As Thanksgiving approaches, many people will have the opportunity to relax, unwind, and log the kind of gaming hours only possible during an extended holiday weekend. Halo Infinite’s multiplayer will likely be a highly popular choice, almost guaranteeing servers will be crammed with players the way Los Angeles’ 405 freeway is crammed with travelers every Thanksgiving season. So, in the event you just can’t connect to a game of capture the flag, or if you have no interest in the multiplayer at all, here are the best non-Halo Infinite games we’re playing to make it through the holiday. — Ash Parrish
Andrew — Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier
It turns out the thing that finally pulled me away from Fortnite was a game that’s a lot like it, only set in the world of Final Fantasy VII. The First Soldier is the most unexpected of prequels. It’s set a few decades before the events of FF7, exploring the SOLDIER program that’s so integral to the storyline. But instead of a single-player adventure like you might expect, it’s a battle royale crossed with an RPG. Think of it like Fortnite without the building, set in Midgar, and with magic spells to wield and monsters to battle. You get the same last player standing thrilled, but with deeper character progression and familiar locations to battle it out in. The gunplay is a little floaty, and the map could use some more points of interest, but there’s something really fun about perching on top of Seventh Heaven with a sniper rifle. Just be sure to avoid those Tonberries.
Sean — Genshin Impact
Almost every evening, my five- and two-year-old daughters ask me for “Adventure Game” — by which they mean firing up Genshin Impact so they can watch an array of sword and magic-wielding waifus explore a radiant Breath of the Wild-style landscape. I’m going to admit I initially sat on this game, turned off by the pay-to-avoid-grinding mechanics and the idea it was a Zelda clone. But so far, it’s surprisingly deep. The initial European castle / church vibe, with fights against goblins and automatons, soon gives way to an idyllic ancient Chinese landscape, including a gorgeous harbor town filled with agents of intrigue. (Apparently, many spots are inspired by real-world Chinese locations.) My daughters only get to watch a little bit before bedtime, though, so that’s as far as we’ve gone. This holiday, I’m going to try to get us to Genshin Impact’s growing Inazuma region so we can visit Japan as well. BTW, it’s a great showcase game for new hardware: it runs amazingly on PS5 and surprisingly well on the latest iPhones.
Makena — Stardew Valley
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be spending hours on a train, in a car, and in the air trying to visit me and my partner’s families before the holiday season is over. I’ve never been a big gamer when traveling — it’s hard to focus on a game when I’m constantly worried about losing my tickets or missing my boarding time. But Stardew’s simple gameplay lets me drop in and out of fishing or tending to my cows in between the stressful moments in the airport or train station. My partner and I share a farm in the game, and we’re able to chat about our plans for the upcoming season or designate chores. The game’s collaborative nature gives me an opportunity to connect with my partner while traveling rather than stuffing my nose in a book while he sleeps. It’s a pleasant and less stressful way to pass time!
Adi — Death’s Door
I can’t personally vouch for Death’s Door yet because I’ve been waiting to play it on Nintendo Switch, and it finally came out on Tuesday: a land of pure, untapped potentiality. It’s an action-exploration game about a crow who collects people’s souls, which sounds cool? I hear it’s a little like Hollow Knight, a game I’d played for about 70 hours last I checked? I’ve been reading great things about it on PC for months? Either way, I’ve got my Polygon beginner’s guide up and the start screen ready.
Alice — Forza Horizon 5, Age of Empires 4
Few open-world games have dug their claws into me quite like the latest installment of Forza Horizon. Most open-world titles cause my eyes to glaze over once I see how big the map actually is, filled with tons of tiny markers that I’ll never pick up and activities I’ll never complete. However, cruising around Mexico in everything from modern supercars to an antique Volkswagen is strangely meditative, even with the throttle pinned at 180MPH. I know the map is absolutely littered with stuff to do, but Forza doesn’t have the same FOMO as its contemporaries. There is a level of appreciation for the extensive library of cars that I will never truly understand, but there will always be a strange, primeval part of me that loves something that goes VROOM, even as someone who has never owned a car.
