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Best Comfort Games You Should Play This Year – CNET

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Your guide to a better future
Check out CNET’s ultimate list of games to help you escape during tough times.
Shelby Brown
Staff Writer
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is a writer for CNET’s services and software team. She covers tips and tricks for apps and devices, as well as Apple Arcade news.
The gaming industry experienced a boom in 2020 due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, quarantines and business closures. Games such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Among Us skyrocketed in popularity at the onset of the pandemic as they offered connection, distraction and ultimately comfort in an unprecedented time. 
Even before the pandemic, video games have provided vast, open-world RPGs, intricate puzzles, immersive storytelling and more. But some games call you back for another play time and time again, and will forever hold a special place in your heart — your comfort game. Your definition of comfort might be drastically different from someone else’s, and that’s what makes it interesting. 
As we’re entering our third year of a global pandemic, games both old and new remain an important way to stay in touch with friends, unwind and have a good time. Here’s a list of some of CNET’s favorite comfort games. 
I have a long history with the Dishonored game series. Before my husband and I even started dating, we’d hang out and take turns playing the game (no co-op feature, alas). We challenged each other on missions — who could be stealthier, who could line up the most creative kill shot and so on. The game casts you as Corvo Attano, a Royal Protector wrongly accused of assassinating Empress Jessamine Kaldwin. After teaming up with a resistance group and gaining magical powers, Corvo embarks on a quest to avenge the fallen empress and restore her daughter, Emily Kaldwin, to the throne.
Dishonored offers an immersive storyline, multiple endings based on your in-game actions, gorgeous environments to explore, collectibles and complex characters. I’m always drawn back with the hope of finally achieving a play-through without ever being detected by enemies, seeing just how creative I can get while avoiding traps and unlocking more in the skill tree. Dishonored 2 and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider build on the original game’s solid foundation with new stories and deeper examinations of original characters and the game’s lore.
 — Shelby Brown, Writer
When the world feels like it’s moving way too fast, I sit down and play a game of Tetris. The game is so absorbing (and addicting) that I can forget about the world outside for a while. It’s an old video game, debuting way back in 1984, with a very simple premise. Why has Tetris stuck around so long? “We have an inherent desire to create order out of chaos,” says Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov. “Tetris satisfies that desire on a very basic level.”
— Julian Dossett, Writer
Yes, Wordle can be frustrating, and there are many days when I use more guesses than I’d like to admit. But it’s my favorite way to wake up my brain in the morning. I’m not much of a morning person, but the few minutes it takes to complete Wordle have become all I need to wake up and start the day.
— Lisa Eadicicco, Senior Editor
I’ve been playing The Sims since it first came out 22 years ago and I was a baby of 7 years old. It got me into gaming and fostered my love of architecture. (Fun fact, I wanted to be an architect for the longest time growing up! Until I realized I needed math.) 
Even now that I’m nearing 30, The Sims is always there on a rainy weekend afternoon or after a stressful day of work. It’s fun to just turn off my brain, make a nice little house (home ownership, what a concept) and watch my little Sims grow and live. 
Anyone who has played the Sims a lot knows that interest in the game comes in cycles. For a month, all I’ll want to do is cozy up and play… until one day I just can’t be bothered. Is it over? Never! In another month or two I’ll wake up one day and all I’ll be able to think is, “I really have the urge to hide a Sim in a basement, make them paint all day everyday and use the profits of these paintings to fund a multi-generational dynasty.” Or maybe that’s just me. 
— Nicole Archer, Assistant Marketing Manager
This might sound like an odd choice: A twitch shooter set in the battle royale genre as something to relax you? I’ve put hundreds of hours into this game along with some of my closest friends. At this point we know the characters, weapons and maps like the back of our hands. This familiarity and our low-stakes approach to winning means the game is more of a chatroom for us to hang out in while mildly engaging our brains and hands. Apex is also a live service game with new daily challenges and rewards to unlock, which means it’s always available and offering something for us. 
— Sean Booker, Video Editor
A crossword takes all of my concentration so other worries fade into the background. And the fact that there’s only one right answer gives me a sense of accomplishment when I finish a crossword. 
