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grid featuring different gaming consoles Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Source photos: James Bareham, Michael McWhertor, Razer

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Which is the best gaming console for you?

There are plenty of choices if you’re looking to jump into gaming

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Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

So you want to buy a new video game console, but you’re paralyzed by choice. What’s the difference between the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, let alone the Xbox One S and Xbox One X? Should you wait for the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X? Is the Nintendo Switch fine if you just want to play Zelda and Mario?

Let us introduce you to the perfect gaming console for your lifestyle.

It’s important to note that there’s currently no bad console. They’re all great in their own way. We simply want to ensure you choose one that aligns with what you enjoy most from video games.

Should I buy a PlayStation 4?

PS4 Pro console on a blue background Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

The PlayStation 4 has an incredible library of console-exclusive games, especially if you’re an action game fan. With titles like Bloodborne, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nioh 2, and God of War, the PS4 is ideal for folks old enough to play M-rated games and who prefer a challenge. If role-playing games are more your speed, there’s Persona 5 Royal and the hotly anticipated Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

If you’re not into superheroes or fantasy, the PS4 also plays Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Remastered. These games are still more adventure-oriented than most shooters. If you’re looking for quick gunplay, there aren’t a lot of first-party options to satisfy that itch. Thankfully, you have the huge library of third-party games that are also available on Xbox One and PC, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Apex Legends, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, open to you as well.

Along with shooters, third-party games also include any game that isn’t exclusive to the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, or PC. These games include small indie games, RPGs, fighting games, and sports games.

If the idea of new consoles coming out soon has you worried about whether or not you’ll be able to play your old PlayStation 4 games, don’t worry. Sony has said that it plans to make most of the console’s 100 most popular titles playable on the PlayStation 5 at launch, with more games added later.

PlayStation 4 vs PlayStation 4 Pro?

#PS4 Slim console on blue background
PlayStation 4 Slim
Photo: James Bareham/Polygon
PS4 Pro on blue background
PlayStation 4 Pro
Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

Both of these console options can play the entire PlayStation 4 catalog. The biggest difference between the two consoles is performance. Many games will run smoother on the PlayStation 4 Pro than they will on the regular PS4 console. If you want the absolute best performance (and higher resolutions for a 4K TV) and don’t mind paying a little extra for it, then the PlayStation 4 Pro is your best bet.

If you’re dipping your toe into gaming, you won’t have a bad time with either console, and the standard PlayStation 4 is a smaller investment. Use the money you save to buy a couple more games.

Right now, Amazon has a bundle that will give you the console itself, along with The Last of Us, God of War, and Horizon Zero Dawn for $274.99. That’s a great way to start.

Should I buy an Xbox One?

Microsoft XBox console on green background Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

While it doesn’t quite have quite the same number of exclusive games that Sony’s console can boast, the Xbox One has the edge when it comes to the shooter genre. Games like Halo 5: Guardians and Gears 5 feature strong campaigns that can be played in single-player mode or with friends in co-op, as well as strong competitive multiplayer communities. If you’re just getting into games, the Xbox One also has Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which provides access to four of the original Halo games, some of the best console shooters ever made.

The Xbox One also has the wonderful option of Game Pass, which, for a monthly fee — just $1 for new subscribers to Game Pass Ultimate and $14.99 after that — lets players access over 100 Xbox One games, including many of our favorites. While Game Pass Ultimate offers players access to games on both Xbox One and PC, Microsoft also has the option of the Xbox Game Pass for $9.99, which gives you access to just Xbox One games if they don’t need PC as well. With Game Pass, you can build yourself an instant library and try titles from a variety of genres.

Just like with the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One also supports non-exclusive third-party games, which will give you an even bigger selection. Microsoft has also committed to making sure that you can play your Xbox One games on its next generation console, the Xbox Series X. Microsoft recently said that games you buy on Xbox One that later get Xbox Series X versions will get a free upgrade as well. As an added benefit, Microsoft also has a feature called Xbox Play Anywhere, which lets players play certain Xbox One games on the PC as well, in case you want a second platform.

Xbox One vs. Xbox One S vs Xbox One X?

White Xbox console on green background
Xbox One S
Photo: James Bareham/Polygon
Xbox console on green background
Xbox One X
Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

It’s not easy to get your hands on an original Xbox One. The Xbox One S has replaced it with slightly better specs and a smaller, more efficient design.

As for the differences between the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X: The Xbox One S is most similar to the original version of the system, while the Xbox One X is the newer, much more powerful edition. If you want the most powerful console on the market right now for 4K gaming, this is it. But remember: Power is only useful if the system runs your favorite games.

