Can you help an older gent pick his gaming system and games?
November 2, 2020 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Yeah, I know, another one of these questions. Thank you ahead of time for putting up with it. But it is confusing. I'm a chronologically older (okay, I'm 63) guy looking to fill the many inside hours over the upcoming pandemic months to be spent indoors. I've got plenty of instruments to play, art to draw and outdoor winter runs to go on, but I've also decided to buy a gaming system, but which one? And which games?

I've played just a little with my now-adult daughters before they fled the nest. But just a few hours. First, playing the Matrix on a Playstation 2. Then Call of Duty on and Xbox that had to be at least four or five years back. And way back, I messed with some Myst and Riven on a laptop.

But sticking my nose under the current tent has been shocking. The gaming world is so involved I'm no longer certain what games go with what system, whether I need to be current or can go past-generation ... and well, you get the idea.

So here are some parameters:
1) I want to play by myself, or with someone in the room. I have no interest in being mocked online by teenagers.
2) I did like playing Call of Duty against the AI. I would like to do that again. Has it changed much?
3) I like playing the Matrix. I would like to do something similar.
4) I liked Myst and Riven. What's the modern version of this?
5) I also liked an old fighting robot game called MechWarrior. Anything like that around?

And here are the confusing (to me) questions:
1) Playstation or Xbox? I have it boiled down to those.
2) Do I need the most current version of those systems? Or can I go back a version or two? Note, I'll be slaving these to a large screen TV. And cost isn't really an object. It's more that I don't want to buy a Maserati if I'm planning on just going to the store.
3) When I get whatever system I choose, are they still plug-in and play? Or do I have to sign up and pay for some ongoing online subscription to allow me to do this?
4) I assume I can buy what I want online? Or is there some kind of 'Only Walmart sells this one" sort of thing I need to look out for?
5) Do these things come with controllers? Or do I have to buy everything separately now?
6) Are the games proprietary to specific systems? Or can I assume the games I hear about have versions for each system?
7) Do games even come on discs anymore? Or is everything streamed or accessed online?

I'm sure a lot of this seems basic, but when you drop into such a fully formed entertainment world, the basic answers get lost in a sea of info. And anything else you can think to warn me about would be appreciated as well.

I'll worry about my thumbs on my own. Thanks.
posted by lpsguy to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I know it's not on your list, but the Nintendo Switch I got back in the spring has been a lockdown lifesaver. Great online store. Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been my fantasy escape land for the past few months.
posted by gottabefunky at 3:12 PM on November 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

I can't answer all your questions, and I hear you that you've decided on a console, but my personal preference is PC gaming because there's many more options available and planned obsolescence isn't as much of an issue. The one thing I am qualified to speak on is modern-day successors to Myst/Riven. (I love this type of game.) It depends on what you like about them. If you like wandering around a beautiful space, figuring things out and gradually getting a story, I recommend Firewatch, which is available on the PS4 and the XBOX One as well as the PC. If you're really into the style of puzzles found in Myst, the game The Witness was intended to be a spiritual sequel; I tend to prefer Firewatch because there's more of a story there. The Witness is also on PS4 and XBOX One as well as PC.

Personally I prefer the PS4 to the XBox. They are about to come out with brand spanking new versions of these consoles but if I were buying today I'd recommend still going with the PS4 and Xbox One because there's more games available currently, although they allege backwards compatibility will apply to the new generation of consoles. They are plug and play UNLESS you want to play online, which it sounds like you don't. Many new-fangled games have online-only features that aren't multiplayer, however. Online distribution of games is the norm these days, so you shouldn't have to go to a physical store to get games. The consoles themselves you can buy online. The PS4 comes with one controller. If you want a second controller they're pretty damn expensive. Most games are available on most systems but there are some games that are exclusive to the platform.
posted by zeusianfog at 3:25 PM on November 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) Playstation has some great exclusives... I'd probably buy a playstation just for Horizon Zero Dawn and Spider-man. However, Xbox just purchased Bethesda, which publishes some huge games, like Elder Scrolls.

