A Noob’s Guide to Picking the Right Video Game for Quarantine

Whether you want something relaxing, engaging, wholesome or beautiful — or just something where you can blow up a couple thousand demons — you’re in the right place

Just in: If you send people home during a global pandemic, shut down the entire world and release Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch — a video game with one of the largest audiences ever on a video game console that itself has one of the largest audiences ever — suddenly, everyone will become a gamer. Animal Crossing might just be the best new video game for beginners. This is a fact — well, it certainly seems that way, at least.

It makes a lot of sense that video games would grow in popularity when people are forced to stay home: Gaming provides something to do, and games can momentarily transport you to a whole new world, one where the coronavirus, economic collapse and your perpetual existential dread are but distant memories.

The trouble is, if you happen to be one of the many people who are now interested in video games, but never were before, your options can be overwhelming. There are apparently more than 1,000,000 video games out there, all of which have different stories, missions, quests — whatever. There are also a bunch of different video game consoles to choose from, which can be a tough ask if you know close to nothing about gaming (except that you want to play Animal Crossing immediately).

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Fret not, though, because I asked Shelby, of the Girlfriend Reviews game-focused YouTube channel, and a few other devoted gamers, to send me a bunch of video game recommendations, depending on what you want out of a game, whether that be something relaxing or something that involves more monsters and more swords.

But before we launch into those recommendations, here are a few words about consoles. “In my opinion, any game that involves shooting is made 1,000 times easier with a mouse and keyboard,” Shelby says. “Aiming with joysticks is clunky and can make getting into gaming extremely annoying. So, if you have a PC capable of it, I can’t recommend it enough if you intend to play anything that involves guns.”

“If you’re looking to start getting into gaming but haven’t committed to a console yet, the Nintendo Switch is probably the best bang for your buck,” Shelby continues. “It has a library full of newb-friendly games, tons of couch co-op and is at a pretty decent price point. The fact that it’s portable is great, too. I’d recommend the standard Switch over the lite model.” (It should be noted, however, that a lot of video games on this list are compatible across numerous platforms, so don’t worry too much about which console you have or decide to get.)

Now get those thumbs ready, because no matter what kind of experience you want, surely one of the video games below will fit the bill.

The Best Games for Beginners: Relaxing Games That Pacify Your High-Strung Mind

“The first game that comes to mind is Animal Crossing,” Shelby says (no surprises there). “It’s probably one of the most newb-friendly, peaceful games you’ll find.” For anyone out of the loop, the goal of Animal Crossing is to assume the role of your customizable character, then explore your very own deserted island, and develop it into a community of cute, anthropomorphic animals. You can never really die or fail, and the content is quite wholesome, making it a super chill quarantine game. More than that, though, for gamer Leslie, Animal Crossing is all about “living out my millennial capitalist fantasies of buying a home, paying off my loans and having friends.” Relatable!

Shelby adds, “If you don’t have a Switch, but want a similar experience, try Stardew Valley. I’ve also heard good things about My Time at Portia.” Both of these games are available on an array of platforms and involve exploring, gathering resources, building and making friends, all of which can help transport you to a tranquil new world, as well as make you feel calm and accomplished.

Beginners Might Love Action-Packed Games That Require Focus and Attention

If you want something intense that requires the whole of your mind, Shelby says, “Overwatch is available on just about every platform and has playable characters for just about any play style. I’m no good against real people, but Overwatch’s accessible bot battles are fun and can be pretty challenging in hard mode.” Overwatch is a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter, where you choose a character, join a team and fight against other characters (or robots) on a select map.

“I recommend trying out a healer, like Moira,” Shelby says. “Her moves are pretty straightforward, easy to grasp, and she can still kick butt, so you don’t feel like you didn’t do anything at the end of the game.”

If you really want to challenge yourself and dive into something adventurous that requires a lot of time and attention, gamer Kevin recommends Sekiro, Dark Souls 3 or Bloodborne, all of which are action-packed role-playing games, where you adventure through detailed worlds, fighting against gruesome monsters with swords, shields and magic. “They’re immersive enough to take your mind off of stuff for a few hours at a time if you can commit,” he says. “Without much work to do, it’s nice to feel challenged or engaged in a way that an easy shooter might not provide. These games are also very atmospheric, so the story is present without being shoved in your face, which I think helps with the immersion. You don’t stop to realize you’re watching a glorified movie; you’re participating in it as you move through it.” 

Be warned, though, that these games can be so tough that they can get frustrating at times.

If you just want to kick some ass without too much story, gamer Sydney says Mortal Kombat 11 has been a great stress reliever for her lately. “I enjoy Mortal Kombat because it feels good to win, especially now, when I’ve been applying to job after job, only to get crickets in return. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m good at something, even if it’s fighting in a make-believe realm.”

