Dénouement 2021 Part 4: The Best Stuff

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 30, 2021

Filed under: Industry Events 107 comments

And here they are, my top 3 games from 2021. Keep in mind that the usual disclaimer applies: I’m just one guy, I mostly play PC games with an occasional flirtation with Playstation, and I’m an old man. 

3. Prodeus

The menus have these placeholder options for choosing your campaign, which feels a little weird right now since there's only one to choose from.
The menus have these placeholder options for choosing your campaign, which feels a little weird right now since there's only one to choose from.

Like contemporaries Dusk, STRAFE, Ion Fury, Amid Evil, Devil Daggers, and WRATH: Aeon of Ruin, Prodeus rummages through the big toybox of classic 90s gameplay, looking for what elements it wants to preserve and what it wants to change. 

Even a quarter of a century later, I remain a fan of run-and-gun shooters. At the same time, a lot of these throwback games have left me cold. I played Dusk back in 2019. I found it to be occasionally monotonous and hindered by dull keycard hunts. STRAFE was clearly a game that was intended to be played fast, but with a resource-starved permadeath design that punished aggression. The best way to make progress was to play cautiously, which was also the most boring way to play. Devil Daggers takes place on a single floating platform, which means it misses out on the level design of the era.

The game features an overworld map where you can choose your next level. 90s shooters never did this, but it feels like something they should / could have done.
The game features an overworld map where you can choose your next level. 90s shooters never did this, but it feels like something they should / could have done.

Of all of these throwback games, I think Prodeus does the best job in capturing and distilling what made those classic titles work. The weapons feel powerful while still requiring skill to make the most of them. The enemies offer a good variety of sizes, speeds, and attack styles. The sounds are meaty, the music is banging, and the “story” is shoved into text boxes that you’re free to skip. 

The level design is where this game really shines. Each map is built around a clear theme or idea. One map has you hiding from a central sniper tower as you spiral your way inward, trying to get in behind the sniper. Another level has you crossing the same room several times, with the layout and loadout changing as you progress. Another is built around crossing lava moats. And so on. 

These spaces adhere closely to the “all killer, no filler” design philosophy. I never found myself lost, or wandering around looking for the next unopened door. The levels do a great job of leading you through the chaos and creating interesting encounters. 

The levels lean heavily into the Quake school of industrial level design.
The levels lean heavily into the Quake school of industrial level design.

I also really dig the art style. This game is a weird blend of the new and old. The environments are chunky and covered in pixelated textures like an old 90s title, but the game also features realtime lighting, crisp shadows, bloom, and other modern rendering tricks. It manages to feel retro while avoiding the onslaught of beige and gunmetal grey that dominated the palette of so many mid-90s shooters.

2. New World

It's quite pretty.
It's quite pretty.

I wrote about this recently, so I don’t feel a strong urge to go over it again. The short version is that this a PvP-focused MMO about a world where Europe traveled to the New World, but instead of the Americas they discover a continent of supernatural monsters and weirdness. Travel to the continent is a one-way trip.

The usual MMO design has designated territories for every group: Horde to the West, Alliance to the East.  Red Team here, Blue Team over there. But New World has a different approach to this sort of thing. There are three factions in the game:

  1. Syndicate (Purple team, science-themed.)
  2. Covenant (Yellow team, Religion-themed.)
  3. Marauders (Green team, Military-themed.)

All three can roam freely around the map. The different factions can fight for control over individual cities. If your faction controls a city, then they get to collect taxes and make decisions about building infrastructure.Building crafting stations, basically. You get a discount when operating in a city controlled by your faction.

My favorite zone in the game is Brightwood, which felt a LOT like the Darkshire from World of Warcraft.
My favorite zone in the game is Brightwood, which felt a LOT like the Darkshire from World of Warcraft.

While this is an interesting approach to PvP, it isn’t really my thing. I dabbled in a few PvP battles to see what it was all about, and I found it as boring as every other PvP focused game. When you take players of all levels and throw them into a battle with each other, it generally turns into a maelstrom of chaos, noise, trash talk, and particle effects.  The meta-battle takes place on the forums, with everyone endlessly bitching about weapon balance, exploits, play styles, and griefing. 

Having said all that, New World has an open-ended approach to gathering and crafting that I thoroughly enjoyed. I spent several weeks running around gathering raw materials and crafting items for myself, while thousands of PvP folks murdered each other in the background. 

The economy was borked, so I couldn’t really buy raw materials or sell my crafted items. New World wound up being strictly single-player for me, without even an economic connection to the rest of the playerbase. 

The game was really pretty and I enjoyed the time I had with it. I stuck with it until I felt like my progress was being roadblocked by my aversion to PvP.

1. Cyberpunk 2077

How heartbreaking. Like everyone else, I watched those early preview videos with great excitement. The developers were promising us a massive and meticulously simulated open world. Cyberpunk 2077 was going to let us explore a dynamic living city and take part in a branching story filled with choices and powerful moments.

And then the game came out and we realized that they’d been marketing the game based on what they dreamed of building, not what they’d actually built. The game ran poorly, crashed often, and was full of visual glitches. The promised simulation turned out to be vaporware, giving us the fragile illusion of a city. Even when something worked, it still found a way to be disappointing. The story had lots of dialog and choices compared to contemporary titles, but it was actually a step down when compared to Witcher 3

And if you managed to overlook all of that, there was still the nagging thought that all of this had come at a tragic price, with the team working heavy crunch for months on end to bring us this half-baked pile of broken promises. 

So if this game is such a mess, then what is it doing at the top of my list? See, here’s the thing:

This game made me feel emotions. 

Evelyn Parker is way smarter than anyone gives her credit for. But she's also not quite as smart as she thinks she is.
Evelyn Parker is way smarter than anyone gives her credit for. But she's also not quite as smart as she thinks she is.

The feeling of foolish optimism when starting the heist with my best-bud Jackie. The fear as everything unraveled. The frustration of trying to get Judy to stop being so bull-headed and let me look for Evelyn. The sense of dread when we realized how much danger Evelyn was in. The gut-wrenching confrontation in that chop-shop basement. The burning outrage when I realized what Placide had done. The irritation with the childish Johnny Silverhand and his tedious politics. The pity I felt as I realized what he was really going through and how this situation was unfair to both of us. The unease of meeting with the doll at that hotel in the desert.

And don’t even get me started on what it was like to attend The Funeral.

So many games struggle to just present a coherent chain of cause and effect. A few manage to give us some characters with clear motivations. But in Cyberpunk 2077 the characters punch through the noise and tropes of videogames and emerge as fleshed-out people with vibrant personalities, relatable flaws, and understandable goals and dreams. These folks aren’t just “pretty good, for a videogame”, the condescending half-praise we give when games manage to not screw up the basics of characterization. These folks can stand with the best of them, from any medium.

Even minor characters like Vic the ripperdoc manage to feel vibrant and full of detail.
Even minor characters like Vic the ripperdoc manage to feel vibrant and full of detail.

Yes, Cyberpunk 2077 was buggy, slow, and janky. But so was Fallout 4, and that game featured Preston Garvey, the poster child for the atrocious state of characters in the AAA space. Fallout 76 was an even bigger technological disaster, and Bethesda released that game with no characters at all because writing is hard and money is fun when you can throw yourself into great big piles of it. 

How long has it been since BioWare really hit you in the feels? How many more failures before we’re forced to conclude that this “recent slump” is just their new normal?

When was the last time Ubisoft created a character that wasn’t an avatar of cringe? 

I sort of lost interest in Obsidian Games a few titles ago, but even in their heyday they were more focused on “interesting worlds and situations” than vibrant, richly detailed characters. Their games were often intellectually stimulating, but they rarely provoked a strong emotional reaction from me.Aside from the times when I’d get angry because I was forced to have some belligerent insufferable dickhead as part of my party. But then fans would explain to me that I was overlooking just how intellectually stimulating he was. So there you go.

