The holiday gaming season is in full swing, which means that we are absolutely drowning in big name game releases and our wallets are crying out in anguish. Unless your gaming budget is limitless, this is the time of year when you have to make some serious decisions about which games to spend your hard-earned money on and which ones you’re okay with letting slip by. Fortunately, the holidays are fast approaching, which means that discernible gamers can rely on the generoisity of friends and family to help get the games they may no be able to afford on their own!
Whether you’re wondering which games to ask for or are shopping for an avid gamer on your list, our ultimate guide will help you find the perfect gaming gift. And really, that’s what the holidays are all about, right?
For The Shooter Fan
Titanfall 2 is arguably the best overall shooter of 2016, which is not something we would have imagined saying at the beginning of the year. Developer Respawn Entertainment had delivered a near-perfect sequel, as Titanfall 2 not only builds on the original 2014 release’s fast and fluid multiplayer suite, but also introduces a surprisingly engaging single player campaign that features some of the best level design this side of Half-Life 2. It’s an absolute shame that EA decided to release this game right in-between Battlefield 1—a game they also published—and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, as it’s unlikely that Titanfall 2 will be able to compete with either game. Regardless, this is a shooter that is absolutely worth your time and deserves to be one of the hottest games of the holidays, even if it probably won’t be.
If futuristic mech warfare isn’t your cup of tea, you can’t go wrong with EA’s other big holiday shooter release, Battlefield 1. DICE has ditched the modern warfare arena and gone all the way back to the First World War with this one, a gamble that has seemingly been richly paying off. Battlefield 1 has received near-unanimous praise for its single player campaign, which takes players all over the various theaters of WWI and proves to be a smartly-veiled tutorial for the game’s multiplayer in the process. Oh and of course, the franchise’s award-winning multiplayer is present and accounted for, and is the best it’s been in years. This is definitely the year to pick Battlefield over Call of Duty (though again, try not to forget about Titanfall 2!)
Released earlier in the year, id Software’s Doom reboot is a violent cacophony of first-person shooting bliss. Fast-paced and stylishly violent, Doom features one of the best shooter campaigns of this generation, capturing the spirit of earlier games in the series while giving the whole thing a modern makeover, much like MachineGames was able to do with Wolfenstein: The New Order back in 2014. The only real downside to Doom is that its multiplayer offerings aren’t all that satisfying and probably won’t hold your interest very long, especially in a year that’s seen so many excellent shooters with better online modes. However, for those that adore fantastic solo experiences, Doom is a no-brainer.
For The Adventurous Thrillseeker
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
If there’s one game that should be on every wishlist this year, it’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which will likely be considered by many to be the best game of 2016 when all is said and done. Really, it’s difficult to even know what else to say about this game at this point: it features one of the best stories in gaming, is breathtakingly beautiful to look at, and even has a really good multiplayer mode for good measure. If you or someone on your list owns a PS4 and somehow hasn’t played Uncharted 4 yet, this one is absolutely a must-buy.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Just in time for Tomb Raider’s 20th anniversary this year, the latest game in the series, Rise of the Tomb Raider, was recently made available on the PS4 after releasing exclusively on Xbox One in 2015 and even a year after release, it’s still every bit worth playing. Rise of the Tomb Raider is the kind of game that should appeal to many different kinds of gamers, as it’s a surprisingly deep blockbuster experience featuring a likable female lead and some truly spectacular locales. We would recommend picking up the 20th Anniversary Edition on the PS4, as it includes all previous DLC and an exclusive level designed for PSVR, but it’s also worth seeking out on PC and Xbox One as well (and you’ll probably find it cheaper).
Forza Horizon 3
2016 hasn’t been a banner year for racing games, but it did see the release of one truly great title: Forza Horizon 3. This latest entry in the prolific series is not only one of the best-looking racing games ever made, but also perhaps one of the most purely enjoyable to play. Unlike the more simulation -heavy Forza Motorsport 6, Forza Horizon 3 is all about arcade thrills in gorgeous locations. You can take the racing as seriously as you like, or just drive off the beaten path and try to crash through a bunch of billboards. The game’s hyper-realized Australia environment offers a wide diversity of racing types and the game’s social features are as well integrated as ever. Forza Horizon 3 also takes advantage of Microsoft’s “Play Anywhere” feature, which means that you can play it on PC and/or Xbox One.
