Now the specs for the PS5 and Xbox Series X have been released, the console wars have well and truly kicked off, as fans debate what’s more important: GPU performance or SSD speeds?
I don’t intend on joining that debate – both are very important for gaming systems – but I will stress one thing: the PS5’s absurdly speedy SSD will take Sony’s first-party offering to new heights.
But first, to address a common misconception: faster SSD speeds don’t solely reduce loading times. That is undoubtedly one of the significant benefits, as Mark Cerny suggested the likes of fast travel on Marvel’s Spider-Man could become near-instant, but there’s an even more significant advantage to the revolutionary hardware.
Behind the scenes, game developers will be juggling how many assets and textures they can implement into a specific level with how long it takes for the system to read all that data. Nobody wants a game with an incredibly detailed and content-rich world if it means you’re continually suffering loading screens and crashes after all.
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Ever played an open-world RPG which seemed barren of content? The likelihood is that the developers weren’t being lazy, but that hardware limitations hamstrung their vision. Plenty of amazing ideas have likely met the scrap heap, just because the hardware wasn’t capable of loading the data in sufficient time. Just go and watch Ars Technica’s interview with the Crash Bandicoot developers to see just a glimpse of such struggles.
Give developers hardware with significantly faster SSD speeds though, and they’ll be free to add in more content and able to pursue more complex ideas. The ceiling for innovation will rise tenfold, resulting in bigger and better games in the future.
Seems like a no-brainer idea for Sony to ramp up the SSD speeds then, right? But then, why didn’t Microsoft do the same with the Xbox Series X? Well, there are a couple of issues with taking this approach. Firstly, SSDs are costly, and could be why Sony is only offering an 825GB drive rather than 1TB storage.
And secondly, developers have to consider the lowest denominator hardware when producing a game, making sure it works on every platform it releases on, including lower-spec gaming PCs that may even still be using HDDs. This means third-party franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, The Elder Scrolls and Call of Duty won’t be able to reap the full benefits of the PS5’s SSD potential, although they will at least see loading times slashed.
With the quality and pulling power of Microsoft’s first-party lineup arguably lacking this generation, it’s understandable that it would snub the chance of hiking up those SSD speeds. It makes far more sense for Microsoft to focus on GPU performance, as resolutions and frame rates can be scaled up for third-party titles – the lowest denominator hardware is irrelevant in this instance. Game design is, of course, not so easily scalable.
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For Sony, on the other hand, the library of first-party titles is arguably the PS4’s greatest strength. God of War, Uncharted 4, Bloodborne and Marvel’s Spider-Man are just a handful of those titles, with The Last of Us: Part II and Ghost of Tsushima not even released yet. So great were some of those games that many gamers – myself included – will find it difficult to snub the PS5 and forgo the chance to play all of those potential sequels.
Sony knows this, as Hermen Hulst (head of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios) confirmed the company is “committed to quality exclusives, and to strong narrative-driven, single-player games.”
The blazing-fast SSD and PlayStation’s growing catalogue of first-party games seems like the perfect marriage then, both providing individual benefits to the system, but also combining to take the PS5 generation even further than the stupendously successful PS4.
If the developers of God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Last of Us are given access to hardware with such absurdly fast SSD speeds, they will create outstanding games – games that will not only push PlayStation to new heights, but also the whole gaming industry in general.