Those who know me personally, will know I am an avid gamer. Not a pro or even that good, but I love it tremendously. And with this opening line, I have to admit I am at a bit of a crossroads…stumped for a decision, and I would value some input from other gamer nerds out there (or just people in general).
My Xbox360 is reaching the end of its lifespan. It makes me sad to say it, for she has served me very well in the four years I have owned her, never once overheating or breaking down. But the reality is, her insides are old. Gaming consoles are just PC’s in fancy boxes, focused on a single or limited set of tasks centred on a game. PC components have a finite lifespan. But unlike regular PC’s, consoles are not upgradeable.
When next-gen consoles were announced last year, my first concern was about the ongoing support for the current 360 and PS3. Surely developers would continue to offer games for the hundreds of millions of people still using these machines, waiting for the new consoles to settle and maybe drop in price a bit. And indeed, maybe companies were quick to re-assure fans that their older machines would not be forgotten.
But almost immediately cracks started to show. DICE, developers of the massive Battlefield 4, stated that it was a game ‘primarily built for PC and next-gen, and current gen would be toned down to allow it to run. Hmmmmmm. So what we got was a set of smaller maps and mediocre graphics to allow the game to run smoothly on the machine. It is almost certain that whenever Battlefield 5 drops, it will not feature on the old-gen at all.
And recently Ubisoft announced an exciting new Assassin’s Creed game set in the French Revolution…but only for next-gen and PC. That was a major upset for me, because AC is without a doubt my favourite franchise in all of gaming. A secondary AC game is being prepared for old-gen, but we all know it won’t be the ‘real’ game, the place where the real story is going. If you want that, you need to upgrade.
At the time of announcement, the AC decision pretty much made my decision for me. If the new game was only for next-gen, then next-gen was where I needed to go. Plain and simple.
But then I started to think about my PC.
Before the Xbox, I was a big PC gamer. I only moved away from it because my PC became old, unable to run the new stuff, and as a student I could not afford to upgrade nearly all the insides. But I used to love running around with the control a mouse gave over the player. It was far more accurate than a console controller.
Ironically, the years of practice on the 360 had made me rather adept at the controller, and useless at the keyboard and mouse thing, as I discovered when I tried my hand at Battlefield online with my laptop. Let’s just say the results were far better on the Xbox. Although…one can connect an Xbox controller to a PC. When I did that, things started to improve. (EDIT: only briefly. One needs to adopt the mouse approach to have any chance against other PC players) and of course, practice will bring the keys and mouse approach back to its best.
So now I have a few choices. And I am genuinely not certain which is best. So I will share them with you. Perhaps you can help.
OPTION 1: THE XBOX ONE
The easiest transition is to go from old gen to new gen. Years of online and offline play on my 360 has amassed a healthy profile I am rather proud of, and with the ability to simply transfer that profile to the new machine, I can pick up where I left off. Consoles have always had the advantage of being focused on a few simple tasks. This means that (usually) there is less that can go wrong or hinder the gaming experience. It simply starts up, loads the game and runs it perfectly.
Visiting a store to look for a game does not include studying the minimum requirements – as long as the console exists, any game on that platform will work. It’s easy to purchase games on that basis, especially with the healthy market for used titles on consoles. It means I can remain in my comfortable position before the TV and continue to use a controller – which also means I have a moderate amount of auto-aim assistance from the console, and it’s a fair playing field. Everybody has the same hardware and software.
There are, of course, drawbacks. Games are considerably more expensive on consoles, and hold their value longer. Online play is subscription based, normally around R500-R600 a year. There is no option to upgrade any part of the hardware – if it blows, you pretty much have to get a new one. Using a keyboard and mouse is impossible without an expensive, aftermarket attachment that is not really guaranteed to work. And, at the end of the day, a console really does one thing – play games. Focused, but limited and narrow.
OPTION 2: THE PC
The mac daddy for many, the PC presents a whole host of thoughts, both positive and negative. It is, generally, a superior device to a console, able to run all sorts of tasks and applications that consoles just cannot do (like word processing or even audio tracking, which is handy for a musician like me). Investing in a gaming PC offers the user a powerful force of a machine, and it must be said that, generally speaking, games look better on a PC than a console. This is further emphasized by the ability to upgrade her parts on a regular basis, keeping the tower as up to date as possible. Technically, you should still not need to concern yourself with game requirements if you take this approach.
However, upgrading costs money. A console only costs you once (assuming it doesn’t blow up). It is true that there are no subscription costs to play online via PC, but is that saving big enough to cover the upgrades. Depends on how often you upgrade I guess? Also, the games are cheaper, which could also help cover the upgrade costs.
A big PC drawcard for me is backwards compatibility. I have long maintained that is a complete lie and total extortion that new consoles are not backwards compatible (IE, play the previous Xbox games on the new Xbox console). This excuse of ‘it won’t work with the new software is, frankly, rubbish, and we all know it is, and they know we know it is. The fact that Microsoft recently announced work on an ‘app’ to allow Xbox One players to play 360 games is just proof of that. I bet Sony will follow soon. But at the moment, it is only on the PC where your old games can and will still function. That'’ a big bonus if you love some of the older shooters like Unreal or FEAR, or something random like Worms.
But then the elephant in the corner rears its head: data requirements. I have no evidence, but I am led to believe that online gaming for PC is far more data-heavy than online gaming for console. Patches, updates and add-ons for PC are simply bigger, even bigger than next-gen console downloads. Is this true? I have internet, but it is not infinite. Giant patch downloads could pose a problem for me.
The last thought here is that, at the very least, my 'gaming' laptop (there isn't really such a thing but it does run games smoothly for now) can suffice for the time being. I could still play the new Assassin's Creed this year without any new hardware, assuming it will run on low settings.
Sigh. The agony of choice.
OPTION NO: THE PS4
I am not hating on the PS4. It’s a beautiful system with excellent performance. But I don’t want one. Plain and simple. Just like some people prefer Audi to BMW. Why? Because they do. Xbox controllers have always felt more comfortable in my hands and their online system is super smooth. If it’s console, I’ll stick to that.
So, as you can see, a conundrum. I am, at the moment, leaning toward the PC. But only just. The potential data requirements scare me. My lack of ability with a mouse infuriates me. But the wide scope of possibility with a PC entices me. Likewise, the familiarity of the Xbox is attractive, but the price of games and online subscriptions is not.