The game does a brilliant job at hinting at the complicated politics and personal bonds between Panam and her Nomad buddies.
The game does a brilliant job at hinting at the complicated politics and personal bonds between Panam and her Nomad buddies.

Yes, Cyberpunk 2077 was an overhyped pile of broken technology, but if that’s what it takes to get characters I can connect with then I’ll take it, bugs and crashes and all. If you told me right now that there was another game with moments as powerful as the ones in Cyberpunk 2077, but the game was also just as buggy, I’d still buy it. I’d buy it in a fucking heartbeat. This is what I’m looking for. I want people I can care about in a world I can believe in, and it’s been years since I’ve played a game that could give me that.

Having said that, imagine how much more amazing this game would have been if CDPR had released the game in suitable condition, and if they hadn’t spent years promising us stuff they weren’t sure they could give us. I love Cyberpunk 2077, but I’ll always mourn for the even more amazing game it should have been.


So that’s what I liked in 2021. Here’s hoping 2022 is better. Thanks for reading. Happy New Year everyone!

 

Footnotes:

[1] Building crafting stations, basically.

[2] Aside from the times when I’d get angry because I was forced to have some belligerent insufferable dickhead as part of my party. But then fans would explain to me that I was overlooking just how intellectually stimulating he was. So there you go.



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107 thoughts on “Dénouement 2021 Part 4: The Best Stuff

  1. MerryWeathers says:

    And then the game came out and we realized that they’d been marketing the game based on what they dreamed of building, not what they’d actually built. The game ran poorly, crashed often, and was full of visual glitches. The promised simulation turned out to be vaporware, giving us the fragile illusion of a city. Even when something worked, it still found a way to be disappointing. The story had lots of dialog and choices compared to contemporary titles, but it was actually a step down when compared to Witcher 3.

    And if you managed to overlook all of that, there was still the nagging thought that all of this had come at a tragic price, with the team working heavy crunch for months on end to bring us this half-baked pile of broken promises.

    Don’t worry, gamers will completely forgive CD Projekt Red when they release The Witcher 4.

    1. Freddo says:

      To everyone that bought into the hype, pre-ordered the game and was very disappointed: congratulations, for a few bucks you learned a life lesson on media hype that hopefully will benefit you for the rest of your life.
      To everyone that pre-ordered the game as a way to encourage CD Project Red to make a solid product: congratulations on a positive mindset towards gaming, hope you enjoyed the game, please continue supporting the developers you like (and continue booing the a-holes).
      To everyone that waited for the reviews to roll in before making a buying decision: congratulations, a bit of thought in your buying decisions forces developers to make true on their promises.

      Personally I enjoyed the game enough that I even did a second playthrough. Overall gameplay was enjoyable enough, and there are some very solid parts of writing in this game.

      1. Rho says:

        And those of us who received it as a gift get the advantage of unimpeachable moral purity (and unutterable smugness)!

  2. Frozengrowl says:

    Haven’t played anything else on the list, but I hear you on Cyberpunk. The game wasn’t that buggy for me on my initial playthrough (one crash, that’s it, and I was running below minimum specs on a weird rig at that point…*), and I wasn’t expecting what the marketing wanted to sell, so that helped, but the emotional impact was definitely there, and I don’t really know how they did it.

    I even had a few tears in my eye on my first ending (Suicide). That one really hit hard at that moment. Maybe it was the framing of seeing my character once in the beginning and then only at the end, cutscene-wise. Maybe it was the overall writing. Maybe the voiceacting and/or the Score, but that Ending hit REALLY hard.

    And the vignettes of the other characters were pretty tearjerking during the credits, too.

    The others were pretty good, too, albeit not at that level. But the game really gives you characters you care for.

    *I was running on 6 Cores of an AMD FX-8150, 12GB RAM and a 1050 TI passed through into a Windows VM on an ArchLinux host, so pretty much one of the jankiest setups you could imagine, and the game ran fine, except for when the system shut ddown due to overheating, which wasn’t the games fault. On my 2nd playthrough I upgraded to a 10 Cores of a Ryzen 5 5600X, 64GB RAM in the windows VM and a RTX 3060, and experienced one other crash. So 2 total crashes on a janky setup.
    Anecdotal, I know, but I often wonder what exactly people do with their PCs to experience so many glitches and problems. I mostly blame bloatware like 15 different RGB controller softwares and whatever bullcrap shovelware their version of Windows came with. I mean I don’t really take care of my gaming VM other than installing it off a clean iso from Microsoft and not installing anything else than Steam, GOG Galaxy and my audiostuff, and I rarely have any problems, no matter how buggy the games are supposed to be.
    But people can SHOW their problems, so they’re definitely there…

    1. Bubble181 says:

      If you use a regularly-re-installed VM for gaming, then the piece missing to really experience bugs and glitches like others is: age and cruft.
      My current gaming PC (ahahahah….Ahem) was mostly built in 2013 or 2014. I have upgraded from Win8 to Win 8.1 to Win10, I think I’ve gone through 25 different GFX driver versions, and I’ve installed and uninstalled literally dozens of games from all kinds of different eras – from the 1980s straight through to this year (though nothing really fancy from this year. I can’t run it.).
      Now, I know I should probably start fresh every 2 years or so, but…i’m still one of the more moderate ones. The amount of people whose idea of “uninstalling” a game is just “delete the folder” is astounding. The amount of people who’ll try to run two or three programs at once to do the same thing, simply because they’ve forgotten the odl version, is high. Etc etc.

      1. Frozengrowl says:

        NAh, I don’t regularly reinstall the VM :) It’s 3 years old now, and was migrated from dualbooting from a physical, dedicated drive to a virtual disk.

        I just… don’t install a lot of crap into it – regular updates for the games, OS and drivers and that’s it. Helps that, since it’s a VM I can continue working when some unfortunate update hits.

        But really I mostly blame “gaming” crapware like the aforementioned 15 different RGB controllers – one for your razer mouse, one for the corsair keyboard, one for the AiO Cooler – all incompatible of course.

  3. Daimbert says:

    I could never do a “Best of Year X” and have it be the current year, because the game that I played recently — or even this year — that’s the closest to the current year is Persona 5 Royal, which is already a year and a half out of date, and I’m actually starting to play Dark Age of Camelot again which is older than some of the commenters on the blog …

    That being said, if you dabble in Playstation stuff and want games that have at least a focus on real characters with real personalities and problems that can strike an emotional chord (and have 80 or 90 hours to spare), I’d have to recommend the Persona games (4 is available on Steam now last I heard and Persona 5 Royal is a Playstation 4 game). The entire structure is built around building links with various people in the world by talking to them about their problems and resolving them. How serious and engaging they are varies and could even be debatable, and the main characters are mostly teenagers, but they are at least trying for that and seem to succeed with a lot of them (I dare anyone to not get attached to Nanako in Persona 4 or to not feel for Futaba in the pyramid in Persona 5).

    1. Lino says:

      I’m actually starting to play Dark Age of Camelot again which is older than some of the commenters on the blog …

      No wait, that can’t be right…

      *does a quick Google*

      Holy shit, that game came out 20 years ago?!? Man, am I getting old!

      Hmm… I remember when I was at my first job back in 2014. I was as an English teacher of kids in Grades 5 through 8 (about 11-14 years old). It was one of my first times in class with the 8th Graders, and I was about to start checking for absentees. For a split second I glanced over to the column that had their Personal ID Numbers (kinda like the Bulgarian equivalent of a Social Security Number), and I suddenly froze in place! Something was off, but I couldn’t tell what. I looked at the column more carefully, and I realised – all of their information was wrong!

