While the recent confirmation that God of War: Ragnarok won’t be released until at least 2022 shouldn’t surprise anybody, the news that the PlayStation Studios team may release the game for both PS4 and PS5 has come as quite a shock to those who expected the much-anticipated sequel to be one of Sony’s biggest next-gen system sellers.
“You can’t build a community of over 110 million PS4 owners and then just walk away from it, right? I think that’d be bad news for fans of PS4, and frankly not very good business,” said the Head of PlayStation Studios, Hermen Hulst, in a recent interview. “Where it makes sense to develop a title for both PS4 and PS5 — for Horizon Forbidden West, the next God of War, GT7 — we’ll continue looking at that. And if PS4 owners want to play that game, then they can. If they want to go on and play the PS5 version, that game will be there for them.”
First off, let’s make it clear that Hulst’s statement strongly suggests that the PlayStation Studios team hasn’t necessarily committed to bringing the next God of War game to PS4. He instead specifically notes that they’re “looking at that” possibility and that a game as big as the next God of War would be one of those upcoming titles that would make sense to get to as many PlayStation gamers as possible.
Still, even the implication that God of War: Ragnarok may be released on PS4 as well as PS5 already has gamers recalling this 2020 quote from SIE President and CEO Jim Ryan:
“We have always said that we believe in generations. We believe that when you go to all the trouble of creating a next-gen console, that it should include features and benefits that the previous generation does not include. And that, in our view, people should make games that can make the most of those features. We do believe in generations, and whether it’s the DualSense controller, whether it’s the 3D audio, whether it’s the multiple ways that the SSD can be used… we are thinking that it is time to give the PlayStation community something new, something different, that can really only be enjoyed on PS5.”
While Jim Ryan clearly isn’t Hermen Hulst and both are obviously entitled to their own opinions, it’s fascinating to see two of the PlayStation team’s most notable executives express what could be seen as different views on a very important subject. In 2020, Jim Ryan suggested that the PlayStation team is committed to making games that make the most of next-gen technology in order to encourage people to make the leap to PS5. In 2021, Hermen Hulst is suggesting there’s a strong possibility that the PlayStation team’s biggest game of 2022 may still be developed with the relative limitations of the PS4 in mind.
It’s a fascinating contrast that raises the question: “Will God of War: Ragnarok‘s PS5 ambitions suffer due to a potential PS4 port?”
That’s a complicated question in a lot of ways. After all, even at the time that Ryan made that statement about believing in generations, some fans criticized him for seemingly taking a shot at the Xbox team and their plans to continue to support the Xbox One well into the lifespan of the Xbox Series X/S. While he was clearly hyping up the benefits of the PS5, there were some who doubted that was the best time or the best way to suggest that the PS4 would somehow be abandoned sooner than the Xbox One.
Those doubts became much more pronounced as supply shortages, scalper influence, and, the COVID-19 pandemic made it much harder to acquire a PS5 than even many cynics predicted it would be. The idea of forcing people to buy a next-gen console just to play the latest games despite the fact that early next-gen releases rarely take full advantage of next-gen technology was always questionable, and that practice only faced increased scrutiny when viewed through the lens of the incredible circumstances of the last year.
In a way, then, the idea that the PlayStation team will continue to support the PS4 with ports of their latest releases will likely be welcomed by many and perhaps should be. Yet, there’s this other side to the argument that’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore as more people get their hands on next-gen consoles and as the potential benefits of next-gen technology become increasingly clear.
The fact is that there have been very few true next-gen PS5 games released so far. While that shortlist does include some truly great games (Demon’s Souls, Returnal, and Astro’s Playroom, to name a few), we really haven’t seen many examples of what the PS5 can do when a developer is able to push it closer to its limits. Some think Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart could be the game that does just that, but that remains to be seen.
Yet, the glimpses of the PS5’s potential that we’ve seen so far in those games have been exciting. From virtually non-existent load times to visuals that the PS4 couldn’t possibly hope to match, the PS5 is clearly capable of supporting games that leave you with no doubt that the console is the future of gaming in a way that makes it difficult to think about going back.
That’s the dilemma. We previously spoke about how the future of video game graphics will largely be determined by the PS5 and Xbox Series X rather than the highest-end gaming PCs, but now there seems to be a strong possibility that the relative limits of the PS4 and Xbox One will continue to be accounted for in 2022 at a time when many people previously predicted that we’d be well into the next generation of console gaming.
Such delays could mean that it may be a little while longer until we see more games designed to do things like use the PS5’s incredible SSD for more than just faster load times, the problem may be bigger than that. Just look at what happened with Cyberpunk 2077. While there were plenty of problems to blame that game’s various issues on, some close to its development suggested that it became incredibly difficult to develop a title for high-end PCs, soft next-gen releases (the proper next-gen versions of Cyberpunk 2077 have yet to be released), and PS4/Xbox One at the same time. The gap between those devices may not be as pronounced as it will eventually be, but it’s still significant enough to ensure that studios can only make games so ambitious and still expect them to be playable on every platform without having to devote a lot of time and resources to achieve that goal.
To tell you the truth, I don’t believe that there’s a world in which the God of War: Ragnarok team releases a PS4 version of that game that is fundamentally unplayable. The development dynamic is different than the Cyberpunk 2077 situation if for no other reason than the fact that God of War: Ragnarok is seemingly being developed for two platforms at the moment and not five (not to mention PCs of various power levels as well as the Xbox Series S, PS4 Pro, and Xbox One X). More importantly, God of War: Ragnarok can still feature improved graphics, faster load times, advanced control options, and some of those features that Jim Ryan spoke about when touting even the basic potential of next-gen games. You can “develop” Ragnarok for PS4, improve it for PS5, and probably still make a lot of people happy.
Yet, it’s hard not to wonder whether or not the move is to let the God of War: Ragnarok team solely focus on the PS5 version of the game. Say what you will about the importance of video game graphics, but the history of innovation in gaming is closely tied to the ambitions of studios and creators who looked at new technology and dared to use it in ways that made new gameplay, storytelling, and design ideas possible. At some point, you do need to commit to a more advanced standard, and the idea that we may not be at that point two years into the apparent next generation of gaming could be seen as a little disheartening.
Ultimately, it’s probably a good thing that as many people may be able to play God of War: Ragnarok as possible. While we’d all like to believe that it will be significantly easier to buy a PS5 by the time that game is released, it’s becoming increasingly clear that wanting a PS5 and owning one may still be two very different ideas even as the calendar turns to 2022.
However, as developers not only continue to face the challenging prospect of developing a game for two or more platforms of noticeably different power levels but must also navigate the frustrations of potentially limiting their ambitions due largely to economic realities rather than what is best for their games, then perhaps it really is time to reexamine that conversation about how much we should continue to believe in the apparent necessity of traditional video game generations.