Horizon Forbidden West lack of free PS5 upgrade isn't a surprise – but it's still sad to see

Horizon Forbidden West won’t include a free PS5 upgrade if you buy the game on PS4, a move that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone at this point. And yet, that’s exactly the type of reaction I’ve seen taking the internet by storm since Sony made the announcement: a mix of frustration, surprise, and even disbelief. 

But why?

I’ve been banging this drum for a while now, but the PS5 isn’t good value compared to Xbox Series X. That’s not to say it isn’t a fantastic console, with a revolutionary controller and some truly fantastic games. But it seems like Sony can’t help itself when it has an opportunity to wring the coffers of PlayStation consumers. 

We’ve seen from the outset that Sony’s generosity doesn’t span very far when it comes to PS5. Whether it’s the $70 / £70 price tag for first-party exclusives, PS Now not including any PS5 games, not being able to use your existing DualShock 4 controllers (unless its to play PS4 games), or locking PS5 features behind Director’s Cut re-releases, Sony’s strategy of capitalizing on the allure of PS5 titles has been clear for quite some time.

That’s not to say Sony has been all bad, though. The PS Plus Collection lets subscribers download 20 games, and we’ve seen some pleasing free 60fps updates to titles like Days Gone, God of War, The Last of Us 2, and most recently, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Sony’s Play at Home initiative was also a nice touch. 

But now, whether Sony realizes it or not, it’s actively punishing those who are unable to buy a PS5 by how it’s handling Horizon Forbidden West’s restrictive upgrade path. 

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: Sony)

Picture this all too common scene: you’re a PlayStation gamer, excited to jump into the next generation with PS5. Like thousands of others, though, you haven’t been able to buy the elusive new console yet. So what do you do when Horizon Forbidden West comes out?

If you buy the game on PS4 when it releases on February 22, 2022 for $60 / £60, you’ll get to enjoy Aloy’s next adventure right away. Pick up a PS5 down the line, however, and you’ll be stuck with the last-gen version of the game. No upgrade will be provided, so if you want to play the PS5 version of the game... well, be prepared to part with $70 / £70 to do so. Ouch.

But wait, there is a solution! On PlayStation’s FAQ page for pre-ordering the game, Sony has provided a solution:

“To access both the PS4 and PS5 versions of Horizon Forbidden West, you need to purchase the Digital Deluxe, Collector’s or Regalla Editions. Dual entitlement does not apply to the Standard and Special Editions.”

The Horizon Forbidden West Digital Deluxe Edition costs $80 / £80 but does come with a few extra bits and bobs – in-game resources pack, digital comic book etc. – which definitely isn’t an attempt by Sony’s to mask the fact it’s asking for more money for something that could have been free. 

Playing a different game 

Mercedes AMG One racing through the streets of Mexico

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Horizon Forbidden West’s lack of free upgrade isn’t a good look for Sony, then, but it’s even more ugly when you realize that Microsoft does the polar opposite when it comes to next-gen upgrades. 

Thanks to its Smart Delivery system, Microsoft grants players the Xbox Series X|S version of every title it releases for free. Xbox Smart Delivery detects if you’re playing an Xbox One game on either Xbox Series X|S and automatically gives you the best version (for free). 

Already own Halo: The Master Chief Collection on Xbox One? There’s a free upgrade waiting for you if you ever buy an Xbox Series X|S. Gears 5? Enjoy a free upgrade. Sea of Thieves? Arrgggh, ye guessed it, me hearties: a free upgrade.

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And what about games that haven’t been released yet, like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5? Well, if you were to purchase or play either of those titles on Xbox One, you’ll be stunned to know that yes, those will be upgraded – for free – should you ever pick up an Xbox Series X|S down the line. They’re also both on Xbox Game Pass from day one, so you won’t have to spend $140 just to experience them either.

Xbox Smart Delivery also grants you the last-gen versions of a game, too, so if you decide to hop on your aging Xbox One X and bought a game on Xbox Series X|S, you’ll automatically be given the last-gen version too. Sounds completely fair and reasonable, right? Well, that’s because it is.

Forbidden access 

Jin Sakai from Ghost of Tsushima looking down at his katana.

(Image credit: Sucker Punch)

So should Sony be dragged over hot coals for its latest decision to charge for a PS5 upgrade? Well, not really, even if it is rather distasteful. Sony is only capitalizing on the ravenous demand for PlayStation 5, and its strategy must be paying dividends if the company is continuing to make the same decisions. But I can’t subscribe to the idea of double-dipping or paying upgrade fees for games I already own. 

If there’s one thing that has made this generation so enjoyable – for me, at least – it’s been how developers have rewarded gamers with new and updated versions of titles that they may have already purchased. Yes, it’s unprecedented compared to previous generations, but much like how PC gamers reap the rewards of upgrading their hardware with prettier games and better performance, it’s been a long time coming in the console space.

Horizon Zero upgrade 

You could argue that Sony is clinging on to a model that is outdated and almost elitist when compared to Microsoft’s Xbox Smart Delivery system. Is it fair that a fan of Horizon Zero Dawn be forced to pay $20 / £20 more just to ensure that they won’t be hit with a $70 / £70 fee if they ever want to play the game on PS5? Absolutely not. Can Sony get away with it? Probably, though that doesn’t mean it should

Unfortunately, it’s likely that Sony will stick with this approach if Gran Turismo 7 and God of War: Ragnarok do indeed come to PS4 as well as PS5. And as long as PlayStation 5 consoles continue to be as hard to find as a needle in a haystack, you can bet that more consumers will be coerced into having to spend more than they actually should. Whether Sony is successful with this strategy depends on one thing, of course: if consumers take a stand against it, or not.

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