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Gaming PC or a new gen console - What should you buy in 2021?

Is the console vs PC war still relevant? Maybe not as much anymore, but if you're looking to buy one platform, it can be difficult to decide where to invest the money.

PC versus Xbox Series X versus Playstation 5

 

The new gen consoles have been out since November 2020, and with the semiconductor shortage availability has been a bit of a nightmare. Now that the stocks are catching up and you’re looking to upgrade your gaming rig, or even get a new one, you might be considering getting a console or a whole new gaming PC.

There are pros and cons to both, and the decision to get one or the other (or even both) will be entirely dependent on what you’d want to do with your set up, how tech-savvy you are, and what type of games you are interested in playing.

For the purposes of this guide, we’re not going to compare the specs of PlayStation 5 with Xbox Series X.

 

A gaming PC in front of images of various games including Horizon, Forza and Minecraft.

 

Pros and cons of getting a gaming PC

Let’s look at some obvious, and not so obvious, pros and cons of getting a gaming PC over a console.

Pros

1) Highly customisable and flexible

Unlike your console, which is a closed system, you can make your gaming PC exactly the way you want it. You can tweak it, overclock it, change or upgrade components at will, and even make it look as stylish as you’d like.

Due to the customisation and the ease of upgrading, you won’t need to change your graphics card every time you want to play a new game, unlike on the console, where you might not even be able to play super old games as they’re not supported by the new system. Although most PC games have soft and hard lower-end requirements, most of the time you will be able to play very old games on your PC. This, however, is not an option for the next gen consoles. While backward compatibility is something Xbox was first to implement to any reasonable degree, PlayStation is also catching up. But even still, if you want to play a game from PS3 or Xbox 360 gen, you will not be able to do so on a new gen console. On the PC however, you can pick up some of the old classics like Red Dead Redemption 1, or Mass Effect 1 (though since the Legendary Edition, new gen console players can experience the whole trilogy now).

In addition, consoles are very limited in what they can do. If you’re not gaming on the PC, you can be surfing the web or working, while your console is only your gaming station, and that’s it. While Microsoft attempted to make the last gen Xbox into an ‘’entertainment system’’, people were not really sold on it. With PC, while it may be a bit pricier to get initially, it has multitude of uses.

When it comes to customising how you play games, PCs are not in the same boat as consoles. The settings at which you want to game are less restricted to PC players. Sure, you need to understand what your rig can handle, but you can customise it on a PC a lot more than you can on the console. For example, you can decide how sensitive your mouse is for a much better accuracy.

2) Cheaper and more extensive selection of games, Steam Library, and indie titles

While both consoles have their own dedicated subscription services for games, none of them can really beat Steam in terms of availability and variety of games. It has something for everyone. Given, Steam is not a subscription service, so many games are paid, but the choice of the games cannot be really compared with PS Now or Xbox Game Pass. There are also many indie games and hidden gems that aren’t available to console players or have a very niche fan base. Games have generally (and historically) been much cheaper to buy for the PC than they were for the consoles.

But even more importantly, PC gamers do not have to pay for the upgrades as the new games come out, an issue that has been a bit of a hot topic with console gamers lately. As the new gen console stock has been an issue, many gamers have opted to purchase and play newer games on the last gen consoles like PS4 and Xbox One. For some of those games, players will need to pay an additional fee to upgrade it for the new gen console of their choice, while PC players will not.

There is also a lot more to discover on Steam that players may not have otherwise had the chance to do on a console. Also, buying games for the PC has historically been much cheaper than on the consoles.

PC gamers get a lot more discounts and flexibility when it comes to their games, and once they’ve purchased a game, they have it forever. By contrast, console players will see the game on their dedicated subscriptions services rotate quite often. For example, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been taken off the Game Pass (we suspect it might something to do with the remaster that’s coming late this year), so Xbox players who wish to play the game again must either purchase it, or wait for it to return to the Xbox Game Pass.

And remember, there are far more games that cannot be played on the console than vice versa. Even mobile games can be played on a PC via an emulator such as BlueStacks. The choice of games and the types of games on PC is unparalleled.

3) Free online lobbies and modding

Unlike on the consoles where a yearly or monthly subscription to their service is required in order to play games, on PC online lobbies are always free. That means when you buy a game that has a multiplayer you’re not obliged, yet again, to pay for a subscription in order to play with other people. Although PC multiplayer isn’t as optimised as the console ones are, especially when it comes to hacking and cheating, the online experiencing is constantly improving.

In addition, more and more games are becoming cross-play, with immensely popular Destiny 2 finally being cross play as of June 2021.

Unlike on the console, where you do not have any access to any game files, on PC you do. This allows you to mod your game, create your own mods if you’re savvy-enough to do so, and share them with others. Although changing game files in games that are played competitively or online will result in a VAC ban (most likely), changing your game files and modding single player games can be extremely fun.

4) Superior graphics and performance

Although new gen consoles are a vast improvement when compared to PCs now, vs the last gen consoles when compared to the PCs then, PC still carry a much better performance.

 

A gaming PC setup in low lighting with various RGB illumination effects.

 

Cons

1) Can be extremely pricey and you need to have some tech knowledge

Building your own gaming PC, or even getting a pre-built one can be confusing if you’re not really sure of what you’re looking for. A good prebuilt PC can go into thousands of pounds, and if you don’t know anything about specs you need or want, you’re really going into it blind. Consoles do not have this issue as they’re all running on the same hardware and the same software.

