2019 Gift Guide: Best Video Games For the Holiday Season
In a way, when it comes to video game output, years like 2019 are the ones I prefer. Instead of there being a small cluster of big standout video game releases whose dominant presence drown out almost anything else to come out during that period, we’ve had a wide array of very solid, satisfying games that both tap into nostalgia and blaze new trails in the format. Shooter fans have new installments in popular franchises to scratch that itch; survival horror devotees have a unique variety to choose from; and there’s a new game from RP gamemaster Obsidian. Perhaps there are fewer near-flawless, masterwork caliber releases so far, but there’s quality in volume here, and certainly worth indulging in over the holidays both for oneself and to give to others.
Below, we’ve gathered together over a dozen of the assorted titles that have impressed across this year and will likely impress once their release rolls around. Be sure to head over to Bens’s Bargains Hardware Guide to figure out which of the below games have been paired with consoles in easy-to-wrap bundles.
Gifts for the Wasteland Wanderers
Those who get wrapped up in traversing the expanses of futuristic frontiers rife with lots of loot will have a pair of titles, each different in their own ways, that are guaranteed to capture their attention.
The Outer Worlds
- Obsidian has a long history with the Fallout franchise, crafting versatile moral narratives and role-playing experiences. They’ve brought that to a new universe entirely of their creation with The Outer Worlds.
- Players control a hibernating colonist awakened 70 years after their projected date, in an alternate history timeline more overtly dominated by corporate ownership. Futuristic, but frontier-like in its atmosphere.
- Upon entering the first town, Obsidian focuses on choices in how to craft and conduct the character. Skill and aptitude delegation when leveling up, ethical and reputation decisions, and upgradeable gear.
- While not entirely open world since it takes an old-school approach to contained areas, it feels like the spiritual sequel to New Vegas that other Fallout games haven’t been able to become.
- Few games hold a candle to the caliber of gear available to them in Borderlands, though, and Gearbox has once again delivered on weapon variety mixed with heaps of personality in their third installment.
- Taking place less than a decade after the events of Borderlands 2, this one features a new antagonist and old favorite characters — notably Lilith as a leader – sent into the game’s recognizable formula.
- Lore, characterization, and atmosphere are there, but the game’s all about gearing up and exploring vaults with a key interest in upgrading artillery. There’s bound to be something for everyone among the game’s one billion guns.
- It’s one of those off occasions where “more of the same” isn’t used as a negative to describe it.
Gifts for Those Into Something Different
At times, it’s a little difficult to find truly distinctive games among the heavy hitter AAA titles. Whether it’s the style and tone of storytelling or the adventurousness of gameplay mechanic ideas, the pair of games below deserve to be celebrated for the risks they take for the sake of inventiveness.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
- Set during the 1300s in France, A Plague Tale: Innocence utilizes the grizzly historical terror of prolific disease and flesh-eating rats as a vehicle for puzzle-solving, stealth, and survival horror.
- While kills are possible, the way the game operates doesn’t rely on that as a primary solution to medieval obstacles. The young main character uses available tools to distract enemies and divert ravenous rats.
- Combined with limitations placed on the characters’ abilities, the atmosphere in A Plague Tale results in uniquely effective horror and sneak experiences. Avoiding death is designed to be a real challenge.
- There are supernatural elements, but Asobo Studio designed this experience to feel grounded and gritty.
- Remedy Entertainment has dazzled with unique gameplay and narrative ideas in their previous works, Alan Wake and Quantum Break, and they’ve done so again with the reality-bending thriller Control.
- Players control Jesse, a newly promoted member of the Federal Bureau of Control, an agency that investigates the
superparanatural. She’s given a powerful gun, but also uses psionic (mental) abilities to move objects while she explores the ever-expanding, ever-changing layout of an abnormal skyscraper.
- Within this Oldest House setting, Jesse investigates why FBC agents have been draw under the control of a mystical force, utilizing combinations of her abilities to work through obstacles and enemies.
