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PlayStation in 2021: What the year holds for the PS5, its first-party studios, and more

Destruction AllStars
(Image credit: Sony)

You can finally breathe. The next-gen consoles have launched, the social media buzz has died down, and the rumour mill has resumed back to its usual rhythmic churn. Your mornings will no longer be interrupted with news alerts about the next leaked PS5 patent or Xbox Lockhart price band. 

In fact, after years of whispers, predictions, and anticipation, it's almost an anti-climax to have the PS5 sitting right there in our living rooms; something that, for so long, felt like an abstract pipe dream that was the stuff of our collective imagination. The good news is that the best is yet to come. As was the case for all of its predecessors, the PS5 is only going to become more powerful, affordable, and intuitive from here on out, but 2021 will be an important moment of truth for the system itself. 

This will be the year that defines the pace and flavour of the PS5's life-cycle, leaving a lot of pressure on PlayStation to maintain its momentum from the last generation. And, of course, with the largest console player base of all time, don't assume the days of the PS4 are over just yet, either...

Playing it up 

Gran Turismo 7

(Image credit: Sony)

There are currently four confirmed PS5 exclusives lined up for 2021 that we know about; Destruction AllStars, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal, and Gran Turismo 7. Horizon Forbidden West, meanwhile, has been confirmed as a cross-gen title, while the jury's still out on whether the same can be said for Sony Santa Monica's God of War 2.

Regardless, these six games are expected to be the flagship properties for PlayStation in 2021 across both of its platforms, though we'll no doubt see more announcements and releases for smaller projects as we continue throughout the year. Taken together, these tentpole experiences offer a diverse and impressive value proposition for PlayStation owners; four sequels to major franchises and two completely new IPs, one of which will come as next month's freebie for PS Plus subscribers in the form of Destruction AllStars. 

Look back to the year following the PS4's launch, which saw a grand total of two major next-gen exclusives hit the platform (Infamous: Second Son and Driveclub), and it's clear that PlayStation is determined to avoid sowing buyer's remorse across its PS5 player base this time around. Of course, with COVID-19 still actively impacting working life, it's possible that some of these games will be pushed back into 2022, with God of War: Ragnarok posing as the most likely candidate for a delay, given that we've seen nothing of it beyond a working title. 

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

(Image credit: Insomniac Games)

Luckily, there's also plenty of multi-platform games to get excited about in between those first-party big hitters, from Bethesda's timed (and likely last) PS5 console exclusive, Deathloop, to Far Cry 6, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and more. Many of these games will also include the free next-gen upgrade that we've seen developers offering since last year, meaning that those who purchase their copy of the game on PS4 will be able to quickly and easily redeem the PS5 version once they make the jump to the new platform. 

The real question is whether any of those aforementioned PS5 exclusives can broaden our understanding of what the console is truly capable of. Will Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart's transdimensional conceit be able to convince us of PS5 SSD's game-changing speed? Can Destruction AllStars land as an effective showcase for the console's dynamic social features? 

And might Returnal prove that even small independent developers such as Housemarque are able to wow us with blockbuster-style, next-gen visuals on the new system? Given how impressed we've been by the ways Astro's Playroom, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Demon's Souls have already demonstrated the PS5's unique features, we're pretty optimistic. 

System shock 

Returnal

(Image credit: Housemarque)

Outside of the "known knowns" for PlayStation in 2021, we can also bank on a handful of unexpected surprises to inevitably grab our attention sometime this year. There's the small matter of PS VR, for one thing. Though Sony's current headset is forward compatible with PS5, and games like Hitman 3 prove that PlayStation is still supporting the medium at present, we've had no word on what a next-generation PS VR headset might look like, or when it's coming. 

We can point to breakthroughs made by other key players in the VR space, from wireless set-ups to hands-free control schemes, as an indication of how PlayStation might build upon its existing product, but there's also the possibility that Sony will abandon virtual reality entirely for the next generation. Any lifelong Vita fan will tell you that the company has form for suddenly putting a platform to rest without much in the way of a farewell party, after all. 

Relatedly, what we'd like to see from PlayStation this year is a little more openness in its communication style. As the last generation drew to a close, PlayStation turned inwards, withdrawing from E3 and pressing pause on its PlayStation Experience events, leaving the majority of its announcements for State of Play live streams that often left more to be desired. Granted, many of its teams were hunkered down leading up to the piecemeal, years-long reveal of the PS5, but even then, the fact we had no idea what the console's user interface looked like until just a few weeks before release felt a little ridiculous.  

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

(Image credit: Ember Lab)

"What we'd like to see from PlayStation this year is a little more openness in its communication style."

The start of a new year and a new generation is a chance for PlayStation to learn from its primary competitor, Xbox, and personify its brand with friendly faces appearing more regularly in the spotlight, explaining the thinking behind some of their biggest decisions. That's not to say it shouldn't hold onto its secrets for the right moments, but there's certainly areas where PlayStation could shake the perception of appearing aloof and disconnected from its community, even when the games are perfectly capable of doing the talking all by themselves. 

However it decides to approach 2021, there's no doubt that the next 12 months are sure to be momentous for PlayStation. As more PS5 stock comes into view, and the slow, worldwide transition from one PS console to the next continues, all eyes will be on the company to see whether it truly lives up to its new, global moniker. If play really does have no limits, 2021 is in prime position to be the year that proves it. 

For more, check out the best adventure games to escape into right now, or watch our review of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla in the video below.

I'm GamesRadar's Features Writer, which makes me responsible for gracing the internet with as many of my words as possible, including reviews, previews, interviews, and more. Lucky internet!