PlayStation Plus’ midyear rebranding and relaunch landed with a thud. The service, necessary for pretty much every multiplayer game on the PlayStation 4 and PS5, lost two million paying subscribers — and that figure comes from Sony. The company did see an increase in its PS Plus revenue for the first quarter under the new scheme, but only by 10 percent.
In other words, while some PlayStation fans left, and perhaps more bought into the new Extra or Premium subscriptions, PS Plus users stood pat for the most part in 2022. PlayStation Plus’ curators did not. Even though Sony has ruled out first-party, day-one releases for the new PlayStation Plus service — something Microsoft promotes relentlessly on Xbox Game Pass (when it has titles to launch, that is) — Sony’s free game offerings remain best-in-class.
The PlayStation Plus Essential games’ collection’s average Metacritic score, which we use as a shorthand reference for the catalog’s quality, came in at 78 — more than four points higher than it was in 2021, and the highest since we began this evaluation (beating 2019 by one). PlayStation Plus didn’t cheat subscribers by bringing in games that are offered (or have appeared) in other premium services, either. Only 10 can be found on Xbox Game Pass, down from 14 last year, and five of those come from Electronic Arts, whose EA Play library is available to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers.
That said, 10 of PlayStation Plus Essential’s games for 2022 can also be found in the new PlayStation Plus Extra library of content. That’s an issue for PS Plus subscribers with a heartier appetite or heftier wallets, though; those who are still subscribers at the same level they’ve been for a decade effectively got 10 Extra-level games without having to pay for them, including 2018’s God of War, the most acclaimed title of the 37 given.
It still adds up to a curious juxtaposition: Sony drives the most value through the lowest tier of its subscription service, while Xbox saves everything for its highest. That may be bad news for SIE’s executives in Tokyo and San Mateo, but it’s great for their customers, at least.
2022 in review
PlayStation Plus Essential — known as the Instant Game Collection before June — comprised 37 titles in 2022, with an average Metacritic score of 78 and a combined retail price of $1,304.63 (prices taken from the PlayStation Store at publication time of this analysis).
That Metacritic average is a significant jump up from 2021 — more than four points. The retail value is less than 2021’s, which came in at $1,424.60, although it offered 40 games to subscribers. The average price of a PlayStation Plus Essential game, from the PlayStation Store, is basically the same as last year: $35.
So let’s break down the games, month-by-month. Just three are playable on PlayStation 5 only; all the PlayStation 4 games are playable on the newer console. None is a PlayStation VR game. They’re all listed with their Metacritic score and age (at the time of availability).
- Persona 5 Strikers (PS4, 83 Metacritic, 10 months old)
- Dirt 5 (PS4 & PS5, 80, 1 year, 2 months)
- Deep Rock Galactic (PS4 & PS5, 85, day-and-date launch for these consoles)
For those fortunate enough to get a PlayStation 5 for Christmas 2021, and even for those still hanging on to their PlayStation 4, this is a strong open for PlayStation Plus subscribers. Deep Rock Galactic, a co-op shooter we’ve adored since its early access launch in 2018, ends almost two years of Windows/Xbox exclusivity with a day-and-date launch on PlayStation Plus.
- UFC 4 (PS4, 78, 1 year, 6 months)
- Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep (PS4, 86, 6 years, 10 months)
- Planet Coaster: Console Edition (PS5, 81, 1 year, 3 months)
Another month whose games average more than 80 on Metacritic. Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, broken out into a standalone game three months prior, dates back to 2013’s Borderlands 3 but it is still a timely selection, with Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands launching March 2022.
- Ark: Survival Evolved (PS4, 69, 4 years, 6 months)
- Team Sonic Racing (PS4, 72, 2 years, 9 months)
- Ghostrunner (PS5, 78, 1 year, 4 months)
- Ghost of Tsushima: Legends (PS4 & PS5, 92, six months)
Ghost of Tsushima: Legends, the multiplayer mode of the open-world samurai adventure that launched in October 2020, gooses the value for what would otherwise be PlayStation Plus’ weakest month. It was broken out into a stand-alone launch in September 2021, which accounts for its young date. Legends also has just two review scores listed on Metacritic, so take its 92 with a grain of salt; the full game came in at 83.
- Hood: Outlaws & Legends (PS4 & PS5, 68, 11 months)
- SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom — Rehydrated (PS4, 68, 1 year, 9 months)
- Slay the Spire (PS4, 88, 2 years, 10 months)
Slay the Spire is not only a great roguelite deck-building game, it practically jump-started that genre when it launched back in 2019. But, if that’s not your jam, April comes in rather thin for Essential subscribers.
