Emmett Watkins Jr. – Pilot Master/Lyrical Miracle

I’ve been fortunate enough to secure both a PS5 and an Xbox Series X in the last year, and I’ve had a Switch and PC for even longer. I’ve been playing on all of these platforms fairly regularly so I’m going into this console generation with a perspective I’ve never had before. Ever since first acquiring a PS2 back around 2003, I put all my investment into the PlayStation ecosystem. I’ve owned multiple PSPs, Vitas, PS3s, PS4s, and I even often refer to myself as the PlayStation Stan on many posts. Well, now I can’t genuinely claim a preference for any platform, because they all have enough positives to make them worth considering.

Over on Xbox, they still don’t quite have that many major exclusives on the horizon outside of Redfall and Starfield. But they are literally knocking everything else about their platform out of the park. The praise for Game Pass is everywhere, even on this very article, and I reflect that sentiment. Their willingness to their service everything from the biggest third-party releases (like Outriders and Yakuza: Like a Dragon) to the most obscure indies (like She Dreams Elsewhere and Unpacking), means that there’s something for everyone on there. But their push to make this library playable on PC and through streaming makes the service impossible to pass up. But beyond that, Xbox is easily the most rewarding console ecosystem to be a part of. Microsoft Rewards, a site that gives you reward points for using Microsoft products, makes engaging with the ecosystem make monetary sense, as many of the rewards you can claim, like gift cards from Amazon, Walmart, and Burger Kings, are usable on things other than Xbox products. In fact, I’m paying off most of my Horizon: Forbidden West pre-order using Amazon cards from this service.

But that’s just Xbox, PlayStation isn’t too shabby either. While they don’t have a game-changing rewards system, they regularly give away excellent games through their PlayStation Plus subscription. A Plague Tale: Innocence, Control: Definitive Editon, and most recently, Deep Rock Galactic, have all been great reasons to stay subscribed. Now, there is also PlayStation Now, which is a service with a major marketing problem. Originally a streaming-only service, many still don’t know that you can play PS4 and PS2 games natively on it, much like Game Pass. But for those of us who do know, the library on the service is pretty damn solid. It’s a good blend of modern underrated titles and old classics, held back only from the PS3 titles still being streaming only and most of the highest-profile titles being on the service for only 3-4 months at a time. But both of those services, pale in comparison to the wealth of blockbuster exclusives that Sony has lined up. Spider-Man 2, The Last of Us P2: Factions, God of War: Ragnarok, Wolverine, and the imminent Horizon: Forbidden West all guarantee I won’t be leaving the PlayStation ecosystem anytime soon.

So, what about the Switch? Well, to be honest, there aren’t that many exclusives I’m really looking forward to. I’m interested in the long-rumored Metroid Prime Trilogy (and Prime 4), I’m excited to play Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and Bayonetta 3 is one of my most anticipated games of this year. But Zelda and all of the different flavors of Mario never really appealed to me. Plus, Nintendo Online is an incredibly lackluster service to me. Playing NES games isn’t something I want to do, even if it ran natively instead of streaming, and the same goes for the Expansion Pack tier and its Sega Genesis and N64 library. Really, the main benefit to playing on Switch is the mobility of the platform and the novelty of that feature. Getting to play Bayonetta 2 in bed last year made the game all the more compelling for me, and some games, like Slay the Spire, I don’t think I would have played much at all if I only could do so on a big screen. Still, that portability comes at a price, as the lower graphical power of the console means the most technically inferior ports of most games are on Switch.

Now, playing on PC is fastly different. There’s no one uniting ecosystem that unifies every game on PC, but there are so many ways to acquire games on the platform for free or cheap that it feels insane to not keep up with the platform at all. The Epic Games Store gives away free games (like the entire Tomb Raider Trilogy) every single week, and during special holiday events, every single day. Twitch Prime, which most of us already have through Amazon Prime, gives away about a half dozen games every month, from indies like Etherborn to AAA titles like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. And if you keep up with third-party sellers like Green Man Gaming, Humble Bundle, and Fanatical, you can even get Steam titles for free or cheap during certain sales and promotions. Now, I know PC gaming still has a high barrier to entry, especially with the current graphics card shortage, so these savings come at a higher upfront cost. But once you have the hardware to run these games, it really is an embarrassment of riches.

Plus, while it is undoubtedly the weakest offering out of this bunch, those who wish not to own any hardware at all have great options. I subscribed to Stadia Pro earlier last year and was delighted to see how solid the platform is. Now, since this is streaming only, I only can recommend this to anyone with a decent to great internet connection. But if you do, then you’ll get a great version of solid AA titles like Saints Row IV and Sniper Elite 4 and console exclusive indies like Grime and Wavetale. While I can’t speak on similar services like Amazon’s Luna (which Graydon did try out!), Google Stadia is a surprisingly good service that is easily worth trying with free games like PUBG or Destiny 2 or worth paying $10 a month for its slowly growing library.

So, where does that leave my opinion on the upcoming generation. Honestly, I’m at a bit of a stalemate, but it’s a positive one. Xbox is probably the ecosystem that objectively is the best place to play, with the availability of games and the rewards from play being the highest there. PlayStation has the most excited upcoming games, and I’m grandfathered in with the PS+ games I’ve claimed over the years. The Nintendos Switch’s novelty of portability can’t be touched by anyone else, despite the very few exclusives and preferred ports on the platform. PC gaming is easily the most frugal, though I can already feel my need for a more modern graphics card already creeping up after only 3 years. And Stadia has been my place to play some of my favorite games of last year, but even I don’t always feel like playing games through streaming exclusively. I think what I’m most satisfied with is just how diverse the landscape of gaming is. There are not only more entry points for gaming than ever before, but they’ve never been so varied. No longer is there a reason to limit yourself to just one platform, because you’d be missing out on so much if you did so. Plus, streaming options mean you don’t even have to spend hundreds of dollars on hardware in most cases. Now I’m just excited to see if any of these options will give me a reason to consider them the obvious best choice because so far, I think they’re all worth investing in!

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