The best games to play when you're stuck at home might not be the same games to play under normal circumstances. You don't just need to while away an evening; you need to transport yourself somewhere else, when you can't physically leave your familiar environs.
In order to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, just about every health organization on Earth recommends "sheltering in place." In other words: Unless we need something very important from the outside world, we need to stay put. As such, a ton of people have opted to stay home and play video games — including us.
Every gamer on staff has been coping with quarantine in a slightly different way, whether it's losing ourselves for hours in immersive role-playing games, or maintaining the laser-focus precision needed for a challenging platformer. Whether you want to build up a fictional world to make up for the chaos in the real one, or adventure across a fantastical landscape until you can get back outside, some of our favorite games in this trying time can help.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
It seems as if the entire planet is playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and with good reason. Nintendo’s delightful life simulator is the ultimate escape from the chaos of real life, allowing you to build your dream getaway island and watch it flourish with new facilities, friends and features as you complete rewarding milestones. Whether you’re customizing the ultimate island home, or out fishing, or catching bugs to fill out your creature collection, New Horizons is packed with addicting tasks that can keep you busy for hours on end. And since you can have up to seven online friends visit your island to trade goods or simply hang out, New Horizons is a great way to stay connected when you can’t leave the house. — Mike Andronico
"Rip and tear until it is done." Doom Eternal's epigraph is also, basically, its instruction manual. In Doom Eternal, your mission is extremely simple: Demons have invaded Earth, and you need to kill every single one of them. You need to blast them in the face with shotguns; you need to blow them to smithereens with rocket launchers; you need to tear them limb from limb with your bare hands. You need to do this because they are pure evil, and you are a manifestation of good. Doom Eternal is cathartic, sure, but there's also something beautiful about its sense of moral clarity. The Doom Slayer is not here to debate ethics; he's here because a greedy corporation unleashed literal hell on Earth, and someone has to save the world.
What makes Doom Eternal soothing in these troubled times is that the Doom Slayer knows exactly what needs to be done, and how to do it. He doesn't equivocate. He doesn't try to find the good in both sides of a debate that's fundamentally immoral. He doesn't wait when people's lives are being threatened. He gets the job done, even though it's a dirty, awful, thankless job. Luckily for players, though, it can also be an incredibly fun and satisfying job. — Marshall Honorof
Persona 5 Royal
Right now, I'm somewhere deep in the mind of a Japanese painter named Madarame, whose psyche takes the form of a glitzy art gallery. Inside, I'm sneaking behind corners to get the jump on Persona monsters (wildly animated beings with tons of personality), who take the form of guards and other people from reality, before I expose them and fight them with my own Persona monsters. All this is to stop Madarame, who's abusing his pupils and apprentices. Oh, and if you want to know how much fun I'm having: I've done this all before.
Yes, Persona 5 Royal is the expanded version of 2017's Persona 5: a beloved JRPG that's the latest in a series of games where teens travel into mental spaces to right wrongs. In this chapter, you play as a teenage boy who's just been shipped off to live in the small town of Yongen-Jaya, because of a mysterious incident involving an old, lecherous man assaulting a young woman.
If you're sensing a theme, it's very much intentional. Persona 5 puts you in a world where many of the adults in power have been abusing their power. And once you meet a talking cat named Morgana — who swears they're not a cat, they're a human — everything changes. You soon make friends with fellow teens, collect Personas and begin to unravel a larger mystery.
I'm loving Persona 5 Royal during these lonely weeks because of all the bonds you get to build with your new schoolmates. Not only does the game look better than the original Persona 5, but you also get to see new parts of Japan. There are new characters and a whole new semester's worth of storyline. Plus, if you're looking for a long game, this one takes about 150 hours in total. — Henry T. Casey
Resident Evil 3
Sure, playing a game that literally starts with fictional live-action footage about a deadly pandemic might not be the best idea right now. But if intense action-horror is what you’re after, the new Resident Evil 3 remake delivers it in spades. Building on the horrifically immersive foundation of last year’s Resident Evil 2 reimagining, Resident Evil 3 challenges you to survive a zombie-infested Raccoon City (as well as the persistent, menacing Nemesis) as series mainstay Jill Valentine.
With large urban areas, packed with undead, and an infinitely useful new dodge mechanic, Resident Evil 3 is decidedly more action-oriented than its moody, deliberately-paced predecessor. But with the lumbering, unkillable Nemesis able to pop out at any moment, it’s no less scary. With a gorgeously frightening sense of atmosphere, satisfying third-person horror gameplay and plenty of replay value, Resident Evil 3 is the perfect game to play if you’re looking to keep your heart rate up while indoors. — Mike Andronico
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
Last year's remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening might be just what you are looking for at a time when you're not going to be outside too much. Adventuring through Koholint Island gives you the experience of wandering through the wilderness, while enemies, puzzles and other side activities make sure you stay engaged, rather than reaching for your phone to check the news. There's relatively little hand-holding for much of the game too, so you can't rely on tutorial messages to get you through a tough situation; you need to figure it out for yourself (or check a walkthrough. There's no shame in that either).
