Tired of having to venture out after the holidays to return a collection of gifts that didn’t hit home with the recipient? If you’re not “with it” when it comes to video games, but you want to get a present for someone that is, we at The Escapist know your pain. While we’re able to offer you years of expertise on just what your games-loving friend or relative might want to unwrap, we’re still wondering what to get all those people in our lives that don’t play games, because Amazon gift cards six years in a row seems a bit much.
While video games certainly have taken center stage to a large extent in popular culture, it’s still hard to distinguish the good from the bad sometimes. Even if you have a passing knowledge of games, though, knowing what to buy someone that plays Call of Duty versus League of Legends can be tricky business. It’s okay. We’re here to help.
In case you’re looking for something other than video games for your beloved geek, check out our collection of gift guides for the whole nerd spectrum.
Josh says: I’ve always enjoyed both the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series, but historically they’ve been similar enough for the choice to depend primarily on whether you have friends that want to play with you, rather than the type of game experience it is. The resurrection of the genre this year, however, came with it a divergence of experiences, making the new Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live appeal to different primary audiences.
Rock Band 4 is as suitable for non-gamers as it is for gamers. It’s easy to learn and fun to play, but is never more of a challenge than you want it to be. Each player can choose their own difficulty, so your new drummer can play on Easy, while your experienced guitarist can play Expert. The game is designed to allow anybody to pick it up and play, but can still offer challenges to more experienced gamers.
Guitar Hero Live, on the other hand, has been retooled to target a more serious gaming crowd. In the first music game face-off, there was little to set Guitar Hero apart from the guitar section of Rock Band. This time around, Guitar Hero has updated the instruments to offer a more authentic feel to the gameplay, with a focus on nimble fingers rather than spatial perception on the guitar neck. There are only three frets to worry about now, but you’ve got two “strings” on each fret now, mimicking standard guitar chords.
Where Rock Band 4 is true to the originals and will be great fun for more casual players. Guitar Hero Live brings a lot of newness to the experience, but will likely prove frustrating to the inexperienced, while being a novel challenge for veteran digital rock stars.
Liz says: When it comes to fashion, the geek world is overflowing with options to help you best flaunt your devotion to your favorite games. Sometimes, however, the smaller details may go overlooked. These Super Mario Bros Piranha Plant earrings make a biting statement, and let you not only wear your heart on your sleeve, but your nerd on your ears! They may look painful, but I assure you that the only tears the recipient will be crying are ones of joy. This gift is ideal for the Mario lover in your life. Or your grandmother. Because, let’s be honest, that would be amazing, and she’s obliged to wear them at least once.
Ron says: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is the standalone prequel to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, which won multiple Game of the Year awards. As US military soldier William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, you’ll take on the Nazi war machine in an alternate timeline to try and discover the location of a secret Nazi compound. This first-person shooter offers more than just a run-and-gun style of gameplay – you can choose to be sneaky or fire from cover as well. Along with its solid shooter mechanics, it offers up a surprisingly good story. If you’re shopping for a fan of shooters or action games, The Old Blood should be high on your list.
Jon says: A success way beyond its size, town mayor game Cities Skylines made waves earlier this year from a little Finnish game studio, previously known for niche games about building highways and railways. They took that experience and crafted a game about building a town that gamers just love, and love to share with their families. In it, you’re the mayor of a town, growing it from sleepy commuter community up to giant metropolis – managing power, laying down roads, and providing services. It teaches valuable lessons about planning, civil service, and how the world works.
Beyond the basics, it’s going to have over a year of coming free updates, with new features to boot. It’s also a highly moddable game, and if a gamer is interested in learning to make 3D models or program games, they can learn to do it playing Cities – or just reap the benefits of what hundreds of others have made already.
Justin says: Back in the early darling days of crowdfunding, Obsidian Entertainment, the folks behind games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Fallout: New Vegas, wanted to bring back the isometric RPG. Like a lot of the early Kickstarter success stories, Project Eternity found a niche in nostalgic gamers who grew up on Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate who were all too eager to support a resurgence. At the time it was the most successful crowd funded video game, bringing in around four million in total.
With a new official name and a few years of development, fans finally got their hands on Pillars of Eternity. While the game certainly caters to its nostalgic fan base, Obsidian delivered an excellent RPG that stands on its own. An interesting, rich setting, entertaining cast of characters, and classic isometric RPG combat make this a treat for both new and veteran RPG players. The secret sauce was how Pillars of Eternity masterfully combined familiar trappings from its precursor video games and tabletop along with enough new ideas to keep things fresh. It’s certainly not a small game by any stretch of the imagination, but Pillars of Eternity is perfect for any RPG fan on your holiday shopping list that might be daunted by the many otherwise-excellent, open-world RPGs released this year.
6) Xenoblade Chronicles X
Jon says: With a titanic open world and gorgeous visuals, any gamer worth their salt who has a Wii U was interested in this one, but then it showed up with an in-depth story, good gameplay, and a unique tone to boot. If your gamer wants sci-fi space opera with a positive twist and a good message, here’s a game for them. If a gamer liked Mass Effect, Monster Hunter, or Final Fantasy, then Xenoblade Chronicles X is this year’s Japanese import to play at all costs.
Surprisingly family friendly, the game puts emphasis on defense and saving people, as well as conserving the environment. It’s about resolving conflicts – sometimes peacefully, sometimes not – but it lets you do those things your way and shows the consequences of your actions. Whether you’re an explorer, mediator, or archaeologist, you’ll find something in this game to like.
