As PS5 games get bigger and bolder, should the PS4 be left behind?

God of War Ragnarok
(Image credit: Sony)

God of War Ragnarok is out now on PlayStation, but is a wintry apocalypse coming for last-gen consoles too? As newer and more impressive AAA games come to consoles, it's clear that last-gen hardware – the PS4, Xbox One, and family of Nintendo Switch systems – will only be able to keep up for so long, and we're starting to get a clearer picture of when that cut-off point might be.

We're now two years into the life cycle of the PS5 and Xbox Series X and S consoles, and as much as the new machinery offers a power boost over last-gen consoles, most gamers are still making do with older hardware – for a variety of reasons. To start, a tight supply of PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles, due to the global microchip shortage, has limited the adoption rate even among avid gamers. New consoles are also generally pricey and shoppers tend to want to get as much use out of their prior purchases as possible. 

Internally, there seems to be a desire at Sony to continue supporting PS4 gamers for a while longer anyhow. PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst has previously said that "Where it makes sense to develop a title for both PS4 and PS5 – for Horizon Forbidden West, the next God of War, Gran Turismo 7 – we'll continue looking at that. And if PS4 owners want to play that game, then they can. If they want to go on and play the PS5 version, that game will be there for them."

I'm happily chugging along with a PS4 Slim, even to play modern games like God of War Ragnarok, which still looks stunningly cinematic, and I can't say I feel like I'm missing out. Devs are still largely catering to old hardware very well, even if that looks set to change in the near future.

Ghost of games past

Gran Turismo 7 honda civic car press image

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Cyberpunk 2077 was a huge PR disaster for cross-gen titles back in 2020, with a fervent pre-release hype cycle that jumped off a cliff when console gamers discovered an unfinished, buggy game unable to deliver on expectations, particularly on last-gen hardware – even leading Sony to temporarily delist the game from the PlayStation Store. So it's crucial that devs continue to support older hardware where it's feasible, but not leave gamers with broken products when that money could have been spent better elsewhere. Generally, we expect developers to make smart decisions about where to release, or not release their game – and those in the industry will be doubly careful after Cyberpunk 2077's infamous launch issues. 

On the other hand, some studios will be able to sidestep the issue entirely. Xbox is quickly growing its cloud gaming offering, which reduces the need for powerful kit under your television, farming out the processing work to a server elsewhere (though it still requires a decent internet connection) while allowing you to play on the last-gen Xbox as well as PC, mobile and tablet devices. Xbox has spoken publicly about this, saying in one blog post that "For the millions of people who play on Xbox One consoles today, we are looking forward to sharing more about how we will bring many of these next-gen games, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, to your console through Xbox Cloud Gaming, just like we do with mobile devices, tablets, and browsers."

There are plenty of upcoming Xbox games that seem 'exclusive' to the newer Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S hardware – Bethesda's sci-fi RPG Starfield (out 2023), Obsidian's fantasy game Avowed, or Playground's Fable reboot, to name but a few. That's alongside cross-platform releases like Dead Space and Alan Wake 2, which will land on both PS5 and Xbox Series consoles without last-gen releases. In reality, many of these games will be streamable to less powerful devices, rendering the question of cross-gen pretty redundant. If you can stream a game anywhere, generations don't really matter. But this won't be the case for every title, either, and gamers will have to make a choice between catering for every possible game on a new console or letting some things slip through the cracks.

The long game

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: Sony)

"When it comes to traditional releases, we are starting to see an exodus of big-budget games onto the latest hardware".

When it comes to traditional releases, we are starting to see an exodus of big-budget games onto the latest hardware – but the death knell for releasing on last-gen consoles is being decided by both developers and players. For developers, it's when they think they'll get reduced returns building a game for old hardware, or when the quality of their creative vision will be compromised; for players, when enough of them leave their older consoles behind to make cross-gen financially pointless.

Anyone worried about missing out on future AAA experiences should probably make sure they have a PS5 or Xbox Series X before 2023 comes around, given the number of big-name franchises that are moving over to the latest tech. But plenty of games are still releasing on last-gen consoles, especially smaller, indie or AA titles, which don't require the same computing power as the latest consoles, and so have little reason to limit their audience by insisting on a PS5 or Xbox Series X exclusive release. 

When will the PS4 and Xbox One be left behind? For now, studios are making the right noises about keeping that player base supported – just remember that, when the players ditch those consoles, so will the people making the games.

There's still plenty to love about the best PS4 games

Freelance Writer

Henry St Leger is a freelance write who has written for sites including NBC News, The Times, Little White Lies, and Edge Magazine, alongside GamesRadar. Henry is a former staffer at our sister site TechRadar too, where started out as Home Technology Writer before moving up to Home Cinema Editor. Before he left to go full-time freelancer, he was News and Features Editor reporting on TVs, projectors, smart speakers and other technology.