Dénouement 2020: The Good Stuff

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 26, 2021

Filed under: Industry Events 127 comments

Last year was not a particularly fun year. For the most part, I did not have a good time. A lot of the games I wanted to play were either disappointments, or delayed to the next year. 

But I can’t claim it was all bad. I did manage to find a few titles that amused me. So here is the list of titles that kept me going…

7. Graveyard Keeper

This game actually came out in 2018, but I didn't play it until 2020. Still, even in 2018 I think Breaking Bad memes were well past their use-by date.
This game actually came out in 2018, but I didn't play it until 2020. Still, even in 2018 I think Breaking Bad memes were well past their use-by date.

Why did I like this game? I have no idea. I have nothing but gripes about it, but for whatever reason I couldn’t stop playing it. 

Do we have a name for the genre that Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley occupy? I want to say “Farming Sim”, but we already have Farming Simulator and it’s nothing like these games. Wikipedia claims this genre is called “Simulation Role-Playing”, thus making a compound genre name from two different confusing and overly-broad terms. Both “simulation” and “role-playing” are largely useless descriptors at this point. I mean, both Diablo and Cyberpunk are considered “role playing” games.

In any case, we really need a handy name to sum up this genre: “A town improvement game with strong social elements where you improve your own property while also building relationships and helping your neighbors and gameplay involves a lot of time and energy management as you need to keep an eye on the in-game clock.” And no, we can’t just call them “Harvest Moon Clones”. That would be silly.

Anyway, Graveyard Keeper is a Harvest Moon Clone where you take care of a graveyard instead of growing crops. You embalm corpses, bury them, decorate the graves, improve the grounds, and become the local religious vicar. 

You have to grow carrots so you can put them in the box to pay the donkey to bring you more dead bodies.
You have to grow carrots so you can put them in the box to pay the donkey to bring you more dead bodies.

I’m not sure what it was about the game that appealed to me. I did like the moments where I was elbow-deep in a corpse preparation and I suddenly realized it was Sunday morning. I’d stagger upstairs to the chapel, give the weekly message to the faithful, collect the donations, and then dive back into the basement to work on my backlog of cadavers. 

There’s no wash basin between the morgue and the chapel, so I have to imagine the appearance / smell of my character was enough to wake up the faithful on Sunday morning.

It’s a weird game, but it has a dark sense of humor and some goofy charm. 

6. Flight Simulator 2020

I like how it looks as if I'm playing the 1982 version of Flight Simulator on my dashboard.
I like how it looks as if I'm playing the 1982 version of Flight Simulator on my dashboard.

I wondered when Asobo would show up again. You might remember that I was a fan of FUEL back in 2009. I even made that one video about the game that got a couple of million views but then YouTube silently made it almost unwatchable by reducing it to 240p qualityThese days I’m keeping the originals, but my approach to content back then was very slapdash..

Anyway. Like I said in that 11-year-old video: FUEL was an amazing game for the way it took a limited dataset and used procgen techniques on it to create a massive world that wouldn’t otherwise fit on a standard DVD. 

The game wasn’t particularly successful. I thought the technology would benefit something open-world like Fallout or Skyrim, but instead it was used to make… a racing game?

The street layouts are so accurate I can fly by my hometown and tell what street I'm over by looking out the window.
The street layouts are so accurate I can fly by my hometown and tell what street I'm over by looking out the window.

The AI suffered from flagrant rubber banding. The procgen world was an interesting technology, but it ultimately didn’t add anything to the game. You could drive cross-country if you wanted, but there wasn’t really any in-game reason to do so. The endless landscape wound up being treated like a really expensive skybox around the handmade racing circuits. 

FUEL used amazing technology to make a mediocre game. The public sort of forgot about it, but I was always curious about what the team might make next.

It took a decade, but Asobo is finally back. Once again, they’ve made an amazing technological foundation to support something that barely qualifies as a game. 

The trick this time is that the game uses real-world satellite imagery to create the environment. This means the topography, roads, and buildings are all based on reality. Consumer-level satellite images don’t have the resolution to make a nice crisp world that can be viewed up close, so Asobo used neural networks to fill in the blanks. The AI will take a big blurry satellite image of farmland, recognize it as farmland, and generate high-resolution texture maps to match. It will see a dark rectangle of pixels on the landscape and recognize it as a building, and then generate a 3D model of the appropriate size and type. 

Too bad there aren't any helicopters in the game. Sometimes I'd like to hover around and admire the scenery.
Too bad there aren't any helicopters in the game. Sometimes I'd like to hover around and admire the scenery.

If you view a familiar location from street level, it winds up feeling like something from a parallel dimension. The buildings are the right size and sitting in the right place, but the buildings themselves are different. It feels familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

It does this for most of planet Earth. That much data wouldn’t fit on your poor harddrive. In fact, it wouldn’t fit on a dozen harddrives. The data set for this game is many terabytes in size. So like Google Earth, the data streams to you in realtime as you move around.

I wouldn’t call it “fun”, but it’s an amazing technological achievement. 

5. Gorogoa


Link (YouTube)

Back in 2018 I gave the game Gris the #3 spot on my end-of-year list. At the time I said:

The central appeal of this game is in the art: the scenery, the music, and most of all the animation. This game is a sensory feast. Dan of New Frame+ gave the game a mention in his end-of-year video, but I’m hoping he’ll turn his animator’s eye to Gris in 2019 and talk about how this game looks in motion. There are dozens of little details in how your character moves, how her dress flows, and how her body language is used to tell us about her without the game ever needing to have a single spoken or written word. This game communicates entirely through its visuals, and yet I was never frustrated or confused about what I was doing, what the game expected of me, or why I should care.

I feel like we need a name for this sort of thing: A game where the central appeal is the art instead of the mechanics. I think of this kind of experience as an “Art Feast”. Maybe the gameplay is really easy, or perhaps it’s incredibly derivative, but you keep playing because the sensory experience of playing the game is so rewarding. 

Gorogoa is very much this sort of Art Feast. The puzzles were fairly gentle and I wasn’t particularly invested in the story. In fact, I played the game back in March and right now I can’t even remember what it was about. But I couldn’t stop playing because the hand-drawn scenery and animations were so captivating.

4. Carrion

Remain Calm and Carrion.
Remain Calm and Carrion.

The Steam description calls this one a “reverse horror game”. You play as a science experiment gone wrong, a blob of genetic material that escapes containment and runs rampant through the facility, hunting and devouring the staff. As you explore and conquer the facility you’ll grow and unlock new abilities. You’ll gain body mass and your many tentacle arms will be able to reach further, making it easier to ambush security guards and tear them apart from the shadows.

The animation work is really impressive. You pretty much press the direction you want to go and the game figures out how to animate all the tentacles to keep you moving. The game does a great job of intuiting what you’re trying to do without turning the gameplay into some sort of chaotic Octodad-style nightmare where you’re barely in control. 

It's amazing how easy it is to control this horrifying tentacled beast.
It's amazing how easy it is to control this horrifying tentacled beast.

My one gripe is that the game really needed some way to help guide the player through the environment. The science facility is roughly Metroidvania, so new areas open up as you unlock new abilities. Unfortunately there’s no map and nothing to help you know where you should go next. If the game was divided into distinct levels that branched out from a common hub, then you could just return to the main area after every conquest and open the next door. But instead the sprawling game map is made from many interlocking loops. It’s impossible to know which direction you need to go, and you’re probably going to waste a lot of time traversing now-empty rooms in search of your next objective.

3. Noita

I’m not much into side-scrolling platformers, but I really got a lot out of this one. The hook is that the world is one enormous physics simulation. Wood burns, liquid flows, and sand seeks its angle of repose. These systems interact, so you can break a basin that spills oil that catches fire and flows down into the lower levels, setting off explosions and blowing holes in the terrain, which will then release (say) a bunch of water to douse the flames. Or maybe it will spill some lava. Or light a huge mound of gunpowder. Or alcohol. You get the idea.

That’s just the physics. On top of that is a system of customizable magic wands that allow you to create fire, boulders, beams of energy, bouncing projectiles, etc. You can make a wand that will shoot multiple projectiles, and those projectiles can optionally bounce, or explode, or spawn more projectiles. You do this by arranging symbols to define the wand’s behavior. It’s sort of like a primitive little scripting language based on symbols.

Oh look, I've invented a new overpowered wand to kill myself even faster. Sorry you can't see my character. I imagine I'm lost somewhere in this sea of projectiles and particle effects.
Oh look, I've invented a new overpowered wand to kill myself even faster. Sorry you can't see my character. I imagine I'm lost somewhere in this sea of projectiles and particle effects.

This puts a lot of power in the player’s hands. While it’s possible to make something that creates a lot of projectiles or can shoot around corners, it’s also very easy to create a wand that can kill you with surprise reflections and splash damage. The game allows you to make something overpowered, but it also allows you to make a weapon that’s a complete liability. It’s up to you to figure out what sorts of wands work for you.

The game was in early access when I played it back in May. Even incomplete, I still felt good about giving it a solid recommendation. It’s since reached full release, so I imagine it’s even better now. The game is violent, chaotic, and frequently hilarious. A real gem.

Wrapping Up

Next week we’ll look at my final two picks for the year, and then we’ll say goodbye to 2020 for good.

 

Footnotes:

[1] These days I’m keeping the originals, but my approach to content back then was very slapdash.



From The Archives:
 

127 thoughts on “Dénouement 2020: The Good Stuff

  1. MerryWeathers says:

    Phew, when you didn’t post yesterday, I was worried that fate thought it would be very funny if after you uploaded a Diecast episode with the title “Survivor Mailbag” that you bit the dust or something.