Jon says: The blockbuster game of 2015 that just keeps giving, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the Marvel’s Avengers of games – if you’re a gamer, you should do it. The massive, branching stories that the game tells give you hours of play over multiple adventures, and the developer just keeps adding more game.
Beyond the sheer size of it, The Witcher 3 rewards short play sessions or long ones, and scales to many kinds of gamer. You can play casually, focusing on the story, or for the challenge, building an intricate character and crafting the perfect monster slayer. Geralt himself is one of the more interesting protagonists in gaming these days, and his cast of supporting characters run the gamut of moral complexity. Besides, there’s just not that many games where you can get taught the very vital lesson that keeping two paramours secret from each other is a bad, bad idea.
Josh says: If you’ve noticed your beloved gamer binging on Akira Kurosawa, Bruce Lee, or Jet Li movies, there’s a good chance they’ve got the kung-flu. I have the same condition. I just can’t get enough of the high-kicking, lightning-punching, acrobatic mayhem of a good martial arts duel. Fighting games can offer the interactive version of this experience to some extent, but there’s one that stands well above the pack in terms of immersing the player in a cinematic experience; Mortal Kombat X.
It is super gruesome sometimes, to be sure. The feint of heart should give this a miss. But gamers that like to punch and kick their way to success, and enjoy a good kung fu flick will have nothing to complain about when they dive into MKX. The story mode is, hands down, the most cinematic video game I’ve ever played. There are lengthy cut scenes full of cheesy kung fu dialogue in between every fight. It’s basically giving your gamer a chance to participate in their very own action martial arts film. They’ll definitely be honoring their ancestors when they finish crushing evil.
Josh says: Star Wars is the topic of the day, and the December movie launch is in full promotional swing. You can’t escape it, and you’ll even find some of your grocery essentials branded with the likeness of Darth Vader, or another iconic Star Wars character. Star Wars Battlefront is a fantastic experience for less talented shooter players on its own, but the immersion in the Star Wars universe that it offers players will be perfect for your Force users at home.
Critics have been mixed on whether Battlefront lives up to expectations, but one thing you’ll find in common with virtually every review is just how much a die-hard Star Wars fan will find to enjoy with the game. Whether it’s piloting an X-Wing, blasting Stormtroopers with a blaster pistol, or taking down an AT-AT with a speeder and a tow cable, Star Wars fans will have plenty of fun following up Force Awakens with a ground battle on Hoth. Fair warning: if they’re more competitive about their kill-death ratio than they are excited about the new Star Wars movie, this is probably not the best gift for them.
Liz says: Drinking and hunting are two activities that people tend to recommend against engaging in simultaneously – until now! The Drunk Hunt flask is modeled after an original NES cartridge, parodying the beloved Duck Hunt light gun hunting simulator. The cartridge is the perfect gift for NES fans who need to cope with the pain of having a smug dog laugh at their failures. Flasks, by design, are intended for drinking on the go. Some may call this “weird” or think you’re an “alcoholic,” so disguising your carry-along booze in a discrete container is almost necessary. Luckily, Duck Hunt is such a recognizable classic, it’s unlikely that anyone will question why you’re carrying a copy of it around in your back pocket. Probably. It is the perfect gift for toasting to your childhood when you aren’t home, and don’t have the luxury of a glass.
Stew says: Remember when you were a kid and you’d dump your toys on the floor and then, all of the sudden, heroes from one universe would be duking it out with villains from another because why the heck not? LEGO Dimensions is basically that in video game form. Weaving an epic cross-dimensional adventure, it draws heroes and villains from a dozen popular franchises including the DC Universe, The Lord of the Rings, Dr. Who and more. And boy does it have fun with them. Approaching its subject matter with its tongue firmly in cheek, Dimensions revels in the goofiness of its own premise and never wastes an opportunity to poke fun at its diverse cast.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s also fun to play too! While the combat might be a tad simple for some, the game makes clever use of a plug-in “portal” accessory that players can use to interact with the game in the real world. Used in tandem with special Dimensions branded LEGO products, players can solve puzzles, add in new characters and gain access to entirely new worlds filled with hours of content beyond the main campaign. Granted, these Dimensions expansion packs don’t run cheap, but if you enjoy the game they’re well worth it. The perfect product for gamers with kids, Dimensions delivers some serious bang for its buck.
Josh says: If you’re shopping for a gamer this holiday season, there’s a good chance that Fallout 4 is going to be on their wishlist. Of course, we all have those difficult “You don’t need to buy me anything.” people in our lives, so if you don’t have a wishlist for your gamer gift recipient, this might be just what the doctor ordered. If they disappeared for days at a time after the launch of Skyrim a few years back, or if you’ve glanced at the screen to see them making a character, and 20 minutes later, they’re on the same screen, Fallout 4 is where you want to be.
In a post apocalyptic world, the player has to solve the mystery of their kidnapped child, rebuild civilization, fight off raiders, mutants, monsters, and robots, and, of course, look good while they do it. It’s a game about exploration and adventure, but there’s no shortage of action. Roleplayers will have tough decisions to make about how to build their character, which is one of our favorite things. Crafters will be able to modify weapons and armor to their heart’s delight. Even builders – Minecraft is a household name at this point – will be able to provide shelter, food, water, and defense to their settlements scattered around the wasteland in construction mode.
Fallout 4 has something for virtually every kind of gamer. Multi-faceted players will find dozens of hours of playtime in each of these categories, so it might be best to surprise them with it after family time is over, so they don’t sneak away during “quality time.”
Want to surprise the gamer on your list with some Escapist-themed goodies? We’ve got you covered there, too. Our merch is cat-tested and Yahtzee-approved!