Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.
It’s a great time to be a gamer — I mean, what else is there to do? And with the prospect of a long winter and lonely holiday season ahead of us, here’s a list of games on all the major platforms that you can really sink your teeth — and a few dozen hours — into.
Buying for a gamer and have no idea what’s worthwhile? Once you’ve figured out which gaming system is their platform of choice, any of these should be guaranteed wins.
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All major platforms
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
I genuinely enjoyed AC: Odyssey’s gorgeous landscapes and main characters, but the game systems felt disconnected and arbitrary. That’s much less the case with AC: Valhalla, which tells a similarly sprawling tale of Vikings in England but works a little harder to put it together into a cohesive whole. It’s still very much “Ubisoft Game, but with Vikings” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Price: $50 from Amazon
I thought this game was a bit limited when it first came out, but since then it has gotten several new areas and cross-platform multiplayer. Between that and its simplified systems and PG-level violence, Minecraft Dungeons is a great option for families that want to fight monsters together.
Price: $20-30 (depending on platform) from Mojang
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Reviewers agree: The new CODBLOPS is definitely more CODBLOPS. The latest in the gritty military series is the one everyone will be playing for the next year, so it’s definitely a must-have for quite a few people.
Price: $50-60 (depending on platform) from Amazon
Cyberpunk 2077, the futuristic RPG from the creators of the Witcher, isn’t out yet, but it’s one of the most anticipated titles in recent years and your special someone might like the idea that they’re getting it day one. Of course if it’s anything like The Witcher 3, they’re probably going to want to wait a few months for the bugs to get ironed out. But hey, it’s an option.
Price: $50 from Amazon
PS4 and PS5
Spider-Man: Miles Morales
This semi-sequel to the much-lauded 2018 Spider-Man is smaller in scale but plays even better. Plus it has a wonderfully inclusive cast and tone and feels authentic, where the original, for all its strengths, had a pretty flat take on New York. Bonus: If you buy the PS5 version of Miles Morales, you get the remastered 2018 game for free. I’d argue you’re simply not going to find a better bang for your buck right now with any other new game.
Price: $50 on Amazon
The only “true” next-generation game out there right now is a remake of a PlayStation 3 game, and in many ways it feels like it. But in other ways, it’s the most amazing game on the market right now. If your loved one has enjoyed Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro and other incredibly hard games, this is the one to get.
Price: $70 on Amazon
Ghost of Tsushima
Between Nioh 2, Sekiro and Ghost of Tsushima, there’s a real bumper crop of samurai and ninja action to be had. But Ghost is the broadest and most beautiful of them all — if not necessarily the deepest.
What it lacks in challenge… first of all, is more than made up by the difficulty of those other two games I mentioned, give me a break. But Ghost’s draw is in the unity and beauty of its game world and systems. For example, instead of a quest marker or arrow pointing toward your objective, the wind is just always blowing in that direction. Amazing, right? The single player campaign is remarkably well acted, and a free update has brought a surprisingly extensive multiplayer co-op mode as well. This is truly a game you can lose yourself in. Just don’t start trying to collect everything or you’ll never leave the first area.
Price: $40 on Amazon
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
This totally unique game came out of left field and obsessed me for two solid weeks. A combination of adventure game, visual novel and tactical action game, 13 Sentinels puts you in charge of a bunch of high school kids piloting giant robots to save the world from alien invaders. (In case you can’t tell, it’s a Japanese production.)
Sound familiar? That’s the idea — and then it starts pulling rugs out from under you and doesn’t stop until the last few minutes. The labyrinthine story, which progresses simultaneously through 13 interwoven narratives, is the very best kind of sci-fi mind-boggler and a pleasure to unravel from start to finish. The combat is also compelling and satisfying, if not particularly deep or challenging. There’s simply nothing else like this out there.
Price: Currently $30 from GameStop
Xbox One and Series X
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
If your loved one is a Halo fan, they’re likely very sad since Halo: Infinite, once a launch title for the new console, won’t be coming out until next year. But it can’t hurt to have the original games all updated and beautified to play through as an appetizer. Plus there’s the famous Halo multiplayer to get everyone through the winter.
Price: $30 from Amazon
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
The latest in the long-running and beloved Yakuza series of character-driven adventures of Japanese gangsters set in a fictional Tokyo neighborhood, this one changes up the style with a turn-based combat system and new protagonist — but some are calling it the best yet.
