The First Decennial Moosies Video Games of the Years of the Decade Awards Part II!

For those just joining this blogging in process, you can find the main 2019 Moosies here, and Part I of the Decennial Moosies here!

No Caption Provided

Next up on this celebration of the decade, I originally intended to rank each one of the Moosies from the decade. Problem was, I started reading through the 2010 one, and...well, suffice it to say that I've grown a as writer in the decade since. I'm glad I have, but I don't want to actually read through all of every year, word for word. Even after the point where I feel like I got better at this sort of thing, and didn't rely so heavily on referential humor, or...Luigi fan fiction (rest in peace, Year of Luigi).

Instead, I've decided to rank every year of the decade in video games, recount the gaming highlights (the highlights are literally in the order in which I thought of them), and what was my game of the year at the time. And of course, reevaluate each one.

Years of the Decade:

10. 2013

Highlights: Super Mario 3D World, Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE, DmC: Devil May Cry, Saints Row IV, Batman Arkham Origins, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, The Last of Us.

Luigi...
Luigi...

The year of the new consoles. Well, now not so new, and soon to be old consoles. The launches themselves were limp, and looking back on the rest of the year, it's maybe most noteworthy for some games that I don't think fondly of anymore. BioShock Infinite wasn't a game that I loved at the time, and certainly found a lot of disappointment in the story, but that was because of a bad plot twist at the end (that I had spoiled for me before I even started), rather than the more "current" discourse around the game and its slapdash/ill-thought out handling of race, amongst other things. GTA V was a game I did love at the time, but now... That style of humor, that whole Rockstar tone just doesn't sit well with me anymore.

There were still some really good, even great games that year. Just not really as many as a lot of other years.

It's a shame that the Year of Luigi wasn't stronger, given that we all love Luigi so much. At least I do.

My game of the year at the time: Grand Theft Auto V.

Whoof. You know, I bet parts of this game hold up. There was a lot of good mission design! Remember the one where Trevor had to fly a plane into the cargo hold of a bigger plane that was already in flight? Then again...remember Trevor? I used to find that guy pretty funny, but it's been a long six-ish years since that game's initial release.

Those missions though, I remember enjoying the act of playing this game, but... Even just watching Giant Bomb East struggle with playing the online portion of the game in their video series, I find it hard to believe I enjoyed playing GTA V back in 2013. It reminds me of the much more recent RDR II, except in this case GTA V's story and characters don't stand up. Granted it's only been a little over a year since I played RDR II, but I feel a lot more confident thinking Arthur's journey, at least, will hold up better than just about anything else Rockstar has ever done.

Again, all of this just makes me glad that I've grown and changed as a person since then. If nothing else, that's a good thing.

As for which game I might pick instead, in retrospect...probably either REVENGEANCE or Super Mario 3D World. Those feel like the two, based on both how excellent they are at what they're trying to do, and where my tastes now lie. Maybe if I played The Last of Us again (which I intend to prior to Part II)... On the other hand, while I remember liking The Last of Us well enough, I don't think it ever stayed with me as much as the Uncharted games, so it probably wouldn't be that.

I'll go with REVENGEANCE, because I'm me, but also because I'm me, I'm going to again call Nintendo COWARDS for not porting 3D World to Switch.

9. 2014

Highlights: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Dark Souls II, Dragon Age Inquisition, Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

Gavlan is the secret best Souls NPC.
Gavlan is the secret best Souls NPC.

Thinking back on the decade that was, two things stand out about 2014. The first being that it was the first full year after the release of new consoles, and that year was spent with them trying to find their footing. They sold well, for sure, even without standout games to sell them. Which isn't to say those games were all bad, some of them were very good.

But the other thing about 2014, is that it was the year of the Wii U. Hit after hit, all of them great, and it was easily the single year I spent the most time playing Wii U games. Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and at the time it even had Shovel Knight as a console exclusive! It may have only been a year, but that one year of the Wii U was stellar, and I hope that each of those games has found a bigger audience once they were ported to Switch, which normal people actually own and use.

Looking back on 2014, I was initially expecting this to be the worst year of the decade, but the strength of that one, incredible year of Wii U games helped it move up a slot. That, and a couple notable games from 2013 that, in retrospect, I don't think so highly of anymore. But don't let that take away from Wii U's one, shining year.

My Game of the Year at the time: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

It was a fun game, absolutely, but in retrospect? It didn't last, for a variety of reasons. Well, I say "variety," but really the answers are a mix of Nintendo's netcode being so inconsistent that one match might feel as good as playing it locally, and the next would have the entire fight playing out in slow motion. Literally. The. Entire. Fight. The other reason being my cousin, who got so good at the game and only played the character he was best with, that the rest of us slowly gave up on the game because he almost always won and it ended up not being fun for anyone else. I know that's not the game's fault, but the netcode is. Especially when I never had any problems with the online stuff in Mario Kart 8, which I did continue playing after 2014.

As for what game I think I look back most fondly on now... Probably either Dragon Age Inquisition, or Dark Souls II? Those are both great games, and while they have very different issues, I'd be lying if I didn't say I've felt an urge to revisit both of them recently. But if I really had to pick between the two, which I know I don't but I'm forcing myself to anyway...

I'm going to say Dark Souls II, because like in Dark Souls II, I wish I had a coffin guarded by giant hippo people I could sleep in to magically change my gender, but then not realize it until like twenty hours later in the game.

8. 2012

Highlights: Tokyo Jungle, Mass Effect 3, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Xenoblade Chronicles, Spelunky, Dragon's Dogma, Telltale's The Walking Dead, Journey.

I just remembered they're remaking Xenoblade. Hope they do right by it.
I just remembered they're remaking Xenoblade. Hope they do right by it.

2012, in my memory, felt a lot like how 2019 feels now. It felt like the year before the new consoles, even though technically a new console released that year (the Wii U flopped onto store shelves). The then current generation was nearing the end of its life. Games like Far Cry 3 were pushing those consoles further than they probably should have, and while fun enough at their best, were messes. Looking at the games I feel best represent how I now feel about 2012, messy is certainly a good word for that year, and I think it was a pretty good year in general.

My Game of the Year at the time: Mass Effect 3.

It's hard, even now, to fully unpack my feelings on Mass Effect 3. I love that series so much, and Mass Effect 1 is still probably my favorite game ever. ME2, while a bit disappointing in a few regards, was largely an improvement over the first one, and ME3 was better still in some respects. But it was also such a mess, and the whole thing over the ending, and that getting changed was... It was a mess (though I still think the ending changes were, overall, positive).

And looking back... Even at the time, Mass Effect 3 wasn't the "best" game of the year, it was my Game of the Year because of my love of Mass Effect. Because I spent so much of that year thinking about that game, going back to play DLC, and wondering about how the Mass Effect series got from the original to there. There's other games from 2012 that I know are "better" games, but in my heart, it's hard to take that away from ME3. So I'm not going to, it's still my Game of the Year 2012. Sorry, Dust.

7. 2019

Highlights: Devil May Cry 5, Judgment, Control, Resident Evil 2, Death Stranding, Outer Wilds, Mortal Kombat 11, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

For those who don't know, Nero is surfing on his rocket punch arm.
For those who don't know, Nero is surfing on his rocket punch arm.

It feels a bit weird to "look back on" a year that only just ended. It's also more than a bit weird to try to guess where that year fits amongst all the other years of the decade when it's still so fresh and new. That said, even if this is technically in the lower half of the year rankings, it was still a year with a lot of great games, and I think that just speaks to the quality of the decade as a whole. Every year from 2019 onward (in this ranking, I mean) was a great year for games. Judged purely by the quality of the games, the 2010s were mostly great.

2019 itself, though, like I was saying above, feels like the year before new consoles. Some games (Control, Jedi: Fallen Order) feel like they are pushing the consoles too far. There were large stretches of the year that felt a little barren with new releases, or new releases that were worth caring about. It felt like a year where a lot of the real focus was being put into next year, and into the new consoles. And unlike 2012, this time we don't know yet how that's going to go. Hopefully better than 2013, and 2014.

My Game of the Year at the time: Devil May Cry 5.

Obviously I'm not going to have changed my mind about this already. But I will take a moment to say that, it was tough for me to decide the overall ranking of my top ten this year. A lot of those games I could have swapped around, not because I felt indifferent to any of them, but because I felt so strongly about all of them. There was simultaneously a part of me that wanted to put MK11 above Outer Wilds, and a part of me that wanted to put Outer Wilds higher. I was really torn between Judgment and DMC 5, until I went back and replayed DMC 5, and remembered how thrilling that game is. Heck, there was even a part of me that wanted to make Death Stranding Game of the Year.

Only time will tell how my feelings on these games changes. But will I ever go back and seriously reevaluate 2019? Probably not, but who knows?!

6. 2018

Highlights: God of War, A Way Out, Red Dead Redemption II, Monster Hunter World, Marvel's Spider-Man, Iconoclasts, Vampyr.

Miss ya, Arthur.
Miss ya, Arthur.

This was the year when the rumors of new consoles really started picking up steam, but obviously also the year before those rumors coalesced into anything concrete. That said, it was not a year hidden beneath the shadow of the newer consoles looming on the horizon, it was a year of great games. It was the year when the early inklings of crossplay between consoles started becoming a thing. Hopefully the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X will also mean that crossplay becomes a standard feature, but that's speculation, and not a reexamination of 2018. It was a really solid, great year of great games, at least.

My Game of the Year at the time: God of War.

Let me tell you something, the capital D Discourse around this game was exhausting. The "this is the greatest game ever" crowd on one side, the "actually Kratos is a bad dad and an irredeemable character" people on the other side, and frankly, I just wanted to enjoy a game about two characters bridging the divide between them while also killing monsters. No, it's not perfect. I hope the team takes the criticisms about the game's treatment of women, and the fact that there's really only one woman character in the game to heart, and do better with God of War II. It's still my favorite game from 2018, and God of War is still a better dad game than Yakuza 6. A game I'm still angry about.

5. 2010

Highlights: Deadly Premonition, Mass Effect 2, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Alan Wake, Fallout New Vegas.

Alan Wake returns...soon...hopefully...
Alan Wake returns...soon...hopefully...

The 2010s started out strong. Maybe not every game I loved at the time has held up (Red Dead Redemption), but it was a year of great games. Not really anything else to say about it, as I realize too deep into doing this to make a meaningful change to this format. I guess I could say I made the mistake of not playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 until years later, because the Wii U video output for Wii games somehow looks way worse than hooking a Wii directly up to an HDTV. Unfortunately that was the only Wii game I bought digitally on Wii U, meaning I couldn't even hook up the Wii and use a disc to get around that bad upscaling, or whatever the Wii U was attempting (or not attempting) to do.

My Game of the Year at the time: Deadly Premonition.

This one's kind of tricky. My experiences with this game had such an impact on me, and took up so much of that year that it really couldn't be any game but Deadly Premonition. The thing is, times have changed, and I changed. It's harder for me now to forgive stuff like the game's transphobia (around a specific character/boss fight) that didn't quite sit well with me at the time, but I didn't yet have the knowledge to understand why, or the vocabulary to explain it. And it's also possible that there's something else in the game that I can't recall that's also problematic in similar ways.

But does that mean it's not still the game I look most fondly back at? I could change my mind and say Mass Effect 2, but I feel like that'd be dishonest. I love that game too, and it's probably the "better" game, but in my heart, it's still Deadly Premonition, even if it was a flawed game at the time, and a problematic game now.

4. 2011

Highlights: Dark Souls, Saints Row The Third, The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Batman Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Yakuza 4, Dead Space 2.

Jensen never asked for his trilogy to never be completed.
Jensen never asked for his trilogy to never be completed.

This is the point where I really started running into trouble trying to rank these years. There's some really, really great games in all these years. I almost had this year at number TWO on this list. What ended up dropping it a few spots was that I didn't feel totally great putting this there based on the strength of Dark Souls and Saints Row The Third alone. Which is to say nothing about the other games here, but several of them I think are somewhat eclipsed by other entries in their franchises. Witcher II, for example, might have the better story and skill tree than its sequel, but Witcher III was kind of THE WITCHER, right? I'd like to revisit Witcher II one of these days, but I don't want to hook up my 360 again. Anyway, there were some fantastic games, and I really loved them at the time, but in retrospect, they might not all be the classics I thought of them as at the time.

My Game of the Year at the time: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

This game is better than people give it credit for! Yes, the start is slow, but it's still good! Does it still rank as the game I'd say is my favorite from that year? Sadly not. That'd probably be Dark Souls? That or Saints Row The Third, I'm not entirely sure. Both are games I love still, but both have their issues. In one case it's some large swathes of the game that are bad (like Blight Town!), and the other, well, I don't need to go over the problematic side of Saints Row The Third again. They're both great, and I think back on both more fondly than I do Skyward Sword at this point. Also I played neither of them in 2011, which is a thing. That happens.

Of course, upon my final proof-reading of this, I decided to force myself to pick a game from each year, so I'm going to do that, and follow my heart, which takes me to...Saints Row the Third.

3. 2016

Highlights: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Final Fantasy XV, Titanfall 2, DOOM, Overwatch, The Witness, Dark Souls III, Mafia III, Hitman (purely for the joy of watching others play, I still am not a huge fan of playing it myself).

Nothing stop the DOOM SLAYER.
Nothing stop the DOOM SLAYER.

Getting down to it here. The best three years of the decade (in video games and video games ONLY). This year really felt like a steady stream of great releases. In my memory, at least, there weren't really any down periods, it was just hit after hit after hit. Some of which were games I obsessed over (The Witness, for better or worse), or kept playing for an extremely long amount of time (Overwatch, Titanfall 2). DOOM was an absolutely astounding reboot of a franchise I'd never touched before, and I could just go on and on. By this point the generation had really hit its stride, and it was truly amongst the best times to be playing video games.

My Game of the Year at the time: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

This is the toughest reevaluation yet. Not because I think any different about this game, more because there's games from this year that I either didn't play at the time (Final Fantasy XV), or have stayed as a regular in my rotation (Titanfall 2), and... I'm not sure what to say is my favorite from the year now. FFXV is an especially odd one, given it was actually the Royal Edition I played, and some of my favorite moments in that game were from that version, which I think released several years later. Maybe I should go back and put that in with the 2018 games? Nah, it's not like that's stuff only in that version, that DLC exists for the base game, so does it count as a 2016 game, or something else?

That's why the nature of modern games, and their ability to change and update so much over time is so interesting, and such a conundrum in situations like this. Even if I discount FFXV, do I go with the one that had such an emotional impact on me at the time, or the game I've kept playing since?

I think, as much as it hurts a part of me, I might have to give it to Titanfall 2. Uncharted was another Uncharted, and better than it had ever been, but Titanfall 2 was truly something special...and sadly maybe something we might not see again for a long time...

2. 2017

Highlights: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Prey, Hollow Knight, NieR:Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, Yakuza 0, The Evil Within 2, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

I couldn't let the decade go without one more bigh cone from Kamurocho.
I couldn't let the decade go without one more bigh cone from Kamurocho.

2017 is probably the year that most people would point to as the best of the generation, or even of the decade. It was a phenomenal year, and maybe the one that had the highest number of excellent games. It absolutely had a bunch of games I really, truly loved, and still feel special to me. Maybe a few more years from now, with even more distance, I might change my mind on this ordering, but at this moment, this is what feels right.

And in terms of the broader sense of Video Games, this was the year of the Switch. Nintendo's gambit to get people's attention with a new gimmick, one that would hopefully sell better than the Wii U. Which it obviously has, the Switch has become a phenomenon. It turns out that a lot of people value being able to play their games portably, and as such it's sold more along the lines of stuff like the 3DS, than the poor Wii U. I'm glad Nintendo is doing well, mostly because I'd like to think that selling well means they have more resources to fund more games, and do more interesting things with those games, but I have no clue if that's true.

Also I'm still the only person without a Switch (hyperbole) because of my stubbornness. That, and relative lack of money. I know I could afford one, but you know how it is. Money. Hate it.

My Game of the Year at the time: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The only thing even resembling a regret that I have around this game is playing it on the Wii U, so I had more technical issues than I would have on Switch. I almost wish there hadn't even been a Wii U version, in retrospect, because an exclusive of this magnitude would have forced me to get a Switch, and I wouldn't be in this stubborn mess I am. There's other games from this year that I love, but none of them could ever replace Breath of the Wild.

I never played that DLC. Not that I really want to load up the Wii U and spend probably the same exact price it was new to get that, but maybe someday. But probably not because when I do eventually get a Switch I bet BotW and the DLC will all still be full price because of the capitalist monsters that run Nintendo. Not to turn this into anything weird, but come on, Nintendo's the ONLY ONE where the games stay at full price as long as they do.

1. 2015

Highlights: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Bloodborne, Undertale, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Rocket League, Batman Arkham Knight, Life is Strange, Soma, Contradiction: Spot the Liar.

Roach was a good horse.
Roach was a good horse.

This was the year that the generation really came into its own. This was the year when everything started running at max power, and maybe it's not everyone's favorite year of the decade, but it is for me. 2015 felt staggering at the time, and maybe part of that was because it was coming off a couple disappointing years, but even in retrospect the games that I loved then I love just as much now, if not more so in some cases.

It might not have been the most interesting year of the decade, but gosh do I love the games from that year.

My Game of the Year at the time: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

This game absolutely captivated me. It was the realization of everything I ever wanted out of tactical espionage games, and a lot of things I didn't know I wanted. The story is ultimately a let down, but the game itself is still one of the absolute best I've ever played, and maybe ever will play. It's still my Game of the Year 2015.

As one final farewell to the decade that was, I intended to make a list of my ten games of the decade, and the previous portion of this "one" blog was to be dedicated to all the other games that didn't quite make it. True to form, I couldn't get it down to ten games, I wrote so much this whole thing had to be split in twain, and I couldn't even commit to not including some of the games from the "interesting" section in Part I. I also decided not to order them, just to embrace chaos. But also...there's an order to them. CHAOS.

Anyway, this is not me trying to say these are the "best" games of the decade. They're the ones that feel special, or important to me. But kind of the problem with making that sort of list so soon to the end of the decade is that it's hard for me to really feel like I have a hold of the most recent stuff. There's no games from 2019 here. Does that mean there's nothing from last year that I think could be an all time "of the decade" favorite? Not at all, it's just too early for me to really say. Which is part of what makes doing lists like this so silly in the first place, but there's fun to be had in the silliness.

All of that aside, these are great games, and going forward into the 2020s, I can only hope to have more games that affect me as much as these ones have.

So, in true nonsensical fashion, I've written about these games, and come up with totally arbitrary awards for them. Please enjoy, and forgive me for not being nearly as short as I intended.

Games of the Decade:

A boy, and a reinvention of a tired series: God of War.

No Caption Provided

My thought process on these things is a lot of going back and forth, deciding at first to include something, writing about it, then deciding to cut it, deleting all those words, and finally backtracking and putting it back on, with a new mess of words.

God of War was a great playing, great looking game, but the thing that stuck with me has been the journey of the wayward boy Atreus and his father Kratos, both lost and just trying to find their way through the world. I'm still kind of amazed that they managed to make this sort of game out of what God of War used to be, and I'm extremely curious what the sequel will end up holding. Can it make me feel the way this one did, or even should it? That story about two people working to bring themselves back together was so special, and a retread of that would be disappointing, but I don't know that just focusing on the bigger Norse Gods and Ragnarök stuff would have any emotional impact. I'm not sure how they'll do it, but I've got a good feeling they'll figure something out.

God of War wins:

  • Best boy of the decade: Atreus.

  • Weapon gimmick of the decade: Leviathan Axe's recall.

A near decade long journey: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

No Caption Provided

I had no idea how much of an emotional impact this game would have on me until I was several hours into it. That early chapter in Nathan's house, that opens with him reminiscing in the attic, and ends with him and Elena talking, eating dinner, playing Crash Bandicoot. That whole chapter made me realize how important those characters, and their adventures had been to me. I played the first Uncharted back in 2007. I was still in high school then, and this was almost a decade later. I'd gone through so much in that time, and every few years I'd go on another adventure with the gang. More fun with Sully grumbling, more of that rocky back and forth between Nathan and Elena (one of the very few hetero relationships in media in general that I like), and more of those fun adventures in pillaging the leftovers of ancient civilizations and accidentally destroying what little remains of their civilizations. I'm mostly joking about that last part.

This game was a conclusion to a years long journey, almost decade long, and I wasn't prepared for how it'd make me feel. Even a few years later, I still find myself smiling just thinking about it. My heart warms up a little, and I realize just how much those characters and their adventures meant to me. Even if the Uncharted series didn't end there (and Lost Legacy was great in its own right), this was the end of an era, and one I am grateful I experienced.

Uncharted 4 wins:

  • Best use of Crash Bandicoot of the decade.

  • Best conclusion of a decade(ish) long journey of the decade.

  • Nolan North of the decade.

Wildest ride of the decade: Saints Row the Third.

No Caption Provided

I included The Third in the "interesting games" section of Part I of this Decennial thing because at the time, I thought I wasn't going to include it here. The fear that it wouldn't hope up to modern scrutiny, that maybe it'd be too problematic in a few spots, the mission design for most of the game probably wouldn't hold up, all that scared me away.

But then I thought about what this game meant to me back when I played it. It was something of a mentality changer for me. Not on its own, 2011 and to a certain extent 2012 (when I actually played this game) was a time where I was beginning to re-embrace my love of the absurd. It started when I saw Fast Five, and I think culminated in this ridiculous nonsense game. It was a year of me re-discovering my love of things just being wild, and goofy, and fun.

I can't explain why I felt that way at the time, and why it was specifically these two things that really drove it home to me. But that's how I felt, and I still feel so very strongly. Besides, even if not every part of Saints Row the Third holds up to modern scrutiny, or the scrutiny of the era, it was a fun time, and I think worth remembering as one of my favorites of the decade.

Saints Row the Third wins:

  • In retrospect I should have realized why this was important to me award for best character creator of the decade, which included the ability to completely change everything about the character pretty much any time.

  • Best near random use of zombies of the decade.

  • Absurdest big release of the decade.

A blade worth studying: Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE.

No Caption Provided

This one's in the same boat as Saints Row the Third, in that I originally wasn't going to include it here. It's not the best of the genre, and who knows, a decade from now maybe DMC 5 will be the game I look back fondly on and wish was on here instead of this. But right now, in this moment, REVENGEANCE is that game. It's so over the top, so ridiculous, and yet the combat is so tight, and the feeling of the well timed parry is almost second to none. Or heck, it might even be better than Sekiro's, it's been a while since I played it.

That, and it's in some ways it's a weirdly prophetic game. Something to be said about a game released in 2013, set in 2018, that features a right wing politician as the bad guy who used a certain fascistic phrase years before... Well, I've already gone too far into politics for this, don't @ me.

I guess I'll end with this: The perfect parry into stunning an enemy, slicing them in twain, ripping out their cyber-spine and using its cyber-fluids to refill health was a mechanic so good that even DOOM copied aspects of it for its big reboot.

It's just a fun, ridiculous game that I love.

Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE wins:

  • Most prophetic game of the decade.

  • Best slicing things/people into many little pieces of the decade.

  • Zandatsu of the decade.

  • Robot wolf of the decade: Blade Wolf.

  • Duel of the decade: Raiden vs. Jet Stream Sam.

  • Best ridiculous music of the decade.

Double jumps, wall runs, and mechs: Titanfall 2.

No Caption Provided

Titanfall 2 isn't just a game that I played for many many hours online over the last few years. If that's all it took to get into my favorites of the decade, Overwatch would be here too (and honestly I wouldn't want to lose all the happy memories I have from that game). No, Titanfall 2 gets on for two other reasons. The first is why I kept playing it for so long, and why I was so delighted at the influx of new players when it was on PS+.

Titanfall 2 is my favorite "competitive" multiplayer shooter. Ever. It takes the ultra tight, lightning fast style of Call of Duty, makes the movement way more fluid, fun, and high flying, and on top of all that, basically has a second style of game along for the ride! The Titans themselves, mechs that tower over the battlefield, slower than the Pilots on their own, but still fast and arcade-y by most video game mech standards. That dynamic between the two is part of what has kept the game still fresh and fun over these years, and honestly would keep me coming back for years to come if enough people kept playing it.

But even that, all of that, isn't the sole reason why it's one of my favorites of the decade. It's also got one of the best, if not THE best campaigns in any shooter. Certainly my favorite of what I would call "CoD style" campaigns. It's just a fun mix of combat, great level design, especially considering how much of it is built around first person platforming, and who could forget BT-7274? One of the best buddies of the decade, and still a favorite of mine.

