Honestly, I hope I never hear the word "TeraFlops" again. Microsoft and Sony have spent months debating the merits of specifications – a numbers game in which none of us are the winner. Without seeing PS5 games in action, in lieu of seeing Xbox Series X games like Halo Infinite – or even enhanced titles like Gears 5 – running in real-time on the new system with our own eyes, there has been very little to get actionably excited about. That changes today, as Sony reveals the PS5 controller to the world – the DualSense.
We know that new consoles are coming in time for Holiday 2020, but we still don't know what the PS5 looks like or how loud/hot (take your pick) it and the Xbox Series X will run. We have been made aware that new SSD drives will make loading times faster, but we're still yet to see how the fundamentals of game design will change because of the shift. This can be said of just about every major announcement thus far. From the barrage of words over tech specs you'd need a degree in engineering to appreciate, to the introduction of elements such as Tempest 3D Audio, Ray-Tracing, Variable Rate Shading, Haptic Feedback, and… honestly, the list goes on, and still, we're no closer to understand why it is we should open up our wallets in just a few months' time.
But now that we have our first information on the PS5 DualSense controller, just weeks after the unveiling of the Xbox Series X controller, I'm finally ready to invest my excitement in the new hardware cycle. As important as the chips inside of these new consoles are, it's the controllers that will really define your enjoyment of play. It's the device that connects you directly to virtual worlds; it's a piece of plastic that unlocks the potential of your system of choice, and something that you will pick up day after day, from launch until the moment it is retired for a replica with a fresh coat of paint.
Case in point, I still have my Xbox One launch pad. Sure, the A button sticks and the left thumbstick occasionally drifts, but it is still paraded out for Player Two duties when needed. My launch PS4 controller has an iffy R1 button after God of War took its toll, but it's there for me when my translucent replacement runs out of battery. Developers will ultimately get better at working with the PS5 and Xbox Series X hardware as time goes on, ensuring that the systems continue to run smoothly and deliver exponentially impressive results. The pads, on the other hand, will be there with the players as-is – aside from small firmware changes and, in the case of the Xbox One controller, minuscule tweaks to thumbstick sensitivity – for years to come.
The next-generation starts here
In these controllers, you can also see reflections of Microsoft and Sony's focuses. With the Xbox Series X controller, Microsoft has elected to make slight tweaks to a core design that has served it well over the last decade. In actuality, it's essentially an iteration of the gamepad that launched alongside the Xbox One X, imbued with some lessons learned from the premium Elite and Xbox Adaptive controller. It's designed to fit more comfortably in smaller hands, features rubberized texture grips for less abrasive play over extended periods of time, includes a Share button – indicating that the Xbox division is keenly aware of how unwieldy its game capture options and woefully ineffective Upload Studio has been this generation – and a more ergonomic D-Pad design.
The Xbox Series X controller is also introducing Bluetooth Low Energy support, with Microsoft signaling its commitment to Project xCloud and its need to be able to connect to an array of mobile devices easily and efficiently, as well as system-wide improvements such as Dynamic Latency Input in an effort to further reduce friction between the movement of your fingers and the result reflecting on the screen.
Sony, on the other hand, is putting its focus elsewhere. With the PS5 DualSense controller, the PlayStation division is looking to further the ways it can immerse you in games and is further tearing down barriers between you and your friends. Its design has echoes of the DualShock 4 – no surprise, given how wonderful the PS4 pad is – albeit with what appears to be a wider chassis and tweaked triggers to accommodate the inclusion of Haptic Feedback and Adaptive L2 and R2 triggers.
The introduction of this technology will mean that you can feel the action more acutely in your palms and fingers as you play – the tension as a wheel pulls off of the track or the tension in a bow as you ready it to shoot. Interestingly, Microsoft introduced a variant of this technology in the launch Xbox One controller, although it failed to gain wide traction – largely, one could surmise, because the investment was far too high for developers to support with just one of the platforms invested, something we saw reflected in the little use the DualShock 4 touchpad received over the years.
Confused about the new consoles? We put together a series of Next-Gen Explainers designed to break down all of the jargon of the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Elsewhere, The DualSense also features an enhanced design to offer greater ergonomics, set to more comfortably fit into a broader range of hands, and the introduction of a built-in microphone array, which will let you quickly chat with friends without scrambling for a headset. Perhaps the most interesting change, however, is the removal of the Share button for a Create button. Sony revolutionised the way that players share in-game achievements and create social interaction around amazing moments in games, and I can only imagine what the PlayStation division has conjured up this time as it looks to evolve this part of play.
Ultimately, these controllers are designed to transport us to different worlds. They connect us to new characters and to new experiences. They let us interact with our friends and find new ones through the power of play. As important as the specs of a machine is, as expressive and transcendent we hope all of the new games will be, it is the PS5 DualSense and the Xbox Series X controller that will act as our conduit into the next generation, acting as an extension of ourselves into worlds unknown.
With these controllers now revealed – and looking utterly wonderful – I'm finally starting to get a sense of where the priorities of each company lie, and of how the new consoles will fit into my life. As important as the new games, tech, services, and new initiatives are going to be, it's the controller that will ultimately be at the heart of the experiences we have on the PS5 and Xbox Series X for years to come. This is a device I will hold in my hands every day for years to come. It's for that reason that, for me, the next-generation of gaming starts here. Now, Sony and Microsoft, it's time to bring on the games.