Sale Guide – Steam Winter Sale 2015 – [ Dec 22nd – Jan 4th ]

Steam Sales have changed for 2015 and onward. Gone are the time-consuming time-limited daily and flash sales, and in their place there are a whopping 10,000 discounted listings, each at a set price for the entire length of the sale. During the recent Autumn sale using the same structure, really only Ubisoft forced Valve to let them to do better deals for shorter periods, and that can be seen with some of their titles that end prior to January 4th. The new refund system explicitly permits returns on games when they show up for a lower sale price within a two week period after purchase, provided no more than two hours were played. The old flash/daily cycle system would have flooded the return requests every time there was any unforeseen pricing change, likely the reason for the new system as that essentially can’t happen with static pricing.

The Steam Winter Sale for 2015 lasts from December 22nd to January 4th, starting and ending precisely on the 10 AM PST / 1 PM EST timing Steam refreshes have followed for years now. While in the grand scheme of things my PC gaming experience isn’t too long, I’ve been present for the entirety of what is considered as the modern PC gaming market, right when Steam Sales really got big and the Humble Bundle kicked off in 2011 (when you could get the whole bundles, Steam keys and all, for $0.01). I’ve been heavily into the whole game deal scene ever since, and I’m familiar with the patterns most developers adhere to, though there are inevitable upsets, especially when bundles are involved. Depending on feedback, I will likely be showcasing and partially reviewing notable bundles throughout the year as we move forward.

For this sale, I’ll quickly outline tips and tricks to keep in mind, and hop right into my recommendations. The new format and refund system allow for vastly less consumer risk, so the tips would have been much more complex had I done one of these last year.

Steam - Winter Sale - Front Tilted

General Tips and Tricks

Enhanced Steam – An insanely useful browser plug-in that adds additional information to all of the pages of steam. It adds so much by default, but every part can be tailored to your preferences via its elaborate options menu. Links to all sorts of useful pages and services, live player-counts, estimated ownership numbers and playtimes, pricing/bundle history and regional comparisons, warnings about, etc… Certain features can disappear and reappear at times as Steam makes changes and the dev patches to accommodate for them, so it can be a touch inconsistent in that sense, but it it is an immensely useful tool, and most of what it links too are fantastic as well. SteamDB, HowLongToBeat, PCGamingWiki, IsThereAnyDeal, Steam Card Exchange, Steam Charts, and more.

For all the games I can’t recommend directly, those tools are very helpful in making smart choices, particularly: IsThereAnyDeal displays all previous bundle inclusions and a graph of the game’s pricing across a few dozen different authorized retailers (they specifically exclude grey market key resellers). It can’t predict future pricing for you, but with a little experience and by looking at the trends of a developer’s previous titles, you can get a pretty good idea of when the best time to buy is. HowLongToBeat lists the average of player-submitted playtimes for the various states of completion for any given title. And SteamCharts shows you a detailed graph of players over time to more accurately judge whether or not smaller multiplayer-only titles are going to be playable.

Steam Wishlist & Discovery Queue – Most big Steam events offer Trading Cards (can be crafted into badges, traded, or sold for Steam wallet on the Community Market) as a reward, and this time, they are given out 3 per day for going through their Discovery Queue System. You can start one via the front page of the store or [ .com/explore/startnew ]. You can view the titles it presents, and there are options to Wishlist and flag as Not Interested, though you aren’t required to if you’re unsure, before advancing to the next via the button to the right. Steam uses this to not only hide things you don’t want from the store pages, but to more accurately come up with recommendations for you.  The wishlist tags games across of of the store pages for better recognition, and you can sort the list in a variety of different ways (even more with Enhanced Steam). It’s a great way to keep track of titles you have an interest in, even if they randomly change their name and branding one day, and you can even tell Steam to email you when games you’ve wishlisted are on sale, though there are better alternatives for that functionality elsewhere. Your wishlist is public by default if your profile is, so you might even get more relevant gifts from friends!

