It can be hard deciding which games console to invest in for 2021, as the competition today is as fierce as it’s ever been.
Last November, the gaming world celebrated the start of a new console generation, as Sony launched the PS5, and Microsoft launched the Xbox Series X and S. But with both console’s inaugural months hampered by stock shortages and an absence of new games, we’re still some way from closing the books on the generation before.
Sales of the Nintendo Switch console have meanwhile remained strong, with the portable/home console crossover proving an enduring hit after the relative failure of the Wii U. Games exclusivity remains a key issue when deciding which console is right for you, and Nintendo boast some of the best exclusives around – especially for younger gamers.
In the previous console generation, the PS4 outsold the Xbox One console by a large margin, with many players citing PlayStation’s superior range of exclusives (which include the God of War, Last of Us, Spider-Man and Uncharted games) as a key factor in their decision.
But with Xbox’s recent acquisition of Bethesda, the company behind Doom, the Elder Scrolls, Fallout and a forthcoming Indiana Jones game, the landscape may be changing.
Another factor is the increasing turn towards subscription-based games services.
Xbox’s Game Pass service leads the way with an impressive catalogue of over 100 readily downloadable games, but PlayStation has also started increasingly sweetening its own PS Plus package with free monthly games and a substantial library of past PS4 titles.
The best games consoles for 2021 are:
- Best for tech enthusiasts – PlayStation 5: £449.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for variety – Xbox Series X: £449, Amazon.co.uk
- Best budget games console – Xbox Series S: £249, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for kids and families – Nintendo Switch: £279.99, Argos.co.uk
- Best for gaming on the go – Nintendo Switch lite: £189.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for new gamers – PlayStation 4: £259.99, Game.co.uk
Best for tech enthusiasts
Sony’s mammoth machine is at the cutting edge of video game console tech, and has several advantages over its direct rival, the Xbox Series X. First among these is its DualSense controller which, with haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, feels like a marked improvement on any other controller out there.
Though a few desirable PS5 exclusives have already hit shelves – such as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the kid-focused Bugsnax – most of the console’s promise lies in the future, with games such as Horizon Forbidden West, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and the forthcoming God of War sequel all arriving exclusively on the PS5.
It’s also compatible with the PS4’s old virtual reality system, the PSVR headset, and Sony have announced that a next-gen VR system is in the pipeline, with a release rumoured for next year. One of the drawbacks of the console is a lack of storage space, with support for additional storage drives not yet available.
The PS5 comes in both a “disc” and “digital” edition – the only difference being the addition of a disc drive, which is capable of reading game discs, DVDs, blu rays and 4K bluray discs. Both consoles are still in great demand, however, and stock tends to sell out immediately whenever online retailers announce a new supply.
Some of the outlets to regularly acquire new PS5 stock include Very, Game, Argos, and Amazon. The digital edition retails for £359.99, while the disc edition costs £449.99.
Xbox Series X
Best for variety
The Xbox Series X console didn’t seem like too radical a departure from the Xbox One at first glance – they even share the same user interface. But Microsoft have produced a great console here, with a number of stellar features.
Among these is the Quick Resume system, which allows players to load games immediately where they left off, and switch between games with seamless rapidity. The Smart Delivery system is also a real boon, and makes upgrading games from the Xbox One version to the Series X version a real doddle – standing in sharp contrast to the PS5’s often convoluted system of generational upgrades.
Game Pass is also a huge draw for the console, as is the considerable attention paid to backwards compatibility – more so than the PS5, the Series X offers a huge range of games from previous console generations, and allows players to play Xbox One, 360, and (a small selection of) Xbox games in its disc drive. In terms of graphics and performance, the Series X and PS5 are the two market leaders at the moment, and there’s not too much between them.
Stocking has also been an issue for the Xbox series X, with retailers quickly selling out whenever new stock comes in. Microsoft bosses have suggested that supply will reach normal levels around April 2021.
Xbox Series S
Best budget games console
The Xbox Series S is the smaller, cheaper alternative to the Series X, coming in at just £249.99. Like the PS5 digital edition, the Series S does not have a disc drive, meaning all games and media must be purchased digitally in order to be used.
Its technical specs are also less ambitious than the Series X – the most noticeable difference for many players will be the fact it doesn’t match the X’s crisp 4K resolution, opting instead for 1080p (HD, not Ultra-HD, in other words). Otherwise, this is more or less the same console – offering the same selection of games and even utilising the same controller.
Stock levels for the Series S have stopped being depleted at the same rate as the Series X, and the console is currently available to purchase at online retailers including Amazon.
Best for kids and families
Nintendo has never been afraid of taking risks with its console designs, and the Switch console, first released in 2017, is a perfect example of them getting it just right. A home console that can be detached from a TV dock and used as a portable device, the Switch isn’t as graphically advanced as some of its contemporaries, but that never seems to matter.
Among the franchises to make their home on the Switch are Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda – great selections that appeal to players of all ages. Switch games are often well-suited to couch multiplayer, a mode that is facilitated by the novel controller design, which allows each controller to separate into two parts, each functioning independently.
Nintendo Switch lite
Best for gaming on the go
The Switch lite offers much of the same functionality as the Nintendo Switch, but exists only as a portable console. There is no TV dock, no detachable controllers – it is more suited to solo and online play than the party vibe of the Switch regular.
However, to compensate for this, the Switch Lite is nearly half the price, and may well register as the best handheld console ever made. With the Switch’s entire catalogue of original games, this is the ideal console for those looking to play while on the go.
The Nintendo Switch lite can be bought from around £189.99 on sites like Amazon, with the price varying slightly by colour.
Best for new gamers
The prospect of buying outdated technology is sure to put off most serious gamers, and we obviously have a good few years to wait before the PS4 will enter “retro gaming” territory. However, for those on a budget, it’s worth noting that the base PS4 is available to buy new for around £259.99 from most retailers. While the graphics don’t quite live up to the cutting edge of 2021, this is still an immensely popular console, one which is still widely played around the world.
Perhaps its biggest selling point is the selection of games. The PS4 was acclaimed for having one of the best ranges of original games in console history – including Godof War, Death Stranding, The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Ratchet & Clank, Spider-Man and Uncharted 4:A Thief’s End. Many new games are still being released on the PS4, too, and it’s likely to remain that way for at least another year.
The verdict: Best games consoles
Ultimately, for vast swathes of gamers out there, the choice will boil down to the Xbox Series X vs the PS5. The Nintendo Switch remains a hugely appealing piece of hardware, but the fact that it’s now almost four years old (with an upgraded version rumoured to be released at some point in the not-too-far future) means it doesn’t quite have that game-changing technical novelty that many people look for when buying a new console.
The PS5 will end up the most popular choice, and it’s easy to understand why – it has the best controller, and, crucially, the best exclusives (announced so far, at least). But the Xbox Series X just about pips it. The Series X doesn’t have the PS5’s issues with storage space or cross-generational upgrades; throw in the sleeker, smaller and its unique features (Smart Delivery; Quick Play; Game Pass compatibility), and you’re looking at a seriously great piece of equipment.
Once you’ve chosen your console, check out our pick of the best gaming headsets for PS4, Xbox, Nintendo and PC
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.