    As for this year, it was pretty decent for video games. Most of the games I played were fun and solid. The only ones that disappointed me were:

    Control- Got it when it finally came out on GOG with all the DLC prepackaged. I was very interested in the game considering the stuff it took from (SCP and House of Leaves) and the positive reception it received. Ended up leaving disappointed by how bland it was in approaching it’s concepts (felt more like a gritty “live-action” Psychonauts reboot than SCP), I think the game had a lot of potential being something like Portal or a Nintendo game where you have a core mechanic/gimmick that everything was centered around but instead it’s just a boring third person shooter where you slam stuff into bullet sponge enemies.

    REmake 3 – This one stings more considering the track record Capcom was on with it’s recent games (RE7, MHW, RE2, DMC 5) and then this comes out and ruins it all. It’s a terrible remake of the original game and just very mediocre when standing on it’s own merits. Was essentially a cash grab asset flip made in one year. The fact that it cost $60 and was only like five hours long in total is criminal.

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      I feel like Resident Evil 3 being $60, a price justified by including a multiplayer mode nobody asked for, is what really killed it. If they released it for $30 as some sort of expansion, I think players would have been far more open to it. Disappointed still, as it’s completely linear and Nemesis is scripted. The whole reason people wanted RE3 remade after RE2 was because Mr. X had them wondering what could have been.

      It’s one of the reasons why I was not so hyped to hear rumors of a Resident Evil 4 remake (and, allegedly, the build being made was “too faithful” to the original and thus they’ve already rebooted that development). The RE2 remake stood out as a project that had some real thought and care put into it, whereas RE3 felt like it was a cash-grab (despite evidently having already been in development before the RE2 remake released).

      I didn’t dislike the RE3 remake like everyone else, as I never played the original RE3. Nonetheless, it certainly felt like a lesser experience compared to RE2, which is the game I continue to crave going back to.

      1. MerryWeathers says:

        A RE4make is completely unnecessary, if Capcom is going to make another remake of one their classic Resident Evil titles then it should be Code Veronica, one of the weaker games of the series that would benefit heavily from a solid remake.

        whereas RE3 felt like it was a cash-grab (despite evidently having already been in development before the RE2 remake released).

        RE3make had half the development time of RE2make and although the assets from the latter could be reused for the former, just remaking the original RE3 faithfully would have been difficult and ambitious as it had branching paths, RNG based difficulty, and non-linear level design. The development team was also separate from the ones who did RE2make and RE7.

        1. Dreadjaws says:

          I’m of the opinion that they should remake Dino Crisis instead. Everyone’s asking for that one and no one is asking for RE4. So what does Capcom do? Jesus, the original RE4 is still a sales beast, it doesn’t need a remake. As soon as the game gets released in a new platform, people flock to it. Hell, I’m guilty of it. I own copies for 4 different platforms, and I’m considering a fifth one now that I bought a Switch.

          Sigh. Well, maybe they’ll get the hint some day.

          1. Fnordicus says:

            I think the reason Capcom isn’t going to remake Dino Crisis is that animating dinosaurs convincingly requires a lot more effort than simply recycling zombie models, zombie movement, and so on. Why would a company do something new and hard when they can make a good buck doing what they usually do without much effort?

            1. Nimrandir says:

              Maybe, but I’d figure they could use the Monster Hunter animations as a starting point. Heck, Anjanath is basically a T. rex with a sinus condition already.

        2. Ninety-Three says:

          A RE4make is completely unnecessary, if Capcom is going to make another remake of one their classic Resident Evil titles then it should be Code Veronica, one of the weaker games of the series that would benefit heavily from a solid remake.

          As if “necessary” has anything to do with it. They’re more likely to do RE4 than Code Veronica precisely because the latter was weaker, 4 has way more fans they can count on to generate hype and preorders.

          1. RamblePak64 says:

            This, unfortunately. I’d love to see a Code Veronica remake myself, for multiple reasons. I love RE4’s self-aware camp, and I feel like any remake would be less faithful to that and instead try to “prestige game” it up. This is fine for RE2, but for RE4 you lose some of its unique identity as a self-aware B-movie camp game. Code Veronica, on the other hand, is not as self-aware and could use the “prestige game” facelift, I think.

            Then again, I’m also part of camp “bring back Dino Crisis”, just like Dreadjaws.

            1. Asdasd says:

              Projected sales for a RE4 remake would be easily 10x those of a Code Veronica one. But it needn’t necessarily be an either/or decision – if the latter could still justify itself in terms of RoI, then I don’t see why they wouldn’t do both.

        3. Christopher says:

          Resident Evil 4 is such a landmark, beloved title that it might be difficult to surpass. They have never hit that sweet spot of camp/horror/action/level design for me either before or since. I feel like actually working from RE4 is the only way to make that happen at this point. It might go tits up, I don’t think applying the look and style of the recent titles to 4 would be very good. But I’d rather see an attempt to make RE4 again than trying to polish up some of the franchise’s less successful games into something presentable.

    2. Shufflecat says:

      I played Control in December, and although I personally quite enjoyed it, I can corroborate this criticism. Setting and story-wise it’s very cool, but it does not use those concepts at all in its gameplay. It’s a 3rd person shooter with gravity gun and jetpack mechanics, and that’s basically it.

      And yeah: the balance is weird. Enemies are too spongy to the service weapon for the shooting to feel good, while telekinesis takes them down satisfyingly fast, but is awkward and slow to use. The end result is that one ends up back-burnering the gun in favor of telekinesis, even though telekinesis has worse gamefeel than the gun. And the story is telling you that it’s the gun that makes you the special unique badass everyone is looking to, while telekinesis is something any of them (albeit only one person at a time) could theoretically use.

      There’s a lot of stuff in there where it feels like if they’d gone a little further in one direction, it would have been an immersive sim, or if they’d gone a little bit farther in another, it’d be a metroidvania. But they didn’t, so it isn’t.

      By chance, the game I played right after Control was Manifold Garden, and among the various reactions I had to that game was “OMG, this, THIS is the gameplay Control should have had!”. It would have been a perfect fit for the world of Control, but Remedy’s creativity does not lie in the mechanics side of things.

      And I say all this as someone who actually enjoyed Control a lot.

  2. Elmeri says:

    2. Cyberpunk 2077
    1. Half-Life Alyx

    Safe guesses, I know. That’s my personal top 2 anyway. I spent this year playing mostly older games.

  3. Asdasd says:

    Do we have a name for the genre that Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley occupy?

    ‘Life simulator’ is how I’ve known it. Also encompasses titles like The Sims and Tomodachi Life. A broad and woolly genre, to be sure, but enough to get a sense of the things you’ll be doing (prodding people, developing relationships, messing with the environment).

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      “Slice-of-Life” feels like the most appropriate sort of title, and I’d put Animal Crossing in there. Even though they’re not really slice-of-life, that certainly seems to be the intent behind the games. Just general living as opposed to epic quests.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        I always thought slice-of-life was more focused on your one protagonist, and a town, city, or just other characters were all separate from you, doing their own things. Significantly, Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley and graveyard keeper has your character significantly changing the lives of other people, but other games your impact is pretty much only you, and the direct friendships (or enemies….ships) you have with other people. Like, does it still count as a slice of life if it’s all wish-fullfillment type of stuff? Contrast Stardew and Graveyard with Valhalla or Dinner Date, where you’re really experiencing some portion of the protagonist’s life, instead of inventing what you want their life to be.

    2. MattB says:

      My wife referred to both Stardew and Animal Crossing as playing Digital Dollies. Honestly, that made the whole genre click for me.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        This seems very apt! :)

    3. PPX14 says:

      Was about to say exactly the same thing. Life Simulators – it just so happens to be the genre that my gf likes and I discovered the genre name trying to look up games for her. As you say it also covers The Sims. House Flipper seems to be another.

    4. Geebs says:

      But I Already Have A Job Simulators

      1. Lino says:

        But, that’s also Warframe and Path of Exile’s genre. You know, the kind of games where you need to have a wiki and eight spreadsheets open, so you can play them properly.

        But wait… Path of Exile is a spiritual successor to Diablo II… So that means that Animal Crossing is a Diablo-clone! I KNEW IT! WAKE UP, SHEEPLE! IT’S ALL A CONSPIRACY!!!

        1. Asdasd says:

          Keep going. We’re only a few steps away from a canonical Isabelle/Doomguy pairing.

    5. sheer_falacy says:

      It feels kind of awkward to put Spiritfarer in a genre called “Life simulator”, since it’s.. the opposite of that.

  4. tmtvl says:

    You misspelled the title for the Gorogoa section as “Goragoa”, boss. Misspelled it in the second paragraph of the section as well.

  5. Lars says:

    Typolice: ‘your many tentacle arms will be able to reach father,’
    I’m sure you mean further. Although father is more hillarious in this game.

    1. Mark Ayen says:

      “They reach father, but… he’s kind of into it.”

      1. The Wind King says:

        “Every day we stray father from God’s touch.”

        “Touch me harder, God.”

    2. BlueHorus says:

      The horrifying tentacle monster just wants to get to its daddy. Is that so bad?

  6. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Graveyard Keeper is particularly difficult to pin down because it’s not exactly as “wholesome” as most of the other “harvestclones”. For the record, there is nothing wrong with that, but many people consider the relaxing atmosphere essential to why they’re playing these games and recommending GK to them would be a disservice.

    Haven’t played Carrion yet but more “reverse horror” games please.

    I’m fairly certain I’m forgetting something but here are some highlights far as stuff I’ve played: Banner Saga trilogy was enjoyable (did I really play that last early year?! Feels like it’s been longer), if a touch arbitrary in its choice system. Pathfinder:Kingmaker (played turn based, first with a mod, then with the official mode) was probably the most enjoyable implementation of tabletop D&D derivative ruleset I’ve played on the PC, there was a lot of good writing and the story was interesting if a bit mispaced (it almost felt like the order of chapters was switched at some point and not all the seams held) and while the kingdom management wasn’t as deep as it pretended to be it was still fairly serviceable for at least a single playthrough, my main complaint would be what we’ve just discussed: the endgame slog. Remnant:From the Ashes got lukewarm reviews but having played it in co-op with a friend I enjoyed it a lot, bearing mind that co-op might have been a big part of it. Paradise Killer had great atmosphere, great story, great gameplay, great visuals and music and it’s probably my GOTY.

