By ArbitraryWater 18 Comments
Sorry this is a tad late, but between accidentally spending too much time re-ranking the factions of Total War Warhammer II and various Holiday-related hijinks, it took me a bit longer to put this out than I would've liked.
I don’t feel like I need to express how bad 2020 was for a lot of reasons, between the world plague and the fascism, and the deep psychological scars that have probably been inflicted because of both. So instead I’ll focus on the positives for this one, because the last thing the internet needs is another lengthy dissertation on how much everything sucks. Video Games! I sure did play a lot of them this year, for some reason. Hell, I played enough games that came out this year to do an obligatory ranked top-10 list of my favorites! But before I get there, I wanna talk about a few miscellaneous things in particular.
I got into Internet Streaming
So hey I’m basically on my way to Ninja-esque Twitch stardom, with the action figures and the blue hair and the questionable takes on twitter. It turns out OBS is surprisingly(?) easy to use, which helped lead to my most significant, and dumbest, coping method during the hellscape that was this year. I started in April for the GB Community Endurance Run, raising like $500 for Direct Relief, which felt pretty good for something that involved dying over and over in the opening hours of Temple of Elemental Evil. Since then, over the course of six months, I struggled with and waxed poetic about no less than 27 dubious RPGs; somehow gaining enough followers to monetize my Twitch profile. That’s right, you there reading at home could use that free monthly sub you get from Amazon Prime and give it to me to help me pay for
more rare PS2 games grad school. I won’t write your name on a beer can or anything and I probably won’t show my face, but I’m also not too good to say “what if you gave me money” while I play weird-ass strategy games or 15-year-old JRPGs. I usually stream a few times a week, often in the evening, and it’s something I’m gonna be doing while it continues to make sense. Join me, won’t you?
I got into Vtubers
Okay so here’s the thing about Vtubers. They’re just internet streamers, but with an extra layer of artificiality that comes from having a Live2D avatar of an anime girl and being “in character” to one extent or another. I’m not going to pretend that the industry doesn’t seem partially shady, especially when it comes to the already questionable parasocial dynamics inherent in streaming, and the bigger agencies like HoloLive definitely seem more than a little shady or careless in the way they present their talent. On the other hand, I think it’s kinda great that streamers (especially female ones) can set up an extra barrier where they don’t have to be judged or creeped upon for their appearance. I see you, grasping your cane and shaking it at the sky because it’s new and scary and anime is for perverts, but I’m here to say that “Actually Vtubers are good.” Anyway, between Hololive EN and Giant Bomb this year somehow got me into watching Minecraft streams, which is maybe one of the last things I was expecting. Sure, my youtube algorithm is forever shit, but who cares when you’ve got that Yubi Yubi?
I built a computer
So hey for as much as this year has unsurprisingly sucked shit for numerous reasons, it’s turned around somewhat in the last few months. Part of that entirely has to do with my apparent uncanny knack for obtaining rare consumer products, which is my way of saying “I managed to get a 3060ti” and “I managed to get a Playstation 5.” Do not resent me for this, my wallet already does so. Between these two things I’m thankfully set with video games for the next 3-5ish years, and I’m very excited to not have to mess around with any of it until absolutely necessary. That said? Putting together the computer was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Turns out most modern PC components are idiot proof enough that you can’t put them in the wrong way, so that’s good. Also I’m poor now. Rich in processing power? Sure. Yes. But poor in monetary terms.
And now to my top 10, vaguely ordered video games in a way that I'd probably re-arrange multiple times if given the opportunity, starting at 10 and working our way up.
10. Resident Evil 3
In the same way that the original Resident Evil 3 feels a bit slight and lesser compared to the original Resident Evil 2, so too does the RE3 remake feel a bit slight and lesser compared to the RE2 remake. It’s a hyper-linear roller coaster ride of a game, where the titular Nemesis is less of a persistent threat and more of a scripted obstacle to occasionally get blowed up by an especially quippy Jill Valentine. However, for as much as the game feels slight, and reeks of squandered potential, it’s also mostly killer, little filler. It never stops for nothing, which makes it a good speedrun game, and indeed seems made for those kinds of multiple replays. It’s a good time, even for as much as I think $60 was perhaps a little too steep for the type of experience it offered. Like the game it's based on, it's abundantly clear that this was a stopgap side-project on the way to something much larger, but hopefully RE VILLage will be better than Code Veronica, eugh. Have I mentioned that I still rank Code Veronica as the worst old-style RE game? Because I do.
Just know that the weird multiplayer thing, RE:Resistance, does not factor into this at all, and if anything is the opposite of a value add. It’s an interesting idea done poorly, thus kind of cementing the fact that Dead by Daylight is the only good asymmetrical multiplayer thing.
