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Artwork by Cole Williams

With games now averaging $70 a pop, here’s a guide to the year’s best to help you make the most of your holiday bucks.

With the Game Awards on Thursday, let’s cover the nominees for game of the year. Elden Ring (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, PC) won rave reviews for its dark, pared down open world and unflinching combat, while Horizon Forbidden West (PS4 and PS5) filled its expanse with its enthralling main quest, sidequests, and visuals. God of War Ragnarök (PS4 and PS5) sits somewhere between the two, with a moving and well-acted campaign alongside brutal combat. Those who want all of those things with multiple deep mechanics and a sci-fi/fantasy sheen should check out the JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (Nintendo Switch). For the more casual gamer and animal lover, you’re covered with Stray (PS4, PS5, PC), which lets you play as a cat in a futuristic city filled with robots and a button dedicated to meowing, and for animal phobics, A Plague Tale: Requiem (PS5, Xbox Series X and S, PC, Nintendo Switch) features a nihilistic medieval world filled with a depressing but engaging story and literal waves of killer rats.

Alongside Xenoblade, the Nintendo Switch had a good year for exclusives and the number 3, with Bayonetta 3 finally releasing with expertly crafted and stylish combat, while Splatoon 3 arrived to fill the void for competitive shooters, with its charming world of ink-blasting cartoon squid kids.

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The Big N also had a pair of Pokémon releases, with open-world spinoff Pokémon Legends: Arceus received as a fun divergence and mainline entries Pokémon Violet and Scarlet applauded for their new, wider world and additional new Pokémon. Be warned, though. The two latter entries are still plagued by technical issues, from poor framerate to bugs.

And speaking of Nintendo, their old rivals Sega put their famous blue hedgehog front and center with the new open-world game Sonic Frontiers (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, Nintendo Switch, PC), which has done more to reinvigorate the franchise than any entry in recent memory.

On the shooter side, Call of Duty has returned with Modern Warfare 2 (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, PC), a sequel to the 2019 reboot, winning acclaim for its campaign and competitive scene, while Overwatch 2 (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, Nintendo Switch, PC) launched with changes to the original game’s formula, not the least of which is changing it from 6v6 to 5v5, though for many there weren’t enough changes to qualify it as a full-on sequel.

Fighting fans got a little love as well. Warner Bros. launched their character-themed, Smash Brothers-like MultiVersus (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, PC), allowing players to pummel one another on teams of two as everybody from Batman to Bugs Bunny, while SNK brought us the newest in its long-running King of Fighters series, XV (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, PC).

Strategy fans had Total War: Warhammer III (Mac, PC, Linux), bringing Games Workshop’s dark fantasy world of figurine battles to gamers; the awkwardly named Triangle Strategy (Nintendo Switch, PC) with its Tactics Ogre-like battles and branching story; and Marvel’s Midnight Suns (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, Nintendo Switch, PC), which delivered intense tactical superhero combat.

Along those lines, beat-’em-up players had reason to celebrate as well, with brawler Sifu (PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, PC) and its lose-and-age gimmick, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, Nintendo Switch, PC, Linux), which brought back the turtles with gorgeous pixel art and sweet martial arts.

And it was a big year for smaller releases as well: Zelda-inspired action/adventure game Tunic (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, Nintendo Switch, PC) delivered adorable fox adventurers and old-school instruction manuals as game mechanics; Cult of the Lamb gave everyone a reason to love adorable cartoon critters as cult members and sacrifices to dark eldritch gods; and Vampire Survivors (Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, PC, Mac) delivered quick yet casual rogue-like gameplay in a horror-themed world.

So even with a frugal holiday budget, there are plenty of options for the needs of your favorite gamer. Or you can always be lazy and just buy them points cards for their favorite system.

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