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What you (and your wallet) need to know about next gen game consoles

With this new generation of consoles game publishers are taking the opportunity to recalibrate, and that means you should prepare for some sticker shock.

On PlayStation 5 a new standard for the highest-end video games has been set at $125. That’s where Sony’s own Demon’s Souls and the Ultimate Edition of Spider-Man: Miles Morales have landed. Microsoft is yet to release a brand new game for next-gen, so it’s unclear how something like Halo Infinite will be priced.

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Not all publishers are on the same page, with Activision and 2K pricing their games at $110, and Ubisoft at $100, across PlayStation and Xbox. Compared to the prices we were paying the ’90s and 2000s, adjusted for inflation, these prices are reasonably low. But it’s still jarring for the dollar figure to jump so suddenly. Right now the consoles’ digital stores are your friend. The prices of AAA games currently match what you pay at retail, but you have a larger selection of more affordable games too.

Look for, or hold on to, older games

Not only do the new consoles work with last generation’s games, but in most cases old games look and run better on the new consoles. On PS5 you can simply download PS4 games from the store or your library, or insert the PS4 disc to install. Ditto on the new Xbox systems with Xbox One games, though Microsoft goes further by also supporting hundreds of Xbox 360 and original Xbox games.

Your mileage will vary in terms of how much older games are improved. Some won’t be changed by new hardware, while many are radically sharper, smoother or more vibrant. It’s worth noting that a very small number of PS4 games don’t currently work on PS5, and the handful of Xbox One games that require Kinect are out too.

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It’s safest (though not quite as cheap) to source older games from the consoles’ digital stores rather than eBay or a bargain bin.

Old controllers and headsets generally work on the new systems too, with some caveats. Audio gear requiring an optical connection to the console is out, PS4 controllers only work with PS4 games and older Xbox controllers lack the new share button. Still, holding onto your old stuff could save you money considering next gen controllers go for between $90 and $110.

Subscription services are worth the investment

Microsoft says more than 70 per cent of Xbox Series consoles are being used with a new or existing Game Pass subscription, and there’s a good reason for that; Game Pass is the best deal in gaming right now. For $11 per month you get unlimited access to download and play hundreds of games on any Xbox, and since new subscribers get the first month for $1 you can get a whole year for less than that single $125 game.

All of Microsoft’s own games are included, for example every Halo and Gears, and new ones arrive in Game Pass the day they release. But equally exciting are the many and varied back-catalogue games from publishers big and small.

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Right now Doom Eternal and The Witcher III are some of the bigger ones included, but the subscription model also makes it easier to jump into celebrated indies like Celeste or Carrion. The $16 Ultimate subscription also gets you games on PC, games from EA including from the Star Wars and FIFA franchise, and from next year the ability to stream games to your phone from the cloud.

PlayStation may not have a Game Pass analogue, but its $12 per month (or $80 per year) Plus subscription is nothing to sneeze at. Each month you get a handful of free games. On PS5, in addition to those games (this month includes the wonderful Bugsnax), Sony is offering a very impressive collection of PS4 games including God of War, every numbered Uncharted game, Bloodborne, The Last of Us and Persona 5. For anyone who didn’t have a PS4, or who has those games on disc and is getting a digital PS5, that’s a pretty good deal.

Be smart about storage

The new consoles feature cutting edge solid state drives, meaning new games are less inhibited by the need to transfer data back and forth and older games have significantly improved loading times. One disadvantage is that you need to use that advanced drive to play your new games, whereas in the previous generation you could expand your storage with any old USB hard drive.

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In terms of actual usable space you get less than 700GB on PS5, around 800GB on Xbox Series X and less than 400GB on Xbox Series S. With big games tending to come in around 50GB, that could fill up fast. On Xbox you can more than double your space with an official 1TB expansion drive that plugs into the back and runs at exactly the same speed as the internal drive. It’s a marvel, but it’s also $360.

Meanwhile the PS5 features an M.2 drive bay so you can buy an SSD designed for PCs and install it yourself. Sony hasn’t turned this feature on yet though, and compatible drives will be pricey.

Either way affordable expansion options for next-gen games are a ways off. However, all three consoles do support USB drives for PS4 and Xbox One (and older) games. I’d suggest reserving your precious internal drive space purely for next gen games, and running older stuff from USB. You’ll be at the mercy of your chosen USB drive in terms of loading speeds (my expensive USB SSD got loading speeds near identical to the internal drives, while an older mechanical drive was much slower), but games will still benefit graphically from the new consoles.

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