Xbox has Game Pass, so if you're interested in a subscription service I'd go with that. All of Microsoft's first party games are coming out on Gamepass for $10/month, which is really a good deal for what you get.

(Moving 6 up here...) Most games are available for both systems, but there are some important exceptions... Playstation has some exclusives that would be hard to give up for me, like Horizon Zero Dawn and Last of Us. Xbox has some, too, but not as many. Forza Horizon is a great open-world driving game that's only on Xbox. You should Google exclusives for ps4 and for xbox one and see if there are any that would sway you one way or the other.

Here's a link to a comparison.

2) The new systems won't be available for a while, so if you want something now I'd go current gen, PS4 or Xbox One. You might consider the upgraded versions, the PS4 Pro or the Xbox One X. I'd say they're worth the extra money; they're more powerful and will run the most current games better.

3) They're plug and play, but be prepared to wait for patch downloads even if you get a disc. There's no such thing as instant gratification in the video game world any more. There is a fee for online services if you want to play with other people online. You get some free games every month if you pay for this service.

4) You can buy wherever you want.

5) Both systems come with one controller.

7) Games do come on discs, but since you say money is no object I'd recommend just buying the digital versions. It's just easier. I haven't bought a disc in years.
posted by Huck500 at 3:33 PM on November 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) Playstation or Xbox? I have it boiled down to those.

I'm an Xbox fan, and I have a Series X preordered for launch day. But, for me the key points are a) are there exclusives for one or the other that you MUST have? (this is why I also have a Switch), and b) do you want a compelling subscription option? We'll come back around to this question.

2) Do I need the most current version of those systems? Or can I go back a version or two? Note, I'll be slaving these to a large screen TV. And cost isn't really an object. It's more that I don't want to buy a Maserati if I'm planning on just going to the store.

I don't think your analogy holds up fully. It's more like do you want a Maserati for those long cruises down the Pacific Coast Highway even if you're not racing on the track, or would you be content with a Honda? Both are valid choices! I have an Xbox One S now, and it's fine, but it does stutter on some newer games, and I'm really excited about what I've seen from the new Series X. For me, the extra cost was worth it for a more immersive, cinematic experience. Given all that, if you go Xbox I'd go with current generation which releases next week. Xbox is releasing two models, the $500 Series X and $300 Series S. Sony is only releasing one model, the PS5, so if you want something less spendy you'll need to go older with the PS4.

3) When I get whatever system I choose, are they still plug-in and play? Or do I have to sign up and pay for some ongoing online subscription to allow me to do this?

Yes, they're basically plug and play, though you'll have to sign in with a free account. One of the key selling points for Xbox over PS, though, is the Xbox Game Pass service, which gives you a pretty huge library of games, including most of EA's library as well. It's definitely worth considering.

4) I assume I can buy what I want online? Or is there some kind of 'Only Walmart sells this one" sort of thing I need to look out for?

Yes, all available online. There are sometimes bundles available that are exclusives but I wouldn't even begin to worry about those.

5) Do these things come with controllers? Or do I have to buy everything separately now

Xbox comes with one controller, pretty sure PS does too. It would be crushing to get a brand new console... and have to wait to get a controller because it doesn't come with one.

6) Are the games proprietary to specific systems? Or can I assume the games I hear about have versions for each system?

Most games are available on both platforms (like Call of Duty), but both have exclusives. The primary knock on Xbox is a smaller library of exclusive games, PS has more. That hasn't been a dealbreaker for me, but maybe it is for you. It's also something Microsoft is working hard to address, primarily by acquiring a bunch of big-name game studios, though even then they've indicated that a lot of first-party games won't be Xbox exclusives.

