The Best Games to Binge While the World Burns
So because boomers and asshats believe that keeping your distance from one another and covering your mouth and nose is a form of oppression, it looks like we all have to spend more and more time at home again. Hooray and thanks, Karen and Ken. But hey, your favourite highfalutin failure P-Vock is here to give you some recommendations on games you can use to just whittle away the hours as you attempt to ignore the inevitable destruction of our society as we regress further and further and eventually consume enough pollution to mutate backward into flesh blob husks of nothing but sweat, shame, and anger (or basically how like 80% of people in the U.S. exist right now). Some of these games I've discussed before and as I do with most of my game recommendation lists, I'll keep these mentions to accessible games you can get on modern consoles or could realistically run on most laptops.
My favourite indie game of all time, and one I've spoken about before, Stardew Valley is the quintessential time sink game. The concept is simple, start a farm and do whatever you want. You inherit your grandfather's farm and are essentially given free rein to do whatever you want. There's really no right or wrong way to play Stardew and that creates infinite replayability and ensures that everyone has their own unique experience. The awesome OST, gorgeous sprite art, and interesting cast (Abigail Best Girl and Sam Best Boy) all contribute to this gem of a title being the well regarded modern classic that intense gamers and casuals alike can find hours of enjoyment from. All that begins even without mentioning the awesome multiplayer so you and your friends (if you have them, unlike me) can start up your own farming empire and rule the world! Or you can all just try to fuck every single character if that's more your speed. Stardew Valley is a huge bargain for the amount of content you get and allows the player to relax and engage in a stress-free world and do whatever they see fit. You can even play it on the phone while you poop, and no game is made worse by being able to play as you poop!
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Let's jump from one of the most relaxing games with no real main plot to a very intense game and an insanely complicated story. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has a beefy plot that tackles themes of mortality, religious idolatry, the responsibility a god plays in the lives of a devout society, and the most important theme . . . HOT ANIME BODS. Okay soooo yeah, some of the character designs are beyond ridiculous, like the stupidly buff Aquaman knock-off or the Big-Titty Bunny who is literally just Dolly Parton with big ears, but the game has so much more going for it than simply some outlandish designs. This game has an unreal amount of content and side content to do when you don't want to continue the amazing plot. This game has it all, fantastic and memorable characters who play off one another brilliantly, a genuinely heartfelt story with great twists and very emotional moments, incredibly imaginative locations from a truly unique world, and some genuinely hilarious moments (my favourite is when the cat-girl calls the guy with an eyepatch a One-Eyed Monster). I recently wrote a Vock's Voice column on the prequel DLC story for this game, and hoo boy if you choose to play that after the story, it WILL shatter your heart and soul. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is one the of most unique exclusives the Nintendo Switch has, and it will keep you busy for hours upon hours. Plus the main cast will ensure that you need tissues on standby at all times. Though for which reason depends on how degenerate you are, I don't judge.
Literally any Souls-Like: Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Code Vein, Sekiro, etc.
The Souls-Like genre subgenre has exploded in popularity over recent years and it is easy to see why. All of these games have their own aesthetics and unique gameplay moments but they all maintain the same core identity and goal, overcoming tough odds. These games are frustrating, like controller smashingly difficult at times, but they are never impossible. These games make their mark with outlandish boss fights that wow you in spectacle and difficulty, but absolutely nail that "one more try" mentality and provide a true sense of euphoria when you do overcome the unique fights you are presented with. These games are definitely not for everyone (Hell, I myself do not love them a ton), but those who love them stand by them for a reason. They provide a very unique sense of satisfaction with their combat, memorable locations with tons of lore to delve into if you care, and every player has at least a few stories of those times they came so close but lost or how they barely scraped by with a sliver of health left. If you want to hone your skills and dedicate some time to destroying boss after boss, pick up a Souls-Like and have at 'er. My favorites the ones I've played (and by that I mean the only ones I've played at all) are Code Vein and Bloodborne. Just keep something soft like a pillow nearby in case you need to punch or throw something. Punching your desk doesn't work out well. Not that I know anything about that. . .