    1. Christopher Theofilos says:

      Banner Saga, Pathfinder, and Remnant are all great games. Pathfinder got me into the mod scene in a way that Bethesda games never did either

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I haven’t used mods other than the one for turn based gameplay before the official mode was introduced, although people have recommended one that adds extra classes and does some rebalancing I figured it was not something I’d try on the first playthrough. As for a second playthrough… not anytime soon? I generally don’t replay games a lot and P:K is massive so I find the idea of restarting it a touch daunting. I’d totally play a new story though so the sequel is going to be high on my list once it comes out.

  7. Retsam says:

    I played Gorogoa like a week and a half ago, and I can’t tell you what the story was. Something about collecting the dragon balls to get rid of a Kaijuu, I think?

    It was a clever game, but it was a puzzle game that I beat without ever making me feel clever. Worth the ~$5 and 2 hours I spent on it, but not going to make my “best of” list.

    Glad Graveyard Keeper made the list, as I enjoyed that quite a bit.

    I really didn’t care for the aesthetic (so much faux-edge), but as someone who enjoys the life simulator genre but usually wishes they were a bit “heavier” mechanically, (more complex or difficult), GK was a breath of ironically fresh air.

    It had perhaps the tightest economy in any game I can think of. Like that feeling at the beginning of an RPG where you’ve got 12 gp and you’re trying to decide whether to buy the spear (8gp) or the shield (6pg) and the map (5gp) or to save for the sword (20gp). You can’t buy everything you wan’t so you’ve got to prioritize, and it’s agonizing. I love that feeling, but for one reason or another, it rarely lasts beyond the starter town[1].

    But in GK that feeling lasted for at least half the game. It wasn’t until I had really built up my base and had quite a bit of automation that I really started feeling like I had a significant amount of money to spare.

    I’m playing Stardew Valley again, since there’s a new update, and even with the profit margins reduced the economy just isn’t particularly interesting. I think the big factor is the lack of supply and demand – you can just pick the most profitable plant and spam it – especially once watering is no longer a factor, which is fairly early on if you push into the mine.

    Anyway, I totally get why a lot of people didn’t enjoy this game. It’s a “Stardew Valley”-like that doesn’t actually appeal to a huge chunk of the Stardew Valley fans, who like that SV is light and wholesome.

    [1] Either because the game throws money at you, or because you often just find better stuff than the stuff you can buy, making shops basically superfluous unless you run low on consumables. Also, because the marginal effectiveness of a +36 sword vs. a +42 sword is much less significant than the difference between a +1 sword and a +2 sword, making the purchases less interesting, anyway.

    1. Vinsomer says:

      I never thought about it, but you’re right about Stardew Valley’s economy. Concernedape’s missed a pretty easy way to incentivize players to diversify their crops beyond the pretty simplistic quest system. But then again, I think the simplicity is part of the appeal: it’s a farming game, but not a farming sim, and for a game with as many fantastical elements as it has, I really think it’s better off not leaning too hard into the nitty-gritty of real world economics.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Oh absolutely, SV leans very heavily towards the “idyllic” and “relaxing” side of the spectrum of these games, I’m fairly certain they could put more pressure on the player if they wanted to (My Time at Portia feels like it does that much more) but I just don’t think this was what they wanted the game to be.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      The problem with Graveyard Keeper is not the aesthetic, it’s that it gets super grindy halfway through. Even with all the help you can get by using zombies to do the job for you it gets incredibly monotonous, and there’s a lot of walking even though the game has two different kinds of fast travel. It desperately needs some tightening in the gameplay.

      1. Retsam says:

        Honestly, I wasn’t terribly bothered by this. Yeah, maybe a third of the way into the game, some of the systems started feeling like chores (when you start getting more complex crafting recipes), but that was before I had automation. And “make something tedious so that automating it is satisfying” is the sort of trick that I find really satisfying. (See: the Sevtech: Ages minecraft mod)

        I do think if it were me, I’d cut back on the number of different crafting stations: having multiple stations for processing wood into different forms felt unnecessary. But I don’t know that I’d actually make things cheaper or easier to craft.

  8. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    Despite my love of gaming, I actually buy very few games in any given year. Glancing over at my collection, it looks like I bought four games this year, which is probably nothing to your average avid gamer, but is probably a lot for me.

    Early in the year, I bought Final Fantasy 15 and Lost Odyssey. FF15 was a bit of a mixed bag and went a little too grimdark for my liking. And Lost Odyssey was more of a nostalgia purchase, though it held up pretty well for me.

    Later in the year, I got Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Cyberpunk was weird in that it got a lot of my time there for a while despite it being a mess. At this point, it’s been dissected ad nauseum, so I won’t dwell on that.

    Much to my surprise, AC Valhalla has been my favorite of the games I got and played this year. Much has been said about AC games increasingly becoming less and less like AC games and Ubisoft has become a perennial punching bag, though perhaps justified. And it’s true – Valhalla barely feels like an AC game all all of the Ubisoft cram-the-world-full-of-collectable-nonsense shenanigans are all there, but I’ve had fun. A couple of the story beats have annoyed me and you do have to grind a bit if you want to go to the higher level areas, but the gameplay loop has felt pretty good to me. Which may just mean that I need to play more games.

  9. Dotec says:

    There’s now been several comments regarding Graveyard Keeper’s “wholesomeness” (or lack thereof) compared to its contemporaries.

    To my uninitiated eyes, it looks like Stardew Valley – Holiday Spoops edition. The tone and setting appears somewhat macabre, but still lighthearted. If there’s an edge to the game, where is it? And is it firmly tongue-in-cheek or likely to induce eye-rolling?

    I have it wishlisted for my Switch, but am still recovering from some burnout with the genre.

    1. Syal says:

      It’s all lighthearted, but it’s lighthearted murder and corpse desecration. There’s a sidequest to help the Inquisitor draw crowds to his witch burnings. There’s a sidequest to help a Satanic cultist convince people he has magic powers. Which includes waiting for Geralt to roll into town and crushing him with a rock. And then the non-quest stuff like turning corpses into hamburgers and writing paper. The keeper is Not A Good Guy.

      1. Dotec says:

        Thanks! So far, nothing outside of what I was picturing in my mind’s eye when I read those comments. I can sorta guess why even that might be offputting if your main draw to these games is the rainbow-tinted ‘Stardew & Chill’ vibe most games in this genre give off, but it sounds up my alley.

  10. Syal says:

    Don’t remember playing a lot of games this year, and most of them weren’t from this year.

    Hades continues to be the bee’s knees. Combat remains tight and demanding, storylines continue to progress, it’s good.

    Yakuza: Like A Dragon is deeply enjoyable, taking elements from various RPG games (loudly and proudly declaring itself a Dragon Quest-style game) and combining them with the Yakuza style, stories and sidequests. A lot of fun, though there’s some jank that bothers me; the big one is targeting is based on character position on screen, which sucks when characters are constantly moving around and damage bonuses have timing windows. But it’s still engrossing and will almost certainly be played again in the future.

    Like a Dragon reminded me I bought Dragon Quest 11 and never played it, so I started playing it. It’s very generic so far, but it’s crisp and cute. Makes a good alternate when Like A Dragon’s jank starts to grate.

    Still playing Disgaea 5 so I guess that goes on here. The streamlining of Innocent grinding means I’m actually playing the endgame now. Played 1, 2, and 5 so far, and 5 is the only one I’ve gotten characters to level 9999. Story’s still throwaway anime stuff though at least it mostly involves the side characters; in 2 I forgot half the characters existed because they do absolutely nothing storywise.

    I guess… Type Knight? I’m not playing too much else, so yeah Type Knight. Typing game with a very clean approach, you attack faster if you finish a second word during your swing animation, you’re required to delete mistakes and actually spell things correctly*; doesn’t have the style or depth of Epistory Typing Chronicles but it’s better for pick-up-and-play. And unlike Typing of the Dead Overkill there’s very little confusion about which enemy will hit you first.

    …Should I include games I didn’t play? Probably not, but I’ll mention Omori anyway. RPG Maker game, very dark, very surreal, very funny**. Watched TheVoiceOfDog play through it and had Emotions. It’s in Black Swan territory of “that was really well-made and I never want to experience that again.” But maybe YOU do, readers!

    *(I’m fairly sure a lot of these aren’t words though.)

    **(at one point there’s a guy on fire running around, and if you talk to him he stops running and gets down on one knee to deliver a long, slow, heartfelt speech on the power of positivity and believing in yourself.)

    1. Thomas says:

      I heard if you turn off the timing prompts in Yakuza, it replaces them with random damage that often works out a little bit higher than you get from hitting the button prompts right in the first place.

      1. Syal says:

        Interesting, but I meant the “hit the guy before they can stand back up” attacks, where the janky targeting can cost you the opportunity.

        1. Thomas says:

          Ah okay. It bugs me that enemies start off maximally clustered and then immediately begin to spread out, so you have a short-time to pull off an effective AOE attack (especially as the hit boxes for AOE attacks are super weird)

    2. sheer_falacy says:

      Omori was a really fantastic game. It does come with a content warning and you should take it seriously, but a significant chunk of the game us very lighthearted. And the pencil drawing art style for enemies and cutscenes is really distinctive and looks good.