7) Do games even come on discs anymore? Or is everything streamed or accessed online

Yes, many (most?) come on discs, but I really prefer digital. Note that the new Xbox Series S doesn't have a disc slot, so you're exclusively into downloads for that one.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 3:37 PM on November 2, 2020

4) I liked Myst and Riven. What's the modern version of this?

I concur with zeusianfog. I think the modern version of these sorts of games are often called "Walking Simulators" and a few others I recommend are "What Remains of Edith Finch," "Tacoma," and "Return of the Obra Dinn."

5) I also liked an old fighting robot game called MechWarrior. Anything like that around?

MechWarrior is fantastic! It's still around, but unfortunately both of the most recent games (BattleTech and Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries) are PC-only.

1) Playstation or Xbox? I have it boiled down to those.

My recommendation is Xbox, either the new Series S or perhaps the earlier version, the Xbox One S. Here's my rationale:
- Microsoft has a service called "Xbox Game Pass" that is essentially Netflix for games. You pay a fee every month and you get access to a library of about 100 games, with a few appearing and disappearing each month. Since you haven't had a whole lot of experience with games this is a great way to get a big slice of what sorts of games are out there worth playing.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:40 PM on November 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Honestly there's not a lot of difference between the Xbox and the PlayStation in terms of performance and game content, especially if you're mostly playing offline. Both are well served by their online stores, so there's little need to go to stores, and most of the tent-pole big ticket games are available on both. If you do want to buy games physically, they're both pretty common and can be bought via the usual suspects, in person or to be delivered. Second hand discs are incredibly cheap, so it's very low investment to get started and the risk of spending money on a new game you may not like is offset by how cheap it is.

The Switch is a good choice if you aren't into shooters and like the flexibility it offers. You can play it as a traditional console through your TV or as a personal handheld device too.

All three systems allow for local co-op play, which is the magic phrase for "playing with mates in the same room." You'll need to buy extra controllers but they're pretty easy to pair with the systems these days.

I personally prefer the Playstation because I have small hands and I like the feel of the PS controllers over the Xbox controllers, and that's legitimately the sole deciding factor for me. I honestly wouldn't bother trying to get a Playstation 5 yet, the PS4 is a great system and Sony has a long history of looking after their older systems. It's a pretty straightforward system to use, even with my bodgy Australian internet.

As for games, the Switch is really the only one of the three that has a lot of unique releases. Nintendo has a whole slew of properties that it keeps control over (namely things like Zelda, as mentioned above, and the Mario Brothers Games, and the wildly popular Animal Crossing games) that are not available on the Xbox or PS4. If money isn't an issue it may well serve you to get a Switch in addition to whatever other console you spring for. The other systems do have exclusives but not to the same degree.

If you haven't really gamed for years you've missed some great titles. Bethesda do great story oriented role play adventure games (I personally love the Elder Scrolls stuff, but their Fallout series are great too). I'm not a huge fan of military shooters but as a genre they're huge, so if you liked CoD there's a whole mess of sequels ready and waiting for you. There's also stuff like Journey, more artistic games that are more of an experience or interactive piece of art than a traditional game. I am also a huge fan of the idiotic fun of the Borderlands games (kind of space western outlaw bounty hunters in space, but make it gonzo?) and at the opposite end the unbridled gentle malignancy of waterfowl in Untitled Goose Game. Both the latter two are greatly improved by local co-op.
posted by Jilder at 3:44 PM on November 2, 2020

2) I can't speak to Call of Duty specifically, but lots of modern first-person-shooters and relatives boil down to something pretty close. You might find that you prefer killing cultists in Far Cry 5 or going psycho-hunting in any of the various Borderlandses, etc etc.
4) Puzzle-oriented games like Dear Esther or Gone Home, but they're more available for pc (both of those happen to be available for consoles too).

1) Either is fine.

The reason to pick a playstation is for its exclusives -- in my opinion, the big ones here are going to be Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last of Us and its sequel, the various Uncharteds which aren't my thing, and by reputation Ghost of Tsushima. Other people will add fighting games I've never cared about or Gran Turismo if you want to be reminded how much you suck.