Titanfall 2 wins:

  • Best robot buddy of the decade: BT-7274.

  • Best use of time travel of the decade: Effect and Cause.

  • Best competitive multiplayer game of the decade.

  • Best use of mechs of the decade.

Friendship was the real loot: Destiny 1 & 2.

No Caption Provided

For all my faults with these games, for all that part of me really didn't want to actually "award" Destiny because I think it's in kind of a slump, I just wanted one more chance to remember how good the best times with Destiny were. Especially Destiny 2. I wanted to remember all the time spent with my friends, mostly Tom and "Loremaster" Jay. I wanted to remember all the goofy moments we had where the game was really secondary, and just the conduit by which we were talking about nonsense. But ALSO all the fun hijinks we had in game. I hope I never forget the now infamous "unlimited ammo" incident. For those who weren't there (literally everyone except those other two), suffice it to say that there was not, in fact, unlimited ammo.

I'm cracking up just thinking about it, and if that isn't worthy of getting on here, I don't know what is.

Destiny 1 & 2 win:

  • Most up and down in terms of quality of the decade.

  • Online co-op game(s) of the decade.

  • Most fun I've had playing with friends online of the decade.

  • Game(s) of the decade best suited to me just @-ing a friend with nothing more than the name of an Exotic and a question mark, and then getting an expert analysis of if it's good or not (or sometimes just a, "lol it sucks").

The most immersive of sims: Prey.

No Caption Provided

There is an unease that permeates the entirety of this game. It's the rare game that could really make me distrustful of just about anything and everything in it. Even the sorts of junk objects littered throughout the station! People always talk about this game in the conversation amongst "immersive sims" (perhaps one of the loosest and illest-defined video game "genres"), but really I think it shines best as a survival horror game. Okay, I know I shouldn't be invoking video game genres, but Prey really stands out in my memory as a game that excelled at that unease.

So great was that unease that it wasn't until I finished the game, watched all the credits roll, saw the true ending, and realized what actually happened that it all fell into place. It has all the hallmarks of the immersive sim, it fits nicely into survival horror, but at the end it's really a game about empathy, and the importance of going out of your way to help others when you can. I really felt that ending then, and I still feel it now.

Plus the Mooncrash DLC was great! I almost wish it had been a standalone game, so I could have TWO excuses to write about Prey again, haha. But seriously, even if I did figure out how to break Mooncrash and make myself extremely overpowered, the early parts, where I was forced into corners, forced to make creative decisions on the fly, and forced to actually adapt and play Prey differently than I did in the main game, were my favorite hours spent in any immersive sim ever. Now I've got myself wanting to play it again!

Prey wins:

  • Best mimics of the decade.

  • Best twist ending of the decade.

  • Space station of the decade.

  • Best instance of what I assume is a game written with the male protagonist in mind so the lady version is accidentally gay by having the protagonist's ex-girlfriend be a major character...of the decade.

Heart wrenching and goofs: Undertale

No Caption Provided

Oh, Undertale. The stuff of memes years after release. But it wouldn't be the Undertale I know and love without that goofy sense of humor, and honestly, I can't think of a game better suited to have nonsense memes that will last until the end of time. That goofy, silly, corny sense of humor is the thing that opened my heart to this game years ago. All those puns, the wordplay, the goofs, it's all right up my alley.

The humor is what pulled me in, but the story, characters, and all that other serious stuff the game gets to by the end, that's what makes Undertale one of my favorite games of the decade. Maybe ever, really, but that's a whole other, harder discussion. Gosh, it's hard to boil down what makes this game special without just spending pages and pages on it, so instead I'll focus on one thing: Music.

Out of every game released in the last decade, there isn't another game that has tied so many songs to specific, deep emotions for me. Even if a lot of them are goofy hijinks, there's also all the serious ones, and I'd be lying if I said the final boss theme doesn't still send a chill down my spine. No, literally, I just tried, and it does.

I know I opened this by mentioning memes, and for a lot of people that's all this game ever will be, but for me, and a lot of others, it's one of my favorite games, and experiences of the decade.

Undertale wins:

  • Most memorable music of the decade.

  • Funniest game of the decade.

  • Most heartwarming game of the decade.

  • Most punderful game of the decade.

  • Skeleton of the decade: Papyrus.

The game that made me think about the queer teen life I never really had: Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

No Caption Provided

As I sat here, trying to find the words for this, I just listened to the main menu music, on loop, for some time, letting it wash over me. And I still don't know that I even have the right words. It's a game that made me feel...for lack of a better word, "seen." It's a game about the awkwardness of teenage life (or all of life), of navigating that while also figuring out your sexuality, and so many other things, and I just...

Very little of the specific beat by beat moments of the plot have anything to do with things that happened in my life, but the broader stuff? The unpleasant cop-ish stepfather, the "drama kid life" in school, playing D&D with friends, and all the confusion with coming to terms with my queerness...

I wish I had something profound to say. Something that feels even half as profound as this game made me feel when I played it. But I don't. It does make me think about my life, chances I wish I'd taken, things I wish I'd done, but... I don't know.

All I've got is this garbled mess, which given how the final proper episode of Before the Storm went, never mind the prequel episode, I guess that's only appropriate. So much of life is a mess, mine especially. Of course many of the things that spoke to me most would be just as messy.

I miss Chloe and Rachel. And I wish their story had a better, happier ending. But that's life, I guess. We've just got to remember the good things we have, or had, and take it from there.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm wins:

  • One truest pair of the decade: Chloe and Rachel.

  • Best queer game probably made almost entirely by straight people of the decade.

  • Melancholy of the decade.

A long journey with digital friends: Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition.

No Caption Provided

I've written so many words about this game. I still have a few left to say, even if they're probably rehashes of what I wrote months ago.

The sheer brilliance of having a character, in game, snapping pictures on his own, and the game taking the time when the characters rest to go over what he's got... It's the thing that makes this game work. It's what ties it all together, and what made me tear up at the end, when they took one last opportunity to reminisce over the journey. So many games are good at building up memories, and attachments to characters, but this one little thing... It made all those connections feel real.

And that's it. I've run out of words to say about this game. It's a mess. I love it.

Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition wins:

  • Road trip of the decade.

  • Fishing minigame of the decade.

  • Best looking video game food of the decade.

  • Best photography of the decade.

  • Best charmingly bad photography of the decade.

  • Song that most makes me tear up ("Stand by me," by Florence at the Machine) of the decade.

  • Best sadly non-canonical queer ship of the decade: Promptis (Prompto X Noctis; let them be gay SQUARE ENIX YOU COWARDS).

A game best played with a friend at your side: Deadly Premonition.

No Caption Provided

Back in 2010, a friend of mine mentioned this game, I don't even remember what he said, but it was to the effect of his thinking we should play it together. It'd be a good laugh. So, I got it, as it was $20 new, and we started playing. At first we were just laughing at the game, it has such a weird opening (York discussing the subtext of Tom & Jerry), and then it goes into some of the worst survival horror I've played in my entire life. If you've never actually held a controller and played this game, you owe it to yourself to try it, it's astounding how bad it feels.

There was something...that I couldn't put my finger on at the time, but there was something to that game, so we kept playing it. Over the months, because this friend and I are terrible at coordinating together. Mostly because he's always had a thousand different things going on in his life. We were both still in college at the time, so that didn't help either. Eventually I became so enthralled with the story that I finished it on my own, and had to let my friend finish it without my spoiling anything for him.

During all this, I also realized Giant Bomb did their dual Endurance Runs. I was still new to GB at the time, and didn't realize my friend had probably gotten the idea to do this from them. Anyway, I ended up not only playing this game through, watching my friend play through a large portion of the back parts of it, but also watching it be played twice on the internet, all in the same year. Deadly Premonition was 2010 to me, and its best parts still hold their charm over me to this day.

Even as I become more and more conflicted by its problematic side. I still don't have anything profound to say, just that we all probably have things like this. The things we really love, but wish were better. Not better in the "I wish the game played better," or things like that, but better about queer characters. Better about not falling into bad stereotypes, or violence against groups of people that face far too much of that in real life.

Soon enough, there's going to be a sequel to this game. I don't know what to expect. I predicted it'll be my GOTY 2020, but I can't say that was a serious expectation. I guess all I can really hope is that it's got enough of that charm that enthralled me so, but that everyone involved has grown, and knows better now.

I have, and I don't think I'll be as forgiving a second time around.

Deadly Premonition wins:

  • Favorite "cooperative" game of the decade.

  • Sandwich of the decade (Sinner's Sandwich (still never tried one)).

  • Song of the decade: Life is Beautiful.

Another duo I couldn't separate: Mass Effect 2 & 3.

No Caption Provided

I could pick between the two, but really the story of Mass Effect and my experience with it this decade isn't just a game. It's, well, it's also inextricably tied to the first one, but these two feel more like two parts of a same whole, in retrospect. Mass Effect 1 felt different from these two. Mass Effect 2 and 3 feel like a two-parter. Not quite a "get the gang together" and then "go do the thing," because there isn't a one to one with the crew members between them, but it's something like that.

Mass Effect 1 is my favorite game of all time, and that universe is one of my favorites out of all the fiction I've ever played, watched, read, etc. That series was just the right mix of having enough of a directed story and plot, but also while letting me feel like a person there, feel like a real part of the story myself. And obviously I know the choices are pretty limited in retrospect, as are their impacts, but that doesn't negate all those dozens of hours I spent with these games, with these characters.

Garrus, you bastard of a space cop, you're kind of the worst, but I love you, faults and all. But I'm still glad I was able to temper your more "The Punisher" lines of thinking and acting.

Wrex, oh Wrex, they did you wrong by not having more of you in 2 and 3. Not super wrong, there's still enough, but I would've loved more. To hear more of your stories, and add a few more to that never ending list.

Tali, my friend. If there was one character in this series that had the most growth, it was probably you. I'm so glad to have been there on your Pilgrimage with you, and helped you whenever I could.

Liara, you wild weirdo, going from introvert archaeologist to full renegade information dealer, to something a bit more reasonable in 3. Again, I'm just glad to have been on the ride with you.

Mordin, Legion, Thane, Jack, Samara, EDI, Javik, Grunt, and so on, there's too many to list. Mass Effect 2 might have been somewhat lacking in the main story department, and 3 might have ended poorly/had some very large plot holes, but these games were such a part of my decade, and I still think back fondly on them.

That, and I curse every day EA doesn't port them to modern consoles! Give us the remastered trilogy YOU COWARDS.

Mass Effect 2 & 3 win:

  • Best cast of characters of the decade.

  • Best endorsement of the decade ("my favorite store on the Citadel").

  • Best callback to a goofy moment of the decade ("my favorite spot on the Citadel").

  • Best overall DLC of the decade.

  • Best party of the decade (Mass Effect 3 Citadel DLC).

A horrible night for a curse: Bloodborne.

No Caption Provided

If there was any one developer that truly rose from obscurity into greatness this decade, it was From Software. Yes, Demon's Souls just missed the cut, but Dark Souls was when they got big, turned into a studio that people payed attention to. A studio that would garner a certain crowd of fans, not all of whom necessarily made the best impression on others, but popularized a new style of game that took people by surprise.

And then they made their masterpiece, Bloodborne. I don't use that word lightly, but amongst all of the games here, all of the ones that I played this decade, this is among the few that I think comes closest to being the perfect realization of what it sets out to do. It is that style of game play, near perfected, that style of world building, the best I've ever seen, and all wrapped up in an aesthetic that entrances me to this day.

It does all this, and for my money, is the best piece of Eldritch/cosmic horror ever crafted. All it took was creating a world that so clearly and obviously appears to be anything but that, aside from a few hints here and there, that sense of there being something lurking, just beneath the surface, slowly getting closer, closer, closer....

Until the reveal, when the whole world feels like it's flipped over, and the truth is laid bare.

Even if it had none of that, few games have ever gotten my pulse pounding as much as Bloodborne. The thrill of fighting a boss, a towering monster of rotten flesh, scraggly hair, and jagged bone, dodging and weaving, and coming so close, so close until... my prey has been slaughtered.

My heart beats just a little faster even thinking about it.

Bloodborne is one of my favorite games ever, truly in the top ten. I know I said it's close to perfect, but there's some blemishes. Even so, this game entranced me not just from the start, through to finishing it, multiple times, through to getting the Platinum, through to playing the DLC, through even to today. From Software has continued to make great games, but none have captured my imagination the way Bloodborne has. It is a modern classic, plain and simple.

Bloodborne wins:

  • Souls game of the decade.

  • Best sweeping "cinematic" soundtrack of the decade.

  • Horror game of the decade.

  • Best build up and reveal of an Eldritch truth of the decade.

  • Most blood of the decade.

Tactics, espionage, and operations: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

No Caption Provided

Metal Gear, for better or worse, has probably meant more to me, and had more of an impact on me than any other video game series ever has. And likely ever will, given how much the earlier ones affected teenage me. Over all these years, my feelings for Metal Gear on the whole, and the people who made it (one in particular that I don't need to name) have changed. Not for the better, or for the worse. They've just changed. More critical of some things, but fonder remembrances of others. It's also just funny to think about how much MGS's weird sense of humor and tonal shifts affected me as a fiction writer, even if the direct influence isn't that apparent in most of what I write.

And, as so many of even the most die hard MGS fans will say, MGSV is a pretty big letdown in most of those respects. There's the core of a good story in this game, but it it feels like a seed that was just planted, and given basically no time to grow. With the development of that game being what it was, and at least one plot thread known to have been left dangling because a mission was cut, it's not really possible to know how much of the story is the way it is because of creative choices, and how much was the result of deadlines, cuts, or what have you.

Even with this game disappointing at the thing Metal Gear had always been known for, and generally regarded as its strongest suit, MGSV still became one of my favorite games of the decade, and honestly ever. What it lost in storytelling it more than made up for it by being the best stealth game I've ever played. There is a fluidity to this game's mission design and structure that still excites me with the breadth of what's possible. It's not just that it lets you go about missions in whatever way you want, it's the way that missions react to you doing that, it's the way not everything is always as clear cut as it seems, or the way that things change once you're actually on the ground, trying to complete the mission.

I spent almost two hundred hours playing this game. I don't remember how long it took me to get through the story, probably under half that, because the rest was a mix of me getting the Platinum Trophy, and just messing around with the game. Seeing how far I could push the AI, seeing how many ways I could think to tackle missions, how much leeway there really is. Turns out there's a lot! It's not a game where literally anything is possible, but it's a game where just enough is possible so it feels like anything is possible. For my personal tastes, it's the best stealth game I've ever played, and if the story was better, it might be my favorite game of all time.

Or, to put it in the immortal, maybe accidentally paraphrased words of Brad Shoemaker, "it was almost the greatest game ever made."

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain wins:

  • Dog of the decade: D-Dog.

  • Horse of the decade: D-Horse.

  • Robot horse of the decade: D-Walker.

  • Tactical Espionage of the decade.

  • Best balloons of the decade.

  • Best cardboard boxes of the decade.

  • Vaping of the decade.

The First Moosies Decennial Video Game of the Decade (2010-2019): The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

No Caption Provided

Breath of the Wild, in so many ways, is the culmination of most of my favorite things in games. It's a game about exploration, about huge, open spaces. About moving through a world, where the traversal is the draw, the fun, the challenge. A beautiful yet desolate world, ravaged by a long gone war, but crucially not a dead world. A world of regrowth, of survival, where people do their best to get by, and live their lives as best they can.

It's a game about puzzle solving, both big and small. A game that gives you most of the tools right up front, and designed for people to be able to go in almost any direction, and do almost anything. A game littered with shrines just waiting to be delved into, so their puzzles can be solved, so I can hear that classic little chime and feel so excited. A game where any odd little thing out in the world might be a quick little puzzle to solve, and get a Korok seed.

It's a game about creativity in problem solving. Over the last few years, I have seen so many videos of people fighting enemies, solving puzzles, or traversing the world in ways that left me stunned. Infusing things with so much force while they're in stasis that they fly off at breakneck speeds, using the power of magnets to make a pair of mine carts into a makeshift aircraft, or even just as simple as some well timed explosives when all the normal weapons are broken.

But these aren't just separate elements of the game, they're all connected. If Breath of the Wild is about anything, it's freedom. Freedom to go wherever, and do whatever. Obviously it's not limitless, and the only frustrating parts of the game are when that freedom is stripped away in favor of more scripted scenarios, or the worst forced stealth sequence I've played this side of Majora's Mask. That, and the whole subplot with Link disguising himself as a woman to get into the women only town, which is, um, problematic, let's say.

The thing is, in a game as enormous as Breath of the Wild, a game as otherwise incredible and truly awe-inspiring as this, those end up feeling like nitpicks. It's not just easily my game of the decade, it's the closest a game has ever come to dethroning Mass Effect from my favorite game ever. Maybe at some point, with enough time passed, and nostalgia, it'll get there. Who knows.

I could go on and on, but I think it's clear how much I love this game. Few games have ever made climbing to the top of a mountain, just to enjoy the view, so good, and pure of an experience. Now let's just hope the sequel doesn't screw it up somehow.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild wins:

  • World of the decade.

  • "Emergent game play" of the decade.

  • Vistas of the decade.

  • Best use of the sparseness of music to make its appearance have all the more impact of the decade.

  • Adventure of the decade.

  • Do-rag of the decade.

  • Most mountainous game of the decade.

  • Most seeing mountains, going to them, and climbing them of the decade.

Thank you for reading, especially if you got through both Parts of this end of the decade special. In terms of video games, I think it was a really incredible ten years. Maybe not consistent, but on the whole, there were more fantastic games than I could even recount here. And looking forward to the future, I'm excited. Excited for what's possible with the new consoles, excited for a future where, hopefully, cross play is the standard. But most of all, I'm excited for the next game that I don't see coming. The next game that goes from "what's that" to knocking my socks off.

I'm sure it'll be another decade worth remembering.

Let's just hope climate change doesn't end us before we get there.

Start the Conversation

The First Decennial Moosies Video Games of the Years of the Decade Awards, Part I!

There's been a lot of rumblings lately about the decade coming to a close. A lot of people trying to find the best tweet of the decade, best game of the decade, best movie, etc. It is fun to think about things like that, but I would never limit myself to something so pedestrian. No, instead, as a celebration of the many years that I've done this, I am going all out. Or...at least mostly out. I've re-written this intro multiple times, along with parts of the actual meat of this, and cut several things. Things that certainly defined the decade, but... To be frank, it felt wrong to write about the decade in games without going into serious stuff like Gamer Gate, and... I do not have the energy for that.

So, what I've ended up with are a couple "things" from the decade, and a whole bunch of games I felt are worth remembering. Or maybe I can't forget, even if I want to. It's only appropriate that something written about the last ten years be messy, really.

That, and despite my best efforts to keep this short...it ended up long. Long enough that it's been split in twain. And if this isn't enough, feel free to read my 2019 Moosies! But here...is Part I:

No Caption Provided

My favorite technical "innovation" of the decade: The Share Button.

It was very easy to roll my eyes when Sony announced the PS4 was going to have a dedicated Share Button. But it wasn't until the console was out, and a certain revelation occurred that completely changed my thinking on it. And that revelation, was this video:

The ease with which the Share Button, and the PS4's constant recording of game play, allows people to share (the branding works!) videos and images of glitches and other nonsense showed me a whole new world of what was possible with social media integration. Or in other words it meant a newfound proliferation of videos and screenshots of bugs in games, and that they could be actually recorded directly, rather than blurry shots taken with a phone (not that that stops people from still doing that).

But, over time, I found myself just taking screenshots for fun, posting pictures of cute in game animals or other things, often with the text of, "friend." It's silly, and it's goofy, but it's fun to see my friends posting stuff, see them enjoying mine, and all because of a simple button on the controller. A button so simple that Xbox One's lack of it, despite the same ability to post screenshots and videos existing on the console, likely led to a lot of people not going through all that just to share a picture.

It eventually led to Nintendo copying it on the Switch, and Microsoft doing the same on Series X. If anything, they should have rolled that feature out sooner, on some revision of the Xbox One controller, but there's likely a lot more to complicate that process than I would know.

Regardless, silly though it sounded at first, the Share Button has truly been a great, and fun feature.

Gaming's lost social media platform: The Miiverse.

No Caption Provided

Why dedicate a button to sharing things to existing social media platforms when Nintendo could just make their own? Oh, the Miiverse, what a strange and wondrous place it was. Again, it's easy to mock now, and I'm sure that's coming through a bit in my tone, but I genuinely liked the Miiverse. There were a lot of cool ideas in there. Having pages dedicated to each game, a relatively easy way to get there, and see other people talking about it is a cool idea!

Even if a lot of Miiverse just turned into memes and nonsense, it was fun. Fun, and though again people mock it for this, but it was a place that lots of kids used. Granted, given the not so small number of people intentionally breaking the rules to see what would slip through the cracks...maybe that wasn't always a good thing. The point I'm trying to make is, there were probably a lot of kids not generally allowed to use a lot of the rest of the internet unsupervised that got a chance to use the Miiverse, and make friends there.

And people mock it for it.

I used the Miiverse a decent amount in my first year of owning a Wii U (the whole story of my time with the Wii U was a single year of heavy use then basically nothing until Breath of the Wild). It was fun, it was silly, and it's a shame that it's gone. Was it perfect? Absolutely not! But I miss it, and I doubt that anything quite like it will ever exist again.

Rather than just do a list of my favorite ten or so games of the decade, first I'm going to write a bit about a bunch of games that I think are all interesting in one way or another, but not necessarily "games of the generation" type games. Games that, for good or ill, have stuck with me, and helped make the decade in games what it was. Not in any particular order, either. If nothing else, I want people to look at these games and think, "Yes, these sure are the games Moosey would highlight at the end of a decade."

Tokyo Jungle, the best survival game of the decade.

No Caption Provided

Is Tokyo Jungle a good game? Not really. But is it a game that I love because of its absurd premise, and its dedication to that weirdness? One hundred percent. Sony developed and published a game on the PS3 where you start as a Pomeranian trying to survive in post apocalyptic Tokyo. The actual flow of the games itself isn't really that weird mechanically, but the whole aura around it is so, so odd, and I love that it exists. I'm so happy that at one point in time, this bizarre little thing was allowed to exist.

Now if only Sony would make a proper sequel, or at least port the game to PS4. Or, really, make the game that feels as out of nowhere and bizarre as this did then.

No Man's Sky, and the art of the comeback.

No Caption Provided

Lots of games have changed significantly after their initial release. One of the defining new(ish) things from the decade in games is the ability to so readily, and drastically change games via updates. But in most games those updates amount to balance changes, bug fixes, things that are so small most people wouldn't notice them. That, or they're games that are explicitly in "early access," and thus not technically finished.

Out of all the games that I played over the decade, No Man's Sky is the one that sticks out for both having changed the most, and for the majority of that change being positive. Launch No Man's Sky (a game I enjoyed!) was barren and featureless in ways that really made it feel like it was not a finished game, rather than a sixty dollar product sold on store shelves (but that, I'm sure, is a long topic I am not equipped to discuss fully). But the amount of changes made over the years, including very fundamental ways the game is interacted with, and even the physical planets themselves, were enormous.

Like, for example, I had built a base on this wonderful planet. Blue foliage everywhere, not really much water, but it was nice. Calm. Lovely. It was a joy to return there, store my old stuff, build new things, etc.

Then one day there was an update that changed everything, and it became a toxic mess.

So, yes, that update left me a bit miffed. But additions like an actual story that was good, a third person mode that changed the vibe of the game more than I expected, vast improvements to the spaceship combat, and loads and loads of other things, they all make No Man's Sky feel like a different game now than when I first played it.

No Caption Provided

Of course, there's much that can be said about the loss of those older versions of the game. Someone could take a PS4 disc, and install it without any updates to get the patch-less version of the game, but what about the version with the early updates? Or the updates a year or so into the life of the game? I'm not saying it's a tragic loss, just something I think about occasionally.

PT, the harbinger of the delisting doom.

What is sort of a tragic trend, however, are games that get delisted. And when that topic comes to mind, PT really is the first notable one. The demo for a canceled Silent Hill game that Konami tried to bury forever, even after it inspired a new generation of low to mid budget indie horror games. It's an interesting little thing on its own, but the fact that it was not so effectively wiped from the face of the Earth is a large part of the mystique around it these days.

The worst thing, though, is that PT being delisted was not the end, but the beginning of a bad trend. Games being removed from digital stores seems to be only happening at a faster and faster rate. High profile games too, like several of the Forza Horizon games. Sometimes these games return, like Alan Wake, but sometimes they're just gone to all but those who bought them already.

