Now is a good time to play video games. With coronavirus cancellations mounting, I expect I'm not alone in needing to fill a bunch of newfound hours in my own home. Fortunately, video games have long been a hobby of mine, and I can't think of a better time to catch up on titles that I've missed for one reason or another.
If you're already a video gamer, you're probably aware of popular upcoming titles like the new Animal Crossing for the Nintendo Switch and Doom Eternal coming to multiple consoles and the PC. While you wait for those, here are a handful of selections that are available now on PlayStation 4 to fill the time.
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I've also included a few games for beginners. If you're used to filling the time by watching sports or going to concerts, now might be a great time to dive into a new hobby. Video games aren't all shooters that require twitch-based reflexes. Even if you have no experience, you can find games out there that you can pick up and play to participate in my favorite aspect of the medium -- interactive storytelling.
I've linked to the digital versions of each on the PlayStation Store and physical copies via Amazon where available.
Read more at GameSpot: The best PS4 games
My favorite example of the recent genre of "walking simulators," this independently made gem tasks you with exploring an old house and solving the mysterious past of an ill-fated family. If you're brand new to video games, you can walk around and explore at your leisure. Once you're familiar with the basics, the game whisks you away to fantastic worlds and mixes up the formula with creative but compelling minigames. It's simple enough for beginners and it has a great story and enough twists to keep even veteran gamers engaged.
This is one of the best examples of interactive storytelling out there. If you want to see what video games can do as an art form, play this. Plus, it's simple enough to actually control that you'll be able to get by even if you aren't familiar with video games. The challenge comes from making tough decisions in an apocalyptic world. With that in mind, it might be too real right now, but it's an amazing experience nonetheless and one of my all-time favorites.
A missing cargo ship drifts near the shore, and you need to hop on board and figure out what happened to all of the passengers. This simple premise leads to one of the best puzzle games out there. This game requires no reflexes, so it's perfect for new gamers. However, it is legitimately challenging -- it simply challenges your brain as opposed to your muscle memory. If that sounds good to you, hop on the Obra Dinn and see if you can figure out what happened.
For those needing an escape:
Normally, I recommend this stunningly great roleplaying game with the caveat that it's super long. It took me over 100 hours to beat so you have to be able to invest some time. That length might be a big positive in the current situation. This game tells a great story -- it's one of the only massive RPGs that kept me engaged with the plot throughout the entire run. The combat is fun (turn the difficulty up one notch if you're an action game veteran) and the world is a beautiful place to explore.
Yes, the name is gibberish, but this game asks you to hunt robot dinosaurs with a bow and arrow. It's awesome. Hunting the mechanical beasts never gets old and the game imbues the fast-paced combat with a good amount of strategy. You also fight some evil humans too, but those sections do get a little dull. Nevertheless, the game has a lot going for it including a beautiful world with great graphics. Also, the story actually makes sense. Given the premise and the name, this caught me completely by surprise, but the plot is genuinely compelling.
I'm a fan of games with interesting combat. The first couple of hours of Control feel like a normal shooter. You're exploring the ruined remains of a secret government agency trying to figure out what happened. The mysterious story feels like an episode of The X-Files directed by David Lynch. The atmosphere engaged me right away, and the combat takes off after awhile as well. You slowly gain supernatural abilities that turn fights into epic bouts of wanton destruction. Using your telekinetic powers to smush a demon with an office printer is never not hilarious and the unravelling mystery of the story stays compelling throughout.
For those looking for a stimulating challenge:
Dark Souls is my favorite game ever. I want to get that out of the way because I have some bias towards games made by the same company -- From Software -- and directed by the same guy -- Hidetaka Miyazaki. Sekiro is one such game, but it's also great in its own right. You're a samurai tasked with saving a young boy and the sword combat is as good as I've ever experienced in a video game. The game is tough, but if you have the patience to let it teach you how to win, Sekiro is an amazing experience.
An Indie (Independent) game with similarities to Dark Souls, Hollow Knight casts you as a bug in an enormous bug kingdom. It's a two dimensional platformer -- meaning you need to jump through some hazardous terrain. It also has challenging combat with fierce enemies that ask you to learn their attack patterns and get better at the game overall. At times, the combat and exploration feel a lot like a From Software title, but the beautiful artwork and imaginative bug kingdom help Hollow Knight stand apart as a great, unique game.
