Longtime PC gamer, first-time console buyer
October 23, 2022 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Which console should I buy?

I've played games my entire life. But since I'm a Mac user these days, and the pickings on Steam are pretty slim for MacOS, I'm thinking about buying a console.

But I know nothing about the market these days. I've never owned a console myself – and the last time I sat down and played a friend's, it was probably a PlayStation 2 or Xbox 1. So I'm hoping that y'all can help me find the right console for me.

I gather that modern console games are purchased via a Steam-like game store, rather than on discs or cartridges – but that's all that I know. Are there any differences from Steam that I need to be aware of?

I also gather that (much like Steam) it's now possible to buy quirky indie titles alongside the big-budget AAA stuff. Is that accurate?

Games that I've enjoyed over the years:

* Big, open-world stuff like Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Subnautica, and No Man's Sky
* Survival/crafting games
* Colony sims (Rimworld, etc.)
* Lots of things with "roguelike elements" and procedural generation
* The Civilization series
* Minecraft
* Stardew Valley and similar
* Lots of peculiar indie games
* Thief 2
* Psychonauts and similar 3D platformers

I do *not* enjoy shooters (or other twitchy things), sports games, GTA, or anything connected with a media "property" (e.g., superheroes or Star Wars). I'm also not a fan of the Nintendoverse (Mario, Zelda, etc.) or linear, story-heavy RPGs.

In general, I'm more interested in smaller, artier titles, and big sandboxy worlds.

I'm not particularly demanding when it comes to graphics. Budget is not a big consideration.

Given my tastes and criteria, is there a particular console that's a better fit for me?

Thank you!
posted by escape from the potato planet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Possibly a Steam Deck? Hard to get hold of, but so are PS5 and new Xbox. Or just a gaming PC, unless you’re going for either the couch+controller experience, or portability.
posted by supercres at 3:02 PM on October 23, 2022 [5 favorites]

Oop, old info. Looks like Steam Deck is shipping for this month now.

Most of my video game info comes from The Besties podcast, and they’re all big fans of the Steam Deck experience (but are probably highly invested in the software library in that ecosystem).
posted by supercres at 3:07 PM on October 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Is the only reason you’re considering a console that you can’t play PC games on your Mac? If so, it might be worth looking into simply running Windows via Parallels, which should be fine for most indie titles.
posted by caek at 3:07 PM on October 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

I went through the same calculus when bootcamp became no longer an option for newer macs.

My wife enjoys her switch, and the number of indie games on it is better than past nintendo platforms, but I found the performance and just overall experience lacking on the titles i've tried (especially games that are ported over to switch after release). I've played some titles on it I enjoy, but really they're only titles that fall into the nintendoverse that you mention you're specifically not into. Some games are frustratingly not great on consoles (several friends who are more console oriented have specifically cited no mans sky and cyberpunk as extremely unfun on consoles).

Given the list you've provided of games you like to play, a gaming specific PC is going to be a more enjoyable, longer lasting bet; more good titles come out more quickly on steam (and early access) than on other platforms. I've yet to have a console experiences that are enjoyable, and I particularly don't like being boxed into their ecosystems. I've not tried a steamdeck, but have heard really good things from a non-local buddy who enjoys his.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:12 PM on October 23, 2022

Xbox's Gamepass is by far and away the best deal in gaming. And they just dropped for PC and Xbox the full release of Grounded which would fit what you like excellently. It's now become my game of the year, and that is somehow the same year Elden Ring came out.

But what's great about gamepass is there's so much stuff. They also dropped Medieval Dynasty last week that I really want to try out.

So I'd buy a Series X and get gamepass.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:14 PM on October 23, 2022

it might be worth looking into simply running Windows via Parallels, which should be fine for most indie titles.

In this new era of Apple Silicon with the M1 and M2 chips, Parallels doesn't provide a path towards Windows and Steam compatibility in the way it once did. This really isn't an option except on older Macs.

I'm going to take a contrarian approach and recommend the Switch. Most of the functions of a modern Xbox or PS can be duplicated with a decent Windows PC connected to a TV. The Switch has a decent indie presence, lots of interesting titles, and works great as a handheld as well as connected to a TV. It's its own little world of gaming, it's not expensive, and it works really well.

At the end of the day, though, browse the Nintendo Store, the Xbox Store and the Playstation Store to see what's going to be best. No doubt Gamepass on the Xbox is a great deal, but it only matters if there are the games you want to play.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 3:39 PM on October 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Xbox is the gaming pc of consoles. Gamepass is a ridiculously good deal still. The game library is enormous and releases are usually concurrent with pc, since it’s Microsoft.

If you are more interested in portability, look into the steamdeck. My brother does a ton of travel for work and he has both a switch and a steamdeck and apparently the steamdeck is a huge winner for him. I’m a Nintendo person and pretty happy with my switch but I am thinking about a steamdeck quite often these days.
posted by Mizu at 3:46 PM on October 23, 2022

Steam Deck
posted by VyanSelei at 3:52 PM on October 23, 2022

I had the same basic question back during Covid lockdowns, and got a Series X + GamePass, purchased using their weird pay-over-time deal that makes GamePass effectively free.

