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Five Takeaways From Sony’s PS5 Reveal

We know what the system will look like and we know we’ll have ‘Ratchet & Clank,’ but there are still some question marks about the new console

Sony/Ringer illustration

There comes a time in every video game console’s life cycle when an executive steps on stage at a painstakingly choreographed reveal event to brag about a brand-new hunk of high-powered plastic. For the Playstation 4, that moment came seven years ago, at E3 on June 10, 2013:

For the Xbox Series X, the big debut took place last December at the Game Awards, when Microsoft’s Phil Spencer introduced the company’s 2001-monolith-looking sequel to the Xbox One.

For the PlayStation 5, the most eagerly anticipated piece of hardware in the new console generation launching late this year, the official unveiling took place on Thursday, which would have been the final day of E3 2020 if the event hadn’t been canceled because of the coronavirus. (Not that Sony was planning to attend.) Because it’s 2020, we didn’t get a live look at the system, with an in-person presentation in front of an amped-up audience. Instead, Sony partly lifted the lid on the PS5 and many of its high-profile titles during a pre-recorded, 70-plus-minute, video-only event called “Playstation 5: The Future of Gaming,” which was postponed from its original June 4 date in deference to the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd.

Although the event lost a little juice without the audible gasps and cheers of a spellbound E3 audience, it didn’t disappoint most of the millions of viewers who tuned into the stream. (Who needs physical conventions?) Some uncertainty still surrounds specific aspects of Sony’s next system, but we did learn a lot about the PS5 on Thursday. Let’s lay out five takeaways from the much-hyped reveal.

We Finally Know What the Console Looks Like

Well, they actually showed the thing. Sony had previously released PS5 tech specs, images of the two-tone DualSense controller designed as the successor to the venerable DualShock, and the upcoming console’s logo (spoiler: it looks a lot like the PS4 logo, except it says “PS5”). But before Thursday, the company hadn’t given us a glimpse of the system itself. Although much of the speculation leading up to the event leaned toward the company saving the secret of the console’s exterior for a subsequent event, Sony didn’t delay any longer, delivering a full look at the PS5 during the video’s grand finale.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the PS5 follows the same white, black, and blue color scheme as its controller. That’s a change from earlier iterations of the PlayStation, which were all black or gray. It’s sleek, curved, futuristic-looking, and less likely to blend in with your other boring, boxy, electronic components, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your gaming room’s existing aesthetic.

Judging by the video, the PS5 seems primarily intended to stand vertically on a black base. In an upright position, it basically looks like a router, or a giant fan. Because it stands out from the typical console, it’s destined to be grade A meme material.

Fortunately for those who prefer that their systems occupy less airspace, the video did include a shot of the system resting on a base on its side, so like the Xbox 360, it can go horizontal despite its concave surfaces. Judging by the disk drive, which appears to be about a third of the length of the system, the PS5 could be considerably bigger than the PS4 or the Xbox Series X. (Start setting aside some screen-adjacent shelf space.) The front of the system boasts USB ports and compact power and eject buttons that seem to have actual labels, which is good news for anyone who’s spent the past several years accidentally ejecting PS4 disks while trying to shut down the system.

Let’s face it: Most of us don’t purchase gaming systems to make our living rooms look better. As long as they play good games, I have no problem with drab, boxy systems that don’t draw attention—like the Xbox Series X, which looks like a hard drive, a mini-fridge, or (to PS5 fans) a trash can. I appreciate the PS5’s efforts to redefine what a PlayStation looks like, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the eventual PS5 Slim or PS5 Pro goes back to basics and tries a little less hard to look stylish. Here’s hoping that the white surface we’re stuck with for now is somewhat grime-resistant, because the age-old gamer mix of sweaty hands and junk food could soon stain the controllers and case.

Sony also revealed an array of PS5 accessories that will presumably be sold separately, including a DualSense charging station, an HD camera, a Pulse 3D wireless headset, and a media remote.

Disc Drives Are Endangered, but They Aren’t Dead Yet

The PS5 comes in two models: one with a 4K Blu-ray drive—which the Xbox Series X also includes—and a digital edition with no optical drive. The digital edition will likely cost less, and compared to the bulbous, lopsided disk drive version, it looks slim and symmetrical. While Sony isn’t the first console manufacturer to make a model without a disk drive—an all-digital edition of the Xbox One S was released last year—it is a strong statement to include a disk-less option at launch. It certainly seems as if Sony was tempted to ditch the disk drive altogether but couldn’t quite wean itself off that format yet.

In other words, GameStop may limp along a little longer on sales of pre-owned games. But we’re clearly heading fast for a future filled with digital downloads and streaming. One caveat: Although the PS5 is broadly backward compatible with most PS4 and PSVR games, it’s not clear whether the all-digital edition will be capable of playing as wide a selection of last-gen titles, or whether doing so would require players who owned physical copies of PS4 games to repurchase them as PS5 digital downloads or sign up for a subscription service.

There’s Still a Lot We Don’t Know

We’ve now seen the system and controller and heard details about the CPU, graphics card, and SSD drive. But companies tend to space out their announcements to keep their products in the spotlight, and two crucial pieces of information remain mysteries: the release date and the price.

The PlayStation 2 launched in North American in late October of 2000, and the PS3 and PS4 followed in mid-November of 2006 and 2013, respectively. We’re still waiting for Sony to pin down the date for the PS5, but it seems safe to say that early adopters will be unboxing the system in roughly five months.

