If you follow our monthly Strategist Haul, you’re familiar with the idiosyncrasies of our editors’ and writers’ shopping habits. While we think of those as the highlights, there are plenty of other, less glamorous things we buy — and love — on the regular, too. That’s the idea behind our series Stuff We Buy Ourselves. And though we’ve talked about all the things we’re buying, doing, reading, even making to get through self-isolation, here, we asked our colleagues at Polygon to share the video games they’re playing right now. To make this list a little easier to navigate, we’ve organized it by the preferred, or most popular, gaming format for each title (though many of these are available in other formats as well).
Games for Nintendo Switch
Russ Frushtick, senior editor
Not being able to go outside very often is a pretty significant drag right now, but at least Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Switch is offering a facsimile of that freedom. Every day, I wake up on a tropical island where fruit must be gathered, furniture must be haggled over, and friends must be visited. That may sound like a chore, but at a time when social interactions are in short supply, popping over to the neighborhood woolly mammoth to see if he has a new couch for me scratches an itch I didn’t know I needed scratched.
Emily Heller, commerce writer
Tactical-strategy games like XCOM 2 and Into the Breach can sometimes be a little too militaristic for my tastes, but Wargroove takes what’s fun about those games — turn-based combat, puzzlelike battles, recruiting specialty units — and wraps them up in an adorable package. Each playable commander has an interesting backstory in the fantasy world of the game, including a very good dog commander named Caesar. (I only ever play as Caesar.) It’s equally as fun to play through the single-player campaign as it is to compete against your friends in online multiplayer. And earlier this year, developer Chucklefish released a free co-op campaign which introduces a new outlaw faction led by a gruff Scottish daddy and his precocious twins. It’s just delightful.
Ross Miller, director of programming
Have you ever tried playing a game you remember from childhood only to realize, Hey, this isn’t as fun as I remember? Maybe the controls are janky, and there’s no save system so you have to do everything in one long sitting or start over. Shovel Knight isn’t a retro game, so it doesn’t have any of those technical issues, but it’s designed to feel like your memory of those NES-era titles, like Mega Man, with super-crisp controls and levels that can be played for five minutes or for five hours. And it isn’t just one game but four full campaigns, each with distinct feels. I can’t speak for my co-workers, but this is almost certainly the most value you’ll get for a (single-player) game on this list.
Karen Han, entertainment reporter
I feel like my general impulse right now is to find games that will take up as much time as possible as quickly as possible: My other recent purchases include Yakuza 0 and the new Animal Crossing, both of which will suck up hours at a time. Kentucky Route Zero has a lot to it, but it rewards a more careful mode of playing than those two games. This game, which is almost entirely point-and-click, is filled with text that deserves to be read and absorbed, rather than sped through. After all, there are no power-ups to gain or levels to beat: You’re just experiencing a story, the branches of which take on subtle variations depending on the dialogue choices you make. It’s a gorgeous game, one that will give back every ounce of attention you give it.
Other Console Games
Chelsea Stark, managing editor
If you mashed dungeon crawling and creature collection (like Pokémon, without needing to catch them all) with a daily-life simulation packed with memorable characters you’ll need to befriend and help, you’d get Persona 5 Royal. Set in modern-day Tokyo, your team of high schoolers is set out to do the impossible: change the hearts of the wicked and greedy by breaking into their subconscious and stealing the representation of their twisted desires. Oh, and there’s a talking cat. The game has enough style and charm that even people new to the series (like I was!) will have no trouble diving into a world full of diversions — playing darts with your friends, making curry, studying for your midterms while fighting monsters — and there is something absolutely perfect about losing yourself in a 120-hour-long game right now.
Christopher Plante, editor-in-chief
I’ve finished NieR: Automata five times, and, after a year away from the game, I’ve begun my sixth playthrough. I expect to complete a few more runs before the end of spring. The 2018 action game about a future proxy war between alien-made machines and human-made android is more complex than its pulpy premise and kinky aesthetic let on. NieR: Automata is origami. At first, it appears simple, almost childish, until you unfold it and reveal a complex web of creases that lend it structure. Completing NieR: Automata for the first time unlocks a variation of the story from a new perspective, and each subsequent playthrough further unravels the adventurous yarn until all that remains is a dissertation on existential philosophy and one of the smartest critiques of the potential and limits of video games. Yes, I’m serious. And yes, it’s just as good if you only want to smash a bunch of robots with weapons made from their own skulls.