It's been fantastic, but note that I have very high speed internet, which is extremely handy with GamePass (the largest games currently available take me like five minutes to download) because if a game seems even slightly interesting I'll give it a try. Note that I also have a massive TV, and due to WFH have absolutely zero interest in playing games on a tiny screen while going somewhere else -- if I'm out and moving outside the house, it's because I'm doing something I wish to enjoy and thus have no interest in "killing time".

I have finished CP2077 on this system, and never really had any complaints with it beyond things intrinsic to the game itself (there were a couple fights I would have preferred to approach differently, but the game channeled me into only one way to win).

Get wireless controllers with a charging dock.
posted by aramaic at 3:56 PM on October 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

In this new era of Apple Silicon with the M1 and M2 chips, Parallels doesn't provide a path towards Windows and Steam compatibility in the way it once did. This really isn't an option except on older Macs.
Not true in October 2022 in my experience. It was true when the Apple Silicon migration began, but both Crossover and Parellels work way better than they did back then. There's a performance hit for emulation that didn't used to be there. That's made up for by the increased performance of the Apple Silicon chips, and in any case it's unlikely to be a big deal for the indie titles OP is interested in. You can look up whether a specific title is known to be (in)compatible on this wiki, but generally speaking I would expect most indie games to just work, once you've got Windows installed. You can find tutorials for this on Youtube, e.g.
posted by caek at 4:02 PM on October 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Steam Deck, or Xbox w/Gamepass. Steam Deck will get you almost everything on Steam, Xbox will get you the open-world and survival-craft games and the indie stuff.

If you don't have a good solo couch gaming setup (i.e. good-sized TV you won't have to share at Peak Game Time) then I'd say the Steam Deck, which you can play anywhere, including next to others who are using the TV.
posted by curious nu at 4:21 PM on October 23, 2022

Also consider GeForce Now, a game streaming service, that can run on your Mac and runs (some? most?) Steam games. There is a free tier available so you can try out the service on your existing non-graphically intensive, non-twitchy Steam game library. It's dependent on your internet connection quality.

Windows (via Steam) still gets most indie games that may or may not be ported to consoles.
posted by meowzilla at 5:55 PM on October 23, 2022

Honestly the answer here is to look at each list of exclusives and see which you'd rather miss out on.

Open world / rpgs will generally favor xbox, as Microsoft now owns Zenimax which means it owns Bethesda and Arkane and Id, as well as owning Obsidian and inXile. Starfield will not be coming to Playstation.

People can differ about what counts and what doesn't, but Sony's big exclusives in this vague area are probably the Horizon games and God of War.

On the one hand, the ultimate answer would probably be to get a Series X and gamepass, and then pick up a PS5 later if you want to hit those exclusives too.

But on the other hand, *IF* budget is sufficiently unbig as a concern, I'd suggest either building a lower/midrange gaming pc and hooking it to your tv or buying a cheapish gaming laptop. This will get you practically everything available for xbox, plus everything available for Steam and Epic and GOG and so on, and you'll have fuller access to kb+mouse for games where that might matter to you. And, again, pick up a ps5 later if you're really jonesing for Forbidden West.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:59 PM on October 23, 2022

The market is mostly PS5 or Xbox. They're basically equally capable, the only difference is exclusives. Xbox exclusives also tend to come out for PC so to me that gives an edge to owning a PS5.

The Switch is an interesting third way. It's significantly underpowered compared to the other two, but Nintendo first party games are very good and they have a surprisingly strong indie game / quirky scene. If the portability appeals to you that's unique to Switch, too.
posted by Nelson at 10:39 PM on October 23, 2022

Are there any differences from Steam that I need to be aware of?

The major consoles offer both Steam-like licensing models and subscription models. You can license a game outright just as you would on Steam. You can also pay a recurring fee to have access to a rotating library of games. Of these services, apparently only Microsoft's is particularly good; the others are middling at best, and Nintendo's is godawful.

You'll also suffer some of the pain of digital distribution. Steam's CDN is amazing compared to what's on offer from the console vendors. Expect long download times for large titles even if you string network cable around the house. Sony is especially awful in this respect: a PlayStation on a gigabit connection downloads like it's 2010.

You don't mention your multiplayer proclivities but there are going to be some differences there in terms of community, comms, forming teams and parties, that kind of thing.

"Third way" approaches include Nintendo's Switch -- a handheld roughly as capable as a flagship phone from several years ago -- and the Steam Deck. Between the two I've come to prefer the Steam Deck, myself, but don't underestimate Nintendo's game selection even if you aren't into their first party properties. The quirky indie situation is pretty darn decent.

Another third way is a software solution like Crossover. It's a distribution of WINE for the Mac that has some acceptable level of support for Windows games -- you just run Steam Windows games inside the thing.

