2022 Gift Guide: Video Games for the Holiday Season
Another year, another complicated shopping season when it comes to buying that videogame system they want wrapped up in a bow. Much like 2021, this has also been something of a brutal year for gamers because some real banger titles have hit shelves this turn around the sun. One thing separates this year from last, though: one game has absolutely dominated the gaming conversation this year, and it’s one that can be played on either of the tough-to-find systems. Elden Ring has essentially existed in the same space that Skyrim occupied in its release year almost a decade ago, becoming something close to a mainstream pop culture beacon, a real achievement for its developers and their penchant for … uh, let’s just call them tough games. But Elden Ring is far from the only exceptional game released this year.
In fact, it’s been a long time since so many tremendous titles have come out in a short time, ranging from a new God of War to long-awaited sequels and a free-roaming game where you get to play as a … cat. It honestly doesn’t get much better than that, and we’re here to take you through some of the big ones to grab for those loved ones who’ve been fortunate enough to either get one of the new systems or will be getting one this holiday season. Below, you’ll find a dozen games in our Video Game Software Gift Guide, with links leading out for easy purchases. Let’s get started.
For the Open-World and Fantasy Fanatic
You’ll notice that a few of the games in other categories throughout this gift guide could’ve also fit into this section, and that’s because the fantasy and open exploration subgenres saw a tremendous amount of action this year. The three below are bound to thoroughly tickle their fancy, though, for the breadth of their realms and the extravagance of their fantastical ambitions.
- The textual world-building of George R.R. Martin comes together with the literal open world-building of now legendary developer FROM Software in the creation of Elden Ring. Much ado may have been made about this partnership before its release, potentially setting it up to be another overhyped disappointment, but what’s become obvious since release is that it wasn’t just a bunch of talk
- Players take control of a fully customizable character who chooses a class at the game’s beginning to focus their skillset, and then they embark on an action-RPG exploratory journey through the Lands Between and its focal realms. From there, those with experience with FROM’s Souls series and Bloodborne will have an idea of what to expect: the deeper the player delves into the lavish world’s many caverns, woods, dungeons, and other hazardous areas, the tougher the challenges become and the more they’ll produce helpful rewards. And boy, there’s a lot of gear available to make ‘em your own.
- FROM Software knows their reputation, though, and they found a way with Elden Ring to both make it accessible for a wider audience and preserves their signature challenge. They’ve done so by smartly crafting the fantastical atmosphere in a way that’s both gritty and mythical, making the player want to explore its nooks and crannies instead of it being a masochistic endeavor. Skyrim may provide more of a free-roaming RPG playground, but Elden Ring has taken the throne for the most multifaceted, absorbing, and rewarding playground for combat and puzzle-solving RPing.
Horizon: Forbidden West
- Horizon: Zero Dawn proved to be one of the breakout hits from the PS4 era, delivering a new franchise and heroine in Aloy that explores a unique post-event world, one where ancient machines post threats to humans of varied levels of technological advancement who have reverted to tribal dynamics. Forbidden West takes Aloy to another region of the US on a journey that’ll save the world.
- Further west in a region in the space of California, Utah, and Nevada, the protagonist explores a beautiful, verdant, yet hostile open world populated with aggressive weather and volatile machines. In search of the source of an infectious plague and means of survival along the way, Aloy ventures beyond just land discovery this time, utilizing underwater diving and free-form rock climbing to reach the bottoms and tops of the land. Coupled with the Assassin’s Creed-meets-Batman-meets-Tomb Raider style of gameplay and light armor customization, this atmospheric expansion is most welcome.
- Where Elden Ring poses deliberately frazzling challenges, Horizon: Forbidden West lays out its more traditional open landscape as an enjoyably manageable alternative with grand storytelling, thrillingly crafted heroics and a fine heroine, despite the weird controversy before release about Aloy’s appearance. It’s a meticulously crafted sequel to the first Horizon.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
- The Borderlands franchise features a separate one-shot DLC featuring Tiny Tina and her attempt at being a Dungeon Master (DM) for the characters in the game, transporting the player into a raucous fantasy take on the loot-‘n-shoot atmosphere of the base game. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands takes that same cheeky fantasy energy and expands it into a full shooter-RPG experience.