  11. Vinsomer says:

    I think, between needing an upgrade to my rig during maybe the worst possible time in the past decade for upgrading, and the sheer size of my library, I really haven’t played much that came out in 2020. I can only recall 2 games I played which did: Death Stranding and Cyberpunk. The latter I set down because, frankly, it’s not finished, and my new parts are stuck in the post since the UK entered lockdown hell again and I’m not playing it until I’ve beefed up my PC. It’s the first game I had to lower the resolution for, which felt like admitting defeat. We’ll see how round 2 goes next week.

    But the former was a welcome surprise. A big reason why I’ve bought less games last year was that too many major releases are converging around a narrow set of design mechanics. Sure, I’m not the first person to point out how everything’s an open-world collect-a-thon with a protagonist which can be described as ‘____ Batman’, but this was the first year where I really felt that. It often feels that, as a gamer, you have to constantly choose between either something original, or something with the kind of spectacle and production values that come with big budgets, but Death Stranding seemed to have both. It’s not ‘fun’, and it’s far from perfect, but I don’t think there’s a single major AAA action game released last year that I’d have chosen to play over it. I also don’t think I’ve ever played a game which makes traversal of the environment so challenging, and Dark Souls-inspired online interactivity is always great but especially so when it feels like the game is built around it.

    I also played Digimon: Cyber Sleuth, which was a pleasant surprise. Not quite the pokemon-like it was sold to me as (if anything, it’s much closer to the Persona games) but a fun RPG with a surprisingly good story, even if I wanted a bit more from the battle system. It was weird seeing Digimon since I stopped paying attention to the franchise after I think the third season of the anime, and I have to admit I’m not too in love with the Digimon themselves, but in my hunt for an alternative to Pokemon I feel like I already sort of found what I was looking for after the second game I tried.

    As usual, I wasted most of the year playing Football Manager. It’s still easily the best, most complex, deepest, and most rewarding sports game, period. I’m still on the same save I was at the start of the year, except now I’m in the ‘buying so many brazilian teenagers that the police are starting to ask questions’ stage of the save. Don’t judge me, it’s my first season in the Champion’s League.

    1. John says:

      I would be very interested in Death Stranding if only it weren’t a Kojima game. The hiking and package-balancing mechanics sound fascinating. The story, the cutscenes, and the characters with terrible, terrible names all sound utterly awful.

      1. Vinsomer says:

        I think the terrible names are part of the charm of a Kojima game, although I definitely don’t blame anyone who struggles to take Die Hard-Man seriously. I feel like something gets lost in translation, and English words that sound cool to Japanese speakers aren’t the same as English words that sound cool to English speakers. Then again, I’m sure someone in Japan is cringing at, like, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or something.

        I quite like the story. It’s bizarre, but the themes are not only interesting, but somehow more relevant now than at release. And the game has movie quality mo-cap and performances, too. I suppose it has that deliberately esoteric Kojima-ness, as well as a total cutscene time that rivals a TV miniseries, so if you didn’t like those things about Metal Gear Solid, you won’t like them here.

        1. Thomas says:

          Kojima has at least two claims to prescience now, with the themes of Metal Gear Solid 2 looking a lot more relevant now than they did in 2001 and managing to somehow accidentally release a game about a social isolation and disasters four months before a disaster forced everyone into social isolation.

          I’m willing to believe MGS2’s topics were already talked about at the time, in the same way Death Stranding’s social harmony themes have an obvious current inspiration. But still, an impressive record for someone who can only express himself in technobabble.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            A Hideo Kojima game with themes? Like, coherent themes that run through the story? Yeah, right. Where they adressed before or after your commanding officer was revealed to be the giant submarine that had been under you the whole time, and you were currently running around naked inside?*

            Nah, I’m being overly mean. Still, with that particular approach to storytelling, a Metal Gear game indeed does have themes…in the same way that vomit contains food.

            *Or he wasn’t, and it was the submarine pretending to be him, for reasons. Maybe it was being controlled by the Metal Gear robots inside it? Or it was that your commander was a bad guy pretending to be the submarine’s AI pretending to be him. Or was it that the submarine’s AI had slept with your girlfrien – AAAAARGH MY BRAIN WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE

            1. Sleeping Dragon says:

              I think you might enjoy this old Saw movie script as written by a bot and by enjoy I mean hate.

            2. Vinsomer says:

              Outlandish, silly or pure rule-of-cool things and genuine themes are not mutually exclusive. There are a thousand games with cool shit. And yet many of them don’t have the following MG has. Not saying that you have to like the games, but to compare them to vomit is just not reasonable on any level.

              If anything, the abstraction of things like the AI Colonel better serve the themes than pure realism would, or even that the absolute nonsense crescendo that is the Arsenal Gear chapter is itself an important reflection of the incoherence of both the military-industrial complex and its place in the web of geopolitics and more broadly the difficulty of the recognition of the self in a capitalist, post history America but that is an entire essay’s worth of arguments.

  12. TFrengler says:

    The only new game I got and played (and very much enjoyed) in 2020 was Creeper World 4. Released early December and by early January I had completed the campaign.

    As a newly minted dad (my son just turned one today actually) with a very brain-draining job I have so very little time and energy to enjoy myself these days. For this reason (and many others which are enough for a major rant which I will spare you) I find myself attracted to more “old school” singleplayer games. The type with a linear campaign made of X levels, that I can put in 8-20 hours to complete and then walk away.

    Anything too RPG element-ish/open-world/sandbox-y I just can’t do anymore. When you only get to sit down a few hours a week (or once every X weeks) I need something I can easily get into without having to remember how the game worked or where in the plot we are (I’m re-playing a lot of old shooters/action games lately for this very reason).

    Creeper World 4 was exactly what I needed. Didn’t overstay its welcome, took an hour or two per level and after 25 hours or so it was over. Perfect! I also recently completed Abe’s Odessey (the 2014 remake) which I got from Epic’s giveaway and that fit the bill too.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Right! Creeper World 4! That’s one of those games I forgot! In all honesty I think I liked 3 better (and I still have it installed and run it every now and then clearing a level or two of colonial space) but I really like the series overall and the feeling of fighting “a force of (un)nature” rather than enemy units is very unique to it and something I greatly appreciate.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Creeper World 3 is like my “comfort food” game—I pretty regularly go back and play a prospecting mission or two when I want some low-stress game that can engage my brain without actually having to think too hard. I definitely agree, I love the fact that you’re essentially fighting a physics simulation and wish more games had that sort of thing.

        1. TFrengler says:

          I played 3 a few years back (that’s how I even knew about 4), and I really liked it!

          Got to the infamous Farbor mission and stopped (for some reason…) and uninstalled. After playing 4 I decided to buy all of Knuckle Cracker’s games to support them (him? I think it’s a one-man show) and now I have 3 on my laptop again which is perfect for in the evening when my son is asleep and I just want to collapse on my bed/couch and play something not too taxing.

          1. Philadelphus says:

            It’s been interesting to me how my approach to playing has changed over time; when I first started, I was the textbook definition of a turtler, building up strong defensive positions and making very slow progress. Over time, though, I’ve turned into a much more aggressive and brash player, pushing hard and making high-risk high-reward plays. And I love that the game lets you play both ways, and develop between them at your own pace.

  13. John says:

    Okay, looks like my comment got eaten. Well then, here’s the abbreviated version.

    I really liked three of the four new games I purchased this year: Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark, Star Traders: Frontiers, and Fantasy Strike. I’ve talked about them all in the comments on various “What Are You Playing” posts, so I’ll be brief. Fell Seal and Star Traders are a Final Fantasy Tactics-like and an open-world space-RPG, respectively, which scratched my itch for crunchy character design and party composition. Fantasy Strike is a 2D fighting game with simplified execution that’s convinced me that maybe I don’t completely suck at fighting games. Fell Seal and Fantasy Strike have a demo and a free-to-play version, respectively, and if I hadn’t tried them first I don’t think I would have bought either game. I’m glad I did and there should be more demos like that.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      I really appreciate your bringing up Fantasy Strike last year. I’ve had a blast with it (despite my rather low overall playtime), and I can get behind the idea of removing execution barriers to get to the tactical and strategic layers of ‘chess on wheels.’ I distinctly remember getting swept up in the 2009 fighting game renaissance, but my gaming friends repeatedly had difficulty executing fireball motions or working out the timing of animation cancels. I wish the game had caught on more during a low year for fighting game releases; I’m guessing the small cast and indie-scale visuals are problems there.

      I also second the call for more games with demos. Heck, I had ignored Final Fantasy VII Remake until someone here pointed out its demo last week! After playing it, I’m considering purchasing the full game. I’m basically only looking forward to two games this year: Monster Hunter Rise (demo already available) and King of Fighters XV (hopefully an online beta test or something).

      1. John says:

        Alas, I’m not playing as much Fantasy Strike as I used to either. I used to play daily but now I play mostly on the weekends and sometimes not even then. I’ve hit the point where ranked play is incredibly fraught. I often feel like I’m hanging on to my Gold rank by my fingernails. Casual matches are still a blast, however. A couple of weeks ago I randomly got matched against a much better player whom I’ve watched play in some online tournaments. He absolutely wrecked me, but I did manage to take one round and it felt amazing.

        Fantasy Strike is close to my ideal fighting game. It’s Street Fighter but slightly less complicated. I suspect that the market for a game like that consists mostly of me. It’s too simple for FGC die-hards. The art isn’t good enough that the game can sell itself on visuals the way that, say, Skullgirls did but also not crude enough that people are willing to overlook it the way they might for something like Divekick. I’m a little sad that the game isn’t more popular, but not too surprised.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          I get that about the ranked play; I finally fired it up last night, overcoming a goofy anxiety about competing against others online. My first opponent . . . had apparently gone to make a sandwich, so I got the lamest first win ever. My other two matches were against players who were there, though, which makes for more engaging gameplay overall.

          Out of curiosity, who was the player? I’ve been following TPK’s weekly online tournaments since first playing Fantasy Strike, and I’m curious if I recognize the name.