If you're just looking for a thing to buy that unlocks a bunch of games you can't play right now, the Steam Deck is a great choice especially if you pair it with the community builds of WINE (GloriousEggroll's ge-proton-custom is great). You are very much not limited to the titles on Steam that are flagged as being Steam Deck compatible -- most stuff runs fine, they just haven't tested it. You also have the advantage that it's a full blown Debian-ish box, so you can play plenty of things that aren't on the Steam store. Mine's got a rack of emulators and about 120,000 games on it for exploring.
posted by majick at 6:28 AM on October 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Lutris also runs fine on the Steam Deck, meaning you can install and play Windows games that are not Steam games, as well, right off of a GoG/Amazon/Epic/Origin account or downloaded directly.
posted by majick at 6:32 AM on October 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Counterpoint: Get an old PS4 and subscribe to the PS Plus Premium service. You'll get still kick-ass system and a bunch of games through their subscription game library you haven't played, for a couple hundred bucks to start and a hundred bucks a year. You're probably not going to get a PS5 at retail anyway, they're still backordered up the wazoo.

Honestly the PS4 is still just fine as a gaming machine. I'm playing Horizon Forbidden West on an original PS4 (not even a Pro) and the visual quality is just astounding.

Used PS4 games on physical media are definitely a thing, too, both plentiful and cheap as many of the avid gamers have upgraded to PS5 or something else.

N.B. the Horizon games are worth the price of admission for any console, imo. They're that good. That you can play the latest one on a 9 year old console and have it still look great is pretty kick-ass. And since supplies of the PS5 are still very short, support for the PS4 is still going to be strong for a while
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:28 AM on October 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Wide range of advice here! Here's my ranking of what I think you should do, based on (before buying a console) having a very similar gaming profile to you:
  1. Revisit what you actually want to play in the near future and see what your realistic gain is, and also consider how you want to play it (controller vs. keyboard/mouse); maybe the skew is because you've already been playing on a mac, but a whole lot of games in the genres on your list do get a mac release and will run on apple silicon, and also a non-trivial amount I personally just wouldn't want to play with a controller (e.g. rimworld). You should be able to look at all of the storefronts without an account. Also, controllers definitely have a learning curve if you've not really used them before, so think about that too.
  2. Choose between a PS5 and current xbox of some kind based on if you want to play any console exclusives at all, and/or what you think of the idea of gamepass. Notable PS5 exclusives that come to mind: Horizon games (first one is now on pc but not mac), Bloodborne, demon's souls, returnal, spiderman games. I don't have an xbox so I'm less up on this, but I guess, Halo games? A bunch of upcoming bethesda stuff, any future Arkane games. Really the only alignment I can see with your preferences here at all is hypothetical future Arkane games that may channel thief influences, but it seems a bit much to choose an xbox on spec because of this. Maybe Horizon games (which I do highly recommend) would appeal if they're not too twitchy, but they possibly are.
  3. Consider a switch if you don't mind somewhat lower graphics quality should you ever want to play something demanding (but still good, probably better than most intel macs if that's what you've been using). But, it gets tons of indie releases, possibly the most of the three big consoles, and is a very flexible device. Exclusives will mainly be things you aren't currently interested in.
  4. Consider a PS4 only if you get an SSD. (But having a PS4, a PS5, and a switch I really can't advise you to consider a PS4 in 2022.)
  5. (I don't know enough about steam decks to rank them for someone else, but they are down here for me given what I already own.)
  6. I'm only putting parallels/VM/win-on-mac on the list here because it has been recommended in this thread, but IMO this is just massively outranked by every single recommendation above. With no budget concerns, I would just buy a windows gaming machine rather than this.
Of course, getting hold some of the more current devices is not necessarily easy, so this may shape things as well. However, my experience (when things were even tighter I think) was that getting e.g. a PS5 is possible with some patience, you will just need to pay relatively close attention to stock trackers. At the time, xbox was similar, not sure about the details now. A switch you can currently buy on demand.

Also, if you get the right console modern games can be purchased on disc/cartridge, and this is often a bit cheaper (console storefront sales tend to be much sparser / smaller than steam).
posted by advil at 10:07 AM on October 24, 2022

I have similar taste to you and absolutely love my Xbox Series X. (I also use it as my media hub, e.g. Netflix, Plex, etc.)

I am a former PC gamer, but haven't played games on a PC since first buying an Xbox about 4 years ago. I LOVE the couch/controller experience.
posted by nosila at 12:28 PM on October 24, 2022

While you're deciding, special call out for itch.io, an alternative ecosystem for quirky, artsy, and experimental computer games.

Itch has truly indie-indie and experimental titles as well as bigger and higher production value releases such as:
- A Short Hike
- Return of the Obra Dinn
- Norco
- Hidden Folks

All of which are macOS compatible. Itch is creator-friendly due to taking a smaller percentage platform fee from developers and its games are DRM-free.

Plus itch will support game bundles for causes that often get featured on the blue.

I'm not affiliated with itch, just glad it exists.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 10:05 AM on October 25, 2022

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