Is it worth buying a PS4 in 2021? Sony’s former flagship console was replaced at the tail-end of 2020 by the newer PlayStation 5, but the company has stressed that the PlayStation 4 will remain a pivotal part of its plan moving forwards. That means it’s committed to continued software support, firmware updates, and more. But with the PS5 providing full backwards compatibility and commanding a relatively affordable price point, should you consider purchasing a PS4 in 2021? In this PS4 guide, we’ll be looking at every aspect of the last-gen console, from its hardware and services to the availability of its software, and weigh up whether it’s worth buying one this year.
PS4: What’s the Gaming Experience Like in 2021?
PS4 is one of the most successful consoles ever created, and for good reason: its software library is enormous and packed to the rafters with high-quality experiences. Despite the PS5 releasing in November 2020, the PS4 still feels relevant in 2021 – extraordinarily so. Many next-gen titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War are also playable on the PS4, and while they obviously don’t look or perform at quite the same level as on the next-gen system, they’re fundamentally the same games.
In fact, the best games of 2020 were both designed and developed for the PS4: The Last of Us: Part II’s presentation, in many areas, exceeds much of what you’ll find on a PS5 right now, which speaks to the maturity of the development tools and talent of the team involved. It won’t stay this way forever, of course, but right now the PS4 is still a very capable machine, and with upcoming PlayStation exclusives like Horizon Forbidden West still slated for release on the system, that looks unlikely to change in 2021.
It could also be argued that the PS4, in the latter stages of its lifecycle, is more feature-complete than its contemporary. While the PS5 does bring some new ideas to the table, like Game Help and Activities, it’s also lacking in basic functionality; folders, for example, allow for much better organisation on the last-gen console. There’s no question that the system software will eventually be refined on the PS5, but at this early point in the new generation, the PS4 benefits from several years of iteration.
As the PS4 is still being manufactured and sold, all of its key features are still very much supported. In fact, Sony has integrated the console completely into its ecosystem, meaning you can create parties with PS5 players and vice versa. More importantly, many games are cross-platform, meaning that you can play multiplayer titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War on a PS4 with friends on a PS5. And some titles even offer free PS4 to PS5 upgrades, meaning your software investments will transition with you should you decide to upgrade.
Despite the release of the PS5, it’s important to keep in mind that the popularity of the PS4 means most games will continue to be developed and designed with the last-gen console in mind. This means that you can expect popular multiformat properties like Call of Duty, FIFA, and Assassin’s Creed to continue releasing on the system for the foreseeable future. Even PlayStation exclusives, like Horizon Forbidden West, will also be available on the PS4 as well. In most cases, free PS4 to PS5 upgrades are available with these titles, so you’ll be able to take your software with you and reap the benefits later on.
Of course, PS4 games generally run at a lower resolution and framerate than their PS5 versions. In titles like Watch Dogs Legion, for example, raytracing is removed; Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales can run at up to 60 frames-per-second on PS5, where it’s 30 frames-per-second on PS4. Loading times are also much slower, and unless you’re playing on a PS4 Pro you’ll be restricted to 1080p, but these headline differences aside, the gameplay and story is identical, so you’re not actively missing out on anything.
The PS4’s library is absolutely gigantic, and if you’ve never owned one before, there’s an embarrassment of riches for you to experience scaling both smaller indie titles through to gigantic blockbusters. Because the PS5 is also backwards compatibility, you can expect a long tail of continued software support over the next few years, too; EA, for example, recently announced that its Mass Effect Legendary Collection remaster is being developed for the PS4, while we suspect many smaller Japanese developers to focus on the format for a fair few years yet.
There are many years of life left in the PS4, and thus its PS Store remains online and fully functional. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that, at the time of typing, the PS4’s storefront is superior to the next-gen one; while it’s a little slower to access, it has more tabs and sorting options, allowing you to find the kind of content you’re looking for with superior ease.
Downloads can be slower on the PS4, owing to older Wi-Fi technology and slower hard drive write speeds, but everything still works as intended and the experience still feels fast and fluid in 2021 despite the hardware’s age. As the PS3 limped towards the end of its lifespan, the experience slowed significantly due to Sony’s ambition outpacing the hardware, but that’s not really true of the PS4.
It should also be stressed that services like PS Plus and PS Now remain available on the PS4; in fact, subscribers will continue to receive two PS4 games every single month for the foreseeable future, which is a good reason to retain your subscription. You’ll be able to play these games on your PS5 should you decide to upgrade, as they’ll remain in your library and be available via backwards compatibility.
As mentioned above, despite ongoing refinement, the PS4’s user interface remains fully functional in 2020 without any real compromise. While loading and installing games isn’t as fast as on the PS5, it’s no slouch, and perfectly functional in 2021. It’s also fully integrated with the next-gen console: you can see what friends are playing, send messages, and form parties.