      See, in Bulgaria the first two digits of your ID Number are the year you were born in. E.g. if you see one starting with 93, it means that person was born in 1993. But all of their numbers started with 0’s! Do you mean to tell me these 14-year-olds were born in 1900!? Impossible! But actually wait. They’re 14. 14 years ago was the year 2000… Hmmm…

      Subconsciously, I had been so used to seeing these kind of numbers start with 91, 92 or 93, that I hadn’t ever entertained the idea that I might one day need to interact with someone born in the year 2000. And right now I just realised that these same people are now 20 years old, have probably graduated university, and are now having their own adult lives. Gee, I wonder how I’d feel about this kind of stuff once I turn 40……

      1. Daimbert says:

        Holy shit, that game came out 20 years ago?!? Man, am I getting old!

        I felt the same way, although I actually thought it was slightly older than that.

    2. tmtvl says:

      4 is available on Steam now last I heard

      Unfortunately you heard wrong, 4 Golden is on Steam. I think that 4G goes further into the developers’ bad indulgences than 4 through the scooter story line. I mean, if I put on my over-analyser hat I suppose we could say that these storylines portray how as teenagers people are very susceptible to peer pressure and the feeling of needing to conform and fear of missing out, but…
      I really don’t like these super-forced storylines, and Yosuke just isn’t Junpei.

      …Plus I prefer Tracey Rooney as Chie, but that’s entirely personal preference and most people seem to prefer Erin Fitzgerald.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Actually, I had heard about it being Golden, so I heard right [grin]. I actually agree with you that I like the original Chie voice better. From what I recall of the scooter storyline, wasn’t that just a light joke short storyline to explain why they can suddenly get to a beach? I don’t recall it being all that important other than the cringeworthy part with Hanako.

        I feel equally confident recommending the original Persona 4 or Golden, which expands things a bit and has the Marie storyline which is the prime one and does work, in my opinion.

  4. Mephane says:

    Technical issues aside (which I mostly avoided by playing it on a PC recently upgraded for that express purpose), Cyberpunk 2077 is just an amazing game. Yes, the marketing overhyped it, but if you went in with more realistic expectations then it turns out this game is really, really good.

    I originally intended to replay it from the start once I am finished… but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The story I experienced felt very much like it was my story, and where in other RPGs I might have a second play-through where I deliberately choose differently to see how that would turn out, here I just… can’t. Some of the themes and story beats hit a bit too close – or should I rather say close enough – to home that playing any differently would be like being forced to watch someone else play.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      I can comfort you with the fact that a second playthrough of Cyberpunk just shows you how much it is a railroad and not a branching path. There are a few side missions in which you can affect the outcome, a few characters you can change the status off (by pissing them off, saving their lives etc.) but the main story is very much a railroad with the only junction being the choice of how to approach the final mission.

      Personally I feel that Cyberpunk does exactly what Shamus says, it nails characters and scenes and makes the player feel it. The writers, voice actors, environmental artists and level designers all pull off a masterpiece in how to make a game elicit emotions in the player… and then the gameplay systems and shoddy coding pulls it all down. Cyberpunk has functional gameplay at best and downright broken gameplay at worst and even now, a year after release there’s way too much jank, scripts that refuse to fire and progression stopping bugs.

      Cyberpunk is a solid 7/10 in my book. It does some stuff really well, well enough to make me invest a 100 hours over two characters, but eventually all the areas that are dysfunctional (pretty much the entire RPG aspect of the game), janky or just unfinished or under-developed shine through and bring it down. But then you get on your bike, the sun breaks over Night City and Heave Ho gets on the radio and you feel like maybe taking on just one more side quest. You’ve got to find that child molester and bring him to justice after all. That’s the emotional whiplash of Cyberpunk for me, over and over again.

      1. MerryWeathers says:

        can comfort you with the fact that a second playthrough of Cyberpunk just shows you how much it is a railroad and not a branching path. There are a few side missions in which you can affect the outcome, a few characters you can change the status off (by pissing them off, saving their lives etc.) but the main story is very much a railroad with the only junction being the choice of how to approach the final mission.

        That was pretty much the case with The Witcher 3 also, I think it’s really the minor details changing or choices the player made getting acknowledged (and the amount of them) that truly gives the feeling of a game having “choices and consequences”. Cyberpunk 2077 only has some of it (like saving Goro and how that affects the Arasaka ending) while the Witcher 3 had a ton of stuff like that.

        1. Rho says:

          I would go so far as to suggest that is the point for CDPR’s philosophy. Its surprisingly easy for games to show the player as the mover-and-shaker who breaks and remakes the foundations of the world etc etc ad nauseum. But both the Witcher and CP77 suggest that these things are, in the end, irrelevant next to the small things, done or left undone, that matter more.

          1. John says:

            I was under the impression that the story in The Witcher 2 had a big ol’ branch about half-way through . . .

            1. Rho says:

              Kind-of. It’s more like you end up on the other side of the same story, with little ultimate impact on the world.

          2. Aarwolf says:

            It’s not only CDPR’s philosophy, it comes straight from The Witcher books. It’s called “Zoltan Chivay’s rule” – you can’t save the whole world or change it in a significant way, but you can save people around you and do good to them. And that’s what matters most.

            1. PowerGrout says:

              Good Point and a good time to raise it.
              Having dabbled only a little with the property myself I feel quite strongly that this rings very true indeed and could use a little more eartime in general let alone as a reflection of it’s origin.
              In return I raise you a drink or similarly appropriate toast/salutation!

        2. Fizban says:

          Heck, for “RP” purposes, I can see even completely meaningless choices as significant. Watching a stream of a pokemon fangame and thinking about the ‘ol “what I would do,” a lot was in superfluous questions. It doesn’t actually matter what gender your character is, but the game asks- and it only takes a few new sprites to increase those options because thanks to indistinct moe anime face age, you could use the same sprite for everything from middle school to college- which the player clarifies for themselves by picking the answer to a later question that fits the age they want their character to be. The later question wouldn’t change enemy used pronouns, but it would let the player make a game choice which says what they are.

          As for replaying a game with “someone else’s” choices, even if it’s not a railroad I often find myself simply making the same choices I did before, because yes, those are my choices. Even if the other choice leads to a massively different section, if it’s too far off I might very well just decide I don’t care about that branching path because why should I if it’s behind that choice? There’s nothing wrong with replaying a “choices matter” game and making all the same choices you did the first time- it means just as much or more than someone who deliberately reverses all their decisions.

      2. Nephilium says:

        For the characters, I just recently picked up and played through the Guardians of the Galaxy game. The game is fairly on the rails, with a couple of action set pieces, but it nails characters and feels. It’s also fairly short (my playthrough was under 20 hours).

    2. PPX14 says:

      My ‘worry’ ahead of CP2077, was that if it met the lofty goal that it seemed to tout, it would in some way make those rpgs and immersive sims which came before it obsolete, even if still good in their own right. It seemed like it was to be a game with Witcher 3’s high quality sidequests melded in a natural-feeling way into an open world and exploration, in a sci fi open world, with choices and interactions remembered across the game, multiple diverging options for how to resolve situations. Looking Glass meets Arkane meets Bioware meets CDPR etc etc. Deus Ex meets Witcher 3. The rpg and immersive sim combined and perfected.

      But in a presentation and tone that I don’t care for too much. I prefer the Deus Ex, KotOR and ME1 tone to the bombastic ME2/3 tone or bawdy Witcher tone. Even if I have often hoped for a Rated-18 Star Wars game with the seedy underworld of Coruscant (which seems to have arrived and departed as Star Wars 1313!! Though possible Eclipse?) there’s something about that Game of Thronesey, GTA V sort of brutality and sensationalism and modern style of character and story that I don’t particularly like. The modern TV-series feeling.

      And so I almost hoped it would fail, that it would not live up to the standard, and I could go on exploring old rpgs and immersive sims without knowing that some paragon of the genre now lay in a game whose story and tone I wasn’t particularly interested in experiencing and would mar the game for me if I did, but was in all other ways fundamentally a perfection of the type of game that I enjoy.

      Now it looks like an interesting thing to check out, out of curiosity.