The reason to pick an Xbox is gamepass. For netflix money, there's an endless string of games that are free. They wander onto the free list and wander back off, at which point pay or stop playing. These are not lame-o half-assed games, these are mostly big, seriously good games.

2) In your shoes I would just go ahead and get a ps4 or xbox 1. If you're hooking it up to a 4k display, consider the ps4 pro or xbox 1 x which have more horsepower. If you get into it, you can always drop $500 for a ps5 or xbox-series-x in the spring and move the older machine to another tv so you can play older games from bed or whilst pooping or whatevs.

3 and 7) Solo play is still plug and play --but-- depends heavily on a good network connection. You can still buy games on disc and for consoles this is the only way to get decent sales. But all the games install themselves to the console's hard drive and there are almost always very large updates or patches. The system itself also updates itself over the net.

You will need a subscription for more than trivial network gameplay, if you decided you wanted that.

Xbox in particular has gamepass as I mentioned before.

4) There are no retailer special editions you would care about.

5) They come with one controller. If you want another, $$.

6) The games are proprietary for each system in the sense that you'll need to stop and check that you've ordered the correct disc. 90-whatever percent of games will be available on both; each will have its own exclusives. Xbox exclusives will almost always also be available on pc.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:55 PM on November 2, 2020

You'd probably be interested to know that the people who made Myst have a new game out called Obduction.
posted by vogon_poet at 3:55 PM on November 2, 2020

Just to note that it looks like getting a PS5 or Xbox Series X/S this winter will be a nontrivial pain in the ass, hence my recommendation to just get a ps4 or xbox 1 as a 63 year old buying it for himself (as opposed to not-clued-in parents buying a system for a teen).
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:00 PM on November 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As a newer gamer you might appreciate It's a website which tells you the average time to beat most games (from the last few generations of every console).

Why would you want this?

Because if you see a review or a trailer of a game you like, but you're not sure if you want to dedicate 4 - 5 hours of your life or a possible 40 - 150 HOURS then you can check what the average play time is.

Modern games (in my experience) are either fairly compact affairs, or they are sprawling open world behemoths.

Getting one end of the extreme when you want the other can be disorientating, and buying games you never finish can be dissatisfying.

Once you decide on what console to get try asking another Askme with the types of games you like and get some more focussed suggestions. Good luck!
posted by Faintdreams at 4:12 PM on November 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

I don’t recommend a switch unless you want to play breath of the wild. It’s just a middling mobile game system on par with a cellphone from a few years ago.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:14 PM on November 2, 2020

Counterpoint: Splatoon 2
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:31 PM on November 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

IF you already have a facebook account (or don't mind making one):

If your budget allows, consider getting an Oculus Quest 2 ($300) in addition to whichever system you go with.

I still play flat screen games sometimes, and I acknowledge that the depth and variety of games on the Quest pales compared to the other platforms, but VR is just so compelling at this point that it's where I spend most of my gaming time. You're transported to another world in a way that even an 80" 4k screen is a pale imitation of.

And Red Dead Redemption 2 is the best "normal" game I've ever played. I don't know if it fits exactly with your preferences, but I'd still recommend it (available on both PS4 and XBOX).
posted by booooooze at 4:32 PM on November 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I absolutely loved both Myst and Riven, and I'm still happily noodling around by myself in Grand Theft Auto V (single player mode is great) 7 years after its release. I have an old xbox one and it's great for this. Also, as a minor gentle side note, the term you used for hooking a console in to your television has been deprecated.
posted by k8lin at 4:39 PM on November 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

1) doesn't matter, pick what's cheapest or with the most comfortable controller

2) there are new versions of both (PS5 and Xbox Series) coming out in a week, wait until after they're out for cheaper current generation systems. You can also go older but don't go as far as PS2 or the original 2001 Xbox because they don't play nice with flat screen TVs

