In a blog post earlier this month, Sony revealed how current-gen controllers and peripherals would work with the PS5. While specialty peripherals like racing wheels, arcade sticks, and flight sticks, as well as gaming headsets that connect via USB or audio jack, will all work with the PS5, controllers are a bit more complicated. DualShock 4 controllers, as well as current-gen third-party controllers will work with the PS5, but only while playing supported PS4 games. In other words, if you want to play PS5-specific games, you’ll need Sony’s new DualSense controller.
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In a way, this is nothing new. Sony (as well as most other console-makers) has released new controller models with each new console generation, often with new features for next-generation games to take advantage of. In this case, the new DualSense controller has haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, features Sony says it believes “that PS5 games should take advantage of,” enabling much more subtlety in what it can convey, like the feeling of driving a car through mud or the tension of a bowstring.
While new controller features are exciting, it sucks that PS4 players moving to PS5 will have to abandon their current controllers in order to play new games. Especially after things didn’t change when Sony introduced the half-step upgrade of the PS4 Pro. We’ve gotten used to the idea that our peripherals will follow us from system to system, so Sony’s decision to disallow current-gen controllers from working with PS5 games feels more like a ploy to sell more DualSense controllers than anything to do with new gameplay features.
This is in stark contrast to Microsoft’s strategy for controllers going into the next generation. While there is a new, slightly modified Xbox controller that will launch with the Series X, Microsoft has confirmed that the new console will be fully compatible with current-gen controllers, including official Xbox controllers, the Xbox Adaptive controller, Xbox Elite controllers, and controllers from third-party manufacturers like Scuf.
Sony’s mandate is especially tough on players who have adopted “Pro” controllers – high-end peripherals with extra features and a premium price tag – as their daily driver. Xbox has its official Elite controller series, and third-party companies like Scuf, PowerA, and Astro have released controllers for one or more of the major consoles. Sony never made an “Elite” controller though, so other than the DS4 Back Button Attachment, turning to Scuf and its peers was the only option for PS4 players that wanted more than the DS4 could offer.
These controllers come with a premium price tag – often twice or three times as expensive as the base Xbox One or DualShock 4 controller – but they’ve been marketed as an investment. That premium price tag gets you extra features like back buttons, trigger stops, and swappable parts so that players can customize and, if necessary, replace their joysticks and face buttons. Essentially, they were marketed as the last controller that you’d need to buy.
Xbox gamers will be able to bring those high-end controllers with them to the Series X, but PS5 players will be out of luck. Invested $140+ on a Scuf Infinity or Impact, the two controllers Scuf makes that are compatible with PS4? You’re out of luck if you want to use it with a PS5 exclusive like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart or Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
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Even setting aside high-end controllers for a moment, DualShock 4s aren’t exactly cheap themselves. If you play a lot of split-screen or other local multiplayer games, you know how quickly the cost of an extra controller or three can add up. We don’t yet know how much the DualSense will cost as a standalone purchase either, but considering the new features, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it priced around $70 or $80. (For comparison, a standalone pair of Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons, which also feature haptic feedback, costs $80.) Having to buy even more new controllers is a big ask for families who are already shelling out for a new console and facing rising game prices, never mind the financial nightmare many people are facing on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of course, the PS5 will ship with a DualSense controller, so none of this really matters if you don’t care about back buttons and don’t need any extra controllers for local multiplayer. But for those who do, it sucks that they won’t be able to bring their current hardware with them.
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To some degree, it’s understandable – if haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are as game-changing as Sony wants us to believe – enough that games designed with them in mind would be simply unplayable without those features – then I’m glad for it. I don’t want game development to be held back by a need to support legacy hardware. But I find it hard to take Sony’s word there – especially considering that can only really apply to PS5 exclusives, as anything also designed for Xbox or PC will have to support those platforms’ control options anyway. A footnote on the DualSense webpage even specifically points out that haptic feedback and dynamic trigger effects will only be available on supported games.
Keep in mind, supposedly game-changing controller features don’t exactly have a great track record. Sony’s Sixaxis motion controls for PS3 were ultimately abandoned, and Nintendo’s “HD rumble” implementation of haptic feedback has seen extremely little use as well.
I’d much rather Sony offer the DualSense features as an incentive for gamers to use that controller and play on PS5, but still support current-gen hardware across the board, even if it means players using said hardware miss out on the potentially improved experience of having haptics and adaptive triggers. Instead, they’re being locked out of PS5 games entirely.
Either way, undoubtedly, controller-makers like Scuf will put out new premium PS5-compatible pro controllers (though none have been officially announced yet). But that means another $140+ purchase for PS5 gamers who don’t want to give up their back buttons.
Bo Moore is IGN’s Executive Editor of Tech.