In fact, the PS4’s user interface has some key advantages over the PS5: folders allow for better organisation, themes enable you to customise your console, and there’s a web browser that you can use to access reviews and guides while playing. In time, we expect these features to be added to the next-gen console as well, but these are the benefits of enjoying an end-of-life device, where the experience has been iterated over a period of years.
PS4: How Much Should You Pay in 2021?
The one disappointment of the PS4 in 2021 is that, at the time of writing, Sony has not really adjusted the price of the device. That means that, officially, you’re still looking at a price point of around £259.99/$299.99 for a brand new unit. Many retailers will offer software bundles these days, and hard drive space can vary – obviously you’ll want to go for the most affordable option with the largest storage space available.
PS4 Pro consoles will cost you more – we’ll detail the differences below – but these are getting scarce as Sony reduces the number of units it manufactures; the supercharged system has already been discontinued in Japan, for example. You may be better off going the pre-owned route if this is the model you want.
If you’re shopping on an auction site like eBay, then generally you should be looking to pay between £150 and £250 in the UK and between $200 and $300 in the United States for a standard PS4, depending on the condition of the device and any bundled extras. PS4 Pro consoles cost a little more, and it’s worth remembering that there are special edition models which can carry premium price points, like the 20th Anniversary Edition which fetches fees of up to $2,000.
The good news is that, with a hard drive included, you don’t need to pod out on expensive memory cards. More importantly, software can be purchased both brand new and used at bargain bin prices, while the PS Store regularly hosts deeply discounted digital promotional events. Many of the PS4’s best-selling games are now available as part of the PlayStation Hits line, and that means they can be purchased for less than £10 or $15 if you shop around.
As far as software goes, PS4 is arguably the most cost-effective console on the market. Obviously the Xbox line has a subscription service called Game Pass which muddies the discussion, but if you’re looking to outright own your games, then the sheer scale of software available for the PS4 coupled with the generally low prices both physically and digitally makes it a compelling option for budget conscious players.
As alluded to above, there are two primary PS4 models: the PS4 and the PS4 Pro. While the standard PS4 was revised midway into its lifecycle as the PS4 Slim, there are no differences between those two units aside from their footprint and age. We’d recommend going for a PS4 Slim if you’re planning to get a standard PS4, simply because it’s more likely to be newer and thus in better condition.
The PS4 Pro is an interesting proposition because it was designed as a premium alternative for consumers with 4K televisions. Many of its games run at a higher resolution than a standard PS4, although still less than a PS5. As such, given the price differences, we’d recommend going for a PS5 if you want a 4K device at this point. And if you’re not interested in Ultra High-Definition, then you’re better off sticking with a standard PS4 and saving your money.
Obviously if you see an outstanding offer on a PS4 Pro then it’s recommended you get it, as even those with 1080p televisions will reap benefits from the supercharged system. But at this point, with very little difference in price between the PS4 Pro and PS5, then you’re better off plumping up for the latter – especially as it’s fully backwards compatible with the PS4’s library.
PS4: Are There Any Upcoming Games?
In a word: yes. If you’ve never owned a PS4 before, then you’ll have access to a treasure trove of essential titles that will keep you occupied for years to come, but there’s a large list of upcoming software on the horizon as well. This scales everything from smaller-scale indie titles, cross-platform multiformat releases, and even major exclusives like Horizon Forbidden West.
For a full rundown of everything coming out, refer to our New PS4 Game Release Dates in 2021 guide. Some highlights, however, include Persona 5 Strikers, NieR Replicant, Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Gotham Knights, and Hogwarts Legacy. There will almost certainly be much more announced over the coming year, however, while we anticipate blockbuster brands like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed to continue supporting the PS4’s substantial install base for the foreseeable future.
PS4: Is It Worth Buying in 2021?
PS4 may have been replaced numerically by the PS5, but for the next few years at least you can expect Sony’s flagship home consoles to stand side-by-side. While the PS4 is entering its eighth year on the market, its gigantic install base and enormous software library makes it a very relevant purchase in 2021 – and potentially beyond.
The system software is still fully functional, and it’s a cost-effective console with some very low-priced titles. Even more importantly, buying in now is not a problem, as the PS5 is fully backwards compatible and many new games offer free PS4 to PS5 upgrades. This means that when you are, eventually, ready to upgrade, you’ll be able to bring much of your software with you.
Cross-platform play in major franchises like Call of Duty means that you won’t be isolated, and you can even form parties with your friends regardless of which console they’re playing on. We’d steer you away from the PS4 Pro at this point, as the PS5 is a much better option considering the price differential. But if you’re still playing on a 1080p television and looking for a cost-effective games console in 2021, the PS4 is an outstanding option.