Happy New Year folk, welcome to 2024! Hopefully your holiday season was filled with plenty of good food, festivities, and just the right amount of mandatory family interactions.
Is it me, or did 2023 somehow fly by and also feel like the longest year ever? Regardless, we successfully battled our way through the months and came out of the other side relatively unscathed. Pretty cool of us.
For those fortunate enough to have a nice extended break over the holidays, it’s the perfect time to hunker down and get some stress-free game time in. Maybe you stayed solo and played something we highlighted in our Game of the Year 2023 awards, or ended up playing a ton of party games with your pals instead. Whatever you got up to over the break, we’d love to know what kind of games you booted up, Steam sale purchases you made or neat achievements you managed to nab.
Thankfully, the PC Gamer team was also able to take a little bit of time off without the website burning down, giving us the opportunity to spend non-work time with our PCs, Steam Decks and maybe even a console too. Here’s what some of us got up to over the break:
Monster Hunter: World, Chants of Sennaar, Spin Rhythm XD, Steam Deck
(Image credit: rundisc)
Mollie Taylor, Features Producer: I went into my break with every intention to finally get through Hi-Fi Rush, and somehow fell into a Monster Hunter: World-shaped hole instead. I’m not complaining, mind you, I had a brilliant time smacking monsters in the face with my hunting horn while my friends desperately tried to convert me to becoming a heavy bowgun main. It had been over two years since I last touched World, and I forgot what a barrel of laughs it can be when you’re all fighting for your life against a super angry lightning ape.
I also dipped my toe into the Steam sale, coming out with Chants of Sennaar—Lauren Morton’s favourite game of 2023—and Spin Rhythm XD. Sennaar is such a brilliant language-based puzzler and I had a blast trying to decipher all the different glyphs to finally figure out just what that one warrior was yelling at me about.
I’m super mad that I slept on Spin Rhythm XD until now too, because it’s one of the best rhythm games I’ve played. It feels like one that’s been made by people who actually play music games—there are loads of cool quality of life features that make genre veterans like myself swoon.
Oh, and I finally caved and bought a Steam Deck too. After spending far too many months complaining about how much I hate playing games at my desk all the time, I’m finally freeing myself, one rather expensive tiny handheld PC purchase later. Here’s hoping I actually use the bloody thing.
World of Warcraft (god help me)
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)
Harvey Randall, Staff Writer: I had a pretty flooded Christmas break. Lots of family visits and New Year’s partying led to a deficit of time and energy. As such, I didn’t have quite as much time as Mollie did to sample a wide range of games (although she needs to get through Hi-Fi Rush, already). Because of the holiday business, I couldn’t handle anything too demanding. I needed to turn off my brain, hop on, blast some bad guys, and inch towards a pointless grind. In other words, I needed an MMO.
I bought a subscription to World of Warcraft to check out Season of Discovery a while back—which is a genuinely great little bit of recycling, a reimagining of WoW’s Vanilla years that caps at level 25 and introduces a bunch of runes. Rogues can tank, it’s a right laugh. When I got bored, I still had that subscription kicking around. So I decided to see what was going on in retail and god damnit, I’m playing World of Warcraft again.
I haven’t had the most impressive view of this game for a while. I watched from a distance and chortled at the clunky writing of Shadowlands, all the while feeling a sense of melancholy for a game I had once loved as a kid. I also played a bit during Dragonflight, though I wasn’t invested enough to really sink my teeth in.
After gearing up my rogue in the game’s latest patch, though? Damnit. I kinda like World of Warcraft again—mainly because it provided a nice, safe, brain-fuzz haven to return to after the overstimulation of my holiday madness.
But also because Blizzard seems to have somewhat turned a corner—patches come out regularly, with roadmaps it’s stuck to successfully. Community feedback is actually considered and acted on, the new talent systems are fun, the trading post is neat, and a lack of borrowed power nonsense lets me dip in and out at will.
I ran dungeons, I tinkered with weakauras, I got yelled at in raid finder. It was, to my utter chagrin, a good time. Also, every time I told my friends that I’d returned to Azeroth (including a video chat with the team this morning) they’ve responded like I just relapsed into a severe illness or something. They might be right.
Balatro demo, Balatro demo, Balatro demo
(Image credit: LocalThunk)
Christopher Livingston, Senior Editor: I didn’t go near my desktop for a full week, which was glorious because sometimes you just need a break. I did use my Steam Deck every single day, multiple times per day, to obsessively play the free demo for poker-inspired roguelike Balatro. I think the 40 hours I’ve sunk into it is the most I’ve played any demo, ever, and probably the most I’ve ever played a deckbuilder. Is it too early to declare 2024’s GOTY? Cuz Balatro is great, even in demo form.
Unfortunately as of the new year the demo has been yoinked from Steam, but it’ll be back at Next Fest in February. I don’t know what I’ll do until then, but I’m sure I can find something to play for a month on our list of the best Steam Deck games.
(Image credit: The Astronauts)
Andy Chalk, NA News Lead: I didn’t have much time for gaming over the holidays—too much other stuff going on—but I got sucked pretty deeply into Witchfire, the new shooter from The Astronauts. It’s got a viciously steep early learning curve, largely because it presents like a new Painkiller but is very much not that. It is in fact a roguelike extraction shooter that rewards planning and careful, methodical execution, and if you jump in looking to waste endless hordes of demonic foes in frenzied firefights, you’re going to end up very dead, very quickly.
It took me a while (and some Reddit browsing) to figure it out but once I got into the proper gameplay rhythm, I really started having a blast with it. The Astronauts have promised some big changes coming this year that will hopefully tone down some of its more punishing rough edges, which is probably a good idea given how brutally unfriendly it is to newcomers, but even in its current early access state, Witchfire is legit.
