This Holiday season, the heavy hitter for the Console gamer is going to be God of War Ragnarok, and for very good reason. The God of War series does nothing but make near perfect games almost every time, and this year, according to popular review sites like IGN, is no exception. Kratos continues to bring the heat with great story telling and epic gameplay in this Sony Playstation Exclusive. However, with consoles being hard to find over the course of the pandemic and only now becoming somewhat available to the consumer, what else may you have missed or decided to pass on for this console generation? Here is a look at 7 games you shouldn’t miss if you’re in a gaming mood.
Immortals Fenyx Rising
Yes, this game is 2 years old, but none the less, it didn’t get the fanfare it deserved. “Immortals Fenyx Rising” is the Xbox and Playstation version clone of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”. It is as close as anyone has every come in my opinion, to the Zelda formula, from puzzle quests, art and fight style. It’s story follows as a tale told by Prometheus to Zeus about Fenyx, a daughter that Zeus didn’t recall fathering over his many drunken encounters with numerous partners, and the humor between the two is worth its weight in gold. All the side quests are fun, as are all the puzzle quests, and combat. Like Zelda, their are plenty of hidden treasure chests throughout with armor and weapons to help you along your way. If you focus on getting all the side work done, by the end of the game, the final boss will be less challenging than if you just focused on the main quest. You don’t get too overpowering for that fight, but everything else in the later stages of the game will be much easier to complete. The landscape is colorful and cartoon-like more than realistic, but it works, much like Zelda does.
If you stick to the main story without the side missions, you’re looking at about 25 hours of gameplay. Mix in the side quests and that makes it about 40 hours, and if you’re a “completionist” (doing everything there is to do in the game) its about 60 hours. I finished everything there is to do in this game, and even wrote about it in my book, “The Trophy Husband”. “Immortals Fenyx Rising” is on Xbox Gamepass now, so if you’re a subscriber, it’s no extra cost for you to give it a try. It is multiplatform, meaning you can find it on Xbox, Playstation, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Assassin’s Creed’s evolution of relevancy in today’s gaming world is masterful. The very first Assassin’s Creed was repetitious but you could see the potential with what Ubisoft was trying to do and in my opinion, “Assassin’s Creed 2” is the greatest improvement sequel ever made. That formula of quests along with stealth and combat lasted 6 games in, with the greatest entries being “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” and later, “Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag”, which was one of, if not the best, Pirate games ever made. Moving forward, Assassin’s Creed took an RPG approach, and although “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” is another great example of showing potential in a new direction, but not quite getting it right the first time, it is almost perfected in “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey”.
When “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla” was introduced as the first Assassin’s Creed game for the new generation of consoles, Ubisoft had continued it’s terrific track record of making fun to play games. Valhalla takes you on a journey as a Viking, with an enormous world to discover, and the success of any great video game is it’s ability to grab you as if you are part of the landscape. I found that as vast as the world was, I began to know my way around the world without having to use the map, even looking forward to visiting areas that side missions were presented in. There is a reference to “Portal” on one of the side missions that really grabbed my attention, and when a story has “Easter Eggs” (a message, image, or feature hidden in the game), it always makes the journey that much more enjoyable. There is a portion of the game where you visit Asgard, a reference to Thor, which takes the game in a different direction briefly. At the moment I reached this portion of the game, my wife had called my up to help her with something during the cut scene, so when I returned to this different world, I was highly confused and regret having helped my wife at that moment.
If I have any complaint of the game, it’s that you are able to get Thor’s armor and mighty hammer but by the time you do so, if you haven’t finished the game, you have put in well over 60 hours. Retrieving the hammer was the last thing I did in the game, and although Ubisoft has supported this game with tons of DLC to go through, I never returned to the world after I finished the main quest. Also, the stealth mechanic that goes with the idea of the series is almost all but lost here, unless you really look to be stealthy, which is secondary to outright attacking with no thought to being spotted, more like a barbarian than an assassin. Just sticking to the main story will take you around 60 hours, doing side quests around 90 hours, and doing everything around 140 hours. Of this generation of consoles, I have spent more time playing Assassins Creed Valhalla than any other game. It’s well worth your time, and its a great escape. If you find the need to explore the past Assassins Creed games, “Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection” is a great way to do so.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
I have completed 6 games in my life to platinum trophy status on my Playstation gamertag (One of which was “Immortals Fenyx Rising”, by the way), 3 of those games are part of the Ratchet & Clank series. This game series takes you on a journey with a Lombax (Kind of looks like a bear, cheetah, human) and his trusty best friend robot who serves as a helicopter/jet engine backpack, collecting bolts used as currency to buy ridiculous weapons of mass destruction like a Sheepinator, which turns your enemies into sheep, or Mr. Zurkon, which is a series of gunslinging robots who make comments like “Mr. Zurkon shows no mercy” and the best and most expensive weapon of them all the RYNO (Rip Ya a New One) which you buy from a shady arms dealer. The series has a cartoon movie with voice work from Sylvester Stallone, and over 2 decades, has kept the video game platforming genre alive!
“Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart” is the first game on the PS5 to show off the capabilities of switching levels without loading screens by use of a warp window you pull yourself through. The cartoon-like art style is graphically impressive and the surrounding worlds you visit are very fun to explore. It is just challenging enough to keep you interested with the combat, but for younger gamers, it’s a great introduction to what your Dad (or Mom) has been doing for years! As I stated before, I strive to get all the trophies in these games because they are so fun to play, but for me, it always takes multiple playthroughs. Luckily, Insomnia games (the creators of Ratchet & Clank) made a “New Game +” feature, allowing you to playthrough the story with subtle changes throughout. I played 3 playthroughs before I was able to achieve every trophy, which felt grindy, but in a good way.
If I have any complaints about the game, it’s that achieving everything can be done in less than 20 hours, but really, all Ratchet & Clank games are more linear than open sandbox world. The 20 hours spent is amazingly fun, and if there was DLC available, I would buy it, every time.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
My favorite game series in history for playing with friends is Borderlands. Being able to jump in and out of anyone’s game with your own character intact and either help them, or have them help you based on the level of characters is the highlight of what Borderlands does. In a world where smugglers and apocalyptic backdrops in a cell-shaded cartoon reign supreme, there is nothing quite like the Borderlands series. When “Borderlands 2” came out, my eldest son was 13 years old, and we planned a weekend where we when he got out of school on Friday, we would go down to the basement, where a pizza and snack weekend would commence and not return until early Sunday evening to prepare ourselves for the week ahead. Borderlands boasts the world record of a video game for having over 17 million different weapons to come across throughout the game. It is by far Gearbox’s best game, and arguably one of the best series ever made in video game history.
“Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands” is a spinoff of the Borderlands series, featuring one of the most hilarious characters you come across. Borderlands has a way of making a real-life dark subject, light-hearted, and with that, people may have to come to some self-reflection based on this, but don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of us need help. I won’t go into Tina’s background story, because you may not pick up the game if that’s what you take from it, better to play and ask questions later.
In this spinoff game, Tina has you participate in a “Dungeons & Dragons”- like table-top role playing game called “Bunkers & Badasses”, where she plays the Dungeon Master as you go through a overworld map, that is new to the series. When you come across an enemy on the gameboard, upon touching you, it transforms into an outright battle area, full of loot boxes, enemies to kill, and dice to be rolled upon victory! Will Arnett plays the head bad guy, and as you would expect, the game is based on hilarity, making up for what it lacks as a new entry to the Borderlands history. Thousands of weapons are available throughout the game and the story is ridiculous in the best and funniest way. My wife, overhearing the commentary in a scene where my character exclaimed, “Ugh, it smells like shit and nachos!” couldn’t help but chuckle, and say, “That was so specific.”
The Borderlands games are not for a younger audience. The humor is absolutely adult with very dark subject matter. It’s in the category of “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “South Park” in the best way possible. This is the shortest game of the Borderlands series, taking about 42 hours to complete everything in the game, but an excellent time waster and mood enhancer if you need one. If you haven’t played the Borderlands series, “Borderlands: The Handsome Collection” is a great way to check it out.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure
When a new console launches, available games are a dozen at most, and the majority of those titles are passable at best. However, every once in a while, a game comes out that surprises you, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure is one of those games. Sackboy was the main character of “Little Big Planet”, an innovative Playstation 3 game where you could create your own levels to play and release to the world. It’s arguable that games like “Roblox” and “Minecraft” owe the visionary ideas of Little Big Planet for their success, but that’s another story.
The thing is, I was never a fan of the “Little Big Planet” or creating my own levels. Yes, those games had a separate story mode that was created on top of the idea you could make your own, but the world was a little too off for my taste. It was childish, but challenging in an annoyingly hard way that I may have accepted during the days of the Original NES years ago, but in today’s simplicity of gameplay motion, I have no desire to struggle making a jump, climbing a wall, avoiding a fireball to the extent of it interfering with the fun in place of making it challenging.
