We’re only a month away from the releases of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles, and the hype is nearing a fever pitch. With each new console comes innovation and these consoles will be no exception. It’s an exciting time, and it’s more than welcome in a world with so little to look forward to. With each generation comes new games and new innovations, and before we usher in this new era, I’d like to take a look back at the generation that was… From my own experience.
Let’s start by getting this out of the way: I’ve never even touched a PS4. In fact, I’ve never played a PS3 either. I haven’t owned a Playstation console since the PS2, which I actually got after the PS3 launched. I suppose you could say I’m brand-loyal to Xbox, as I’ve owned all three Xbox consoles and have the Series X pre-ordered. In spite of this, I have no real allegiance to any multi-billion dollar corporation- it boils down to playing where my friends play and continuing to play my favorite series: Halo (more on that later.) It’s no secret that PS4 killed Xbox One this generation, selling twice as many consoles and delivering more killer exclusives, but I’m talking about my own experiences today.
I didn’t have a job of any kind in high school, but I got the Xbox One as a gift in July 2015, shortly before my senior year. The console came bundled with a digital code for Halo: The Master Chief Collection. In hindsight, I’m not sure why the biggest selling point for Xbox One for me was a collection of four games I’d played to death and already owned on previous consoles. Nonetheless, I played MCC for hundreds of hours and was able to persevere through the game’s first few years of poor online play, seeing it through to become the ultimate Halo package. My next game purchase came in October with Halo 5: Guardians. I was beyond excited for Halo 5 at the time; the campaign really sold me and the multiplayer’s heavier focus on competitive play was more than welcome. After getting ahold of the game I beat the entire campaign in one sitting, and to say I left disappointed would be an understatement. I felt insulted by the story, a sentiment I carry with me five years and multiple playthroughs later. The multiplayer was enjoyable, but never hooked me as much as I wanted despite rock-solid core gameplay. I stopped playing Halo 5 on a regular basis within two years of its release, and the community as a whole seemed to agree. Xbox One had lacked a system-selling exclusive, and unlike the Xbox and Xbox 360, a new Halo entry didn’t bring that.
Aside from Halo, most of my Xbox One time was spent on third-party games. In 2015 and 2016, I played such games as Batman: Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V, Fallout 4 and the Skyrim remaster, all excellent in their own ways. My gaming slowed down a bit in 2016 and 2017, as I was going through my first two years of college and didn’t have reliable internet when I was at home in the summer. When I was able to play online with my friends in this period, we generally played Rocket League and Battlefield 4. Rocket League was a particular highlight of this generation; our group of four would play 2v2 private matches well into the early morning hours. I’m by far the worst of my group at Rocket League and the most common matchup would be my friend and I against our two other friends who were the best at the game. We lost dozens of games consecutively before finally getting that one elusive win, and for my money, that’s all I ever needed. I got back into multiplayer gaming in early 2018 and bought a few new games to play with my friends that I’d been missing out on, most notably PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Overwatch and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, the latter of which my friends and I still play on a near-nightly basis. PUBG and Fortnite helped usher in the Battle Royale genre to popularity in late 2017, and that popularity has extended to major franchises like Call of Duty. I had my fun with Fortnite but PUBG is the only Battle Royale game I still go back to occasionally. Overwatch is a fantastic multiplayer game, but one that I get tired of after a while. Siege, on the other hand, is a game I wish I knew how to quit. It’s the greatest game ever when I’m doing well and the worst when I’m struggling. I’m still TERRIBLE at Siege after a few hundred hours; I’m really just scratching the surface with it. The drive to get better never goes away. The learning curve is steeper than any multiplayer game I’ve ever experienced, and my group can’t seem to get enough of it, win or lose.
Without question, my favorite game of this generation has been Red Dead Redemption II. I played the first game multiple times and waited patiently for its sequel (technically a prequel) to release after a few delays. It was one of the few games I pre-ordered and had pre-loaded on my console- I had to begin my journey the very first minute I could. I played it every morning before class and every night after work until bed. It became my favorite video game story and the best prequel story I’ve seen in any entertainment medium, and a second playthrough a year later confirmed that. I never got much into the online mode, but the single player experience was well worth the $60 and I can’t wait to experience it a third time.
The last major purchase I made for my Xbox One was in September of this year when I purchased the remakes of Tony Hawk‘s Pro Skater 1/2. I hadn’t played a Tony Hawk title since American Wasteland on the PS2, and had never played any Pro Skater title. Although these games didn’t have the story modes that Underground or Wasteland had, they had nonstop fun for hours on end. After beating the initial challenges and maxing out my Skater, these games are just beginning. The speedrun and high score challenges on each park offer a ton of replay value and the online multiplayer is another avenue to test your skill, with random players or your friends. It’s the sort of pure turn-your-brain-off fun that’s needed from time to time in a gaming landscape full of competitive multiplayer games and expansive worlds. I hope its success shows Activision what fans value in this franchise for future entries on even better hardware.
