This year’s holiday season is huge for gaming, with a swath of AAA blockbuster titles hitting the market within the same two-month launch window. Now the PS4 and Xbox One have an expansive selection of multi-genre titles–from fantasy RPG’s to intergalactic shooters and story-driven parodies–ensuring there’s something for everyone.
With our buying guide we’ll help you navigate the labyrinth of games and select the best games to put under the tree this year, all while balancing your pocketbook–because let’s face it, who has the cash to pick up every game?
Our selection of the top 5 games ranges from a plethora of tastes, making for a positively satisfying brew of varying gameplay dynamics and memorable experiences.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Nov. 18, 2014
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
Genre: Fantasy RPG
Dragon Age: Inqusition is BioWare’s triumphant return to the mystical fantasy realm of Thedas, and takes players on a dynamic journey to the heart of adventure itself. The game goes lengths to reinvent the franchise with a host of new features, keeping the same party system along with enthralling combat and a winding, branching storyline.
Players can choose the heroic path they take in the game, and their decisions will resonate throughout the world itself, helping shape the ultimate outcome of their experience.
Inqusition is for the avid and novice RPG fan alike, featuring an expansive webwork of deep roleplaying mechanics that build off of the series’ distinct action-RPG formula. Featuring a plethora of classes, players can build their ultimate team of heroes and deck them out with armor and specifically-tailored skill trees befit any grand role-playing adventure.
With a positively huge singleplayer mode, gamers have their work cut out for them, but the online co-op mode lets players go dungeon crawling with a team of their friends.
The stories are always eye-opening and cinematic in detail and presentation, with a myriad of NPC’s–take Varric, for example–that actually have substance and personality; you actually care if they live or die, and want to know more about them.
All in all Dragon Age: Inquisition is a solid bet for any gamer, as it has such prestigious scope that spans and marries medieval fantasy with tactical RPG action.
It’s the quintessential hero’s journey that’s filled with strategic action and breathtaking vistas befit any otherworldly game of myth and legend, and it looks to be one of the year’s best games.
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2014
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Shooter, Sci-Fi
Destiny is a prime example of an over-hyped shooter that faltered under its own weight. The game was supposed to be Bungie’s magnum opus, a game that transcends the realms of online FPS and MMO-style RPG elements. While it’s failed to live up to its dynamic potential, the game is masterfully addictive in all the right ways–but sometimes for the wrong reasons.
The content may be limited in terms of end-game, but Destiny is an action-packed sci-fi romp that’ll take you across the stars and back. The story is weak, but the FPS mechanics are incredibly refined–it’s here that Bungie’s Halo prowess shines forth with light almost brighter than the sun.
Essentially Destiny is an online-only shooter wherein players can team up with random Guardians–that is supersoldiers powered by the Light, a mysterious energy not unlike the Force in Star Wars–to tackle a swath of missions and co-operative content.
There’s also a distinct RPG element in the game that affords for a unique spin on Borderlands-style shoot-and-loot action, complete with a sophisticated style and grace that almost matches Halo in its fluid grace. There are three main classes–Hunter, Warlock and Titan–each with their own varying skill trees that can be tactically used in conjunction with specific gear.
PVP is stellar and proves to be a delightful mix of sentiments old and new, with competitive content rolling out as the weeks go by.
Bungie is committed to making Destiny an expansive playground for would-be Guardians, but don’t expect anything free: the biggest updates will be hidden behind paywalls via Season Passes. Even still, the game offers a smorgasboard of content that’s rich with shooter elements that empower gamers, giving them the tools and arsenal they need to take on dreadful foes like the Hive and the cruel machines of the Vex.
Destiny has proven to be a must-have yearly release despite its shortcomings, and has proven to rank up there with the highest and most popular of games due to its immensely addictive nature. Be sure to check out our official Destiny review for more info on the game.
3. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2014
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: RPG, Fantasy
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor may look like you’r average hack-and-slash action-adventure game, but Monolith has created a fluid dynamism that marries the worlds of stealthy assassinations with all-out sword-slashing bravado.
Set in Tolkien’s landmark eponymous Middle-Earth, this game carries players across a journey through the shadowy realms of Mordor and explores the expansive mythos of the landmark fantasy series.
The game’s combat system perfectly matches skill with suave tactical strategy, making for enthralling and empowering fights. Talion, the game’s protagonist, is infused with the power of the dreaded Wraiths, giving him a substantial edge against the hordes of Uruks spread throughout Mordor.
Talion has a huge armament of abilities and skills at his disposal, encompassing a webwork of talent trees that players can customize to tailor their own otherworldly hero.
Using a combination of weapons like bow and arrow, daggers and swords, Talion channels his inner Wraith–an Elven lord by the name of Celebrimbor–to dispatch evil and use a range of useful abilities.
Shadow of Mordor essentially feels like a cross between Assassin’s Creed and Dynasty Warriors, with a hefty does of RPG aspects like skills and upgradable weapons. But the game it sets itself apart from these games with a truly intuitive and unique mechanic called the Nemesis System.
The Nemesis System allows Talion to mark targets among the massive ranks of Sauron’s army. These marks are bosses of sorts that get harder and rank up if they defeat you in battle, becoming stronger along the way. It’s a sort of predator-vs-prey hunting scheme wherein players can find helpful intel to identify weak points of a boss, which is essential for those higher-tiered baddies.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor combines a huge offering of fantastic elements together to make a satisfying brew of fantasy fun, complimented with a perfect blend of RPG and action mechanics to keep things fresh and exciting.