(Image credit: Luminous Productions)
Robert Jones, Print Editor: If you’d told me back in late January 2023 that by the end of the year I would have spent almost as much time playing Forspoken as Starfield, I’d have quickly questioned your sanity. But here we are. That’s a fact, and one driven by Forspoken being my main holiday game this year (and also, while sad to say, Starfield just not delivering the Bethesda magic of old).
I picked up Forspoken cheap in December, having kept my eye on the game’s progress after launch all year, both in terms of how it was patched up and how its price dropped. I’d read PC Gamer’s own Forspoken review keenly back at the game’s launch and had come away really disappointed that an action-RPG that offered such dynamic movement and combat options, as well as buckets of style, could be so weak in other areas and disappointingly unoptimised on PC. One to come back to, then, when it was more polished and much cheaper.
But I honestly didn’t think I’d have any more than a quick blast with the game, so when I found myself sinking in serious time to it this holiday season, I was surprised. Yes, Forspoken still grates in areas, such as the often laboured, profanity-laden dialogue, slow start and uninspiring crafting system, but after a number of patches the game now runs slickly, I’ve encountered zero bugs, and I’ve got hooked to its simple but exciting gameplay loop of zooming around like Hermes in my magical kicks, all the while swapping between a smorgasbord of magical spells to bring death to numerous foes.
Palia, Roots of Pacha
(Image credit: Singularity 6)
Lauren Morton, Associate Editor: Holiday break is for relaxing and the best way to relax is by spending your entire life savings on seeds, designing the optimal spread of crops, and watering them every single day until you finally profit. I dumped a chunk of time into the stone age Stardew-alike game Roots of Pacha early in the holidays and did finally make it past the first year with my village, though I’m still eagerly awaiting the invention of irrigation.
For real though, putting in time reading several books (four, thanks for asking) over break is my real form of relaxation and that paired well with AFK farming in the social sim MMO Palia. My home lot garden in Palia grows a bit each in-game day, which is an hour of real time, so I spent a lot of break reading on my couch and taking quick breaks each hour to water my corn and potatoes. I made a pretty profit last week without having to take much time away from my books at all, nice! Now I’m going to spend it all on furniture for my house in a single day, most likely.
Warhammer: Vermintide 2
(Image credit: Fatshark)
Jody Macgregor, Weekend/AU Editor: Though I spent most of my holiday watching Godzilla movies and painting miniatures I did get sucked back into Vermintide 2 for a bit. I logged in to pick up some free cosmetics as part of a seasonal giveaway called “Gifts of the Wolf-Father” and before I knew it I was playing a few levels for old time’s sake. That’s how they get you.
My Vermintide 2 crew have moved on so I played solo with bots and couldn’t help but compare it to Darktide. Fatshark’s newer game still doesn’t have a solo mode, and while it’s improved in a lot of ways since launch—and was fun even then in spite of some issues—I miss the more narrative approach of Vermintide. Fighting a gloriously named boss like Burblespue Halescourge, who has backstory that goes back to the first Vermintide, feels more impactful than going up against another randomized goober in a train station.
Parasite Eve, Halo Infinite
(Image credit: Square)
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: Prepare your sharp intakes of breath—the game I spent the most time with this holiday break wasn’t a PC game! I got cozy on the couch for several hour-long sessions with Parasite Eve, a strange Squaresoft RPG from 1998. The Steam Deck does a fabulous job of emulating PlayStation 1 games, and this is one of Square’s games from the era I was always curious about but never played, even as the discs spent years ignored in a dusty old CD wallet. I played the first few hours of Parasite Eve months ago, but came back to it over the break, which was perfect—it’s set in New York City around Christmas. The plot is totally bizarre and must surely include more utterances of the word “mitochondria” than any other videogame in history. Recommended!
Outside Parasite Eve I found myself too busy to do much gaming, but I did sneak in a few multiplayer hours of Halo Infinite. Like Morgan said, it’s been a great few months for Infinite, though a few iffy maps in the the matchmaking pools and melee netcode that never quite feels right have cooled my enthusiasm after playing a lot in November and December. There’s still work to do before the game fully sings.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
(Image credit: Respawn)
Phil Savage, UK Editor-in-Chief: For my sins, I spent much of the Christmas break catching up on the last few years of Star Wars stuff—Episode IX is pretty bad, huh?—and so 2023’s big Star Wars game seemed like the obvious accompaniment. I enjoyed Fallen Order well enough, but Survivor definitely feels like a step up in terms of scale and quality. But what really stands out is how much time it dedicates to fleshing out characters both major and minor—the quirky weirdos that make a Star Wars adventure feel fun. As a media juggernaut, Star Wars is always in danger of disappearing up its own arse, but Survivor understands that, actually, it’s the character moments that trump the interminable extended lore of this universe.
I do wish there was a bit more purpose to exploration though. I enjoy following routes off the critical path, but it’s pretty underwhelming when you carefully navigate some optional challenge only to be awarded a new type of beard at the end. What’s that, BD-1? You’ve found another lightsaber part? Sorry mate, I simply do not care.
(Image credit: Deadpan Games, Gaziter)
Robin Valentine, Senior Editor: Given its wintery theme, the holidays felt like the perfect time to revisit this overlooked gem of 2023. It’s one of my favourite deckbuilding roguelikes of recent years, its cute, bouncy art-style concealing a steely strategic challenge.
What a pleasure to return to it and discover that it’s received loads of lovely updates in the time since my review. For those who found it too hard at launch, it’s been made a little more accessible; for those seeking greater challenges, it’s got a more in-depth system for piling on tricky modifiers; and a ton of quality-of-life additions just make it overall an even more polished experience.
It may not have enjoyed the popularity it deserved in 2023, but at this rate I’ll still be regularly trekking through the snow well into 2024.