  5. Dreadjaws says:

    I’ll take this chance to yet again recommend you watch Arcane on Netflix if you haven’t yet. Sure, it’s not a videogame (though it is based on one), but it most certainly has heaps of deep, complex, interesting, relatable and overall well written characters,

    The usual blurb I hear is “don’t play the game just because you liked the series” which is fine; I wasn’t going to (not into MOBAs). Sadly it’s not going to scratch the “game” part of that “game I can play while I interact with interesting characters” itch , but still, if you can gather a few hours to watch the first few episodes you’re likely to end up binge-watching the entire season.

    1. MerryWeathers says:

      I’ll take this chance to yet again recommend you watch Arcane on Netflix if you haven’t yet. Sure, it’s not a videogame (though it is based on one), but it most certainly has heaps of deep, complex, interesting, relatable and overall well written characters,

      As someone who knew nothing about League of Legends lore, it was pretty solid as its own thing and great for video game “adaptation” standards.
      That said, it did a certain thing that some modern TV shows have been doing lately, which somewhat annoyed me and that is how the season felt like it cut off the story in the middle. Not in a “good cliffhanger ending/plot hook” kind of way but as in I literally felt like I got interrupted, makes it feel incomplete.

      Great characters though, Silco and Jinx are the best.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        Well, yes, that is a fair criticism, and a problem I’ve been having too with streaming shows as of late. They know they have a good product, I don’t see the reasoning not to give some closure even if they’re leaving hooks for a continuation.

    2. Smosh says:

      Legends of Runeterra is a great game, with great single-player content, and very generous monetisation, especially for a CCG. I haven’t spent even a single cent and I have near-enough of a complete collection that I can make any deck I want for the foreseeable future, even if I stop playing for a year.

      So if someone wants to see more of those characters and that world, LoR has you covered. It even has a Slay-The-Spire-Like mode now.

    3. Lino says:

      I tentatively second the recommendation of Arcane. I absolutely loved it, but I think Shamus should know that there are quite a few really, REALLY bad things that happen to kids in this series. Although most of the heavy ones are implied rather than shown, thankfully.* And if you’re the sort of person who has a big problem with that, it may be a reason to skip on it. Though to be fair, I don’t remember if Shamus was the one who really didn’t like that stuff, or if it was a commenter on here.

      In any case, I really liked the show, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of how they ended on a cliffhanger and how basically all the major plots ended on a down note. However, I can’t argue with how amazing the animation was, and how absolutely top-notch all the characters were. Even villains were sympathetic and relatable!

      *And I’m not only talking about all the deaths in Act 1. I’m mainly referring to the blatant psychological manipulation of a broken individual that Silco has done offscreen in order to turn Jinx into the utter psychopath we see later.

      1. stratigo says:

        Honestly, I’m not sure that second spoiler is a thing. He seemed quite caring and supportive. I don’t think he was the source of of Jinx’s problems.

  6. Zgred77 says:

    You pretty much nailed Cyberpunk, I think. Beneath all that junk there is a beating heart that few games can aspire to have. CP2077 was at its best when those smaller, more intimate situations were at its center. Or when it was showing you the tragedies of people abandoned by Night City. And then there was this one quest, called “The Hunt” that just wrecked me. Can you even imagine Ubisoft or Bethesda pulling something like that in their games?

    My favourite part was at the end, if (SPOILER) you chose “The Sun” ending. You are now at the top of the Afterlife, just having the whole city beneath you… and you’re pretty much just an empty shell, delaying the inevitable death. You are now where you and Jackie wanted to be all along and it’s still not enough. Then this guy, Blue Eyes, gives you an offer – one last gig, one last heist. Space Casino. Do that and things will work out, somehow. Maybe there is a cure there or maybe it’s about everlasting fame – something that will fulfill you life. But it’s all so desperate.

    And then you’ll see that commercial in an elevator – and it’s about Space Casino, selling you the vision that it will allow you to rise above all you problems. And then it hit me – my character was just standing there, chasing another dream. Even now, being at the top, you still feel like nobody, always below someone, hoping that you’ll be at the top and that it will make you happy. You’re just like everyone else in Night City – watching commercials, looking up, desperatly hoping that happiness is just around the corner – but it can never happen because this whole city is built around an idea of selling you those dreams, not fulfilling them.

    And the game managed to accomplish all that without ever saying anything out loud, just showing you its world. There is so much non-verbal aspects to that story, it’s unbelieveable.

  7. Gautsu says:

    Shamus, you nailed my feeling on Cyberpunk. I went into immediately after a Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided playthrough, and the hacking felt…off, but combat felt crisp. I ran into quest break I bugs for 3 playthroughs, finally being able to finish a clean run after 1.3, with 300 hours in before that start. So that was disappointing. My new rig was able to run it mostly at max with 115 fps though, so I wasn’t too unhappy to be replaying it again. But the emotions, man, whoo. And the sad part so many characters and storylines are locked until chapter 3 that people miss out on a lot by abandoning the game early. I love Judy and Pan am, but River and his family, and Kerry and the band were pretty damn cool as well. The sex scenes felt awkward though, made me really glad my wife didn’t walk in in the middle of one.

    Also, since you did a lot of New World coverage but I don’t remember anyone talking about this, what are your thoughts on https://youtu.be/M-hmAW1zciU

  8. Smosh says:

    I agree on Cyberpunk. Yes, it was janky at times, and I encountered a handful of glitches and a few crashes. But its gunplay was a joy to play, the driving decent (apart from the minimap not zooming out far enough), and the writing was actually great.

    I finished the game in the week it released, completing maybe 90% of its side quests as well, only skipping the really boring collection stuff.

    I enjoyed it. Never did I not want to keep playing. It was just a great experience, and I’ve been eyeing a second playthrough with some different choices.

  9. Bubble181 says:

    Also, let’s take this moment to wish all my co-d20-tale-commentors a very happy New Year. May 2022 bring you everything you need and all the important bits you want, and nothing you can’t deal with. Happy holidays, party like it’s 1999 (and you were still young and could recuperate from a hangover within 3 weeks), and all that!

  10. Thomas says:

    But then fans would explain to me that I was overlooking just how intellectually stimulating he was

    Oops
    ————-
    I’ve seen so few games that hit everyones best of list this year. Perhaps when they eventually release the next-gen version of Cyberpunk I’ll give it a shot, after this. Better flawed and ambitious than perfectly fine.

    My best list:
    6. AI: Somnium files
    The closest I got to a disappointing game. It’s a mystery game with a pretty boring mystery and I was always ahead of the protagonist.

    The screen was full of point and click elements (‘Low Table’) but no good reason to click them. You’d just get standard filler dialogue, and the game tells you if you miss anything important. It would have been better to remove the ability to click entirely and play like the visual novel it is.

    The best aspect was adventure game segments in a characters dreamscape. The spaces were full of atmosphere and symbolism and it could use crazy dreamlike adventure game logic and not feel like it’s wasting your time. You also have to manage an ‘action resource’ so you can’t click everything, you have to intuit the correct answers with scope for only a few mistakes.

    They also mix the formula up well. A dreamscape of a person who is lying etc.

    It’s way too anime unfortunately. Lots of cringey but chaste sexual humour. Lots of the usual BS tropes.

    It ends on a dance number – that at least committed to the bit and had a lot of energy and creativity.

    Very much a mixed bag. I would have thought well of it overall except it makes you play through every potential branch of the story, which makes little sense (there’s no need story mechanism for knowledge transferring between branches) and felt like a waste of term, learning the same details again and again.

    5. Spiritfarer
    A very cosy game, but I didn’t have quite enough drive to reach the end.

    4. Astro’s Playroom
    I hope more games learn to use the PS5 controller like this.

    3. Mass Effect Legendary Edition
    The industry is still in the shadow of Mass Effect.

    2. Haven
    Great music can take you a long way, even if the gameplay didn’t live up to all it could have been. They established the relationship of the protagonists so well.

    I felt hollow after I completed this. That’s how much I’d become emotionally engaged.