4. Far Cry 4
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: Nov. 18, 2014
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Action, Shooter
Far Cry 4 expands on series’ already-tremendous formula of action-packed chaos. Set in the frosty Himalayan peaks of Kyrat, players are treated to one of the most exotic, sprawling gameworlds of the series to date.
Kyrat is a truly massive open-world achievement in terms of scale and variety, with highlands, lowlands and everything in between, featuring engaging wildlife like snow leopards, stampeding elephants, crashing rhinos, and snarling tigers.
As per tradition, the game’s story pits Ajay Ghale (the specialist badass protagonist) in a region gripped in turmoil and revolution. A terrifyingly cruel–and rather humorously psychotic–dictator named Pagan Min is at the center of the havoc, erupting the region in a brutal and bloody civil war.
The game’s FPS combat is as dynamic as ever, with a smattering of new features like being able to hire mercenaries to fight alongside you. Vehicles have always been an important part of Far Cry, and in the fourth chapter we have the brilliant mini-skycopter to soar the peaks of Kyrat and blast baddies to smithereens.
You can also drive snowmobiles while shooting at rebels and dodging deadly rifts and flying over precipitous cliffs
Then there’s the skysuit. Few games have captured the heart-pounding excitement of gracefully piercing the heavens like a human bullet, but Far Cry 4 hits this mark perfectly.
Ajay also has two skill trees: the Tiger and the Elephant, both of which have a retinue of passive and active abilities to aid in battle. You get to customize Ajay as you see fit–want him to focus more on stealth and defensive measures? Go with the Elephant.
Want him to be a one-man army that shoots first and asks questions later? Then the Tiger tree is right for you.
All in all Far Cry 4 has something for everyone, and packs in pop culture themes from all over. Players feel like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones when they explore exotic ruins for treasures, and channel Rambo when gunning down hordes of baddies.
James Bond makes an appearance when Ajay does some fantastic death-defying stunt in his wingsuit, and Bear Grylls takes down a tiger in the jungle wilderness.
With a truly breathtaking and dynamic open-world environment like Kyrat, the game is a startling reminder of how far video games have come over the years.
You can get lost in the snow-capped mountains or the deep, dense canopies of the jungle, marveling at the cascading waterfalls and crashing elephants–and that’s exactly why this game is a must-buy.
5. Grand Theft Auto V
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive
Release Date: Nov. 18, 2014
Platform: Xbox One, PS4
Genre: Action, Shooter
The next-gen port of Grand Theft Auto V is Rockstar’s masterpiece. It’s something that gamers have been looking forward to for a while now, and is seen as the true definitive version of the game. If you’ve already played it on last-generation like most of the gaming world, then it might be wise to pass this up unless you want to give it another spin.
Essentially the new GTA V isn’t really new; it’s a re-mastered port. Even still the graphical differences between the old and new release are like night and day, with the next-gen flavor has Los Santos blazing with vivid life.
What makes GTA V so incredible is its cast of characters, the cops-and-robbers heists, and the game’s immersive environments. In terms of scale, accuracy, representation and graphical fidelity, Rockstar has captured lightning in a bottle. The in-game world is so resplendent with photo-realism that it’s uncanny, making it look almost better than real life.
GTA V features a three-man crew rather than the traditional silent one-man protagonist: Michael, the savvy, rich ex-bankrobber who’s having a mid-life crisis of boredom; Franklin, the young gang-banger looking for bigger and better things outside of the hood; and Trevor, a truly unique specimen of pure psychotic brilliance who easily steals the show from the very beginning.
Apart from the main characters and the namesakes of GTA, the game introduces a series of innovative full-scale heists that recreate some pretty impressive robberies. In this respect the game feels like a movie in terms of its scope, and players can choose how they want to pull off the score as well as which heists to take part in.
Then there’s the smattering of side-quests and extras that’ll pull you right in and never let go. While the heists are the main part of the game, each character has their own unique missions and questlines.
Franklin, for example, can invest in the stock market to earn big bucks, and Trevor, an entrepreneur in methamphetamine sales, wreaks havoc on the competition for his trade.
Being able to switch between Michael, Franklin and Trevor on the fly gives gamers the freedom to tackle whatever mission they want in the style they want. You can also beef up each character’s stats via a RPG-like progression system that’s somewhat like GTA: San Andreas.
The next-gen port also brings a first-person mode to combat, transforming Grand Theft Auto into a bona-fide action FPS game for the first time on consoles. This is a pretty heavy transition and affords a whole new style of play, especially for the game’s online component.
Grand Theft Auto Online deserves a nod as well. It’s essentially Rockstar’s open-world MMO-style online adventure where players can join a gang and combat rival gangs in a series of online playlists. These range from deathmatch-style combat to racing and heists, and characters earn points as well as stats to boost their reputation and abilities.
Grand Theft Auto V is a solid choice as capitalizes on fun.
It brings an amazingly entertaining campaign, a host of side-missions, a trio of unforgettable characters and an engaging online component. The game’s environments are truly remarkable and bring a sense of realism unlike any other GTA game, and paves the way forward for the franchise itself.
These five games are sure-fire winners for the holiday season, and will bring festive delight for any gamer for weeks to come. With a slew of Black Friday deals you can snag any or all of these games at discounted rates, so be sure to check out the deals before you head to the stores.
As for platform choice, most of the games are the same across all consoles, with higher-end PC’s having considerable graphical and performance boosts. In the case of Far Cry 4, though, you should stick with the PS4 variant as it allows friends to try out the game for free.
Then there’s PS4’s exclusive Share Play feature which essentially lets your friends try out your games across the PlayStation Network. Something to keep in mind if you want to try out a game before you buy it, or let a friend do the same.