Do consoles really need more power?

I’m about to voice a mildly controversial opinion: Stronger iterations of modern consoles are virtually pointless, because the art of game design, particularly in terms of gameplay, has lagged far behind the technology aspect of video games. While consoles continue to inflate their TFLOPs, GDDR5 and all the other acronyms fans will throw around without knowing what they even mean, most major developers have fallen into a rut where the only tangible use for that extra power is prettier grass, shinier particle effects, and bigger crowds. Outside of cosmetic effects, how many modern games justify the power of the basic PS4 or XB1?

After seeing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in action, the correct answer is “Not nearly enough!”

The best open world video game to date, and arguably the best video game ever made, runs to an acceptable degree on the anemic Wii U hardware. Breath of the Wild frees players from the limitations of “video game logic” and allows them to solve anything with common sense and a dollop of creativity. Zelda’s archaic “puzzles” with one rigid solution are a thing of the past. The way the physics, puzzles, and world are interconnected represents the apex of modern game design, something I tried to illustrate previously via a short comparison of Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild.

Nintendo has been pushing out higher quality games on weaker hardware for over a decade now. Look at Splatoon, which did more to improve upon the shooter genre then every shooter since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, combined. The ink mechanics make every stage a dynamic affair, with distances being deceptive due to said mechanics’ affect on traversal. Ink can be used for area denial, splatting opponents, climbing obstacles, stealth, anything. If anyone can think of a game changer mechanic that even comes close to Splatoon’s ink, I’m all ears.

While Nintendo’s games could fill this entire article, thanks to games like like Zelda, Mario Kart, Smash, Xenoblade, and Splatoon, other developers have managed to improve games in ways that go beyond juicing up the tech behind them. Check out Atlus’s treatment of Persona 5. Everybody knows the weakness of the classic turn-based JRPG is monotonous grind fatigue. Atlus has almost entirely avoided this issue, via style and slowly evolving player interaction.

In Persona 5, the vast majority of a player’s time is spent interacting with menus. Aside from generic shops, every menu in Persona 5 is unique, with its own style, dynamic background animations, and music. After 80 hours put into the game, players can still unlock new mechanics via Confidants. This ties combat effectiveness directly to the exploration of the extremely satisfying side stories, frequently adding new wrinkles when casing Palaces or building social stats. The grind fatigue is kept at bay by trickling in new elements throughout every facet of the game.

Breath of the Wild, Splatoon, MGSV, and Persona 5 are just a handful of many great current gen games that could run on tech from the last generation without any compromise to the core gameplay. They’re widely acclaimed, and show game design still has an obscene amount of room to improve without the need for 100,000 TFLOPs or whatever the Pro/Scorpio are boasting.That’s without even considering indie games, which have reached an all time peak of quality thanks to the proliferation of easily accessible, professional-grade development tools.

Further increasing the power of current consoles through new iterations will exacerbate the recent trend of recycled gameplay with prettier visuals. Developers see an increase in development cost with no benefit. All of their games have to run on the weaker console iterations, and the vast majority of the consumer base owns the weaker versions, so those are the versions that get the most care. The power of the Pro or Scorpio is going to be hamstringed by this, because at the end of the day all that extra power can do is stabilize frame rates on poorly optimized games and boost resolution or visual effects.

Say what you will about Nintendo’s less powerful hardware, but they nailed it. Japanese developers are already embracing it, and it’s not hard to see why: The Switch is easy to develop for, costs less to develop on (Though that’s offset by the cost of carts), and has set the Japanese and American markets on fire with its premise. It’s not even half as strong as the base XB1.

Hopefully after the Scorpio, consoles chill out with this wasteful race to obsolescence and return to standardization, which is the only reason for the PC-lite consoles to exist. Standardization is good for consumers, because hardware investments last longer. It’s good for developers, because they don’t need to accommodate multiple iterations of each console. It’s good for game design, because familiarity with specs and limitations leads to better optimization, smoother development cycles, and more innovative solutions.

Do we really need more powerful consoles right now? I don’t think so, but sound off in the comments section and let me know what you think.


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2 thoughts on “Do consoles really need more power?”

  1. Playstation all the way

    Uncharted 4 = 165 GOTY awards, best graphics, Amazing atmosphere and characters…

    The Last of Us = GOTG

    Bloodborne = Best ARPG

    Horizon ZD = True Next Gen Open World. Avatar-quality style

    God of War = masterpiece

    The Last of Us 2 = Nuke Kill Streak

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