And in some cases, like PT, even they're even gone to the people who had downloaded them, but lost that data. Okay, PT was free, but the point is that this is bigger than that one game. Thinking of games as just some unimportant thing that is okay to be lost to time is...sad. Games are art like any other form of entertainment, and even if the majority of them aren't great (like all forms of entertainment!), that doesn't mean they should just cease to exist.

To be fair, there are still ways to get PT. I had lost it at some point after swapping in a bigger hard drive to my PS4, but after some snooping, I...found a way to get it back on there (it wasn't that difficult or nefarious, I didn't mod my PS4 or anything like that). I dunno if that way still works, but at least people are trying to preserve this stuff as best they can, or find ways around these things.

Especially when, from the sound of it, most of the time these delistings happen for legal reasons. Song licenses ending, or maybe it's car related for stuff like Forza. That Ducktales game was delisted, because I guess Disney and Capcom decided it was cheaper to just let it fade into the ether than let people still be able to buy it. Or, you know, just let people have it.

But capitalism couldn't that happen, oh no.

No Caption Provided

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, my ticket into online games with friends.

Okay, this wasn't the first game I ever played online with friends. There was about a year back in the previous decade where I played 360 games online with a group of high school friends. But between then and Advanced Warfare, most stuff I played online was just me against random people.

This is the game, perhaps along with a certain other one I'll get to, that got me to buy a headset with a mic on it. To...gasp...talk with people!! Not the randos, but my friends. Newfound friends that I had made this decade, and though now it's hard to imagine my life without them (even if I've really only met one of them outside the internet), back then we didn't know each other as well as we all do now.

Playing games, chatting about nonsense, coming up with all our goofy in jokes (still think about yelling "TWO XP" on double XP weekends), it's really one of my fondest memories from the decade. Obviously those sorts of things extend beyond one or two games, but when I think about where it started, it was Advanced Warfare. Still my favorite Call of Duty of the generation, and likely to be the last one where I really enjoyed both the single player and multiplayer modes. The double jump into air-dash is one of my favorite "feeling" things of the decade, and it's a shame Call of Duty decided to move away from cool future stuff, and back to the boring/morally troubling realm of "modern" "warfare."

The odyssey, and legacy of Destiny 1 & 2.

No Caption Provided

Destiny, of course, is that other game from 2014 that helped push me into playing games online with friends (and never mind that I'm pretty sure Destiny released prior to Advanced Warfare). It was probably just as important to that as Advanced Warfare was, but when I think back on the Destiny games, I feel like there's a lot more there to dig into. Beyond my personal experiences with them, though that all ties in as well.

Like No Man's Sky, the Destiny games have changed quite a bit. But in these cases, it was less a fundamental re-imagining of the core of the game, and more along the lines of adding more stuff onto the games. And yet, despite the fact that the changes to Destiny over time haven't been as immediately drastic as changes to many other games, I can't think of any other games where the general reaction to them has been as much of a roller coaster.

My own experience with these games began with the highs of obsessing over base Destiny, which led to my burning out fast. But, a handful of months later I came back for the House of Wolves expansion, and while playing at a more measured pace, was able to have fun again. Then I stopped when everyone else came back for Taken King, because I was so stubborn I didn't want to have to buy the bad expansion to play the new good one.

But for everyone else, Taken King was Destiny coming into its own. The moment where everything fell into place, and it worked. Thinking back, I wish I had come back and kept playing, if only just for that one expansion. I missed out.

Then the next year was another expansion, that some people liked, but a lot of people ignored, and the year after was Destiny 2. Which is when I returned, and the roller coaster continued along. I liked it at launch, but then the first expansion was bad, the next was better, and Forsaken then was great! For my money, Forsaken is the best the Destiny series has ever been, and I wish it was that good now.

Because Shadowkeep was underwhelming in every sense of the word, and the seasonal stuff in the months since hasn't been interesting either. It's just... The core of the game is still fun. Destiny 2 is a fun game, one of the most fun I've ever played! I'm sure there's countless things to tear apart in individual balance changes, and all of that, but at a base level, this is the same Destiny 2, just with more stuff than at launch, and yet...

I guess it's just a combination of fatigue at the old stuff, and the new stuff not being plentiful or good enough. It's a shame too, because I would love to be championing this game, now that it's free to play, and Bungie is fully independent. I've put more hours into Destiny 2 than any other game this generation. Possibly more than any other single game in my life. Almost certainly so if Destiny 1 is included in that hour count.

There's so much I could write about these games. Originally I also intended to write about how much they've influenced so many other games this generation, from loot stuff, to even those menus that I don't like. Not that Destiny pioneered much, if any of it, more that when I see Assassin's Creed using those same menus, with similar loot systems, it feels like Destiny is the game they're aping.

This one is included SPECIFICALLY as a joke for two people, one of whom might be reading this.
This one is included SPECIFICALLY as a joke for two people, one of whom might be reading this.

Of all the games that defined the decade, Destiny and Destiny 2 are two of them. Certainly helped define the generation, but I guess I could save that for next time when everyone is doing their "games of the generation" lists, which won't at all feel like mostly a redo of the games of the decade stuff. Just with less Mass Effect.

Speaking of...

Disappointment of the decade: Mass Effect Andromeda.

Before I say what I'm going to say, I need to clarify: I am being serious. I'm not joking, I'm not trying to make light of anything.

Mass Effect Andromeda made me depressed. Literally, emotionally, physically depressed. I try not to talk about it too much, because usually it's not really that bad, but I get depressed, like, capital D Depression, depressed. I mean, just in general.

Mass Effect Andromeda made me feel the way capital D Depression does.

Again, I'm being serious. I only played a very, very small amount of this game, when there was a free trial. It just made me depressed, so profoundly sad that something I loved so much had fallen so low, and even to this day it doesn't make total sense to me. It seemed far from the worst game I had ever played, but something about it just made me feel so bad I had to stop. If I went back to it, and tried again, maybe I could get through it, but frankly I can't think of a single reason why I would want to, or that would be worth my time.

It's depressing, and no other game has ever made me feel that bad in that way. So much so that I felt like I had to say something about it here, and the best I could muster is to say it's the most disappointing game of the decade. So disappointing I can't even tarnish Todd Howard by making that same joke from the Moosies.

It just makes me sad, and I wish, so badly, that BioWare could make another good game, Mass Effect or otherwise.

Spelunky, the rogue-like-lite-like of our era.

Like Destiny, I can't really say with certainty that Spelunky really did anything specific first, but I do think it's the game responsible for the rise of procedurally generated single run games. You know, rogue-like...lite...likes. I will never stop making that joke. In all seriousness, Spelunky was certainly the first prolific one, and still one of my favorites.

I never really got good at Spelunky. In my 400+ attempts, across two consoles (an odd case of my save Transfarring seamlessly from PS3 to PS4, without my even realizing it would), I only beat Olmec once. Never even tried to get any further than that, as I only made it to Olmec twice. Once very early on, and once much, much later, when I finally beat the game.

Between it being the catalyst for the spread of a (semi) new genre, and being so good in its own right, it's definitely a noteworthy game of the decade.

Transfarring.

I dare you to find an image that's more 2010 than this.
I dare you to find an image that's more 2010 than this.

Peace Walker was a good game, and I think it'd be more fun if we used the word "Transfarring" instead of "cloud saves," "cross saves," etc.

Dust: An Elysian Tail.

This was almost my game of the year in 2012, but my obsession with Mass Effect won out in the end. This game, one I loved so much I got all the Achievements in the 360 version, and went back years later to Platinum it on PS4, was just so darn good in every way. The art style, the fun and fast combat, the world, the story, everything was just great! And I could sit down to play it all over again, and have just as much fun now.

The Evil Within 2.

One of those games I bought half on a whim, but I just keep thinking about it! Such a cool mix of stealth mechanics, and survival horror-ness, and it was just a great game that I liked a whole lot. It was weird too. Unafraid to be a game about sneaking around zombies in a suburban neighborhood at one point, running from an unkillable monster through Twin Peaks looking halls another moment, then fighting a big goopy yogurt monster. It was great, and still one of the best spooky games I've ever played.

No Caption Provided

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

A great game, starring one of the great heroes of our time, Donkey Kong, and featuring truly one of the best soundtracks of the decade.

Overwatch and the proliferation of loot boxes.

Some games, are just fun games that I played, and remember fondly. Some, whether done well or not, are forever games that I do truly, keep playing forever. But some, some captured my attention for a good long while, and just slowly lost me over time. Or maybe that's just Overwatch. I played so, so much of this game in 2016. It was super fun, and there was an astounding amount of variety in the characters! At least for first person shooters, anyway.

And they kept updating it for free, with new characters, and maps, which was so cool! But...those free updates came at a cost.

Again, did Overwatch pioneer the concept of boxes with random items in them? No, that was Mass Effect 3 (prove me wrong!). But like Destiny, and Spelunky, Overwatch is the game that everyone else wanted to be, and the one they copied the loot boxes from. It's a shame, because loot boxes...are bad.

I get the people who (at least used to) say, "Oh, it's not so bad if it doesn't affect the game play." I understand that argument. I also think it's completely wrong. Let me recount my own personal experience with the loot boxes in Overwatch.

I have not bought a single one. I paid my sixty dollars for the game (grumbling all the same at there not being a forty dollar version at launch on consoles like there was on PC), and have not given them a single cent since. Obviously there's always a temptation when the skins and stuff are cool, but the pace with which I got boxes for leveling up in the game was just enough to keep me satisfied.

Until the first big event.

2016 was an Olympics year, and due to licensing, I'm sure, Blizzard instead made up their own fake Olympics, and put some vaguely international sports themed stuff in the game. Now, most of it, was whatever. I think I got a Tracer skin with the UK flag as a cape that I used for a while, but that's not the point of the story.

McCree got a skin where he had half an American skin draped over a shoulder. And let me be clear, it was not a "good" skin. But I wanted it. Because I thought it was funny, and because I convinced myself that "American McCree" was an "American McGee" joke. You know, the guy that worked on that Alice in Wonderland game that I never played, or had any interest in.

Anyway, I wanted that dumb, bad skin, but there was no way to get it aside from loot boxes. So I kept playing, playing, playing, obsessively trying to get this skin that I didn't even think was actually good, I just wanted to use it ironically. I didn't, and I came closer than I ever have in my life to spending real life money on boxes at a random chance to get an item.

I'm glad I didn't, but then I realized how insidious loot boxes are. Especially for cosmetic items. If Overwatch was a game where some people had an advantage because they paid more money, I would have just stopped playing. But when the money "only" leads to cool outfits and costumes, and the coolest ones are only available during limited time events...it became clear how this stuff is designed to just prey on people wanting to be and look cool.

Now, the way this story should go is that I got so disgusted I stopped playing the game forever, but... I kept playing. Less and less over time, as the various changes to the game started losing my interest. First it was the changes to the overtime, then it was odd little changes here and there, to some characters. Some were made better over time, like Roadhog, but some I just didn't understand. Why'd they keep changing Symmetra so often? Not that I played her much, but it was just odd.

Another contender is the time I technically got two Legendaries in one box...except one was just coins.
Another contender is the time I technically got two Legendaries in one box...except one was just coins.

And eventually I stopped altogether. No specific reason, I just did. Though, I will say that combining attack and defense characters into one group was kind of...baffling to me, and that ended up being the thing.

Then the whole debacle with Blizzard and that guy being banned from Hearthstone happened, and it was pretty easy for me to uninstall the game. Not that I'd really played it in the last year anyway.

I wrote way too much about Overwatch, I'm sorry. The next game is me on my good nonsense, trust me.

Batman Arkham Origins.

I love the Batman Arkham games. The first one was truly a revelation, because I loved Batman so much growing up. And I still do, it's just a bit more complicated now, philosophically, because... Okay, I don't have time to get into that. Suffice it to say, Batman is perfect for the medium of video games, and the Arkham series was great because it captured so many aspects of the Dark Knight so well.

Fun combat that influenced so many others, it'd certainly be a game I'd write about here...if only Asylum hadn't been in the previous decade. Stealth that is fast, fluid, and feels like a Batman version of stealth. It's not Solid Snake or Sam Fisher slinking around cameras, and avoiding fights. It's Batman swooping in from the shadows, knocking out foes before they even realize it, and striking fear in the remaining enemies. The only thing they didn't nail was the World's Greatest Detective, as these games always felt more like pointing Batman in the right direction so he could solve the crime, rather than making it feel like I solved it.

And this one, oft maligned as the unneeded prequel from a different studio, I assure you, is secretly the best one. My favorite, at least. It's got the best story, consistently good and interesting level design for the stealth portions, and some fun twists on the combat. Including enemies that can counter Batman's counters! Add in the best boss fights of the series, a jolly Christmas setting, and what's not to like?

Really, I love all of these games, and while none of them are perfect, I've played all of them multiple times, and I could play another new one, right now. It wouldn't even need to do anything new, I'd just hope it wouldn't lean so heavily on Batmobile tank fights like Knight did.

Dark Souls.

Ah, the Dark Souls of-

Contradiction: Spot the Liar.

No Caption Provided

I never actually played this game. I just loved watching Giant Bomb's playthrough of it. And, really, I think it's a lovely game (one that I do own, as a means of supporting the devs at the time), but if I want to say something about it, and the decade, it really has nothing to do with the game itself. Instead, it's how habits regarding video of video games have changed over the decade. A decade ago, I wasn't watching Let's Plays of games, or really anything remotely like that. The closest thing was Angry Video Game Nerd videos, and even those, only occasionally, and not that many of them.

Now, mostly because of Giant Bomb, they've become a regular part of my entertainment diet. They're content that I consume. And that's not just a change in my habits, the spread of these kinds of videos over the last decade has been incredible. They're a thing now, and it's great both because it allows people to experience games they otherwise wouldn't, and in some cases ways to experience games in ways they wouldn't on their own.

Furi.

Remember Furi? That boss fight game with the incredible soundtrack? I still think about that game. It was a ton of fun, and one of the most styyyyylish games of the decade. At least in my book. It's the sort of game where I don't have anything new or insightful to say about it, other than it's a game I still think about regularly. It was fun, furious, and had one of my favorite soundtracks of the decade.

No Caption Provided

The almost self-parody of Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE.

If there's any series that I love, in spite of its many issues, it's Metal Gear. And if there's a genre that I love, in spite of its frequent issues, it's stylish action games. So it's no wonder that the game that combines the two is one of my standouts from the decade. Maybe not actually Platinum's best game (that's probably Bayonetta 2?), but definitely my favorite. It takes all the ludicrous-ity of Metal Gear, condenses down to its most important bits, and fills in the rest with the tight swordplay I expect from Platinum.

To this day, I can't tell how much of the story was trying to be Metal Gear serious, or if there was some amount of self-parody in there. "Nanomachines, son." It's just, it's perfect. Whenever I see people wondering if a Metal Gear game could work without Kojima at the helm, I just think they didn't play REVENGEANCE.

Broader than this game itself, it's a bit disappointing what happened with Metal Gear. REVENGEANCE was killer, MGSV, which you know I'll get to later (in Part II), is for my money, still the absolute best stealth game ever made. But since then, all we've gotten is a zombie survival game and...nothing. I don't expect Konami to go racing out and fund a game with the scope and everything of MGSV again, but it'd be nice if they could let some other people, people with cool ideas about where to take the stealth genre, people who could absolutely tell a Metal Gear worthy story (I know I could, seriously!!!!), let them work on something Metal Gear.

Instead we got MGS3 pachinko. Alas.

Iconoclasts.

Remember this game? I do. Mostly because I keep listening to the soundtrack as background music whilst I write. But it's not just that, this is one of those games where no single aspect of it was amazing, and I found not insignificant portions of it to be frustrating, and yet...I keep thinking about it. Something about the story, and the world of the game has really stuck with me. Definitely worth checking out for anyone reading this who has no idea what game I'm talking about.

The best Mario Game: Super Mario 3D World.

No Caption Provided

I love Mario, but when thinking back on all of the Mario games, I dunno that there's really many of them that I would pick as some of my favorite games ever. Even 3D World, I'm not exactly sure would rate in that group, but it is, if nothing else, my favorite Mario game. It combines what I like about 3D platforming, but gives it a faster, more focused pace than the previous 3D Marios. Well, probably aside from 3D Land, but I never played it.

It's a super fun, excellent game, and an absolute crime that it hasn't been brought to Switch. If Nintendo is going to keep porting Wii U games to Switch, they need to bring this one. They brought the mediocre at best New Super Mario Bros. U to Switch, for crying out loud! Is Nintendo just afraid it'll compete against Mario Odyssey? It's just baffling to me that this, one of their best games from the decade, hasn't made it over yet.

A Way Out.

While there weren't ten games of 2018 better than A Way Out, I'm afraid I have to admit there were quite a few more than ten games better than it in the whole decade. But, the experience of playing it with a close friend of mine, even if we weren't geographically close, was certainly one of my favorites of the decade.

No Caption Provided

Matt Rorie's Alpha Protocol and Asura's Wrath.

What do those two games have in common? Nothing, probably. But for me personally, each has an association of playing it with a friend (different friend for each), despite neither game having anything even resembling literal multiplayer. They were just fun games to hand the controller back and forth with, especially Alpha Protocol. I distinctly remember at least one point where I made a decision that my friend was not happy with, and even if I don't actually remember what the decision itself was, that moment remains in my brain as a funny reminder.

Dragon's Dogma (Dark Arisen).

No Caption Provided

I'd be lying if I said my admiration for this game was purely my own, and not influenced in the slightest by the Austin Walkers of the world refusing to shut up about it over the years. That sounds rude but Austin's never going to read this and ultimately I mean this positively. I found myself replaying it in 2019, and while it doesn't hold up in every single respect, the best parts are still great. The combat is still a lot of fun, and the Pawns (summonable AI characters created by other players) are still a neat proto-Strand Game element. This isn't me saying Dragon's Dogma was the first Strand game, that was clearly Noby Noby Boy, which sadly, released in the prior decade.

NieR:Automata.

I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about this game. I enjoyed it, and looking back on stuff I wrote immediately after finishing it, it reads like I liked it a lot, but I don't love it like so many other people do. The thing is I don't know how much of that is my true feelings, or me just feeling like I don't like it because other people like it so much more. Does that make any sense? Or has Yoko Taro just infected me with a permanent orb of confusion regarding this game? Regardless, it was certainly an interesting game of the decade, and one that made me wish I had played the original NieR, both at all, and when it was new. Before knowing anything about it.

Best moose riding of the decade, if nothing else.
Best moose riding of the decade, if nothing else.

Saints Row the Third.

What better game to close out my "interesting games of the decade" with than this? What a delightful, nonsensical bit of chaotic fun this game was. It really was so good back in the day, and I've got a whole lot of fond memories about it. It wasn't perfect, and my memories of its awful treatment of sex workers that I had back then would probably only mean it's actually worse than I remember, given how much I've grown and changed as a person in the years since then.

I really loved it at the time, and part of me is worried that if I ever went back to it, it wouldn't hold up. So instead, I'll just hold onto the memories I have of it, and think about how much fun it was.

That's it for Part I! Here's a reminder that my regular Moosies for 2019 lives here! Thank you for reading, and check back soon for Part II!

5 Comments

Eleventh Annual Moosies Video Game Awards! (2019)

It's that jolly time of year, when everyone waits around the Gaymer Tree for all the video game awards to appear out of thin air! And fear not, everyone's favorite awards blog from an unprofessional video game write-about-er has returned yet again! It wouldn't be the end of the year without me writing too much about the games I already wrote too much about, often while just repeating what I wrote about them months ago! And it especially wouldn't be the end of the decade without that!

No Caption Provided

There's a lot of people out there saying that 2019 was a weak year for games. And I'm not going to say it was the strongest year, but I still think it had plenty of great games. Was it as strong as the last few years, which were all fantastic? Not really. It was more of a year with really solid, capital G Good games, than anything revolutionary. I played a healthy amount of games I really like, and I'm here to tell you all about why they were good!

And maybe mention a couple games that I still enjoyed, but wish had been better.

But first, the traditional recounting of last year's predictions, and the (in)accuracy of each!

11th Annual Moosies 2019 Game of the Year: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

I always open the predictions with a bold guess at what the next year's game of the year will be. A silly exercise, but one I enjoy nonetheless. You'll have to keep reading to see if I was correct!

Sony, attaining new levels of hubris, announces the PlayStation 5, featuring the Perfect Cell Processor. With that, it has full backwards compatibility with PS3 games, but not PS4 games. Costs far too much money.

Aside from the name PlayStation 5, I completely got that one wrong. Though in my defense, the idea of the PS5 being announced and released in the year 2019 seemed more reasonable back in 2018. Of course there's still plenty of time for them to announce the actual price and end up with another five hundred and ninety nine US dollars debacle (I don't think they will, though).

Despite the fact that everyone else seems to think The Last of Us Part II is coming in 2019, it doesn't.

Honestly, if I only get one prediction correct a year, I consider it a success. And I was correct. I still don't know where everyone got the idea it was going to release in 2019. Maybe it was people with insider knowledge hearing rumblings of them aiming for 2019 and then missing. And we'll see if they can hit the current date without delaying (again).

Nintendo puts out the New Nintendo Switch XL, which is a bigger, more expensive Switch. Does not drop the price on the existing model. Everyone else buys one (including those who already had a Switch), but I still hold out because they're expensive.

Well, by the letter of the law, I was wrong, because instead they announced the Switch Lite, which is smaller, and cheaper. BUT! Lots of people have bought Switch Lites, even those who already owned Switches. Nintendo hasn't dropped the price on the Switch original, AND I still haven't gotten one, so I'll say I was half right.

EA, those bastards, announce the Mass Effect Trilogy for Switch, but still don't remaster those games for PS4.

No Mass Effect Trilogy remasters, no Mass Effect remasters of any sort. STILL.

Microsoft, in their continuing attempts to get people to care about the Xbox brand, starts giving Xbox Ones out literally for free.

Wrong, but they're basically giving out new Game Pass subscriptions for free, and thus "free" games, so the spirit of this, that Microsoft was going to go to new lengths to get people into the Xbox ecosystem, that was right!

Tired of waiting for another game, Captain Falcon decides to leave this galaxy, and find peace amongst the stars. Meanwhile, Nintendo officially announces that rumored Star Fox racing game, and Falcon has a brief twinge of pain as he looks back in the direction of the Solar System, before he continues onward on his journey.

I had forgotten about the rumors of there being a Star Fox racing game. Imagine if they actually made a futuristic racing game, but instead of F-Zero it was Star Fox? I know I would be a bit disgruntled.

Sony not being at E3 turns out to be a ruse when Phil Spencer tears his Xbox shirt off on stage to reveal a PlayStation shirt underneath. Then Jack Tretton and some cronies storm the stage to announce his return.

Maybe someday I'll keep my predictions to things that might feasibly happen. Maybe.

Metroid Prime 4 shown off, has some bizarre control scheme that is needlessly gimmicky, makes the game worse, and is not accessible to people with disabilities. There's no option to change it.

The game got rebooted, or whatever terminology one might use to describe them starting over in development. So we'll have to wait longer still to see if this becomes true.

EA cancels that Respawn developed Star Wars game that they haven't even shown a logo for yet.

Wrong!

2 Blood 2 Borne announced as a PS5 launch game.

Wrong!

Half-Life 3 announced as a card pack for Artifact.

Given that a new Half-Life game was announced at all, I'm going to say this was...a third correct.

Not a stellar year for me getting predictions correct, but that's why I'm not in the predicting business! What business am I in? Well, none, technically, so I'll just get straight to the top ten, and other awards!

10. Todd Howard Presents the Most Disappointing Game of the Year that I still enjoyed: The Outer Worlds.

No Caption Provided

By this point I think we all know the drill: Disappointment does not mean the game is bad, or that I didn't like it. What it means is that, amongst all the games I played this year, this is the one that felt like it most missed the mark between what I expected it to be, and what it actually was. There were long stretches of this game where it really felt like what I wanted from this style of game, and it was exciting. There are some really good characters, and some good stories told along the way.

If nothing else, the game gave us Parvati, who is one of my favorite characters of the year, and in the last few years. Who would have thought that having a heartwarming story about a queer character without any sort of tragic or bad twist ending would be so endearing? A lot of people, it was a rhetorical question, and you know it was a good one because I felt the need to explain that. But seriously, between Ashley Burch's performance being as good as ever, the writing (written by someone with actual life experience with the sort of things Parvati experienced (again, who'd have guessed that getting people who actually know about these things results in more authenticity?)), and the time the game gives her story to breathe, it was endearing, and the thing from this game that will stick with me the longest.