There are a variety of bundles for both options, but if you’re not looking to go all the way up to the Xbox One X, then Amazon’s Xbox One S 1 TB Gears 5 bundle is pretty impressive. The package includes all five Gears of War games and the console for $225.99. If you want an upgrade to the Xbox One X, the same bundle of games with the console will cost you $399.99.

Should I buy a Nintendo Switch?

Nintendo Switch - Neon Red/Blue Joy-Cons in Joy-Con Grip next to Dock, all sitting on a wooden background Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

Nintendo’s console has only been available for three years now, but it has managed to amass an impressive library of games. Most of Nintendo’s mainstay franchises are already on the system, with games like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, two of the best games of the last decade. Even Animal Crossing has now made its way to the Switch with New Horizons. There’s also Pokemon Sword and Shield, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Luigi’s Mansion 3. On top of that, the Switch offers the best lineup of multiplayer party games, like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

The Switch’s one big downside is a severe lack of third-party games: Some come to the platform the same day that they hit other consoles, while others make it a little later, like The Witcher 3 and Stardew Valley. But many, like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Control, and Madden NFL, aren’t likely to ever make it to Nintendo’s console. The good news is, even without those splashy games, you’ll still have plenty to do, thanks to the console’s incredible list of exclusives that include some of the generation’s best games.

As a bonus, Nintendo offers old NES and SNES games that players can get via the Switch’s online store. These can make for a great nostalgia trip, or a fantastic way to revisit classic games you may have missed.

Nintendo Switch vs. Nintendo Switch Lite

a yellow Nintendo Switch Lite with the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe homescreen on it
The Nintendo Switch Lite in one of its three colors.
Photo: Michael McWhertor/Polygon

The biggest difference between the Switch and the Switch Lite is the way in which you can use the console. The original Switch comes with a dock that allows you to plug the console into your TV and play on the big screen; you can also unplug it and play it as a handheld device. The Switch Lite is handheld-only, and has a slightly smaller screen. Otherwise, these units are basically the same. The Switch Lite is much cheaper than the standard Switch — $199.99 instead of $299.99 — and it’s much easier to find in stores at the moment.

Should I buy a gaming PC?

Two Razer Blade gaming laptops Photo: Razer

PC has always been the best choice for shooters and strategy games, especially if you’re willing to deal with challenges of caring for and upgrading a gaming computer. While battle royale games like Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone, and PUBG have all proven popular on consoles as well, team-based competitive shooters like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are still largely PC-only.

Riot Games will soon release Valorant, a PC exclusive that already looks like a promising addition to the tactical shooter genre. That same developer’s strategy title, League of Legends, is still one of the world’s most popular games. It’s deep, complex, and difficult, but fun. It can become a full-time hobby.

The PC has an added advantage of being the place for most premier single-player and independent games. Along with all the multiplatform games you would expect, many former console exclusives are making their way to the platform. Most Xbox One exclusives now arrive on Windows PC via Xbox Play Anywhere, and Sony’s Horizon Zero Dawn will launch on Steam in a few months. Xbox even has a Xbox Games Pass for PC for $4.99 which gives players access to various games in the Xbox library to play on PC. This combination gives the PC an impressive library of titles to choose from, no matter what kind of games you’re into.

The downside to PC gaming is that it’s expensive. Really expensive. If you’re looking to play the newest games with their best visual and performance settings, you’re probably going to end up spending at least $2,000 and probably quite a bit more — not to mention peripherals like a monitor or mouse and keyboard. That being said, spending $2,000 will mean you’re good to go for many years, and that includes the next-gen consoles due out later this year. So if you’re willing to lay down the serious money needed for the initial investment, buying a PC will give you a huge library of games and keep you set for a while.

And there’s always the option to buy a low-end or mid-range PC, like Alienware’s Aurora R8, which starts at $899.99, or the CyberPowerPC Gamer Extreme VR, which is available on Amazon right now for $749.99. PC gaming does also have the option of laptops, which can give you the chance to take a powerful system with you wherever you go. But even these options will run you a lot more than any current-generation console.

You could also consider building your own PC, though if you’re just getting into gaming, we recommend keeping it simple and buying a build from a trusted manufacturer.

Whether you’re just getting into gaming now, or looking for something to tide you over until the next wave of consoles arrives, this is a great time to jump in. Any of the current consoles, whether it’s the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch — or a nice new gaming PC — will keep you occupied for ages with plenty of great games.