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Is a PC the Best Next-Generation Console? How Consoles Are Changing

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Image credit: Artiom Vallat/Unsplash

Later this year, both Microsoft and Sony are set to release their latest game consoles. This is surely something that fans of either company are looking forward too, but this is different. Gaming has changed since the two companies released the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

It used to be that you bought a console, you played games, and that was it. Now, consoles see the same type of half-step upgrades we see from phones, PCs, and other hardware. Does this mean you might be better off buying a PC for your gaming needs?

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Consoles Are Getting More Like PCs

We’ve seen add-ons that made consoles more powerful before, but the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X are the first half-step upgrades we’ve seen come to consoles. Even back in the days of the Sega 32x, you could either play a game or not. With the introdocution of upgraded consoles, you could buy a game that would technically run on your day-one console, just not partcularly well.

With the next-generation Xbox, Microsoft didn’t even get to launch day before confirming it would have multiple models. The Xbox One Series X is only one version of the new Xbox. Whether the company has plans for a console beyond this or simply aims for the Xbox to be somewhat like Windows 10, with constant upgrades, remains to be seen. What we do know is that buying games is going to get more confusing.

Sony hasn’t said whether it will follow the same strategy with the PlayStation 5, but considering it did with the PlayStation 4, it seems likely. Especially if the company needs to do so to keep up with third-party games.

…But Consoles Aren’t Enough Like PCs

The problem is, consoles are still closed systems. If you want more power, you need to buy a new console. Yes, in the last generation we saw hard drive upgrades become available, but I wouldn’t even count on that in the upcoming consoles.

Both Sony and Microsoft have been making a big deal of the super-fast SSDs used in their new consoles. While hard drives have been cheap for a long time, that’s a more recent development with SSDs. We also don’t know if the consoles are using SSDs with easy drop-in replacements.

Even if you can upgrade the SSD in the new consoles, that’s likely the only part you’ll be able to upgrade. You certainly won’t be able to pop in a new CPU or graphics card in order to play the latest games. If a future version of the Xbox plays games that the Xbox Series X struggles with, it’s either buy a new console or put up with a low framerate.

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PCs Can Do More Than Just Play Games

Upgradability is one of the major reasons to opt for a PC over a console. Yes, there’s a larger up-front investment in a PC, but if you need to buy two consoles in the next five years just to play games at their best, the price difference begins to shrink.

Of course, you can do more with a PC than just play games. This makes it a little easier to spend money on a PC than on a few consoles, especially if you have to justify the expense to your significant other.

The major stumbling point of PC gaming used to be the controls. Now with Microsoft treating the PC as a priority platform for gaming, that’s a significantly smaller issue. Since the Xbox 360, PC games have treated the Xbox controller as the standard, which means anything with that controller works too.

One Major Reason to Buy the Upcoming Consoles

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to look forward to the upcoming consoles. One might be of particular interest if you’ve been playing consoles for a long time, though: backward compatiblity.

Rumors have been circling for some time that unlike the PS4, Sony will be heavily focusing on backward compatiblity with the PS5. If those rumors are true, the upcoming console will be able to play your old games all the way back to the original PlayStation. Combine that with the backward compatibility that Microsoft has focused on with the Xbox for some time, and two machines might be able to play a significant chunk of your game library.

That said, PCs are largely backward compatible too, which means there’s a clear choice for when you want to dig out and play your old copy of Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun.

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7 Comments

  1. I’ve been playing PC games since the days of feeding floppy after floppy into the disk drive. There are PLENTY of GOOD PC-compatible games out there. I tried to tell my kids they didn’t need a new console and set of compatible games to amuse themselves but they had to see for themselves how much it cost in their allowances.

  2. If you need to use a PC for other reasons, then if you’re on a budget, make it your gaming machine also. You get access to tens of thousands of games—most of which are obviously exclusive to PC—at rock-bottom prices as long as you wait for your titles to go on sale. Have a quick look at Steam & GOG at the weekend—and of course EpicGames give away a free commercial game or two every week, as if there weren’t already thousands of free PC games. [paragraph]

    Re the higher price of a PC v a console, you’ll recover the difference quickly via the major savings on game purchases as long as you can wait for titles to go on sale. [paragraph]

    Re playing console games on PC, see if an emulator will cover your needs:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_video_game_console_emulators [paragraph]

    Apart from choice & price, the biggest reason for me to prefer PC is the mods. Most big games have great modding communities and they produce some top-quality stuff. Mods can allow you to customize the game to your preferences, or fix bad design by the developers, or make a game almost totally different to the original. [paragraph]

    PC will mostly have better controls, now that console controllers can be used for racing, fighting etc. Keyboard-mouse is much better for shooters, and genres like RTS and other strategy can hardly be played on consoles. Get a programmable keyboard & mouse with multiple game profiles and you have gamer heaven. [paragraph]

    Of course PC graphics are better, but the real kick comes from the customizability of the graphics settings. Older PC? No problem, turn the graphics down a notch—or turn some of the settings down and ramp some of the others up, choice is yours. [paragraph]

    If you don’t already need a PC, and you play mostly racing, fighting & platformer games, and the other aspects above aren’t of interest, then a console is a good choice for you. The good news is that consoles have been becoming more like PCs for a couple of generations now, and that’ll definitely continue with 2020’s new models, so the gap between consoles and PCs is becoming less with each generation. I expect the difference will disappear next decade, if not in the later 20s.

    1. Thanks for the info about emulators. Some of my favorite PC games were from years ago, will have to check if I can play them again

      1. “PC games were from years ago, will have to check if I can play them”
        Check GOG.com, great thing is they ‘update’ old games to work on each new Win OS.
        If GOG doesn’t have your game, then check out DOSbox for DOS-based games. [paragraph]

        If you have Windows 10, you might be set already—I find it better than Windows 7 for older software. I was able to play the original Command & Conquer last year with a simple tweak—iirc ‘Run as Admin’. Mind you, that was from Origin’s fantastic all-in-one digital deal from the 00s, so maybe they tweaked something.

        1. Wow, they have Knights of the Sky, I haven’t seen that for years!

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