    1. Disco Elysium
    It’s better than Planescape Torment. Sure it’s not perfect, but Planescape definitely wasn’t perfect either. An all time classic.

    I hope other developers copy these mechanics because they’re a fantastic way of doing a narrative based RPG where stats are important. It’s what Planescape should have done instead of janky do-nothing combat.

    I love the way getting too skilled in one particular attribute can lure you into being a terrible person. I maxed out my persuasion skill and defaulted to using it whenever the option came up, until I realised I was about to convince a war veteran to give me his prized medal. I wish the game did even more of that.

    1. AzzyGaiden says:

      Disco Elysium is an interesting game to bring up in the context of Cyberpunk 2077, because it experienced a similar fan backlash that erupted after the release of The Final Cut this year. TFC had been delayed several times and was extremely buggy on release, nearly unplayable on (you guessed it) PS4.

      On top of that, aside from the much-vaunted fully voiced dialog, the promised additions were rather scanty; the promised “new area” amounted to a single dark room you couldn’t explore, and the “Vision Quests” while interesting from a lore perspective and generally well-written, were also pretty short. A well known soft lock that can occur on Day 2 was still present. Fast travel, a longtime fan request, was limited, confusingly implemented, and did not always work.

      After a few days the flames and the trolls burned out, some (though not all) of the issues were addressed, more content was added, and the world kept spinning. Disco Elysium is still an incredible game.

    2. Redrock says:

      I must admit, I resorted to watching Haven on YouTube in the end, after playing it for a couple of hours myself. Just ran out of patience with the gameplay. The relationship is extremely well-written, however, deep and natural in ways we so rarely see in games.

      1. Thomas says:

        It’s a shame because the gameplay has the right concept to be very chill and fun, but the execution wasn’t quite there. It doesn’t feel as responsive as it needs to be, it’s a little too easy to do the wrong thing, and too easy to collide with the scenery. And the combat needed to go harder on the rhythm game aspect.

        But I’d rather a game do something I love and something I don’t, than have nothing to love at all. With tighter gameplay it would have reached Supergiant levels of great.

    3. eldomtom2 says:

      Disco Elysium’s mechanics are overrated. There’s too many skills, so you have to build your character by reacting to skill checks instead of picking skills from an RP perspective. There’s no reason why the two instances where you break down a door should use different skills.

      1. Redrock says:

        Them’s fighting words, mate! In all seriousness, I think that a lot of people, admittedly, myself included, have a hard time making peace with the idea that it’s okay to fail at skill checks. Much like in Tides of Numenera, failure can lead to interesting outcomes, often more interesting than success. What’s more, failing the occasional check and dealing with the consequences neatly fits the nature of the story and the main character. So DE very much lets you build the character you want, not some optimized version. And, if all else fails, you can always save scum one or two particular checks that you really want to pass.

        1. Thomas says:

          I’d go as far as saying picking skills based on skill checks still is roleplaying, because there are always more skill checks than points, and you have to prioritise what you’re character does and what they fail.

          Plus those skills are a _temptation_ for your character, not your character itself. You may have a high encyclopedic score, but that’s only part of your brain suggesting facts for you. You choose if that’s what you want to do and normally that’s a roleplaying path not progression. There are many many times where picking the skill check is wrong for your character, or just wrong generally.

  11. trevalyan says:

    I grinned a little. For a supposedly dead game, Cyberpunk 2077 manages to pull itself out of the mainstream grave and get people looking at it again. There were glitches, sure: but then it’s crashed on me less this year than Skyrim (light mods) has. The gameplay is interesting enough for me to build wildly divergent characters, the main story is engaging but not exhausting, the characters are top notch, and the world has more ambition than Icarus. But none of that matters half as much as the god-tier intrigue of the meta plot. You can’t influence it much at the start because you are a nameless merc. But as you start discovering facts and applying subtext, you realize the plot speaks to outright global conflict- just at the moment you become powerful enough to do something about it.

    I don’t blame people for wanting a perfect game, but I will say that you’re missing out. GOTY and I can’t wait to go back to Night City.

  12. RamblePak64 says:

    I forget when you first mentioned it, but I actually have Prodeus on my Steam Wishlist and its Early Preview installed on my Xbox One via Game Pass. I haven’t booted it up yet, though, because I feel like it’s a game I’ll want to play after it is fully completed. I feel like if I play an Early Access game I’ll end up playing it a while but then never get around to the completed product. Nonetheless, I certainly look forward to it since it looks and sounds like it’s the sort of retro throwback I can get into.

    Additionally: that overworld map looks like they took another curious bit of 90’s nostalgia: starting with Mario Bros. 3, those sorts of overworld maps became more and more common in Nintendo platformers, so seeing it implemented on a game intentionally calling back to PC-centric shooters is kind of amusing to me.

    This is what I’m looking for. I want people I can care about in a world I can believe in, and it’s been years since I’ve played a game that could give me that.

    As I think you know, I wasn’t as big into The Witcher 3 as you and my buddy Steve were, though I think it mostly comes down to combat more than writing and story. When I think of The Witcher 3’s writing, one of the first scenes that always comes to mind is “Three Witchers Get Drunk Together”, which has what I think is that rarely touched-on bit of verisimilitude in both characters and setting. The heroic acts of monster slaying are dropped for what are just three men drinking too much alcohol together until someone says “Hey yo let’s go hit on some chicks bro”, which is an all too familiar moment for anyone that’s been with folks that had enough booze to turn bad ideas into reality. There are a lot of games that try to have deep monologues that “make a character feel real and complex”, but so rarely are there interactions that allow the behavior of those characters to inform you of who they really are. Show, don’t tell, and Witcher 3 nailed it at parts. Rewatching the first season of the Netflix show, I also can’t help but think back to how things worked out between Geralt and Yennefer in my playthrough and how it dealt with how confusing it would be to wonder if you truly loved the other person or it was just a curse constantly pulling you back together.

    That’s some top-notch stuff, though Witcher 3 was still plenty plagued by the “video-gamey” stiff, recycled animations during non-cut-scene dialogues. Cyberpunk 2077 looks to have less of that in a lot of its story moments, though I admittedly have yet to play it.

    Up above, Daimbert recommends Persona 4 or 5 to you, but while I enjoy both of those games, I don’t think they’d have what you’re looking for. Part of it is due to an issue that tends to plague a lot of Japanese games these days (and you know I love Japanese games!), which is the Otaku-bait or Otaku-pandering. A lot of side stories or quests are delivered in such a generically anime situation or scenario. As fun of a character as Futaba is, many of her side story events are playing into the “little sister” sort of tropes that you can find in manga, anime, and Japanese games. Perhaps if you’re not overly familiar with the tropes it won’t seem too bad, but it certainly prevents things from having that same verisimilitude that Witcher 3 is so expert at.

    Personally, I would love to recommend Yakuza games again, but I just don’t have enough confidence to do so. The combat in the games can be rough, and while they’re all very similar brawlers in terms of design, each has its own unique quirks and what helps/works in one may not help or work in another. However, they also have sort of the opposite thing going that Witcher 3 does: Witcher 3 takes extraordinary characters and situations and then places them in an ordinary conflict or concern. Again, three drunk Witchers is pretty darn ordinary, even if there are extraordinary elements to it. While the surrounding situation of Geralt and Yennefer being cursed to always come back to one another is extraordinary, two people that have been sexing it up with one another wondering if they really love each other or if it is just habit (and Yennefer’s response to Geralt regardless if he trusts his feelings or not) feel ordinary and real.