It's just a bummer that good smaller stories like that had to be saddled to boring/needless combat, too many uninteresting side quests, and a main story that peters out, and loses steam by the end. Many of the pieces of a truly great game are here, but there's just not quite enough of them, and some of them are just put together wrong.

The game itself is largely at fault for its shortcomings (of course), but really I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up so high. I let years of other people's rose tinted glasses change my opinion of New Vegas (a game I liked but never loved as much as so many do), and let a new game in that style from many of those people elevate itself in my mind to a level it realistically couldn't reach. That, and those early reviews were so positive, they're partly to blame too.

So, in a shorter version, The Outer Worlds gets that not so glamorous position of being my Number 10 game of the year. The game that almost didn't make it onto the list, and maybe in the years to come I'll regret putting it on there at all. Especially when the main reason is that I liked Parvati a lot. But sometimes a single, very bright spot is all it takes to make something worth remembering.

The Outer Worlds also wins:

  • Best friend of the year: Parvati.

  • Loudest level up noise.

Todd Howard also Presents: The biggest mess of a game that I still enjoyed: Anthem.

No Caption Provided

A banner year for Todd Howard presenting awards for an awards blog he doesn't even know exists. Gosh, Anthem. This game really is a mess in just about every way a game could be. Technically, design wise, story wise. Which isn't to say every one of those is bad. Or completely bad. Because the game, when everything is working right, is fun! And even if the story is a lot of the same "ancient civilization blah blah blah" stuff that Mass Effect leaned too heavily on, there's still some decent characters in there too (along with one really annoying one (or three, depending on how you look at it)), and there's enough interesting ideas that I don't think the universe is worth abandoning.

But let me tell you, it's frustrating when I try playing with a couple friends and the game is just consistently broken for one of them, for no discernible reason at all. It's frustrating when a solid core of a combat system isn't used to its fullest potential because the majority of the missions might as well have the same fights copy and pasted. It's frustrating when one of the few boss types feels straight up broken, and has attacks that seem almost impossible to avoid. It's frustrating when there's no way to respawn after dying in a lot of missions without waiting to be revived. Frustrating to have to slowly walk around town, etc.

Some of these things were fixed after or around the time I stopped playing. How many though? I don't know! I still have hopes that one day this game might get its Taken King moment, and be revitalized, and live up at least closer to its potential. But those hopes are really low, if I'm being honest. It was still fun, just frustrating at almost every turn.

9. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

No Caption Provided

Star Wars discourse is one of the most exhausting ones out there (at least in the realm of entertainment), so I don't want to get wrapped up in all of that. That said, Star Wars is one of those things that has its place in my heart. Yes, it's nostalgia. That doesn't make the part of me that lights up when I hear the low hum of a lightsaber any less true. Even without the Star Wars-y-ness, I think Fallen Order would still be a good game, but it really is the Star Wars-y-ness that sparked that inner joy, that nostalgia that so many crave so much.

(Addendum: I wrote the rest of this before having seen Rise of Skywalker, and let me tell you, it takes more than just nostalgia to get me to like a Star Wars thing, and that is ALL I will say about that mess that would make Todd Howard faint.)

Another part of why I enjoyed this game as much as I did is that it's been so long since the last time I played a Star Wars game. At one point in time there were so many that Star Wars might as well have been its own genre. But before Fallen Order, the last Star Wars game I played more than a pre-release beta for was Force Unleashed. In 2008. There have been Star Wars games since then, but an underwhelming sequel to an already underwhelming game (Force Unleashed II), and the new Battlefront games just weren't what I was looking for.

Fallen Order isn't perfect, but it gets the important things right. It gets that excitement Star Wars should bring. It understands that lightsabers are cool, that sword fights are fun. But most importantly, it knows that the things that really makes Star Wars so memorable are the characters. Does Fallen Order have the best cast of characters in any Star Wars thing ever? No, but it at least has story as a main focus, and has a solid cast that does a better job of telling a compelling story than any other Star Wars game I've played. Before you jump down my throat, I've only played an hour or two of KoTOR (YEARS ago), and none of KoTOR II, so I know, I know.

It doesn't do anything revolutionary, but just having a likable lead in Cal helps. Having great side characters like Cere and Greeze made it a story I cared about. When I think back on Force Unleashed, all I remember are silly physics, enemies holding hands and then onto things to resist being pulled away, and bad quick time events. When the inevitable sequel to this game is announced, what's going to excite me is knowing I'll get to go on more fun adventures with characters I like.

That, and it's a fun game too! The swordplay is a good mix between doing cool stuff, but without ever going into the complete over the top territory of something like a Metal Gear Rising. Which, I love games like that, but it is nice to play something a little more grounded, but without quite going into the needing to manage my stamina and be careful about every single move territory of a Dark Souls.

Which is maybe ironic, given the checkpoint system in Fallen Order so closely imitates Dark Souls. Not really to the game's benefit, but not in a way that detracted either. No, that was the technical issues. While not the worst I played this year, there was kind of a pervasiveness to the game's oddities that make them hard to ignore. Too many instances of enemies T-posing their way into position, too many stutters as the game streams in the next part of the level, or physics going wonky on bits of clothing in cutscenes. Or how the low health warning around the edge of the screen and heartbeat played through the credits because I finished the game with low health (thankfully they weren't in the cutscenes, at least).

I list all these things out not because each individual one ruined the game, or that even in totality they ruined it. I list them out because if this game was totally polished in the way that a AAA Star Wars game should be, it might have been a spot or two higher on the list. But at the end of the day, I'm just happy to finally have a new Star Wars game I really like. Happy to have another fun crew, happy to have had more puzzles to solve, and more Stormtroopers to fell in combat.

Oh, and BD-1 is such a delight. I love little robot friends and BD-1 is one of the best.

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order also wins:

  • Best use of Star Wars in a while.

  • Best Robot Buddy: BD-1.

  • Best enemy banter.

  • Most dangerous mountain goats.

  • Best wall-running.

  • Best surprise cameo.

  • The, "In retrospect I appreciate the story even more because it's coherent and good unlike a certain movie" award.

  • Best story involving uncovering things relating to an ancient civilization in space.

Best Castletroid Game: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

No Caption Provided

What a long journey it was for this game to get out to people. And, unlike many a game that went through similarly laborious periods of crowd funding, this one turned out to be good! It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does have a few fun spins on memorable things from the games it so lovingly pays homage to, and is just a fun time. Plus, it's the only game I played this year where eating pizza gave me a permanent stat boost.

8. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

No Caption Provided

Quite a bit lower than my predicted Game of the Year, huh? And yet, I wouldn't say the game is disappointing, aside from maybe the story. In taking a more direct approach than the Dark Souls games, or Bloodborne, and leaning more heavily on characters, Sekiro just didn't stick with me in a lore or story way. Part of that was leaning so heavily on a real world setting, even if there are fantastical things in there. Exploring through semi-realistic depictions of olde timey Japan just aren't as interesting as delving into purely fantastical places like Lordran, or Yharnam. Sure, both Dark Souls and Bloodborne heavily take aesthetic inspiration from a lot of different things, both real and fictional, but those games got me invested in the world in a way that Sekiro never did.

But Sekiro's saving grace, the thing it does better than maybe any other game I've played, is that feeling of dueling. Clashing swords with a foe, rapidly blocking every attack, sparks flying, clanging blades drowning out all other noise, each of us just trying to wear down the other, until their posture is broken, and I get the killing blow in. There's more to it, of course, differences in how enemies behave, the Shinobi Prosthetic's various tools, but really, it's that one thing that stands out the most. The combination of the animations, the effects after a well timed block, the sound, it all comes together just about perfectly, and it's phenomenal.

In a lot of ways, Sekiro is the most fun I've had with the core combat of a From Software game. The feeling of dueling is unparalleled, and there's some great moments in the fights against biggest enemies too. One of my favorite moments of the year, in fact. But, that incredible core comes at the cost of less variety than their previous games, and like I said before, the story just didn't grab me. Or at least whatever grabbing it had back when I played it dissipated over the months, which is a far cry from Dark Souls and Bloodborne, which still excite my imagination to this day.

So, Sekiro, despite being a great game, didn't get any higher on this list than number 8. But still, getting on the list alone is an honor. Unless Todd Howard is involved.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice also wins:

  • Best dueling.

  • Best metal on metal clanging sounds.

  • Best use of monkeys.

  • Most monkeys.

  • Best feeling: exhaling after defeating a tough boss.

  • Best boss fight moment: Guardian Ape.

Best Expansion: Monster Hunter World: Iceborne.

No Caption Provided

Monster Hunter World was one of those games that I played so much of, it was almost too much. Almost. And in the lead up to Iceborne, I wasn't exactly feeling excited for it, but then I downloaded it anyway. At the moment it was because some friends had, and I thought, "oh, we can do more co-op!" Then of course everyone else got distracted, and I ended up the only one in my circle of friends playing the expansion, so I did the whole thing alone.

But it was fun! And in a year where the only other expansion I played was a limp one for Destiny 2, I can't say this was a difficult award to decide. Even so, between the breadth and quality of this expansion, with a whole slew of new monsters, and new environments in which to hunt them, new tools like a greatly improved grappling hook, and another new animation of somewhat anthropomorphic cats cooking food, what's not to like?

7. Mortal Kombat 11.

No Caption Provided

I don't play that many fighting games these days. Partly that's because there aren't really a ton of them. At least outside the realm of fan games and ones based on anime, most of which I've not heard of and am not interested in (Dragon Ball FighterZ being the obvious exception). Mortal Kombat, however, is one I can count on. Every four years, like clockwork, a new one comes out, and raises the bar for what I want out of fighting games, at least in terms of the kombat itself and the story mode. Of course, that clockwork schedule, which includes a whole other franchise in between that I didn't get around to playing the second of, does come at a cost. So there, I've now made you remember the crunch that comes along with games, and not just Mortal Kombat.

This game, though, I still really love it! To the point where I didn't buy just one DLC character, I bought the whole season pass thing. It was on sale, sure, but this isn't something I normally do. Usually with fighting games I wait until the game itself is super cheap, play through whatever story mode there is, and if I'm lucky, get in a few matches locally with a friend. But this game? I'm still playing it, both offline and online, and still having a ton of fun.

The issues I have with how the Towers work are still there, and I think it's baffling that there doesn't seem to be a way to mute people when playing online. Sonya's still voiced by a terrible person who gave a terrible performance, and I'm still bugged by the crunch and bad conditions people had to go through to get this game made. All of that said, the core of Mortal Kombat 11 is one of my favorite fighting games of all time, and I think it's just great. That greatness aside, though, seventh really was the highest it could get onto the list this year, given the strength of everything else, and those few shortcomings its has.

Mortal Kombat 11 also wins:

  • Best dab in a cutscene.

  • Favorite new semi-obscure MK character that became my main and will likely not be in the next one: Frost.

  • Best Fatalities: Johnny Cage.

  • Best stage: The tournament one with MK machines in the background.

  • Best Brutality: Liu Kang summoning an arcade machine.

Best Co-op Game: Remnant: From the Ashes.

No Caption Provided

This game really came out of nowhere, was the hottest thing for a few weeks, then people forgot about it, huh? Or at least stopped talking about it, I don't know if there's a dedicated group of people still running through it. I hope so, it's a really good game! One that's good enough on your own, but a whole lot of fun with friends. It's a game that's genuinely surprising, at least early on, and despite clearly being of a lower budget than the biggest most polished AAA games, it punches above its weight.

It's super fun, and for anyone looking for a good (online) co-op game, this one gets my seal of approval.

Remnant: From the Ashes also wins:

  • Videogame: VIDEOGAME Award for most videogame-y name.
  • Best skulls.
  • Best dog petting.
  • Stargate Game of the Year.

6. Outer Wilds.

No Caption Provided

What is there to say about this game that hasn't already been said? This game is an adventure, in the purest sense of the word. It's a game built for people who want to poke their noses into every last nook and cranny, looking for every little thing to find, every snippet of story, every little puzzle to solve. It's a game without any upgrades, aside from the knowledge in your head, and some logs kept on the ship. Because even the best space adventurers can't remember everything (I know I can't).

In the early hours of Outer Wilds, it truly feels like anything is possible, and that feeling is magical. So many games are easy to know exactly what they are before you even start them. I could be reductive, tear Outer Wilds apart, investigate every little bit, and analyze it like any other game. But that wouldn't capture the wonder I felt as I first took off, soaring into the sky, and out of the sky, to space. As I looked out, the possibilities felt endless. As I explored, further and further out, I was astonished at how much creativity there was in each place. How they all felt so different, so unique, and everything had a purpose. It was incredible, and those early parts of the game were some of the best hours I've spent with any game, maybe ever.

But sadly, this is where the "analyze it like any other game" part comes. The magic didn't last. At some point I lost interest in the story being told about the ancient civilization. At some point the new discoveries came slower and slower, and I was left with frustration as I tried to figure out how to get to those last handful of things I wanted to find. At some point the imprecise nature of the movement in the game stopped being goofy and fun, and started to feel like a hindrance to my completing certain things. At some point the little glitches, getting stuck in the environment and having to restart the cycle, and even something breaking right before the end of the game, forcing me to restart the cycle and go through all that rigmarole again... It detracts from the game, and I can't just ignore it. And finally, at some point my patience for whatever was going on with the actual ending of the game wore out.

I get why I've seen a lot of people say this is one of their favorite games ever. I can feel the magic there, and at its best I'm right there with them. But the magic didn't last, and all my frustrations, and disappointments with the story drag it down for me. Even if it didn't crack the top five, it's still one of my favorite games of the year, and maybe a decade from now I'll look back on it more fondly than I do now. Or maybe I just need to accept that I didn't love it as much as so many others did, and that's okay. It's still a great game.

Outer Wilds also wins:

  • Outer game of the year.
  • Best marshmallow roasting.
  • Best spaceship flying.
  • Most gravity.
  • Best time loop.
  • Outer game of the year.
  • Best marshmallow roasting.
  • Best spaceship flying.
  • Most gravity.
  • Best time loop...

Game I probably should have played: Life is Strange 2.

No Caption Provided

Every year there's always one game that I didn't play. Well, more than one, but the one that sticks out. For a while, I was really struggling to think of a worthwhile game I missed. Thought about giving this award to Untitled Goose Game, or even Luigi's Mansion 3. For a while I considered Disco Elysium, but something about that game just feels like I would...hate it, even as it sounds mechanically fascinating.

So, instead, Life is Strange 2 is the one that I really feel like I should have played. For all their faults, I've found plenty to enjoy in every Dontnod game I've played, and just about everything I've heard about Life is Strange 2 sounds good. Or at the very least, people whose opinions I (sometimes) trust liked it! I know that's not exactly the most enthusiastic I've ever sounded about a "game I should have played," but I do feel like this is one I should get too, sooner rather than later. Hearing that it attempts to tackle serious topics like racism against Latinx people in modern day America, and doing a good job of it, well, at least in the bigger-ish games space, you don't see much of that.

I've also heard it doesn't have a bad ending, which would be a first for a Dontnod game, so I want to see that. Well, that's not fair, I don't remember the ending of...Remember Me, that might have been okay. It probably wasn't.

Runners up: Disco Elysium, Luigi's Mansion 3.

5. Death Stranding.

No Caption Provided

A year ago, I was still making jokes about how we wouldn't see this game until sometime in the mid-2020s, and yet here we are. It's out, I played over a hundred hours of it, and I managed to find enough to say about it to fill two separate blogs. Like MGSV before it, this is a game that does really, truly speak to me on a game play and design level. I love traversing big spaces in games, and Death Stranding has some of my favorite traversal ever. It's not anything fancy, or flashy. Just the opposite, in most cases.

But that's what makes the game special. Its dedication to making the journey itself the challenge, making that the core of the game. Trudging along the barren landscapes of a time warped America, lugging along hundreds of kilograms of cargo, doing the dirty work that needs to be done. And in this case, I mean the literal version of dirty work, not the figurative type. So many games default to having the primary means of interacting be big, spectacular, and violent, that it's refreshing to have a game that isn't primarily about that stuff. Even if some of that stuff is still there, and I wish there had been less of it.

I wish more games on the big budget scale were like Death Stranding. More games that are willing to make you do what would be boring busy work in so many other games, but find ways to make them compelling, and yes, fun! Games willing to have empty spaces exist as worthwhile places unto themselves, and not just the pointless filler between the real "content." Games that are about bringing people together, not pushing them apart. Even as corny as it sounds.

And speaking of corny, even the "Strand Game" thing works really well. It manages to both have the best parts of building things in a world alongside other players, and helping everyone out, but also maintain the feeling of lonely melancholy that's so integral to the game's overall mood, and tone. It feels like the world is really being changed, and it can make traversing, and making big deliveries so much faster. But crucially that feeling of being alone, of having to trek across desolate lands is still there, and it is such a big part of what makes Death Stranding the memorable game that it is.

There is a haunting beauty to this game, to this world now devoid of what once was. So much of everything humanity built up, washed away by the rains of time, leaving only remnants left. Deserts, grasslands, mountains, all returned to their natural state, a primordial one. One that almost looks alien, and even if nothing else from this game sticks with me years from now, that will.

All the best parts of Death Stranding are great. But, again, like MGSV before it, the story drags it down. And unlike MGSV, this doesn't even have a couple of returning characters to help keep me invested in what was going on. Even if a subplot ended up being compelling enough by the end, it was only one part of a larger, messier whole. So, despite its best being unlike much else I've ever played, fifth place ended up as high as it could get. The top five of just about any given year are always the hardest to figure out, and this year especially, even if some of them have some flaws (like Death Stranding), they're still all great games that have stuck with me, and will continue to stick for quite some time.

Death Stranding also wins:

  • Strand Game of the Year.

  • Best hiking.

  • Best character names.

  • Best corpse delivery.

  • Best gadget: The Odradek.

  • Best open spaces.

  • Most cameos.

  • Best baby that ended not being as creepy as I initially thought, but was still kind of creepy.

  • Best duo that would've made for a more interesting story rather than the actual A-plot of this game: Cliff (Mads Mikkelsen) and Die-Hardman (Tommie Earl Jenkins).

  • Best product placement: Monster® Energy Drink.

  • Worst product placement: Ride with Norman Reedus.

Best woolly mammoth: Super Climb Up.

No Caption Provided

I don't play many indie games. At least not the truly, truly independentest of indie games. The sorts of games that only show up at places like itch . io and you only find out about because they're from someone a friend of yours knows. Anyway, this was one of those, it was a charming little platformer, and there's one thing from it that stuck with me: How adorable this woolly mammoth is!

I wanna hug that mammoth!

4. Resident Evil 2.

No Caption Provided

What an immaculate, honed to a razor edge of video game Resident Evil 2 is. My experience with the original is barely existent, but that didn't for a second impede my time with the remake. It really is the distillation of everything good about Resident Evil, and so focused in doing that to the best of its ability that it is, in some ways, nearly perfect to whatever the absolute ideal of what it's trying to do.

This game is scary. Games never scare me. The closest that they ever really get is when my heart starts racing at the end of a tough boss in something like Dark Souls or Bloodborne. Even then, that's more stress because I know I can't pause and take a breather (one reason why Sekiro never felt as pulse pounding, despite often being more demanding). The tight corridors of this game, the jerky zombies that actually feel threatening, monstrous creatures lurking just out of sight, and...him...

Mr. X.

I don't have patience for horror games that are solely dedicated to the "big invincible enemy stalking you." That, or what I've experienced of that sub-genre in the past (mostly Outlast, a bad game), were bad, or detracted from what really made the game work (Soma). But here, Mr. X is a walking heart attack. He is the creature that bumps in the night, literally as he moves around, the floor creaking with every step, the incredible audio design never letting me forget that he's out there...searching for me. Relentless. Unstoppable.

He can be slowed down, but is it really worth it when ammo can be sparse? The number of times I finished off a zombie with my last, final bullet are a lot higher than any other game I can think of. And sure, in retrospect, it's fairly obvious the game was fudging the numbers a bit. I'm pretty sure the devs have said as much, but in the moment? What better way to raise the tension?

The mark of a truly, exceptionally great game is that in writing about it, even just thinking about it has got me wanting to load it up and play it again. That, and excited for Resident Evil 3! I know the original isn't as well regarded as the original RE2, but just thinking about an expanded upon version of Mr. X has my heart going a little faster.

Really, the only knock I can make against the game is that whoever you play as, there's a not so great sequence in the middle of the game where you play as someone else. Not game ruining, but in a package that otherwise is near perfect, it stands out. Even the later areas of the game, that so many people seem to dislike, I didn't mind. Not as good as the opening police station, but still good. Then again, when there were this many games in a year that I felt so strongly about, any little thing can end up being the cause of something moving up or down a spot on this (arbitrary) list.

Resident Evil 2 also wins:

  • Best nemesis: Mr. X.

  • Best sound design.

  • Best use of actually making zombies threatening.

  • Most actually scary game.

  • Best bad credits song.

  • Gnarliest looking burger.

Multiplayer moment of the year: Becoming Champion in Apex Legends.

No Caption Provided

What a roller coaster that was my feelings on this game. Disappointment that it wasn't Titanfall 3, displeased it didn't have the things that I liked so much from Titanfall 2, not enjoying the game at first blush, to rising up like the true gaymer I am, and feeling that rush as I came so, SO close to victory... And then, with my friends at my sides (or more accurate me at their side), Becoming Champion. And we kept playing, having fun, making up our own in jokes (many swamp related), sometimes we won, but often we didn't. One time a friend and I were led to victory by the God of Thunder, Thor himself! Or, you know, someone with Thor in their username.

Sadly, it didn't last. We all kinda fell off from the game. If I had to pin it to one thing, it would probably be that we all felt kinda cruddy with how nickel and dime the game was. Or, more accurately, tenner and twenty-er it was. Because it's expensive. It wasn't really impacting the actual game itself (though seeing more and more characters locked behind paid cash money didn't help), but we all just fell off it. And this was after several of my friends just bought the battle pass. I shouldn't speak for them, but I'm going to speak for them and say they did not get their money's worth out of the battle pass.

But none of that erases the fun that we did have with the game. The battle royale genre is one that I thought was going to pass me by, and nothing of it would grab me, but then Respawn went and proved me wrong. And I'm glad, because we had lots of fun! It'd just be nice if my whole memory of that game was fun, and not of us all slowly losing interest because of the capitalism side of it. Otherwise this might have sneaked onto my top ten, but it couldn't even beat out a Todd Howard Presented game.

Apex Legends also wins:

  • Biggest Boi: Gibraltar.

3. Control.

No Caption Provided

If there is a theme to this year's games, it's that they have excellent, really high highs, but also fall short in some ways. In several cases, it's the technical side that they do, and Control is by far the worst offender. Or maybe the most consistent offender, given Anthem's...well, being Anthem. It doesn't really have the random oddities that Fallen Order does, instead it's very easy to tank the framerate. Big fight? Lots of physics causing the environment to go to pieces? It'll go down. Even opening the map can be trouble. The game's been patched, and hopefully patches since I've played have made it better still, but it was rough.

Which is why it's all the more impressive that the game shines as bright as it does. The aura of mystery that permeates this game, that oozes out of every corner of The Oldest House is phenomenal. The blend of paranatural weirdness and the boring day to day life of bureaucracy make for such a fantastic aesthetic. But it's not just aesthetic, it's in every facet of the game. I read every bit of text in this game that I found, because I was so fascinated by the world Remedy had crafted. Because I wanted to keep digging, keep diving deeper, and just see more of what they dreamed up.

It's a great playing game too. Framerate issues aside, it was still endlessly fun to hurl objects around. Useful against enemies, but sometimes it was just fun to wrench a piece of concrete out of the floor and chuck it through a row of desks. At least when the framerate buckles, I can see why, even if it's still got me bummed that PS4 Amateur was the only way I had to experience this game.

Not that it mattered. I kept diving in, delving deeper into The Oldest House until I got that Platinum Trophy, and had done just about everything I could do. And I want more, in the best possible way. That DLC better be good.

Control also wins:

  • Best mood.

  • Best colored lighting.

  • Live action video of the year.

  • Best use of puppets.

  • Moment of the year: Take Control.

  • Best physics.

  • Best destruction.

  • Worst framerate as the result of physics and destruction.

  • Janitor of the year: Ahti.

  • Pyramid of the year: The Board.

Best new Pokémon of the year as decided by someone who hasn't played a Pokémon game since the 90s:

I love Pokémon. Not so much the games, as the Pokémon themselves. They're cute, and they're friends that I want to spend time with and embark on adventures with! Just not the adventures that the games actually involve. So, in honor of my love of Pokémon, I've decided to name the best new Pokémon from the new games. Rather than rank them, I'm just going to list my favorites with my reasoning why. They are all friends. ALL OF THEM.

