2020 Gift Guide: Video Game Hardware and Accessories
2020 isn’t your typical year, evidenced by the fact – and countless other facts, but come on this journey with me — that there’s actually been a reason for people to be told to stay indoors and have a good time from the comfort of their homes. While other entertainment industries struggle, the video game industry continues to thrive because of this necessary isolation, which was noticeable when people started trying to buy video game systems at stores and were met with empty or near-empty shelves. Switches were, once again and not-so-surprisingly, incredibly difficult to find, but that also carried over into the PlayStation and Xbox products.
For the most part, those supply issues have evened out over the past few months, yet we’re soon to arrive at another significant point in the timeline where availability trouble might be brewing: the launch of the new video game consoles, the PlayStation 5 (PS5) and the Xbox Series (X and S). Even in perfectly healthy normal years, these can be very, very tough to track down without preorders … and this is far from a normal year. Maybe the companies are prepared for the demand – not likely, considering how quickly preorders sold out for both – but a good rule of thumb this year would be to figure out exactly what you’re wanting/needing to give as a gift and snatch it up as soon as possible.
Below, we’ve laid out a bit of a guide that might help in making some decisions about what to pursue as gifts over the holiday season, along with a series of links that’ll hopefully help in the search. Be sure to also check out our Software Guide to see what games would pair well with the console and the player themselves.
For Fans of Spider-Man, Dark Souls, and Next-Gen Tech, Gift This.
PlayStation 5 Launch Console w/ Disc Drive
Pros: 4K Gaming, PS4 Backwards Compatibility, HDR Disc Playback | MSRP: $399
The video game console environment is about to begin the early stages of drawing comparisons and watching them make improvements and advances, which will prove to be both frustrating and difficult as seemingly evenly-matched systems duke it out in the techno space. In the PlayStation’s corner, there are a few presupposed advantages: a faster SSD reading speed, an overhauled controller that can’t even be called a “Dualshock” anymore, and the ability to play 4K content from hardware designed by one of the leaders in that industry. These are early, superficial judgments, though, and shouldn’t fully be embraced until people have had time to get their hands dirty with the consoles.
Until that kicks into gear, picking a new gaming system as an early adopter boils down to what kinds of games can be played at launch. Neither one has a lot of exclusives coming out at launch either, proportionately a bit less than previous years, so that decision mostly boils down to “quality” over quantity: not the high level of the games themselves, exactly, but the types of games being offered. It’s here that the PlayStation arguably has the most objective edge, as you’ll be able to play a brand new Spider-Man game, Miles Morales, as well as a gorgeous remaster/reconstruction of the challenging action-RPG Demon’s Souls as soon as the system hits shelves.
For Gamers Into Versatility, Compatibility, and Power, Gift This.
Xbox Series X Launch Console
Pros: 4K Gaming/Media, Multi-Gen Backwards Compatibility, POWER Cons: Big As a Fridge | MSRP: $499
Let’s face it: Microsoft struggled at the launch of their Xbox One system. Misguided design choices about software DRM and a required, constant connection to online projected a semi-draconian approach to enjoying the hardware. The lessons were learned fairly quick, though, and from the rubble of the initial release came a focused, compatible system that eventually delivered backwards compatibility, 4K disc playback, and other gap-filling tech that the other guys didn’t feel was worth the R&D effort. This cemented the Xbox One, notably the X and S models, as the choice for value and flexibility.
Those lessons seem to have carried over into the Xbox Series line of consoles, because the foundation of what made their previous systems such a success have been carried over into this new generation … only a bit more aggressively in the “customer satisfaction” department. Along with 4K disc playback in the Series X model, backwards compatibility remains a priority through its capability to play previous legacy titles through their emulation system. In terms of hardware, the Xbox Series X seems to have more power under the hood, containing faster performance with a 3.8ghz CPU and nearly 2 teraflops more powerful in GPU processing than its competitor. Does that mean anything for the average tech consumer at launch? Probably not much, but the extra power’s there for when the software catches up.
For the Late Adopter Who Just Wants Great Games, Gift This.
PS4 Slim “Only On Playstation” Bundle
Pros: Slim 1TB System, Inexpensive, Three Games Included; Cons: Not a PS4 Pro | MSRP: $350-400
There’s obviously one nice aspect of new videogame consoles getting released: the price of the older systems is bound to go way, way down. For some, that means finally getting one of the current-gen systems after waiting years to do so; for others, it means pairing their “preferred” system with the other brand so they can play games across both platforms. And then, there are folks who simply might be interested in replacing their hacking, wheezing launch console with the latest version. Whatever the reason, the holiday season where people are trying to find the new gaming systems ends up being one of the best times to pick off the old ones, even if they aren’t the newest, shiniest thing.
2020 seems to be an odd year for bundles, though. Usually, there are at least a few intriguing packages containing systems, games, and maybe a few exclusive pieces of hardware or something, and they usually coordinate with certain popular Triple-A games. Such isn’t the case this year, unless the companies scramble and throw something together at the last minute. For now, perhaps the best, most noteworthy value among the bundles can be found with the classic PS4 “Only On” package that includes copies of God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and The Last of Us Remastered for about $350-400. It can still be found through some avenues, but if you can’t …? It’s entirely reasonable to believe you could pick up a PS4 and the standalone games for about the same price altogether at this point, if not for less.
For the Legacy Media Lover in the House, Gift This.
