stuff we buy ourselves

The Video Games Polygon’s Editors and Writers Are Playing to Get Through Self-Isolation

Photo: Courtesy Retailers

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.

Owen S. Good, weekend reporter

Actual Major League Baseball was put on hold in the middle of spring training, and Opening Day, if it even happens, will be in May at the earliest. But there is plenty of baseball on my PlayStation 4, thanks to Sony San Diego’s best-in-class sports simulation. This year, the developer added the means of creating custom teams and inserting them into the franchise career mode. An easy-to-use uniform editor and a robust library of community designs have resurrected the San Francisco Seals and St. Louis Browns in my season, and replaced the Tampa Bay Rays with the Tampico Stogies (from HBO’s underrated 1987 flick Long Gone). MLB The Show has always been an escapist fantasy through its single-player Road to the Show mode; now, its team campaign delivers as well, and not a day too soon for this aching baseball fan.

This is, admittedly, a problematic pick, because it involves Washington, D.C., in the aftermath of a catastrophic viral outbreak that has brought the nation to its knees. The problem-solving of putting the country back together involves just shooting a lot of people on sight, too. But I started a new playthrough of The Division 2 around the time its newest expansion — which takes the player back to New York, where the virus first spread — launched in March. In the first Division, players would encounter civilian non-player characters wandering Manhattan, mumbling confusion about what was going on, how this could have happened. In The Division 2, you’re in the District helping settlements of survivors who fight alongside you as you take back a city from those who would exploit our collective suffering. It’s not for everyone, but, for me, there is always an affirmation in taking a control point and hearing the civilians’ shouts of victory and survival.

Dave Tach, guides editor

Sometimes, I think that games like Nioh 2 are for masochists. Yes, this game is deliberately difficult. Sure, it sometimes feels impenetrable. Yeah, it’s often frustrating. Exactly none of these things sound appealing, and yet I keep coming back. Why?

Because nearly every defeat feels like a teachable moment. Because it insists on testing my limits. Because it forces me to better myself. There’s another way to think of games like Nioh 2: They’re puzzles disguised as demons and ninjas, and you’re there to solve them all. I have to fight hard for every inch, and that makes my journey all the more satisfying.

Julia Lee, news writer

Square Enix’s MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV, is the best time sink you could ever find. There’s so much content for any type of player. Do you like single-player games? Stick with the main story and experience some of the best writing we’ve seen from Square Enix in a long time (particularly in the Heavensward and Shadowbringers expansions). Do you like fashion? There are thousands of customization options to dress up your character and a specialized photo mode to take dope screenshots of them. Do you just want to fish? Yes, you can do that, too. There are even multiplayer fishing raids. Endgame raids for expert players? Yeah, we got that, too. There are even mini-games in the Golden Saucer — yes, based off of Final Fantasy VII. I can continue to list all the things you could do in this game, but I think you should just try it for yourself.