    Persona and Yakuza take the ordinary and make them extraordinary, and part of that is due to the medium (Persona being more anime) and part of it is due to the culture (Yakuza’s drama, like much live-action drama in Japan, adding plenty of comedy and throwing in some melodramatic performance rather than playing it straight). However, part of it, in Yakuza’s case, is also just due to a certain sensibility. Post-stream this week, you reflected back on how Devil May Cry on PS2 just wasn’t your jam or that it was like diving into something… hrm… I cannot recall your exact wording, sadly, but it’s a perfect example. Devil May Cry 3 actually has a really solid story of brother fighting brother and what it means to have to kill your own family, but it is juxtaposed by parties getting crazy, creepy Jester men, and impossible life-saving tactics. It also involves one of your favorite things: flashy combat occurring during the cut-scene rather than being gameplay!

    Nonetheless, the Yakuza games are similar in that they amplify the drama in ridiculous ways, or add a dose of comedy to the plights of its characters or quest givers. Each game I’ve played has had some of the best writing and characters you can find in the medium, but the style is one that is not for everyone. The real shame is, Lost Judgment, a recent release, probably has some of the best Quality-of-Life changes in regards to its gameplay and would make one of the best entries into the games, except… it is probably the worst story I’ve experienced of all those I played. Not that it’s bad! But at some point you have several chapters worth of the protagonist and antagonist just meeting over and over again and having the same argument, and it gets tiresome hearing the same things. In addition, the protagonist’s values aren’t really challenged, and that is what made the first Judgment work so well. So if you’re looking for story and character, it’s one of the least likely to convince you Yakuza or its spin-off games have it.

    As for Cyberpunk, I’ve been waiting for it to either hit impulse-buy range (approximately $20 or lower) or to hit Game Pass before trying it myself. I love the look of the world, but something always had me feeling a bit skeptical towards the game. I can’t say “it turns out I was right” as I wasn’t expecting it to be a buggy mess with major issues, and instead was more expecting a smaller world than advertised or something. However, there aren’t a lot of games that [i]look[/i] like it does, and it makes me wonder if the vision promised by that original Prey 2 trailer could actually be achieved or if Cyberpunk just proves how unlikely it is to deliver on such a promise even today.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Up above, Daimbert recommends Persona 4 or 5 to you, but while I enjoy both of those games, I don’t think they’d have what you’re looking for. Part of it is due to an issue that tends to plague a lot of Japanese games these days (and you know I love Japanese games!), which is the Otaku-bait or Otaku-pandering. A lot of side stories or quests are delivered in such a generically anime situation or scenario. As fun of a character as Futaba is, many of her side story events are playing into the “little sister” sort of tropes that you can find in manga, anime, and Japanese games. Perhaps if you’re not overly familiar with the tropes it won’t seem too bad, but it certainly prevents things from having that same verisimilitude that Witcher 3 is so expert at.

      Well, in defense of my recommendation:

      1) Shamus at least used to watch anime, so he won’t be put off by anime conventions.

      2) While some of the side quests — S-links, usually — are standard anime situations, the beauty of the games is that you don’t need to do all of them (I have never finished all the S-links in any game, and often do not finish the S-links of my teammates) so you can skip the side quests that you don’t like and, especially in Persona 5, go do other things instead.

      3) While Futaba — and Nanako from Persona 4 — do fit into the “little sister” trope, they aren’t there as references to that in general, but as part of the development of their characters and the situation. Both of them are more related to the MC finding a family after having to leave his own, and so you get those roles in order to build that event. Persona 4 is much more clear about this and so really builds that into the main plot to get the emotional connection, but then in Persona 4 the relation is more to bring the two of them together through the MC to rebuild that family while Persona 5 is more about softening the heart of the father figure through the sister, with the ties to the main plot in there as well. So in Persona 4 it’s more directly that trope but is developed better, while in Persona 5 it’s more just referencing the tropes but then that aspect isn’t as important or prominent in the story. So in both cases it isn’t just the tropes, as Persona 4 goes beyond them and Persona 5 minimizes them.

      And I agree that the Persona games take the ordinary and place them in the extraordinary, but I think that’s the charm of the game, as you still have to hang out with people and go to classes despite the odd things going on, which can make the characters more relatable. The Persona games are the only RPGs that I actually play as myself, trying to do the things I’d want to do and hang out with the people I’d want to hang out with. I bounced off The Witcher 2 and so cannot comment on how that differs, however.

  13. Geebs says:

    I stopped playing Cyberpunk shortly after the prologue, partly in the hope that CDPR would fix at least some of the jank, and partly because of Keanu’s pretty-wretched-even-by-his-own-standards acting. But the bit in the puppet hotel was one of the most affecting bits of videogame writing I’ve seen in a good while.

    1. MerryWeathers says:

      I actually thought Keanu Reeves’ performance in the game worked well for the kind of character he was playing. I saw him as Johnny Silverhand, whose very distinct from Keanu/Ted/Neo/Constantine/John Wick.

      1. Redrock says:

        Yeah, Keanu really grows on you in Cyberpunk, which I know believe was the intended effect. He is very organic as Johnny, all dark cynicism, dime-store philosophy and seething rage. Keanu has actually grown quite a lot as an actor in recent years, but it’s important that a role fits who he is in real life as well – someone who has way more going on inside then he’s willing to show. In other words, the man can seethe, let him seethe.

  14. Lino says:

    OK, now I’m definitely getting Cyberpunk. Up until now, I was very concerned with the bugs, and that I didn’t really know if the story was good. But if someone as – with all due respect – nitpicky about story as Shamus can vouch for it, then it’ll be a definite buy from me! Incidentally, this is the main reason I’m not in a hurry to buy Kingdom Come: Deliverance – I don’t really know how much it’s improved since launch, and digging through forum threads hasn’t really given me a solid answer. I was doing the same for Cyberpunk, again – with mixed results. And yes, some places mention that the story is kinda nice, and as someone who likes story this definitely piqued my interest. But now that I’ve seen MF-ING SHAMUS YOUNG recommend the game SOLELY BECAUSE of the story!?!?! Well then, that DEFINITELY means something :D

    As for my games of 2021 (that came out in 2021), in no particular order are:

    Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – Even though I haven’t completed it yet, I really love this game. The graphics are amazing, and I love the characters’ designs – I’m actually glad they don’t look like they do in the movies, because it makes the setting feel like its own thing, rather than retelling stories we’ve already seen before. Speaking of stories, I really like the story. The voice acting is top-notch, and I think they really nailed the dynamics between the different crewmembers. The level design is just open enough to make you feel like you have freedom, while still being small enough that you can explore everything without taking up too much of your time.

    One of my main problems with games like these is that I love exploring the whole level, but I never know which is the main path, and which is the path to goodies. And very often I end up unknowingly going down the main path, and being unable to go back. But in this game that problem is solved beautifully by your companions saying something along the lines of “You’re going the wrong way, jackass!”. Not only does that prevent you from unwittingly locking yourself, but it also makes you feel like you’re actually travelling with other people rather than a bunch of bots waiting for you to activate the next level trigger…

    Kena: Bridge of Spirits – currently playing this together with my 5 y/o sister. It’s 3rd Person Action Platformer (I guess?) where you play as a girl who helps spirits who can’t let go of the real world. It’s got a really nice art style, and overall looks gorgeous. As cons I’d say that the combat is rather difficult at times, and even though it’s got this really cute aesthetic, a lot of the characters have really tragic backstories (I guess nothing too jarring if you’re a grown-up, I guess). We haven’t finished it yet, but I think there’s some heavy stuff coming up in the story, so I’ll have to look up a walkthrough to see if it gets really bad

    Psychonauts 2 – I’ve already talked a lot about this game in another thread. Suffice it to say, I’m very seriously considering 100%-ing it. Throughout all my years of playing games, I’ve only ever done this with three other games. Make of that what you will :D Also, I thought the story was amazing

    Super Auto Pets – really cute game, yet incredibly deep from a build perspective. It’s basically an Auto-Battler for people who think they don’t like Auto-Battlers. It’s on mobile as well, and it’s so low-commitment, that it’s definitely worth checking out

    1. MerryWeathers says:

      I would still recommend to wait another year for CD Projekt Red to patch (if they do) and finally add the expansions to the games, in the same way how I would recommend people to install and apply the fan patches to games like Vampire: The Masquarade Bloodlines and Knights of the Republic 2 before playing them.

