PlayStation 5: What Surprised Us Most, One Year Later


imageThe PS5 is officially a year old, and it’s been an especially turbulent one for the games industry.Here’s what stands out the most about the console’s first year.

The PlayStation 5 is officially one year old, though you may not know it by looking at store shelves and online retailers.The console is nearly as hard to find now as it was in 2020, making this generation suffer from an awkward, lurching start.Still, as it turns a year old we can take a look back at its first year on the market, and the parts about it that surprised us the most.

The game library has been surprisingly strong

Before launch there was reason to suspect this launch window would be uncharacteristically weak.The system launched in the midst of a global pandemic, which had already resulted in game delays.It was an open question if many of the next-gen games slated to release within the PS5’s first year would actually release at all, but several of them did arrive as scheduled (or with a slight delay).

Cross-gen games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Resident Evil: Village have gotten a notable boost on PS5 compared to their PS4 brethren, and many other games that released near the end of the last generation have gotten free upgrade patches.On top of that, the PS5 has gotten notable and well-reviewed exclusives in its first year, including Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal, Demon’s Souls, and Deathloop.

That’s a much more stacked lineup than I would have expected just a year ago at this time.

That said, the surprises haven’t all been positive.Some games, most notably Horizon Forbidden West, were delayed out of the holiday season and will miss the first year of the PS5 lifespan.In Horizon’s case, this almost meant no free upgrade path as Sony had promised for games within the launch window, before fan outcry caused the company to double back and make good on its previous commitment.

Load times are a real game-changer

Before the new generation launched, there was much discussion about the new SSDs and how quicker load times would impact the quality-of-life experience across the board when playing games.So we expected a big change in load times, but it’s still downright shocking how big this effect actually is.It’s so easy to get accustomed to lightning-fast fast-travel or seamless stage transitions that you forget all about it until you go back to a game on PS4, Xbox One, or Switch.

Some games have incorporated the quick loading times into the gameplay itself, as in the case of Ratchet & Clank.

Others just make it a lot more convenient to get around, like in Spider-Man: Miles Morales.No matter how it’s incorporated, it gives us more time to actually play our games, and less time to doom-scroll on our phones while waiting for the game to load.

DualSense is amazing, but almost no one uses it well

It was hard to know what to make of the DualSense before the PS5 released.Sony made a lot of lofty promises about how it would impact gameplay, but whether its gimmicks would pan out or not was an open question.The answer in the year since has been: kinda? When used to its full potential, the DualSense feels like some kind of magical totem connecting your hands to the game world.Just look at Astro’s Playroom, the free tech demo platformer included with all PS5s.It’s an incredible experience that showcases the haptics, adaptive triggers, and spatial audio at their absolute best.

But unfortunately, Astro’s Playroom is the exception rather than the rule.

Numerous games have used DualSense functionality here or there with mixed levels of success, and no one has really made a full-fledged experience that consistently captures the magic of Astro.(Sackboy might come the closest, which goes to show how the platformer genre is great for that sense of playful tech).Maybe more developers will utilize it better going forward, but for the time being the implementation is more miss than hit.

Expanding storage is not exactly plug-and-play

Since the PS5 came out players have been asking for ways to increase its space, but the new SSD complicates matters.Since the system architecture and development tools are built around the certainty of a high-speed SSD, you can’t just slap any drive in and call it a day.While you can use an HDD as essentially back-up storage , the ability to plug in a larger M.2 NVMe SSD didn’t come until September, nearly a year after launch.And even then, the support was strangely unclear.

Sony announced SSD specs , but not specific models that would be compatible, leaving some users confused.

The most foolproof method was to simply use a WD_Black SN850 with a heatsink, since PS5 architect Mark Cerny said publicly that he had used it in his own system.

Transferring save data and pricey upgrades are a pain

Xbox’s Smart Delivery sounded like an overly flowery name for a pretty basic feature–the system simply works, downloads the appropriate version, and picks up your save wherever you left off.Sony announced no such similar feature for PlayStation, but surely it would work the same way, right? Well, no.Sony’s save transfers across generations have been annoying, often requiring you to export on the PS4 version and then import on the PS5 version.

It wasn’t uncommon to have to download both versions onto your PS5 just so that you could export the cloud save instead of loading it natively on the PS5 version.It’s just a hassle.And a small handful of games don’t support save transfers at all.

Similarly, while many games have offered free new-generation upgrades for their games, Sony has gotten into the habit of charging for “Director’s Cut” upgrades for a few of its highest-profile games.Death Stranding and Ghost of Tsushima both offered substantial new “Director’s Cut” content, but they came at a premium price.

Your mileage may vary on whether these upgrades are worth it, but those hoping to simply check out the new-gen enhancements were left with no option but to pay up.

Sony still has no solid answer to Game Pass

Even before the new consoles launched, Microsoft was clearly positioning Xbox Game Pass to be a major part of its services-based strategy going forward.If you’d asked me a year ago if Sony would attempt to match its closest competitor’s strategy, I would have said: of course, absolutely.But it’s been a year, and Sony has yet to implement or even announce a similar all-you-can-eat service.

PlayStation Now is the closest comparison.

It offers full game downloads in addition to its streaming offerings, for a comparable price and library size.But it hasn’t committed to first-party games appearing on PS Now the way Microsoft has for Game Pass, and when it does offer big first-party games like The Last of Us Part 2 or God of War, they aren’t available on launch day, and they come with expiration dates.Sony also hasn’t made PS Now front-and-center in its public messaging and marketing the way Xbox has with Game Pass, which makes it feel less central to its strategy.PS Plus has started to offer the occasional new game at launch, like Bugsnax or Destruction All-Stars, but that record has been spotty.

This could be intentional.In an era when Xbox is pushing services, it’s also deemphasizing the importance of new hardware.

Sony has been clear in its messaging that it sees generational upgrades as vital to its business, so it may not want to pursue a services model as strongly.Still, Xbox Game Pass is regularly hailed as a great value proposition and is becoming synonymous with the Xbox ecosystem.

It’s surprising that Sony isn’t trying to replicate that success.

Somehow, you still can’t find one

Most consoles are supply-constrained at launch, but with rare exceptions those problems tend to get ironed out within a matter of months.So perhaps the biggest surprise of the PS5 is how hard it is to actually find one 12 months later.Recent sales figures indicate that it has reached more than 13 million units sold worldwide, which even then is weaker than it could be due to ongoing chip shortages caused by the global pandemic.But those high sales figures still aren’t enough to meet demand, because the console still regularly sells out in a matter of seconds across various online retailers.

Several retailers have found ways to combat the problem of scalpers and bots snatching up all the PS5s, from virtual queues to staggering restocks in 10-minute chunks.Those have helped make finding one easier than it once was, but only just.If you ended 2020 looking for a PS5, you might still be trying to find one at the end of 2021.

The reasons why are multifaceted and complex.

Video games are growing more popular and mainstream, so it makes sense that a new generation might outsell the prior one as a general rule going forward.

But the COVID-19 pandemic added its own wrinkles as well, like increasing people’s time at home looking for something to do, and sets of stimulus checks from the government gave people some added disposable income, and of course, a semiconductor shortage that appears to be impacting manufacturing.

Whatever the reasons, the PS5 is just as in-demand now as it was at launch, so it’s difficult to tell when the momentum might slow.Eventually you’ll be able to walk into any big box store and just buy a PS5 off the shelf.We just have no idea when that’s going to be.

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