Top 10 of 2020
My favorite games of 2020. There is no introduction to this list because I think we all know how this year went! The one thing I will say: I built my first gaming PC this year, which has completely changed games for me in a couple ways. 1) I have access to PC exclusives that previously I could only dream about playing; several of those are on this list. And 2) the ones that are multiplatform look and run better than anything I have ever played. It's been truly great.
The Last of Us Part II
Assassin's Creed Valhalla
The post-launch story of Microsoft Flight Simulator so far has been wrought with some nasty bugs and crashes, but the promise of this game, and what it has meant to me in my personal life, cannot be understated. Rendering the entire planet is a technical marvel for sure, even if a lot of rural areas are represented as fuzzy, misbegotten clone towns where every building is the same rectangular LEGO piece. But Microsoft Flight Simulator’s greatest accomplishment for me has been in taking the edge off of flying.
In 2016 I had a streak of flights that were absolutely terrifying for a few reasons, though in hindsight the level of danger was pretty low. The experience, however, left me in a state where simply seeing an aircraft would elevate my heart rate, forcing me to look away. Stepping into a cockpit for the first time in Microsoft Flight Simulator provoked a similar reaction, but after doing a couple flights something changed in me. I no longer saw airplanes as panic attack triggers, but as these amazing machines with which you can see the world. I haven’t been on a plane since playing this game, so I can’t say for sure what I will feel doing the real thing. But at the very least, I no longer enter fight-or-flight mode just by seeing a plane in the sky. That’s a big first step. To have an impact like that on my life guarantees a #1 spot for this game.
I love this game. Naughty Dog’s storytelling in The Last of Us Part II really landed with me, even if its miserably dour story maybe wasn’t the best pandemic snack. These are some of the most human characters to ever be portrayed in a game, with excellent performances throughout. And the gameplay wasn’t half-bad either.
Truthfully, there isn’t much else I can say about it. The game is carried by the strength of its story beats and the moments in which characters are able to just be themselves in the company of friends. And it’s all stunningly rendered, even on a base PS4. I hope I can revisit this game someday on newer hardware.
I had never played a game like Crusader Kings 3 before, and that novelty definitely plays a part in getting this game high up on the list. But that’s not the only reason. I love the dynamic narrative of a Crusader Kings 3 playthrough. One minute, things are going swell. I’m on top of the world (and by that I mean my tiny petty kingdom), with too many alliances to keep track of. I’m unstoppable! But then tragedy strikes: my ruler dies prematurely, and is replaced with his 6-year old son. All of my vassals hate this kid, my alliances no longer exist, and, oh, what’s that, a smallpox outbreak in my court! How lovely. I’ll be sure to bring out my dead next time my toddler king goes for a stroll.
I can’t believe they did it! I hadn’t played a Tony Hawk game in over a decade when I jumped into this beautiful remake of the first two games. Amazingly it only took an hour or so to pick right back up where I left off. Tight controls and great music go such a long way to making this game as great as it is. Now that they’ve added in the ability to replay the career mode with every skater--a curious omission at launch--I can feel myself getting pulled back into this. Let’s hope for more!
I should probably finish Hades. I’m just not very good at it! But this game really fires on all cylinders. It makes the roguelike genre more approachable than ever by not only having persistent upgrades that carry through each run, but a constant narrative progression as well. The writing, voice acting, character portraits, all of it is so top notch that I found myself doing more runs than I had planned to in a session simply because I wanted to prove the doubters wrong, or because Achilles gave me a little morale boost after a failed run.
Ah, the game I played when pandemic lockdown first began and we weren’t sure what the rest of the year was going to look like. Maybe the game came out at the perfect time for that reason. At the very least, it sure was satisfying having a distraction like this from the ~trying times~. It’s not perfect; I think the Marauders are a truly terrible enemy to fight, and the game maybe leans a bit too hard into its fantastical lore. But the action is so just so amazing.
Hell Let Loose is a World War II first-person shooter that takes the scale of Battlefield and blows it up, throwing 100-players into a match together to see which team can successfully understand how resource nodes work first. The game makes you feel like you’re playing an RTS from the ground, rather than as the all-seeing eye above. Battles are often overwhelming and demand careful attention to teamwork and coordination. There are no hit markers or kill confirmations other than what you can see with your own eyes. Three separate voice channels allow players to talk to each other. There's a command chat, where unit officers can chat with the team commander to coordinate the war effort. There’s a unit chat for inter-squad communications. And then there’s the wonderful proximity chat, where nearby friendlies will come over comms shouting for ammo, calling out enemy positions, or, hilariously, role-playing action heroes and grizzled sergeants. Somehow, all of this works. Hell Let Loose can be exhausting; matches often last for the full 90-minute runtime. But it’s one of the most interesting and exhilarating multiplayer games I’ve played in a while.
I’ve never played a Wasteland game, but I have played XCOM, and boy have I played some Fallout (well, the 3D ones). Wasteland 3 is a really great combination of both worlds. It’s got the turn-based tactics of XCOM (without nearly as much punishment) and the setting and tone of a Fallout game, mixed with some pretty deep RPG mechanics that make the whole thing feel like a classic role-playing experience.
Interchangeable with Yakuza Like A Dragon. A big reason for this is that both of these games feel “old.” In the case of Persona 5 Royal that is very much true, but it’s what Persona 5 should have been originally. Turns out, it’s pretty great. And though Yakuza Like A Dragon brings a major change to combat and a very different protagonist, it still kinda feels like all those other Yakuza games to me. But much like Persona 5 Royal, it’s still been a grand ol’ time, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Ichiban’s ridiculous story ends up.
Interchangeable with Persona 5 Royal. A big reason for this is that both of these games feel “old.” In the case of Persona 5 Royal that is very much true, but it’s what Persona 5 should have been originally. Turns out, it’s pretty great. And though Yakuza Like A Dragon brings a major change to combat and a very different protagonist, it still kinda feels like all those other Yakuza games to me. But much like Persona 5 Royal, it’s still been a grand ol’ time, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Ichiban’s ridiculous story ends up.