9: Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children
As the obligatory “ArbitraryWater gets excited about a weirdo strategy game that you’ve never heard of” pick for this year, Troubleshooter is basically weirdo bonkers bananas Korean XCOM meets Final Fantasy Tactics. Similar to Eador, a previous pick of mine, it’s a strategy game that very explicitly draws from eighteen other things and somehow manages to balance it out without collapsing under its own weight. Managing a guild of crime-fighting anime teendults involves a lot of different things, it turns out, between various skill layouts, class layouts, item crafting, side missions, etc etc. It’s a lot, but it also parcels out its mechanics slowly enough for you to get a grasp on it before it escalates. I haven’t even seen the monster taming or robot building mechanics yet, 20 hours in, so needless to say it’s a slow burn. There’s even pointless online integration that… hey, it’s neat that they did it?
It helps that the game’s translation is janky in an endearing, rather than frustrating way. It has a lot of storytelling, and while I wouldn’t say it’s *great* storytelling, it is, at the very least, earnest. Which is how I’d characterize Troubleshooter as a whole, actually. Quite frankly, it shouldn’t work as well as it does, burying the player with subsystem under subsystem in a way that barely holds together, but of the many contenders for the YEAR OF STRATEGY gold medal, it’s definitely up there. Genuinely, if anything I’ve written sounds interesting, consider giving it a look. I’ll definitely stream it at some point as well. Really, the only reason it's not higher is because there's still so much of it I haven't seen yet (also it's occasionally clunky and not great at giving feedback, but I'll chalk that up to scrappy indie ambition)
8. Doom Eternal
Doom Eternal is great 80% of the time, which is less than Doom 2016, which was great for 100% of the time. However, for as much as I think Marauders suck and the story is a miss, and the last boss is a tedious mess, I cannot deny that Doom Eternal has optimized the combat resource management loop of its predecessor to a laser point, and when everything flows together it’s a lot of fun. I think I’d rather do another Dubious RPG wheel, rather than play the new DLC missions, which apparently throw things like “two marauders” at you, but I don’t regret the time I spent. It's sort of depressing that the sequel to my favorite game of 2016 has fallen so far, but on the other hand I think it was always going to be difficult to follow up that lightning in a bottle quality that its predecessor had going for it.
Besides, we all know that the real hotness these days are retro throwback shooters. This is my yearly reminder that DUSK is awesome and you should play it.
7. Monster Train
Listen man, I thought I was done with Roguelites and run-based stuff outside of my annual “play Tales of Maj’eyal for a few hours every year.” But it turns out if you pair that shit with deck building you can absolutely trick me into putting dozens of hours into more of them. Monster Train isn’t even the highest ranking “one of those'' for me this year! It just so happens to be a very good fusion of deckbuilding roguelite with tower defense with art that looks like a bad mobile game. It’s not as harsh as Slay the Spire (which may or may not be on a *different* list), as devilishly simple as Dicey Dungeons (which I'ma be honest I'm not sure is grabbing me), or is as stylish as Griftlands (which is still in early access) but it was a very good way for me to spend like 30 hours during the particularly rough periods of this year. There are a lot of fun, weird deck synergies to be had, and perhaps most importantly, I haven’t lost horribly nearly as much as some other deckbuilding roguelikelikes.
Anyway it's on GamePass you cowards, so try it out already.
6. Deep Rock Galactic
So hey, I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial statement to say that there were points in this year of 2020 where I didn’t want to think particularly hard about anything. Deep Rock Galactic is the cooperative shooter/miner we all need, and a game that balances the intense horde-management of a Left 4 Dead or Vermintide with chill mining and terrain navigation. It’s procedural in a way that was very calming for me, and the way the four classes synergize together makes coordinating with a team of four a lot of fun. There’s some fun mission variety, and the devs have done great work giving it support, and it was a thing I was able to convince my friends to buy. So 3/3 in my book. ROCK AND STONE.
5. Final Fantasy VII Remake
As the obligatory “Game I haven’t finished yet but like enough to put on the list” I’m here to tell you that the remake of Final Fantasy VII is somehow the single best thing that has been done with the franchise for the last decade (outside of the MMO space, at least.) Even as someone without much particular reverence for the original, at least outside of cultural osmosis, I got some secondhand nostalgia vibes from it, as goofy as that sounds. FF VIIR is aware of the original’s significance, but expands upon it in a way that works. Sure, the dialogue is occasionally stilted and awkward, but also the characterizations feel earnest and justified. I mean, hell, they got me to care about Jesse, Biggs, and Wedge, which I wasn’t expecting.
It’s also maybe the first time that Square has managed to actually nail the balance of their more recent brand of plate-spinning action RPG combat (well, I like Lightning Returns, but I’d be lying if I said that game’s combat was *without problems.*) I have no idea if they’ll be able to continue the hot streak in the inevitable part 2 or even FF XVI, but it’s the most… optimistic I’ve been about something from the franchise, and maybe Square-Enix’s japanese output in ages? Other than Kingdom Hearts, of course, which has fully transcended into beautiful madness with the implications of that DLC ending.