Other Retailers – As seen via some of the tools above, there are tons of authorized retailers of Steam keys for thousands of different games, and even before you consider bundles, it’s quite common for them to have better deals over Steam. You have plenty of time to look around with the new system, so don’t be afraid to check IsThereAnyDeal and/or /r/GameDeals to make sure that you’re actually getting a good deal. During big sales and holidays like this, it is very common for Amazon, the Humble Store, and even developers via their own sites (usually utilizing a widget provided by Humble Bundle) to match or even intentionally beat the prices found on Steam. This occurs because all games sold through Steam’s store come with a 30% cut to Valve, a cut that isn’t present when keys are sold outright. This is a primary reason for why bundles, Kickstarter rewards, and giveaways of as many as 200,000+ copies of games can happen. If you want to support a developer, and they offer a Steam key (and possibly a DRM free build as a bonus) for the same price, Humble only takes 10%, meaning $2 extra profit for the developer for every $10 sale of a Steam key. They will greatly appreciate this, and I urge you to do so if you don’t already have Steam wallet to spend. And on that note…

Steam Wallet & Gift Cards – This advice is for people with limited funds. I urge said users to avoid putting money into their Steam wallet where at all possible. For some it’s simply necessary and I understand, but for the rest, it’s more of a limitation than anything else, especially in large amounts. The vast majority of the cheapest instances of Steam games happen in bundles and other retailers. If all you take all your holiday gift money and dump it in your Steam wallet, you probably won’t be too happy when I point a bundle out next month that has games you want that you’ll have to pay 2-4x the amount or more for directly through Steam, even at their all-time lows.

Refunds – I covered the basics of the system earlier, 14 days or 2 hours played maximum, but I’ll expand on it here. Purchases of Steam keys outside of steam can potentially be refunded only via those external retailers, but absolutely not through Steam’s refund system. In fact, their system makes such requests impossible. In order to refund a game, you can request one by navigating through Account Details, and then Purchase History, or [ .com/account/history/ ], and then clicking on the purchase listing the title you want to return. You can still request refunds on items outside of the 14/2 time restrictions, but it will warn you that success is unlikely, and that is accurate. It can and has happened, but it is very unlikely in the majority of cases. DO NOT abuse this system, and by that I mean buying and completing or playing your fill of numerous titles, just to return all of them. If you ate the entire plate of food, you probably shouldn’t be asking for your money back. Repeated abuse will result in Valve revoking your ability to request refunds at all. I assure you, playing some free games for a few hours is not worth losing the privileges for when you really do need it.

Recommended Deals

Deals I would personally recommend with both the pricing and game quality in mind. No particular order for now, but titles are coded by color, from cool to hot, based on how good I think the deal is. The warmer the color, the lower the price and less of a chance there is of it being cheaper soon. Games with Amazon Links share pricing matched with Steam’s, and are all Steam Keys unless otherwise noted by a (Uplay) or (Origin) tag.

Game Banner - Test Thick

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter – [ Steam ]

Sale Price ($19.99) Previous Sales Avg Release Date – Age Bundled? – Probability
$5.99 $6.79 Sep 25, 2014 – 14 Months No – Medium

A first-person story-driven detective mystery with gorgeous 3D environments. It’s only around 4 hours long, there’s no combat, and it’s light on puzzles. The story and setting are the main focus here, and they are very well executed with a haunting atmosphere. The dev is a pretty brilliant guy, and that shows in the port quality and the way the game was handled post launch. Originally in Unreal Engine 3, it was later remastered in UE4 with a number of improvements and “Redux” added to the title. The remaster was never sold on its own, it simply unlocks FOR FREE for all past and future owners of the original, and appears as two listings in your library so you can download either-or depending on your system.

