I'll never stop loving that singular feeling of booting up a new PC for the first time and playing all my old games on max settings. About a month ago I upgraded my graphics card, and since then I've been enjoying games like Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, marveling at the smooth frame rates and esoteric features like "Deep Learning Super Sampling," or "DLSS." It's been a smooth, mostly joyful experience that's brought material improvements to my gaming life.
By comparison, my console gaming experience of late has been very different. When I bought a PlayStation 4 back in 2013, it was like hitting a reset button, with basically my entire library to that point being locked to my PS3. Both Sony and Nintendo would go on to do very good business selling remastered versions of The Last of Us and Mario Kart 8.
This generation feels different, though. Watching the Xbox Series X previews that dropped earlier today on sites like Digital Foundry, I find myself getting a bit of that "new PC feeling." Backward compatibility is back, and it's bringing with it more than just some slightly enhanced textures—load times are significantly improved, frame rates are more than doubled in some instances, and some games will even have unique features like HDR. It's like having your favorite game remastered, only the devs don't even have to lift a finger.
Microsoft has been banging the drum about the Xbox Series X's backward compatibility for months now, but seeing it in action, I'm finally starting to get to grips with why these improvements are so meaningful. Basically, instead of hitting the reset button, Microsoft is endeavoring to making buying an Xbox Series X similar to upgrading to a new PC or mobile device, creating an experience that is (mostly) seamless. In the process, it's renewing old favorites like The Witcher 3, obviating the need for the sort of full-priced remaster that dominated the previous generation.
This is all part of Microsoft's broader strategy of fully integrating the Xbox Series X with the rest of your devices. With xCloud and Game Pass, the Xbox Series X will connect in one way or another with both your phone and your PC, allowing you to jump from one to another with no issues. I wouldn't even be surprised if at some point in the near future there was an Xbox app on Smart TVs that allowed you to play games with just a wireless controller.
This is the real next-gen idea, which I wrote way back at the beginning of 2020 when it was still possible to be optimistic about the year ahead. If Xbox has its way, your console collection will be akin to your library on Steam, only it will be accessible on every single one of your devices—maybe even your Nintendo Switch. There will be no reset button or double dipping. If you want to play the copy of Castle Crashers you bought on Xbox 360 back in 2008, you'll be able to play Castle Crashers, just as you can on Steam.
Certainly, this process has not been without its share of bumps for the Xbox. As The Verge points out, the Xbox Series X backward compatibility previews seem carefully curated to feature only the games that offer the best possible experience. Smart Delivery, which aims to smooth the transition from Xbox One to Xbox Series X for many games, isn't universally supported by third-party developers, and has led to some confusion over which games are supported and which aren't. Madden and FIFA, for instance, will both allow you to transfer your Ultimate Team progress to next-gen consoles. But while Madden also lets you transfer your franchise progress, your FIFA 21 career mode save will be stuck on previous-gen consoles.
On PS5, meanwhile, Spider-Man: Miles Morales has proven to be an abject mess, with little in the way of clear communication of what will transfer over and what won't. While Miles Morales can be upgraded from PS4 to PS5 for free, the original Spider-Man released in 2018 lacks such a path. If you want to get the enhanced version of Spider-Man, you have to buy the separate Ultimate Edition on PS5. Confused yet?
To be fair to Sony, the PS5 will reportedly support the vast majority of PS4 games via backward compatibility, at least some of which may have enhancements of their own. It will also have a marked advantage in next-gen exclusives out of the gate, made all the more acute by Xbox's inability to get Halo Infinite ready for launch. With games like Grand Theft Auto Online available for free on PS5, it already seems like the generational transition will be far smoother than it was with PS4.
Still, it goes to show how much things have changed from 10 years ago that backward compatibility feels like such an essential feature. We're a long way from the days of generational leaps from the PlayStation 1 to the PlayStation 2—games like Grand Theft Auto 5 can keep selling for a decade or more, sustained by regular multiplayer content drops and incremental graphical improvements. By the time The Witcher 3 arrives on Xbox Series X and PS5, it will be on what I believe to be its third graphical update, if you can believe it. The generational gaps have blurred, and so has the gap between the Xbox Series X and every other device in your household.
In that light, when the next-gen consoles arrive in a little more than a month, they stand to feel less like a whole new beginning and more like buying a new iPhone or PC—a seamless upgrade with a host of nifty quality of life improvements. It's a great feeling installing all your favorite games on a new machine for the first time, and on Xbox Series X it figures to feel better than any console in recent memory.
Major Game Releases: September 28 to October 2
Here are the major releases for the week of Sept. 28 to Oct. 2. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Genshin Impact [September 28 for PC, PS4, iOS, Android]: Billed as a "free-to-play Breath of the Wild," Genshin Impact arrives on PC, PS4, and mobile with some beautiful graphics and a large world to explore. Unlike Breath of the Wild, Genshin Impact is multiplayer, and features a total 24 playable characters. It also has a gacha system, so brace your wallet. We'll have coverage for you later this week.
- Spelunky 2 [September 29 for PC]: Spelunky 2 arrives on PC this week, which should delight hardcore fans keen to plumb its considerable depths. We were very impressed when it arrived on PlayStation 4 earlier this month, and fans are already pulling off some impressive feats, including finishing a run in just six minutes. If you haven't picked it up yet, now is the time.
- Star Wars: Squadrons [October 2 for PS4, Xbox One, PC]: X-Wings will once again be battling TIE Fighters in this spiritual successor to LucasArts's classic Star Wars space sims. With full support for HOTAS controls and VR, it may just be the game I've wanted for a solid 20 years now. I'll be posting my full review later this week.
- Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time [October 2 for PS4, Xbox One]: After a string of successful remakes, Crash is finally getting a proper sequel—the first in more than a decade. Following on from the events of Crash Bandicoot: Warped, it will feature five playable characters navigating a series of 3D platforming challenges. Crash is a long way from his heyday as a PlayStation mascot, but it's reassuring that his games are once again on point.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
- Xbox Series X preview units are in the wild. Multiple outlets posted previews of the Xbox Series X this week, specifically focusing on its backward compatibility features. We posted our five biggest takeaways right here.
- Rest in peace, FarmVille. Zynga announced that it's shutting down the classic version of its pioneering farm sim at the end of the year. In its day, FarmVille was every bit as popular as Fortnite, spurring speculation in some quarters that browser-based social games would eventually overtake traditional releases. That never happened, but FarmVille's legacy of monetization lives on.
- A new Pokemon Sword and Shield presentation airs tomorrow. Expect a release date for the Crown Tundra DLC and other information during the stream, which kicks off at 9 a.m. ET / 6 a.m. PT.
- We have a PS5 release date for Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Sega revealed that it will be out Mar. 2, 2021 on Sony's next-gen console, following on from the November 10 release for Xbox Series X, PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio subsequently revealed that physical owners will be able to upgrade to the PS5 version, but that save data will not be transferable between the two.
- And finally, we have new gameplay footage from Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. It sure is remarkable how good Koei-Tecmo's Dynasty Warriors spin-offs have gotten in recent years.
Axe of the Blood God for September 28, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
Kat and Nadia are joined by USgamer News Editor Eric Van Allen to sing the praises of Hades, the amazing roguelite by Supergiant Games that is now out of Early Access. The trio discuss its relationship to Diablo; how Supergiant is beating Blizzard at its own game, and why RPG fans should play this excellent dungeon crawler. Plus, all of this week's RPG news, the Track of the Week, and more! Listen here!