Sackboy feels more like a Super Mario game for this generation than it ever has, with fun to play levels based around an incredible score of music like “Let’s Dance”, by David Bowie, “Toxic” by Britney Spears, “Jungle Boogie” by Kook & the Gang, and then not my favorite, but still to have a level built around it, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. Each level is challenging, but approachable, and the game play mechanics kept me smiling rather than frustrated upon having to master a jump or a climb. This is as close as Sony has ever come to a Super Mario clone, and they pulled it off masterfully. Also, it is a fun co-op game that I was able to play with my 8 year old at the time of it’s release, so if you have multiple young children, this game will keep them entertained along with you. The main story is around 10 hours long, but getting all the collectibles will take around 30 hours. Either way, the replaying of levels is fun, and creates memories for years to come.
Horizon: Forbidden West
I bought Horizon: Zero Dawn, the first game of the series, on its launch day. 5 years later, I finally got around to playing it. Why? Guerilla games, the makers of Horizon, decided to launch the game the same week as “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, arguably one of the greatest video games in history. I thought, when I got done with Zelda, I would pick up with Horizon. The problem was, Zelda was so good, it occupied 3 months of my gaming life, and by then, I was just done with the allure of Horizon. It wasn’t until the sequel was announced, that I decided I should revisit Horizon to see what I missed.
The original Horizon game took me well over 10 hours to moderately enjoy, but I was determined to see it through. 30 hours in, I decidedly loved what I was doing, working in a world that was overrun by machine technology created by humans that was built to evolve on its own. The world that was left behind was more tribal/caveman like with an exceptionally evolved intelligence who were taught to avoid the technology left from the past. The stealth mechanics are reminiscent of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, while the use of the bow is reminiscent of “Tomb Raider”. The fact that it took my 30 hours to enjoy the path of the story and gameplay mechanics reminded me of what Assassin’s Creed did at its inception as well. The sequel was going to be great, I could feel it, because all the little nuances that bothered me so, would most definitely be fixed. I am happy to say, I was right.
“Horizon: Forbidden West” is graphically beautiful. Where the first game failed in being gripping right at the get go, Forbidden West grabs you immediately. Tutorial of mechanics and weapon usage are built into the story and feels fun to attempt, rather than just hitting you over the head with, “You won’t have fun till you learn how to do this.” The story continues to captivate you with the main character, Alloy, learning about who she is, where she came from, and why the world is the way the world is. The game picks up right where the end of Zero Dawn ended, learning of a higher intelligence human existence. The side missions are vast, and much like Valhalla and Immortals, the world grabs you and you can’t but help wanting to see it through. The main story takes about 30 hours to complete, but if you do everything, and you will want to, you are looking at about 90 hours of gameplay. This Sony exclusive got it right, and I can’t wait for another sequel to come out.
I have played every Halo game campaign in co-op with one of my sons, separately, meaning I have played all of the games campaign modes twice each. Halo has a simple formula that doesn’t overly evolve in mechanics but does enough to always make you want to play them. It is a near perfect FPS (first person shooter) with a story based around a marine corp. unit who fights multiple alien antagonist. ” The Master Chief Collection“, a revisited, upgraded collection of Halo 1-4, helped make the games playable for this generation and my youngest son being able to experience what his older brother did before him. I win either way, because I spent time with both my boys, destroying the flood (a zombie alien).
“Halo: Infinite” was released on December 8th, 2021, with a silent multi-player release on Xbox Gamepass weeks before. The multi-player, much like that of “Call of Duty” , is a masterpiece in every way. It pairs players of similar skill levels very well so that you never feel like you are getting killed by experts, or killing those who are less of a player than yourself. The campaign though upon release, was single player only. Why?! How could this be? There was rumor that 343 industries did not plan finishing the co-op campaign mode, and for almost an entire year, that was the case, until, November 8th, 2022, when the co-op campaign was triumphantly released!
My wife’s birthday is the same week, so my son and I had to wait to play, but we had already waited a year already, what could a few days more hurt? Finally, on a Saturday morning, we took to the television and picked up where we left off at the end of Halo 5, with a graphically superior experience, smoothly transitioned controls, and a very familiar feel of the worlds we had explored so many times before. At the end of the day, it’s Halo. There is a hookshot zipline, to help you get around differently, and a change in some grenades, but only having played a few chapters in, my hopes for evolved gameplay mechanics are still there. Even so, if there isn’t any change, I get to finish this game with my son, and that’s worth every second I play.
Months from now, we will have many new games to play, and by this time next year, we will easily have a new list of must play games to come. Until then, I hope this list passes time for you. It’s time worth passing.