For The Multiplayer Fanatic
Blizzard waded into the comptetitve, team-based first-person shooter market this year and the result was a rousing success. Overwatch is widely considered to be one of the best games of the year and is already becoming a hot title in the eSports scene. Featuring a cast of widely diverse and likable heroes in frantic 6-on-6 matches, Overwatch is an arena shooter with an emphasis on fun above all else. Not good at racking up kills? Be a healer and support your team in a different way. There is a role for every type of player in Overwatch and given Blizzard’s commitment to steadily updating the game, Overwatch is likely to only get better as time goes on.
Gears of War 4
With the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield taking up the shooter conversation right now, it’s easy to forget that Microsoft dropped a brand new Gears of War in early October. While Gears of War 4 is very similar to past entries in the series, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Truth be told, Gears of War 4 might be one of the most feature-rich games of the holiday season, especially if you’re into multiplayer. Each of the games three modes—Campaign, Horde, and Versus—can be enjoyed in split-screen and each one is a full-featured experience unto itself. Admittedly, the competitive multiplayer has a pretty steep learning curve, as Gears players are really, really good at this game, but if you can put up with getting beaten into the ground for awhile, you’ll find one of the best all-around multiplayer games of 2016.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
This year’s Call of Duty is getting some mixed reviews in terms of its multiplayer offerings, but at the same time, this is still Call of Duty we’re talking about, so you know you’re getting one of the deepest and most addictive multiplayer games on the market. Infinite Warfare also sees the return of Zombies if you’re into that and perhaps most surprisingly of all, features a really good campaign mode that is arguably the best one since Black Ops II. If you’ve sat out the last few Call of Duty games, you may want to hold off on jumping into this one’s competitive scene, as it’s more inaccessible than ever, but if you’re a COD die hard, it will be hard to resist passing this one up, especially after last year’s disappointing Black Ops III.
For Those That Crave A Challenge
Dark Souls III
At this point, you either get Dark Souls or you don’t, but luckily for fans, the series went out on a highnote this year with Dark Souls III, ostensibly the last chapter in the franchise. Faster-paced than its predecessors, but still as difficult as ever, Dark Souls III is the perfect game for those who want to put their gaming skills to the test, featuring the same smooth combat and dastardly enemies that have helped make the series a standout among hardcore gamers.
Released all the way back in January, The Witness is a triumph of a puzzle game that will seriously test your problem-solving skills and make you feel incredibly stupid before turning around and making you feel like a total genius. A labor of love designed by Jonathan Blow of Braid fame, The Witness is a much different kind of gaming experience than many players are used to these days, requiring serious thought and patience to work out its approximately 650 puzzles. It’s also one of the most gorgeous games of the year, set on a lushly diverse and colorful island, and unlike most modern games, does not include any written tutorial instructions. A game of pure discovery that may not be to everyone’s liking, The Witness quickly becomes one of the most rewarding gaming experiences of the year if you’re willing to put in the time and effort required.
The original Dishonored was a breath of fresh air when it was released back in 2012: a stealth-based action game featuring an original steampunk universe and gameplay freedom that allowed players to approach situations however they wanted. The newly released sequel delivers much the same experience as its predecessor, but expands upon it in all the right ways, with a more engaging story and more fleshed out level design. It’s also a surprisingly difficult game, especially if you’re trying to avoid bloodshed and play stealthily. Dishonored 2 is a game that demands frequent save points and patience and while this will certainly not appeal to every gamer, those that are in the mood for a thinking man’s action-adventure game will find a lot to love about Arkane’s wonderful sequel.
For The Gamer Who Needs The Best Hardware
2016 has been a bit of an odd year for the console business, as we’ve seen both Sony and Microsoft start to transition to the idea of iterative hardware releases rather than totally new tech. While we’ll have to wait until next year to see what Microsoft plans to do with the Xbox Scorpio, Sony’s more powerful PlayStation 4—dubbed the PS4 Pro—is already on the market. Featuring a bigger hard drive, 4K and HDR visual output, and marginally-better system specs, the PS4 Pro is certainly the most powerful console on the market right now … but it’s not necessarily something that every gamer should rush out and buy.
For the most part, it’s difficult to notice the bump in graphical fidelity between games running on a regular PS4 and the Pro, and unless you already own a 4K TV, you may not notice a difference at all. Still, if you don’t own a PS4 yet, the Pro is absolutely the way to go, as it will likely have more benefits as time goes on and if you have a 4K TV already, it makes sense to have hardware that actually takes advantage of it.
Xbox One S
With so much focus on the PS4 Pro, it’s easy to forget that Microsoft also updated the Xbox One this year with the release of the slimmer, sleeker Xbox One S. While the Xbox One S doesn’t really enhance anything from a technical perspective (other than the fact that it supports 4K output) it’s still an improvement in pretty much every way over the original ugly, bulky Xbox One. It has actual USB ports on the front, ditches the super sensitive power button in favor of one that actually needs to be pressed down, and also gets rid of the gigantic power brick. If you already own a Xbox One, there’s really no reason to upgrade to the S, especially with the Scorpio coming next year, but if you’ve been thinking about picking up the Xbox One, this is absolutely the one to get.