Fire Emblem Three Houses
While certainly not my favourite in the series, Three Houses has easily become the most popular Fire Emblem game. While I find the actual map design and difficulty to be lacking, Three Houses shines in the insane amount of choice and replayability afforded to the player. You are literally given four completely unique campaigns to choose from, tons of characters to recruit and romance because modern JRPG law demands romance options I guess, and hours upon hours of gameplay to enjoy. This is probably the most beginner-friendly Fire Emblem game, which is definitely a factor in its popularity. While longtime fans like myself can pick apart some issues in the game design and I may be willing to call it more bloated than Josh Hauta after a night of binge drinking, Three Houses offer incredible value for its price and can absolutely soak up tons of your time if you need to escape to a war-torn world where teenagers and young adults are essentially forced to brutally murder each other because organized religion wants to keep its power. Okay, it may have some real-life influences.
If you played classic turn-based RPGs in the '80's and '90's like Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, or early Final Fantasy titles, Octopath Traveler is right up your alley. This game stands as a triumphant celebration (and a painful reminder for some) of all the made those classic games so great, and a little frustrating. This title puts you in control of 8 characters as they go through their own tales, and it is a fact that Alfyn has the best story. Each of these characters has their own unique motivations and backstories, abilities, and locations to explore. They are all fun and memorable characters and you will find yourself compelled to see each tale through to the end. That being said, there is a disclaimer: whatever you thought of those classic games I mentioned earlier, you will think of Octopath. If that brought back fun memories, you'll love this game. If it brought back repressed thoughts you wished stayed dead from archaic titles, yeah stay away from Octopath. If you do pick this one up, you will enjoy 8 enjoyable tales, tons of great boss fights from some of the greatest turn-based combat ever created, and a downright phenomenal soundtrack that absolutely slaps. At on to that, some great and difficult post-game dungeons to tackle after the 8 tales have been told, and you have yourself a great package to marathon for days upon days as you desperately try to escape this absolute dumpster fire of a year.
Crypt of the Necrodancer / Cadence of Hyrule
So here we have a procedurally-generated title. What that means for those who do not know, is that while the assets and gameplay and objectives are the same, the actual world you go through each time is different. So room layouts, bosses, enemies, and etc will all be different with each run. Now, Crypt isn't the only game ever to do this (Hades, Enter the Gungeon, The binding of Isaac, and Dead Cells are just some of the many titles that do this same idea and are beloved for it), but Crypt is the only one to offer something totally different and totally rad. You have to move along with the beat of the music. This simple yet brilliant idea gives this game such a unique challenge and allows dungeon crawlers to combine with rhythm games, which I think will appeal to the many BRD readers who may kind of enjoy playing music. Since this is a musically charged title, it of course has some absolute headbangers to go through and gives the option to select multiple indie musicians and music content creators to caress your auditory senses as you boot up another run. Just when this game couldn't get any more awesome, Cadence of Hyrule descended unto the Switch eShop, which gives this amazing formula an incredible crossover with my favourite series The Legend of Zelda. This is the perfect game to just boot up whenever you kill some hours and experience a complete eargasm. Plus it's like, always on sale for less than what a shitty cup of the blackened garbage Tim's mistakenly labels as coffee costs.
Team Fortress 2
One of the most important titles of all time and one I am abysmal at, Team Fortress 2 is a perfect title to soak hours upon hours into. With a myriad of fun and unique modes to play with a ton of memorable characters (I play scout because I'm trash), Team Fortress 2 has a ton of content to keep you coming back. But there are multiple reasons that make it worth giving a shot. It can run on basically any computer that can run a browser, so you're sure to be able to at least boot it up and start shooting. Now that should be enough, but I think I can think of one other reason you may be able to give 'er a go, it is totally free. Even poor bastards like me who made the horrible decision to go college and try, and fail, to better ourselves to leave our eternal tomb of garbage we call a hometown can afford this game, and it makes a great distraction from the world of crushing debt and financial dread adding to this year's already exacerbated amounts of negativity and unfairness. The matches are simple and clean, making it the perfect game to just boot up whenever you see fit and plug away for however long you want. It is also very easy to get into lobbies with your friends and plug away while staying distanced. Plus, unlike mine, your friends probably don't all have hundreds of hours more experience than you making every multiplayer venture an embarrassing reminder of how awful you are compared to your elite pals.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Yee-Haw, as they say. While I found this game to pale in comparison to its previous wild-west adventure, RDR2 is an absolute beaut of a game. This amazing world is filled to bursting with activities to do and sights to see. It really does feel like there is no end to the number of ways you can waste time. If you don't want to engage in a gripping tale of outlaws and crime, hop on your pony and head on out to find some new activity. Maybe you wanna hunt (animals OR people, your call), or play cards, or just go drink in-game because you went through your entire liquor stash in less than a week. You will get sucked into this absolutely gorgeous world and find yourself unable to step away as you enjoy the Howdy and Rowdy Crime Simulator Epic of 2018™. There's not much worth saying about this masterclass in open-world gaming beyond just reaffirming that if you want something to eat up some or many hours, then Hello! It is this you're looking for!
