In late 2020, I got a surprising message from my accountant older brother: “Hey, do you mind if I borrow your Xbox for a bit?” After a good 10-year gap away from games, he’d finally decided he had the time and interest to get back on the gaming horse. A few months after that, I got a similar message from my sister. While bored in lockdown, both of them had separately decided it was time to rediscover old hobbies, despite being lapsed gamers.
It was exciting to me for a bunch of reasons. First, it meant I started receiving frequent updates about which Vikings my brother was making friends with — and second, I could finally introduce my siblings to all the games I’d played and loved over the last few years.
I did run into a big challenge, though: deciding what games to recommend after they’d been away for so long.
The last game my brother had played was Gears of War 3. My sister’s last was Skyrim. Since then, there have been so many great games, but not all of them are suitable for a former gamer.
Eventually, there were a few titles I landed on — and my hit rate was pretty good overall. Having Xbox Game Pass on hand was super helpful because it’s stacked with a bunch of different-genre games, and I was able to dig into my physical library, too. Eventually, I was able to find what I was looking for and send my siblings on their bright and shiny new path.
These are some of the games I ended up recommending — and they might be helpful for you, too.
This article has been updated since its original publication.
Did your lapsed gamer play Skyrim in 2011?
Well, the good news is some things never change, and Skyrim is coming back for new gen consoles in 2021. With fishing, too! While it’s easy to be cynical about the endless releases and re-releases for the game, Skyrim keeps coming back because it’s just that good. No matter how many times you play it, you’ll never get sick of exploring its vast worlds — and there’s genuinely so much to discover in the world.
Even for first-timers it’s a great game, and it’s basically the perfect reintroduction to how beautiful, fun and rewarding games can be.
Forza Horizon 5
Forza Horizon 5 is for racing game fans and people who don’t like racing games. Weird, right? But between its absolutely stunning scenery and competition-based gameplay, it’s a great entry for any fans of gaming. Personally, I don’t consider myself a racing game fan — but the Forza Horizon series was a breath of fresh air when I first discovered it.
You don’t need to know anything about cars or racing (outside of ‘be first’) but you can sit back, go for a ride and enjoy the scenery along the way. Sometimes, all you need to do is just vibe, and Forza Horizon 5 lets you do just that.
Given how popular racing games used to be in the 2000s, it’s highly likely your former gamer will have some experience with the genre already. Not much has changed in the two decades, so it should be a spot of familiarity.
Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee
Chances are your lapsed gamer is familiar with the Pokémon franchise in some capacity, whether that be through the cartoons or the games. If they’ve never played a Pokémon game, start them with Pokémon Let’s Go: Pikachu or Eevee, two of the best modern Pokémon games around. These titles remaster the Game Boy originals and act as a ‘clean slate’ for the Pokémon franchise so you don’t really need to know anything about them going in.
Both games are extremely adorable, extremely fun and extremely good. In fact, Pikachu was the first and only game I ever gave a perfect score. That may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but take my word for it when I say it’s an excellent game, and great for newcomers.
If they have played Pokémon before, it’s still a great pick because it shows just how far the franchise has come.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is actually great for gaming newcomers or returning players, particularly if they like their fiction to be immersive, engaging and/or educational. In the game, you play as a historical Viking traipsing through the wilderness of Europe, pillaging and looting as you go. First-timers may struggle with the more complex controls of this title, but its exploration is still a real joy, and something everyone should get to experience.
Valhalla was the game that sucked my brother back into gaming, and he really hasn’t looked back since. Watching him discover new secrets and historical figures, all while journeying through beautiful landscapes, has been a real joy, and it’s something everyone should get to experience. Games have come a long way over the last few years, and Valhalla represents one of the best new titles around.
Platform(s): PS5, PS4
Everyone knows Spider-Man, right? Gamer or not, it’s hard to escape Marvel’s superheroes — and gamers lately have struggled more than most. Luckily, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a phenomenal title, and one that’s great for any kind of player. The controls are fairly standard, but the gameplay is anything but and it’s easy to get lost in the game as you swing from place to place.
For anyone who’s played classic adventure games, or even the original Spider-Man games on PlayStation 2 or Xbox, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a great game recommendation. Sure, it requires a leap of faith to dive into such a big open world, but it’s a leap worth taking for any new or former gamer.
Psychonauts 2 is the newest game on this list, but one that feels the most similar to the classic games of the early 2000s. If you’re looking for a shiny platformer with new gen graphics, a real sense of humour and absolutely delightful gameplay, this is it. Psychonauts 2 is fun, clever and just familiar enough to make you long for the days when you could play games for hours with no sense of time at all.
It was a different time in the early 2000s, but a very good one — and Psychonauts 2 should help you recapture that sense of childhood fun and adventure. Like others on this list, it’s also available for free with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, so you won’t even have to fork out for the full price of the game.
Spyro: Reignited Trilogy
Depending on the tenure of your lapsed gamer, they may have grown up playing console platformers like Spyro the Dragon or Crash Bandicoot on PlayStation. Well, in good news for those folks, both franchises are back in the modern era, and even have shiny remasters to play through. Spyro Reignited Trilogy is my favourite of the two, and one of the most colourful and fun adventure game collections around.
If you’re looking for a spot of freshly-squeezed nostalgia or you just want to introduce your mate to some absolute classics, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a great, wholesome way to start. It’s easy to get into, and there are plenty of hours of gameplay here to keep you going.
Untitled Goose Game
Untitled Goose Game is the ultimate gaming gateway drug for bygone gamers because it’s so simple. You play as a goose. Go cause some trouble. It’s a winning formula, and one that makes all the action and puzzle-solving of Goose Game a real joy. It’s also great because anyone can play it, whether they’ve played games before or they’re brand new.
All you really need to know is ‘push stick to walk, press this button to grab’, and the game does so much with those controls. Gameplay is simple and super funny, puzzles are challenging but not too hard, and there’s plenty to discover as you wander through the game’s world.
If you’re trying to get somebody back into games after a long time away (or if you’re introducing somebody new to games), Goose Game is the perfect, fun introduction to modern gaming.
Have you been successful in bringing a lapsed gamer back into the fold? Have any recommendations for the list? Pop on down to the comments below and share how you went.