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Rocket League – [ AmazonSteam ]

Sale Price ($19.99) Previous Sales Avg Release Date – Age Bundled? – Probability
$13.99 ($10.49 x 4-Pack) $13.99~15.99 Jul 7, 2015 – 5 Months No – Extremely Low

The 4 DLC packs and soundtrack are also 30% off. This isn’t an incredible deal, but it’s a recent release, and the game is an absolute blast. It’s an incredible choice for local multiplayer, online or off, but one can still have tons of fun jumping into online matches solo. The game is immensely popular with nearly 2 million copies sold on Steam, millions more on PS4 because of the Free w/ PS+ promotion, and there’s cross-play multiplayer between the two. Usually with smaller multiplayer games, having enough people to play with is a big concern. That’s not the case at all here, and this will likely have a healthy player-base for years, and it might even grow if they play it right for both the casual community and the professional e-sports scene (it’s an official e-sport under ESL), so no worries if you can’t pick this up for a while. There are a few free holiday items available now that will stop dropping shortly, but should be available again next year in a cycle. A controller is highly recommended and the PC port is great (UE3, uncapped framerate, FOV), much more on those aspects in My Review. It’s pretty lengthy, and it’ll be posted and linked here very shortly.

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Banner - Battleblock

Castle Crashers & BattleBlock Theater – [ SteamAmazon ]

Sale Price ($24.99) Previous Sales Avg Release Date – Age Bundled? – Probability
$6.24 – $3.74 Each $1.49~$3.75 Each Sep 26, 2012 – 38 Months
May 15, 2014 – 19 Months
No – Low

Sadly, this isn’t their best price. I adore these games and they are worth this price, but it is notably more than they have been in sales prior to the new sale structure. The lowest price I’ve ever seen for these, is $2.49 for the pair. I snagged one for a friend, but it was a short-lived pricing mistake, with the intended price of around $5.24, which it repeated a few times early 2015. Both are fantastic local co-op titles, and I want to mention these because Castle Crashers was recently remastered for the Xbox One, and those changes came to the PC version for FREE, including 1440P ready assets and an uncapped framerate for 120-165hz+. This is an unbelievably large step up from the original’s 30 FPS cap and ~720P assets. The only remaining issue is the broken online play. You may get lucky and find a playable experience, but chances are you’ll end up with massive stuttering and at least a second of input lag. No such issues exist for single-player and local co-op, and they didn’t make the same mistakes in BattleBlock. They are very different genres, a side-scrolling beat-em-upRPG” vs a 2D puzzle platformer, but use a near identical art style, as does their upcoming strategy game, Pit People. BattleBlock is capped at 60FPS still, so hopefully they update it as they did for Castle Crashers, and they likely will considering there isn’t a port for Xbox One yet.

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Super Time Force Ultra – [ Steam ]

Sale Price ($14.99) Previous Sales Avg Release Date – Age Bundled? – Probability
$3.75 $4.95 Aug 25, 2014 – 16 Months No – Medium

First time at this price point, an all-time low down from $5-7.50 for quite a while now. Other titles from the developer have appeared in Humble Bundles but 20+ months ago with no appearances since. This is a 2D platformer/shooter with slightly floaty but still responsive controls, changed drastically by its time-bending mechanics. You play through the levels and overcome tasks and time limits that would be impossible otherwise, by reversing time, splitting into branching paths that all occur at once (you can even watch the whole thing back at the end of the level, with a slomo button). You start with 3 characters, but can rescue and utilize as many as 19 unique characters with their own strengths and abilities. Doing so often isn’t easy, as you have to coordinate with yourself to save them from their otherwise inevitable deaths. It’s not a cake-walk, especially if you go for all of the optional rewards and objectives. Like all of Capybara‘s titles, the art is gorgeous and unique, let down only by a capped framerate of 60 FPS with the inevitable v-sync issues that causes for people with faster displays. It lacks voice-acting and it’s all a bit silly, but the animations, art, and story ooze charm, with suiting retro chiptune music backing it all up. Another good deal from Capybara is Critter Crunch for $1.04, an active puzzle game with more adorable art. It’s been this price twice recently, but it’s about 50-70% of its sale price prior to that, and cheaper than the expensive bundle tier it was in.

