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Be sure to also check out our picks for essential iPhone games as well as our recommendations for Android phones and tablets.
Congratulations: Your new iPad helped change the term “mobile gamers” into just “gamers.”
You won’t have to compromise in quality or quantity of games on your new tablet. This year, the iPad became a legitimate gaming platform, hosting experiences every bit as blockbuster as those on dedicated handheld gaming devices.
We’ve gathered 20 of the best, games that offer great stories or gameplay or action that will keep you tapping away long after the holidays are over.While many of the games on this list are “free,” most of these do offer in-app purchases for gear, cosmetic items, and more.
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Finally, most iOS games run on both iPhone and iPad, so be sure to check out our essential games for iPhone story for some additional ideas.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (Free)
Hearthstone’s addictive, strategic card battles will keep you engrossed for hours (or days or even weeks). The difficulty ramps up in direct relation to your skill, rewarding newer players as easily as it does veterans. Great animations entertain and recognize you for well-played combos, and Blizzard Entertainment’s well-balanced gameplay makes nearly all contests seem fair.
You can pick it up for a few minutes with ease, though putting it down can be an issue. I know people who upgraded their iPads specifically to better play this game; it’s that good.
Vainglory from Super Evil Megacorp proves that massively online battle arena (MOBA) games can make the switch to mobile, even if the trip makes them slightly less massive. You’ll occasionally pick up a dud teammate in this 3-on-3, one-lane combat app, but otherwise the battler is a pure joy to play.
The touch controls respond easily to your commands, and while the battles are a little slower than their desktop PC counterparts, they reward players with pure portable entertainment. We featured Vainglory on our Best Original Games of 2014 list.
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn ($10)
Baldur’s Gate II entered the ranks of classic swords-and-sorcery RPGs the moment it debuted in 2000. It offers a fun story, beautiful graphics, and occasionally a high level of difficulty in this mobile version, but it’s still an incredibly rewarding adventure for anyone willing to take on its tutorial-less controls.
Overhaul Games has made improvements to the touch interface and graphics over the past year as part of the Enhanced Edition, greatly enhancing the overall experience.
Valiant Hearts ($1)
It’s hard to call World War I fun, but Valiant Hearts manages to make it both entertaining and educational in this cartoon-colored action adventure. Ubisoft features four intertwined stories: A French farmer-turned-soldier, an American volunteer who becomes his friend, a medic, and a trained Doberman who helps them.
The tales are engrossing and sometimes poignant, the puzzles and action are just challenging enough to keep you moving, and the overall effect will charm you. We featured Valiant Hearts on our Best Original Games of 2014 list.
The Bard’s Tale ($3)
The Bard’s Tale cheerfully skewers the fantasy-adventure genre at the same time that it serves up satisfying Dungeons and Dragons-style action. The jokes are bad, the monsters are ugly, and you’ll spend hours with a little smile on your face, making other people wonder what’s so nifty on that new iPad.
If you feel brave, dive into the original The Bard’s Tale trilogy in its ’80s-graphics glory, which inXile Entertainment includes for your playing pleasure.