Wooloo.

No Caption Provided

Look at this perfect sheep. LOOK HOW ROUND THEY ARE. I would hug a Wooloo. I would spend an entire day with a Wooloo. I would make a Wooloo my faithful friend and love them with all my heart.

Snom.

No Caption Provided

I love this flawless bug child. This Pokémon is worthy of both memes and legend. Of course deserving of gentle hugs. I would kill for Snom. I would die for Snom.

Falinks.

No Caption Provided

The power of socialism and unionizing at work. Divided they are weak, but united? Falinks is strong, and real, and my friend! I would hug every individual Fa in the links, and I would group hug them all at once.

Yamper.

No Caption Provided

Imagine a dog so full of love and joy that it became too powerful, and that power was channeled into electricity. This is Yamper. Science has said that dogs don't like being hugged, but if Yamper was cool with it, I would hug them. Even if I got an electric shock.

Polteageist.

No Caption Provided

From mummy juice to some other memes, cursed beverages are all the rage. This one is literally cursed by a spirit. The hug might be very wet, but I would hug it.

Greedent.

No Caption Provided

This squirrel is actually Gimli from Lord of the Rings, but reincarnated as a squirrel. Because all fictional versions of the UK exist in the same universe. Would hug, for sure.

When deciding upon the best new Pokémon, I realized I couldn't keep it at one award. Not when there's also new forms of old Pokémon. So...

Best new form of old Pokémon of the year as decided by someone who hasn't played a Pokémon game since the 90s.

Galarian Meowth.

No Caption Provided

This cat...has a beard. A BEARD. A very huggable beard.

Galarian Weezing.

No Caption Provided

The commentary...is not subtle. I would not hug it, or stand near for fear of inhaling fumes.

Galarian Rapidash.

No Caption Provided

Nintendo has accidentally made another trans pride Pokémon. This time a horse instead of an Eevee. Majestic, and huggable.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL.

Best Gigantamax version of Pokémon as decided by someone who hasn't played a Pokémon game since the 90s.

Landmass Snorlax.

No Caption Provided

Snorlax...the best Pokémon...is now a landmass...and perfection. I would hug and live on this gentle giant for the rest of my life.

Fat Pikachu.

No Caption Provided

Pikachu's ultimate and best form!!!! Finally returned to us!!!!! Extremely round, perfect. My hugs might not reach the total circumference, but my love does.

Long Meowth.

No Caption Provided

Long.

Fluffy Eevee.

No Caption Provided

FLUFFY. FLUFFY HUGS.

Thank you for indulging me.

2. Judgment.

No Caption Provided

I had a lot of difficulty deciding between my number one and two games this year. Some years there's a very clear choice, and really the only one, but some I have to really, really think a lot about how to rank them. This is one of those years, and honestly, I almost want to bend the rules and give each of these two games the number one spot. But I won't.

That said, it might not be my number one game of the year, but it's got favorite story of the year, and my favorite new cast of characters. One of the biggest strengths of the Yakuza series is its recurring cast of characters, so dumping all of them in favor of entirely new ones, while setting it in the same city was a bit risky, but it paid off. Yagami is great, Kaito is exactly the sort of gruff but still friendly guy that makes for a great sidekick, and just about everyone else in the main cast is good too. Saori especially, stands out in my memory as another favorite. Give her more screen time in the sequel!

And while Yagami and friends travel down all the twists and turns I could want out of a Yakuza style story (complete with one of my seriously non-ironic favorite things from these games, crooked real estate deals), Judgment went a step farther than the Yakuza games in one crucial way: Making it feel like a real, living space. Not by having any sort of massive upgrade to the detail of Kamurocho, or expanding it in some way, but instead by filling it with more characters.

I'm sure I wrote this months ago in my other blog, but the small touch of giving names to the people who work at all the stores makes it feel more real. Even if Yagami only knows them in passing, only plays a small role in their lives, as they do in his, it makes them feel just real enough. And in turn it makes Yagami feel more like a member of the community, rather than a video game protagonist who shows up one day to start doing video game protagonist things.

That stuff's all strong enough that I'd be happy with it even if that's all the game was. But it's also just about as good of a brawler as the Yakuza games were. Not as much variety as Yakuza 0, but it's still a lot better than 6. Actually, this game's so much better than 6 that it's hard to believe it was the same people that made it. I think, I mean. I dunno, they pump out games fast enough they either have to be crunching real hard or have multiple teams working on multiple games at once, right? Or both.

There is something that I deeply appreciate about the games that this studio makes. Part of it is the storytelling, which at its best is superb (though at its worst is pretty bad, and I'm still mad about the ending of Yakuza 6). But a lot of it is just how much it feels like they've created a true, living space. It's easy to knock the games for reusing Kamurocho so much, I know I have in the past. The thing is, though, I've played so many of these games, and spent so many countless hours in that one little district of Tokyo, that it's started to feel like home. Feel like home in the same way that the Normandy did after a trilogy of Mass Effect games.

It's a place that I know and love. A place that I've gone through good times and bad in. A place that I know like the back of my hand, and could take a stroll down right now, and just enjoy being there. And now, it's a place that holds a strong, positive association with not one, but two different series. I guess assuming that they make a Judgment 2, which I genuinely hope they do. I'm still a little iffy on the direction Yakuza Like a Dragon is taking, but I couldn't be more confident in Yagami as a solid core to build a new series around. Which also isn't me saying they should pump out seven more Judgment games without giving each one the care and time it deserves, but I would love to solve more mysteries with him, and all his friends.

Judgment also wins:

  • Best new protagonist: Takayuki Yagami.

  • Most interesting sequence where control switches to a woman and she almost instantaneously gets catcalled.

  • Best hair: Yagami.

  • Best BIGH traffic cones.

  • Best credits sequence (cat).

  • Most cats.

  • Most friends.

  • Best arcade games.

Eleventh Annual Moosies Old Game of the Year: Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition.

No Caption Provided

In some ways, I feel like I've said all that I can about this game, and in others I feel like I could just go on, and on, and on. This game was a journey, one that I took on a total whim, and one that left a deeper impact than I ever would have guessed. And, if I'm being frank, a deeper impact than any game actually released in 2019. Deeper than most games I've played this generation. I know it's only been a few months since I played it, and part of me does feel like I'm jumping the gun by saying something like this, but it really did find a place in my heart.

And it feels so silly to say, because the parts of the game that I love are just so goofy and clichéd. On paper there really isn't anything that special about this game. But paper doesn't tell the story of all the hours I spent on the road with those characters. Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio, each one in their own way, has clung onto me. None of them are perfect, either as people, or as written characters as a part of a story. A story that I still have a lot of issues with, stuck inside a game that also has more flaws that I could list out here.

At the end of the day, I love this game, I love these characters, and this game stands amongst a cherished few to really get so deep into my heart. I cried at the end, and that's not something that happens to me often. So, flaws and all, I love this game. And unlike the journey I took with it, I'll keep this short, because I've already written the long version out.

Runners up:

Soma.

Soma was, for months, the obvious pick for this award. Months until I played FFXV, at least. It suffers a bit from leaning too heavily on the running and hiding from monsters, but at least the devs officially added in a can't die mode, so I could just enjoy the story. Or, perhaps enjoy isn't quite the word given it's very dark, and depressing, but it's a story worth experiencing. Just know going in that that it's pretty dark, and has a lot of fleshy mechanical body horror stuff going on.

Slime Rancher.

No Caption Provided

If my ranking of Pokémon from a game I haven't played told you anything, it's that I love cute things. And the slimes in Slime Rancher...ARE ADORABLE.

My only disappointment with the game is that at some point there was a patch that completely broke it for me. Any time I try to load my save the game just hard locks, and my only recourse is to close it from the PS4 main menu. I was fine looking past the framerate troubles, but this? No longer being able to get to my ranch...it made me sad. There's been a couple patches lately, so maybe that fixed it, but...I'm doubtful.

Okay! That's a lot of text that I've written, and a lot of reading you've done, but we're almost at the end! So, without further ado, the number one, Eleventh Annual Moosies Video Game Awards Game of the Year, is...

1. Devil May Cry 5.

No Caption Provided

Some years, what speaks to me most is story, or forming a really, truly deep connection with the characters. Had FFXV actually been released this year, that would've taken the crown. But some years, a game comes along that might not have the best story, but has something else that just elevates it in my mind. Two years ago Breath of the Wild's vast expanses and fantastic "emergent game design" was it, and a handful ago it was the incredible fun of playing Smash Bros. for Wii U with friends.

This year?

It's kicking ass in the best stylish action game ever made. This game is incredible, I don't know how to put into words how this game makes it feel. I was going back and forth between this game and Judgment, so I put the game back in, and played some of it, wondering if it would be as good as I remembered. Would I just fumble around and wonder why I liked it so much months ago?

Nope.

It all came back instantly. All the moves, everything, like I just had played the game yesterday (which technically as of this writing I did play it yesterday, funnily enough). It all flowed out, rippling through my hands to the controller, to Dante ripping and tearing through demons like nobody's business. Doing well too, I swear I was getting SSS ranks more consistently than I did back months ago! That however, I'm going to say is the part where my memory might not be consistent with the reality.

But it's not just that they made a game with one character that's great to play. They made a game starring THREE, all play differently, and all are a lot of fun, but in their own ways. Sure, there's overlap, they all can do an uppercut the same way, but that's just consistency. In the same way that everyone in Mortal Kombat does an uppercut the same way. I really feel like this is some sort of achievement. Seriously, what other games have had this high a quality in the combat for multiple playable characters? Not counting fighting games, that's the entirety of what they do. Then again, also I feel like Dante has SO MUCH going on that it eclipses even a lot of fighting games.

And they made Nero fun to play! I mean, he wasn't terrible in DMC4, but that was the biggest issue dragging that game down. So much of it was spent playing as a character with very little variety in what he could do. Then Dante had way more going on, but he was relegated to backtracking through all the previous levels with weird gimmicks like poison gas.

So the solution? Give Nero a slew of prosthetic arms, each with fun abilities, and at least what feels like more in the realm of sword attacks. That, and the whole energy and mood of this game feels different than DMC4. That game, at least in my memory, is kind of mellow, and too serious for its own good. At least for what it is, it also had some goofs. But here, Nero's theme, Devil Trigger, is one of my favorite songs from any game. Ever. It's just so catchy, and so good at hyping me up, that hearing it during fights just gets me ready and raring to go. And it's not overdone either, that sort of thing can get tiring, even when the song is great.

You know what else they went and did? They took that song, and made a different version of it for the final boss fight, like this was a full on anime, and it's great. I love it.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention V, the Adam Driver lookalike who fights by commanding his critter friends (or captured demon associates, to be more correct to the lore). They went and made a character who semi directly controls other characters, and made it work, in real time, in an action game that can move at such a blistering pace. Also he has a button dedicated to reading poetry mid-fight.

ON TOP OF ALL THAT, there's co-op! Underutilized, but it works.

Just writing about this game, just thinking about it excites me. It's got my blood pumping, got me going, ready to load the game up and just play through it all again for the like, third or fourth time. Or just keep climbing that Bloody Tower, even if I never got better than a C rank, and then only with one character.

Game of the year can mean a lot of things. But ultimately, if a game excites me this much, so many months after playing it, it's hard not to give it the big award. It's phenomenal, and darn near perfect at what it does. If you haven't played it, and you like cutting up enemies in stylish ways, please, do yourself a favor and play this game! It is the pinnacle of the genre, and I need to stop myself from writing more because otherwise I will just ramble forever about it.

Love it. Really do.

Devil May Cry 5 also wins:

  • Most stylish action.

  • Best original song: "Devil Trigger."

  • Best alternate version of an original song: "Silver Bullet."

  • Best bad song: "Subhuman."

  • Best prosthetic arm: Devil Breaker.

  • Best thing I heard all year: Demonic metal voice screaming, "SMOKIN' SEXY STYLE!!!"

  • Best sword fighting.

  • Best weapon name: Dr. Faust. It's a cowboy hat.

  • Best realization of something that should have been in DMC3 but they were too cowardly to do it then: Weaponized motorcycle.

  • Most devilishly good game.

  • Best dance-taunting.

Thank you for reading! I know a lot of people were down on 2019 as a year for games, and I get it. I felt that way too, at times, but going through and thinking about it, there was a solid group of games that I really liked, and even loved! Sure, I did admit that FFXV was the game that actually left the biggest impact on me, but that's happened before, and doesn't detract from what anything released this year achieved.

Anyway, got off on a tangent there, instead of starting into the yearly tradition of predictions for next year! Will they be right? Almost certainly not! And that's what makes them so much fun to do.

Predictions!

2020 Moosies Video Game Awards Game of the Year: Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise.

Am I allowing my hopes to get too high for a sequel to a game that was deeply flawed in just about every conceivable way, the compelling aspects of which may very well have been lightning only striking once? Yes! But when has that ever stopped me?

Half-Life Alyx delayed at least once more before release.

I'm holding off this year on Half-Life 3 predictions because of an actual Half-Life game coming.

Xbox Series X has a mini-fridge built into it.

That's the real reason for the vertical design.

Nintendo announces the Switch Liter, which is just a slightly smaller version of the Switch Lite. Still does not drop the price on the regular sized Switch.

You know there's people who would buy it, and act like it's exactly what they needed.

The same Mario Kart 8 bundle returns in time for Black Friday at the same price.

My desire to have a Switch but my stubbornness at wanting to save money have been at odds for some time now.

Bayonetta 3 finally shown for real. She has a new hairdo.

Still can't believe Platinum announced and released another entirely separate game before showing us literally anything for Bayonetta 3 after that teaser. Also that teaser still has me worried she'll be going back to her Bayonetta 1 era hair, which I don't like. Her Bayonetta 2 hair is much better, but they should probably give her a new look each game.

Still no F-Zero.

I'm so tired.

Halo Infinite is, in fact, finite.

It'll be quite funny if this Halo game tries to be a forever game like Destiny.

Whatever attempt is made to get people interested in Anthem again...does not work.

I hope I'm wrong. I'd like that game to be good. I'd like BioWare to be good.

Bluepoint Games' remaster is not, as people suspect, Demon's Souls, but instead...Tokyo Jungle.

In actuality I'm not sure how I'd feel about them remastering Demon's Souls. It's a very interesting game, at least aesthetically, but it's also the only From Software game in that "style" that I don't like playing, for a variety of reasons ranging from level design, to needless inventory restrictions.

Wait, what? The prediction was about Tokyo Jungle? Well, you know.

Thank you for reading. I enjoy doing this every year, and so much so this year that I also intend to, in the not so distant future, do something in honor of the decade of video games that came and went. Or is still going depending on how one wants to define decades, but shush. Don't be a fun spoiler. Keep your eyes peeled if you want to read exciting things like me ranking every year (in games) from the decade, or finding new reasons to keep thinking about Tokyo Jungle.

6 Comments

Stranded with my thoughts (SPOILERS!)

So, I really intended to just write about the game part of Death Stranding. That was what compelled me, and that was what I felt I had interesting things to say about. Now, do I have interesting things to say about Death Stranding? Does Death Stranding itself have interesting things to say? I'm still not sure about either! But I kept trying to wrangle my thoughts around what happened in that game, so I decided that writing them out might help me. And if I did that, I might as well put them up here.

Just be warned, I don't have a coherent overall thought on the game. This is just me trying to work my way through it. This is a blog, after all, not a professional write up analyzing the story. I'm sure those exist, written by people who are much better at that sort of writing than I am.

Also, of course, I'm gonna SPOIL as much of the game as I can remember, so, you know.

No Caption Provided

I think Death Stranding's story gives a fairly good first impression. It establishes how frightening the world can be, how dangerous the BTs are, and the stakes around screwing up with corpses can be (entire cities get destroyed in Voidouts, after an anti-matter/matter like reaction between the living and the dead coming into contact). Then it goes straight into, "Your mother, the President" needs you for this mission mode, and I was cackling. Sam's mother, Bridget, wants him to build bridges, figurative and literal, across America. I laughed so hard I think I missed a line of a dialog after I heard Die-Hardman say "President Strand." Was this stuff good? Eh. What it well written? Probably not. But was I enjoying it?

Absolutely!

Then you deliver President Mom's corpse, literally carrying her on your back, to an incinerator, and have to activate the semi-undead BB to detect ghost monsters, which didn't really work out for me because they grabbed me anyway, and I just had to run away. After that, President Mom's daughter (Sam's sister, Amelie (AKA Samantha America Strand (who looks identical to President Mom, just younger))) is appointed President (rather than, you know, elected), even though she's trapped on the other side of the country (yet can still transmit her hologram despite ostensibly being stuck in a city controlled by terrorists).

Which is the first thing the game confused me about, and having finished it, I'm still a little caught up on it. At this point in the game, they made it sound like Edge Knot City (where President Sister resided) was still a functioning, populated city, just one that didn't want part of the United Cities of America (I maintain that not using "United Strands of America" is a missed opportunity). But, and this is much later in the game, when Sam gets to Edge Knot City, it's completely destroyed, and no one is there aside from President Sister. I don't know if I just missed something, misinterpreted something, or if the game was just lying and/or plot holing.

Just me and mom, climbing a ladder.
Just me and mom, climbing a ladder.

Anyway, with the help of Guillermo Del Toro and Monster® Energy Drink, Sam Porter Bridges and BB set off to reconnect America, one Distribution Center and Prepper House at a time. This is when the game introduces MULEs, who got so addicted to the high of Likes after delivering packages, will assault anyone carrying cargo, supposedly to deliver it themselves. Sadly there's no way to reason with them, as I certainly could have used their help to expedite some of these deliveries. Or, you know, maybe after I cleared out a camp some people from Bridges could've come and collected the MULEs or something.

Not that I like prisons, they're BAD, and given the world of Death Stranding is (sort of) beyond capitalism (there's no money, only Likes (which have no monetary value) and resources with which to fabricate), I'd also like if it was beyond that sort of criminal "justice" system. ALL THAT SAID, if I can knock out an entire camp of MULEs in a few minutes, I think it'd be nice if Bridges could get off their asses and send some people out to talk some sense into the MULEs so I wouldn't have to keep going around their camps (or sprinting through) when I make deliveries.

But I digress.

Forgot to mention he wears this mask for most of the game.
Forgot to mention he wears this mask for most of the game.

So, Sam and BB set off through the tutorial area, and get to Port Knot City, which is a nice moment, going down a long hill while one of the few not Low Roar songs in the game plays (I don't think I like Low Roar, a band I'd never heard of but there must be like two albums worth of their music in the game). I forget what band did this song, but it's the one piece of licensed music in the game I remember liking, so it made the moment nice. Sam makes the delivery, takes a nap and a shower, and then Troy "Two Masks" Baker (Higgs) shows up and hams it up before a boss fight.

So, Higgs is a character. But not really a good one, as the game waits until basically the end before actually making any of his, or the other terrorists (who are never actually seen with him, they just replace the MULEs in the later areas of the game) motivations clear. He just shows up, spouts some lines that didn't make any sense until I rewatched this cutscene after finishing the game (via the Quick Look), and disappears.

Then Fragile (a lady with a rad jacket that I would wear in real life, and a French accent that I don't understand how she has it given she lives in post apocalyptic America (I know the reason is the actress is French, don't @ me)), who owns a boat, takes Sam across a big lake, and the Real Death Stranding starts. Which is to say that the actual story goes on the back burner for a while as Sam does the compelling part of the game, and just traverses desolate landscapes, delivering cargo reconnecting people, etc.

She has a better sense of style, and also seems better at acting than old Norman.
She has a better sense of style, and also seems better at acting than old Norman.

Amongst the many deliveries, Sam gets flashbacks of a baby inside some sort of life support thing. These are the Mads Mikkelsen portions of the game, and eventually result in multiple sequences where Sam gets thrown through time (or universes?) to World War II and (I think?) the Vietnam War to fight against Mads and his squad of skeleton soldiers. But like the rest of the story, none of the answers come until much later, so I'll get to that then.

The main narrative follows Sam as he gets a delivery to South Knot City, which includes a character (who is clearly Higgs) giving Sam a portable nuclear bomb, that the game explicitly says is that, yet Sam doesn't seem to realize it unless he rests at a specific Distribution Center and Fragile finds it. If you don't (I didn't realize I had to rest there to get the cutscene (the game said to meet Fragile at that center, but I didn't see her, so I dunno, I just kept going)), the bomb explodes as Sam enters South Knot City, and the game reloads a save.

Otherwise, Sam has to bring the bomb to a tar pit and throw it in, because it's Death Stranding supernatural tar that connects to other universes. I think.

Then there's a flashback where Higgs is creepy and mean to Fragile, and the story moves on to the other creatively named woman character, Mama. Her baby is a ghost, but a harmless one, aside from making it perpetually rain around the area. After more deliveries and such, it's revealed that Mama has an actual name that I can't remember, and a twin sister named Lockne. Also the baby was supposed to be Lockne's, but Lockne had health issues that prevented her from having a baby, but the two drifted apart after the whole ghost baby thing.

So Mama has to cut the tie with her Ghost Baby, and go with Sam to Lockne, so Lockne and Mountain Knot city will the UCA. Mama dies immediately upon arrival, and her soul fuses with Lockne? Or they were originally the same soul, but split at birth? I'm not sure, but they become one, Lockne joins the UCA, and fills the same role Mama did as the person who explains new gadgets because she's portrayed by the same actress (because again, twins).

I like Heartman. He's very generous with the Likes.
I like Heartman. He's very generous with the Likes.

More deliveries happen, eventually leading Sam to deliver Mama's corpse (which hasn't decayed or shown any signs of Voidout exploding) to Heartman. Heartman stops his heart every 21 minutes so he can search for his dead family, because there's a lot of guys longing for lost wives/children in this game (at some point it was revealed Sam's wife, who was either pregnant or had already given birth, I forget, died).

There's also a subplot going on where Guillermo and Heartman don't trust Die-Hardman (who is later revealed his real name is literally John McClane), and that subplot is something that feels a little Metal Gear-ish, and I wish the game had more of that sort of intrigue in general. Anyway, Heartman sends Sam off to do more deliveries, and this part of the game centers around people trying to figure out what the Death Stranding actually is, and I found that part interesting!

No, really! For a while there, I was into them trying to solve that, and all the stuff about them trying to say every major extinction event in the history of the world was a Death Stranding was interesting, and I was hoping it'd lead to something...well, better than what happened, but I'll get there.

Because it's after this that Sam eventually gets to Edge Knot City, and the story goes into overdrive.

He gets to the city, has a boss fight with Higgs and a giant BT, then goes to the Beach (oh gosh I forgot to mention the Beach), and has another boss fight, but this time he didn't bring any weapons, so it was actually a fight that involved more thinking than just shooting rockets at the BT. Okay, I'm being harsh, I didn't hate that fight, but I do think the space was too small for how big the BT was. But the fight with Higgs where you need to sneak around and such was fun, felt more like an MGS boss fight. Especially when it ended with a redo of the MGS4 fistfight atop the submarine. Just with less nostalgia and more slow motion shots of Troy Baker's face contorting as he gets punched.

No Caption Provided

That was fun.

Fragile shows up to deal with Higgs while Sam and President Sister Amelie reunite, and Sam mentions Mario and Princess Peach by name. I'm still shaken by this happening in a Sony published game. I also laughed at the Princess Beach line, which I dunno how most people felt (I assume this is the infamous line people kept mentioning), but I think it was supposed to be funny.

Even though Higgs said it was a final boss and game over, the game isn't over, because now the Die-Hardman might be up to something sneaky plotline and the ghost Mads plotline intersect, and form up with the main plotline of rescuing Amelie who, also, I forgot to mention, is an Extinction Entity.

And, this game is a lot. Sam has to travel back across the country, things are getting messed up with more and bigger BTs everywhere, it's revealed that Higgs was secretly making me deliver pizza to him the entire time, and everyone thinks Mads was the mastermind behind everything until Sam figures out that Mads was just another sad dad (sad dad Mads) all along.

IN FACT, it was Amelie (her name a French play on words) who was pulling all the strings, because she was actually President Mom's soul, and also behind the BB experiments (which were morally wrong but also not just used to find BTs, but also literally what the Chiral Network connecting everyone is made out of), and also trying to cause the extinction of humanity because she thinks it'd be better to just end it swiftly than drag it all out.

Aurora Borealis? At this time of year?
Aurora Borealis? At this time of year?