3) not really, they all have operating systems like a PC now and need updating by internet, games need installation, then games themselves need updates, etc. You do not have to pay for playing except for a handful of games that are online only. The back of the box or the online store listing indicate how many players the game supports, if it's online only, if it needs a subscription, etc

4) some games have only a disc release and others are exclusively available by downloading from the consoles' digital stores, but those are the exception, not the rule

5) typically only with 1, some bundles may come with 2

6) all console games are proprietary to the console they're sold for. It's now starting to change as both PS5 and Xbox Series are able to play practically all PS4 and Xbox One games, respectively. A PlayStation game disc will never be playable on an Xbox and vice-versa. Additionally, both brands have games that are exclusive to their systems

7) games do come on discs but there are some cheaper console versions that don't have a disc drive, don't buy one of those by mistake
posted by Bangaioh at 4:54 PM on November 2, 2020

> If you're really into the style of puzzles found in Myst, the game The Witness was intended to be a spiritual sequel; I tend to prefer Firewatch because there's more of a story there. The Witness is also on PS4 and XBOX One as well as PC.

I really enjoyed playing through The Witness, got a good 40-50 hours of thoughtful, mind-stretching puzzling out of it.

Many games that are successful end up being ported to multiple platforms. E.g. the game I've gotten the most enjoyment out of in the last few years is Slay the Spire, that started off on PC but was ported to switch, xbox one, playstation.
posted by are-coral-made at 5:05 PM on November 2, 2020

Best answer: Welcome to the old farts gamer league! Im 65 and have been playing on a computer since the beginning (had a Commodore 64 and actually got to play (for a few minutes) a precursor to Astorioids on U of Chicago's mainframe back in '71). I mostly play on pc, but do have some simple advice on consoles.

First, the quality of the two main ones PS and Xbox have gotten to the point that they are really the same as far as technology/playability goes - don't get overly concerned about which is "better." But as mentioned above, the controllers are very different, so check them out and they still have exclusives from one another. I would recommend a PS because of that (see below).

If money and the issue of release dates and availability are not an issue (the ps5 comes out next week but unless you are willing to pay a premium, you'll be lucky to see one before year-end), I would go with the latest version - the PS5 or the Xbox series X, but the PS4 and Xbox One are excellent machines and have many, many games. The new generation are generally backwards compatible so if you get a new generation you can still play those games.

As far as games go, you mention COD, a first person shooter, and Mist and Riven, by which you really age yourself. the variety of games out there now is huge, and there are lots and lots of beautiful puzzle games for you to explore. First person shooters is a huge and is broken down into two major categories - single player and multiplayer/competitive. COD tries to straddle the line, but is at heart a competitive game and so probably not worth picking up unless you want that. There has been a renaissance of single player games and there are a lot of really good ones right now available on both platforms - Prey, Control, Doom Eternal, etc. etc. etc. However, one of the most involving series is only available on PS, The Last of Us and The Last of Us II. I've only played the first (waiting for sales on the second) and played it on easy (I am garbage with a controller) and was carried by its involving story.

ZBTW - if you ever want to dip into a competitive FPS, Overwatch is probably be best way to go. There are a wide range of characters you can play and they are not all dependant on your reaction time (and you and I will never again have the reaction time of the 17 year olds playing COD). It has a strong strategy/teamwork element and makes it accessible to the non-twitch player.
posted by rtimmel at 6:15 PM on November 2, 2020 [4 favorites]

Xbox One owner (a generation or two behind but works just fine) with some game recommendations, since the purchase stuff seems to have been covered. Most of these are older, but you're catching up.
- Myst/Riven = The Witness. For a more childish, but still tricky puzzle game, try Quantum Conundrum.
- Call of Duty = if it's historic war games you like I suggest Call of Duty: World at War for WW2 or Battlefield 1 for WW1, or Sniper Elite 3, if you like headshotting Nazis in occupied North Africa.
- I was never a robot player, but Xbox's mecha pilot game was TitanFall. Might also look at Hawken or Vanquish.

