A casual’s guide to console gaming

PC Gaming

The holidays are a great time for video games. Console makers drop the prices on their machines in hopes people will give them as gifts. Kids all the way up to college are on break, so online matches fire quickly. And all the great new games are out in the world. But navigating the landscape of console gaming can be tough, especially if the last time you bought a console was when the Nintendo 64 still reigned supreme. Here’s a rundown of the current console landscape as well as some game suggestions for each platform to help you blow those sweet holiday gift cards.

Microsoft Xbox

Consoles

Right now, you can choose between the Xbox One S and the super-high-end Xbox One X, which we reviewed here. For most people, the Xbox One S will be plenty of firepower, even if you have a fancy 4K TV with HDR, and at $200 (with a free game), it’s a lot cheaper than the $500 Xbox One X.

Upgrading to the X will get you some advantages, like maximum frame rates and graphic qualities on games that are optimized for the platform, as well as generally faster load times pretty much across the board. It’s important to note, though, that there won’t be specific Xbox One X games that won’t play on the One S. They just might not look as nice without the X’s extra horsepower.

Accessories

For $79, Microsoft Design Lab will let you craft your own Xbox One controller using a tool like the Nike ID custom shoe builder. It also offers an Elite controller, which costs $150, but offers sturdier construction, more customizable buttons, and adjustable height sticks to customize gameplay.

Online play

Xbox Live Gold will cost you $10 for each month or $60 for the year, and it’s pretty much a no-brainer if you’re going to use the system. In addition to access for online multiplayer games, you get free “Games with Gold” every month, as well as discounts on other Xbox purchases.

Games to get you started

This team-based shooter was the breakout game of 2016, but it has been selling for half-price this holiday season, which has given the game a huge infusion of new players. It has endless replay value and a rotating assortment of special event types, including an adorable snowball fight mode, to keep things interesting.

This game built hype for years before finally debuting in the fall. Its combination of extremely unique, vintage cartoon-style graphics and insanely hard gameplay make it one of the most interesting titles of 2017. Just don’t be surprised if you rage quit more than once.

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds

Forza Motorsport 7

The Forza franchise has long been a showpiece for the Xbox platform and the latest edition is no exception. Everything about it is beautiful, from the tracks to the cars, especially if you opt for an Xbox One X and you really want to show off what your fancy 4K TV can do.

Sony PlayStation

Consoles

You also have two options when it comes to Playstation 4 consoles. The standard PS4 recently got a tummy tuck, making it thinner and lighter than before. You can expect to pay about $250 with a game. The $400 Playstation 4 Pro, however, is what you’ll need if you want to squeeze out native 4K resolution from games and streaming content.

Like with the Xbox, both versions of the console play the same games, but the Pro will often give you an enhanced experience that’s faster and offers slicker graphics.

Accessories

One big differentiator for the PS4 is that it supports virtual reality gameplay. The $199 headset provides a full-on VR experience that currently has more than 100 games in its lineup. Certainly not all of them are winners, but this is something that Xbox doesn’t currently offer at all.

Online play

The PlayStation Network has a free version, but you’ll need a PlayStation Plus account for $10 monthly or $60 yearly if you want to get full access to online play for every title. That subscription, however, does get you a couple free games a month as well as more exclusive offers like discounts on games and other media.

Games to get you started

Horizon: Zero Dawn

This game made our Best of What’s New list for 2017 for its efforts to take advantage of the PS4 Pro’s extra processing power. It’s a beautiful, open-world game in which you hunt dinosaurs. Do you really need more of a sales pitch than that?

Skyrim VR

This open-world game sucked up hundreds of hours on regular consoles, and now you can play it in virtual reality. It’s not perfect, but it’s an entirely different, and fascinating experience.

Cross-platform titles

If you’re not looking for games exclusive to your platform, there were some big-name titles this year that are worth your time.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Even if you’re not a tried-and-true gamer, you probably know the deal with the Assassin’s Creed series by now. It’s a beautiful, parkour-filled adventure with a heap of missions to slash-and-dive through.

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