Or Puzzle Games That Put Your Brain to Work

If all the sitting around is making your head go fuzzy, maybe something that tests your mind is a good bet. “Portal is probably one of my favorite games ever,” Shelby says. “It’s not only an awesome puzzle game, but a perfect way to familiarize yourself with the feel of a first-person shooter, without the stress. Everything about Portal is good: The writing, acting, music, gameplay. I can’t recommend it enough. That said, Portal 2 is better in almost every way, but significantly longer and gets a little more complicated. Start with Portal, or play Portal 2’s co-op with a friend.” She also recommends Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, a spin-off of the Super Mario series that contains loads of puzzle-based minigames.

Scenic Games That Transport You Far, Far Away From Your Small Apartment

Being cooped up blows, but there are some games out there that expertly relay the feel of Mother Nature and just have incredibly immersive worlds, where you can roam freely. “My first thought is Skyrim, because it’s probably one of the biggest open worlds and can be modded with texture packs to make it look even better,” Shelby says. “In Skyrim, you can create a character and build them however you prefer to play, so you can keep it as simple as you want.”

Shelby continues, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a must. Technically, it doesn’t have fancy graphics, but the world around you is like a Monet painting. Climb up a mountain and take a look around. Not to mention it’s one of the best games ever, in general, and can be played in a variety of ways. The combat and gyroscope-style shooting makes it really easy to get the hang of.” 

Leslie agrees, adding that God of War and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey both provide similar wide-open worlds, where you can run about as freely as you want, enjoying the highly detailed, virtual views.

Wholesome and Happy Games That Are Just, Well, Really, Really Wholesome and Happy

If you want something that makes you smile uncontrollably, Shelby says, “Slime Rancher is another first-person shooter, but it’s about catching, feeding and breeding cute, little slimes. Build them habitats, explore the surrounding areas and try to find as many different types of slime as you can. There are some enemies, but spray them with a little water, and they’ll be out of your hair.” Yeah, sounds wholesome!

Building Games That Make You Feel Accomplished

“The obvious pick here is Minecraft,” Shelby says, which is all about exploring a blocky, 3D world and using the raw material there to build, well, whatever the hell you want. “But if all you’re looking to do is build, and you’re not interested in combat and exploration, try a Sims game. The Sims is super detailed, you can customize every aspect of your house, sims, their personalities, pets and so on. Or, if that all sounds like too much work, go with a pre-built house and go around town, kissing other sims.” Gamer Miles specifically suggests The Sims 4, saying, “It allows you to do what you can’t right now: Go on a date, or go to a birthday party.”

Sydney recommends the Sims, too, saying, “The Sims is almost like meditation for me, in how I get to build a house that I can’t afford and live an alternate life through characters of my making. It’s almost like a way to live life without actually doing it, since we’re all cooped up.”

Games With Interesting Characters That You Can Grow and Connect With

“The Sims is also worth mentioning here, but I’ll devote this category to Diablo 3,” Shelby says. “In this game, you’ll get familiar with inventory management, because you’re constantly picking up new and exciting weapons. In just a few chapters, you’ll have a completely different character with crazy powerful spells. This was one of the first games my boyfriend and I played together, and it didn’t feel like I was being carried along by him, because we both continued to get upgrades that kept us at about the same level.”

On a personal note, I’d also recommend Fire Emblem: Three Houses here, which is primarily a strategy game, but also serves as a life simulator, where you can teach characters certain skills, send them through competitions or even just have a nice cup of tea and chat with them.

Games That You Can Play With Your Quarantine Buddies

If you want something cooperative, Shelby says, “A number of the games I already mentioned feature online multiplayer: Overwatch, Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, Minecraft, Portal 2 and Diablo 3, and they’re all great (except Animal Crossing — their online multiplayer is pretty empty). If you’re stuck at home with your family, roommates or significant others, some of my favorite couch co-op games are Mario Party, Mario Kart, Overcooked, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime and Human: Fall Flat. They’re all pretty hilarious, but can potentially cause some arguing (particularly Overcooked and its time-limited, stress-inducing stages).” 

“Also worth mentioning here,” she continues, “are Until Dawn and Detroit: Become Human. Their gameplay is just quick-time events, so it doesn’t take a lot of skill. Everyone can pile on the couch, sit back and enjoy the cinematic stories while deciding what choices to make to progress the game as a group.”

As an honorable mention, Miles says he and his faraway friends have also been playing the first-person shooter Call of Duty: Warzone together online. “It’s kind of like a Zoom happy hour, but with virtual assault rifles,” he explains.

And that about does it. Hopefully, at least one of these games piqued your interest. But if you read through all of that and are still only interested in playing Animal Crossing, hey, you do you.

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