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Ryse: Son of Rome – [ Steam ]

Sale Price ($39.99) Previous Sales Avg Release Date – Age Bundled? – Probability
$6.79 $10.19 Oct 10, 2014 – 14 Months No – Extremely Low

A launch title for the Xbox One, it was a technical showcase for the platform but was panned for a lack of mechanical depth and variety, a notable drop coming from robust games from the end of the previous console generation. It’s around 7-8 hours long with a few small online multiplayer/co-op modes. While it is by no means a must play title, the visuals are incredible… It’s up there with some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen from an unmodded title. On the technical side it’s a good port (unlimited framerate, sufficient graphics settings), though it lacks key rebinding and FOV adjustment. It also makes use of quite a few pre-rendered cutscenes which will be lower resolution and lower framerate than a high end gaming rig could manage, which is a bit of a shame. If you’re looking for something pretty to test out your new hardware, it’s getting to the point where it’s really not that bad for the price. Assassin’s Creed Unity is a similar case, and while it does perform worse and have microtransactions (something which Ryse removed completely in the transition to PC), it does utilize in-game cutscenes which look amazing on a high end machine. It is however far more expensive than Ryse is here. I’m not really “recommending” the game here, but there are reasons to want it and it’s not as bad as the original backlash made it seem, so I thought I’d point it out since it’s a new low price by about $4.

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Dishonored – Game of the Year Edition – [ Amazon – Steam ]

Sale Price ($39.99) Previous Sales Avg Release Date – Age Bundled? – Probability
$10.19 $10.19 Oct 9, 2012 – 38 Months No – Not a chance

Right off the bat, if you want this, you should buy the complete GOTY version or nothing at all. Even though you play as a different character in the two primary expansions, they are very much a continuation, and you’ll want them if you like the game. As you can tell by the age and pricing, Bethesda is stubborn with discounts, and they often actively punish earlier buyers by charging them more for DLC than non-owners, and buying the base game alone forces you into that. That said, this is one of my favorite games of all time… While not flawless, its port quality is pretty high (one of the highest of all Bethesda releases I feel) with unlimited framerate, SLI support, FOV slider, etc. And because it’s yet another Unreal Engine 3 title, it is quite configurable view the standard config files. The game itself is a first person stealth game, where you have a blade, magical abilities, and gadgets at your disposal. But here’s the thing… You don’t have to stealth, you don’t have to use the blade, any of it. There are tons of collectibles and small side objectives; you don’t need any of it. You have a 3D environment and an objective. You can spend hours combing through the map to discover all of the people, secrets, lore, and upgrades, or you can just flash by, murder the objective, and leave. Admittedly it’s not quite as open as that sounds, but it feels that way when you have so many ways to navigate the maps, and of completing the objective that have various benefits or consequences. Playtime varies wildly based on your approach, and I’d recommend playing at least twice. I found doing a Ghost run while also going for all the major collectibles was the most rewarding the first time through. Alternatively you can do a fast violent run first, which will give you a better understanding of the abilities and locations, making the fully complete run easier for you, though at a cost to immersion in the world and plot. Love the aesthetic, but felt the actual execution was a tad muddy and low contrast at times, but it responds very well to ReShade/SweetFX post processing.