          1. John says:

            It was Grubby Grimbo. I think he normally plays Argargarg, but he did me in with Geiger. His player level is so far beyond mine that we probably shouldn’t have been matched against each other. I can only assume that more appropriate options were hard to find that particular Sunday afternoon. I would have been very unhappy to be matched against him in ranked. In casuals, however, it was kind of awesome.

            I’ve tried watching TPK’s tournaments before, but unfortunately I don’t care for his commentary style. I usually watch the Toronto Top Tiers weekly Fantasy Strike tournament instead.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              That’s fair. To be honest, I watched so much tournament footage back in the SFIV/MvC3 era that I tune out most commentators, unless they’re like Yipes-level.

              I’ll take a crack at the Toronto Top Tiers videos, but I kinda feel obligated to support TPK as a fellow North Carolina educator.

    2. Steve C says:

      I forgot about Star Traders: Frontiers. That’s on my disappointment list. I found the mechanics too random. The game felt like it was playing me rather than me playing it.

      Inputs can be random. Or outputs can be random. When they are both random at the same time though, that’s a problem. There’s very little a player has in terms of agency.
      Otherwise it was nice.

  14. Smosh says:

    I actually like calling “genres” after the game that started it. It’s much more reasonable than the insanity that are current video game genre names, where MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) does not include Quake, but does include Heroes of the Storm even if you play it solo with 9 bots (which to me seems weird, but is actually something that a lot of people do).

    Rogue-like is a great example, HarvestMoon-like works just fine. That way we don’t end up with utterly incorrect names like First Person Shooter: includes Portal, where you don’t shoot anyone, but does not include any of the hundreds of shoulder-cam shooters which are really not very different from Half Life, nor does it include Minecraft where you shoot Zombies with a bow in first person.

    Notably video game “genres” aren’t genres. They are games. LoL, DOTA, HotS and Smite are the same game type with slight (though sometimes significant) variations. If we wanted genres, we would have to group Call of Duty together with Gears of War, but less so with Left 4 Dead.

    In board game land, a genre like “deck builder” contains more than just a single game with skin changes. Make Knight The Boardgame and Puzzle Strike are very different games, but they share that genre tag. Call of Duty and Battlefield aren’t the same genre, they are literally the same game with a few number tweaks. Their fundamental game mechanics are completely identical.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      I don’t really have anything to add here; I just found it amusing that two consecutive posts reference two different Sirlin Games products.

  15. Ramsus says:

    Yeah, the lack of a map really killed Carrion for me. My memory is just not good enough and so after the second time I spent almost an hour retreading the same spaces just to find whatever I missed so I could progress I decided to stop playing.

    1. Simplex says:

      It was a bad design decision, but it can be alleviated using fanmade maps and youtube videos.

      https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2177020291

  16. Dreadjaws says:

    I know people are disappointed with the Resident Evil 3 remake, but I really liked it. I feel that most of the complaints stem from the high expectations the RE2 remake created, because the original RE3 was guilty of the majority of the same issues the new one has, but since that game kinda took people by surprise back then they didn’t notice. And yes, Nemesis is too linear now, but sadly, this is the product of complaints people had with Mr X being too random in RE2. You just can’t please everyone.

    I loved Carrion. I did have a little trouble with backtracking due to the lack of map (the game does at least offer a few hints about what areas are still incomplete when you pass near the entrances), and I found myself lost a few times, but overall the experience was fantastic.

    I also had a great time with Spiritfarer. Not sure how to define that game. I guess it also has similarities to Harvest Moon, as you grow crops and basically build a town. The difference being that the town is also your ship, and your method of transportation. This means that unlike in most games where you have to wait until you reach your destination to start doing things, you can do things here while traveling, which makes the game feel like it appreciates your time. Also, it has a story, a beginning and an end, so it’s not an “infinite play” style game like The Sims or anything like that. Plus, entertaining, engaging characters and an emotional storyline.

    I’m having a great time with Hades currently. Everything about it is fantastic. Fun gameplay, interesting characters and story and absolutely gorgeous visuals. And every time you think you have the game completely figured out it throws something new at you. Easily one of the best games of 2020.

    I also had a blast with Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate. I waited until the game was complete to buy it, so while I hear there were issues at launch I didn’t experience any of them. Netherrealm Studios has been killing it with their fighting games’ story modes ever since MK9 (I’d argue it’s been since MK vs DC, but no one seems to care about that game), and this has been no different. A visceral story full of engaging characters and unexpected twists, probably the best of the bunch. I mean, you know, at least for the standards set by fighting games. But those standards have been higher and higher every year thanks to these games.

  17. Alan says:

    A streamer I follow (Aavak) dubbed the farming and friend making genre “tend-and-befriend”, which both feels right to me and is apparently a psychology term.

  18. Henson says:

    Man, this list sure is a lot of isometric/2D titles. It’s pretty amazing to think how strongly games have branched out into these old-school presentation methods, especially compared to how the landscape looked ten years ago.

    On that same front, I just finished Hyper Light Drifter, which was nice, if frustrating at times with mouse control. Still, I really wish it had done a bit more with telling story through atmosphere; the elements are all there! but it would be nice if it ran a bit deeper.

  19. Thomas says:

    I haven’t played a single game in your ‘good stuff’ list this year Shamus. I don’t think that’s happened before. I did play Gris though (and it would be in my good stuff for this year) and I like the look of Goroga now you’ve talked about it.

    I didn’t comment on my own games in the disappointment list because I thought most of the games I played were good but now looking back it’s actually mostly been disappointments. And very few of them were released this year.

    Persona 5 Royale – I never even got to the Royale bit. I’d already played Persona 5 and I found repeating old social links to be fairly uninteresting.

    Greedfall – The game I’m most glad existed this year. It recreated that old Bioware feel even if the developers didn’t have the budget to keep the jank levels down. Didn’t complete it despite enjoying it.

    Fallen Order – was put off by the game-y environments and didn’t get far.

    Superhot – the mechanics are superb but the way they don’t make it easy to repeat levels you’ve finished is not. This is the perfect game for going for style points and they don’t facilitate that. Also the ending asks your character to do something obviously bad and I spent 30 minutes staying alive avoiding that only to realise there was no way to avoid it, at which point I turned off the console. So I technically didn’t complete it.

    Indivisible – looks great, I like the attempt to build party-based mechanics into more of an action game, but the story wasn’t good enough for me to continue

    Gris – Superb.

    Fall Guys – spent a very fun couple of days messing around with a friend, and that’s all I really needed from this game. Got some crowns so I can claim I ‘completed’ this one.

    The Witcher 3 – I promised myself this time I would get further than Novigrad. I did not get further than Novigrad. I need to accept reality and not play this one again, because otherwise it’s becoming a bit of an abusive habit. Disappointingly I hoped I’d connect with the setting more after watching the Netflix show, but I still found it impossible to feel the setting from within the game.

    Ghosts of Tsushima – The best Ubisoft style open-world game that has been made, the environment is fluid, the combat is riveting and the final story beats worked exactly as they should work in games. But I hope if they make another one they break free of the formula and make the world more systemic and lived in.

    Yakuza: Like a Dragon – I didn’t realise the storytelling in these games were so good. The turn-based combat helped me go a lot further than previous attempts at Yakuza games, but they’re missing all the subtleties that makes turn-based combat in Persona great. Different jobs aren’t varied enough, status effects aren’t worth applying, so it’s mostly watching gorgeous animations whilst DPSing and healing. I haven’t finished it yet but I hope I will.

    So I only completed 3 games this year, and most of them didn’t quite live up to the hype. The games I enjoyed the most this year would fill out the back-end of a Top 10 in a normal year. Maybe time to try Final Fantasy VII Remake!

  20. Jabrwock says:

    I was frustrated by the lack of a map in Carrion. I believe your Howl at least points you to the nearest save point, but yeah, there was a lot of backtracking as I tried to figure out how to get back to an area I had been to before, as some are gated by some very roundabout one-way paths.

    Overall though I had a blast with the interface and the concept. It felt like playing The Thing. You can either go in whole hog and just devour everyone, or you can take it slow and use a bit of infiltration to spice things up. I just love using Howl to freak the scientists out into running a certain way, or to attract the attention of a guard so I can get them to walk past my airvent.

    Graveyard Keeper was great fun, I liked the fact that you knew at a glance what character was available when during the calendar. I stopped playing though when I when I was experimenting with the ingredients to make potions for embalming. I just got tired of writing down combinations I’d tried, and while I like looking up a wiki entry to use as a reference to remind me of something I’ve already learned, it bugged me that I either had to super grind, or look everything up on the wiki. I would like to see a game feature where your failures reward you with tips, or clues, as to what the “right” combination was. Like noting “hmm, close, maybe I just don’t have the right solvent”. It felt instead like a game of MasterMind where you get zero feedback as to what you did wrong. It just felt like a slog. Considering the simplicity of the interface, and the fact that all dialogue is text, it would have been nice to have more in-game notes about ingredients.

    1. Retsam says:

      Yeah, I’ve been a persistent defender of GK, but the alchemy system was probably the biggest flop in the game for me. In theory the game wants you to figure out the recipes (e.g. buying them from the witch), but in practice doesn’t really provide you much mechanism to do so other than no-feedback tedious trial-and-error. So of course most player are just going to have to look up the wiki and be done with it, which is a real missed opportunity.

      I like the “MasterMind” suggestion – or I think the game could have just provided more ways to get the recipes in game. Like the whole Science mechanic should actually tell you how to make stuff, not just give generic Science points.

    2. houser2112 says:

      MasterMind doesn’t have feedback?

      1. Jabrwock says:

        I meant it felt like a game of Mastermind where they coverup the feedback column so you get no feedback and are just left guessing what you did wrong.