You might also want to think that if you’re getting a PC, you will also need to get the entire rig with it, such as a monitor, a desk, a chair, keyboard, mouse, headphones…etc. Setting up a gaming PC may prove rather pricey versus a console.

2) Can’t co-op with people in the same room

If you live with people who also game or if you ever want to play co-op in the same room, it will prove very difficult with a PC. Consoles facilitate co-op play, in front of the TV, and just like consoles themselves, it’s mostly plug and play.

PC gaming for a family isn’t going to be ideal unless you’re wanting to spend thousands of pounds on several gaming rigs.

3) Cheaper PC set ups may need an upgrade more often

Consoles are a lot more future proof than the PCs, as the games for consoles will keep being made for a single, standard spec of the console. Each PC gamer however has a different set up, so games aren’t made for one machine only. If you have an older PC, you might need to upgrade your components a lot sooner than someone who has a console due to the games being better and better each year. No games will be incompatible for a console gamer, at least not until the next gen,

Pros and cons of getting a new gen console

 

A Playstation 5 console standing vertically, viewed from the front.

 

Pros

1) Easy to set up and much less expensive than a gaming PC

If you’re looking to get a top of the range gaming PC, you’re looking to part with thousands of pounds, versus a new gen console that’s under £500. While you might have to do a lot of tweaking and upgrading of your gaming PC, all games you play on a console will play exactly the same. When making games for consoles, all devs work to optimise the game for exactly the same set up, as every console is the same.

When optimising for PC, the developers have to take into account a range of set ups and allow customisation and setting options that the players can change themselves to get the best gaming experience. In other words, how well you experience the game will depend on how good your rig is if you’re on PC, but if you’re playing on the console, you don’t need to think about whether a game will run on your system or not.

2) Exclusives

This has been changing in the past few years, with Xbox releasing Game Pass to PC players and games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Days Gone (once PlayStation exclusives), have also come to the PC. Early in 2022, Sony will release Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves for the PC gamers as well.

However, many console exclusives still remain on consoles and many exclusives are still planned and not all of them include porting to PC.

3) You can resell your used physical copies

Games on consoles are usually more expensive than they are on the PC, but if you purchase a physical copy of a console game and you finish playing it, you can sell it back or trade it at the game stores. This is virtually impossible with PC games primarily because PC games are so easy to copy and keep. Vast majority of games on PC are now digital (probably in part because of the ease with which you could copy physical games), so once you buy a game on the PC, you don’t really have much chance of recovering any of the money once you’re done with the game. Even if not, this is one of the main reasons why PC gamers can’t even just return games that they no longer like, as refunds are done only in cases of technical faults. Console players can at least trade some of their least favourite games in.

 

The main character of Assassin's Creed Valhalla, looking to the right.

 

Cons

1) 14 button controller

As a console player, something has been brought to my attention that I’ve never even thought about. If you’ve been playing consoles for a while, you probably grew up with and watched the evolution of the controllers. None of the buttons seem difficult or out of place, as for most console gamers, controller button placement is a muscle memory. We might feel somewhat uncomfortable from one console controller to the other, but overall, the buttons are mostly the same, and mostly in the same place.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone, and unlike the console controllers, everyone can use a mouse and keyboard. It is also a lot easier to learn to use the mouse and keyboard in gaming settings than a 14-button controller, especially if you’re not used to them.

2) Poor backward compatibility

The latest consoles might seamlessly play the newest games, but should you want to get into some nostalgia and grab an older game, you will probably not be able to play it on the console. You will definitely not be able to play it from an old disk, either. That is, unless there has been a conscious effort to make that specific game backward compatible and it will most likely be in a digital form.

This isn’t really an issue with PC gaming and you can play virtually any game your rig can handle. As we already mentioned, there will be hardware requirements, but for the most part you’ll be able to play old games on your rig for a long longer than you could on a console.

3) Console games are pricey

Console itself may be a bit cheaper than a PC but purchasing games for consoles is a lot more expensive. This has always been the case to some degree, but it is a lot more pronounced on the new gen consoles, especially since they aim to match the PC performance. Steam has sales running very often where players can find great deals, while on console, not so much.

Even full priced games are often a lot more expensive for the console (especially PS5). The selection is also not as good as it is on the PC, and it comes with a higher price tag. Don’t expect sales on console games the way you would on steam, however second hand and used hard copy games are very common, so bargains are still to be found.

Final Verdict

In truth, consoles are becoming a lot more PC like in their gaming performance and functionality. This is not to say that they will ever replace PC gaming, but the gap in the overall performance between the consoles and the PC is narrowing.

It’s worth noting that most PC gamers do still own a console, just as most console gamers still own a PC. If you game on both and you think it’s a time to upgrade, it’s probably worth investing in a PC first. You can do very many things on a PC aside from gaming, while consoles are just made for that. New gen consoles are not yet a year old, and with the stock shortages and issues, a gaming PC may be more accessible.

If you want to dip your toes in both, then a mid-range gaming PC and a console might be something to consider. You get to enjoy exclusives on the console and non-console games (strategy, turn-based strategy, MOBAs...etc.) on the PC.

The final decision will depend on the types of games you want to play, what your friends play, and what your budget allows. They both do very many things well, and with the new gen consoles being as powerful as they are, what you choose will be down to personal preference.