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Metro Redux Bundle – [ Steam ]

Sale Price ($39.99) Previous Sales Avg Release Date – Age Bundled? – Probability
$7.49 $7.49~9.99 Aug 26, 2014 – 15 Months Kinda?… – Medium

This price has shown up a few times since October, and it has a chance of showing up even lower or in a bundle (based on the publisher), but it’s a great price for two 10-15 hour titles, especially if you never owned either of the originals. Both are post-apocalyptic first person shooters with an emphasis on survival mechanics, though the necessity of that will change depending on the difficulty you choose. While not strictly horror, they can be quite tense with semi-dynamic jump scares. Last Light (the second game) only saw some small changes over it’s original release, though it does include all the DLC including the Ranger difficulty that people were upset over having to pay for when it launched. Metro 2033 however, received tremendous improvements bringing it up to par with Last Light, even though it was already known as a graphical showcase back in 2010. While the aesthetic is gritty and grey, the level of detail is quite high and it looks beautiful at times because of the lighting and various effects. You will need to edit configs to adjust FOV, and my one big warning is for those accustom to and expecting the standard 1:1 X/Y mouse ratio. For some reason, on ALL versions of these games, originals and redux on PC and all the consoles, the Y sensitivity is half of X, a 2:1 ratio. There is no option in-game and while the configs have relevant settings, none of them function properly. If you want 1:1, you MUST have a mouse with adjustment of its own. Luckily I do and it felt and played great afterwards, but I’d have returned the games had that not been the case; it frustrated me that much.

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Banner - Sleeping Dogs
Banner - Tomb Raider

Hitman Absolution – [ Amazon – Steam ] – Sleeping Dogs – [ Amazon – Steam ]
Tomb Raider – [ Amazon – Steam ]   —   [ HUMBLE BUNDLE ]

Sale Price ($29.99) Previous Sales Avg Release Date – Age Bundled? – Probability
$2.99 / $3.74
$2.99 / $4.49
$3.99~$7.49 Each Nov 20, 2012 – 37 Months
Aug 14, 2012 – 40 Months
Mar 5, 2013 – 31 Months
Yes – Active!

All published by Square Enix with roughly the same high port quality. Unlimited framerate, exceptional keyboard/mouse play and I’d highly recommend it where possible, and fantastic visuals. The only notable port issue is that they all lack any way to adjust FOV, and yes, it does matter in 3rd person games. That said it’s not painfully low, so I still thoroughly enjoyed each at PC distance with M/KB. All have complete versions available, but the amount of added content varies. Hitman’s are just weapons and costumes usable in the single-player contracts mode, which is essentially a dynamic score attack vs other players’ posted scores/scenarios. Tomb Raider has maps and characters for a multiplayer mode that’s dead, and a few skins for Lara and upgrade skips for single-player, with one additional Tomb. Sleeping Dogs is a lot of the same things, skins and such, but they are all single-player so they remain usable, along with 4-5 hours of new content and more substantial things like vehicles. So Sleeping Dogs DLCs are easily the most worthwhile, but that works out well because of the Definitive Edition is the only version available anymore, and it includes all of it along with some visual improvements like volumetric fog and lighting/reflection tweaks. I adore all three of these titles (they all have sequels in the works!), and I highly recommend them at their current pricing. However they have been in bundles in the past, and Tomb Raider and Hitman complete are in the Humble Square Enix Bundle 3 that’s active right now and till around the same January 4th date the Steam sale ends. For the highest tier at $8.99, it’s more expensive than those two complete games on their own, but it includes 11 more, a 30 day sub to FFXIV, the first episode of Life Is Strange, with even more to be added when the bundle hits its half way mark. No promises about what the games to be added are, but the bundle as it stands is absolutely worth it for $8.99, even if you already own some of the titles bundled. The feel great, run great, look great, and while they aren’t flawless, they remain some of my most enjoyable experiences in the AAA space since I stated PC gaming.

Many more to come as I work through the deals!!! If you have any recommendations, suggestions, or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments! I’ve done this in some form or another for many of the major sales of the past few years, so I thought it was time I put in a more presentable format, and I’m here to help. The new sale format and the tremendous influx of Steam releases has made it a lot less apparent what the best deals are, so hopefully I can do my part to make it a little smoother for newer users.


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