- With Tiny Tina again showing up to DM a round of Bunkers and Badasses, the player gains control of The Newbie as they enter a mythical realm that could morph at the whims of the storyteller. Luckily, the player can customize their character and choose a class that works best for them, and from there the summary of “Borderlands mixed with Dungeons and Dragons” begins to take shape. Either solo or in a 4-player co-op scenario, the gameplay reworks the gear system of the popular franchise into one that utilizes fantasy concepts with spell slots and melee weapons … and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
- There’s a story involved with dragon lords and swords and armies of skeletons, but the player needs to remember that there isn’t a reliable narrator here, and that’s part of the massive appeal of Wonderlands. This is Borderlands gameplay embracing a lot of the meta potential and silliness factor at its fingertips with a tabletop role-playing game, not unlike Saints Row 4 or Far Cry: Blood Dragon with how players get wrapped up in the twisted novelty and sink hours into it.
For Those Who Love A Great Story Above All
Certain games don’t require a great story to be successful; conversely, there are certain gamers who don’t require a great story to enjoy their gaming entertainment. While that’s perfectly understandable, the titles below are specifically built up for their story and how it makes its audience members think and feel, sometimes sacrificing pure gaming adrenaline for the subtleties of a narrative and the invitation for the player’s input.
God of War: Ragnarok
- Old Man Kratos returns for another outing as the revamped protagonist for this retooled take on God of War, this time expanding the storytelling’s reach to all 9 realms of Norse mythology in telling a story of destiny, predetermination, and preventing the end of the world. All that alongside the continuing story of father and son against the backdrop of Norse mythology.
- God of War has had the luxury of being able to see its gameplay evolve across many titles and generations, so while Ragnarok may feel different in terms of camera angles and landscapes, it continues a similar gameplay energy of mild action-RPG systems and brisk combat as its predecessors. With Kratos’ son Atreus providing support, the duo traverse the more open-world layout of this sequel, which incorporates an increase in mini-boss challenges and allows for light gear customization.
- Most importantly, God of War: Ragnarok yearns to tell another grand, momentous story in the same vein as the other grandiose installments in the franchise, and once again the folks at Santa Monica Studio seem to have succeeded in that pursuit. Critics have so far been very kind to it, heaping almost exactly the same amount of praise on it as the 2018 reboot.
- Supermassive Games have established themselves as one of the best in the tight gaming niche of “interactive drama and horror” titles, reaching a peak with Until Dawn several years ago and shaping their legacy with the Dark Picture Anthology. They’ve gone back to a more straightforward storytelling place with The Quarry, a tale of hunted teenagers and mysterious monsters lurking in the shadows.
- Like the studio’s other games, the experience isn’t hinged on engaging combat or other fun gameplay aspects, instead finding its satisfaction in the immersion of the storytelling and the complexity of the branching storylines and possible endings. From that standpoint, The Quarry aims to capture the tension and eeriness of classic ‘80s horror movies, incorporating a surprisingly star-studded cast of voices for the various characters in the narrative.
- What takes The Quarry to a place beyond other “interactive dramas” can be found in the technical execution from Supermassive Games, who understand how to utilize the format to maximize atmosphere, character authenticity, and ultimately dread. It’s a gaming experience that builds upon what the studio has done correctly up until now, with added bits of quality like couch co-op mode to deepen the fun with friends as each person takes control of different characters and makes choices.
A Plague Tale: Requiem
- Few games have surprised with the capabilities of their setting quite like the original A Plague Tale did a few years back, discovering a way to make the medieval plague and hordes of rats into a fascinating setup for compelling stealth gameplay and harrowing dramatic horror storytelling. The gamemakers at Asobo Studio hope to sink their teeth into the concept again with a sequel, A Plague Tale: Requiem.