If you can stand a good spook, the Dead Space series is basically the Alien movies. You're a space welder trapped with side-of-beef spider things.
The Batman Arkham series are very good, if you wanna be Batman.
The Dragon Age series are very good, if you want to have a D&D adventuring group but are playing solo.
Wanna be a cowboy? Red Dead Redemption
Wanna be Indiana Jane? the Tomb Raider series
Wanna be a Jedi? Star Wars: the Force Unleashed
If you are not in the mood to prepare the living room for an all-day gaming session, and just want to fool around for a few minutes, may I recommend Pinball FX2 to play some tables (the game is free, you pay to add specific 'machines').
Or Spelunky, which might remind you a bit of DigDug or Pitfall.

Oh, bonus tip, if your entertainment center is crowded or full of too many cables.
These consoles also make quite good players for DVDs and BluRays, and have all the streaming services. So if you wanted to consolidate, it's worth spending an extra $20 on the Media Remote accessory (a familiar tv remote, because some people find it weird to scroll through Netflix with a game controller).
I got rid of a cable box and a Roku and a disc player and just have the single black plastic slab now.
posted by bartleby at 7:55 PM on November 2, 2020

I really like the PC. Games for consoles are so pricey and limited. On Steam there are SO many games, reasonably priced.
posted by beccaj at 9:09 PM on November 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Switch is popular on MeFi, but I really dislike the thing. The build is cheap. Flimsy joysticks. Tiny, tiny buttons. Handheld, it's too small for my 50 year old vision, and plugged into a TV it's just an underpowered console. It's not nearly the power level of a PS4 or an Xbox. Big Nintendo games hardly ever go on sale, and stay for years at full release price. The Switch online store has cheap games, but the store is basically a mountain of pixel-art shovel ware. I owned a Switch and gave it away to my niece after a few months. I'm surprised at how junky the thing felt in my hands.

My vote is buy a PS4. Wait a few weeks... the PS5 is releasing end of November and the PS4 prices will likely go way down. You can get PS4 games for very cheap, and there's dozens and dozens of really great ones. PS4 has a huge amount of amazing single player games.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:54 AM on November 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Just answering one part - if you enjoyed MechWarrior, you might enjoy MechWarrior Online. It’s online but I find the community to be great - you may be pleasantly surprised. You’ll need a decent PC, but my Ryzen 5 2400GE runs it in 720p decently. I tend to play a lot of older games (lots of Doom and older RTS games) on that machine too.
posted by zer0render at 9:24 AM on November 3, 2020

As someone who's had every PS console, but always bought them a few years into their lifecycle, consider sticking with the PS2 or a PS3 (or their Xbox equivalents) and playing the old classics before you get into the new games. They're still great games, they're cheaper. The downside is that if you keep up with the conversation, nobody will be talking about the old games.
posted by benbenson at 11:56 AM on November 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

It is worth watching or skimming playthroughs of games you are considering. Playthroughs are recordings of someone playing a game. They exist for almost any game you would be interested in. Use the search function in YouTube with the name of the game plus “no commentary” without quotes to find playthroughs that don’t include the player’s reactions. I usually start with episode two or three to skip the beginning setup and character creation process. Some channels on YouTube are exclusively No Commentary, so it is worth scrolling their playlists to see which games they’ve played. Some examples:
posted by conrad53 at 1:48 PM on November 3, 2020

Mod note: Just a note acknowledging that the use of "slaving" in this context is a sort of outdated technical term that would be great to move away from in the future.
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 8:52 AM on November 8, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks all. I went with the Xbox One X with Star Wars Fallen Jedi and old COD Black Ops games to start. Couldn't have done it without you.
posted by lpsguy at 9:17 AM on November 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

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