Well, I was almost done composing a reply to this thread when I had to step away from little while, and as my awful luck would have it my computer decides to update itself, causing me to lose what I had written. I'll try to replicate it the best I can.
Anyway, this was one of the first threads I ever participated in here at VGC, mere weeks before the PS4 & XBO launched. And here we are 5-½ years later, with a new console generation likely beginning next year. Well, I can say that my thoughts haven't changed much on this issue since then. In some ways, gaming has gotten better. Technical advances have produced games running at higher resolutions and framerates, which in many ways has impacted gameplay for the better, and in terms of game design there have been considerable improvements since the beginning of the "3D Era" of gaming. But in many ways gaming has gotten worse. It seems like games are more likely to be broken at launch, and AAA third-party developers have engaged in increasingly questionable business practices.
Still, the SNES is probably my favorite console of all time, followed closely by the NES, meaning that no one console since then has wowed me in the same way they did. Granted, I was a kid and thus arguably more easily impressed, but still. So, I wanted to give my assessment of some of the major things in the past four generations and see how they've impacted gaming, for better and for worse.
3D Polygon-based Graphics
Pros: The advent of 3D graphics allowed for entirely new kinds of games to emerge. While advances in technology in the 16-bit era allowed for all sorts of visual and gameplay improvements, being limited to two dimensions limited what games could be. A great many types of games were either flat out impossible to make in 2D, or required a lot of graphical trickery to create psuedo-3D visuals out of 2D assets. Moving to 3D allowed for innovations in gameplay, for bigger worlds to be created, for greater freedom of movement and all that entails. And some genres were tailor-made for 3D, namely driving games and anything with a first-person perspective.
Cons: 2D games with sprite-based graphics still had plenty of potential in their own right, but once we had consoles that could reliably produce 3D polygon-based graphics, the industry almost completely forgot 2D was a thing that existed. As a result, certain types of games and genres largely fell by the wayside. Capcom was one of the few that still made 2D games with predominantly sprite-based graphics, as seen with the Mega Man X titles on the PS1 and with Street Fighter III and its superbly animated characters. While games with 2D gameplay are still being made by large publishers, they typically use 3D graphics, though occasionally you'll get a game like Sonic Mania and the BlazBlue series, which show that sprite-based visuals can still look great even today. Sprites have a timeless charm to them, and tend to age spectacularly well. Which brings me to my next point...
3D graphics tend to age poorly, especially those from the 90s. Even back then, I felt that first generation of 3D polygon-based graphics was an eyesore. Games that went for a very cartoon-y aesthetic fared much better, but anything going for a more realistic look (well, as realistic as anything could be made to look back then) looked dreadful. Most Gen 5 games were just plain ugly to me, and time hasn't done them any favors. Gen 6 fares a bit better, especially for games that get upscaled to higher resolutions, but even then a lot of them haven't aged well at all. That also makes me wish that developers didn't go all-in with 3D graphics as early as they did, and that there was a better balance of 2D sprite-based graphics and 3D polygon-based graphics.
Also, the switch to 3D brought a lot of gameplay issues with it. This was new territory for developers, and few of them had a knack for making games that made good use of the third dimension. Awkward controls and terrible camera placement were issues far too common for 90s-era 3D games, not only because of inexperience but also because of the limitation of Gen 5 controllers (the N64 gamepad had only one analog stick, and the PS1's Dual Shock wasn't released until 1997, resulting in earlier games for the system having to be made for D-pad controls). This has fortunately been largely resolved as developers gradually got the hang of making games that make good use of three dimensions and were able to benefit from the addition of dual analog sticks on gamepads.
Pros: Being able to play online was a great convenience. No longer did you have to schedule a get-together with your friends (and haul around equipment if you're having a LAN). You could just get online and play whenever. Also, with online you weren't restricted to people you knew personally who lived in the same area as you. You could play with people from all around the world if your IRL friends weren't available.
Cons: Playing online lacks that personal interaction unique with being in the same room/house as your actual friends. You just can't replicate that level of closeness with online play. Most of us probably most frequently play with people who live hundreds or even thousands of miles away and we'll never actually meet. Also, the anonymity provided by the internet allows for griefing, trolling, harassment, and all sorts of other undesirable behavior that rarely existed in a more personal setting. Online made being a dick to others much, much easier.
Also, online play has also allowed for the advent of the always-online game, as exemplified by MMOs and modern "live service" games. While many people like those sorts of games, I feel they have major drawbacks. If your internet connection is down, or the game's servers are down, or the online service you're using (if applicable) is down, then you can't play at all. And sooner or later, nearly every online-only game will have the plug pulled at some point in its life. The landscape of gaming in the 21st century is littered with the corpses of dead MMOs. I've been able to play Super Mario Bros. on my NES for 30 years. Will games like Destiny, The Division, Sea of Thieves, The Crew, or Anthem still be playable 30 years from now?
Pros: Downloadable content, when done well, allows for new life to be breathed into older games. Before the advent of online, what came on the cartridge or disc was almost always all you'd ever get. We never got new tracks for Mario Kart 64, or new maps for GoldenEye 007. Occasionally, there would be an expansion of some kind, but on consoles this typically involved a complete re-release of a game. Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat 3 both had roster expansions and gameplay/balance tweaks, requiring brand new arcade machines, and consequently the home ports were effectively new games in their own right. Staying up to date could get expensive: if you had an SNES and bought Street Fighter II, SF2 Turbo, and Super SF2 brand new at launch, that would run you $210 ($70 per game), which adjusted for inflation would be nearly $370.
With DLC, you could have new maps, tracks, missions, characters, etc., added to a game post-launch without needing to completely re-release the game all over again. No longer were we limited to what came on the disc.
Also, digital distribution allows for patches to be easily implemented. A game that releases with certain bugs or unforeseen gameplay balance issues can be fixed after launch. Before the advent of online connectivity, if a game was launched with major bugs or balance issues, they were stuck that way forever (GoldenEye 007 notoriously had awful spawns that really could have used fixing).
Finally, digital distribution has allowed indie developers to easily publish their games, which otherwise might not see the light of day if they had to produce a print run of discs. This is less of a concern these days, and many indie games get a physical version, but when indies were first starting to proliferate, they essentially needed digital distribution to be viable.
Cons: The key words at the start of the pros section were "when done well." DLC is quite often not done well. While you still see plenty of DLC that gives a lot of substantial content for a reasonable cost, we've increasingly been subjected to DLC that is essentially nickle-and-diming gamers. Microtransactions are rarely done in a way that isn't intrusive and deleterious to the overall experience, and things started to get especially predatory when loot boxes started to take off.
The ability to patch games has arguably also resulted in a "release-and-patch culture" in the industry, where a game that's clearly broken, unfinished, and generally not ready for prime time is rushed to release anyway to meet a deadline, only to fix it later as gamers who bought the title at or near launch are having to deal with the mess.
Finally, digital distribution has eroded concepts of ownership. I've expressed my opinions on digital-only games before on this forum, but suffice it to say that I think digital downloads have a whole host of issues that make them vastly less desirable than a physical copy. For example, the first-sale rule doesn't apply (at least in the U.S.), and your downloads may only last as long as your hard drive does. And with streaming starting to be a thing, my concerns have grown even more, as it makes even single-player experiences online-only, completely dependent on a constant connection to the servers. And if a game is pulled from the service for any reason, it's gone, period, and you can't play unless it gets re-listed. For games that were pulled due to some kind of rights issues (like racing games that use licensed cars and the license expired), then the game may be gone forever.