- Many aspects are similar from the first installment, in which the lead older sister Amicia employs stealth tactics to maneuver between locations with her brother Hugo while he, with a dose of mysticism, can intermittently gain control of waves of rats for his benefit. In the trappings new location Provence that the developers selected to give the visual tone a livelier demeanor against the bleakness of the plague, the siblings from the first game exercise more refined versions of their skills, which opens the door for Amicia’s stealth and ranged attack abilities to be a more versatile gameplay facet.
- As with the first Plague Tale, there’s a lot of potential for heaviness in the storytelling for Requiem, hinged on the progression of disease and the unyielding protectiveness of brothers and systers. Most who’ve played it so far are more impressed with how Asobo Studio have one again brought videogame life to such a dour concept and improved upon the execution from the ground up.
For Those Who Enjoy Smaller-Scale, Smaller-Price Gems
Whether you need something a little less expensive or are looking for a budget-minded stocking stuffer, these budget titles pack a lot of punch for a smaller dollar value.
- Speaking of unlikely concepts for a video game: what if all humans were stripped away from an open-world exploration environment, and instead, the player starts to control the everyday activities, puzzle-solving, and dangers of a cat? That’s exactly what happens in Stray, the latest title from BlueTwelve Studio and AnnaPurna Interactive.
- Trapped in a city where all human life has ceased to exist, only sentient robots remain, and a lethal mutated bacteria looms that can destroy both organics and synthetics, our stalwart kitty must find ways of solving puzzles to locate data banks and progress through the environment so they can get to safety. For the most part, the cat does this by leveraging its body mass and jumping from rooftop to rooftop, almost as if someone were thinking that “Assassin’s Creed, But With a Cat” was a good idea. Turns out, they were right.
- An impeccable cyber dystopian atmosphere provides a unique backdrop for the impeccably captures motions of the cat’s movement throughout the city, and there’s certainly an interesting impetus to follow along with the story in Stray. That said, there are certain free-roam areas in the game where you can just … waltz around and be a cat in a neon robot city, and who can argue with the splendor of that?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
- There are many older gamers out there who’ll shiver with pleasure at the mention of retro Ninja Turtles video games, whether it’s the ones at the arcade or the ones they played on home consoles. These are the people who will be elated to see that there’s a brand new game released in the exact same vein, entitled Shredder’s Revenge, but the beat-‘em-up gameplay should grab more than that.
- All it takes is a brief glance at a screenshot, let alone any gameplay footage, to see what this TMNT title’s all about, sporting the familiar looking ability for 4 players to get together, pick their favorite character, and put their talents to work against the Foot before they overtake the Statue of Liberty. The pixel art style gets the vintage feel down while also strengthening the characterizations and landscapes, and it’s bound to make any gamer who’s experienced the older titles get giddy with excitement.
- Turns out, the game doesn’t stop there. Shredder’s Revenge allows for up to 6 players through online multiplayer, and also makes the other TMNT good guys available as playable characters. Two different modes allow for an arcade one-sitting playthrough or a story-based continuation mode, to which the second mode also incorporates side content. From the graphics to the content, there’s a lot for the inner TMNT fan to love here, and at a respectable price tag.
For Those Who Relish Quality Exclusive Gaming
Keep in mind that a few other exclusives appear earlier in this list, such as Horizon: Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarok, but here are a pair of others that’ll be sure to make the receiver feel special about having their particular system.
The Last of Us – Part 1
- Joel and Ellie’s journey through the zombie-ish infested urban landscape, in which they struggle to survive in the face of horrors both supernatural and human alike, remains one of gaming’s most consequential and emotive narratives. Now, HBO’s about to take a crack at adapting the story in a television (mini-)series format, and what better way to relive it than through a brand new remaster?
