Final Fantasy 16. God of War: Ragnarok. Halo Infinite. Fable.
These games are on different platforms -- the first pair on PlayStation 5, the second on Xbox Series X|S -- but they have two things in common. One, they're all console exclusives. Two, you won't be able to play any of these games until at least next year.
And that means you don't have to buy either a PS5 or a Series X until next year either. That's a hard reality to recognize now, as the hype that surrounds two major platform launches occurring two days apart is easily overwhelming.
Both Microsoft and Sony spent 2020 in a game of brinksmanship seemingly centered on which company could say the least about its next-generation console for the longest. The standoff ended Sept. 9, when Microsoft announced that the Xbox Series X will launch Nov. 10 for $500, along with the less powerful, digital-only, $300 Series S. Sony followed up just over a week later, revealing that the PS5 will hit store shelves on Nov. 12 and will also cost $500. Its digital-only version will carry a price tag of $400.
Preorders for both consoles sold out immediately in September and October, and it's been a Hunger Games-like situation to try to secure one ever since. Now social media feeds are flooded with people opening their shiny new Xbox and PS5 consoles. If you're not the owner of a new console, you may be gripped by feelings of FOMO.
But don't feel too bad -- because you don't really need either a PS5 or Xbox Series X this year.
For the first time, Microsoft and Sony have different approaches for their upcoming consoles. Sony is hoping to recapture its PS2 success with a catalog of games you won't be able to play on the Xbox Series X. Microsoft, meanwhile, has its Game Pass, a Netflix-like subscription service, and Project xCloud, which lets you play Xbox games on your phone. It's turning the Xbox into a service.
Though it really does feel like we're on the cusp of a literally game-changing era, at the moment the excitement around the two consoles is about which philosophy will work better. But you don't play philosophies, you play games.
And what games are worth buying at launch? I'd guess that the best-selling launch games for the Xbox Series X will be Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War and Assassin's Creed Valhalla, which'll both be available on last-gen consoles, as well as Fortnite, which was already available on everything (until Epic's recent legal spat with Apple and Google, that is). Exclusives are thin: There's The Falconeer, Tetris Effect: Connected, and, for a few months, Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Slim pickings.
The PlayStation 5 has a few more incentives. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is exclusive to PS5 and is likely to be fun. Demon's Souls is sure to be spectacular, but it's also a remake. Then there's Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Sackboy: A Big Adventure. These were originally marketed as PS5 exclusives, but they'll also be coming to the PS4. Props to Sony for looking after its 100 million-plus PS4 customers, but this does dull the urgency to buy a PS5.
So it seems like the selling point for both companies isn't the games you can play on next-gen consoles, but the fact that certain games will look better on next-gen consoles. This is evidenced by the mountain of "launch games" that're actually previous-generation games optimized with 4K resolution, smoother textures and quicker load times.
When to buy?
There's a large subset -- millions strong -- who'll buy one or both consoles as early as possible. Like buying a $1,000 phone when a $400 one will do, that's totally fine if you're willing to pay for the indulgence. But it is an indulgence.
Investing in a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S becomes worthwhile when either platform offers a few excellent exclusives. We'll most likely be deep into 2021 before that happens.
Sony's console looks more promising on this front. Final Fantasy 16 is potentially a few years away, but God of War: Ragnarok is scheduled for next year and is likely to be outstanding. There's also Gran Turismo 7, though it has yet to get a release date. For Microsoft, Master Chief will be carrying a lot of weight. Halo Infinite, originally slated for launch, is now coming out sometime next year. Fable and Forza Motorsport are two more exciting exclusives, but we don't know if they'll be out next year or beyond.
If you skipped a console generation and are looking to get back in the game, the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S look like an ideal way to do that. Holiday 2020 titles will be best played on these consoles, as will remastered versions of PS4/Xbox One classics that'll be available on launch day via PlayStation Plus Collection and Xbox Smart Delivery, respectively.
But for everyone else, ask yourself: How much do you care about nippier load times and improved graphics? Because Assassin's Creed loads fast and look fabulous on the console you already own, too.