Now that I've thought about it, I think the game might have been better off focusing on just one of these things. I'll say the conspiracy to cover up the truth of the BB experiments, their relation to sad dad Mads, and Die-Hardman, because that's the one that works best, and also has the best (sort of) pay off. There's a solid story in there about America being the cause of its own undoing (the BB experiments coincided with the Death Stranding in a way that couldn't have been coincidental), and then trying to cover it up while just continuing to do literally the same thing it had been. That, as a contrast to the "rebuild America" story sold to Sam could have really worked! It's got intrigue, double crossing, mystery, conspiracies! It feels like a Metal Gear story, and I like those. Mostly.

But instead we get a lot of Sam convincing Amelie not to destroy humanity, including a sequence where the player has to unequip a gun and hug her, which would've worked better if I realized I could do that on my first try, and didn't have to reload, haha. Then there's a very long sequence where Amelie keeps explaining stuff to Sam, but only between sequences of wandering around a Beach with no direction, and not even full freedom because it just resets Sam if he gets too far away.

Eventually that ends, Sam returns to the land of the living, everything is rosy, and Die-Hardman is appointed (again with no mention of an election) President. But the game still isn't over yet, because there's more to be revealed about Die-Hardman's involvement in the sad dad Mads storyline, and we learn that the actor playing Die-Hardman is actually pretty decent, he just hadn't been given the opportunity to do much until now.

Then Guillermo says that the BB (who Sam named Lou at some point) is basically dead, and needs to be decommissioned (incinerated). But he also does a "wink wink" to Sam about disconnecting when he does it, so Sam goes off on one last delivery, and another song plays.

No Caption Provided

When he gets to the very same incinerator he brought President Mom to, he tries plugging into Lou's pod one last time, and gets the final flashback to sad dad Mads, where... Okay, there's a fair amount of the science of what's going on in this game that I don't understand, but I don't understand what happened here.

So the scene plays out, and again this is some of the best acting and whatnot in the game. I would have rather played a whole game about sad dad Mads and John "Die-Hardman" McClane than Extinction Entity President Mom/Sister. I mean, I would also rather a game with women who aren't braindead and kept on life support so undead babies can see ghosts, and where sad dad Mads has to kill his life support wife, but I digress.

Sad dad Mads is trying to escape the facility with his BB, and Die-Hardman tried helping him, but eventually sad dad Mads is caught, and cornered. That's all fine and dandy, but then... Sam shows up? And first I thought this was just like, a visual metaphor for Sam watching this, because unlike the flashbacks through the rest of the game, this wasn't from the literal point of view of the baby. A bit on the nose to actually show him watching it, but whatever, it was still better than Sam literally sitting on the beach as Amelie explained everything to him.

But then Mads talks to Sam??? But Sam isn't really there, none of the other characters see him, or acknowledge his presence in any way. Anyway, it's revealed that Mads (whose name in game is Cliff, and he makes a comment about cliffs and bridges, which got a laugh out of me) is actually Sam's dad, and the BB from the flashbacks was not actually Lou, but Sam. Sam who died, and was brought back to life by President Mom/Sister.

Then it's back to the present, where Sam takes Lou out of the pod, Lou is alive, and the two leave to start a new life, and there's some rain that doesn't seem to be Timefall.

And Death Stranding ends.

Whoof.

Lest we forget the time Sam was uncomfortable sharing a shower with Guillermo and also the game worked in a fat joke by having an weight capacity warning go off with the two of them in there.
Lest we forget the time Sam was uncomfortable sharing a shower with Guillermo and also the game worked in a fat joke by having an weight capacity warning go off with the two of them in there.

I know I said this was going to be just me stream of consciousness-ing, but if you actually read all that, I commend you. Having now laid it all out like that, at least as best as I can remember... I think it's kind of a mess. Or really a lot of a mess. It reminds me of MGSV, just with the opposite problem. MGSV's biggest problem (outside of its terrible treatment of women characters) was underdevelopment. The foundation of a good Metal Gear story is in there, but there's barely anything to it. Whether that was the result of purely creative choices, or cuts having to be made (at least one full cut mission that would've resolved and otherwise dangling plot thread is known to exist) is unknown.

Death Stranding, however, feels like it has the same problem until the end, at which point it crams it all in, and keeps cramming until there's too much. And I get it, I get the impulse to keep cramming in story. I also don't have an editor, but in my case it's because I can't afford one, so we end up with blogs like this, or my fiction writing (which I think is good, but I'm not gonna lie, no one's finished reading my books, and I know the length isn't helping).

The problem is Hideo Kojima isn't me, he's one of the best known game directors in the world. If he really wanted to, he could've had more people around him to try to reign in these ideas, and cut it down to just what actually works. (Unless of course we're all wrong, and THIS is the edited down version of Kojima's vision).

A story about rebuilding a flawed nation that brought about its own destruction, and instead vowing to build something new, something better, something that won't make the same mistakes could have been really good! A story about coming together to rebuild is a good one, especially given how divided the world is. The pieces of something good are in this game's story, and it's disappointing that they didn't come together in a way that was...better.

I wrote way more about this game's story than I wanted to, and I did it without really saying much of importance. Appropriate, I guess.

No Caption Provided

If you read all that, or even more than a paragraph or two, thank you. Truly. This may end up the last blog I write before GOTY season starts, and I do my usual Moosies stuff. Depending on when I get around to the succinctly named Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order.

22 Comments

Strands and the spaces between.

I step out, and the desert stretches before me. Sand and rocks, undulating, going and going, eventually turning into grassy hills, rivers, more deserts, and far off, way in the distance, snowy mountains looming on the horizon. But I don't focus on that, I just pay attention to what's ahead of me. Take it slow down this hill, walk around these rocks, force myself through this river, one laborious footstep after another.

I keep going. Nothing else to do, just need to keep moving forward. Moving toward my goal, just me, the BB on my front, the packages piled high on my back (digging into my shoulders), and the world around me.

So I keep going.

No Caption Provided

I've played a lot of Death Stranding. I mean, a lot. Over 100 hours of it. I know I could have beaten the game is less than half that, but there is something about it that compels me to keep going, keep making deliveries, forging new paths, seeing new sights, discovering new things. To keep walking until I have nowhere else to go. Part of that is the design of the game itself, it's incredibly easy to think, "just one more delivery," and then go, "but I might as well take all this stuff too, it's right on the way," and spend another hour with the game.

But it's not just that. This game compels me in a way only a handful of other games really have over the years. I've long found something fascinating about empty spaces in games. About games that are willing to put me in giant open spaces with basically nothing to do in them. Except move through them. Spaces that exist unto themselves, rather than as just filler between the game's "real content," or set dressing for said content.

For years I've thought about writing why it is that these compel me so, but I never really got around to it. I had the perfect opportunity when I played the remake of Shadow of the Colossus (an all time favorite of mine), but instead that just got relegated to a quick paragraph between two newer games I played at the time. The last time a game evoked similar feelings in me was Breath of the Wild, which had so much other stuff going on that it wasn't just that sort of thing.

Death Stranding is the next best opportunity to write about this, and I'm not letting it go to waste this time. It's not as dedicated to that concept as Shadow of the Colossus was, there are camps of human enemies to sneak around/fight, swathes of ghostly BTs to sneak around/fight, and lost packages to find along the way. That stuff is all fine, and I do quite appreciate the creepiness of the BTs (perhaps a leftover idea from Silent Hills?), even if they lose their bite as the game can't help but unlock access to bigger and bigger weapons. But this game at its purest, and arguably at its best, is when it's about a lone person, trudging through the world, just trying to get from point A to point B.

At least mostly alone, as the Strands that bind players tighten, and more traces of them connect us together. A lost package here or there becomes a new bridge, a well placed generator, a shelter from the time advancing rain, a Zipline just out of reach, or a vehicle placed in front of a Prepper's house in just the wrong way to make me wonder if they did it to annoy others, or just out of carelessness. The vast majority of the time it's helpful stuff, and I can't really blame people for trying to be funny with it. A strategically placed, "No peeing" sign is harmless fun, after all. And it's all a reminder that I'm not really alone, that we're all in this together, as these barren lands become fuller and fuller, and the path from point A to B becomes easier and easier.

Vehicular mishaps are certainly possible.
Vehicular mishaps are certainly possible.

As much as I do genuinely love the feeling of lonely camaraderie the game creates, as much as it is a genuine relief to find a bridge right where I need it when I'm rushing to deliver a pizza and bottle of extremely fragile wine, this game was compelling to me from the word go. I'd seen so many people saying that the opening hours are a slog, that it really takes a lot of time for the game to get "fun." Even Kojima himself said it, but I was having fun right from the start.

This game makes me think, really think about the spaces around me in ways that I sincerely think no other game ever has (which may be on me for not playing the right sorts of games). I don't think I've ever played a game where a steep slope was as much of a challenge, but specifically, a surmountable challenge as in Death Stranding. I don't just mean going up, I mean going down. Going up places is challenging in a great many games, countless platformers are just about that challenge. But how many games are there where you need to be just as mindful going down? Not jumping down, but just walking down a steep incline?

Run down a hill with your back loaded up with cargo, especially if it's too top heavy, and you'll probably lose balance and fall. Move too fast over a pile of rocks, and the same will happen. Push yourself too far too fast in a river, and you'll be swept away. It sounds punishing when I just say it outright like this, but it's what compelled me to keep playing this game for so long. Compelled me to keep going when the story didn't, at least not until very far in.

Much of this game is wilderness, but I also wish there'd been more destroyed urban environments.
Much of this game is wilderness, but I also wish there'd been more destroyed urban environments.

I told myself I wasn't going to write about the story, and originally I just had a single sentence here saying I wasn't sure how I felt about the story. Well, I had to go and ruin it for myself by thinking about it until I wrote a whole other blog about it, which you can find here. Read that one at your own risk, it's full of spoilers and also a mess. Not unlike the game's story.

Death Stranding makes me think about moving through spaces more like real life than any other game I've played. It's not exact, I could never have the stamina of Sam Porter Bridges, the fortitude to lug so much around, the strength to pull myself up so many ropes, or even just the will to keep going in such a desolate world. That need to really think about my every step drove me forward, it made the simple act of walking engaging like no other game I'd played. Even Shadow of the Colossus, still the reigning champ in Big Desolate Games, is a game with very little thought needed for any movement, other than ascending and navigating the Colossi (which is a huge part of the game, I know, but none of that factors into navigating the world itself).

I reach the top of the hill, as much as it felt more like a small mountain than a hill, and realize I just need to go back down again. I probably could have gone around the whole thing, but I had to see what was up here. The view is nice, and I take a moment to sit, drink some Monster® Energy Drink, and just collect my thoughts. But before too long the rain starts again, so I get up, and go down. Not the way I came, on the other side, still moving forward. Step by step, gripping my backpack tight, weaving around the rocks, taking it slow. The last thing I need is to slip on some mud and careen down, losing all my cargo, and making the BB cry. No one wants to make their BB cry.

It's really hard to convey in text exactly how this game makes me feel. I thought about just writing a short story, as you could see, but even there I kinda fudge some of the details. There's tons of videos out there of people messing up comically. Falling down mountains, ladders not supporting the weight of vehicles, cargo just falling off when someone walked under an overhang. Tripping and all their cargo falls off a bridge while they stay on, and it all just...floats...away... I had a few mishaps, a bad descent off a Zipline, misjudging how much damage a truck would take when I drove off a cliff, or thinking I could out drive BTs when not on a paved road. But none of them funny enough to warrant being put in a video. Especially when it just ends with the BB crying.

No Caption Provided

Most of my time spent with the game was just moving through the world. Walking from point A to B, making paths, or taking other people's paths. Setting up a generator or post box where I think people might need them, or taking breaks where other people had. Spending hours lugging materials to and fro so I could repave the roads, and make travel easier for us all. Trucking back and forth, cruising along the highway, it felt like progress. Every upgrade to my gear, or Sam's stats, every little change to the world I, or another player made, it was real, tangible progress to connecting every little corner together. It felt like I, and the other people playing the game, had really come together, as indirect as it was, and started rebuilding the country. Tomorrow is in our hands, and we did our best to get it in as good a shape as we could for the next generation.

Even if a part of me, any time the stuff got a bit easier, started to miss the trudging. Missed having to be really, really careful walking down steep slopes, because my exoskeleton helped me keep my balance, and my better boots kept their grip so much more. Missed needing to plan out a journey every step of the way, instead of just loading up as much cargo as I could carry, and taking a path of Ziplines directly between locations. Missed preparing for a long journey that just became a short drive.

I missed the idyllic, desolate beauty of the land. The paved roads made travel to and fro so, so much easier. An hour long trek up and around arduous terrain, weaving around enemy camps and BT zones, became a few minutes of driving. Just cruising past human enemies, or BTs without a care in the world (aside from one time when the "BTs are near so you lose control of your truck" animation left me with one wheel dangling off the edge of a highway, almost toppling off to an explosion-y death below). But the more progress we all made, the more the world changed. Even just footpaths, the same paths that sincerely make it easier to walk through the world, they cut across the landscapes, filling beautiful grasslands with tracts of lifeless dirt. The highways snake up and around, with insidious looking tendrils hanging below any time they go upward, over rivers, ravines, etc. They look cool, but in an evil sort of way, that again, detracts from the natural beauty of a world trying to wash away the remnants of what once was.

No Caption Provided

But that's progress, I guess.

Even so, progress still feels good. Helping others does too. But those moments in Death Stranding of forging a path into a new area, where it really is just me, the BB, and the world, are my favorites. Where the simple act of moving through a space is a challenge, and knowing I found my way through is enough of a reward on its own. This is what's going to stick with me for years to come. When I think back on Death Stranding, I'll remember the joy, the simple pleasure of walking, of making my way through the world, and wishing I had another game that made me feel that way again.

Because the world in the game has changed. I'm happy to have helped everyone I did along the way (my four hundred thousand plus Likes are a testament to that), and grateful for everyone who helped me, whether they realized it or not. But in the end, I did it for the journey, not the destination.

Thank you for reading.

Start the Conversation

Not so Outer this World experience.

The Outer Worlds, the second in the "Outer W(x)lds" franchise released this year, after Outer Wilds is... Okay, sorry, I had to get at least one last of those jokes in. But I do think it's funny that, handful of MK 11 matches here and there aside, I went directly from Outer Wilds to The Outer Worlds. Wouldn't have happened if Outer Wilds released on PS4 at the same time as PC and Xbox One, so clearly some sort of conspiracy is afoot.

Okay, all jokes aside for real this time. The Outer Worlds is the spiritual successor to Obsidian's Fallout New Vegas, and I think like New Vegas at the time, it's left me with a feeling of having enjoyed the game, but also thinking it could've been a lot better. Which, is interesting, because over the years, and it's been a long nine years since 2010, New Vegas has developed this sort of legendary aura around itself. It's the one people point to when they talk about the modern era of Fallout. Up until the announcement of The Outer Worlds, people were still hoping Obsidian would return one day to make New Vegas 2, but instead they went and made a new thing in that same mold.

The thing about New Vegas is, I certainly liked it at the time, but I don't remember revering it in the way that so many do now. (Sadly I don't seem to have written a blog about it back in the day, which is probably just as well, a lot of my blog writing then was bad for a myriad of reasons, but anyway the point is I don't have a written record of my thoughts.) But over all these years, the ways I talk about and think about New Vegas have changed, not because I went and replayed it, just because so many people talked about how great it was that I eventually started doing the same. That, and Fallout 4 happened, which was a bummer for so many reasons that it did a lot to retroactively make me appreciate New Vegas more.

Anyway, the point is that while I did enjoy Outer Worlds, and I think it's a pretty good game overall, I don't think it's the great, amazing game it's been made out to be in some of the reviews. That, and I feel like it's reminded me of how I actually felt about New Vegas at the time I played it, which is that it's a pretty good game overall, but not the great, amazing game it's been made out to be over the years.

A lot of the close up details don't hold up to scrutiny, but the skyboxes are pretty.
A lot of the close up details don't hold up to scrutiny, but the skyboxes are pretty.

So why is it that Outer Worlds is good but not great? It's kind of a lot of things, really. The biggest one being that the main story isn't really that compelling. I'm the sort of person who always ends up doing lots of side stuff between each main story mission, but that's because I like to explore, and run into these things. And when a game like this specifically has a "Botched Quests" section, it gives me the impression that it's possible to lose out on quests forever by progressing the story, so obviously I need to go and do all the side stuff first!

Beyond that, in Outer Worlds, there were multiple times where after spending an afternoon doing side quests, when I loaded the game up the next day, I honestly didn't remember what the main thrust of the story was. Luckily the quest log had sufficient info to remind me. And this isn't to say that the main story is bad, it's still better than Fallout 4's (by a lot), but at no point did I feel compelled to push it forward, or feel like I just had to see what was going to happen next. Instead it just felt like another quest I had to do, and one that wasn't really as interesting as some of the other stuff.

But even those other more interesting quests often don't have interesting conclusions. There was one moment where I got so, SO excited when I was walking down the street in Stellar Bay, and saw a man run out of a building, yelling about a murder! This was the moment when I knew the game was all coming together, when I was getting to the "solve this murder" side quest. This is the sort of quest I love these games for. I'd have to search around, talk to people, go investigate some stuff, and it'd be great.

Problem is the quest itself was short, didn't involve any real investigating, and none of it was even a tenth as interesting as what I imagined when I first saw that guy running out. This, I think, is perhaps the true biggest flaw in The Outer Worlds. It has a lot of potential that it squanders by not taking things as far as it should. Yes, it's a much smaller, more focused game than the modern era Fallouts, but it's not small or focused enough. It's neither grand enough in scale to make up for shortcomings through sheer quantity, nor good enough at most things to rise up to being truly great.

It's still pretty good, though, and there's stuff I really liked in there. Like Parvati, who is not only my favorite companion, but probably my favorite character out of any game I've played this year. She's just so wholesome and nice. And in a game that feels very much like it was made by "the straights," it was refreshing to have someone whose storyline/quests involved her budding queer relationship with another character. Not the main one, there's no player romancing to be had, for better or worse (I'd lean toward better). But definitely for better is that this quest didn't involve any sort of tragic ending.

She's the best.
She's the best.

Sadly, not all the companions or their quests are as good as that. There's six companions total, and of them I liked three. Parvati, Nyoka, and Ellie. Even Ellie tested my patience in a few spots, with her "you should only look out for yourself" attitude, but I think she came around in the end. Problem is that of the others, Felix felt like the most forgettable character in the (outer) world, which is a real bummer after his introduction was pretty funny. And Vicar Max, who professes to a space religion but is trying to find answers to questions about it through heretical texts, is an interesting idea for a character that I think isn't executed well, and ends with a flop. The last one is SAM, a cleaning robot that isn't even a character, just a single joke repeated every time he talks (that joke being that he says things about cleaning while spraying acid at enemies).

If I'm being fair, not every game with companions is going to have them all be hits, and not misses. Look at Mass Effect (Outer Worlds clearly did, with its companion selection screen). It's easy to just think about Mass Effect as a whole franchise (all three of the three and only three Mass Effect games), but there was really only one truly great companion in Mass Effect 1, and that was Wrex. Garrus, Tali, and Liara were all good, and interesting enough, but came into their own in 2 and 3. Never mind that Kaidan was a snooze-fest and Ashley a space-racist.

Bear in mind, Mass Effect 1 is still my favorite game ever, even if a lot of that is nostalgia. It's just that when the expressed goal is a tighter focus than previous games in the genre, to have two of the companions be basically nothing (Felix has a quest but it ain't great), and one be a disappointing execution of a good idea is, well, indicative of the game as a whole, again.

Without getting into direct spoilers, it's difficult to give examples of why some of the quests feel so disappointing. Part of it is that it feels like there's little consequence for anything the player does, part is that any time there's some sort of twist, I saw it coming a mile away, but I think it's that a lot of this game just ends limply. One planet had quests that feel like they should end in something big, a fight between two factions, but there's a way to find a peaceful resolution, which I went for because I like finding ways to solve problems without fighting, but then it just ends.

Not the end of the game, but the end of that quest line. You broker a settlement between the factions (easily), and then everything returns to normal. Even if you go talk to the faction leaders, all you get are a couple sentences from one (as opposed to the LONG dialog I had when I first met him), and the other I couldn't even find! I'm sure she was in the world somewhere, but I dunno where!

This game doesn't do follow ups well. It was very heartwarming to help Parvati along, but after her quests end, that's it for that subplot, aside from a bit during the game's Fallout style ending where a man who isn't Ron Perlman (or even trying to be) narrates what happened to everyone and all the factions. I keep saying this game was supposed to be "smaller" and "more focused" than something like Bethesda Fallout, but that's like saying something is smaller than Canada. Sure, it can be smaller, but still pretty big, and it's a lot to ask that a game have as many quests as this does, and then have stuff that keeps going after the fact. But this game really doesn't do that, and I wish it had.

A thing I keep thinking about, entirely because other people keep mentioning it around The Outer Worlds, is Disco Elysium. A game I haven't played, but sounds like, on paper, is doing the thing I wish Outer Worlds did. Which is to say doing these much deeper dives into everything, and making every choice actually matter. At least that's what the people say when they mention it in relation to Outer Worlds. Personally, everything I've seen about Disco Elysium seems absolutely insufferable, especially the writing. Which, you know, would be a problem in a game that looks to be about 90% written text. Sorry for that aside, but I wanted to head that off before someone recommended I try that game.

These wooly cows just showed up on my ship once, with no explanation, and then disappeared. I wish they stayed.
These wooly cows just showed up on my ship once, with no explanation, and then disappeared. I wish they stayed.

That's just the story/quest stuff (of Outer Worlds, this segue worked better before I added the Disco aside), without even getting into the game itself. Or, the design of the game. Here is where it makes even more mistakes, and I think these are almost all in service of the game aping something it shouldn't in the first place. In almost every way it can (aside from technical issues, of which I had none), The Outer Worlds tries to replicate the act of playing Bethesda era Fallout, and this is one hundred percent to a fault.

This didn't need to be a game with so much inventory management. This didn't need to be a game with weapon and armor durability that serves as nothing more than a resource sink. This didn't need to be a game with three different dialog specific skills that almost all of the time, can be used interchangeably and all achieve the same goal. This didn't need to be a game with mediocre combat that while better than Fallout 3/New Vegas, I still think wasn't as good as 4's, and lacks the thing that actually made combat fun and goofy in all those games.

For everything The Outer Worlds copies from Fallout, the thing it neglected, despite presenting itself as a somewhat goofy game, is the tone. Where's the jaunty music that plays over the radios of Fallout? Outer Worlds copies the stoic, downbeat original soundtracks of the Fallout games, which I never listened to in those, because so much of what I think about Fallout is the juxtaposition of that goofy, ridiculous tone with the dark post apocalypse.

And where's the interesting perks like Mysterious Stranger, or Bloody Mess? This game has perks (only gotten every other level like in New Vegas, which I didn't like then either), but none of them are the slightest bit interesting. They're all stuff like extra carrying weight, or better prices at vendors. Some of the ones in the third/final tier get almost interesting, with abilities that need to be activated by doing stuff. Like, get a kill and the next hit on an enemy will be a guaranteed critical hit. But things like that are still boring compared to guaranteeing that enemies explode into blood and limbs, or getting a bonus to dialog skills when talking to someone of the gender of your choosing (if I recall in the Bethesda ones it was very hetero/for the 'opposite sex,' but New Vegas had ones for 'same sex' bonuses).

Perhaps even more disappointing than the perks are the Flaws that tie into them. The idea is that over the course of the game, certain things you do, or happen to you will cause the game to offer a Flaw in exchange for a perk point. For example, jump off a lot of things, and your character's legs will be permanently injured, and they'll move slower. They're optional, and bad. Not bad in the sense that the trade offs aren't worth it (though that is exactly the case with a lot of them), bad in that it's another wasted opportunity. Most of them are things like, "you've become afraid of this type of enemy from fighting them so often, so take a bunch of debuffs when around them." The problem being that the combat is so not difficult that every fight ends in victory, so it makes absolutely no sense at all that you'd become afraid of them!

That, and all you get for these debuffs are points to spend on the boring perks. What would have been more interesting was if each Flaw/perk was something specific. Like with the fall damage one, maybe the trade off could have been that you move slower, but no longer take fall damage. That would be interesting, make sense, and could allow for a level of role playing that "I move slower but in exchange I got the perk that improves vendor prices" doesn't. I mean, if I really tried, I could tell myself that the reason I got the better prices was because the vendors took pity on me for limping in. But I'd be really stretching it there, and doing a lot of the work the game should have done in the first place. That's just an example, the only Flaw I took was to receive extra plasma damage, and I don't remember which perk I picked because they're all so generic.

