In a few days, we will officially be two years, 24 months, into this new generation. This new generation of extremely expensive consoles that was promised to us with the potential for paradigm changing tech (such as the SSD), and the potential for better, more realized, more dynamic games than anything the medium has managed before. And, two years in, what do we have to show for it?
Not much, really.
It’s time to come out and say it – this generation has kind of been a bust so far. The PS5 and Xbox Series X are both fantastic machines, to be clear. Both are well designed, capable, and extremely easy to develop for by all accounts. Both have similar strengths, pretty much no weaknesses, and are even similarly priced. Put simply, this gen should be the one where we see great next gen only titles that truly leverage some of the promised game changing tech in those consoles (such as the aforementioned SSD) coming out quicker than the generation transitions usually take… right?
For the sixth generation, the Dreamcast launched with Sonic Adventure and SoulCalibur, the PS2 took a year to get Grand Theft Auto III, Final Fantasy X, and Metal Gear Solid 2, the Xbox launched with Halo: Combat Evolved, and the GameCube had Star Wars Rogue Squadron: Rogue Leader, and more out within a few months of its launch. In the HD era, we’d had Gears of War and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, both major next gen showcases, out within a year of the Xbox 360’s launch. In the PS4 and Xbox One era, it took slightly longer – eighteen months to be specific – but by early 2015, several major next-gen only titles were available, including The Witcher 3, Bloodborne, Fallout 4, and Batman: Arkham Knight. This generation, two years in? We’ve got nothing equivalent.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been next-gen only games. Demon’s Souls, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal, and a few others are all next-gen only titles, to be fair. But the bulk of the big games? You know, the ones the industry stops for, the ones that most people around the world want to play? Let’s take a look at the last two years of those, and see what we find. Cyberpunk 2077 was cross-gen. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was cross-gen. Tales of Arise was cross-gen. Resident Evil Village was cross-gen. Yakuza: Like A Dragon, Lost Judgment, and Soul Hackers 2 were all cross-gen. Elden Ring, this generation’s The Witcher 3 equivalent (by timing and by impact)? Hey, also cross-gen.
It’s not just third parties either, even the platform holders Sony and Microsoft seem awfully reticent to actually leave their older consoles behind. While Sony and Microsoft have been fine making some of their smaller properties and games next-gen only, they’re big games, the “system selling” ones so to say? Those are all cross-gen. Spider-Man: Miles Morales? Cross-gen. Horizon: Forbidden West? Cross-gen. Halo Infinite? Cross-gen. Forza Horizon 5? Cross-gen. Gran Turismo 7? Cross-gen. Even the upcoming God of War Ragnarok is cross-gen. As far as the big, mainstream friendly titles go, even Sony and Microsoft aren’t really willing to leave the PS4 and Xbox One behind.
To some degree, this even makes sense. Game development is far more expensive now than it has ever been, meaning games in turn need to sell far more than ever before for development to be sustainable, let alone profitable. And in spite of some record breaking demand, the PS5 and Xbox Series simply have not been able to build up an install base that would justify having some of these games be next-gen only. A huge part of that is the disrupted supply and production chains that afflicted pretty much every major industry in 2020, in the wake of COVID-19, which has made it impossible to walk into a store and pick up a next-gen console even two years in. At this point, if most people can’t even buy a PS5 or an Xbox Series console, then how would they be able to buy and play any game that’s exclusive to just those systems? They obviously cannot, meaning the addressable market for next generation is minuscule – especially in relation to where it would need to be for next-gen only mass-market AAA games to really be viable.
But even financial considerations aside, there is a reason why we are seeing so many major games be cross-gen more than two years into the generation (next year, you can look forward to Resident Evil 4, Street Fighter 6, Hogwarts Legacy, Diablo 4, and Assassin’s Creed Mirage, among many others, to be cross-generation). The simple fact of the matter, as many who have been complaining about the spate of delays the industry saw in 2021 and 2022 have probably realized at this point, is that a lot of these games may have been intended to launch earlier than they will end up releasing. Unfortunately, the last two and a half years have been tumultuous for the world, and COVID-19 in particular completely disrupted game development for a lot of major developers. These games may well have started development as cross-gen (or even last-gen) games intended for 2021 or at worst 2022, that ended up getting pushed because COVID completely halted things for a good few months there.