Perhaps the biggest change Microsoft made with Xbox during the generation to rebuild goodwill was the creation of Xbox Game Pass, a games streaming service with a rotating cast of playable titles available for a separate monthly fee or now with your Gold subscription (titled Xbox Game Pass Ultimate) in a bundle. I’ve dabbled in a few free or $1 trials of Game Pass, and while I enjoyed using it for games like Untitled Goose Game, Jackbox and Ori and the Blind Forest, I haven’t yet gotten the worth out of it that many others have. It’s a tremendous value, especially if you can’t afford to buy new games regularly. One year of Game Pass Ultimate is the equivalent of three $60 games per year, an undeniable value. Xbox’s focus since 2017, and into the next generation, is accessibility above all else. Speaking of accessibility…
Xbox One is how I played all of my games until May 2018 rolled around. A year after its launch, I finally decided to invest in Nintendo’s hybrid console: Nintendo Switch. I owned a GameCube and Wii as a child but had lost interest in Nintendo by the time the Wii U came out. My feelings began to change when I got to college and my roommate owned a Wii U. He generously let me play it when he was gone from the dorm, and I used it to play hours and hours of Super Smash Bros. and Splatoon. The Wii U technically started the 8th Generation, releasing a year before the Xbox One and PS4. It sadly never gained any significant traction and had a short lifespan as a result. Regardless, I found myself falling in love with Nintendo again just as their next console was set to be revealed. I didn’t have the money to buy the Switch at launch, but a year later I finally pulled the trigger. I bought Super Mario Odyssey along with my console before quickly picking up Splatoon 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a few weeks later. The games didn’t stop there- the end of 2018 would see the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I had played and loved what I played of each previous Smash game, but Ultimate was the first I owned. It’s nearing two years since release and has become my most played game ever. I picked up several more Switch games in 2019, including Yoshi’s Crafted World, Astral Chain (which I’ve yet to play), The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Pokémon Sword, but my favorite game of the year turned out to be none other than Luigi’s Mansion 3. I hadn’t played the first two games so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I fell in love with the style and atmosphere of Luigi’s third solo entry. 2020 was a slower year for Nintendo for obvious reasons, but it did see the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, hitting the market at the perfect time on March 20th, just a week after people began staying inside much more frequently. New Horizons was an absolutely magical communal experience for the first month. My Twitter timeline was filled with clips, memes and displays of creativity from the community, and it felt so rewarding to be enjoying something together despite the circumstances. As far as I’m concerned, New Horizons is the defining pop culture event of this pandemic. I’ve made sure to play the game at least a bit every single day since its release in March, and I have no intentions of stopping anytime soon. The Switch reinvigorated my love for gaming and made me go back and buy the consoles and games I missed out on growing up. It’s been such a rewarding few years as a gamer in that regard.
Remember how I said Red Dead Redemption II was the best game of this generation? I wasn’t being entirely honest. True, it was the best Xbox game I played this gen, but it wasn’t the best game. That distinction goes to a game I buried somewhat in my last paragraph: Breath of the Wild. I’d dabbled with older Zelda titles on the GameCube collection but had never played any to a significant degree. Breath of the Wild didn’t really grab me with any of its marketing, but for well over a year after the Switch launched I kept hearing it was the game of the year and perhaps even one of the best games ever. Once I got a Switch of my own, I had to see what all the hoopla was about. I don’t think I’ve ever been more surprised by a game than I was by BOTW. I’ve never seen an open world game be so… open. The opening tutorial isn’t even a tutorial- you’re simply thrust into Hyrule and have to learn how the world works on your own. Once you obtain the paraglider, there are no limits to your exploration. Do you see a mountain? Climb it. Do you see the ocean? You have multiple means of traversal across it. The game’s progression does exist but how it’s tackled is left entirely to you. Player expression through gameplay is so important and no game understands that like Breath of the Wild. The freedom to do what you want when you want can be a luxury in games, and BOTW utilizes it better than any game I can recall, which my second playthrough confirmed. If you have a Switch and haven’t played it, please try Breath of the Wild out.
It’s been a fun generation. Every publisher has an array of great experiences to offer on their consoles, and I’m glad I got to play as many great games as I did. I missed just as many great titles, particularly PS4 exclusives, that I hope to get to one day. There’s no shortage of great games out there, and that will continue into the 9th console generation and beyond. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for all of us.