VR had been in production for some time but it wasn't until 2016 that we got full working consumer models of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, later in the year Sony's initiative (once known as Project Morpheus) launched as PSVR. It's fair to say that none of the major VR headsets were a storming success, but PSVR definitely sold the most and for Sony it offered a bit of mid-generational innovation and something to distinguish them from their main rivals, Microsoft.
As the generation got into its stride we were getting better iterations of the big annual franchises, and this was also the period when Sony really started to get into the grove as far as first-party software goes. Bloodborne, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Until Dawn, Ratchet & Clank, and The Last Guardian (at long last). Microsoft on the other hand released Halo 5: Guardians (2015) and Gears of War 4 (2016) along with their annual Forzas and a couple of third-party exlusives (timed or otherwise) in the shape of Rise of the Tomb Raider and Dead Rising 4. But the most memorable games were more than likely third-party titles as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt came out in 2015 and Overwatch amazed us in 2016. Add to that other releases like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Inside, Life is Strange, Dishonored 2, Battlefield 1, Dark Souls III. And we were still getting plenty of remasters for good measure.
So with 2016 out of the way Sony had a lot of fans eager to get their hands on the games that had been announced. We had already seen the likes of Spider-Man and God of War, and with PlayStation Experience also unveiling The Last of Us: Part II, there was plenty to be looking forward to in the future.
Meanwhile Xbox had been busy with the hardware side of things, finally revealing that Project Scorpio would be the Xbox One X at E3 2017, while Sony was busy updating fans on all their existing projects. The year after that Sony did almost the exact same thing, providing more trailers for already-known projects like Spider-Man, Ghost of Tsushima, and Death Stranding, and Xbox shifted gears to do likewise, splurging on trailers for games like Devil May Cry 5. The difference is that Sony's were exclusives; Microsoft's were not.
That doesn't mean that Microsoft has lacked exclusives in the last few years though. Sea of Thieves is just one example of a game that resonated with a lot of people, as Rare's pirating adventure has been well-received and updated with content like Cursed Sails ever since setting sail earlier this year, and Forza Horizon 4 has also struck a chord as the wheels hit the roads of Britain.
Both of these games benefitted hugely from the launch of subscription service Game Pass, giving subscribers a chance to try them out at no added cost, boosting player numbers and growing their communities as a result. That's not all though, as the subscription service breathed new life into older titles like Halo 5: Guardians and Gears of War 4, and became incredibly popular as a model. While Phil Spencer has recently said that consoles won't move towards streaming-only, it does seem as if Game Pass has been a hit for Microsoft, as has their Play Anywhere initiative that sees first-party titles release on both Xbox and PC.
Even with Game Pass it's hard to deny that the PS4 has won the fight for exclusives, as God of War and Spider-Man have shown this year, and Horizon: Zero Dawn did the year before. All critically-acclaimed titles and GOTY contenders, they renewed faith that future games like Days Gone and The Last of Us: Part II would be just as good. That said though, Microsoft had been busy buying studios like Ninja Theory and Playground Games while building their own called The Initiative, and they too have big plans for the future, even if they may not be in 2019.
Microsoft renewed their commitment to console gaming when Xbox One X came out last year, providing superior performance than we'd seen before on any home console. Teraflops were whacked out, and 4K and HDR were the selling points, producing great visuals for those who had the TV at home to back it up. Considering the PS4 Pro - Sony's own superior model - didn't have the power and lacked a 4K Blu-Ray player, this was a big slip in the hardware race for Sony that dented their credentials somewhat.
That said, visuals aren't everything, and the Nintendo Switch proved that when it released last year, drawing the crowd away from both consoles to an extent, not only providing their own first-party games like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but also hosting third-party games like FIFA 18 and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Sure it wasn't as powerful, but you could take it on the go with you, and Sony and Microsoft had their old sparring partner back once again.
Looking ahead into 2019 whispers have been floating around regarding new consoles from both, with Sony rumoured to have a PS5 reveal planned for next year since they're skipping E3, while Xbox is allegedly developing a streaming-focused console. How true these rumours are remain to be seen, but with existing consoles half a decade old now, an upgrade isn't the worst thing in the world to consider.
The future looks bright for both companies whichever way you spin it, and with Sony missing E3 altogether and the console culture changed in a major way via both iterative improvements in the form of PS4 Pro and Xbox One X as well as the way we consume games via subscriptions and free-to-play, the next year is important not only for both camps but also for our understanding of console gaming as a whole. We don't know exactly what'll happen, but we do know we'll see big games and equally big reveals, and that's something we're definitely intrerested in.