The launch date for the PS5 and Xbox Series X is coming into focus, after Microsoft confirmed their next-gen Xbox console would be landing in November – most likely before November 13 – with the PS5’s release no doubt coming around the same time. But it’s increasingly clear that neither Xbox or PlayStation is prepared for the late 2020 release date they backed themselves into.
The issue? Launch titles.
The Xbox Series X has lost its tentpole launch game, Halo Infinite, after delaying it to some time in 2021. I don’t expect the decision has been made lightly – at least partially to reduce crunch for the dev team in a time of largely remote working conditions – but it leaves the new console without a big day one release for players to enjoy from the off. It leaves the console with relatively minor exclusives on launch day, like Scorn and The Medium.
The PS5 isn't in as bad a position, but it isn't raking in launch titles either. The only exclusive game confirmed for launch is Spider-Man: Miles Morales – more of a 1.5 iteration on 2018’s Spider-Man than a full sequel. Bethesda and Arkane's Deathloop, which is coming to PS5 and PC but not Xbox, is also scheduled for this year.
While it does give Sony a small advantage in terms of launch software, it’s also less than we could have reasonably expected – and for both console makers there’s a scarcity of games for early adopters to enjoy in the first couple of months on sale.
Both consoles are set to get next-gen versions of Rainbow Six Siege and Fortnite, but neither make a strong case for the PS5 or Xbox Series X launching in late 2020.
Back in March 2017, when the Nintendo Switch first released, the console was criticized as a ’Zelda machine’ for only having Breath of the Wild and an underwhelming 1-2 Switch party game available to buy. Compared to these upcoming lineups, the Switch’s looks market-leading.
Microsoft is taking pains to remind gamers that the Xbox Series X will be able to play thousands of existing games, and it will likely be able to do so with greater fidelity and improved performance over what console gamers have seen before. The problem is that we already have a machine for playing Xbox One games – it’s called the Xbox One.
The PS4, too, has had an amazing year for new games, with Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us 2 both releasing in previous months. They might look better on PS5, but for dedicated gamers already playing these games, there’s little incentive to upgrade, and there’s little sense of the PS4 having been abandoned by developers, or even Sony itself. It’s honestly surprising that neither of those titles were postponed until the PS5 launch for a cross-gen release.
I fully expect both next-gen consoles to sell well, especially in a year of lockdowns and forced indoors leisure. And the pressure is obviously on Sony and Microsoft to release in time for the holidays, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday happening shortly after their expected release dates, and plenty of sales fever to capitalize on.
But I have an overwhelming sense of hardware being launched before it truly has a purpose, and of software developers struggling to keep up amid difficult working conditions in an unpredictable year. The Nintendo Switch showed that an early-year console release could work, and it's a shame that neither Sony nor Microsoft will be able to postpone without giving the other a massive head start – not to mention messing up retail partnerships and distribution plans worldwide.
Ultimately, though, no amount of hype is going to make the PS5 or Xbox Series X worth having on launch day without the games to prove it.
- PS5 vs Xbox Series X: which should you choose?
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Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.