In addition, Link's Awakening is the most colorful and cartoony Zelda game since Wind Waker, which gives the whole game a perfect lighthearted tone. Breath of the Wild may be longer and more critically revered, but that game's more realistic look, and its story of an impending apocalypse, aren't what you need to play right now. Link's Awakening will make you happy, and keep you busy for many hours, which is exactly what you need. — Richard Priday
Death, death, everywhere death! It’s an enduring mystery why I turned to StudioMDHR’s supercharged 2017 run-and-gunner, Cuphead, when faced with as many as six weeks indoors. But this subversively charming game’s bullet-hell aesthetic was just what the doctor ordered. Its ingratiating early-1930s-style animation and soundtrack provide the injection of levity I needed while fighting hundreds of twitchy, cartoon-inspired baddies, or towering bosses armed with unpredictable, ultra-violent, and yet very clever attacks. (Why exactly was a giant candy corn trying to kill me?) As one of the few games that makes unremitting failure fun, I know I’ll keep coming back to Cuphead no matter how many times my drinking-vessel-noggined hero dies. (Two hundred sixty-five times, as of this writing.) — Matthew Murray
You might dispute that this browser-based app is even a game at all, but I find myself transfixed by Brick Block at least once per day just the same. Created by indie dev Oskar Stålberg, Brick Block presents you with a 5 x 5 x 6 cuboid in which you can place small buildings with a simple left click, and delete them with a right click. Putting them next to each other causes them to snap together into larger buildings, no matter whether the result obeys the laws of physics.
I could happily play Brick Block for hours making floating towers, rows of townhouses or apartment blocks with cute balconies made of beehives, calmly clicking cubes in and out of existence without thinking once about the troubles of the outside world. Being stuck inside your home is frustrating, but it turns out that building other people's houses is very enjoyable. — Richard Priday
A meme on Instagram recently asked "what era would you want to live in?" I responded, "any one but now." If you're ready to do a time warp, Yakuza 0 is a fantastic way to jump back to the carefree 1980s and immerse yourself in a world of mafia shenanigans.
In Yakuza 0, a prequel game in the Yakuza franchise, you jump into the tailored suits of multiple characters, starting with Kazuma Kiryu, a debt collector on the rise. Unfortunately, Kiryu's life isn't all beatdowns and karaoke sessions. A mission to shake money out of a lowlife thug turns into a civil war inside the Japanese mob. As Kiryu, you'll fight (usually with your fists) to set things right.
The game plays out like a dramatic soap opera. This is especially the case when you jump out of Kiryu's shoes and into cabaret club owner Goro Majima's. As Majima, you see what it's like to live what appears to be a more honest life — which can be just as messy.
Overall, Yakuza 0 has been helping me get through the past few weeks with its lively scenes of neon-drenched nightlife, and territory disputes that seem utterly hilarious when juxtaposed with our current climate. Also, I'm living vicariously through the scenes of a functional social life in Tokyo and Osaka. — Henry T. Casey
Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition
I've always maintained that a long, involved RPG is the best medicine for a bad day, since you can completely inhabit someone else's story for a while. Baldur's Gate II was one of my very favorite games back in high school, and I'm pleased to report that Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition makes a great experience even better.
If you've never played it, Baldur's Gate II tells the story of the Bhaalspawn: a customized player avatar who is the son or daughter of a dead god. An evil wizard named Jon Irenicus has kidnapped your best friend, and to get her back, you'll need to undertake a long series of quests in the bustling cities, expansive countrysides and foreboding dungeons of the Forgotten Realms.
Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition is a fantastic choice for long periods of downtime, since every part of the game offers depth. Choosing skills as you level up, outfitting your party with the perfect equipment, memorizing rosters of spells and following involved quest chains to their conclusions are all complex, immersive tasks, and they demand your full attention. And now that Baldur's Gate III is on the horizon, it's the perfect time to catch up on the series, or replay it. — Marshall Honorof
Dragon Quest VII
Last year, I played the first six Dragon Quest games on my smartphone, and was impressed by how well these old Japanese RPGs held up. Unfortunately, the seventh game isn't available on Android and iOS on this side of the Pacific, so you'll have to dust off your old 3DS if you want to play Dragon Quest VII. And based on my time with the game so far, you absolutely should. It's a long, detailed, meaty adventure with a clever world-building mechanic that I've never seen in another game.
Like other Dragon Quest games, Dragon Quest VII casts you as a young hero who yearns to leave his quiet hometown and explore the big, monster-filled world. There's only one problem: There is no big, monster-filled world. The hero lives on the only island in the world, and it's been at peace for hundreds of years. One time-travel jaunt later, you discover that the world's been split into dozens of pieces, and it's your job to reconstruct it, and face down the evils along the way. It feels good to build up a whole world, and to make some friends along the way. — Marshall Honorof
Being trapped inside can be dispiriting, but there are few better ways to work off a bad mood than by bashing in demons’ heads. I’ve been playing Diablo III on and off for almost eight years, but I never get tired of it. It’s the kind of game you can pick up, put down and pick up again whenever it’s convenient, and never feel like you’re missing out on too much. The story is kind of disposable (and I might have ignored the cutscenes a few dozen times), but outfitting your burly, skill-laden character with all manner of armor and weapons, then whacking thousands of undead back to the underworld is supremely satisfying. And a dizzying variety of different game modes, unlockable challenges and upgradeable crafting systems keep things forever fresh, no matter how many times you’ve fired up the game. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my hardcore Barbarian needs my attention. — Matthew Murray