, and even the Xbox Series S with its lower price will still be out of reach of many in 2020.
I look at these consoles, and the footage the companies selling them have released, and I’m asking myself who would be interested? At least Microsoft can say that their policy of releasing games on Xbox One for the next couple of years – bizarre though that is in many ways – means that players can stick with their current systems and don’t need to shell out a ton of money for this minor upgrade. But Sony still plans on having exclusive games, and are in effect gating off those titles behind a very expensive paywall, one which will prove insurmountable for many players in 2020.
“Big companies do something anti-consumer” is not a surprising headline, either in the games industry or beyond. And as someone who worked for a large games company in the past, I understand that there are many factors at play, including research, development, and manufacturing contracts that were almost certainly too far along to be undone at the time the pandemic hit. Even so, I’m struggling to see how releasing these machines now is a good idea. A one year delay would allow both companies to resolve manufacturing issues, produce far more stock, and allow more development time for launch titles in order to overcome pandemic-created problems. We might even see marginally better graphics as a result. And a delay of a single year wouldn’t mean the internal components of either machine would feel out of date – they would still be cutting-edge devices even if they weren’t launched until November 2021.
Regardless of what some of us may think, the console launches are going ahead. Manufacturing is well underway, and with mere weeks to go until launch day it would be very difficult – if not outright impossible – to slam the brakes on at this late stage. Despite my misgivings both machines will still sell, and will be picked up by enthusiasts with enough disposable income. The beginning of a new console generation always leaves behind those who can’t afford to make the switch; this time around there’s just more people in that position. Hopefully things really will get back to normal soon so everyone can enjoy the next generation of consoles… and the minor changes they have to offer.
The Xbox brand – including the Xbox Series X – is the copyright of Microsoft. The PlayStation brand – including the PlayStation 5 – is the copyright of Sony. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be released in November 2020. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
I haven’t exactly been the biggestsupporter of Microsoft’s strategy as we approach the new console generation. In particular, the company’s decision to make all Xbox Series X titles also available on Xbox One for the first couple of years of the new console’s life seems like a weight around its neck, and makes it a much harder sell at what was already a difficult time. But the leak/announcement of the Xbox Series S – along with its reasonable price at £250 – has definitely shifted my opinion.
The launch of a new generation of consoles is a fun and exciting time for enthusiasts with a suitably high budget, but for a lot of people it can be a moment where they feel left out and left behind. Technology moves on and new games are released, but only for those who can afford it. For players who’ve had to save up just to get a current-gen machine, it can be disappointing to see the newest and best titles be beyond their reach. It’s a position I’ve been in several times, and I know it’s not a nice feeling.
The Xbox Series S is a unique piece of kit. Though there have been cheaper variants of consoles – there’s even an Xbox One S available now – none were released simultaneously with the brand’s flagship machines, meaning that the beginning of a new console generation has always offered players a binary choice: pay up or don’t participate. The Xbox Series S offers players that budget option right from the start, and for many people who have been in the position of thinking next-gen will be unaffordable at launch, it’s undoubtedly a welcome surprise.
The Xbox Series S is not as powerful a machine as the Xbox Series X, and for some players perhaps the perceived downgrade will be a disappointment. But the Series S is still more powerful than the current crop of consoles, and for the market it’s aimed at, I think few will care about 1440p compared to 4K, a smaller, possibly slightly slower NVMe solid-state drive, and other minor differences. The processor at the system’s core is the same one used in the Series X, and while its graphics chip is a less-powerful version, it’s built on the same architecture as its sister console’s.
In short, the Xbox Series S is like getting a mid-tier gaming PC instead of a high-end one. And the PC comparison is apt, because compared to many PC gaming setups, the Series S blows them away. It would be impossible to build anything even vaguely comparable to the Series S for £250 or less, so it feels like a decent machine.
I recently took a look at Game Pass for PC, and the subscription service is also available on Xbox – where it offers over 100 games. The combination of the £8-a-month subscription with the cheap console is an incredibly enticing proposition for budget gamers, and one which is honestly hard to beat. It will likely be hard to beat for several years at least!
For less than the price of a standard Netflix subscription, players will have access to a huge library of titles, including every Xbox exclusive and every new game from a Microsoft-owned studio. Titles already on the service include: Dead Cells, Forza Horizon 4, all five games in the Gears of War series, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Kingdom Hearts 3, Minecraft, No Man’s Sky, the two Ori games, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, State of Decay 2, Streets of Rage 4, The Outer Worlds, and Wasteland 3. Those are just some of the highlights, and it’s not unfair to say that Game Pass offers phenomenal value to console players. Combined with the low asking price of the Series S, I think it’s a steal.
There are still some concerns. The fact that Microsoft still plan on releasing games for Xbox One for the next couple of years or so means that realistically, buying an Xbox One S or even a preowned Xbox One is still a cheaper prospect. And I have to confess a degree of concern at the possibility of the Series S’s lower specs potentially holding back next-gen titles within the next five years or so. In short, if Xbox games have to be built with Series S compatibility in mind, will that slow the pace of game development considering that the Series S is comparable to a PC you could buy today?
The first of those points – that the Xbox One is still the cheaper option – may sway some budget gamers. In that sense, as I wrote once before, the biggest competition that the Xbox Series S/X will have won’t come from PlayStation – it’ll come from the Xbox One. But despite that, I think that players who don’t just want a console for the next couple of years could future-proof their gaming setups with a Series S. The low price still makes it a solid option, even if it’s possible to pick up an Xbox One for less money. The price difference between an Xbox One – even preowned – and the Series S won’t be that large, and when the Series S will be able to play new games for the next six-eight years instead of one or two, it ends up being better value in the long run.
If you couldn’t tell, I like this console. I like it far more than the Xbox Series X or the PlayStation 5! It fills a niche that no major company has tried to fill before, and offers players on a budget a way into next-gen gaming right from day one. There are a lot of people who fall into that category, and for some of them who may have felt next-gen was simply out of reach, they may now feel that they will be able to join in. Expanding the gaming hobby to more people is a great thing, and helping people who would have otherwise missed out or had to wait get a foot in the door is fantastic. I applaud this decision from Microsoft.
The Xbox Series S will be available in November. The Xbox brand is the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.