- The fusion of levitation, third-person gunplay, and an evolving setting put Control apart from the rest.
Gifts for The Sharpshooters
“Gradually, I drifted off to sleep, pringing ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip shots.”
Here are those must-buy games for the adult Ralphie in your life.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
- This lesser-known, totally under-the-radar shooter series (*nudge, wink*) is getting a much-needed reboot. Under the Modern Warfare name, Infinity Ward hopes to bring more realism back to the brand.
- Yes, the campaign for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has drawn controversy in how it depicts the darkness of wartime elements and the game’s antagonists, but it’s earned heavy praise regardless.
- Infinity Ward has subbed out the outlandish for authenticity in the multiplayer sector as well, retooled with a more tactical focus and including survival and HUD-less options. And yes, cross-platform play!
- When it comes to artillery and first-person shooting tightness, Call of Duty remains on the throne.
- Metro may have started as a shooter with a niche audience, but over the years it has blossomed into a hotly anticipated franchise. Exodus marks the third game adapted from Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novels.
- Emphasizing survival and horror just as much as the FPS elements, Exodus picks an ending from among Last Light’s variations and continues its story of a post-nuclear wasteland in Russia. Lead character Artyom ventures into dangerous zones outside Moscow in search of a habitable space and survivors.
- Like previous entries, Exodus features customizable artillery made from scraps of what the character can find, used to fend off enemies within a dynamic landscape that changes over a year’s worth of seasons.
- Exodus boasts more open-world freedom than its predecessors, which offsets the continued clunky AI.
Gifts for the Horror Fiend
Not everybody’s into the joyful spirit of the holiday season; also, plenty of people who love the holiday season’s delight also appreciate just as many scares in their lives. Here’s a couple of treats to offer those who like a few goosebumps and screams amid the merriment.
Resident Evil 2
- Ever wonder what happens when a beloved vintage game gets remade in the perspective and controls of later sequels in the franchise, a frequent desire of fans? Resident Evil 2 does just that.
- While it adheres to the story and ambitions of the original game, this remake ditches its frustrating tank controls in favor of the preferred over-the-shoulder shooter perspective, along with other upgrades.
- Multiple playthroughs are encouraged, as RE2 can still be experienced from the perspective of two protagonists: Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield. What ensues in this revisiting of post-outbreak Raccoon City has been celebrated as both an effective contemporary survival horror title and a great revival of the original content.
The Sinking City
- Lovecraftian horror makes another video game appearance with The Sinking City, an exploration action-suspense experience from Frogwares that’s more inspired by the author than adapting his literature.
- Transpiring in a fictional town in Massachusetts, it taken a sandbox approach to an investigation narrative. The main character has been brought to the town to investigate a citizen’s sanity — a consistent Lovecraft theme — but also transitions into an investigation of the area’s eerie flooding.
- With clever use of bullets for currency (a la Metro), narrative responsiveness to the thoroughness of investigating areas, and the grim and haunting atmosphere, The Sinking City gets enough right that folks consider it worth taking this journey into the mouth of madness … even if it’s buggy and clunky.
Gifts for the Exclusive Hunter
Arguments still ensue every year over which system has the best exclusive titles, but I’d like to think that the discussion has changed a bit from bickering to more civilized decision-making processes. The titles below might be worthy enough of a heated discussion, though.
Gears (of War) 5
- Not many exclusives are quite as widely known or acknowledged as the Gears of War series, and The Coalition have rejuvenated the franchise’s fading reputation with its fifth installment.
- While Gears 5 brings back familiar characters, the focus further shifts to relatively new protagonist Kait, whose bizarre family heritage adds something new to the COG’s battle against the Swarm.
- The signature third-person, cover-based shooting controls and mechanics remain intact alongside some tweaks, while Coalition has modernized the series with some light RPG and open-world aspects.
- Gears 5 does a bang-up job with single player, but of course, it delivers with online and split-screen multiplayer as well.
- The first game from Metal Gear’s Kojima Productions after separating from Konami, Death Stranding hopes to strike a chord in the action-game climate with enough innovation to create a new subgenre.