What we don’t know is how much they’ll pay for that privilege. Sony chose to present the PS5’s selling points before bringing down the mood by discussing dollars, so we’re still in the dark about how much the system will set us back. Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that the PS5’s pricey components may cost Sony $450 per unit, and most estimates of the launch price put it in the vicinity of $500. That’s the same price the Xbox One sported at launch seven years ago, but $100 more than gamers paid for the PS4 in 2013. Still, $500 wouldn’t be as prohibitive a price as, say, the Sega Saturn’s $399 in May 1995, which is the equivalent of $672 in 2020 dollars. Plus, even if the base version approaches $600, the all-digital edition may give gamers on a budget a more affordable option. Ultimately, consumers’ willingness to shell out for the system on day one will depend on the launch lineup, which brings us to takeaway number four.

Sony Brought the First-Party Firepower

The Xbox One fell far behind the PS4 in number of systems sold partly because Microsoft’s studios struggled to match Sony’s selection of exclusive, blockbuster games. Even as the PS4 era winds down, Sony is still churning out system sellers: Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II comes out next week, and Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima will arrive less than a month later. Thursday’s presentation started with a highlight reel of Sony-published PS4 classics, and based on the announcements that followed, the company intends to keep up the pace of high-profile releases when the PS5 arrives.

Sony-owned Insomniac Games unveiled two heavy hitters. The first was Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a sequel to 2018’s Spider-Man that will star the new, fan-favorite Spidey from Into the Spider-Verse instead of Peter Parker. The second was Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, the first entirely original entry in the beloved platforming series since 2013’s Into the Nexus. Another Sony-owned studio (and console-launch staple), Guerilla Games, debuted the sequel to 2017 hit Horizon Zero Dawn, Horizon Forbidden West, which will send series protagonist Aloy into the western regions of the postapocalyptic United States, where she’ll add underwater exploration to her list of adventures and encounter robot turtles and robot elephants in addition to robot dinosaurs. Polyphony Digital introduced Gran Turismo 7, which looks more photorealistic than ever, and Bluepoint Games, the remaster masters, showed off a next-gen version of 2009 PS3 action RPG Demon’s Souls. Sony will also publish Destruction AllStars, a vehicular combat game from developer Lucid that looks like a cross between Twisted Metal and Rocket League.

Many more sequels or spinoffs from third-party studios are on the way, including LittleBigPlanet offshoot Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Hitman III, Resident Evil Village, Astro’s Playroom, Oddworld: Soulstorm, and NBA 2K21. There’s also an “expanded and enhanced” version of Grand Theft Auto V in progress, which probably wasn’t what most fans of the franchise—who are still starved for hard news about GTA VI—were hoping for when the Rockstar logo led off the video.

There also appears to be plenty of new IP in the works, including a Square Enix original called Project Athia, Bethesda’s Ghostwire: Tokyo, the Annapurna-published Solar Ash (from the makers of Hyper Light Drifter) and Stray, Counterplay’s action RPG Godfall, and Superbrothers’ Jett: The Far Shore. Some impending games bore certain similarities. Time-loop games like Outer Wilds and Twelve Minutes continue to be big: Arkane Studios’ Deathloop—an FPS that seems inspired by the work of Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan—and Housemarque’s Returnal both gave off Edge of Tomorrow vibes. And adventure games Kena: Bridge of Spirits and Bugsnax both looked like they were channeling Nintendo’s Zelda/Pikmin/Animal Crossing aesthetic.

There were some notable no-shows in the long line of trailers, such as a new Bloodborne or God of War game. And although Spider-Man: Miles Morales is due out this holiday season, most of the big games weren’t explicitly labeled as launch titles, declined to specify release dates, or said they were slated for 2021. (At least one game, Capcom’s Kojima-esque Pragmata, has a 2022 ETA.) It’s too soon to say how robust the PS5’s launch library will be, but it’s clear that those who are willing to pony up [price redacted] for Sony’s new console won’t lack content.

Next-Gen Technology Doesn’t Translate to Trailers Alone

One unavoidable pitfall of the presentations we’ve seen from both Sony and Microsoft is that the visual leaps between console generations grow more modest by the decade. Ray tracing support notwithstanding, the difference between current-gen games and games running on the Xbox Series X and PS5 seems small compared to the gulfs between, say, 16-bit games and early 3D ones, or from PlayStation- and N64-era titles to releases for the Dreamcast, Xbox, and PS2. Great as games like Gran Turismo 7 and Ratchet & Clank: Into the Rift looked in the video’s extended in-game footage, I would have believed it if Sony had said they were running on PS4 Pro.

Of course, we’re comparing games released at the tail end of the current console generation to the PS5’s early lineup: A few years from now, developers will be better at harnessing the horsepower of the system and getting results that look like the Unreal Engine 5 tech demo that dazzled viewers last month. What’s more, some of the games glimpsed at the showcase, such as Solar Ash, Little Devil Inside, and Goodbye Volcano High, employ stylized looks that don’t test the PS5’s capacity for hyper-realism. Still, it’s likely that the power and potential of the PS5 will be more obvious in hands-on play than it is from afar.

The PS5’s slogan is “Play has no limits,” but trailers present an inherently limited look at an interactive experience. The system’s SSD drive, ample storage space, and souped-up chips should cut down dramatically on loading times and frame-rate issues, neither of which would be apparent in a typical trailer. Similarly, it’s one thing to read about the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, and another to know what that feels like. In the video, Playstation Worldwide Studios head Hermen Hulst promised that the PS5 would eliminate the need for tradeoffs between artistic visions and technical limitations. On a still-unspecified date and for a still-unspecified price, we’ll soon see whether that’s true.