- Obviously, the fine folks at Naughty Dog have no interest in making big changes to the experience of The Last of Us, either on the gaming design front or in terms of story, so it’s easy to appreciate that yet another version of this game has been created with the though that it’ll be the definitive one, the one that’ll preserve it for another handful of graphical upgrades across generations. What they have done, however, is given the whole experience a once-over to get it in line with modern expectations, resulting in more tactile character models, tightened shooting controls, and other adjustments that abide by a clear objective: don’t alter the way it feels, because it feels right.
- Does yet another version of The Last of Us need to exist, and should it be at full price? Those questions are hard to quantify, but the time and effort spent to keep this game fresh on people’s minds in the midst of conversations about the validity of video games as art will ultimately be justified. If you know someone who hasn’t played it, regardless of their preferred genres, it’s undoubtedly worth it.
- If there’s no such thing as bad press, then the people caught in the sphere of the release of Bayonetta 3 must’ve been quite happy. Following a long, strange saga involving the replacement of the main character’s voice actress, now we have the latest from PlatinumGames.
- With the iconic Jennifer Hale in the driver’s seat as the titular black-clad, shade-wearing witch, the third installment in the over-the-top action franchise finds Bayonetta engaged in yet another particularly crazy mission: she’s jumping between universes and looking for alternate reality versions of herself. From there, however, the game should be as comfortable as an old sweater to those with experience with the franchise, hinged on the evasive Witch Time mechanic, the summoning and cooperation of demons, and lots of Wicked Weave action.
- What ensues is yet another of the craziest franchise in gaming to date, a vibrantly colorful and unabashedly vulgar streak of decadence that’s matched only by the challenges posed by PlatinumGames’ now legendary penchant for incredibly difficult games.
For Those Who Need a Gift The Whole Fam Can Dig
Good family-friendly games are those where players both young and old can grasp the controls and
Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga
- Hard to believe that it’s been over a decade and a half now since Traveller’s Tales made yet another of their franchise tie-in games: LEGO Star Wars. This time would be different, of course, in that the execution of enjoyable all-aged gameplay and delightfully characterizations of the Prequel Trilogy crew would spawn a franchise and, essentially, an entirely new niche of family friendly gaming.
- As one can expect, Traveller’s Tales went down the line and covered all of what’s known as the “Skywalker Saga” – all 3 of the Star Wars trilogies – and they just kept getting more entertaining and humorous each time they went back to the well. This Skywalker Saga release brings together all those efforts into a single game package, but it’s not as simple as calling it a collection. Traveller’s Tales have revamped the gameplay to a moderate degree, adding new point-of-view tweaks to both lightsaber wielders and those who use blasters, while also allowing players to select whichever Star Wars trilogy they’d like to begin with. The graphics are entirely new, too.
- From explorable hub worlds and mini dogfights with LEGO-ified versions of the spacecraft to a roster of 380-ish different characters to (eventually) choose from, LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is absolutely loaded down with content in a very attractively spruced-up package.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
- Quite a while before the little yellow minions were stumbling around and spouting gibberish, the Raving Rabbids from the Rayman universe were doing something quite similar, only with more effective slapstick humor. They’ve once again moved up to the big leagues by sharing a title with Nintendo’s Mario, teaming up with him for the turn-based strategy and management game Sparks of Hope.
- A sequel to Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Sparks of Hope models its combat largely off its predecessor, but it also makes a few adjustments to give the player some added freedom. Rabbid-ified versions of some of Nintendo’s signature characters get embroiled in a zany story involving flying manta rays, an ominous presence called Darkmess, and adorable little star-shaped Rabbids called Sparks that need saving. Out of a tight roster of familiar Mario and Rabbid characters, the player develops a team and progresses through obstacles and battles in charmingly over-the-top fashion.
- Critics can be tough on tactics games, especially sequels, but for the most part both players and pros seem to really appreciate the raucous attitude and addictive, accessible energy of the gameplay.