The closest thing to personality in the combat are the science weapons, but in my experience they didn't seem all that useful. A shrink ray should just shrink an enemy, and then I can run over them or something silly like that. If the majority of the combat on the default setting is going to be a cakewalk anyway (even with me putting literally ZERO points into any attack related skills through the entire game, and I hit the level cap), then make the weird weapons comically overpowered. I would have had more fun if I could be doing wacky nonsense the entire game.

No Caption Provided

But really the thing I wish this game had was more ways to circumvent combat in the first place. High enough speech skills will cause enemies to cower during fights, but they don't run away. They just stand there cowering, waiting for you to shoot them while they're defenseless. You know, despite having those skills maxed out, I didn't see that very often, and frankly I'm glad, because it felt BAD.

What I wish this game had far fewer nameless enemies (or maybe even none at all), and instead had options to talk through any potential combat. Again, I'm sure not within the scope of what Obsidian was going for, but when a game is sold on player choice, etc, I wish I could choose to play the game without killing anyone. Or at least not having to go around killing marauders who exist for no reason other than to make NPCs scared, and provide XP and quest objectives.

There's other stuff that I just don't understand why it's in the game. Why is this a game where the default state is gun drawn, even in towns, or my own ship? Why does it automatically draw after climbing a ladder, or activating an elevator? I don't ask for much, but if I'm in a peaceful area, I at least want to walk around NOT POINTING A GUN AT PEOPLE.

Why is there a character creator when the only time you see them is in the (BAD!) inventory screen? The character doesn't speak either, which I get, but also one thing I think Fallout 4 did right was give a voice to the player. From what I've heard the male voice was kinda junky, but I played with a lady, and I thought her performance was good, and frankly one of the highlights of that game. Giving her a voice added a lot more character to a game that was in need of a lot of things, and I think it would've also helped The Outer Worlds.

The more I think about it, the more I wish this game had been aping Mass Effect instead of Fallout. I mean, it is also doing that, in some ways, but the clear inspiration is Fallout. But also really what I think this is getting at...is that I just want a new Mass Effect game.

Alas.

The level up effect is so jarring, and the sound so loud that I was still recoiling in my seat even up to the level cap.
The level up effect is so jarring, and the sound so loud that I was still recoiling in my seat even up to the level cap.

Thinking about what I've written here, it sounds pretty negative. But not so negative that I felt the need to go and re-write it, and give this a different tone. On the whole I still think I enjoyed the game, because most of the time I was into it. I was for a long stretch there, really into this game, and I still think it's good. I'd still recommend it to anyone who has been waiting for a good Fallout style game.

I'd just warn them that this isn't the great Fallout style game we've been waiting for.

Thank you, as always, for reading. I do enjoy writing these, and while it's taken time away from my other writing, I'm happy I've had so much to write about these last few weeks. And, well, with a certain game coming out soon, you bet your britches I'll be writing again...

28 Comments

A Season of Kombat.

Fighting games! It's a genre I've long enjoyed, but usually in the context of just playing through the single player content, whether that be a story, challenge modes, or what have you, and then if I'm lucky, playing a decent amount with friends, locally. At least that was the case when I was young. I had a small circle of friends, but we all loved playing stuff like SoulCalibur II, Smash Bros. Melee, and, well, it was really just those two. Because these things change, and at some point the friends who I played these sorts of games with drifted away, and my interest in fighting games kinda waned along with it.

SoulClibur IV didn't hold my interest for long, I enjoyed playing Brawl more than I did Melee, but I didn't have the friends to give it the longevity, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was a game I enjoyed, but in the end probably didn't play nearly enough of to justify buying it for full price. That's why I ended up waiting for a heavy discount on Dragonball FighterZ last year, because I knew I was buying it for the novelty of the licensed characters I love, and less because I expected a long term game play experience.

But then there's Mortal Kombat. For whatever reason, whether it's the kombat itself, or the appeal of the gruesome fatalities, this ended up being one franchise I could count on to give me a lot of fun with people I'm still friends with outside the scope of the internet. Now granted, it's not just this, we did also have a lot of fun with Smash Bros. for Wii U, at least until one person (not me) got so good at it, and refused to play any other character than the one he was best with, that the rest of us stopped having fun, and we stopped playing altogether. But Mortal Kombat, again, it just clicked with us, and continued to do so over the last few games.

Three games, specifically, as the 2011 reboot was where I jumped on. I did play, and enjoy Injustice 1, but never got around to playing the sequel. But now, as one might guess, I've been playing Mortal Kombat 11. Like the last two, it still has the best in fighting game story modes, and plenty of challenge towers (though I have some gripes with those). It even has an incredibly detailed series of tutorials, but unlike the last two, I took a step into almost unknown territory for me...

I played online.

No Caption Provided

A lot.

But first, let me describe the events that led to this, when I hadn't played a fighting game online (outside of free public betas for a couple games, or slight dabbling in Smash Bros. for Wii U) since MvC 3 in 2011. And that was a case where I only did it a couple times, and still managed to get someone upset enough to send me a mildly racist message after the match (no slurs in it, but it was still racist). I remember it distinctly because of how absurd and unwarranted it was, especially considering there's nothing at all in my username to indicate race in any manner, and neither of us were on voice chat. That person had to go find me after the match, and type up a message using a PS3 controller. That's dedication to your heated gamer moment.

Back to the present. I bought MK 11 just before my birthday, alongside Control, and a new controller (one of the transparent plastic ones). MK 11 was sort of on a whim, I'd really only intended to get Control and the controller (which I badly needed), but I like these games a lot, and I figured I could probably get some playing in with friends on my birthday. So I started playing it, jumping back and forth between the story and the tutorials. Some of those tutorials get pretty difficult (unless you're like, Sonic Fox levels of good with inputs, which I'm not), but it's definitely the most in depth fighting game tutorial I've ever seen. Very good at explaining concepts, even if I don't remember all of them.

And the story, aside from the blemish of one particular casting mistake both from a moral and quality of acting position, is as good as it ever is. It doesn't really do anything new, but it's fun, the story takes the Mortal Kombat lore in some interesting places, and it leaves truly endless possibilities for whatever is next in the series. Given the last eight years, I'm going to guess that's MK 12 in 2023, after Injustice 3 in 2021. I hope that's not the case because I'd like if that studio could get off the every other year cycle, stop crunching, and treat all its employees (freelance, or otherwise) well, but I digress. Sorry, I couldn't help but at least mention the cost that comes from getting these games, as much as I do love the games.

No Caption Provided

So, I finished the story, and started poking around in the towers, while also trying some of the character specific tutorials. All working under the thought of trying to figure out who my 'main' would be, to use the fighting game lingo. I'm not usually the sort of person to pick a fighter and only play them, but in the last two MKs, I did find myself gravitating to a character, at least in terms of who I was best with. In MK (2011) it was Smoke, in MKX it was Kenshi, and in MK 11 it's Frost. I didn't think it'd be her at first. First I was trying to learn Cassie Cage, as she's both good, and the first character in the story mode.

But then, to use the words I have used before, I was drawn to Frost because she, "looks like a cyborg lesbian." And while the game has really nothing other than her hair to indicate any sort of lesbian-ness (and also the game seems very hetero in what little relationships or pre-fight banter/flirting there is, aside from a 'pride' jacket for Jacqui that has a slight rainbow on it), she is at least a lot of fun to play. And in playing against friends, I quickly realized that Frost was the one I was doing best with, not Cassie. Cassie's still fun, and good, don't get me wrong, but Frost is my main.

And Frost? Pardon the pun, but she's cool as heck! Good mix of ranged and close up, and some moves that are just plain silly in a way I truly love. She's a cyborg, and in her default intro, her head and cyber-spine are inserted onto her body, just making the robotic nature of her physical being clear (even if that's not consistent with the Fatalities in the game, which I think is a disappointing oversight, especially when they didn't overlook that with The Terminator, but I digress, again). And some of her moves involve her physically removing her head! She'll shoot it up in the air to knock jumping opponents down, pull it off and use it as a bludgeon, or even let it flop on the ground as an icy explosive (but that's an equippable move I didn't lean into).

She just clicked with my style, and had moves I was able to do consistently, which is always a plus. So I had my main, my character that I wanted to play a lot more with, and master as best I could. My first thought was the towers, but those I think can get frustrating. Like in MKX, MK 11 leans more toward towers that cycle in and out, rather that one really big tower with a bespoke series of several hundred challenges. On one hand it's good for just popping in and out, but on the other, some of these are downright infuriating at times.

This is the closest I have to a decent mid-fight screenshot. It looks better in motion.
This is the closest I have to a decent mid-fight screenshot. It looks better in motion.

The reason being the new consumables, and the Towers of Time are built with them in mind...but not really in a good way. The way they sometimes (but not always) feel is that some weird thing is put into play that just makes the fights aggravating when playing normally. I'm over here just trying to play Mortal Kombat, but the game is healing the AI with every punch they land on me while missiles and some other garbage are flying in.

The intended counter to this is spending consumables, but even then, the ideal route seems to be just countering the game's garbage with your own, so instead of fighting a match of Mortal Kombat, I'm just flicking the right stick in different directions to summon meteors and heal myself. If these had been a bit more curated, and were more puzzling in nature than just feeling like a consumable resource sink, I think it still could've been fun. I like when MK gets wacky, I used to have a lot of fun with the Test your Luck mode in MK (2011), and that was entirely just random garbage. But it was quick, fun random garbage, and often funny just to see what bizarre combos of garbage would appear next.

This just feels like a system designed with spending money for consumables...but with the ability to spend that money removed. Which I guess is still probably better than spending money for consumables, and I certainly have plenty of them, but the whole system just feels like it could have been so much better.

Yet I still have found myself doing the Towers of Time, because some are fun, and there's decent rewards. Skins, other stuff. I got a Johnny Cage announcer voice that I like a lot, because he quips about characters and stages. And it was definitely more fun to work to unlock him, than to download the bad mobile app and connect it to this game for Kronika's announcer voice (which I also did). (Side note, I didn't do ALL of this before touching online modes, I only unlocked the Cage announcer the other day.)

So, still having fun with the core kombat, but the towers weren't quite doing it for me. And now, is the funny part. I had an inkling of trying to play online, thinking that it would probably be a better way to hone my skills, but didn't actually go in there until I saw a daily challenge for doing something like playing multiple king of the hill matches. So, I went into the menu, tried king of the hill, but didn't stick with it, because if you don't win, you just end up having to wait and watch other people play. Watching others play can be fun if it's a tournament or something, or maybe if it was all friends in voice chat, but I'm not really interested in watching randos fight each other.

So, I poke around in the menus, and see a ranked season was going on, that was about a month away from ending. I dunno how long the seasons are, if that was close to a full one, if it was like half over, or what. I do know that a new one didn't start immediately when it ended, but that was still this week (as of writing this). I look in even closer, and see the rewards for ranking up, which included a cool skin...for Frost.

This...is not that skin, but it is a nice intro.
This...is not that skin, but it is a nice intro.

I just had to get to Champion Rank, the fourth of nine ranks. So, I dip my toe in. And lose, but it wasn't the floor mopping I expected to receive. So I kept playing, and playing, slowly getting better, winning some matches, losing some (sometimes very badly), but I kept at it. Because no matter what, aside from a few particular cases (people just spamming the same move), I was having fun! Sure, it was the allure of kosmetics that got me in there in the first place, but it was the kombat itself, and that gradual feeling of honing my skills, learning the best strategies for what to do when, and the thrill of victory after a hard fought match that kept me coming back for more.

And then, after days of hard work, I did it. I got to Champion Rank...Only to see a message about losing ranking points if I didn't play once every few days! That, and the knowledge that I could rank down from that, or from losing enough got me frightened, but after looking into it, I learned that even if you do rank down, you get whatever rewards from the highest rank achieved. Which is smart, that's the right thing to do.

So I could have stopped. But I didn't. I wanted to see how high I could get. And that height...was Master Rank. Which sounds much more impressive than it really is, because that's only one rank above Champion. Though, I feel like if I kept at it even more than I did, I might have gotten to Grandmaster. Maybe not the ranks above that, but I had other games to play. MK 11 is definitely one of the most fun games I've played in a good while, but there's been other great games to play too!

Which is another thing I like so much about MK 11. It's a great game to just hop in and play an hour or so of, before switching off and playing the more deep-dive-y stuff I've also been working on (see my recent blogs on Control and Outer Wilds!). It's fun enough that I'd keep playing it just for the act of play itself, but it's also got the usual slew of near countless things to unlock.

Namely, in the Krypt, which to my recollection, is bigger and more involved than ever. Now it features a physical space to run around in, using some generic nameless character. I wish I could pick a character to run around with, whether that would be one of the fighters from the game, or just some more variety in nameless video game people, either way. It's just a bit odd to me to have generic video game man be the person you run around with in the Krypt when the game has so many memorable and more appealing characters already in it.

No Caption Provided

But the Krypt, as much as I enjoy its bigger scale, and its incorporation of some light puzzle-solving elements, isn't perfect. While I have a bounty of Koins that I'll never run out of, the other two kurrencies needed to open things, Soul Fragments and Hearts, and just low enough in how they're handed out after matches that it feels like I'm just scraping by with them. That, and some of the things in the Krypt are...grindy.

Maybe this is a spoiler for unlocking stuff in the Krypt, but I had to look this up online to figure it out, so I don't feel bad saying it. There's this row of engravings of the heads of all the (non-DLC) characters in the game, and each just gives a number out of 25 when you walk up to them. According to the internet, that means the number of Fatalities/Brutalities done against each character in the Towers. Apparently online ones don't count, which is a bummer because if they did, I'd have gotten some of them by now. As it is, I don't have a single one yet, and apparently all of them are needed to get a medallion needed on the way to the final section of the Krypt.

So I gotta keep playing the Towers if I want to see everything in the Krypt. And I do! This game's so much fun, it's kinda become my de facto 'podcast game.' Which does mean I've played almost none of the Shadowkeep Destiny 2 expansion. Okay, that's a lie, I played through all the story missions, and did a bit of the Vex Incursion with friends. But that's it, and I'm sure the stars will align such that I'll stop playing MK so much, and gravitate back to Destiny 2, but for now...

Also, I've never done this before, but I bought the DLC characters. Like, all of them. The Kombat Pack was on sale, so I bought it. And Shao Kahn, because for whatever reason (greed/capitalism), he's not included with that. At first I was just going to buy Shang Tsung, because I love the ninja morphing, and think that's a really creative way to incorporate his shapeshifting without being able to stream in every character fast enough (though I bet that will return in MK 12 on next gen). But then I thought Nightwolf was cool too, and I might as well buy The Terminator because, I mean, he's The Terminator, even if the voice is just a bad Arnold impression. And...

I just bought the Kombat Pack because that was on sale, and individual characters weren't. On the plus side, I also got a bunch of skins, so I can play as Ninja Mime Johnny Cage, and Harley Quinn Cassie. Yes, there's something a bit ironic about playing this with that skin instead of the actual fighting game with Harley in it, I know.

I forgot to take any screenshots of the DLC characters. Okay, that's stretching the truth, what happened was I was too lazy to.
I forgot to take any screenshots of the DLC characters. Okay, that's stretching the truth, what happened was I was too lazy to.

Anyway, the DLC characters are all neat. Terminator really feels like more neat gimmick than an actually fun character to play, but it is what it is. On the flip side, after buying all this stuff, I had a moment where I realized I just spent money for Spawn in the year 2019 (though I guess he won't be out until next year). Now, I'm not too high and mighty to lie and say I was never a fan of Spawn. I'm not too good to say I didn't like that 90s movie and play a Spawn game on Gamecube that was mediocre. But also I was thirteen. At least I played the version of SoulCalibur II with Link, and never read the actual comics.

Whatever, he's voiced by Keith David, and I bet Netherrealm have found ways to make him interesting and fun to play. I sure hope so with how overworked they are.

Okay, if I'm circling back around to labor practices, I've probably run out of meaningful things to say about the game. But I do really love playing it, and I'm going to keep at it for the time being. Even if I fall off, I'll definitely check back in with each of the DLC characters. I already bought them, after all. Just hope they find ways to make Sindel and Joker fun to play. And maybe have some better alternate skins for Joker.

Anyway, thanks for reading! I've been writing a lot in the last few weeks, and while I refuse to commit to continuing at this rate, I do always appreciate when people read my words! I might write something about Outer Worlds once I finish that (I'm enjoying it!), and if I play Death Stranding, you know I'll have thoughts.

Until then, see ya next time!

No Caption Provided

5 Comments

Expectations and Discovery in Outer Wilds.

Expectations are a hell of a thing. As I sit here, the day after finishing Outer Wilds, trying to wrap my head around the game, and my thoughts, I just keep going back to one thing: How did everything I've read and heard about the game in the months between its initial release (only on PC and Xbox One) and my actually playing it impact my time with it? Did it really have that big of an impact, or would my feelings as the credits rolled have been the same either way?

It's one of those things that doesn't really matter, but once it sneaks into my brain, it's in there. Either way, I'm going to guess that you follow the opinions of professional video game players and talk-about-ers like I do, thus you know how highly acclaimed this game is, and you can thus piece together where I'm going if I started this talking about expectations. Funnily enough, that's appropriate given this game, how much it's built around discovery, and piecing things together.

No Caption Provided

Anyway, I'll stop beating around the bush and get to it: I like Outer Wilds, but I don't love it. It has some fantastic moments, and the early hours especially it feels like truly anything is possible, and only the stars are the limits. That's a magical feeling that many games don't even come close to doing at all, so part of me thinks achieving it in the first place is an accomplishment. Only trouble is keeping that feeling throughout the game, and the further in I got, that feeling waned. The slower the big discoveries came, and the more I uncovered of the game's story, the less interested I became. I still had those great "aha" moments, but fewer and farther between, and the game's ending left me cold.

It's a weird game to put my thoughts into words for. Those early hours were incredible, they really were. I had a whole star system of planets and moons to explore, ruins of an ancient alien civilization to comb through, fun physics to play around with in the spaceship (plenty of gravity related mishaps that ensued), other weird gadgets, and a cool time loop premise. Every new place I landed was another mystery to unravel. How do I get into this building? What's the purpose of this structure? Does it even have a purpose in the first place, and does that help me in any way, or just flesh out the universe? How do I get past this seemingly impossible natural barrier? Can I get this one thing done before the "end of time loop" music finishes, and I have to go back to the beginning?

And almost every time I had that moment of discovery, whether it was through my own trial and error, or finding some key piece of information from a translated document, it felt great.

At least at first.

There were points where I had only half the information I needed, and it turned out to be the wrong half, which led to me banging my head against something until I got so frustrated I gave up, and went elsewhere. At least until I eventually found that other piece of information, which revealed how simple the thing I was supposed to be doing was all along.

The ship flying felt good in all the right ways, and unwieldy in all the right ones too.
The ship flying felt good in all the right ways, and unwieldy in all the right ones too.

As much as I did get a laugh and a "D'oh!" at myself in a few key moments as I had those revelations about what I'd been doing wrong, it didn't undo the frustrations I'd already had. Partly because those revelations didn't come from me having a flash of inspiration, they came from me translating something that just spelled out what to do exactly, or bumbling my way into it. Telling myself, "This is a bad idea" before doing something anyway, doing it, having the idea not work but show me how obvious the real answer was...again, laugh worthy, but didn't leave me feeling smart. I'm not saying a game needs to do that, or that my bumbling here was the game's fault, necessarily.

But it was my experience with the game, and that can't be undone. No time loop in real life. Then again, even if there was, I'd still remember the bumbling. That's what the game is, honestly. Bumbling your way through discoveries, slowly optimizing routes, and eventually getting things down. That part was enjoyable in a "this seems adjacent to what speedrunners do" kind of way. I'm curious what the record for a speedrun of this game is. I bet it's fast.

Then there's the story itself, which is probably the thing I liked the least in the game. This feels like a weird thing to say, but if I had to put my finger on the one thing I'd say is wrong with it, there's too much of it? Or rather, this is a game where the story is told both through the physical environments, but more directly through text left behind by the Nomai (ancient aliens). At first finding their texts was exciting, it was a new insight to what happened before, and I ate it all up. I stopped and read every last bit of it that I could find, ravenous for more.

But the deeper I got, the more I unearthed about what was going on, I just lost interest. Part of it was the narrative itself, especially after I developed a theory about what the ending of the game was going to be (and given the somewhat abstract ending, I think there's still reason to believe my theory wasn't wrong), but part of it was just the writing itself. This isn't something I usually critique about games, especially as a writer myself (even though no one seems to ever read my fiction stuff), because I know writing takes a lot of time and effort. But something about some (not all) of the writing style just felt off to me. Not off in an intentional way. Just... I dunno, especially when contrasted with the writing for the Hearthians (the nameless main character's people) felt good. Lots of jokes about explosions and fire.

So maybe it was intentional, trying to make the writing feel a little stilted, like it got translated (which it was). But I dunno. Part of it was definitely the weirdness between the Hearthians always using 'they/them' pronouns and then the Nomai text using 'he or she,' just odd stuff like that.

There's a handful of good puns I appreciate in the game, even if a lot of the writing felt...off-ish.
There's a handful of good puns I appreciate in the game, even if a lot of the writing felt...off-ish.

Then there's the ending itself, which... I'm not going to spoil. I even went and watched a video about the game to try to understand what happened, but I think that just made me like it even less. I'd say that maybe it was just too abstract for me, but I also found out this year that I liked the end of Evangelion (but not The End of Evangelion, that movie is trash, don't @ me), and that's certainly abstract in its ways. I need to stop myself there before this turns into a blog about Eva because literally no one wants that from this.

But I think the larger point I'm trying to get to about the story (in Outer Wilds) is I would've liked it better if instead of unsatisfying answers, it'd left me with more mysteries. The act of uncovering what was going on was so much more intriguing and fun than what I actually uncovered. As I write this, I think about some of the other games I've played this year. I think Sekiro suffered in its story for being more explicit about what was going on than the Dark Souls games, or Bloodborne. And Control, which I just recently played and wrote about, left me wondering and pondering about so much, and so excited for what's to come in that universe, whereas Outer Wilds just left me...cold.

What I'm writing here is intentionally obtuse, because as much as I was frustrated with parts of the game, as much as I didn't like the ending, and much as I do feel kinda disappointed relative to my expectations, I still think it's a great game that's worth playing. So I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't played it yet, or even tempt them by tucking it away in a spoiler zone. I'd just recommend going in telling yourself it probably won't be "one of the greatest games of all time" for you, like I've heard people say it is for them. That way you'll either avoid disappointment like me, or if you do truly fall in love with it, you might just end up loving it that much more because of lower expectations.

Unless most other people don't put so much into expectations.

But I don't want to end this on such a downer note. So instead I'll end by writing about the mood of the game, which is something I think it generally got right, throughout. The game opens by a campfire, staring up at a starry sky (never mind the neighboring planet and odd blue explosion in space), and one of the very first things presented to interact with...is roasting a marshmallow.

In this game, you have INFINITE MARSHMALLOWS.

Sure, your space suit might only hold a handful of minutes worth of oxygen, and only so much jetpack fuel, but marshmallows? It's got enough of those to last until the end of days... Which might only be twenty-two minutes from now, but hey, that's more than enough time to enjoy some nice, burned to a crisp marshmallows. Just sitting beside the fire with an old friend, letting the time drift by as that warm music plays in the background, and you ponder the universe, your place in it...

No Caption Provided

As always, thanks for reading.

4 Comments

Taking/Playing Control/The Game.

There is an atmosphere to Control. Not literally. It has a mood that soaks out of almost every pore, a mood that at once kept me with a feeling of unease, yet made it hard for me to stop playing, or thinking about Control. Control is a game about a space, and a space that feels as alien as it does pedestrian. Stark concrete that shifts and moves, plain walls that go up farther than the eye can see, desks and paperwork beside a containment cell designed to hold a rubber duck with a life of its own. Ordinary life juxtaposed with the extraordinary in The Oldest House.

No Caption Provided

I love Control. It's got a few, fairly serious issues, but on the whole, I think it does what it sets out to do extremely well. This game has captivated me from the very first trailer, and the fact that it continues to do so not only after I finished it, but got the Platinum Trophy is remarkable. Granted I only had a single Trophy left after credits rolled, and that only took a few minutes to get, but still.

There is something about this game that has captured my imagination like few have in recent memory.

I could break down Control in ways that make it sound ordinary. It's an action game with a linear story and some side quests that usually involve returning to earlier areas, or to new locations adjacent to old ones. There's a lot of enemies with guns to be shot back at with a gun. There's some abilities to be upgraded, weapon/character mods to be equipped, and plenty of secrets to find. Lots of the world building is through redacted notes, audio recordings, or if you're lucky, full motion videos made with live action footage of real people.