Even without COVID, game development cycles have been getting longer across the board. Between 2005 and 2010, Sony Santa Monica released three console God of War games. Between 2007 and 2014, Naughty Dog released one The Last of Us and three Uncharted games. Between 2007 and 2013, BioWare released three Mass Effect games, three Dragon Age games, and also Star Wars: The Old Republic. Meanwhile, it took Sony Santa Monica four and a half years to get a (largely iterative – not meant as a criticism, mind you, just an observation on something that should have helped development) sequel to God of War 2018 out. BioWare hasn’t released a new game since 2019 (which was Anthem). BioWare hasn’t released a new singleplayer game since 2017 (which was Mass Effect Andromeda). BioWare hasn’t released a good game since – you know what, this topic is depressing, the point is they’ve been taking a very long time to get games out. And Naughty Dog? It took them four years to go from Uncharted 4 to The Last of Us 2 (though to be perfectly fair, we did have Uncharted: The Lost Legacy in there too). And two and a half years after their release, the most they have put out is a remake of the original Last of Us game, that in very large part was worked on by another studio to begin with. Their next game isn’t even formally announced.
So game development is taking ridiculously long these days, with a single game often taking the better part of a decade to be completed. Which means that a lot of these games coming out now probably started development in 2017-2019, when last gen was in the full swing of things. It’s just, those games took forever to come out – in one part because that’s just how things are now, but then we also throw COVID on top.
All of which is to say, the reason that games are cross-gen two years into this generation are understandable. They make sense. But if the development pipeline was not ready, then why did we get these consoles right now? I said this back in 2020, before the PS5 and Xbox Series were out, that it felt like they were being rushed to the market out of an obligation to… who, exactly? Shareholders? It definitely wasn’t developers, who have yet to convincingly move to these new systems en masse. It wasn’t for the players, because no player wants $500 consoles with nothing to show for them. So who were they for?
Two years into this generation, we’re yet to get a convincing signature showpiece title. Two years in, we’re yet to get anything that feels technically more impressive than Red Dead Redemption 2, a 2018 game which runs on the toaster oven that is the base Xbox One. Two years in, we’re yet to see the promises of new design paradigms powered by these new consoles bear out in the handful of next-gen only games we did get.
Maybe this changes next year – at long last, next year will finally introduce several next-gen only titles. Dead Space, Redfall, Starfield, Final Fantasy 16, Forspoken, Alan Wake 2, Silent Hill 2, Suicide Squad, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, Forza Motorsport, Spider-Man 2, Tekken 8, STALKER 2, and Star Wars Jedi are all confirmed to be next generation only games, and while it is vanishingly unlikely that all (or even most) of them do come out in 2023, at the very least it seems like we are finally moving into a period where major projects from first and third party publishers are willing to leave the older generation consoles behind (for now, anyway – I remember when several games were announced as “next gen only” before getting last generation versions revealed. I’m mostly looking at Sony and Capcom here, who’ve been the worst offenders of this kind of misleading marketing). So maybe all of this changes soon. Hell, even Nintendo is due to put out new hardware soon, with the Switch now six years old, and rumblings of a successor growing louder. If nothing else, they can at least rejuvenate the industry with new hardware and new design paradigms like they did in 2017 with the Switch and the one-two whammy of Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey.
But as of right now? We have $500 plastic boxes whose greatest claim to fame is being able to play games made for cheaper plastic boxes you already own, but a bit better. The highest rated games of this year are Elden Ring and Persona 5 Royal, both very literally using PS3 level tech. The new game design revolution we were promised was a lie.
That last part at the very least may not ever change. But if nothing else, maybe we can finally start getting games that weren’t designed around low-end 2012 tablet CPUs. Right?
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.