The holiday 2018 gaming season has big releases crammed back-to-back-to-back like few other recent years. Long-awaited sequels are coming out mere weeks before new entries in beloved series, not to mention the annual parade of staple big-budget franchises. About the only thing that gamers can be sure of is that there’s a game for them this time of the year.
Let’s cut right to the big one: Red Dead Redemption 2 from Rockstar Games for PS4 and Xbox One. The highly anticipated prequel to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption features a large, open world set in the American West of 1899. It’s already racking up almost as many accolades as its predecessor with a memorable storyline connecting to the first game and careful attention to detail. (Players need to stay downwind while hunting.) The biggest complaints have been only about slightly clunky controls and the fact that it took eight years to come out. The online component goes live for all players this Friday, which gives them an entire West to go wild in with their friends.
Another online game featuring wide-open wildernesses and multiplayer gameplay followed just a few weeks after the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, to decidedly more mixed results. Fallout 76 from Bethesda Game Studios for PS4, Xbox One, and PC drops players into a post-apocalyptic Appalachian landscape full of mutant animals, rampaging rusted robots, and the ability to set up and craft your own base camp almost anywhere. It also lets you team up with or against other players for the first time in the series. The game also has no NPCs except for enemies, the storylines are delivered only via audio logs and notes, and all the graphical glitches that Bethesda games are known for are compounded by playing in a consistent world with up to 24 people. There’s definitely fun to be had roaming the wasteland with friends, but the game still has plenty of bugs to work out and quests that aren’t nearly as deep as previous entries.
It’s not the only game launching with problems. Battlefield V by EA for PS4, Xbox One, and PC has freezing screens, pop-in textures (gamer jargon for low-res images that appear onscreen because the higher-resolution image takes so long to load), and numerous features that aren’t even finished yet (such as story sections, a battle royale mode, and more). The series’ refined shooting and large maps are still there, however, and with the support shown to previous games, more content and game fixes seem sure to come. On the opposite side, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 from Acclaim ditches a story mode to include a battle royale mode, tweaked healing mechanics, and its tried-and-true deathmatches for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC as well.
Other open-world action games coming out this year include Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (set in ancient Sparta), Darksiders III, Just Cause 4, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which are all available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. If you’d rather keep your action confined to the sports arena, there’s the annual installments of WWE 2K, FIFA (with the Italian league being relicensed for the game), and NBA 2K (with new Chinese-language commentary), each available for the PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC, save for WWE not being on Switch.
Fighting-game fans will also find plenty to battle over. Soul Calibur VI by Bandai Namco on PS4, Xbox One, and PC rights the ship after V’s missteps, featuring faster combat, less complicated mechanics, and a ton of single-player content to boot. On Friday, Nintendo releases Super Smash Bros Ultimate for the Switch, bringing with it more than 60 fighters from dozens of game series like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, plus more than 100 stages, refined mechanics, and enough extra content to keep people playing for years.
Switch owners also get to brag with the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!, two games in one that bridge the casual gameplay of Pokémon Go with the classic catch-and-battle gameplay of the mainstay series. Switch owners can also enjoy the multiplayer mini-game mayhem of Super Mario Party and of course the aforementioned Smash Ultimate.
Of course, PC gamers have exclusives that they can lord over everyone. Artifact from Valve, which comes out this week, brings the world of Defense of the Ancients into the realm of digital collectible card games. Pathfinder: Kingmaker from Owlcat Games adds old-school isometric RPG goodness to the pile of similarly excellent games flooding the PC the last few years, and long-in-development space colony management sim Rimworld from Ludeon Studios finally released to acclaim in early November.
No matter what system you play on, or what genre you prefer, the biggest criticism of games this season may not the buggy state of some of them but how to possibly play even a handful of the ones available.