For The Retro Fan
One of the hottest gifts of 2016, gaming or otherwise, is the NES Classic, a miniature version of the original Nintendo Entertainment System that includes a hard drive full of classic games. No matter which way you slice it, the NES Classic is an attractive purchase, especially if your formative gaming years were spent with a NES at your side. It’s also reasonably priced, retailing for $59.99 USD / $79.99 CAD, which means that for the price of one new PS4 or Xbox One game, you get access to a whole system featuring 30 games.
You can read all about the NES Classic in our handy guide, but what you really need to know right now is that this thing is probably going to be hard to track down. The console has been selling out like crazy since it was released on Nov 11, primarily because Nintendo is terrible at product launches and can never seem to get enough stock into stores. We wouldn’t advise paying any of the crazy prices being advertised on eBay right now but if you manage to find one in store, don’t hesitate to buy it as it might be your only chance between now and Dec 25th.
For The Gamer That Craves New (Expensive) Experiences
Virtual Reality finally made its way to store shelves in 2016, as three major headsets were released throughout the year: the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and most recently, PlayStation VR. With each headset still having a ridiculously high cost of entry, VR is still very much a luxury item, but in terms of which one we would recommend picking up at this stage, we have to go with the PlayStation VR. The PSVR isn’t as powerful as the Oculus Rift or Vive, but it also doesn’t require a beefy gaming PC in order to run; if you own a PS4, you already have what you need to play it.
Of course, at $399.99 USD / $549.99 CAD for the standard headset and $499.99 USD / $699.99 CAD, PSVR is still very expensive but it also gives you the most bang for your buck. It’s comfortable to wear and although it doesn’t offer quite the same level of experience provided by the Oculus or Vive, it is still the real deal and has some of the best VR experiences out there, including Batman: Arkham VR and Rez Infinite. VR is only going to get better and more affordable with each passing year, but if you’re looking to get in now and see what all the fuss is about, PSVR is arguably the way to go at present.
Other Gaming Goodies
Custom Microsoft Xbox Controller
For the Xbox gamer on your list, it’s hard to go wrong with these custom controllers made by Xbox Design Lab. A bit more expensive than a regular Xbox controller, users can customize every part of the controller with a color of their choosing, which leads to some pretty unique designs. Regular controllers can get so boring, so why not give one a personal touch and surprise someone with a gamepad that they can truly call their own?
Turtle Beach Elite Pro Gaming Headphones
When it comes to top of the ling gaming headsets, it’s hard to beat Turtle Beach’s offerings and their Elite Pro Gaming Headphones are a must for serious gamers. Delivering tournament-grade performance, excellent microphone quality, and most importantly, super comfortable memory-foam cushions, this is the headset to get if your competitive gaming sessions regularly last multiple hours and well into the night (although the $200 asking price will be a bit steep for many).
Clothes?! Just hear us out. During the many hours you or the gamer on your list is going to spend glued in front of their TV this holiday season, they’re probably going to get chilly from time to time, which makes one of Merchoid’s many geek-themed Christmas sweaters an attractive purchase. Our personal favorite is the PlayStation sweater, which hearkens back to the classic PSone grey color scheme and hits all the right nostalgia buttons, but Merchoid has a ton of other worthy sweaters that feature Fallout, Halo, and Zelda themes, just to name a few.
Don’t forget about games played with dice and cardboard! There were a ton of fantastic designer board games released in 2016, but if we could only pick one, we’d have to go with Scythe, which is being hailed by many as the best board game of the year. Set in a steampunk re-imagining of 1920s Eastern Europe, Scythe is a 5-player game where you compete for resources and territorial control of a hexagonal game board. Although combat is a part of the game (it features coal-powered mechs, after all), this is definitely a game that rewards careful planning and strategy, and seems destined to become a part of the regular rotation of board game enthusiasts everywhere.
PokeBall Serving Bowl Set (ThinkGeek)
ThinkGeek.com has a ridiculous array of gaming-themed products, but one that needs highlighting is their PokeBall Serving Bowl Set, Simple in its elegance and also practical to boot, the set proves that PokeBalls are just as good at serving food as they are holding Pokemon captive. Sure, people will probably make fun of you if you serve chips and dip in these things at your next holiday party … until they realize that this was the way snacks were supposed to be served.