Six months into owning my PS5, the X button began sticking and struggling to function. The issue came up suddenly; there was no inciting spill or accident that could have caused it. One day, the iconic Sony input just started sticking randomly.
This is fairly emblematic of my relationship with the PS5. So far, it's been a machine that's more flash than substance, which is pretty tough to accept at its $499 price point (£450 in the UK and $749 in Australia). Thanks to a hardware error that's apparently out of warranty, my console can't even run – get this – new PS5 games, like Supermassive's recent follow-up to Until Dawn, The Quarry. Because of this, my next-generation console has become a glorified YouTube and PlayStation 4 backwards compatibility box.
In stark contrast, the PS4 was an absolute workhorse for me. Despite travel and falls, none of my PS4 controllers ever gave me issues (and if they ever did, there were plenty of strong alternatives, as our guide to the best PS4 controllers attests). And the main hardware – a PS4 Slim – was basically infallible.
Meanwhile, the PS5 DualSense has already succumbed to stick drift for many people, with one or both of the analogs giving phantom inputs when the player isn’t touching them. The issue is so widespread that IGN (opens in new tab) has a wiki guide on how to identify and potentially fix the problem yourself before sending the pad back to Sony for repairs.
Controller drift was such a controversial issue for Nintendo Switch that Kotaku (opens in new tab) published an entire report on it in 2019, which perhaps pushed the Japanese company to actually change its repair policies. Now, anyone experiencing Joy-Con drift can send the offending controllers back to Nintendo to be repaired for free, regardless of their warranty status. A few years back, Vice (opens in new tab) reported that Nintendo had also told its customer service representatives to offer refunds to people who had already paid for Joy-Con repairs.
Yet so far, Sony has not made any similar efforts to assist customers who are experiencing drift or other issues with the PS5 or its controller. If your console is out of warranty – which it likely is if you bought it during the initial release period – your only real options are to a) suck it up and deal with whatever your controller is doing, b) send it to Sony for repairs at a price, or c) trade it in at your local game shop and put the credit towards a new one.
This is especially frustrating when you look at the PS5's price point in comparison to its predecessor. The next-gen hardware sells for $100 more than the PS4 did, presumably on account of its souped-up guts and the fancy features its controller was sold on. If you look at Sony's website (opens in new tab) now, it prominently promotes the DualSense's “immersive haptic feedback, dynamic adaptive triggers, and a built-in microphone, all integrated into an iconic design”.
These features are posed as futuristic and something worth spending the extra money on, but in reality, they're smoke and mirrors covering the fact that the base structure of the controller is compromised. Haptic feedback and fancy triggers don't really help when you can't even use the stick or X button properly. How ‘iconic’ can a design really be if its basic functions don’t, well, function? It's enough to make you ask, when you pit PS5 vs PS4, should you even upgrade?
The promise of next-gen – or at least, Sony's version of it – ultimately feels empty when the basic anatomy of a working controller still hasn't been nailed down by the giants of our industry. For me personally, this has metastasized to the system itself, leaving the PlayStation 5 unable to fulfill its function. With Sony's lackluster warranty policy, there's not much to be done that doesn't involve giving them even more money. I feel more like I was scammed than given a ticket to the future of gaming.