And for something entirely different, I’ll likely also be spending a decent amount of hours with Age of Empires 4. I managed to bulldoze my way through the single-player campaigns (on easy), but I’ve been working through the various masteries of the different civs (Franks FTW) and working up the nerve to fight the intermediate AI. I know I’m not the only one with a special place in my heart for the Age of Empires franchise, but it’s been too long since we’ve had an honest real-time strategy to celebrate. Indeed, I fully intend to spend some quality time with AOE4.
Cameron — Inscryption, RE4 VR, Shin Megami Tensei V
Ash asked us to not say Halo Infinite, which is good because that’s what I was going to say (my friends and I play it, and it’s just good fun; sorry, Ash). Currently, I’m hopping between Inscryption, the VR port of Resident Evil 4 for Quest 2, and Shin Megami Tensei V. To be perfectly honest, I was content with the idea of skipping Inscryption, but the industry’s collective praise of it was coercive (and loud) enough to push me to buy it. I’m not much of a card game person, but there’s definitely enough intrigue and unique elements at play to keep me going. So, here I am, encouraging you to give it a try, too, if you have a PC.
Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei V for the Switch was another game I was able to resist at first. I was reluctant to jump in willingly because earlier in 2021, I finally played through Persona 5 to the end. That was fun but also kind of exhausting. While SMT V is a very different beast, I knew the battles would feel similar, to the point that I had to stop and think if I really wanted to embark on what’s likely to be an 80+ hour experience. Anyway, I bought it, so I’ll let you know how it is in a year when I finish it.
RE4 for the Quest 2 is incredible. Armature Studio, the team that developed the VR port, touched the right amount of things to make the game feel fresh, yet in most ways, just as I remembered playing it on Gamecube. I’m trying to force myself to take my time. It’s too special to gobble up like a Turkey Day meal.
Gloria — Animal Crossing: New Horizons 2.0 Update, Just Dance 2022
I’ll confess: it’s been months since I last hung out with my villagers on my Animal Crossing island, and even then, I was playing in “time travel” mode to check out the special events I’d missed (like Mario Day). Knowing how extensive the November 2021 update is, I’ve been avoiding my Switch until I have time to go all in. With Black Friday and Buying Guides now out of the way, I can’t wait to escape to my virtual island.
I’m looking forward to sipping a latte at Brewster’s, getting Kapp’n to serenade me on the way to exotic islands, buying a sick gaming setup for my house, and even growing veggies and learning to cook in the game. So far, I’ve only managed to buy one pack of the Animal Crossing Series 5 Amiibo cards, so I’ll try to bring those new villagers to my island (even though I don’t like my cards). I hope I can get into ACNH 2.0 without needing to weed too much first. I can’t even wrap my mind around the Happy Home Paradise expansion pack yet — maybe remind me in December.
The other game I’m excited to try is Just Dance 2022 for the Xbox Kinect (yes, I bought a used Kinect just for this series). I’ll need to work off my Thanksgiving dinner somehow!
Antonio — Metroid Dread, Dark Souls Remastered
I have barely touched Metroid Dread and my SWOLED since I got them, so I’m hoping if I have any time during the holiday to play games not named Halo Infinite — when I’m not with family or working on our Black Friday deals coverage — I’ll finally make some solid progress. I loved Metroid Dread from the first moment, though I had a false start early on when I got lost and thought I might have missed something important. A fresh restart from the beginning has solved that, so now I just need to play frequently enough that I don’t forget everything again. Games really could use a “you haven’t played in two weeks, here’s what you were up to” type of recap.
I also just got Dark Souls Remastered on PC as a birthday gift, so I guess I’m looking forward to feeling some pain during the holiday that isn’t related to food comas and overeating.