4. Black Mesa:
So hey, you may have forgotten, given that it was in early access for like 4 or 5 years, but Black Mesa technically came out this year! So hey, I’m probably 22 years late to the party on this one, but this Half Life game is actually very good. It’s one of those things where, even knowing I’m playing a highly polished fan remake, I can see immediately why the game made the impact that it did in 1998. Even removed to a modern context, the campaign in Black Mesa is a fun, varied FPS campaign that rarely overstays its welcome. It’s got satisfying weapons, strong atmosphere, and only rarely requires the player to interact with physics to solve puzzles.
That said, Black Mesa rarely overstays its welcome, because the new Xen chapters, which as far as I know were created from scratch, are about twice as long as they should’ve been. I’ve never played much of the original, so I can’t speak to the comparative quality, but I can say that these new sequences are both impressive and excessive in their execution. One gets the impression the devs maybe put a little too much on their own plate for their own good and could’ve used an editor, but even with this caveat Black Mesa is absolutely one of my favorite games of this year.
3. Wasteland 3:
So you might know this, but I have played a CRPG or two in my life, and I would like to say that Wasteland 3 is the best “one of those” to have come out in 2020. Not that it has much competition outside of the very unfinished Baldur’s Gate 3, mind you, but this is the first RPG from InXile that feels like it’s actually managed to reach its potential. After the ambitious-but-rough Wasteland 2, the disappointing Tides of Numenera, or the profoundly middling Bard’s Tale, it seems pretty clear to me that the Microsoft acquisition only helped Wasteland 3. Not only is it the closest thing you’re ever gonna get to a new classic Fallout game (outside of smaller indie stuff like Underrail and Atom RPG) but it also manages to establish its own identity, with some sharp, clever writing and combat that is “totally fine, for the most part.” Bonus points for only taking me somewhere around the 30 hour mark, which I appreciate as someone who always loves these games in theory but can rarely be arsed to finish them unless I’m on a particular hot streak.
It’s not afraid to get messy, or delve into the unfortunate implications of its world, but does so while also having one of the major factions be a cult of people who worship a Ronald Reagan AI as a god. It’s not quite Tyranny in this respect, but it does its best to make you feel less than great about some of the decisions you have to make along the way while balancing it out with the goofy shit. And for the most part, I think it actually manages to do it. Even if the influx of Microsoft cash pushes them towards more mainstream styles of RPG, I’m looking forward to seeing what InXile does next.
2. Nioh 2:
So hey, remember how I liked Nioh a lot? Well the sequel is more of that, and also good. They’ve added like four new types of weapons, a bunch of yokai abilities, and the ability to play as a created character instead of William, but… to be perfectly honest, it’s just kinda that game again. Which works out for me, given that Nioh is easily my favorite non-souls soulslike and fits all of my venn diagrams perfectly. I really don't have much else to say about it other than the problems that were there are still here (late-game loot grind, the story is complete nonsense, there are maybe too many subsystems) but also the parts that are good are still great, and in some cases even better. They added fist weapons in the most recent DLC, and you'd better believe your ass I've been punching things to death with as many moves from Ninja Gaiden 2 as they can legally put in there.
Hades is absolutely one of those games that works as a cohesive whole far better than any of its individual elements would suggest. It’s a solid run-based brawler thing that takes the best elements of both Bastion and Transistor, but with the additional wrinkle of also having a massive, raw abundance of writing and character work. It’s quick, it’s reactive, and has a lot of fun combinations between various boons, weapons, and artifacts. I’m not going to say all the writing lands, but there’s so much of it that it bowls you over with sheer volume. It's more-or-less what you'd expect from SuperGiant at this point, but this is the one that finally feels like it's all come together in a really amazing way.
Now, to be clear, I think I’d probably be willing to put any of the top three games on this list in any order; I don’t feel particularly strongly about Hades being #1. But hey, I figure I might as give Hades its due. It doesn’t exactly have the same long-tail that a lot of other Roguelikes have, but that’s because it’s designed to be seen to the end by just about anyone, which I appreciate.
Game Number Eleven: Calladuty Black Ops Cold War
I cannot in good conscience put a Call of Duty game on my Top 10, especially given that Cold War is probably a worse game than Modern Warfare was a year ago on numerous counts. But I'd be lying if I said the higher Time to Kill in the multiplayer wasn't working out in my favor, finally allowing my geriatric reflexes more of a chance than MW's multiplayer ever did. Also, to be frank, the campaigns for these games are still bad and feel half a decade out of style, but there's something almost comedic about how tone-deaf committing war crimes for President Reagan feels given what has happened in the last *vague gesticulating.*
Games that might’ve qualified if not for the cutoff date: Demon’s Souls Remake and Astro’s Playroom
So hey I’ve got that PS5 and it good but also it would feel weird to put Demon’s Souls on here knowing that it’s just a very pretty version of a game from 11 years ago that I’ve only put a few hours into. Similarly, Astro’s Playroom is kind of an amazing tech demo, as far as showing off the various quirks and tricks of the DualSense controller while throwing in a bunch of charming-ass Playstation deep cuts along the way. It’s fun and it’s neat and it didn’t cost me anything so kudos to it for that.
Don't worry. The *true* list for 2020 is coming soon. uh. Soon enough.