God of War launched last week to resounding success, critics loved it as did fans with perfect or near perfect scores coming in across the board. The game redefines not only a character everyone thought was finished, but a series no one thought could hold up in 2018. God of War does more than bring the series into the current console generation however, it highlights the divide between Sony and Microsoft and what they’re doing to provide the best games possible for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players.
Around a year ago Phil Spencer was telling press and the public that game development was changing. While strong single players titles were still important they had become harder to justify over multiplayer and free-to-play games with lots of space for microtransactions and other paid-for content.
The Xbox Games Pass was brought about, in part, to combat the issue of justifying story-driven single player titles. With a base of gamers paying a monthly or yearly fee Microsoft would find it easier to bring out more single player titles, funneling the money from their subscription fees into the developers creating them. Of course these games would be Xbox exclusives such as the next Forza game, or the recently released Sea of Thieves, bolstering the lineup of Xbox exclusives and encouraging gamers to invest in the Xbox console family.
However, a year on from what Spencer was saying and the Xbox Games Pass has little to show for being the Netflix of video games. Yes, subscribers were able to play Sea of Thieves on the day it released without purchasing the full game, but up until then they’ve had very little to play that’s been on that level. Smaller indie titles sometimes fill the gap between releases, but often players prefer to save their money and buy something that’s really going to engage them.
Sony, on the other hand, have been following a much more traditional path of investing in new technology and IPs. PlayStation VR now has one of the biggest install bases of VR users, and PlayLink is emerging as an incredibly popular way for gamers to play with their friends, even those who don’t often play video games.
Sony is also continuing to invest in big budget single player experiences, such as God of War, The Last of Us 2, and Uncharted 4, which provide stories and characters that players may only spend a couple of playthroughs with, but that they’ll remember long. Each of these experiences brings something different to the table, something unique that drives the player to continue going until they finish, and even then they might come back for more. Some might even say that Sony is constantly taking risks by sticking to this traditional format, but it’s definitely paying off for them for now.
God of War is a prime example of a risk that Sony took by funding it. The series provided a satisfactory ending with God of War 3, but was still spun out for a further two titles even though gamers had grown weary of Kratos, the unlikeable protagonist who’s answer to everything was to murder it gruesomely. However, Santa Monica Studios removed the fixed camera angle and brought in a new combat system that brought the player closer than ever to the Spartan warrior. Through the story he is redeemed in our eyes as a father figure, and the series is given a new feel thanks to the moments of quiet spent between him and his son, showing us that it is possible for a two dimensional character to experience emotional growth.
However, God of War is just another in a long list of story-driven single player games Sony is funding which will release this year. Next month will see the latest release from Quantic Dream in Detroit: Become Human, a game with multiple possible routes through the story and dozens of potential endings, tasking the player with dozens of playthroughs if they want to see them all.
Spider-Man, what has been shown of it so far, looks to finally bring the definitive experience of being Spider-Man to console, and it will be a narrative-driven single player open world game. With so many Marvel movies flying into cinemas it would’ve been easy for Sony to insist on a tie-in game, or rushing it to release alongside Infinity War. Instead Sony have allowed the developers to take their time and provide the experience players will love.
The Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy was so popular that it topped sales charts globally, despite being a PlayStation 4 exclusive. Now the trilogy is heading for all major consoles, bringing a PlayStation exclusive experience to brand new fans everywhere. The Spyro trilogy which Sony has also funded is sure to see a similar reception.
Herein lies the issue that most gamers have when it comes to the battle between Sony and Microsoft, the Xbox One has very few exclusives. The issue is that sadly there aren’t’ enough developers to make the exclusives Xbox players want. Sony have Santa Monica Studios, Naughty Dog, San Diego, Sucker Punch, Bend, and Media Molecule working on games like Dreams and Days Gone, to name but two. Microsoft on the other hand have Rare, 343 which work on the Halo series, The Coalition of Gears of War, and Turn 10 for the Forza series. With these developers busy working on the current exclusives there’s no new blood to introduce more.
However, looking at the bigger picture it’s possible that Microsoft will one day have the upper hand on exclusive titles. With a large enough subscriber base to the Xbox Games Pass it might be possible that gamers will only ever need to purchase one or two games a year as they disappear from the lineup, with every new exclusive title downloading right to their home console.
The bottom line is that while Microsoft has a really great game like Sea of Thieves every now and then, they don’t come around very often. Currently Sony has a lineup of games releasing this year that make players want to stop everything else and just play them, ignoring even the likes of Fortnite and PUBG.
Ultimately Sony is investing in giving players journeys to go on and love, while Microsoft is focusing on the bigger picture which to them looks like a steady feed of one hit wonder titles.