  21. Melfina the Blue says:

    So, thanks to RL death, I didn’t buy a single game this year. I did play games quite a bit, almost entirely Elder Scrolls Online so I could socialize with normal people as I can’t in real life (thanks COVID for hitting right after I agree to commitment, I appreciate it). I do have Cyberpunk 2020, but I have enough frustration in RL right now, I’m not about to play a brand-new game…

    Oh, also I play Pokemon Go and Wizards Unite, but that’s because I got my first smartphone and yay pokemon and Harry Potter. Go is more quarantine friendly and less buggy but WU is more interactive and battles are more fun.

  22. Nimrandir says:

    Stardew Valley may not be a role-playing game, but darned if I didn’t approach it in the most literal sense of role-playing. In my first game, I made my character look as much like myself as possible, did as little actual farming as I could manage, and befriended pretty much everyone in town.

    When we bought the Steam version, I made my avatar look like an obscure character from a single episode of The Golden Girls, then proceeded to get romantically involved with every single available female NPC, much like his namesake would have done if dropped into Pelican Town.

    While I won’t argue over Stardew Valley’s status as a role-playing game, I think it’s safe to say that I am a role-player.

    1. Melfina the Blue says:

      Most the fun of those sort of games is the characters I (or you or whoever) make and the stories to tell with them, imho anyway. I have way too much fun with the ongoing story in my head (which may or may not match up with the game story), which has generally snarky comments from both NPCs and (of course) my PCs.

      Also, YAY Golden Girls. So many fond memories of watching that with my Gamy…

  23. Echo Tango says:

    Re: Art Feast
    I’m not a person to try and classify games strictly, and have a broad definition of what “””counts””” as a “game”. However, I firmly believe that you need to choose your medium and use its strengths, for any given piece of art. As you put it, the way Gris moves and flows adds something that couldn’t be had easily in another medium, but why was Gorogoa a game rather than a cartoon or comic-book? I definitely remember playing it back in the day, possibly before it came to Steam, if it was available elsewhere earlier in its life, but I can’t really remember feeling like I had anything added by the mechanics of this art being a game. I think I’ll have to re-play this one – maybe I’ll get something out of its interactivity, just like I did Fire Watch or Gone Home… :)

    I guess that’s a long way of saying, that I don’t think we need a label like “art feast”, since games like that would either be better described by other things, or else (in my opinion) would likely be better if they’d been created for another medium. ^^;

    1. Retsam says:

      I’m struggling to imagine how Gorogoa could be any other medium than a game.

      Interactivity is pretty core to the experience, the whole game is about manipulating these “windows” into different scenes to make things line up, like “I zoom in on this tree branch, and notice that it connects to the tree on the other window, and rearrange the windows so that they’re the same tree branch”, (example clip), basically you’re try to achieve some form of forced perspective.

      I don’t really see how this could be translated to any other medium. Certainly not a comic book, maybe a trippy animated video or something could give that feeling of forced perspective, but I don’t really feel it’s the same experience.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        OK apparently I just mis-remembered 110% of what Gorogoa actually was. Like, it’s one big hidden-object (-ish) game, or similar to the puzzle-box gameplay of The Room, where you’re exploring what’s possible, not just looking at fancy visuals. Yeah, so I guess I’d tag Gorogoa as “art feast” and “hidden object” or “puzzle box” on Steam. ^^;

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Funnily enough, a friend recommended Gorogoa to me back in maybe August or so, and I had also completely confused it with another game (which I can’t remember the name of now) which I wasn’t interested in playing. I’m glad I checked out a Let’s Play of it a few months later, as I picked it up afterwards late last year and enjoyed it.

  24. Leviathan902 says:

    Hades is as many others have said, the GOTY for me. It actually caught me by surprise because I don’t typically like rogue-likes. But the continual-improvement mechanics to ease failure and the Supergiant reputation encouraged me to pick it up anyway, and then I couldn’t put it down. I played the absolute hell (hehe( out of that game and loved every minute of it.

    Horizon Zero Dawn really worked for me in a way I didn’t expect. I’ve been getting really sick of open-world games lately and so I was a little skeptical of HZD, but it really blew me away. I got hooked on this game when I was in quarantine for 2 weeks, it’s nearly all I did when I had the energy to do anything. I’ll be buying a PS5 when they’re obtainable just for this game.

    Cyberpunk 2077 I know, I know, we’re supposed to be mad at CDPR and hate this game, but I just can’t. I mean, this game is basically the Witcher 3 in first person in the future (everything from quest to world design to writing quality) and I just can’t hate that.

    Gears (of War) Tactics I really didn’t know what to expect from this game. A Microsoft-published Gears of War game, that’s an X-Com style strategy game and it’s PC exclusive. You know what else it is? AWESOME. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had with this style tactical game ever. The combat is visceral and exciting, and rewards aggressive play which is at first counter-intuitive but fun. You’ll end up murdering dozens and dozens of bad guys in a map, but it never feels easy. If you haven’t played this game and you like turn based tactics like Xcom, do yourself a favor and play it, whether you’re a Gears fan or not.

    1. Thomas says:

      One thing Horizon does that other modern open-world games don’t, is make travel important. A large chunk of the game/story is devoted to an almost linear journey travelling across the game world. And travel can feel dangerous and challenging, when you first encounter a Thunderjaw blocking your route it’s a fearsome moment.

      I think that helps make Horizon’s world feel more like a place and less like a placeholder for mini-map markers. At least until you get to Meridian and the game world opens up more. It puts it a little closer to a traditional RPG.

      1. Leviathan902 says:

        Completely agree 100%. Couldn’t say it any better myself.

    2. Chad Miller says:

      GoW Tactics is on Xbox also. It’s currently on my “installed but not played” list.

      1. Leviathan902 says:

        Correct. It was PC exclusive at first but then eventually made it over to Xbox. Definitely play it if you’re into those type of games, you won’t regret it.

        I will fault it 2 things: 1) the strategic layers is barebones to non-existent. It’s basically just equipping your soldiers and deciding who take with you on missions. It doesn’t take away from the fun tactical gameplay though. I just wish it had an Xcom style strategic layer of some sort. 2) The final boss is an absolute chore to fight with tons of adds and your team split so they can’t even cover each effectively. It’s irritating as hell.

        In the grand scheme things, that’s 2 fairly minor quibbles. It’s a great game.

  25. Higher Peanut says:

    I don’t think I bought much at all for 2020.

    Top winners go to Dragon Ball Fighterz (which came out 3 years ago but is dripfeeding DLC) partially because the game is nice. It looks great and is very good at making you feel powerful, even when you’re terrible. The other reason it ranks highly is I found the local (well oceanic) community discord for it. Having a group to rally around really helps.

    The other thing I got into is I fell into the world of Pinball streams on Twitch. It’s a niche community so everyone tends to know each other and have a good time. There’s not a huge amount of physical pinball around here and I’ve been using virtual pinball is an OK replacement. It’s definitely not the same as real pinball, but has a huge range of tables and the physics have gotten much better with computer progress.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I had one of the pinball games released on the consoles (Pinball Arcade) and it was really, really fun. I was looking for more games and more tables — especially the old Data East Star Wars one, that I LOVED to play when I was in university — but haven’t been able to find much that’s interesting. But, yeah, virtual ones work pretty well for some light entertainment.

  26. Dalisclock says:

    I’ve only played Carrion on this list and I enjoyed it but also felt it was a little disappointing. The monster stuff is fun and all but the environments feel really samey after a while and the fact the game isn’t very long is what makes it bearable. Even then, it felt like they could have chopped an hour or so off the run time so it wouldn’t be so noticable.

    Graveyard keeper is one of those games I keep going back and forth on whether I want to make the commitment to play it. It looks interesting, I like the art style but when I hear it’s really hard to get going and then gets grindy later on that feels like I’m gonna be fighting the game more then enjoying it.

    Maybe I’ll grab it on sale and then try it out someday.

  27. Mr. Wolf says:

    I’d like to nominate XCOM: Chimera Squad for a special award: Best Release Schedule.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Yeah! “Hey guys, we’re making a new XCOM game, oh and by the way, it comes out next week.”

      I played it when it released, while in the middle of an XCOM 2 run, and kind of bounced off the whole interleaved turns things, but I came back to it late last year (after a few months of no XCOM 2) and enjoyed it a lot more, to the point where I’ve started idly dreaming of a Pokémon-like game with similar interleaved turns and multi-combatant teams. I wasn’t a huge fan of the fact that, similar to XCOM 1, you’re back to being more reactive than proactive and simply tamping down a bunch of simultaneous fires, but overall it was fun and the relatively short missions kept things moving.

      But wow, that final Sacred Coil mission. Think I got through everything else in the game (including the final missions) with at most a single retry in a few cases, but that one took me something like five or six tries, and I had to use a different team than I originally had. (Zephyr’s ability to automatically attack things that come into proximity absolutely saved my bacon.)

  28. MilesDryden says:

    So either Final Fantasy 7 Remake is in your top 2, or you completely ignored it. Getting nervous…

    1. fumble says:

      He said in a pervious article that he hasn’t played it.

      1. Henson says:

        I don’t think you should slander an article like that.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          Is it slander or libel? I’m still not clear on which applies to Internet discourse.

        2. fumble says:

          Huh?

          https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=51552

          Under the No-Show List section:

          “EDIT: Forgot to mention the FF7 Remake. I own it. I just need to hook up my PS4 again.”

          1. Henson says:

            *whooosh*

            Ahem: ‘pervious’.

            1. fumble says:

              Ah. I reread my comment 4 times to see if I wasn’t getting something and still didn’t see my typo! Whoosh indeed.

          2. Nimrandir says:

            Thanks for pointing out the edit. I’m guessing I read the post before that addition.