Cyberpunk 2077 Xbox One X Console Bundle
Pros: Versatile, 4K Compatible, Cyberpunk Themed; Cons: Tough To Find | MSRP: ~$500
Yes, it’s true: sales for little shiny discs have dwindled over the past decade, dipping more significantly over the past couple of years and hitting a steep drop at the beginning of this year. Thing is, the enthusiasm is still very much there for the highest quality rendering of content and the ability for backwards accessibility with one’s library, if for no other reason than to feel that the money spent on packaged media wasn’t wasted. The drop-off from physical media might have been steep, but it wasn’t so steep that many consumers wouldn’t miss it if it were just ignored … and in a period of uncertainty during the transition period, the folks at Microsoft moved in to make sure they appreciated this.
With the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X, they’ve tried to make sure those with a taste for the familiar are as satisfied as they possibly could be. Both systems are capable of playing 4K discs with their UltraHD capabilities active, and both benefit from being able to run backwards compatible games through Xbox’s disc-read emulation capabilities. Heck, it can even play music CDs if that’s still your thing. The same situation with bundles applies to the Xbox One S and X, as there are a few bundles from last year that may still be available; however, there’s the off chance one might be able to still snag the Cyberpunk 2077 themed Xbox One X from somewhere in the wild.
For a Family Ready to Explore New Horizons, Gift This.
Limited Edition Animal Crossing Nintendo Switch Console
Pros: Cute Colors, Kid-Room Appropriate, AVAILABLE! | Cons: Game Not Included MSRP: $300
2020 hasn’t been the brightest, most uplifting or catchiest of years, and the absence of strong pop-culture takeaways is a reminder of that. One of the things that managed to stand out from this crummy period is the popularity of the new Animal Crossing game, New Horizons. Since its release, the life simulation game has developed a strong following amid the complications involved with the pandemic, offering a digital proxy for “normalcy” and a vibrant distraction while so many things seems to be falling apart in other areas of life. It became such a strong bonding aspect of people’s lives that even celebrities – such as Ejilah Wood and Brie Larson – and politicians have broadcast their fondness for New Horizons; the Biden campaign even created its own Animal Crossing island.
One of the few genuine, themed consoles to come out this year came along with New Horizons: a cute, beachy-colored Nintendo Switch console with cute animal graphics on the front and uniquely coordinated Joy-Cons. Be forewarned, though, that even though it really, truly looks like it should come with a copy of the new game, it does not. You’ll need to grab a copy of the hit game alongside it, and considering how the shopping season could be tough to predict in terms of supply, it could be prudent to do it sooner rather than later. The sheer fact that Switch systems are readily available again is something to celebrate, though.
For Those Needing Hard-Drive Space or Speedy Load Times, Gift These.
In previous years, we’ve pointed folks in the direction of Seagate’s line of both external and internal HDD as ways to expand the digital storage space of consoles, usually running about $85-100 per option. This year, with the addition of new consoles, those recommendations are getting shaken up a bit; however, for those who plan on sticking with their current Xbox One or PS4 systems for a bit, those are still relevant. While new suggestions can’t really be made about expanding the PS5’s drive space right now, folks who plan to jump on the Xbox Series train might want to consider looking into these SSDs, both the regular standalone unit and the proprietary one designed specifically for the latest Xbox games.
For effortless and entirely seamless expansion of the Xbox Series harddrive, you’ll want to grab one of Seagate’s dedicated plug-and-play SSD units, expanding the memory an extra 1TB. The most noteworthy reason to choose this method of expansion comes in the fact that it’s the only added storage location where games enhanced and maximized for Xbox Series consoles can be played from and enjoy the upgrades in quality. Games played from external SDDs, like the other 2TB unit above, can only store the games and play Xbox One X and below titles directly from it and see the added boost in digital quality, though you can easily move games from the regular SSD onto the Series X and gain the benefits. If you want it super simple, then it might be worth the extra $220 for the expansion.
For Online Players and Freebie/Deal Hunters, Gift These.
What does the future hold for the paid-access subscription services for online gaming? That’s unclear at this point, as it’s entirely possible that either or both of the Xbox One and PlayStation Plus subscription services could be shaken up around the release of the new game consoles later in the month.
For now, however, the available subscription services offer access to online play as well as new free game downloads: the PlayStation sticks to current-system titles, while the Xbox offers titles that range from new stuff to games from the original Xbox. Microsoft recently announced that they’d eventually stop selling year subscription cards, limiting to only monthly and three-month pre-purchases, so it’s probably be a good idea to grab the annual cards while you can.
For Star Wars Fans Who Think Merch is The Way, Gift This.
Mandalorian Beskar Steel Controller for Xbox One
Pros: Premium Themed Controller w/ Charging Station, Extra Grippy, Officially Licensed | MSRP: $170
Before, I mentioned that there’s an absence of pop-culture things to latch onto this year, largely because the output of new content has been much slower and more complicated than prior years. One thing that’s remained active is the love for the new Star Wars show The Mandalorian, which will finally be releasing its second season on October 30. To commemorate the enthusiasm, Microsoft will be releasing an exclusive controller customized with numerous aspects of the show, which would likely satisfy any Star Wars fan regardless of how into The Mandalorian they are.
In theory, this controller’s pretty terrific. Equipped with an equally themed charging stand, the Mandalorian Xbox controller features textured grips and surface aesthetics designed to look like the armor’s beskar steel, while also possessing the controller’s inherent ability for the buttons to be mapped through an external app. Despite likely being able to function just fine on the Xbox Series consoles, there are drawbacks: this is a standard maximized controller, not even an Elite and certainly not a Series X model, and … well, it ain’t cheap, clocking in at just a little under 3x the price of a regular controller. Worth it, this may be.