      Psychonauts 2

      I was worried because of Double Fine’s previous track record with crowdfunded games but somehow they managed to deliver a solid platformer with a satisfying story that ties back directly to the first game. Good on them and I hope some expansion or even Psychonauts 3 is on the table.

      1. Geebs says:

        I’ve been a bit wary of getting Psychonauts 2 because I’ve heard that at least some of the plot directly seeks to address the moral implications of diving into somebody else’s brain and rummaging around in there.

        Which is fine in itself, but feels like it doesn’t credit its audience with being intelligent enough to understand the elements of black comedy in the original. Or am I getting the wrong impression?

        1. ike says:

          Yeah, it is a shame that subtlety is so scarce now-a-days. I guess the developers are thinking, “What if someone takes offence and puts a pipe-bomb under my car?”

          1. Mattias42 says:

            Honestly, I personally found that story line pretty believable and daftly handled.

            Not to spoil anything in detail, but Razputin basically makes a huge mess due to inexperience, has to clean it up, but it was such a huge kerfuffle that even somebody his age should have known better, that he has to eat quite a bit of crow before more important things are focused on.

            Given how Raz has had this huge thing since day one where he gets so excited by what he CAN do, that he forgets to think over if he SHOULD do those things, it felt like a natural lesson, IMHO.

        2. Lino says:

          For what it’s worth, I didn’t know there were people who wanted that to be addressed, and I didn’t notice any preachiness on the part of the game. Now that I’ve seen you mention this specific topic, I can recall something like that discussed in the game, but at the time I saw it as natural character development stemming from that particular character’s emotional baggage. Which was something the original did expertly as well – being funny and subtle, yet managing to blend drama and an actually interesting message when appropriate.

          TL;DR: The series hasn’t lost any of its subtlety, and the humour is as good as ever.

          1. Geebs says:

            Thanks for the answer! That does sound reasonable. I’ll give the game a try.

  15. MerryWeathers says:

    This might be the only place on the internet I’ve seen that enjoyed and is still supportive of Cyberpunk 2077.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      I suspect a lot of the problem outside of hype backlash is that the game’s problems disproportionately hit the lower end of systems they allegedly support (including previous-gen consoles). A lot of the hate is then being stoked by people who preordered or bought early to find that, no, the game really wasn’t playable for them at launch.

      1. ike says:

        I feel like disho… err.. aspirational system requirements have been a plague for a long long time.

        1. Thomas says:

          It’s a big blunder to do that to console owners. People get PS4s and Xbox’s particularly because they expect the big games to Just Work. Trying to release a AAA game on them that doesn’t really work at all is self sabotage.

          In the long run they would have been better off just supporting the new generation. It would have lost them initial sales, but they’d have an insanely long tail end, like The Witcher 3 does.

          They got away with releasing a really cruddy Switch port of TW3 because most people who cared already owned TW3 and expectations for the Switch aren’t so high, but they took a really bad lesson away from that.

          They really are a PC developer, and they haven’t adapted their mindset yet

  16. Brandon says:

    Couldn’t agree more re: character building in Cyberpunk. I love Vic, and Judy, and Panam, and even the smaller characters like Mitch and Saul really shine. It’s honestly a massive strength of CDPR, and something everyone loves about Witcher 3, too.

  17. Dreadjaws says:

    I’m sure Cyberpunk’s story and characters are great and at some point in the future I hope I get to revisit it but I don’t regret refunding it. It ran like utter shite in my PC and then at some point and for inexplicable reasons it decided to uninstall itself, so I took that as a sign. Maybe at some point in the next two decades GPU prices will be low enough that I’ll be able to afford a new one. Or maybe current gen consoles will stop being scarce somewhere in the next decade and I’ll be able to find one at a reasonable price, and then I’ll give the game another go.

  18. Chris says:

    its funny, but i think cyberpunk 77 as part of the eurojank genre would be received better than as AAA game. It has a lot of interesting stuff, but is marred by being a rushed out game held together with spit and prayers

  19. Ninety-Three says:

    My game of the year has to be Legends of Runeterra, Riot’s Hearthstone clone. I haven’t touched the “main game” in ages, but I must have poured at least 500 hours into the singleplayer roguelite mode. Roguelite cardgames are my niche so I can’t say how good it is in general, but if you’re into that kind of thing it’s really good. In November they released a major update/revamp of how it works and the new version is different but still good. It has the problem that the optimal way to play is to just throw maximum upgrades on your champion then mulligan aggressively to them and let them carry you through every fight, but if you simply don’t do that your deck can become an interesting midrange pile of synergies and it’s great.

    Runner up is Rogue Legacy 2, which is mostly more Rogue Legacy 1. It’s Metrodivania-ish and it’s absolutely criminal that they make you play for so long before unlocking all the cool movement upgrades, but eventually you become a superhuman with quadruple jump, three air dashes and the ability to spin-kick off enemies recharging your other abilities. I’m pretty sure it’s possible to do a run where you never touch the floor, and the extreme amount of mobility you have elevates what would otherwise be some pretty simple hack’n’slash combat.

    Disappointment of the year is Bullets Per Minute. I was excited for the elevator pitch of “Rhythm game + FPS” but the harsh orange filter and strobing lights literally hurt to look at. This might be the first time a game’s graphics ruined it for me.

    I think I also played some games that weren’t roguelites, but I can’t remember any of them.

    1. Lino says:

      I still play LoR from time to time, especially its Single Player mode. Although I’m currently stuck on Bilgewater with Jinx. And it’s really weird why! In Constructed one of my favourite archetypes used to be Discard Aggro with Jinx/Draven (before they released Sion; by the time he came along I was back to playing Mid-Range – my main love in these types of games), yet now I’m having a really tough time powering through the boss battle. Somehow, no matter what I’ve drafted, he always manages to out-aggro me…

  20. Syal says:

    Alright, my top three 2021 games. Starting with number 4.

    Tales of Arise: barely beaten the prologue on this one. Heard people say the combat was better than Berseria, but I’m unconvinced; they’ve added a Standard Attack button so you can attack even when you’re out of juice, but it’s on R1, and they also moved Dodge to R2. So I’m constantly hitting one instead of the other. (Dodge was L1 in earlier games, so Right Hand Attacks while Left Hand Defends. But not in this one.) The shoulder button being attack makes me think of Dark Souls, as does the limited pooled healing and the super slow boss attacks that catch you with their weird timing. Attacks get queued and you can’t dodge out of them, so if you mash you’ll be in trouble. Got upset at how hard the first boss was, until I remembered I’d put the game on the Hard setting and grudgingly turned it back down.

    It’s enjoyable, but none of the characters have left an impression yet (Unlike Velvet from Berseria, who is dynamic enough to carry scenes where she’s the only real person in them). Feels like it’s going for boss spectacle instead of party dynamics; There are The Five Grand Mook Lords, every chapter will build one up and then let you run through their Palace and punch them super good. I’ll find out eventually; this one’s in the queue behind FF12, Tales of Symphonia, replaying Berseria, maybe replaying Kingdom Hearts 2, and maybe getting around to finally playing Trials of Mana Remake. It’s a generic Anime Action RPG with lots of competition, is what I’m saying.

    3. Bravely Default II: Also haven’t gotten past the prologue on this one. The Job system is exactly what I want a Job system to be, the turn-stacking mechanic is interesting, feels complex and gives a reason to use the Block option in a turn-based game, the art is cute and stylish. The plot is promising to be the most forgettable excuse to engage with mechanics*, so I’m using it as a break from other games.

    *(They already did the Horizon: Zero Dawn thing, where a high-ranking political official marches their dumb ass into the middle of nowhere to start a fistfight with the fistfighter. At least here you beat up all their employees earlier, so it’s still better than HoZeD. But then here when you beat the official, another, even higher-ranking official from a different country shows up at the same time and it’s like “why is this cliff face so popular with dictators, is this a high-ranking make-out spot or something?”)