Price: $35 from Amazon
No one really expected that the Gears of War series would lend itself to a tactics game in the style of XCOM — let alone that it would leapfrog others in the genre and become one of the best you can get, period. Naturally it isn’t quite the urgent, visceral experience that Gears normally is, but this is a surprisingly deep and engrossing game.
Price: $38 from Amazon
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
The sequel to the lauded “metroidvania” Ori and the Blind Forest is technically on several platforms, but the Series X seems to be the absolute best one on which to play it. With beautifully updated art and a silky-smooth framerate, this will look better on that new 4K HDR TV than many “real” next-generation games. But don’t let the beautiful yet cute art style make you think this will be a cakewalk. Like the first in the series, you’ll need some serious dexterity to complete this platformer.
Price: $30 from Moon Studios
Risky move: Preorder Halo: Infinite
No one is quite sure whether the first Halo of the next generation is going to be as good as everyone hopes, and a delay to early next year didn’t allay anyone’s fears. That said, many a gamer will cherish the idea of playing the latest in this venerable series day one, so pre-ordering a copy is a possibility if none of the other games really ring their bell.
Price: $60 from Amazon
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit
Technically this is also a “toy,” because it’s real-life RC carts zooming around your home on an augmented-reality racetrack. We thought it was tons of fun, and it’s a great way to take video games off the TV and into real life… kind of. Just be aware that every player needs their own cart and their own Switch.
Price: $99 from Best Buy
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Don’t go into this game expecting a full-on new Zelda title and you’ll do just fine. This is definitely an action game, and a big, rather mindless one at that. But it’s hard to resist the concept of playing as Link, Zelda or any of the champions from Breath of the Wild and dispatching enemies by the hundreds.
Price: $50 on Amazon
Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Okay, I gave Nintendo some guff over the perfunctory nature of this collection of amazing games. I’ve wanted to replay Mario 64 for years and was waiting for Nintendo to touch it up just a bit — but it, and Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, are virtually unchanged in this retro package. Really, you couldn’t make it widescreen? But for most, the chance to play these games again (or for the first time) on the Switch is worth the price of admission, period.
Price: $60 from Amazon
Spelunky 2 and/or Hades
The “roguelite” genre, with its randomly generated levels and complex interlocking systems, has grown in popularity and sophistication for years — and here we have two fine examples that take the genre in different directions.
Spelunky 2 is the most traditional, in a way. Sequel to one of the best games out there, this one adds more variety, more weirdness and more challenge to the unforgiving platforming of the original. Like before, every death (and there will be a lot) is avoidable and while some runs may last only seconds, it’s hard to be deterred when you know that if you just paid a little more attention, or saved your bombs, or went over that other way… just one more game. (Pro tip: Buy a couple copies for friends and indulge in jolly cooperation.)
Hades combines the procedurally generated levels with an incredibly beautiful art style and an ingenious story and progression system. Escaping from the ever-shifting landscape of Hades, you’re going to die over and over, but as a young god, that’s more inconvenience than obstacle. Meanwhile every death and every inch of progress moves you closer to the mystery of your birth in a clever modern take on Greek mythology. It’s honestly hard to imagine how Hades could be improved in almost any way.
Crusader Kings III
This long-awaited strategy title puts you in the throne room of a European medieval dynasty, where you can do… pretty much anything to get ahead. Assassinations, proxy wars, brutal taxes, religious cannibalism, strategic marriages… it’s all on the table. This is a story-telling engine that’s remarkably robust and, once you get past the initial learning curve, very fun. It’s also very, very nerdy, and proud of it.
Price: $50 on Steam
Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros
This little gadget has the original Super Mario Bros., its sequel (not the weird one — what we knew as “The Lost Levels”) and a remade LCD game all built in. It’s a charming device and the games play well, plus you can turn it off and resume progress later, making it that much easier to get through the whole game.
Price: $50 (but finding one in stock can be challenging.)
Backbone One for iPhone
Got a friend who prefers to game on their phone? The Backbone is built for them. This snap-on controller brings buttons and analog triggers (and good ones, at that!) into the iOS gaming world, along with a surprisingly solid companion app that can do things like record your gameplay and help you edit and post your highlight reels. It only works with select iOS titles, but the library is growing. TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino reviewed it in October and gave it his stamp of approval with very little reservation.
Price: $99 from Backbone