Whenever I make up my end-of-year best / worst lists, I inevitably get people asking why I didn’t review X, Y, or Z. I played less than half of the games that were nominated for industry awards this year, and it’s natural for people to wonder how I could have missed groundbreaking game X or indie darling Y or AAA juggernaut Z. Questions about why I missed these games are common enough that it’s become a tradition to preemptively answer them before I talk about what I did and didn’t like.
This isn’t a complete list of all the games I didn’t play this year. That would be silly. Instead, this is a list of all the games that either:
A) Fall in a genre where you’d expect me to play through them.
B) Were popular enough and intriguing enough that people have asked me what I thought of them.
C) I seriously considered playing – and perhaps even announced my intention to play – before changing my mind.
So stuff like FIFA doesn’t make this list because it’s not part of a genre I care about, I never considered playing it, and nobody cares what I think about it.
So here are the games that I didn’t play, but could / should have…
How did I miss this one? A story-focused cyberpunk RPG? Somehow this game arrived without popping up on my radar, and by the time I noticed the thing we were too close to the end of the year and I already had a lot to play. It looks fantastic. People praised it. It won some awards. This was one of the darlings of 2019, and I didn’t even know it existed until after release.
I guess this outlines just how powerful and important marketing is. I’m immersed in gaming culture, this game is in my wheelhouse, and yet I didn’t know about it because I didn’t see any advertisements for it.
Hopefully I can find time for Disco Elysium before the 2020 onslaught arrives.
As part of Bethesda’s ongoing effort to destroy everything they’ve built, they released this annoying, shallow, unpolished cash-grab and filled it with microtransaction nonsense.
It’s true that I didn’t play this mess so I can’t attest to any of these problems first-hand. I’m just repeating what I’ve heard. Still, I think we saw this coming. The series has been in a downward spiral since the 2014 quasi-reboot. Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014) was pretty good. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (2015) was inoffensive but forgettable. Wolfenstein: The New Colossus (2017) was sloppy, buggy, and self-indulgent on the part of the writer. And now we have Youngblood, which is reportedly broken, obnoxious, childish, tone-deaf, and more concerned with aggressive monetization than delivering a worthwhile gaming experience.
I considered picking up Youngblood to continue the retrospective I wrote on New Colossus, but after a few weeks of bad news it seemed like that would be a waste of time and money. Everyone knew this was trash, and it doesn’t require any special analysis or insight to see why. There’s no reason for me to spend time beating this dead horse.
I guess this was actually a 2018 title, but Fallout 76 spent an awful lot of time in the news this year, and for all the wrong reasons. Once again we have Bethesda ruining a once-popular franchise with a tone-deaf sequel where the developer obviously only cares about delivering the minimum product necessary. It’s not so much a game as an established aesthetic that’s been smeared over a grasping microtransaction storefront to give it a vague sense of legitimacy.
Bethesda hasn’t really had a proper hit since 2012, and it feels like the company has been in a slow decline since then. Things really took a turn for the worse over the past couple of years. I don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain at Zenimax, but something has changed recently. It feels like the corporate culture or company priorities have shifted.
I have no faith in the upcoming Elder Scrolls game, and even less faith in Starfield. Bethesda styled itself as the company with trash writing, “hilarious” bugs, and engrossing gameplay. Over the last couple of years they lost the engrossing gameplay and gained “aggressive monetization”. Their games are all bad writing and crashes at this point. They have nothing going for them.
If I play any Bethesda titles from here on, it will be as a critic rather than as a fan. This company has been dead for a while now, and people are finally beginning to notice the smell.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I wouldn’t normally mess with a FromSoftware game. As I’ve belabored in the past, I can’t play Soulsborne titles. They make me too angry. Getting sent back to the bonfire on death is so frustrating that I just can’t enjoy the game.
But now we have Sekiro, which promises Dark Soulsian style gameplay of pattern recognition and timing mastery, but without the time penalties. You supposedly respawn “really close” to where you died.
That sounds pretty good. On the other hand, I know from experience that Dark Souls people have an entirely different calibration for “punishment”, like so:
Me: “That game was excruciating! I died five times on every level, and every death sets you back three minutes.”
Dark Souls Fan: “That game was pretty gentle. It only took about five tries to get through a level, and death never costs more than a few minutes.”