Any Pokemon Game
I am definitely not the biggest Pokemon fan. The games are often too simplistic and easy for my tastes, which keeps me from ranking them as some all-time favourite games of mine. I do realize that that's the exact purpose of them, and I certainly recognize their merits and truly believe they belong here. They are some of the best games to use to introduce people to the insane genre of RPGs and are very beloved for a reason. So they're very acceptable, but what makes them great to binge? Why, the very notion of the classic motto, Gotta Catch 'Em All! These titles have massive rosters of cute, ferocious, charming, and weird creatures at every corner of their fun worlds. With just the basic plot alone, you're getting a decently sized plot that may not win awards in storytelling or character development but can definitely provide some great enjoyment for anyone who wants to soak up some hours. When you look beyond that, there are simply tons of unique ways to play Pokemon. There are fun challenges like nuzlocke runs or shiny hunting, a decent amount of sidequests, legendary pokemon who are basically super bosses, and many other fun ways to spend your time. Pick up one of these games and you can easily lose track of time as you go through whatever fun region and pick up as many fun critters. I'll close out by saying that Bulbasaur is just actually the best one, and that if you don't give all of your 'mon's a nickname you are literal scum!
Persona 3, 4, and 5
AYE, THERE IT IS. I can't go a single column without mentioning Xenoblade or Persona, or both, it seems. But while I've spoken about the amazing music or characters, or how Persona 5 embodies the "Ok Boomer" meme, I've never really spoken about why it is such a great game to binge (I'm not mentioning the earlier games in the series because they have a very different focus and are not readily accessible today, though they're still great). The modern Persona trilogy works for this context because of two factors: the insanely long plots that all take at least 70 hours to finish, and the brilliant blend of two totally different styles of game. Because it is a modern game made in Japan, you play as a Japanese high school student. That means you get the average high school activities of studying/sleeping in class, dating, getting lunch with your best bud, and trying to not stab your ears out after dealing with a Karen when working in a grocery store. This is all presented very similar to a visual novel game (a style I really don't like unless it's Ace Attorney), but it shines in Persona as it blends with more traditional RPG dungeon crawling and combat. So in just one in-game day, you can go to class, go through a dungeon that's a literal dungeon in a castle, get a massage from a lady in a maid costume, and then go hang out in a bar with an alcoholic journalist and totally awesome cross-dressing bartender (Seriously, they're like the best character in the series), and then have your cat yell at you to GO TO BED. You know, just normal high-school things. This blend of absurdly hilarious IRL shenanigans and dungeon crawling acts as the perfect metaphor for this series blends nonsensical ideas like cats turning into buses with genuinely great plots and themes like gender identity, sexual orientation, depression and suicide, and many more. This series also allows the emotional beats and struggles the characters go through to feel incredibly real. These aren't fantasy people dealing with alien invasions, these are teenagers dealing with a pedophilic gym teacher. If you pick up a Persona title, you'll find yourself unable to put the game down and you WILL lose hours upon hours. Plus they all look amazing and have god-tier music. Also, Elizabeth from 3 is the all-time Best Girl from anything in my opinion. 4 is out on Steam, and 5 is available on PS4 (with hopefully more modern platform ports for all coming soon) and are very cheap for the amount of content you get. There's a reason I mention these titles so often.
You don't need me to tell you this year sucked, but it can suck a lot less if you find something new to try. I know how little of our audience probably actually like gaming, but idiots like me do often love the hobby for more reasons than just because our lives have fallen into a pit of mediocrity and blandness. Whatever you do to get through this last stint of virus vexing, just be to stay safe and stay as positive as you can.