  29. I am lucky enough to have a job where I work long overnight shifts, with very little oversite and a lot of time to play games. Keeping my schedule on my days off makes it easier for me (and helps me handle my son’s insomnia so my wife can sleep). Time kind of blends together, but I get a hell of a lot of game time because of this. With 2020 shutting down everything else in my personal life except my Pathfinder campaign, that lead to a lot of game playing this year. With that being said some of my game are from previous years that I just got to.

    Disappointments:
    Soul Calibur 6 After seeing what Netherrealms was able to do with a mix of rpg and fighting games in Injustice 2 and MK 11, this felt like a definitive step back.

    Divinity: Original Sin 2 Try as I might I can’t get into this. I am not sure what it is but nothing in the game clicks for me. The combat is cool, but I hate the setting, characters, etc.

    Destiny 2: Beyond Light Besides causing a fracture in my brother’s and mine relationship due to incidental family drama, the whole sunsetting and content vault killed what should be a good game; nothing has the moment to moment shooting that Bungie put into this game. For all the shit talking though, it looks like Activision was what made the gameplay loop compelling, because good lord, Bungie has just been messing it up since they split. Deep Stone Crypt was pretty epic though

    Mixed thoughts:
    Borderlands 3: The gameplay improvements I enjoyed. The fact that your vault hunter actually had a distinct personality was a plus (I actually really loved Zane as a character, he might be my favorite right after Handsome Jack). Maxing your level before the end of the game killed the grind for me. No reason to replay once I had every challenge and secret complete. Lack of raids also meant no reason to continue the grind, once you conquered the 2 takedowns. I am glad I played it and also glad I uninstalled it. Playing when I did with the Steam release months later I am also glad I missed out on the sponginess Shamus reported.

    Baldur’s Gate 3 I see so many people debating the “feel” of the game, that I think they really don’t see the forest for the trees. Forget Cyberpunk, this game is the most buggy thing I have played in years; crashes, etc. The early access moniker is the only thing that gets it a reprieve. Also missing every class I would want to play makes it hard to eagerly jump in. But the graphics and presentation are amazing, and everything outside of the UI and inventory don’t give me pause the way Divinity does.

    The Outer Worlds I just can’t get into it at all. Which is a shame because I cam currently replaying New Vegas on my surface at work

    What I enjoyed:

    Soulslikes: Code Vein Anime, jiggle physics, deep character creation and customization, mixing dark souls with a walking simulator. Thank god you can skip the cut scenes. The dlc was garbage, but the game itself is a pretty decent example of the genre, and giving you a companion negates a lot of the difficulty spikes that non-souls players encounter.

    Mortal Shell Is an exemplary example of what a curated experience can be. Short, too the point, but really polished for an 8 person team. One of the shortest but most appealing Soulslikes I have played.

    Hellpoint Is what happens when the designers go ape shit over level design in a Soulslike. Not the best combat or platforming, but the aesthetic of Hell-Raiser, Event Horizon, and Dead Space mixing with Dark Souls really appealed to me

    Salt and Sanctuary, Blasphemous, <Death's Gambit, Dead Cells, Sundered, and Vigil: the Longest Night : mixing Soulslike combat with Metrodvania gameplay is genius. All of these are great games. I have a couple more on my list that I haven’t gotten into deeply yet (Dark Devotion ,Hollow Knight, and Unworthy.)

    Endless Legend: Complete Edition: such a great 4x. And the irony of being complete when they are coming out with another dlc.

    Heroes of Might Magic 3,4,5: replayed these classics. So great

    Wasteland 3: Still near the beginning, but it is clicking for me in a way that Wasteland 2 didn’t

    and Rouge-lites:<Crying Suns:just got this so haven’t delved too deep yet, butChildren of Morta and Hades might be tied for my game of the year. Love them both, the emphasis on family hit home in 2020. Two great examples of the genre in my opinion.

    I finally played Deus Ex:Human Revolution’s Director’s Cut: I love this game. It doesn’t matter that the story falls apart at the end, the journey to get there is so entertaining. And I started Deus Ex:Mankind Divided December 3rd but put it on hold in order to play….

    Cyberpunk 2077 is so good, I wonder what people were expecting. I HATED Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto 5 so much I never bought RDR 2, so I have no point for a comparison, but I am really enjoying the game play and story. Not sure so much if I will have the desire to replay it multiple times, but I am not upset that I pre-ordered. I have experienced significantly less bugs that I did in BG 3 for example. I am sorry about the console games state, and the crunch the workers went through, but not in any way about the game I got.

    1. Hal says:

      Hollow Knight is really satisfying to play; it gripped me this past year the way no game has done in a while.

      I enjoyed Blasphemous, but didn’t finish it. While I really dug the aesthetics of it, the particular style of story-telling just wasn’t working for me (i.e. there’s a coherent story if you gather up all the in-game items and put them into a semblance of order.)

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Hollow Knight’s pretty dang good, except the blood-torch dudes they added. Those felt pretty grindy to me, although possibly because they were making me re-tread ground I’d already covered in my earlier non-expansion-packed game. The fighting itself was pretty annoying though for those guys. Honestly, I think I’d really like just the original game, plus the quality-of-life improvements like extra map markers, stag-stations, and the few little touches they added like the honeycomb boss. :)

        1. Hal says:

          I didn’t mind the Grimm Troupe content, even if Grimm is a bastard of a fight. I didn’t really consider the re-treading to be a problem because 1) I was already retreading all this ground to find all the little things I’d left behind, like grubs and mask shards and such, 2) since I was trying to collect Geo for the unbreakable charms, I didn’t mind killing more bugs as I putzed around, and 3) the fast travel options available make it relatively painless to travel around the map.

          Except for Deepnest. That place is awful and fie on the developers for making it. (I suspect that’s how they wanted you to feel about the place, but all the same . . . guh.)

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Man, I’m still waiting for a Linux build of Blasphemous. Let me wallow in depressing imagery of self-flagellation and twisted iconography! :)

    3. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Seems I bailed out of Destiny 2 at the right moment. I still miss the lore, the locations and the actual shooting, but it was eating way too much of my time and like a season or season and a half into the previous season pass I figured I don’t feel like buying the next pass so might as well drop it there. I was getting some very mixed signals between Bungie saying they “understand there are too many dailies and they feel like a chore” and “sunsetting will make you regrind gear basically every season” but it seems that I made the right call.

    4. Rosseloh says:

      Cyberpunk is my GOTY 2020, easily. I enjoy it a lot. Very few bugs, mostly inconsequential, in fact most of them are quite funny when they happen. Only a couple have made me reload a save, over a hundred hours (and I’m still not done with the game, I actually have been taking a break just so I don’t burn out on it in my limited free time).

      I’m not going to downplay the console issues, but on PC, seriously….anyone who is “massively disappointed” or “hates” it, I’d love to know what sort of hype they were getting themselves in to before it released. Because it has so far lived up to every expectation I had of it, and then some.

  30. Shamus,I made a wall of text, tried to edit in an end to a bold caption, and got marked as spam

    1. Shamus says:

      Got it!

      Stupid spam filter.

  31. evileeyore says:

    In any case, we really need a handy name to sum up this genre: “A town improvement game with strong social elements where you improve your own property while also building relationships and helping your neighbors and gameplay involves a lot of time and energy management as you need to keep an eye on the in-game clock.”

    So it’s a Town Management/Society Simulator? TowMan/SocSim. There you go, short and simple, you don’t even have to attribute it to me.

    In fact, please do not attribute it to me.

    To be honest I just refer to these style games as “micromanagement town sims” to differentiate them from games like Dwarf Fortress which is “macro/micro management” and Majesty which is closer to “macromanagement” (but still closeish to the center of the slider of micro-macro). SimCity and Shylines are more “pure” ‘macromanagement’ but the scale is larger and tuned away from the “society/relationship management” game…

    1. evileeyore says:

      (ran out of time to edit this in above)

      Unfortunately there’s no map and nothing to help you know where you should go next. If the game was divided into distinct levels that branched out from a common hub, then you could just return to the main area after every conquest and open the next door. But instead the sprawling game map is made from many interlocking loops. It’s impossible to know which direction you need to go, and you’re probably going to waste a lot of time traversing now-empty rooms in search of your next objective.

      Now that actually really appeals to me. It’s something I really like about the old school games, original Prince of Persia, Pitfall, Montezuma’s Revenge, etc. Where you either needed to make maps or have a really good memory for map-flow to know where things are, to go back to after unlocking things.

      Literally the only thing I enjoyed about Arkham Asylum.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        Hollow Knight has come up elsewhere, but I think its approach to an in-game map is pretty cool. You can buy incomplete area maps, with additional tools for you to fill in the blanks yourself. The ‘You Are Here’ marker is a separate item. As far as I’ve seen, none of it is mandatory.

        It lets the player decide where they want to be on the Bloodborne-to-Metroid spectrum.

  32. Paul Spooner says:

    We’ve finally gotten to a game I played! Noita really is a keeper.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      I was blown away with how much new stuff they added in the 1.0 update, and then in some more updates after that. I haven’t actually played in two months now, and I’m both scared and excited to go back and see what new wonders/terrors await me.

      It’s also the game that finally got me to start modding again and even release a few on Steam Workshop, which has been fun.

  33. Maleldil says:

    I’ve heard the term “cottage-core” to describe Stardew Valley and its ilk, maybe that’s what you’re looking for?

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Seeing how chill SV is calling it “cottage-core” cracks me up.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        It’s funny you bring up how chill Stardew Valley is. The last thing I remember doing in my first run is realizing I planted a rare crop two days before winter would kill everything. I won’t say that’s why I quit, but I can’t deny the correlation . . .

