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Graphic featuring the PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

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PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Which should you buy?

An earnest examination of where the two consoles stand

Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

Once again the time has come to pick a side: Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5? For most people, a totally reasonable answer to that question is: neither (at least for right now). But if you’re dead set on picking up one of the new consoles in the near future and torn over the decision, we’re here to walk you through the things you should consider before making a purchase. We’re not picking winners and losers here, we’re just trying to make you an informed, functional member of society. You’re welcome.

PS5 vs. Xbox Series X: Which is more powerful?

If we’re talking straight mathematics, the Xbox Series X has about 18% more processing power than the PlayStation 5. And yet, like all things technological, the actual answer is more complicated than that. If you’d like to get down into the nitty gritty, read Samit Sarkar’s piece, which has more numbers than you can shake a stick at. In his summation, Sarkar reminds us that “the numbers matter, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all.” After all, the most powerful console in the world without any good games is just a very expensive paperweight.

If you’re still focused on the numbers, you should know that the ultimate number gurus at Digital Foundry have tested the new hardware extensively. The initial consensus seems to be that the consoles are very close in power, and the PS5 will actually outperform the Xbox Series X in certain circumstances. In the DMC5 video, for example, the PS5 handles the game’s high framerate mode slightly better than the Xbox Series X does.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Which has better games?

A horse at a creepy tree in Assassins Creed Valhalla Image: Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft via Polygon

We’re just going right at it, huh? In this early stage, there are comically few “true” exclusives for either console. Most of the major third-party games — like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla — are on both platforms and run comparably. And every Xbox Series X game is also playable on PC.

At launch, the Xbox Series X’s big advantage on the games front is Game Pass. For a monthly subscription fee, you get access to a few hundred games from the Xbox One and Xbox 360 era. But Microsoft is also bringing new Xbox Series X games directly to Game Pass on the day they launch (Halo Infinite), while also updating older games like Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 to take advantage of the new hardware.

Looking to the future, Microsoft announced that its new acquisition of Bethesda means those games (Starfield, The Elder Scrolls 6, among others) will also come to Game Pass right when they launch. If you’re looking to play a lot of different games, but not looking to spend upwards of $70 on each one, Xbox Series X is a solid option.

A knight stands before a church altar and stained glass windows in a screenshot from Demon’s Souls Image: Bluepoint Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment

As for the PlayStation 5, right now there are just two games you can only play on the new console: Astro’s Playroom and the Demon’s Souls remake. All the other titles on PS5 are also available on PS4 or PC. Over time, this exclusives list will definitely grow, and it’s here that Sony is going to try to stand out, with an emphasis on games you can only play on PlayStation. Franchises like God of War, Ratchet and Clank, and Horizon have installments coming over the next year, and Sony’s stable of internal studios is strong enough that we expect many more exclusives over the PS5’s lifespan.

The PlayStation 5 also offers its PlayStation Plus subscription service, which grants new free games each month. Recently that service was enhanced with the PlayStation Plus Collection, a pack of 18 excellent games that folks can play as long as they are subscribed to PlayStation Plus. Right now Microsoft’s Game Pass offering is far more valuable, but we expect Sony to get closer to parity with Microsoft over the next generation.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Which has a better controller?

Graphic featuring the PS5 controller and the Xbox-X controller Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Source photos: Henry Hargreaves for Polygon

You can read our in-depth head-to-head on the two controllers here. The TLDR is that the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller is a more advanced piece of technology, with its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. The Xbox Series X controller, meanwhile, is a modest upgrade over the Xbox One’s controller, and is a solid workhorse, but isn’t going to offer any new experiences. The new Xbox controller does play nicer with PCs, though, so if you’re looking to bounce around platforms, that’s worth keeping in mind.

PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Which should you buy?

As I said at the top, there aren’t a ton of must-have reasons to pick up one of the new consoles right now. If you’re able to stomach waiting (and you may have to, given how hard they are to find), you should know that you won’t be missing out on all that much right now. There just aren’t enough exclusives for either console to justify the purchase.

That said, if you do have to make a decision, ask yourself: Do I have a decent gaming PC? If so, you’ll probably want to go with the PlayStation 5, which will open the doors to more games that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to play. But if you’re looking to play a broad spectrum of games while spending the least amount of money possible, the Xbox Series X (with Game Pass) is the way to go.

Update Nov 17: The original story stated that all but two PS5 launch games were playable on PS4. Godfall is the only game that is only playable on PS5 and PC (but not PS4). We’ve updated the above story to indicate this variance.