What to expect from PlayStation in 2021
PlayStation is going all-in on exclusive content and deals, ensuring that the PS5 is the only place to play certain console games for a limited time.
2020 was an aberration. The year had no shortage of life-changing events from wildfires, a turbulent election cycle, civil unrest, and a pandemic. Not all of it was bad, though. More people found solace and comfort in games than ever, escaping reality for even just a moment. With the PS5 release, Sony had a particularly big year. It wasn't without its struggles, but Sony looks to replicate this success going forward into 2021.
Next year is a big year for the PlayStation 5. It will be the first full year of the console being on the market, and a time like this can make or break it in the games industry. It's already at a disadvantage compared to Microsoft's Xbox Series X, which has a more powerful CPU and GPU baked into the console. Where the PS5 has the upper hand is its blazing fast SSD, the likes of which hasn't been featured in a home console before. Despite this, games play extremely well on both consoles. I don't see that changing any time soon. Sony will instead want to focus primarily on its games lineup.
God of War: Ragnarok, Horizon Forbidden West, and more
Sony has a ton of games on the horizon for next year, no pun intended. Horizon Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarok (or whatever it ends up being called) are undoubtedly two of the biggest and most anticipated launches in recent years, provided they aren't delayed and slide into 2022 or later. Both games are sequels to critically acclaimed titles, boasting cutting-edge technology and some of the best narratives in the business. These flagships will need to show why people should upgrade to a PS5. While Sony has already committed to releasing Horizon Forbidden West on PS4 — which I think is a mistake — the studio has not announced if the next God of War will be PS5-only.
God of War: Ragnarok and Horizon Forbidden West need to be technical showcases.
Regardless of if God of War: Ragnarok makes its way to PS4, the fact is that both Horizon and it will need to play better on PS5. It's not enough for the graphics to look slightly better. These need to be technical showcases and "killer apps," so to speak, for the console. On top of those, Sony also plans to release Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Gran Turismo 7 on PS5 with no last-gen versions in the works.
Gran Turismo has been a racing staple on PlayStation consoles for over two decades, and the upcoming entry will be the most ambitious yet, combining "the past, present, and future – a complete form of Gran Turismo," according to series creator Kazunori Yamauchi. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart will serve as an entry point for news fans getting into the series, and feature near-instantaneous travel between planets and dimensions thanks to the PS5's SSD.
Every first-party game that PlayStation intends to release should make full use of the PS5's capabilities. That means fast loading, 3D audio, ray-tracing, and the DualSense's haptic feedback and adaptive triggers for a greater sense of immersion.
PS5 goes all-in on third-party exclusives
As we've seen from a few PlayStation showcases before the PS5's launch, Sony is sparing no expense to lock down third-party timed exclusives and marketing deals. Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo will be timed exclusives on PS5, presumably for at least a year. Since Microsoft bought Bethesda, these are almost certainly coming to Xbox at some point, but the company is honoring previous deals set in place with PlayStation.
Project Athia, a new game from Square Enix, is set to be a PS5 console exclusive for at least two years, ramping up the exclusivity period beyond the norm in most other cases. Little is known about this mysterious project, but people originally speculated that it was a working title for Final Fantasy 16, which turned out to be false. It doesn't have a release date, and I wouldn't be surprised if it releases in 2022 or 2023, but 2021 is a possibility.
Sony is sparing no expense to lock down third-party timed exclusives.
Final Fantasy 16 is its own beast, this time taking the series to the world of Valisthea. Though the franchise has historically been associated with PlayStation, its predecessor released on Xbox One and PS4 simultaneously, indicating a possible new course for the beloved series. As it turns out, Final Fantasy 15 was an exception to the rule. Square Enix has confirmed that Final Fantasy 16 will be another timed exclusive on PS5. This is another one without a release date, and I could see either 2021 or 2022.
Upcoming multiplatform games like Hogwarts Legacy, Resident Evil Village, and Hitman 3 all appear to have PlayStation marketing deals in place and aim to release in 2021. Whether this could lead to exclusive timed content down the road is unknown, but being able to market the PS5 with them is a huge boon.
PSVR 2 makes an appearance
Sony's made no indication that a PSVR 2 headset will release in 2021, but I'm hopeful for an announcement at least. The company has already patented a wireless PSVR headset with a rear camera and a new set of controllers with better tracking. We know PSVR 2 is being developed; it's just unknown when it will see the light of day.
I think 2021 would be a good year for an announcement because the old PSVR headset is dated. As the popularity of the Oculus Quest 2 has shown, people are very interested in wireless virtual reality. Sony Global Head of R&D for PlayStation Dominic Mallinson has already stated that he wants the next PSVR headset to have fewer cables and feature new technology like eye-tracking.
PS5 software updates (and hopefully some hardware)
As can be expected, the PS5 should receive several software updates throughout 2021. The console has already received a few minor updates to improve performance, but I think Sony will drop more substantial ones in the new year. Specifically, many people have been asking for themes and folders to make a return, which were notably absent from its UX at launch. And as more people buy into the PlayStation ecosystem, Sony will find newer ways to make the experience better for everyone. Feedback is important, after all.
In addition to software changes, I also wouldn't be surprised if we see limited edition PS5s pop up, along with separate faceplates that people can swap out. We already know the white face plats on the PS5 are easily removable, so it would make sense that Sony decides to sell custom ones. Sony VP of UX design at PlayStation Matt MacLaurin said in a now-deleted LinkedIn post that the PS5 would be customizable in ways previous generations weren't.
Sony will almost certainly update the PS5 to support expandable SSD storage.
And given how many people are asking for it, Sony will almost certainly update the PS5 to support expandable SSD storage. You can technically connect an external HDD or SSD to it through USB, but it's not an ideal solution, and PS5 games can't be played or stored this way. Sony needs to clarify which M.2 NVMe sticks are compatible.
Now, if you're wondering what you shouldn't expect, I wouldn't bet on a PS5 Pro being announced. Such a console probably isn't even in development, and on the off chance that it is, you won't be seeing it for a few years. There's no reason to release a more powerful PS5 when the system is already plenty powerful, and developers still need time to get the most out of its specs.
A bright future
There's a lot of talk about the PS5 vs. Xbox Series X and which is better, but the truth is — as it's always been — is that it's a matter of personal preference. Microsoft and Sony both have different plans and outlooks when it comes to their respective console strategies. 2021 will be a major year for the PS5, and I think Sony is prepared to keep the ball rolling.
I wouldn't bet too hard on any major acquisitions, but Sony is already in a good spot when it comes to its first-party and third-party games. Whatever the future holds, it's sure to be a bright one.