  34. Mersadeon says:

    Regarding Grave Keeper and the genre name: while all current examples seem to be about farming in some way (please, someone, correct me if I’m wrong, I’d love to see different themes, I already love the idea of Grave Keeper because of the twist!), I hope the genre name for that doesn’t end up being farming related, because genre names do have an influence on how we perceive possible games and what people might buy. I really want to see Stardew Valley-esque games (or even Animal Crossing-ish!) in wildly different settings. Managing an android repair facility. Keeping the weird rooms of a wizard academy clean and in check. So many possibilities!

    About Carrion: absolutely agree, after a pause in playing for about a week I totally lost where I was supposed to go and had to spend a lot of time getting back to new content. Some form of general minimap would have really helped. Also, I wish the game was a bit longer, I feel like there were some cool puzzle ideas and room layouts the game could have expanded on.

    For Noita, now that it’s basically out, I’m kinda disappointed. It’s neat, sure, but it’s also, from a mechanical standpoint, leaning way too hard into not respecting my time. Modern Rougelite/whatevers are finally figuring out that randomly rolling wether I get a deathscreen or not after 30 minutes isn’t great, and that you need to prevent “degenerate strategies” like “hey I have a wand that can dig, the optimal strategy is now to dig up all the money on lvl1 for an hour”. I love all the particle simulation and all that, but I feel it’s being held back by the f act that I have to invest so much time into a run that may very randomly get screwed by forces entirely out of my control (they never got the “worms anger gods” thing perfectly under control, for example).

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      My Time at Portia has a farming component but it’s much more about mining, woodcutting and crafting. To the point where you’re running a “workshop” rather than a farm. I think there was also some kind of “pokemonish” game in a similar vein that came out recently? And yeah, I’m also hoping the core gameplay will sprout a few more “Stardew Valley/Harvest Moon but”. SV appeal was mostly about the chill atmosphere and making everyone friends, not carrots!

      1. Jabrwock says:

        I’ve never tried MTaP, but it’s up on XBox game pass (I tried their $2/3 months trial), so I’ll give it a shot.

  35. Rosseloh says:

    …and it’s really too bad that the FS parts of FS2020 are so horrifically bad, because I agree, the worldgen and ortho parts of it are amazing and I wish all flight sims had this. I did not know Asobo were the FUEL guys.

    But, sorry. I am a….more-than-pedantic flight simmer, not a flight gamer – I want the physics to behave mostly accurately, and the systems to do what they do in the real plane (whatever that plane may be). I’ll stick to x-plane.

  36. evilmrhenry says:

    My best of 2020 (Games that I played in 2020, not games that were released then. Some of these are really old.) would be
    Children of Morta: The first rogue-lite I’ve really enjoyed since Rogue Legacy. Great story, and doesn’t pull the usual trick of cranking the difficulty slider all the way to 11, which means normal people have a hope of beating it.
    and
    Supraland: 3D Metroidvania, with a very distinctive visual style.

    Other games I played and enjoyed this year:
    Axiom Verge: didn’t really do anything with the “hacking” tools, but otherwise a good Metroidvania.
    Shrine II: Doom mod; the difficulty of the last bit makes it difficult to recommend, but the Doom gameplay is still good, and this is a nice version of it.
    Super Mario Galaxy: on the Wii. (Still finishing it up, but I got the ending cutscene already, so…) It’s obviously flawed due to the gravity mechanic, and the Wii controller, but it’s still Mario.
    Super Metroid: The genre is named after it for a reason. There are some issues, but it’s still a classic.
    Anodyne 2: Return To Dust: It spoke to me.
    Doom 64: It’s Doom, and the PC re-release means you can actually see it this time, and don’t have to use an N64 controller for it.
    Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair: Interesting idea with the Impossible Lair. Not so sure it works, but still good.
    Shantae: Half-Genie Hero: It’s a good Metroidvania.
    Obduction: “From the makers of Myst”.
    Mark of the Ninja: Don’t really like most stealth games, but moving to 2D allows me to actually know what’s going on.
    Luigi’s Mansion: M-Mario?
    F.E.A.R.: It’s good.
    Eric the Unready: One of the transitional games between text adventures and graphical adventures. It’s also a good game.
    Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Kicking people into spikes covers a multitude of sins.

  37. Rariow says:

    It’s actually been a fantastic year gaming-wise for me. I’ve finally got some disposable income, so I bought a PS4 midway through last year (which I didn’t have much time to play until this year), then my PC died so I finally got myself a machine capable of running games that came out after 2015, and I snagged a cheap Switch on Black Friday, so I’ve basically been going down the greatest hits list of the past console generation now that it’s all suddenly opened up to me. Plus, for some mysterious reason, I’ve not been able to leave the house much, and I’ve dedicated that time to gaming instead. Here’s the best ones I played:

    I started off the year with Persona 5: Royal. The vanilla Persona 5 was actually one of the few games I beat on PS4 last year, and I really really loved it (it was probably the biggest system seller for a Persona fanboy like myself). Royal is an updated version of that same game: The combat’s been slightly tweaked and adjusted to make it a little more interesting, there’s a bunch of new content during the main game (including several new characters to hang out with during the social sim part of the game), and there’s a really long (not sure how long, 10-20 hours?) epilogue which includes its own little satisfying story arc. I’m a bit conflicted as to whether I prefer vanilla or Royal here. The base game ended on a really thematically resonant point, and the epilogue sort of ruins that, not to speak of the fact that I don’t think the epilogue really fits in in Persona 5. It feels a lot more like a Persona 4 arc, abandoning 5’s themes of rebellion and going more for a “the truth is worth fighting for no matter what!” theme. It is a solid story, and I think it makes the worst character in vanilla actually interesting, but it doesn’t really fit. Plus, they changed the fantastic Last Surprise from the main battle theme to only playing when you get ambushed (which you obviously want to avoid), and substituted it with a much less inspired piece! That said, the best version of the base game is the version of the base game in Royal, so… I don’t know. It’s still Persona 5, so it’s still my favorite game I played this year.

    I also played Doom 2016 this year. That’s a fantastic game once it gets going, but I don’t think it gets going until about three levels before the end. Before that point fights feel way too short and easy to really get a good sense of flow going, even on Hard mode, so you spend way too much time in the boring collectathon exploration (the original also had exploration, but it was faster and took up way less of the total playtime). It’s weird, I’m generally pretty bad at FPS, but I’m the only person who seems to feel this game is too easy. Still, those last three levels are so good this game can get on my best of the year list based just off of those, legitimately some of the best first person shooting in decades.

    I played Zelda Breath of the Wild. I didn’t buy into the hype, and it turns out that was wrong for once. I loved this game as much as the hype would have led me to believe. It’s one of the most ambitious games ever made, and it feels like it accomplishes almost everything it sets out to do. I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun just exploring a world and seeing what’s around the next corner, and the combat system is so fantastically, beautifully dynamic and allows for so much creativity that it feels like I’m dreaming a better game than what’s actually possible. Weirdly, for a game I love so much and that has so much stuff I still think it feels barebones. While exploring is fun the rewards for exploration can only be three different things (a korok seed, a shrine, or very rarely a new town), and the punishing weapon durability system (which I adore for how it forces you to constantly change tactics) means that there’s very limited ways the game can give you permanent rewards. There’s also lacking enemy variety, not enough different types of puzzles, a dull story, and some mechanics that are more annoyances than challenges (like constantly switching from warm to cool clothes in the desert, or rain limiting your ability to climb). I really want another attempt at the same game with a different world map and some of the edges sanded off, this feels like the baseline for an absolutely mindblowing game.

    Super Mario Odyssey is great. The phrase “Moving Mario around is fun in and of itself” feels like a cliché after watching enough youtube videos analyzing how Nintendo designs Mario games, but it’s true. It’s just a really great feeling videogame that looks great, has great levels and great music. It’s great, so much so that it inspired me to for the first time ever seriously try to speedrun a game. I’m bad at it, but it’s very fun.

    A couple of games I liked but have conflicting feelings about:

    I played a lot of Guild Wars 2 with a friend this year. It’s the first time I’ve played an MMO beyond just levelling to max level and dropping it due to my total lack of interest in doing raids or anything like that. GW2 has a more significant solo (or duo) friendly postgame. I enjoyed it a lot for a while, but eventually it started really feeling like a grind where I had to log in to do a bunch of menial tasks I didn’t want to do for an hour every day. I kept with it for way longer that I wanted to avoid abandoning my friend, but eventually it started to feel like a second job and legitimately made me absolutely miserable every time I logged in. My relationship with this game absolutely soured to the point I can’t even say I think fondly of it anymore, but I still had a really great time for a while, and it was a good way of bonding with my friend in a year where we both decided to mostly stay at home for some reason.

    Persona 4 Golden. I’ve got an article on my blog from 2013 where I played original Persona 4 for the first time and called it my favorite game ever. I don’t think that holds anymore, though I still love it to bits, and the updated Golden version (much like Persona 5’s Royal version) came to PC this year after being stuck on PSVita for ages. I’ve not finished it yet, but it’s like… worse than the original? The new stuff has a much goofier tone than the already very goofy original and it’s often unbearable as a result, a lot of the mechanical changes either make the game straight up worse or are very redundant (they added this whole thing where you can go out to town at night but there’s barely anything of use to do, same with the two new areas they added), and they changed one of the main voice actresses to someone who I think does a considerably worse job. I know there’s also a postgame epilogue like Royal has, but I’ve not heard great things about it, and the rest of the changes don’t exactly inspire confidence. It’s still Persona 4 at its core, and as such it is one of the better games I played this year, but… jeez. I’d always heard Golden praised as an upgrade, but I am starting to think it’s a straight up downgrade.

    1. tmtvl says:

      I know, right? Tracey Rooney is the only English VA I’ll ever accept for Chie, and the scooter storyline is stupid.

  38. kikito says:

    You might not be super enthused about Hades mechanically, but I really want to know what you think about its writing. To me it was one of the highlights of this year.

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