- FIFA 22 (PS4, 78, 7 months)
- Tribes of Midgard (PS4 & PS5, 71, 9 months)
- Curse of the Dead Gods (PS4, 79, 1 year, 2 months)
This month marks the first time EA Sports’ flagship FIFA series appeared on PlayStation Plus (or Xbox Live Games With Gold, for that matter) since the Instant Game Collection (as Essential was called) began 12 years before. FIFA 22 would be added to the EA Play catalog in July, somewhat mooting this point; this is also the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which lacks some of the features and improvements in the PS5 edition.
- God of War (PS4, 94, 4 years, 2 months)
- Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strike (PS4, 61, 3 years, 9 months)
- Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl (PS4 & PS5, 65, 8 months)
PlayStation Plus’ relaunch — with three tiers offering access to three different libraries of games — came June 13, and God of War was part of PlayStation Plus Extra’s catalog at launch, which isn’t much of a favor to day-one subscribers at that level. It isn’t much of a favor to PS5 owners, either, who got this along with 19 other games in the PlayStation Plus Collection back in 2020.
- Arcadegeddon (PS4 & PS5, 73, day-and-date launch)
- Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (PS4 & PS5, 85, 1 year, 9 months)
- The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan (PS4, 69, 2 years, 10 months)
Arcadegeddon actually launched in early access on Steam a year before this. But July is typically one of the slowest months of the video game release calendar, making it as good a time as any for PS Plus to debut this cooperative horde-style shooter.
- Little Nightmares (PS4, 82, 5 years, 3 months)
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Cross-Gen Deluxe Bundle (PS4 & PS5, 89, 1 year, 11 months)
- Yakuza: Like a Dragon (PS4 & PS5, 84, 1 year, 9 months)
Regardless of the Metacritic scores, August is PlayStation Plus Essential’s strongest month, with three widely appealing games, two of them offering dozens of hours of gameplay or replay. And even if Little Nightmares was a little short, it was still one of 2017’s best games.
- Granblue Fantasy Versus (PS4, 78, 2 years, 6 months)
- Need for Speed Heat (PS4, 72, 2 years, 10 months)
- Toem (PS5, 80, 1 year)
Need for Speed Heat may have drawn indifferent reviews when it launched in 2019, but let’s be real here: Racing video games are like pizza, so even the average ones are a good time. And free pizza is even better.
- Hot Wheels Unleashed (PS4 & PS5, 75, 1 year)
- Injustice 2 (PS4, 88, 5 years, 5 months)
- Superhot (PS4, 83, 5 years, 2 months)
Milestone’s lovely Hot Wheels Unleashed is a value-packed title joining two games that, although acclaimed, kind of show their age at this point. Superhot has been in wide circulation for several years, but if you still haven’t played it, it’s the kind of offbeat experience that PlayStation Plus excels at discovering and delivering.
- Heavenly Bodies (PS4 & PS5, 75, 11 months)
- Lego Harry Potter Collection (PS4, 76, 6 years)
- Nioh 2 (with Nioh 2 Remastered free upgrade, PS4 & PS5, 85, 2 years, 8 months)
So close! We were so close to making it through a year of free games without going to the ol’ Lego well with TT Games. But with a gem like Nioh 2 — and the free remaster for those with a PS5 — it’s forgivable.
- Biomutant (PS4, 64, 1 year, 6 months)
- Divine Knockout (PS4 & PS5, 66, day-and-date launch)
- Mass Effect Legendary Edition (PS4 & PS5, 87, 1 year, 7 months)
PlayStation Plus takes a chance on Divine Knockout, a multiplayer brawler somewhat in the mode of Rumbleverse and Knockout City. If that’s a miss for you, there’s no arguing with Mass Effect Legendary Edition, although EA Play subscribers already have it.
By the Numbers
Average Score: 78
Average MSRP: $35.26
Average Age: 2 years, 4 months
Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment: Three titles: Ghost of Tsushima: Legends, God of War, and Nioh 2.
Publisher with the Most Titles: Electronic Arts, with five: Dirt 5, UFC 4, FIFA 22, Need for Speed Heat and Mass Effect Legendary Edition, all of which are also available with an EA Play subscription.
Appeared on Games With Gold or PlayStation Plus Essential earlier: None on PS Plus, two on Games With Gold: Little Nightmares (in January 2021) and Superhot (March 2018).
Available on Xbox Game Pass: In addition to EA’s five contributions (which are available to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers), there are five more PS Plus Essential Games on Xbox Game Pass: Deep Rock Galactic, Slay the Spire, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Ark: Survival Evolved, and Injustice 2.
Also Available through PlayStation Plus Extra: SIE’s three titles (Ghost of Tsushima: Legends, God of War, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon) are part of the PlayStation Plus Extra library along with seven others: Injustice 2, Ghostrunner, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, Little Nightmares, and Lego Harry Potter Collection. Additionally, God of War is available through the PlayStation Plus Collection offered to all PlayStation 5 owners since 2020.
Total Value: $1,304.63 (full MSRP taken from PlayStation Store at publication time).