So I don’t know. Those people have a very different calibration on their frustration detectors. Maybe Sekiro is the Soulsborne I’ve been waiting for, or maybe FromSoftware just reduced the punishment level from “intolerable” to “really obnoxious”.
Ultimately, I thought it was a bit risky to throw $60 at a gamble like this. Maybe I’ll pick it up on sale during the slow part of 2020.
The Outer Worlds
Critics are human, and sometimes our personal lives interfere with our analysis. That’s what happened to me with The Outer Worlds.
I really enjoyed the first couple of hours with this game. It’s a thinky / talky science fiction space adventure. That’s my jam. The world wasn’t as complex or as interesting as the first Mass Effect game, but it was getting the job done for me.
But then I was playing it the night my stepfather died. I sat by his bedside that evening and said goodbye. Then I went home and played this video game while trying to not think about about his impending death. This was probably not a wise move. The game felt small and trivial compared to what I was going through. I wasn’t having fun and it wasn’t really doing a good job of distracting me.
Worse, the two things are now associated in my mind. I can’t go back to The Outer Worlds without thinking about Dave.
Twice now I’ve fired up the game, stared at the main menu for thirty seconds, and then closed it again. It’s stupid, it doesn’t make sense, and it means I’m missing out on a game I’d been anticipating for a long time. But that’s where I am.
Sea of Solitude
I went crazy for this game when it was announced at E3. Then I realized it was a game about overcoming loneliness and isolation. This isn’t really something I’ve struggled with.
I get edgy when I’m in a place with lots of people around. I need very little human interaction to keep me going. For a while before I was married, I lived alone and worked in my home. I would sometimes go for several days without speaking to another person. I’d be at the grocery store and try to bid the cashier a nice day, only to find my voice was rusty. I could go for weeks without having a real conversation. At one point in 1993 I forgot to pay the phone bill and the phone was disconnected. I didn’t notice until my girlfriend showed up at my door to tell me.
I was alone all the time, and someone else actually had to point out to me that this was not normal.
This is not to say that I don’t like people or dislike spending time with them. Introverted does not mean antisocial. I’m pretty easygoing and get along with nearly everyone. I’m happy to spend time with friends as they drop by. I’m always glad to see my family. I just have almost no drive to go out and seek interaction with others.
As much as I dug the art style of Sea of Solitude, I started thinking that a game about the horrors of loneliness would be lost on me. When I realized the big black monster in the water was supposed to represent the terrible fate of “not having people bother you and exhaust you with words,” I knew this wasn’t a game for me. It’s like having Aquaman watch a horror movie about drowning. There’s nothing wrong with the movie, but it’s probably not going to resonate with this particular audience.
Gears of War 5
I seriously considered getting this game in 2019. I realize this sounds a little silly, because the Gears of War series is pretty much the embodiment of the kinds of games I dislike:
1) Big dumb overblown story that takes itself too seriouslyThis is based on hearsay, but also on the most recent Unreal Tournament game I played, which was maximum cringe..
2) Giant shouty meathead tough guy characters.
3) Cover based shooting. As someone who was really into 90s run-n-gun shooters, I’m a fan of high speed games with powerful weapons and tons of mobility. Cover shooters slow everything down so you can play whack-a-mole with bullet sponge enemies from behind static cover. Gears of War isn’t just a cover shooter, it’s the cover shooter. While I can’t blame Gears for what happened to my favorite style of shooter, the rise of this game coincided with the fall of the kinds of games I loved, so it was hard to not hold a bit of a grudge.
But now? Fast-paced shooters are back, so I’m a little less salty. I’ve tried a few cover shooters – notably Tomb Raider 2013 and Spec Ops: The Line – and I’ve found them tolerable if they can offer something in addition to the shooting. The Gears series came to the PC for the first time this year, and I thought it might be fun to see what the fuss was about.
If Gears 5 had come out a little sooner in the year, I probably would have played it. Summer is always a bit of a dry spell for games, and that’s a good time to experiment with titles outside of my area of interest. However, Gears 5 didn’t hit until September, and by then I had plenty of other games to occupy my attention.
Oh well. I doubt Gears fans are eager for my analysis anyway.
So that’s what I think of the games I didn’t play / didn’t finish this year. Next time I’ll talk about the disappointments.
 This is based on hearsay, but also on the most recent Unreal Tournament game I played, which was maximum cringe.
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