— Dan Avery, How-To Writer
When I think of a comfort game, I want an experience that allows me to tune out and just let myself soak up the details and vibe of a compelling setting. No other game does that more than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. 
I still remember the exact paths to find hidden dungeons and lost weapons to outfit my character, and which characters I would choose to side with over others. It’s a game that feels nostalgic, but it has a way of surprising me every time with new secrets I haven’t yet uncovered.
It’s been more than a decade since it came out, but I can still hear soft winds flowing through the sea of trees in the dense Falkreath Hold region and the distant roars of dragons flying through the sky. There’s a constant sense of adventure and a feeling of hope when exploring Skyrim, and all set against a lush and moving ambient score. There’s a certain comfort in familiarity, and that’s what Skyrim always excels at offering me. If I want to vibe with a game’s setting and explore, then Skyrim will never be a bad choice. 
— Alessandro Fillari, Games and Entertainment Editor
This is a mobile game where you essentially have to connect colored dots in straight lines or squares. You get a limited amount of moves to beat each level and you need to concentrate and look for patterns, but it’s not difficult mentally, so I almost go into a meditative state when I play it. The best part of this game? The music. The music is awesome. There’s even a Spotify playlist of the Two Dots music that I sometimes fall asleep to. The game is free and there are no ads and the UI is beautiful. There are also minigames within the game where you search for hidden objects in an imaginary land filled with people, animals and objects. The illustrations are amazing! 
— Kirsten Nicolaisen, Senior Social Producer
So I loved Animal Crossing New Horizons, but I didn’t enjoy being browbeaten for having a life outside of the game. And that led me to Spry Fox’s Cozy Grove — which I rewarded myself with for scoring a job at CNET! This game doesn’t passive aggressively chastise me for having a real life alongside my virtual one. This spookier and more heartfelt life sim waits patiently for me to explore its ever-unfolding secrets and foibles. I love checking in on my beary good ghost neighbors, delivering the mail and making inedible treats for the local fauna. Despite a backdrop that hints at a much darker overall universe — seriously, where are my scout’s real eyes?? — settling in for some Cozy Grove grinding accompanied by its always-soothing soundtrack is the perfect wind-down after a long day. And though I hit the official “ending” months ago, I’m still regularly logging in to catch new bugs and fish, fill out my collections and see what else this comfy world has in store.
— Dawnthea Price Lisco, Copy Editor
A beautiful open world with no restrictions on how and when you can explore it makes for a great gaming experience, and Breath of the Wild’s world is breathtaking to behold. Maybe it’s the cell-shaded art style, the gentle soundtrack or the skittish critters you’ll accidentally disturb on your travels, but its overall vibe is the gaming equivalent of sinking into a warm bath. I often describe it as “happy Skyrim” and it’s a game I enjoy replaying again and again. 
— Andrew Hoyle, Senior Editor
These nostalgic mystery adventure PC games do more than just help you learn new skills and practical knowledge; the settings are all so cozy. Want to be transported to a castle in Ireland in the fall, a mansion in rainy New Orleans or a chalet in the Canadian Rockies, buried deep in the winter snows? Settle in with a cup of tea, a blanket and a Nancy Drew game to learn something new — like Braille, Morse Code, the Chinese zodiac, Mayan glyphs, nautical flags or binary code — while cracking the case and bringing villains to justice. 
— Corinne Reichert, Senior Writer 
After a long, stressful day, there’s nothing better than parking in front of a television and immersing myself in No Man’s Sky. The object of the truly beautiful game is simply to explore a boundless universe. You can discover new planets that hold whimsical life and flora, adopt extraterrestrial animals, blast around in your spaceship, use hyperdrives to warp to faraway star systems, learn alien languages and so much more. The best part, though, is probably the fact that No Man’s Sky doesn’t really have a limit. The adventure’s end escapes the player’s sight because the game is so unthinkably vast. I’m honestly shocked every time I check out the map, seeing how little of the No Man’s Sky universe I ventured into after hours upon hours of effort. The whole experience is relaxing and low-risk — finding easter eggs for the main storyline’s mystery while hanging out with dinosaur-looking creatures, mining for cobalt in weird caves and walking around in baby pink fields of tall grass. If you love space, you’ll fall in love with this game.