- Legendary creator Hideo Kojima bases his new game around the concept of the afterlife, one where the violent consequences of actions taken in that alternate realm will connect to the real world if revisited.
- A high-caliber cast lends their voices and motion-captured faces to the characters, from The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus and Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelson to Lea Seydoux from the James Bond franchise.
- Death Stranding promises to be a cerebral experience, as the controls service Kojima’s elaborate writing.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
- There’s a fine line with remakes between capturing the spirit of the original and updating it enough to feel like a current game, but it proves to be no trouble for the Switch’s version of Link’s Awakening.
- From the dialogue and top-down graphics to level layout and controls, there’s a wealth of dedication involved in making sure it looks and feels like the original within a gorgeous new graphical shell.
- It’s not a verbatim copy, though: Nintendo has made several subtle quality-of-life tweaks to the control operations, making inventory management and minigame interactivity a lot smoother.
- Link’s Awakening also comes with its own dungeon creator, a la Mario Maker.
Gifts for [E]verybody
Don’t be scared to give these to the horror aficionado in your life as a holiday gift, as they both capture distinct and absorbing types of atmosphere that they’re sure to love. Granted, these might be the games that they’ll shelve until a later period outside the joys of the season, but when the mood strikes, they’ll be glad you thought of their fear factor.
Kingdom Hearts III
- It’s been almost a decade and a half since it’s seen a proper release, but the widely-loved mashup between Disney and Final Fantasy has finally returned with Kingdom Hearts III.
- With Sora, Donald and Goofy again in the protagonist spotlight, the story pits our dashing heroes against forces of evil — Xehanort — attempting to forge a powerful weapon and gain control of the universe.
- Gameplay has, naturally, been vastly improved since the last release. It isn’t easy to create all-audience friendly combat that’s engaging, but the mixture of keyblade swings, magic, and party control offer the right balance between accessibility and enjoyment.
- Visuals have also been overhauled, of course, resulting in a beautiful new glimpse at mashed-up worlds.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
- “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?” Luigi, of course, as he’s returned in Luigi’s Mansion 3. And he’s ready to bust ghosts with the best of ‘em in this actioner from Nintendo.
- From a side-scrolling perspective, Luigi navigates the floors of a high-rise hotel owned and haunted by Hellen Gravely. Once he learns of the spookiness within, Luigi resorts to familiar tools and mechanics to wear down ghosts and capture them.
- Luigi’s Mansion 3 was designed with the dual controllers of the Switch in mind for easy use in co-op multiplayer, while head-to-head competition in another mode allow for different multiplayer gaming.
… And Finally, A Gift For Those Who Like Galaxies Far, Far Away
There’s a whole lot overlap between gamers covered in this gift guide that would love to see a Star Wars game done absolutely right. It’s been a while since that’s happened, as the Knights of the Old Republic games were released on the OG Xbox roughly a decade ago: BioWare’s The Old Republic MMO vacillates in quality year after year; The Force Unleashed series was a fine but fleeting action diversion; and we all know how EA has taken serious heat for the Battlefront series over the past couple of years. In ways, the LEGO Star Wars games are the most safely enjoyable out of ‘em all, and I’m sure folks at LucasFilm, at EA, and all over would like to lift up that reputation. Will this one do it? Possible, it may be.
Star Wars – Jedi: Fallen Order
- Respawn Entertainment, the folks behind Titanfall and Apex Legends, take on perhaps the most renowned mythos across all media platforms with Jedi: Fallen Order.
- Set during the gap between Revenge of the Sith and the very first Star Wars film, the story follows one of the students of The Force fleeing the galaxy-wide purge of Jedi that began at the end of the Prequel Trilogy.
- Along with telling a cinematic story, the focus will fall on getting lightsaber battles right and utilize The Force in strategic, yet action-oriented ways.
- Director Stig Asmussen claims to have drawn heavy inspiration from Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and Dark Souls, though more grounded than Wind Waker and less punishing than Souls.