The holiday season is always huge for the gaming industry, and 2021 is certainly no exception. It’s never been a better time to be a gamer, with sprawling indie libraries, subscription services, and big AAA titles worth sinking hours into. But with more games, accessories, and merch than ever available, it’s always helpful to get some guidance on what’s actually worth spending your hard-earned cash on for those you love.
Thankfully there are a ton of great options this holiday season. Whether it’s the latest in video games, tabletop games, or the accessories to make it all a reality, we at Uproxx Edge have got you covered.
Part 1: The Hardware
The Elusive Current-Gen Console
More than a year after their release to gamers, the next-gen Xbox and PlayStation 5 consoles remain as scarce as they were on launch day in 2020. There are a lot of reasons for this in the age of supply chain disruption and chip scarcity, but it’s not great news for your chances of wandering into a big box store and snagging a Series X. If you can somehow manage to find one, though, or if you’re willing to queue up on websites to get it or just hit StockX to snag one off the secondary market, well, that’s between you and your bank account.
The good news is that there are a lot more reasons to actually upgrade this holiday season, with next-gen titles like PS5’s Deathloop and the forthcoming Horizon Forbidden West finally giving console fans legitimate reasons to upgrade. It’s also clear by now that sports sims like NBA 2K22 and the Madden franchise are putting extra effort into their next-gen titles, a trend that isn’t changing anytime soon. Whether that’s enough to justify a purchase for some is hard to say, but the juice is certainly starting to be worth the squeeze if you can actually find one.
What About The Switch?
Nintendo did not announce a new console in 2021, as was widely expected. Instead, they released a more expensive Switch with largely the same specs outside of a much better OLED screen. Is that device worth buying if you already have an earlier-gen Switch or a Switch Lite? Probably not.
That said, the Switch remains a great console for a variety of reasons. Its portability is a huge asset, Nintendo continues to release strong console exclusives like Metroid Dread and Mario Party Superstars and it’s still the best indie console on the planet. The online offerings for the console continue to improve, too. At this point it’s tough to expect an incredibly long shelf life out of a Nintendo Switch. But Christmas is a holiday of instant gratification, and if someone on your list somehow doesn’t have a Switch at this point there’s certainly a lot to like there.
Part 2: Games
The AAA Hits
It wasn’t the biggest of release calendars amid a second plague year as the switch to next-gen continues to make things complicated for gamers. But there are certainly some major releases worth picking up this year.
Deathloop is a really fun game that’s basically video game Groundhog Day. If you don’t have a PlayStation 5, getting it on PC is an equally satisfying experience. It’s a very good time all around.
Hitman 3 is similar to Deathloop in that there are a number of ways to play, but it’s one of the most satisfying titles you can get from AAA gaming in 2021.
Forza Horizon 5
Arguably the most beautiful game on the market if you’re playing on a next-gen console, Forza also happens to be an incredible open-world game with a huge library of cars to get you there. Whether you like racing games or not, it’s worth getting a few drives in.
One of our favorites here at Uproxx, the sequel lives up to the hype and will leave you talking about it long after you finish.
It’s been a great year for indie gaming. Here’s the best you may have overlooked.
Unpacking is the current indie darling for a reason: it’s a delightfully calm game that tells an interesting story purely through gameplay. If you actually like packing and organizing, it’s a must-have. And if you like storytelling games you can tackle at your own pace, it’s also a must-have. The attention to detail here is truly impressive.
It was a big year for dodgeball video games, and Dodgeball Academia was certainly a fun addition to that. The game is easy to grasp and surprisingly funny. There’s a lot of little ways to customize your experience with these dodgeball kids, and it makes for a really enjoyable little RPG.
Jackbox Party Pack 8
Jackbox‘s annual party pack is as strong as ever, and this gift could turn a holiday gathering into one to remember. Job Job is a particular favorite, but don’t sleep on Weapons Drawn or the always-popular Drawful, which this time lets you make animated images.
Part 3: Subscriptions
For the gamer that truly has everything, a subscription service is really a can’t-miss option. Nintendo’s expanded Online package is the newest option here, with expanded options for online Animal Crossing: New Horizons multiplayer options the highlight for some. Not to mention the new N64 and Sega Genesis games, though getting the proper controllers to go full retro will certainly cost you.
Xbox Game Pass, meanwhile, is one of the best deals in gaming that gives you access to EA titles like the breakout It Takes Two and even sleeper hits like Outriders.
And don’t worry if they already have these: you’ll just add another few months (or a year, if you’re generous) onto their subscription, which they’ll certainly appreciate.
Part 4: Tabletop Gaming
Dungeons and Dragons stuff
Even the most experienced of dungeon crawlers could use some additions to their tabletop gaming collection. And if you know someone looking to get into the realm the Core Rules Set is certainly a great place to start, as players (and DMs) gradually slip into owning all three books at the very least as their interest in the game expands.
For anyone that has the basics already covered, some newer books like Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons or a new campaign like Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos can add to an existing campaign or kick off a new one.
Hunt A Killer Box Sets
This subscription service tabletop game puts you (and maybe some friends) at the center of a mystery that must be solved using clues found in the items, documents, and other things included in each box. It’s kind of like an escape room, or an episodic tabletop experience where your wits and investigative skills determine whether you can figure out the whodunit.
Each month costs $25, but it’s surprisingly addicting and certainly something to look forward to for tabletop gamers who like puzzles and interactive experiences. The company has several versions at this point, including a game available at big box retail stores like Target. Hunt A Killer has made partnerships with Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie for special editions, too. It’s a great last-minute gift idea, and the company’s website has clues and recaps to help struggling sleuths along if they get stuck.
Machi Koro 2
The original Machi Koro is a tabletop classic that spawned a series of expansions and a very fun Legacy game. But the sequel takes all those lessons learned and puts them in a slightly different, equally fun package. The sequel touts more variety in gameplay than the original, so vets of the series have just as much to look forward to here as newcomers to the dice-rolling, city-building game.
The holidays are a great time to force your family and friends to play a dexterity game, and Tokyo Highway is a really delightful one. Based on the helter skelter highway system in its namesake Japanese city, the game looks great and is also easy to learn. Just be careful trying to build or you might get your clumsy self into real trouble out there on the mean streets.
If you’re looking for something a bit more kid-friendly, Beasts of Balance is also a very colorful, Jenga-like alternative with a tablet/phone companion. And there’s always the classic Jenga, too, I suppose.
Parks went from a small National Parks-related project to a burgeoning game empire, to the point that you can pick this game up at most Targets. And it’s absolutely worth the hype. The game is gorgeous, benefits a good cause and is a fun game with lots of replay value. There’s a good amount of strategy you can fall into, or simply just pick the best-looking parks on the board, collect resources to “visit” them and have a nice little journey.
The setup can be a bit much the first time you play, but stick with it and you’ll have a lovely time. It also has some interesting expansions and, if you like the art but not necessarily board games, might be a good jumping off point for other gifts for your park-loving loved ones, too.