— Monisha Ravisetti, Science Writer 
I never expected a survival horror game about a contagious virus to become a comfort game for me, and certainly not in the middle of a global pandemic. But I found myself excited to roam around the police station and underground, being chased by zombies and even deadlier monsters. The more stressful my day, the more eager I was to go back to Raccoon City. Maybe it’s the way RE2’s immersive atmosphere makes me forget about the outside world. Maybe it’s the crisp, exciting gameplay that offers a sense of control that’s been severely lacking for the past couple of years. Or maybe it’s just the thought that, if Leon and Claire can survive Raccoon City, I can make it through my real-world struggles.
 Adam Benjamin, Senior Editor
I spend a lot of time hanging out in Greek villas and Monte Carlo penthouses. I also expend an excessive amount of mental energy thinking about the decor that should fill these spaces. Would a simple, woven ottoman look gauche against those marble floors? What sort of luxe side table would best complement the wall’s gold inlay? I blame this annoying quality on Design Home, a mobile game for iOS and Android that tasks you with designing rooms in much the same way you’d decorate a house built in the Sims. Along the way, you might pick up an interior design tip or two. 
But even if Design Home never translates to a better coordinated living room, sometimes it’s nice to escape to a space where none of your chairs have been clawed to within an inch of their life by Mr. Destructo Paws. In Design Home, you don’t have to wipe smudges from walls or pick socks up off the floor. It’s a sparkling clean, sun-drenched world where you effortlessly hop between Sydney, Tokyo, Brussels and Key West and the only stresses involve deciding between furniture from Taylor Burke Home or Apt2B. And don’t we all need places like that? 
— Leslie Katz, Managing Editor 
When a franchise spans over 35 years, has more than 15 mainline numbered entries, and countless more spin-offs, sequels and remakes, it can be tempting to pick a favorite. I refuse. I do not rank Final Fantasy games. I do not pick favorites. 
This series transcends all of that for me, tying together an endless parade of seemingly disconnected games through shared themes, memorable characters and unforgettable music. Final Fantasy can be a game about medieval warriors battling an ancient evil. It can also be a game about four teenagers who play cellphone games and love camping going on a road trip together. 
These games have been with me my entire life. They’re all different. They’re all the same. They’re all my comfort games.
— Sean Buckley, Writer
There’s something about a rag-tag band of rebels who know the planet is dying that warms the heart. And the sound of the World Map Theme could honestly replace any white noise machine on the market.
— Rae Hodge, Senior Editor
Astroneer is a game I turn to when there’s a lot buzzing through my head. It fits my need to flit around a serene, otherworldly space and make it my own. The cartoony style and tranquil music put me at ease while I’m out collecting materials to build more equipment to venture out again in a soothing loop. Full disclosure: My friend works on this game. But despite that, and despite being a fan of roguelikes and shooters, I came to it late. Astroneer is what I pick up as an antidote for tense, stressful periods in life. It’s an opportunity to make my mark on new worlds at my own pace. 
— David Lumb, Mobile Reporter
I’m currently playing Brilliant Diamond for the Nintendo Switch, but this can apply to any game in the main series. I love turn-based battle games, and Pokemon is an easy, casual game that I can play in bed as I’m drifting off to sleep. It’s challenging enough to keep my attention, but not so much that I can’t play it when I’m too tired to concentrate. I’m in the bad habit of having to look at some type of screen before bed, and playing Pokemon is way more relaxing than doomscrolling on my phone.
 — Lisa Eadicicco, Senior Editor
My wife and I call Red Dead Redemption 2 “Sad Cowboys.” The story is tense, gut-wrenching, introspective and about sacrifice. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve teared up a time or two while playing. But the open-world aspect of the game lets you eschew that and pull a Henry David Thoreau. You can head out into the pristine wilderness with your trusty steed and explore forests, mountains and deserts teeming with wildlife. Hunt, fish and start a campfire to cook whatever food you’ve caught. Pitch a tent under the star-speckled sky for the night. If you go into Saint Denis, the game’s major city, you can sit in a park and people-watch, walk around the city and eavesdrop on NPCs or go to a bar and have a drink. The game can be as relaxing, or as intense, as you want it to be. 