Mitchell — Kentucky Route Zero
I’ve slowly been working my way through a Kentucky Route Zero replay (which I plan on finishing during a few flights), and its episodic nature feels perfect for those holiday nights where you’re looking to wind down after everyone’s turned in for the night. KRZ is almost all vibes with little gameplay, but I’ve loved re-experiencing the twists and turns of its Americana-fueled story, which is as weird and mythic as it is deeply sad. It may not be the game to play right before a cheerful Thanksgiving dinner, but if you’re looking for something to turn over and over in your mind (or just don’t want to wait until Stray comes out next year to play as a cat) over the holidays, Kentucky Route Zero is well worth your time.
Ash — Exo One, Ace Attorney Chronicles 2
I am both in love with and terrified by space. Exo One marries the wonder of a simple exploration game with the sheer, unfathomable terror of space, and it’s therefore extremely my shit. You pilot a weird, orb-like spacecraft through empty but painfully beautiful alien worlds, picking up power-ups that make it roll faster and glide longer as you learn the story of a doomed expedition to Jupiter. Visually, Exo One is stunning. I am in awe of my surroundings as I bounce off sand dunes and skip over rolling waves, trying to hit the right piece of land in just the right way that’ll make my craft zoom into the cloud-strewn atmosphere. It’s wonderful. Exo One feels like the best bits of Interstellar and Sunshine — pure space exploration without all the messy human stuff.
During my holiday break, I’m taking care of a family member recovering from major surgery. Ace Attorney Chronicles 2 is my goodnight game. Since I’m away from home, I’ve had trouble sleeping, especially after a long day of keeping track of medicine, appointments, and meal plans. To unwind, I’ve been slowly making my way through Ace Attorney Chronicles 2 letting my mind drift off (making my thumb accidentally hit the “skip dialogue” button) as I work to defend the innocent and solve murders most foul. I adore the new characters and the slow, methodical untangling of plot points introduced an entire game previous. Even if some of the puzzles require fantastical stretches of logic, Ace Attorney Chronicles 2 is the perfect nighttime calming agent to a stressed-out brain.
Barbara — Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins
I haven’t been much of a gamer lately — except for a few ongoing Scrabble games that I’ve been playing with friends for about three years now. However, I just got myself a brand new Pixel 6, and so I’m going to be investigating a bunch of Android games on that slightly-too-big screen. While several of the games mentioned here are on my list — including Genshin Impact and Stardew Valley — I’m going to start with Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins. What can I say? I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for many years, and an adventure game that allows me to interact and solve puzzles with a Timelord is the perfect way for me to get back into gameplay.
Image: Respawn Entertainment
Richard — Apex Legends, Forza Horizon 5
Sure, I might turn the clock back and get into some Big Team Battle this weekend. But mostly, I’ll stick to the game that the Xbox Museum says is my most played for 2019, 2020, and 2021, with a strong chance of repeating for 2022. The new map in Apex Legends did its job for me by changing the gameplay just enough to keep things fresh without breaking what it does well. Opening up large spaces for action but separating most of them with high walls has lowered (but not eliminated) the endless chain of third parties that you get on the game’s other maps — as long as you know how to navigate the area without jumping into the abyss.
When I need to switch things up, I’m plugging in my wheel and taking on Forza Horizon 5. No, they haven’t addressed the Horizon series “flaw” of having way too many options for what you can do next… or the rubberband AI. Simply existing as the first Forza game with good lighting is what I’ve been waiting for in this series.
Victoria — Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Shining Pearl
In real life, my camera roll is just thousands of photos of my cat and dog — so Pokémon Snap makes perfect sense. It’s so soothing. There’s no battles. It’s just dozens of cute pokémon going about their business in scenic locales, and it’s my job to be their paparazzo. An Alolan Raichu surfing the sand dunes? Yes, please. A derpy Mantine leaping out of the sea? Hell yeah. Plenty of Bidoof butts to go around.
When I need a break from Professor Mirror’s arbitrary photo grading — the man has no appreciation for the rule of thirds — I’m living my best life running around the Sinnoh region with my Piplup. I’m not big into the endless gym battle grind, so the contests (aka pokémon beauty pageants) are a nice change of pace. You really can’t find a better distraction from family drama than hundreds of cute pokémon.