I told you I like From Software games. If you haven't tried one, you can also play the remastered version of the original Dark Souls on PS4, but the third game in the series was made for modern consoles. The world-building and level design are second to none, and the game takes you through a similar journey to the original and wraps up the Dark Souls trilogy in satisfying fashion. Some of the surprises feel well worn if you've played the other entries, but it'll be a fresh, wonderful and terrifying experience in all the best ways if you're new to Dark Souls.
For board gamers in isolation:
If your Dungeons & Dragons group is on pause for the next couple of weeks, Divinity: Original Sin 2 can satisfy your craving for strategic turn-based combat and engaging roleplaying. It's close enough to Dungeons & Dragons that Wizards of the Coast asked the same company to make the next version of Baldur's Gate, but you don't need to wait for that game. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is phenomenal and you can play with up to four people through the PlayStation online service. You can also play with two using the same console. All players have full agency in the interactive story and the combat is deep and challenging.
To satisfy your craving for deck-building card games, I offer Slay the Spire. It's a roguelike -- so if you die you have to start over, but it's different every time you play it. You fight bad guys in turn-based combat using cards that function as abilities. You start off with a very vanilla deck composed of a few simple attacks and a few simple blocks. As you progress, you add better and better cards to your deck to help you fight progressively tougher monsters. The game offers a nice mix of strategy as you build your deck and luck as you can never be sure which cards you're going to draw on a given turn. Fortunately, you can also permanently unlock cards that will show up in future runs. Those unlocks ease the pain of losing a close fight and needing to start over. Slay the Spire has the right mix of simple gameplay with enough depth to keep me playing and wanting to go on just one more run.
Other good options you might have missed:
This Indie gem lures you in with a simple premise and pixelated graphics reminiscent of old Nintendo games. You're a young, determined child trapped in a world of monsters. The combat is a mix of turn-based strategies, logic puzzles and old-school bullet dodging reminiscent of games like Galaga. It's weird. It's also wonderful. As you play, you discover a deep world full of interesting characters. The game challenges preconceived notions about what gameplay can be and tells a wonderfully personal story to boot. I don't want to say more because the joy of Undertale is the discovery. If you haven't tried this one yet, please do so now.
The third game from developer Supergiant Games, Pyre casts you as a ragtag group of wanderers in a desolate world. You come together to take part in an ancient ritual that might just lead to your salvation. That ritual involves a magical basketball/rugby hybrid. Yep, Pyre as a game is strange, but it's also fascinating. Most of the gameplay involves the central sport of this ritual. If you win, you can set your teammates free, but then you can't play with them anymore in future rituals. The result is a tense game with tough decisions. Not all of your teammates will get to go free, and deciding who gets the honor is made all the more difficult by the well-rounded cast of characters.
At first glance, Hellblade looks like a generic if pretty hack-and-slash game set in Norse mythology. Give it a try. It's an inventive and interesting look at psychosis. The developers researched the topic with neuroscientists and mental health specialists to get it right. The voices in your head whisper to you and the game immerses you in a reality where it really does feel like everything is at risk -- even your own sanity. The result is a gripping and memorable journey that's wholly unlike any other action game I've played.
What I'm going to be playing:
I know, I know. Skyrim is one of the staples of open-world roleplaying games, and I've somehow never played it. It's a blight on my resume as a gamer. Despite playing other long games, I've always had trouble being enthused enough to dive into this massive journey. I also held a grudge against it for a bit -- Skyrim won every game of the year award the same year my favorite game ever -- Dark Souls -- was released. I've gotten over the grudge slowly, but still never found the time to play Skyrim. This could be it.
I really like unique Indie adventures with a good story, and Celeste is supposed to have all of that. Every review of this game is glowing. I just haven't played, because the previews have never drawn me in. That said, the same was true of both Undertale and Return of the Obra Dinn listed above, and I loved those games. Celeste is also supposed to be quite challenging, but that's not usually a turn-off for me. So I suppose this is a great time to finally dive in and start climbing.
I've played about half of Arkham Knight. The third game in the Batman Arkham series (I don't count Arkham Origins), was almost as fun as the first two, and I loved the first two. Nevertheless, life got busy, I stopped playing for a bit, and I just never came back to it. The Batmobile sections dragged a bit for me, but I was still enjoying it, and I still don't let my friends spoil the ending for me, so I might as well find out what happened on my own.
I'll give an honorable mention to the new God of War and Spider-Man games, which were both awesome. I obviously didn't mention a lot of other great games. These are the ones I always end up recommending to friends. Feel free to reach out on Twitter or in the comments with your own recommendations. I'm always looking for awesome new video game experiences and I suddenly have plenty of time to explore a few interesting options.
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