— Zach McAuliffe, Writer
I’m a word person, which is why I like Wordle, Spelling Bee and crossword puzzles. But it’s for that very reason I added this free pattern-matching game to my daily morning routine. I’m not a visual thinker (I sometimes even print things out!), but I want to exercise the part of my brain that allows me to master each day’s Set in just a minute or two.
—Connie Guglielmo, Senior Vice President of Content 
I’ve been playing the Classic Words app five to 10 times a day, every single day for years. It’s basically Scrabble before the Scrabble app got ruined by its Candy Crush-like makeover. I play Classic Words when I’m eating, waiting, falling asleep and facing insomnia. It’s always there for me. I play it in single-player mode against the computer, which is great because it’s essentially always my turn. The game works especially well against insomnia because I am so determined to win that my brain has no space left for my worries. I only win about a third of the time, but I do play at the highest level and the computer constantly uses words I’ve never heard of. I am not deterred. 
— Natalie Weinstein, Senior Editor
Dark Souls as a comfort game? That doesn’t make any sense. Except it totally does.
When the chaos of everyday life beats you down and you’re in recovery mode, I find it comforting to go through the motions of extremely difficult video games that require mastery. Dark Souls is an experience I once had to suffer through but now, having figured out how its tiny universe works, I have the ability to cruise through these challenges. That feels good. 
Life is difficult. You’re often at the mercy of elements outside your control. Dark Souls is also difficult, but it’s a difficulty that’s entirely manageable. Survival is solely dependent on the choices you make. Ultimately it’s rewarding to know that something that once felt impossible now feels easy. 
Until you get to the Capra Demon at least. That’s usually when I turn the game off.
 — Mark Serrels, Senior Director of Content 
The Forza Horizon series takes racing away from regular, gray tangles of asphalt and throws it into stunning, sprawling open worlds. And while the frantic nature of motor racing is very much still a part of the game, much of my enjoyment comes from simply driving around and sightseeing on my own time, at my own pace. The actual races are great fun when I want that kind of thing, but I’ve sunk hour upon happy hour behind the wheel of a McLaren or a Bugatti — or some souped-up off-roader — just casually exploring every inch of the gigantic maps on offer. 
— Andrew Hoyle, Senior Editor
This variation on Sudoku logic puzzles adds a little mathematical spice. It groups collections of cells into “cages,” each with a numeric total that its squares’ values must add up to. The math, combinatorics and logic have kept me hooked for years. One of the strongest selling points is the dual number pads — one for your notes and one for your final answers. There’s no pesky mode-switching like in virtually all other Sudoku-style games. 
— Stephen Shankland, Principal Writer 
I grew up with James Bond Goldeneye on N64, but something about the graphics, the controller, and battle games, is endlessly satisfying. This is the first and only Bond game that wasn’t based on a film, so the storyline is mediocre, but just enough to keep you engaged. 
—Sophia Fox-Sowell, Producer
My brother and I are close in age, so we share a love of video games — especially ones where we could tag team once one of us died or ran out of lives. Jack and Daxter, set in a fantastical world with fictional creatures and science-y magic, mimicked that relationship. The main character is largely in control and his weasel friend is the sidekick making wise cracks or subtly helpful commentary. 
— Sophia Fox-Sowell, Producer
I’m a puzzle game addict and play this mobile quartet almost as if they were a single game. Because that’s what you do when you have the attention span of a squirrel and all that’s left are daily challenges and a few perennially gnarly puzzles in each. But they also mesh well: The first two combine color matching and strategy, the third combine color- and pattern-matching with strategy and the last is a complex game where you have to get a light beam from A to B using lenses and mirrors. I also love QB, Projekt and Shadowmatic, but they sadly have no new challenges. I still keep them on my phone, though, just in case an update magically appears. They’re all pretty and easy enough for when I need a short distraction or something to begin the process of shutting down my brain for the night. 
— Lori Grunin, Senior Editor

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