10 must-have video games this holiday season

Must-have video games
Destiny
Activision-Blizzard

It's not just overall industry sales that have rebounded in the video game world this year. Spurred on by new consoles, which are selling faster than their predecessors, game developers have ushered in a new wave of creativity as well.

The good news? That means there are plenty of high quality games if you're looking for the perfect gift. The bad news? Determining what they are can still be tricky. As you gear up for your holiday shopping, here are the titles most likely to be on the wish lists of friends and family.

—By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com
Posted 11 Nov. 2014

'Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor'
Shadow of Mordor
Warner Bros.

While J.R.R. Tolkien's groundbreaking books have been made into Academy Award-winning films, they haven't been particularly well represented in the video game space, despite many attempts. "Shadow of Mordor" corrects that, creating its own story in the Lord of the Rings universe. Like the "Batman: Arkham" games, it gives you a choice on how to play, creating a gritty world where you feel in control of your own destiny. It's gory—and definitely not for kids—but for older players, it could be the best gaming surprise of the year.

(Publisher: Warner Bros. / Systems: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC)

'Skylanders: Trap Team'
Skylanders: Trap Team
Activision-Blizzard

Activision constantly finds ways to keep this family-friendly series fresh. The trick this time around sounds an awful lot like a gimmick, but it's not. You'll face off against a series of 40 or so bosses, "trapping" each one when you win the battle with a nifty sound effect that has them "transported" from your TV to the game portal players have come to know. From there, they become playable characters. It's a phenomenal effort that will captivate both young and old.

(Publisher: Activision-Blizzard / Systems: Wii, Wii U, Nintendo 2DS, Nintendo 3DS, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, iOS, Android and Kindle Fire)

'Super Smash Bros.'
Super Smash Bros.
Nintendo

Nintendo has a lot riding on this long-in-development installment in the series, but it looks like it was worth the wait. The game, which pits familiar characters from Nintendo and other publishers in a series of battles, is overflowing with new faces and gameplay modes that will keep players occupied for a long time. Its biggest weaknesses come in its assumption that players know how to play: There's no tutorial or hand holding here; you get tossed into a battle. While there was some initial trepidation about the 3DS version, any fears that it would be a stripped-down echo of console versions of the game can be forgotten. It's the real deal.

(Publisher: Nintendo / Systems: Wii U, Nintendo 3DS)

'Fantasia: Music Evolved'
Fantasia
Disney

Just when it seemed rhythm games had run their course, developer Harmonix takes one of Disney's most unusual properties and turns it into an interactive piece of art. Using the Xbox's Kinect camera, you'll become one with the music, creating worlds with graceful waves of your arm, much like Mickey Mouse did in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," only without the bucket-toting mops. The soundtrack smartly mixes the familiar classical numbers of the films with more modern hits, which helps hook a younger audience. The utter charm of "Fantasia" will keep you playing, though.

(Publisher: Disney / Systems: Xbox One, Xbox 360)

'Halo: The Master Chief Collection'
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Microsoft

The Master Chief is directly responsible for the success of Microsoft's Xbox—and while fans wait for the fifth game in his saga, the publisher has put together this compilation of his first four stories to keep fans busy. With graphical upgrades to the games and tons of extras, it's arguably one of the best deals of the holiday season, with countless hours of single and multiplayer action. And, as an added bonus, owners will get to participate in a beta test for "Halo 5: Guardians" at the end of 2014.

(Publisher: Microsoft / Systems: Xbox One)

'Wolfenstein: The New Order'
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Bethesda

The long-running shooter series has fallen into disrepair over the last five to 10 years, but this reboot puts things firmly on the right track. It checks all of the usual boxes for a wild first-person shooter game. But what makes this latest entry in the 22-year old franchise so compelling—and so unabashedly fun—is that it's not afraid to break away from its trigger-happy past and forge some new ground. You'll mow down countless Nazis in this alternate universe (where Germany won World War II), but there's also a well-told story, fully fleshed-out characters and a detailed universe that will captivate.

(Publisher: Bethesda / Systems: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC)

'Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare'
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Credit: Activision-Blizzard) -
Activision-Blizzard

After tackling World War II, Vietnam and modern day battles, "Call of Duty" boldly goes where it has never gone before with "Advanced Warfare": The future. With its exoskeletons and jetpacks, this latest entry in the annual series breathes some new life into the franchise. And Kevin Spacey's guest role as the lead character adds an emotional punch that has been lacking in the last few games, especially last year's disappointing "Ghosts."

(Publisher: Activision-Blizzard/ Systems: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC)

'Assassin's Creed: Unity'
Assassin's Creed: Unity
Ubisoft

Set in the French Revolution, this year's installment of the popular series features a cooperative multiplayer function, letting you storm the Bastille (among other things) with three of your friends. The graphics are stunning, recreating Paris to the smallest detail, and the action doesn't stray too far from what fans love. It's an iteration, but a significant one.

(Publisher: Ubisoft / Systems: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PC)

'Mario Kart 8'
Mario Kart 8
Nintendo

The Wii U hasn't had a lot of must-have games since its debut, but "Mario Kart 8" certainly qualifies for that title. At its core, it's the same kart racing games fans have loved for years, but the game gets everything right down to the tiniest detail. From new features like anti-gravity tracks to fun little touches, like Luigi's death stare as he passes you, it fires on all cylinders—and is great fun for the whole family.

(Publisher: Nintendo / Systems: Wii U)

'Destiny'
Destiny
Activision-Blizzard

Made by the creators of "Halo," "Destiny" has received mixed reviews so far. Players aren't crazy about the story, but the gameplay keeps them hooked (so much so that the average player spends three hours per day in the game, according to Activision). For fans of online games, this sci-fi game, set 700 years in the future, is the place to be. And with Activision and developer Bungie planning to turn "Destiny" into a 10-year franchise, it's probably wise to start at the beginning.

(Publisher: Activision-Blizzard / Systems: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3)