No Caption Provided

But that would be selling the game short. Control is about a woman, Jesse, diving into an impossible place trying to find answers about an organization that "doesn't exist." It's a game about taking Control over her new powers, her new shapeshifting Service Weapon, her new life as Director of the Federal Bureau of Control. It's about fighting back against impossible odds, about fighting to get to the truth, and digging through no matter how many levels of paranatural bureaucratic BS is in the way to get there.

It helps that on top of the incredible mood and tone that permeates every little corner of the game, it's also a really fun action game. Yes, even with the performance issues on the PS4 Amateur version, which faithful readers will know is about the only thing I have to play games on. It gets rough, but they have patched it to improve it. It never ruined the game for me, but I have a high tolerance for this stuff, and it's definitely rough if I felt the need to mention it at all. But it's fine far more often than it's rough.

Part of both what makes Control so much fun, and so taxing to the hardware (I assume given there tends to be a correlation) is how much of the world feels like a part of the action. How much of it can be damaged during fights. Tables, desks, lamps, statues, forklifts, anything that isn't nailed down, and even large chunks of walls, floors, or pillars can be ripped and blown apart both by weapons, and more often: telekinesis.

Whipping objects at enemies, or enemies into objects is one of the most fun things I've done in a game in quite a while. It sounds so simple on paper, but there's just something satisfying about hurling a corpse with paranatural force and having it fly through four desks, tearing them apart, sending splinters and paperwork flying everything. So few games these days have this level of destruction in the environments, and the objects within them that it really stuck out to me. Not only does the destruction look good, but it just feels good, and sounds good too. The audio design in general is great, but the specific noise when holding something with telekinesis just sounds so good.

Plus, Jesse doesn't have to pull the object over to herself before launching it to an enemy. Once it's in the air, just let go of the button and it flies at the targeted enemy, and bopping them from behind was sometimes even more fun. It reminded me of recalling the Leviathan Axe in God of War, and having it kill enemies on the way back to Kratos, which is always a good thing to be reminded of.

No Caption Provided

One of the most brilliant things about this power is that while it highlights whatever object in the environment you'll pick up if you hit the button, if there's nothing in view to grab, it doesn't just whiff. Instead it tears a piece of concrete out of a wall, or a floor, and that gets thrown instead. It sounds so simple, but it goes so far to making this power feel useful literally all of the time, and to making the levels feel like they aren't just static level geometry, but a part of a world that reacts to everything you do.

Of course there's still limits, aside from a couple of explicitly breakable walls leading to secret rooms, damage to walls and floors is superficial. This isn't suddenly Minecraft. The Oldest House is resilient, after all, and while it accommodates the humans inside it, they are very much visitors within what is likely a living thing.

Or at least that's my brief, not spoiler-y take on it. When dealing with mysteries in fiction, there is something I've realized over the years, that isn't really that shocking. It's fairly rare when big mysteries actually have satisfying answers, and in some cases, it's maybe better to just leave things as mysterious. It's a tough line to walk, a tricky needle to thread, but I think Control does it well. It keeps things mysterious, has just enough answers, but ends with all the right mysteries still mysterious. It's left me wanting more in all the right ways.

Janitor of the year.
Janitor of the year.

As I think about it, it reminds me of Bloodborne, in a way. Another game with absolutely tremendous atmosphere, and tone, but very different in most respects. Especially in how the story was told, Control is much more like regular AAA level western games, whereas Bloodborne is FromSoftware's Dark Souls formula through and through. But both go on a journey of discovery, of trying to get to the truth, and in the end only getting some of the answers, even if that remaining mystery is part of what made it so compelling, made it stick with me.

At least with Bloodborne, I literally finished Control the day before I wrote this, and a few days before I got around to putting it up. I obviously can't know how this game will or won't stick with me over time, but I do know that I'm looking forward to the DLC, mostly with excitement, but also a little trepidation. Is it going to be as good as the main game? Is it going to continue the story, or just be side quests? Is it going to answer some of the questions I have left? Should it?

Like, I want to know more about The Board, but I don't know if I should. Would I like Control more if I knew the truth about that inverted pyramid that speaks through garbled modem sounds and subtitles? If they're really just [SPOILER-ISH STUFF] an entity/entities from the Astral Plane, why are they helping humans/The Oldest House in the first place? Are they the mind/intelligence of The Oldest House/game itself? And what about The Former? What was up with that? And The Hiss, and Hedron, and Darling? Is Darling actually dead, or just gone? What about The Oceanview Motel? What was Ahti's real role in all of this? What even is Ahti?

And where the heck does Alan Wake fit into any of this?!

No Caption Provided

They've got a tight line to walk. I want more, but I don't know if what I want is what they'll give, or what I really want out of Control. And I'd say it's possibly a bit suspect how much more we'll get, if Control hasn't sold well, which is the vibe I've gotten. Maybe the DLC will be the end of it, maybe there will be a Control II, or maybe Remedy will finally give Alan Wake the sequel/conclusion to his story that he deserves.

Maybe all/none of the above/below. Only time will tell, and until we get there, all I know is that Control is a really cool game, with some of the best atmosphere and tone that I've experienced in quite some time. It's also a game with still disappointing technical issues and some baffling decisions around checkpoints (why does this game have Dark Souls style Bonfires/Control Points but not the rest of that Souls style design? Why have this instead of regular checkpoints?).

But it's also a game with hidden puppet shows and live action videos of scientists.

You should play it.

And thank you for reading!

No Caption Provided

5 Comments

My First Final Fantasy; Or Friendship in the face of Darkness.

I've played a lot of video games, and over all these years, I've played a pretty decent variety of them. And as of the year 2019, there weren't many big names in the realm of video games that I'd never touched at all. But, there was at least one, one huge presence that I'd never had any direct contact with. At least not unless you count a certain movie I saw in the theater back in 2001 (I was ten), now better known for being a flop than anything else. And even as someone who saw it, now I think of it more through that one bit in Life is Strange than anything else.

I'm of course talking about Final Fantasy. I'd never played any of them, but something about XV had caught my eye, ever since it was rebranded from "Versus XIII" to XV back in 2013. But, I heard a lot of mixed things when it released in 2016, so I didn't play it, but for whatever reason, every once in a while I'd think about playing it, and finally, a chance impulse to pick up a copy I saw in a store resulted in me finally playing a Final Fantasy. And...

Before I get into the meat of this, because I have a lot to say, I need to say three things about this game.

1. The combat was much more enjoyable than I expected, and helped me through a lot of the rougher parts of the game.

2. This game is, even in the "Royal Edition," and its various changes and additions, still kind of a ramshackle mess. Not necessarily technically, it ran fine and I didn't run into any major issues on that front, more, well, kind of in every aspect of the game's design, from its open world, to the core story, just has some amount of issues. But I'll get to that later, because-

3. For all this game's many faults, by the time the credits were rolling...I was tearing up. I had become so emotionally attached to the main characters, to wayward prince turned king Noctis, to the ever cheery Prompto, to steadfast Ignis, and even the stoic Gladio...that I felt it all welling up, and spilling out of me. That puts this game in rare company for me, to elicit such a strong reaction in that way.

No Caption Provided

So in other words, I have complicated feelings about the game as a whole.

But let me start from the start. Just know that at some point I'm going to get into spoilers, but I'll mark them.

I became, more or less, aware of this game when it was rebranded, but by all accounts, it'd been in some form of development for years prior to that, and even in the time after, from what little I've read, it sounds like FFXV had a rocky development, to put it lightly. And it shows in the game itself, because FFXV often feels like it doesn't know what it wants to be. Even in the opening minutes of the game, there's three scenes feel at odds with each other. A flash forward to the end, with the main four going against some demon looking guy, then a scene with Noctis and friends speaking briefly with the king (Noct's dad) before setting out, and finally a sequence where their car has broken down, and they have to push it along the highway while a cover of "Stand By Me" plays.

These three scenes perfectly encapsulate my feelings on the story. The first, a confusing mess that the game never explains as well as it should, the second is close to working, and the third is almost pitch perfect. A group of close friends, albeit with some differences and tensions, put into a rough situation, but still staying upbeat and joking along as they work together to push that car to a mechanic.

No Caption Provided

THAT'S the heart of this game, and the part that works. There's nothing especially original, or groundbreaking here. You could, if you were cynical enough, break down each one of them into their respective tropes and clichés, but I instead chose to tag along with them, and this story resonated with me. For me, characters are almost always the thing when it comes to stories. You could have the most amazing plot, full of twists and turns, and keep the audience guessing the whole way through, but if none of the characters are likable, or "good unlikable," or whatever, then it's not going to stick with me. But in this case, the opposite is true, and a strong cast kept me going through to the end.

Because it definitely wasn't the story about the war between the Kingdom of Lucis and the Empire of Niflheim that did it. The game doesn't even do a good job of explaining that there even was a war, I assume because someone had the bright idea to create a feature length animated movie to accompany the release of FFXV. I went and watched Kingsglaive, but not until I was very far into FFXV the game, and it's amazing how much extra context opening with a quick bit of a narration explaining the state of the world can give. Granted, by that point I'd already managed to piece together most of the state of the world through the game, but I just don't understand the thought process that leads to including that narration in the movie, but not the game!

And the other thing is that, even if Kingsglaive was included with the game, and thus it was guaranteed that everyone had access to it, I don't think it even works as something to watch prior to the game, because there's multiple plot things that are treated as surprising or shocking in the game, that were shown in the movie. Specifically (early game spoilers, I guess) the destruction of the city of Insomnia (good name for a city, also the game didn't explain that Insomnia was the name of the city and I got confused at first), and Ardyn (the game's main antagonist) being imperial chancellor. Never mind the fact that two characters in Kingsglaive (King Regis and Lunafreya) are voiced by famous actors (Sean Bean and Lena Headey, respectively), which in turn makes it a jarring shift from the game, at least for Luna, who has more appearances of the two.

No Caption Provided

These sorts of problems persist throughout the game, too. Aspects of the story that aren't fully explained (I'm still not sure why that demon guy from the intro was where he was), and even when I have all the pieces, it's just not that great. An evil empire trying to conquer the world, and along with it (I guess more spoilers) a vengeful immortal trying to bring about eternal darkness upon the world. Literally. It's, to be frank, typical JRPG stuff, which is fair given this series' roots, but I never got all that invested in it.

No Caption Provided

The same with the romance between the betrothed Noctis and Luna, who the game frequently says are in love with each other (despite them not being in contact aside from quick messages sent via magic dog since they were of middle school age), but get almost no on screen time together. Even when they do, I don't especially feel like there's a ton of chemistry between them. There's more of that between Noctis and Prompto, but that might just be me thinking about the queer ships I'd write into fan-fiction if that was ever a thing I would feel good about dedicating time to (there's no money in it, as opposed to the fiction writing I actually do, which has almost no money in it). Sadly there's no actual queer text or subtext here.

Perhaps part of why the story doesn't exactly work is the general design of the game. I like open worlds, and I really like having spaces to explore, but if a game lets me wander around for hours and hours on end without touching the story, chances are I'll do that, even if I would've been better off not doing that, as getting sidetracked only made the story that much harder to follow.

And the world itself, like a lot of the game, feels like it doesn't know what it wants to be. It's certainly big enough to feel big (even if the actual size in real world units isn't that large), and it's very pretty to watch go by as you drive along the countryside (or more often let Ignis drive you along). But there's not that much to actually do in it. There's enemies to encounter along the way, the occasional items to pick up, and some tiny outposts here and there, but it feels barren at times. I can't tell how much of that is intentional, and how much is just a result of the game's rocky development.

No Caption Provided

Like, aside from the city of Insomnia (which isn't really a location you can access for the majority of the game), there's only one town (Lestallum) in the game's main/open world landmass, and it left me wondering, where do all the people live? Is it just in Lestallum? There's broken down barns and other odd abandoned buildings rarely in the world, but mostly it's just wilderness. The outposts aren't big enough for anyone to really live in most of them. People drive around the world, but I never got the impression that they were real people driving to real places, just filler cars so the roads wouldn't be completely empty.

No Caption Provided

And it's a shame, because I actually like the world's aesthetic a lot. The mix of weirdo sci-fi Final Fantasy trappings with modern American dilapidated western is strange in a way that I love. I truly love the image of these Tetsuya Nomura designed JRPG goofballs walking into roadside diners and cramped convenience stores. It's like seeing images from conventions of the people in cosplay off site from the convention, doing stuff in regular areas, but done without that meta layer in the game. I love the mix of the ultra-fancy Regalia and rustic American cars. In a game that was more focused, or maybe had a less rough development, there could be something really interesting to say about the state of the world, about the crown city of Insomnia, which has been walled off for decades, and the outside areas. This is something the game starts to dig into, but it never goes very deep, and I would have loved it to go deeper.

A game where the sheltered Noctis and friends have to contend with the reality that life may have been good for them, but not so good for the people left to fend for themselves outside the city could have been so much more interesting than the actual main story of this game. Though alternatively I do like that life is still presented as being pretty all right for most people outside, I wouldn't want it to turn into rich people doing misery tourism amongst poor people.

Back to what you do in this world, most of the side quests aren't even that good, or are outright bad! Like, there's one guy who keeps asking Noctis and friends to go do farming for him. But this isn't a case where there's a fun minigame, this involves talking to a guy in the Lestallum market, then driving out to his farm miles away, picking up some glowing dots on the ground (how the game portrays items to pick up), driving back, then repeating a couple times. It's tedious and bad!

No Caption Provided

But I kept doing it anyway, because it's hard for me not to accept quests when I see a ? on the map, and it's hard for me to not then do the quests when they're in my log. And so I ended up doing a lot of stuff like that, and plenty of more fun hunting quests that aren't necessarily "better" designed, because they just involve going to a spot and fighting enemies, but like I said before, at least the combat is fun.

It's not as deep as something like a Devil May Cry 5, but it's fast paced and fun. The camera isn't great, and combined with Noctis' warping abilities, I can see how it might be a bit too disorienting for some, but I had a lot of fun with it, and expect to continue to have fun, because I've still got plenty of stuff left to do in the game, ranging from more side quests of highly varying quality, to that multiplayer mode that got spun off into its own game (I get why they did that, but having to download a separate executable and take up that extra hard drive space was, a bit irksome).

No Caption Provided

And like the rest of the game, I think the combat is at its most joyful when the characters are interacting with each other. Noctis doesn't fight alone (usually), and I mean that both in the sense that all four are in your party (unless for story reasons at various points), and that they can do team-up attacks. Hitting enemies in their backs for "Blindside" attacks do extra damage on their own, and if a friend is nearby, they team-up for a special attack. These aren't just the two of them doing an attack at the same time, they're different animations, depending on who the other is, and what weapon Noctis has equipped. Sometimes they'll even high-five or something similar after the attack, and it, like many things, fills the game with so much personality, and that's the thing I love most about the game.

No Caption Provided

Each of the four has a special interest of theirs, which can be leveled up. For Noctis, it's fishing, and I found myself fishing a lot. Both for what you can get from the fishing, but mainly because it's a fun minigame. I don't like fishing in real life (I think it's pretty cruel, even if you let the fish go (please don't @ me I don't want to get into an argument/fishing is fine if you need to for food)) nor do I have any interest in games dedicated to fishing, but when it's a part of a larger whole? I'll race down to the nearest spot and make my fishing gear appear in midair like Noctis!!

No Caption Provided

But, what to do with all these dozens of fish I've caught? Well, cook them, of course! And Ignis, the most responsible and orderly of the group, also happens to be a master chef, and more than happy to cook up five star meals whilst the group is camping out in the wilderness. In the mood for cheese pizza? No problem! Gourmet sauté sea bass? Done! Karlabos Cream Croquettes? I'm not entirely sure what all of those words mean, but cooked it shall be! The absurdity of what Ignis can prepare in the wilderness (even with branded Coleman camping gear) and the stunning detail of every dish is funny on its own, but the various foods provide stat buffs, which can mean the difference between success and failure in some cases.

No Caption Provided

Gladio's interest, perhaps reflecting my feelings on him as a whole, seems a bit underdeveloped compared to the others. His is...survival? Which I think comes down to him just finding more useful items after fights, which is nice, but it would've been nicer if he'd been a bit more fleshed out. But I've got other issues with Gladio, and how he can be kinda mean, especially toward Prompto, though perhaps that's just a reflection of friend groups as a whole. There's often that one that, you still like, you just like a bit less than everyone else. I just wish the game had given me a chance to tell him to be nicer to Prompto, and stop saying things like "quit bitching" that definitely are way over the "playful teasing" line that Noctis and Ignis never cross.

But Prompto, his interest is very well...developed, because he loves photography! Get it? Developed? Does that not play in the era of digital photography? No, who am I kidding, no kids read this.

No Caption Provided

Ahem.

No Caption Provided

Anyway, Prompto takes pictures throughout the journey, and every time the group stops to rest, whether at a campsite, motel, or wherever, they all relax, and take a gander at the photos (or at least they're presented to the player and sometimes you hear dialog from the others about them), and you can save however many, or few as you want. The quality of the pictures can vary a lot, from clearly scripted ones that everyone gets, to ones that are a bit procedural, like selfies with Noctis or the others. These have a variety of differences in the poses, and can show up anywhere, including in spots where the lighting makes it look kinda bad, or someone's face might be partially obscured by someone else's hair, or in at least one case I saw, someone's arm getting in the way. And, Prompto will take pictures during fights (he even has a command you can give him to take a photo during fights, which I'm pretty sure does zero damage and serves no other purpose, aside from leveling his photography skill faster), and those can range from looking really cool, to garbled messes.

I'll be honest, there being crappy photos in there too makes it that much more endearing to me. No, I didn't save them all, just because I couldn't. There's a hard limit of 200 photos, which might sound like a lot, but it's not when you spend 60 hours playing, and need to rest frequently because nights are scary at first/resting is the only way to tally XP and level up. Several times throughout the game, I had to go and delete a bunch to make more space (thankfully I thought to hit the Share button to save some record of them, even if that resulted in borders around the pictures that I could've removed, but that would've been a lot of work for this many).

No Caption Provided

And those photos, they're such a simple thing at first. In the beginning, I'd just look at them and laugh, save the ones I liked, and move on. But the further in I got, and as the story was getting more serious (both in the larger "war" plot line, and in the interactions between the characters I cared about), the photos started taking on a different meaning. They weren't just funny poses, or that one time Prompto actually captured a glitch with airborne shrubberies, they became a reminder of everything we'd been through. The fun adventures, the death-defying escapes from dungeons I was way under-leveled for, the quiet moments, the Chocobos (I love them), interactions with other characters, everything.

And it turns out, if you spend enough time with people, even if they're characters in a game, you can get pretty attached to them. That's one thing when it's Prompto complaining about Noctis continuing to fish even after saying the previous one was the "last one," or when it's Ignis shouting about devising a new recipe, but it's another thing entirely when the game pulls the metaphorical trigger and things get serious.

Which is when SERIOUS SPOILER MODE activates. Right after this image:

I want to hug a Chocobo.
I want to hug a Chocobo.

The main thrust of the first "half" of the game (it's actually much more than half of the total game, but whatever) is about Noctis meeting up with Luna, initially because their marriage will bring about an end to the war, but eventually just because they love each other (again supposedly). But, in typical fashion, Luna gets killed really just to drive Noctis' emotional state (fridged, if you will), and along with her the beautiful seaside city of Altissia is destroyed, and Ignis...is blinded.

Now, aside from the game not being at all subtle with doing this to the character who wears glasses and has the metaphorical "vision" of the group, by this point I was 40-50 hours into the game. I was well beyond the point of being attached to the characters, and now they were as much my friends in game as a character in a Mass Effect, or any other similar game would be after this much time spent. I felt terrible for him, and terrible because I (Noctis) hadn't been there with him when it happened (later playing the Episode Ignis DLC to learn how this happened, I only feel worse for him because of how much he was willing to sacrifice for Noctis, and again, how I (Noctis) was powerless to help). I wanted to help him, but he, of course, played it like it was nothing, and seemed to be doing well enough. Acting like it was just a matter of time before it'd heal, and he'd be back to how he was before.

But that doesn't happen, not exactly. This is a world of fantasy, a world of great sci-fi technology and literal magic, so I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if his eyes had been repaired, or replaced with robot eyes or something, but instead there's a section of the game where tensions are at their worst between the characters.

Gladio's patience is gone, and replaced with more mean words, but unlike his "bitching" comments at Prompto, these don't feel completely out of place. I can't blame him for chastising Noctis (me) for rushing ahead while Ignis is moving along so much more slowly, as he's feeling his way around with a cane now. Meanwhile Noctis is just continuing to be torn up at the death of Luna, and the four of them are just moving along, now gone from the free-wheeling car and in a train down a linear path to the end of the game (unless you take some time via magic dog to relive the past (which really is just an excuse to keep doing side stuff, and contrived though it is, I'm glad it exists)).

No Caption Provided

Eventually, after the group struggles to keep working together, with Ignis barely keeping up, and stumbling his way through fights (aside from his tactician side providing the trick to defeat a boss), he admits the truth to the rest. His eyes aren't going to heal (even as his combat prowess eventually returns), but he doesn't want that to break the friends apart forever. And so, the team steels their resolve, and learns to work together again, as they move forward toward the end of the game.

And I wish the rest of the game was more like those moments than what we get. Not literally, I'd be devastated if the ending hours of the game were just sequence after sequence of them being badly injured again and again like that. What I mean is more focused on their relationships, with each other and the other characters who are basically forgotten, than on the war, and Ardyn's nefarious plans.

No Caption Provided

END OF SERIOUS SPOILER ZONE.

What I really want is a game that's entirely focused on them, and on the road trip. Just a group of friends going through adventures and hijinks, slaying monsters, and getting up to some fun as they travel along, and all grow alongside each other. If that was the game we got, this might be an all time favorite game of mine. Not number one, but close to the top ten, if not in it.

Instead, what we've got is kind of a mess. A mess that resonated with me more than most games I've ever played. But it's still a mess, and a mess with a dozen other baffling things I could go on and on about. Like, why is the Cup Noodle product placement quest with intentionally hammy dialog (at least in English) in the game forever, but stuff like the Moogle Chocobo Festival the Assassin's Creed crossover quest are just...gone? Yeah, it's marketing BS, and a friend told me it was, "the worst DLC I've ever played in my life," but I like Assassin's Creed and it's the type of marketing BS I'd eat up (certainly more so than Cup Noodles).

No Caption Provided

Why is there a level 50 dungeon (populated almost entirely by low level enemies except for the level 53 samurai boss at the end that killed me (level 7 at the time) in one hit, and I lost all progress in the dungeon) in the beginning area, but multiple level 30 dungeons on the opposite side of the map? Why do I have to go through an involved quest to unlock the ability to use Chocobos, and then still have to rent them by the day for prices so low I might as well just have permanent access to them? Why are the crossover quests for a mobile game (still in there despite the Assassin's Creed one being gone!) and FFXIV more developed and interesting than the majority of the regular side quests in the game?

Final Fantasy XV is a strange game. But, as time goes on, I know these complaints will fade away, and I'll be left with the good memories. Watching the countryside roll by as Ignis drove us along. Talking with Prompto late into the night at that motel, and hell, even Gladio's ridiculous love of Cup Noodles. Traveling down the coast with Gladio's sister Iris (who deserved more screen time than she got), pulling into the garage at Hammerhead to put have Cindy some more ridiculous decals on the Regalia. Running into the mercenary of ever changing allegiances Aranea. Poking around at the Chocobo ranch, just having fun with bigh birds.

These bonds of friendship, even if they're with fictional characters, are going to be what sticks with me. For all the rest of the faults, this is still a game I deeply love, and I'm so, so glad I played it.

I'll always remember that moment, right before the final boss, when they all stopped to go through the photos, and reminisce about the good old days. Because that was the moment, the moment where it all welled up inside me, and I realized just how much this game, how much Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio really mean to me.

No Caption Provided

I'll miss them.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10Gallery image 11Gallery image 12Gallery image 13Gallery image 14Gallery image 15Gallery image 16Gallery image 17Gallery image 18Gallery image 19Gallery image 20Gallery image 21Gallery image 22Gallery image 23Gallery image 24Gallery image 25Gallery image 26Gallery image 27Gallery image 28Gallery image 29Gallery image 30Gallery image 31Gallery image 32Gallery image 33Gallery image 34Gallery image 35Gallery image 36Gallery image 37Gallery image 38Gallery image 39Gallery image 40Gallery image 41Gallery image 42

8 Comments