How about new games that don’t require new consoles?
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Watch Dogs Legion, two of the season’s most interesting games, are on the new consoles but also PC, Google Stadia, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Both games come from Ubisoft, the powerful publisher that made headlines this summer amid widespread accounts of sexual misconduct in the company, which led to the dismissal or departure of top developers and executives. As that unfolded, rattled rank-and-file developers still toiled to create these games.
Valhalla largely positions the player as a ninth-century viking named Eivor who leaves Norway for England, where he or she builds a settlement, challenges monarchies and swings an ax through many Anglo-Saxon enemies. It’s a visually spectacular game packed with character-driven vignettes, though it requires an audience with the stomach for playing as an invading settler.
Watch Dogs lets you play as members of the resistance in a fascist near-future London where the surveillance state and a privatized police force dominate the population. The game depicts a detailed and heavily populated London, then enables players to recruit and take control of any one of the thousands of people rendered in that city. That means you can play as a sneaky old lady, a brutish member of the Queen’s Guard or whoever else appears. It’s a neat trick that compensates for the game’s seemingly well-intentioned but shallow politics.
For something smaller, there’s The Pathless, a colorful game set amid dreamlike forests and temples. It’s available now for PS4, PS5, Apple Arcade and PC, the subscription gaming service for iOS. In The Pathless, you play as an archer who explores beautiful terrain with the help of a bird who can carry her across chasms. The game’s best feature is the archer’s ability to run ever faster if you can successfully shoot targets with arrows as she moves. Its greasy momentum is thrilling and easier to achieve than it sounds, thanks to an auto-targeting system.
But what if I have a Nintendo Switch?
Other than Carto, the Nintendo Switch doesn’t run any of the games mentioned here so far. Its biggest November release is Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, a spinoff to the acclaimed action-adventure The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Where Breath of the Wild was a quietly epic adventure in a war-torn world of knights, castles and monsters, the new game is a cacophonous prequel that replaces the earlier games’ unmatched opportunities for virtual nature hiking and exploration with combat, more combat and still more combat. It’s a bit like following up a great novel with a theme park ride. You’ve got to really want to see these characters again.
A better Switch game to get this season is Hades (also for PC). Released in September, Hades may prove to be the best game on any platform all year so it still deserves attention. You play as Zagreus, son of Hades, and must fight and talk your way out of the underworld, taking patronage — and powers — from Greek gods as you go. Hades is classified under “rogue-lite,” a video game genre that challenges players to progress as far as possible, knocks them back to the start when their character dies, but lets them try again with any powers they gained in prior attempts. In Hades, that structure supports the snappily told story about Zagreus’s failure-filled efforts to reach his mother in the land of the living. As one critic noted, a game about having to repeatedly try to escape hell might be 2020’s most fitting.
There’s something good to play on any of these devices. And, take note, the big-release season isn’t over yet. The most hyped game of 2020, Cyberpunk 2077, has been repeatedly delayed and is currently expected on Dec. 10. It turns out that blockbuster season is longer this year. The developers need more time. Don’t we all?