Happy holidays! Hopefully you’ll be able to take a break from the upcoming festivities to enjoy some gaming. Should you find yourself at a loss of what to play, we’ve got a few recs.
This holiday weekend we’re playing some recent smash hits, an Arkane jam from 2021, an irradiated Bethesda not-quite-classic (or…is it?), and a pretty neat VR adventure too. So whether you’re itching to pull the trigger on some of this year’s best gaming experiences or take a trip down memory lane, we’ve got you covered.
Baldur’s Gate 3
It took me getting an absolutely awful cold and being sidelined for a week to finally start Baldur’s Gate 3, but man, I’m hooked. In the week since I caught the gamer cold at The Game Awards, I’ve sunk nearly two days’ worth of time into Larian Studios’ wildly popular RPG, commiserating with iridescent mushroom folk, yeeting goblins into massive chasms, and shamelessly flirting with a fiery hot barbarian named Karlach. She hasn’t tried to get with me just yet, but I’m persistent, and I’m hoping that the next time we make camp she cuddles up next to me by the fire.
Until then, I can safely say that I finally get it—I get why BG3 won GotY at The Game Awards, why everyone at Kotaku and beyond keeps talking about it, why Astarion became the focus of my TikTok algorithm long before I even downloaded the game. This is truly a masterpiece, and I’m not even all that mad that I’ve been sick for seven days’ straight—just gives me more time to roam Faerûn. I’ll be playing this until the moment I have to leave my apartment and trek to Long Island for Christmas Eve, and I’ll be thinking about it over dinner, too. — Alyssa Mercante
Arkane is making a Blade game, which absolutely rules. This is the perfect development studio, outside of maybe an Insomniac Games or something, to bring the vampire slayer to the interactive world of video games. (Let’s ignore Redfall, OK? Until it’s fixed, that vampire shooter doesn’t exist.) The team hasn’t announced a release date yet, so we can assume it’s at least a few more years away. As such, I want to go through Arkane’s back catalog to finish some of the games I haven’t yet, starting with the 2021 time-bending first-person imsim shooter Deathloop.
Deathloop was a hit when it launched in September 2021, garnering universal acclaim from critics. I dabbled in the island of Blackreef back then, shooting goons and sneaking past guards, but quickly dipped to return to Dishonored 2’s setting of Karnaca because I was halfway through that game. Deathloop lingered, though, begging me to give it another go, particularly because the game’s central characters, Colt and Julianna, are Black like me. And so, now that I’m done with Dishonored 2 (I still have Death of the Outsider to go through), I think it’s time I see my cousins—I mean, Colt and Julianna—duke it out in a never-ending…deathloop. I just hope that I can actually finish a run before getting my head’s sniped clean off. — Levi Winslow
As I was sinking tons of time into Starfield this year, I kept thinking about Fallout 4. So I think it’s time to jump back into the wastelands of Massachusetts (hopefully I won’t trip and fall down a hill like I did the last time).
I’m taking a very academic perspective on this revisit. What does that mean? Well, there’s a lot of discourse about Starfield, especially more critical perspectives. It’s not uncommon to see Starfield held up to Bethesda’s previous games. And Fallout 4 and Skyrim are often said to have offered better, more memorable quests and exploration vibes than this year’s space romp. So I’m starting a new character in Fallout 4 to reacquaint myself with that game and assess just how much of a step back Starfield really was.
I want to drill down to the specifics of what sets these games apart. It’s one thing to say one game feels more immersive than another, it’s another to cover the text of the game specifically, noting the concrete differences in quests, how they appear, their overall structures, how the environments are arranged, what I’m expected to do as a player, how much time is spent looking at loading screens, etc. I definitely had a better time playing Fallout 4 than I did Starfield. Now it’s time to get to specifics and really understand why.
This will be a thoroughly quantitative approach to dissecting the differences between these two open-world RPGs, with the hopes of drawing some interesting conclusions at the end.
These games are enormous though, so I expect this trip of mine back to the Commonwealth to be slow and full of note-taking I’ll be sure to try and communicate my findings as they continue into the new year. — Clare Jackson
Play it on: Windows (VR required)
Current goal: Get swept away
My Steam Year in Review revealed that upward of 30 percent of my Windows gaming time this past year has been spent in virtual reality (and that would’ve been higher if not for my unfortunate dalliance with Starfield). So you might think I’m all tuned in to VR games, but the truth is a lion’s share of that time was actually social VR, primarily hanging in VRChat and showing movies to friends in Bigscreen.
While I know it’s not true, I actually struggle a bit to not buy into common negative VR narratives like “they’re all glorified mobile games.” While the VR games ecosystem definitely has plenty of room to improve, there are in fact already a lot of compelling games to discover. I just need to make more of an effort to get past my initial skepticism and try them, even if it generates a little more friction than just another comfy evening in VRChat.
Case in point, Asgard’s Wrath popped onto my radar this month thanks to its sequel making a huge splash on Quest, where it’s garnering high praise. I’m really keen to see what the fuss is about, but of course my brain being my brain I had to get in on the ground floor. But I was also interested in going back because the first Asgard’s Wrath was a PC game. It’s a lot higher fidelity than most VR games made today, Asgard’s Wrath 2 included, because they’re often constrained by Quest’s standalone hardware.
And that’s the main thing I can report so far: It sure is prettier than I’m used to from recent Quest stuff! Asgard’s Wrath is making my 3080 sweat just a bit to maintain a solid 90fps, and it’s not lacking in detailed interiors and beautiful vistas. I’m still pushing through the early tutorial areas, but the massive-looking world map, accompanied by rather lengthy lists of quests, challenges, and other feats to accomplish, certainly suggests that the scope is there. Bring it—I’m ready and willing to get lost in this world, if it’s worthy of that. — Alexandra Hall
Alan Wake II
This was a sad week for fans of Remedy’s games. We lost a resonantly creative soul with James McCaffrey’s passing this week.
It’s not easy going back and replaying Alan Wake II right now. Conversations between Saga Anderson and Alex Casey (who was voiced by McCaffrey), especially in the opening moments, just simply land differently with knowledge of McCaffrey’s death. There’s a new emotional contour here.
James McCaffrey’s talent was such that he could rope you into a world and a character with a single word. The second you hear his voice you’re back in the gritty, dark and unforgiving world of Max Payne, pulled into the cryptic, brutalist mystery that is Control, or turning to your partner for backup and support in the face of inexplicable events in Alan Wake II.
McCaffrey’s performances remind me of why I often come to video games: It’s not just about escapism or a skill challenge. It’s about connection with other humans, many of whom I never even met, through an artistic medium. There’s a recognizable slice of humanity in each of McCaffrey’s performances, ones I find memorable and deeply affective. And by this existing in a video game, my consciousness feels closer by way of the interactivity, whether I’m playing a character or interacting with an NPC.
And so I’m jumping back into Alan Wake II (from scratch, no new game plus for me yet) with the hopes of picking up any little details I might’ve missed the first time around. I want to soak up McCaffrey’s final performance. I want to remember hearing his voice for the first time in Max Payne, back when it seems like I could more easily slip into a state of joy while playing a video game. And in this, his final game, I want to say goodbye to someone who brought me and many others such joy through his talents. — Claire Jackson
And that’s a wrap. We’ll see you next in two weeks, as many of us are taking off for the holidays. Do you have any games lined up for the long break?
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