What to Buy During the Winter Steam Sale

The 2016 Winter Steam Sale started today at 1 p.m. Here's what we think is worth checking out.

The 2015-2016 Steam Winter sale began today at 1 p.m., and all special prices extend to January 4. Steam’s servers are already having trouble handling the traffic, and no one is sure if the store’s final count of 57 on-sale games is correct (given that thousands were on sale in previous promotions), but we expect Steam to iron out the issues in the next few hours.

Since the Steam store can be pretty overwhelming, we’ve compiled a list of our favorites. It was reported back in November that the sale would not include Flash or Daily Deals, so this season’s sale will probably be more than straight-forward. The good news is, you’ll have time to weigh your options.

The Inverse team, predictably, is full of Steam gamers. Brock Wilbur writes, “I buy a lot of games on the steam sale and never play them just like everyone else.” Does the 2016 selection prove the naysayers wrong? Well, let’s see.

The big guns

Skyrim is 75% off, the entire Civilization franchise is on sale, The Witcher is up to 85% off. None of these games are going to disappoint, but chances are, you’ve already played them each long enough to discover that Skyrim actually lacks strong characterization. As far as the big names go, we’re confident that buying the Witcher series is the strongest choice here. (Admittedly, Civ IV is what got me into gaming, and will please gamers who are really just tabletop enthusiasts in disguise.)

The classics

The 1996 first person shooter Quake, which features a soundtrack written entirely by Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, is on sale for less than ten bucks. Although it doesn’t offer much as far as graphics, the game is a fun little reminder of what game designers considered “horror,” back when gore meant a splash of red pixels appearing for a few seconds. Find the nail gun and stock up the nails you’ll find in boxes marked with the NIN logo. This one’s easy to melt a few hours into.

The weird

Be one of the first gamers to check out Aviary Attorney, which was Kickstarted and released on Steam yesterday. Play as JayJay Falcon, a bird attorney on the case in mid-1800s Paris, and interrogate other animals while wearing a jaunty little hat.

Kerbal Space Program, released earlier this year, allows players to design their own astronaut training program. The flight simulator game was critically applauded for using actual science in its design, and for creating likable characters in its Kerbals, the wide-eyed aliens who just want to see what’s on their moon. It’s difficult to avoid feeling bad when the Kerbal casualties of space travel begin to add up — and they will add up, as the game is actually pretty challenging.

Holiday Star, the oddly-anticipated sequel to 2011’s Hatoful Boyfriend: A School of Hope and White Wings, is on sale for less than ten bucks. This Japanese pigeon dating simulator follows in the three-pronged footsteps of its predecessor, and it really only appeals to fans of the original. If for some reason you’ve played one pigeon dating simulator but missed out on the second, tis the season to see your favorite bird friends dressed in little Santa hats. This one will also be a hit with drunk relatives post-Christmas-ham.

Under $10

Most of the games in the ten-dollar category are simply earlier iterations of now-successful offerings, or indie releases that flew under the radar. There are a couple worth trying.

Undertale will satisfy any gamer looking for an immersive experience. Its soundtrack is stunning, and the gameplay follows an interesting storyline. It’s creative, clever, and purely fun in a way that most of us haven’t experienced since we discovered Pokemon as children.

Gone Home, a story exploration game released in 2013, is set in 1993 in a spooky, empty house. Created by a Portland design company, Gone Home is a lovely example of emotionally-rich storytelling in game design. In the year of its release, it was nominated for Best Story, and ended up winning Best Debut Game at the BAFTA Games Awards.

Besiege, which was released almost a year ago, is a physics-conscious art piece. Gameplay really only involves destroying forts and sanctuaries using a gamer-designed ballista, but Besiege’s simplicity is its primary appeal.

Under five dollars

Ah yes, the clearance bin. Back when people actually ventured into Gamestop, treasure diving in the buckets yielded multiple copies of knock-off DDR games and independent releases no one cared about. As with any clearance sale, Steam’s winter promotion has a few gems hiding in the garbage.

Emily Wants to Play is a simple horror game which shot to the top of Steam’s rankings when it was released on Steam ten days ago. The game is admittedly full of jump scares, but that seems to be the point. Download the game while it’s only a few bucks, and make sure to tape your reactions, as is the custom.

The Dark Eye: Memoria, known simply as Memorial, is on sale for $2.99. Fans of fantasy games and plot-based adventures will enjoy Geron in his quest to solve the mystery of a princess’ disappearance.

Other sure-fire wins in the below-five-dollar bin include Atom Zombie Smasher, Organ Trail, and Saints Row IV. Overall, the Winter Steam Sale looks like its yielding plot-driven winners focused on storytelling and world-building, though some of the more action-based classics have been marked down as well. Looks like a win for gamers who prefer RPGs to first person shooters.

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