Console gamers looking at upgrading to a new system at the end of the year likely have a few major questions about how their existing game libraries will work across console generations, such as:
- Will I be able to play my current games on the new system?
- How will those games be improved when running on more powerful hardware?
- Will I have to buy another copy of the game to get those enhancements?
The answer to those questions varies greatly depending on the platform and publisher involved, and answers for some specific games are still unknown. That said, here’s a handy guide to where various cross-generational game compatibility and upgrade plans stand at this point.
At a basic level, both Microsoft and Sony are taking steps to ensure that most (if not all) of your current-generation console game library will be playable on their new consoles.
For Microsoft, this promise dates back to last June, when Phil Spencer said, “your games, your achievements, your progression, your accessories, your console experience with Xbox: it all comes forward with Scarlett [the codename for Xbox Series X].” Since then, Microsoft has clarified that “existing Xbox One games, including backward-compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox games” will work on the new system. In addition to every Xbox One title, that compatibility list currently includes over 500 Xbox 360 games and 39 original Xbox games.
For Sony, the specific compatibility list is less clear. In March the company announced the PS5 would run in a “legacy mode” to support content made for the PS4 and PS4 Pro. Originally, though, PS5 architect Mark Cerny only promised that the top 100 most popular PS4 titles would be compatible with PS5 at launch, with plans to further expand later.
In an update days later, Sony Senior VP Hideaki Nishino clarified that Sony “believe[s] that the overwhelming majority of the 4,000+ PS4 titles will be playable on PS5.” That said, Nishino also added that the company is “currently evaluating games on a title-by-title basis to spot any issues that need adjustment from the original software developers.”
Reading between the lines a bit, it sounds like most PS4 games will run on the PS5 without issue through the launch-day “legacy mode.” But Sony also seems wary of making any promises even approaching “universal” backward compatibility until more internal testing is done.
There’s no indication so far that games from earlier pre-PS4 PlayStation consoles will be directly compatible with the PS5. A PlayStation Now subscription will give PS5 owners streaming access to hundreds of titles from the PS2 and PS3 libraries, however.
When it comes to accessories, Sony will require users to purchase new DualSense controllers to play PS5 games (though the older DualShock 4 will work on the PS5 when playing PS4 games). Microsoft, by contrast, is promising that all Xbox One controllers (with the exception of the Kinect) will work on the Series X without issue.
Will my old games get enhancements?
Both Microsoft and Sony are promising that all older games will automatically look and perform a bit better when running on newer hardware. Microsoft, for instance, says backward-compatible software on Series X will “benefit from steadier framerates, faster load times and improved resolution and visual fidelity—all with no developer work required.”
Sony says it is “expecting backward compatible titles will run at a boosted frequency on PS5 so that they can benefit from higher or more stable frame rates and potentially higher resolutions.” That mirrors the promise of the PS4 Pro, which used an optional Boost Mode to achieve much the same effect.
Those kinds of improvements should be possible on new hardware without any extra work from the original game developers. But gamemakers will also have the option of specifically “optimizing” current-generation games to take fuller advantage of the additional power of the new consoles.
Microsoft is heavily leaning into this “Optimized for Series X” branding, promising that “50 new games planned for this year” and “more than 40 popular games” from earlier in the Xbox One era will be upgraded in this manner in time for the November launch. These optimized titles will offer “unparalleled load-times, heightened visuals, and steadier framerates at up to 120FPS” on the Xbox Series X, Microsoft says, though specific resolution and frame rate values will vary from game to game.
The confirmed list of Series X-optimized games currently includes the following (games that are not released yet noted with an *; games that won’t be available on Xbox One noted with a ^; not all games planned for the Series X’s November launch):
Things are a bit more straightforward in the PlayStation ecosystem, where games will generally be available in distinct PlayStation 5 versions that take full advantage of the new hardware. Some PS4 developers are offering free downloadable PS5 upgrades for existing or upcoming PS4 titles, though, as discussed in the next section.
Are these optimized upgrades free?
Microsoft is putting a lot of marketing effort behind its Smart Delivery system, which allows players to purchase a game once and download a “basic” version on Xbox One as well as an “optimized” version on Xbox Series X. Microsoft has pledged all of its first-party titles for the foreseeable future will make use of that system, and the company is reportedly urging all third-party publishers to make use of it as well.
Sony doesn’t have a specific platform-wide system for similar, free cross-generational upgrades. But many PlayStation publishers are offering their own PS5 upgrades for standard PS4 games (alongside Smart Delivery or similar options for those same games on Xbox).
Ubisoft, for instance, has promised no-cost PS5 upgrades for PS4 purchases of this year’s major planned releases: Watch Dogs: Legion, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Far Cry 6. Bethesda is promising free optimized upgrades for any current-generation console games it decides to bring forward, including Doom Eternal and The Elder Scrolls Online.
(In all of these cases, users who buy a physical edition on the PS4 or Xbox One will still be downloading the “optimized” assets on PS5 or Xbox Series X. That upgrade will also require the original disc to be in the drive to work on the new hardware, which could be a problem for disc users who purchase the all-digital discless edition of the PS5).
Not all publishers are on board with this kind of free upgrade scheme, however. For NBA 2K11, players can either pay $70 for a standard edition that works on a single console generation or $100 for a “Mamba Forever Edition” that includes cross-generational support.
And this week, Remedy announced that players would have to purchase a new Control: Ultimate Edition to get a version of the game optimized for PS5 or Xbox Series X. If you purchased the original edition of the game last year, you don’t get a free next-generation upgrade. That said, backward compatibility means you will be able to play the original Control on your new hardware with slight upgrades anyway.
If that all seems confusing, that’s because it is. But we hope this has at least helped you get your head around the various options and efforts to upgrade your current console game library across the coming generational transition. We’ll keep you updated as more information comes out about other games and compatibility details in the future.