    2. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. Watched the first game, played the second, first Ace Attorney game I’ve actually played. I got stuck in every single investigation phase, nearly died in every trial, and had a really good time. I’ve got issues with some of the logic behind what you pick (You have a tower and a hole that when combined will explain events, but the player can only present the tower, the hole is considered wrong), and it could use a lot less dialogue, especially in the multiple choice statements where you might have to read them several times: but the characters are a lot of fun, the story is hugely convoluted (in a good way), and I had at least one legitimate ‘Eureka’ moment**. Recommended to those who like mysteries and tolerate reading.

    **(Most of the time you know the solution well before the game brings it up, or sometimes the game brings something up and the answer doesn’t make sense even after you solve it. But every so often, there’s a puzzle you don’t know the answer to going in, and when you finally see it, you think “Oh my God IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!”, and it’s glorious.)

    1. Loop Hero. Not much to this one; you have a generic hero on a loop, and you place cards on the loop to spawn monsters for the hero to kill and level up. You also place cards away from the loop, to give the hero passive boosts. Combining cards creates new tiles (placing a Village by a Vampire Mansion creates a Ghoul Village), so despite being a tiny game there’s some neat experimentation you can do. The shape of the loop is random, making your cards more or less effective. Also there’s a whole lot of resources to collect, by playing lots and lots of different cards, or sometimes by not playing them and letting the deck overflow. Use them for permanent upgrades between loops. Good stuff.

    Monsters get tougher every loop, and once you place a certain number of cards the boss appears for the hero to fight. The plot is minimal but makes use of itself. There’s a town to build up with the resources from the loops, of which there are many. It’s small and short, but I finished it and had a consistently good impression.

  21. Rosseloh says:

    I feel like I’m the single person on the planet who didn’t personally overhype Cyberpunk, who didn’t have any crashes or major bugs, and who really enjoyed it with no asterisks. I preordered (CDPR was and is still the only company I will do that for), and I felt I got my money’s worth on the first day.

    1. stratigo says:

      CDPR is a company that treats both its staff and fans as scummy as any AAA developer and you shouldn’t preorder from them any more then from EA.

      That said, Cyberpunk was a solid 7/10 game for me. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a witcher 3 masterpiece, but I dumped 60 hours into it and don’t feel any regrets.

  22. Nick+Pitino says:

    Well call me Mr. Behind the Times, but being that things were on sale for Christmas I just picked up Cyberpunk and Prey the other day.

    Here goes nothing!

  23. PeteTimesSix says:

    I suppose I might as well throw in my own personal Best Of:

    Death’s Door is a excellent take on the classic zelda-style exploration slash-em-up topdown adventure game. It also let me play as an adorable crow with a sword.

    Inscryption is a deckbuilding card game with a dreadful (in that it inspires dread in the way a lot of horror games fail to) twist that is similar to Slay the Spire… or so I’m told, having never actually played Slay the Spire (card games arent really my thing). I bought it because it’s made by the dev behind Pony Island, which meant I was in for a ride. The moment to moment gameplay turning out excellent was just an unexpected bonus for me.

    Deathloop was merely okay for an Arkane game (so, still better than most), as it feels as if the dev team was forced to whittle it down to a minimum viable product at some point during development. Still appreciate it for giving the played an excuse to go on a guilt-free maniac murder spree in the first ten minutes – Ive always felt that the weakest part of the Dishonored games was the wonderful arsenal of tools that you were mostly not supposed to use if you wanted to feel like a good person.

    Other than that, Ive spent some time catching up on games Ive skipped on previously. Honorable mentions go to Ori (both the Blind Forest and Will of the Wisps variety), Prey: Mooncrash and Metro: Exodus.

  24. xbolt says:

    I played 2077 on day 1, having been following the game since the original 2013 teaser. Despite that, I don’t feel that I overhyped the game at all. I expected to get a kick-ass story driven game with complex, interesting characters, and I got exactly that.

    I also didn’t experience any sort of major bugs or crashes with it. Maybe I was lucky.

    1. stratigo says:

      My main issue is that the character work is front and a little back loaded and there’s this huge flabby middle of a game where the character work is pretty soft.

  25. Glide says:

    I agree that even after all the ways it let us down, Cyberpunk was still a good game and something I’ll remember fondly. I recently wrote up the top five games I played this year (not that were released this year – I tend to be a couple years behind the curve in general) and I gave Cyberpunk my #3 spot. It was a so-so first person action game (though I think it did a very solid job aping Deus Ex’s multiple viable approaches to every encounter), but it was a damn fine roleplaying game, stealing the absolute best of Obsidian’s integration of character backgrounds and stats into the dialogue system while merging it with strong writing and evocative character designs. I played a lot of good games this year, but only two, Cyberpunk and my #1 game Morrowind (I warned you I’m behind the times) had me sitting at work daydreaming about what my next move was in their virtual world. When I spend real time turning the game world in my head, they’re doing something right in its creation.

    If falling through an elevator every couple of hours or being able to avoid the cops by sprinting 30 feet in a straight line are what I have to put up with to get Cyberpunk’s roleplaying experience, I’ll live with that every time.

  26. Tuck says:

    When was the last time Ubisoft created a character that wasn’t an avatar of cringe?

    That would be 2017 with Assassins’ Creed: Origins. No joke, the main character is not the slightest bit cringeworthy. I honestly think you’d love the writing in that game.

    1. Also Tom says:

      Seconded. Bayek is a very solid character, and the character arc he and his wife go through is very well done. (Although the, ah, historical aspects of the game are really terrible. And Bayek’s wife is kind of cringy.)

      That having been said, while a lot of the cringiness you get with Kassandra/Alexios in AC: Odyssey really does depend on how you play them, Layla Hassan is very cringy, especially of you play through the Fate of Atlantis DLC.

      I haven’t played Valhalla yet, and I’m not sure if I want to. Any game that puts Alfred the Great on the bad side and the Vikings on the good side is deliberately trying to be edgy, and that rubs me the wrong way.

      1. Thomas says:

        I think it’s more like edgelessness. They want you to be the Vikings because Vikings are cool, but they can’t possibly acknowledge that the main character is less than totally virtuousness. That’s why you have to raid a monastery but get de-synced if you kill a monk because your Viking “didn’t kill civilians”.

        They walked a much better line in AC1 with the actual Assassins. They invented a lot of mumbo jumbo to justify why the Assassins were noble and pure, but they also showed that to be somewhat of a facade.

      2. Tuck says:

        Layla wasn’t super cringy in Origins, but she also didn’t get much in the way of character development. Which is fine, she isn’t really important. Odyssey just had very dull writing throughout, I thought, full of cliches and tropes. And some incredibly obnoxious NPC characters. Did I 100% the game? Of course I did.

        I’ve not played Valhalla either, but I’ll probably get it on sale at some point because those games really scratch an itch for me…

  27. I recently started playing Cyberpunk 2077. While I do enjoy the complex story and interesting characters, I feel as if the entire game world was created by 14 year old boys!

    Examples:

    – Female characters are frequently naked. Male characters are always clothed.

    – The world is littered with posters and advertising sexualizing female bodies. Ladies bewbs and butts everywhere!

    – Images of naked men are extremely rare and presented as artistic, rather than lewd.

    – Casual misogyny throughout the entire game.

    – An underlying tone of mean-spiritedness and emotional immaturity. Why is everyone always yelling at each other?!?!

    – The entire world feels like a teenager’s attempt to be “mature” and “shocking” by drawing penises on the bathroom wall.

    1. Shamus says:

      This is a perfectly reasonable reaction and I’m not going to try and talk you out of it. But if you’re curious then here’s my own view on it…

      Cyberpunk is a horrible world of poverty, injustice, and pollution. And their culture is just as broken and ugly as the rest of their society.

      You probably know this, but for anyone else in this thread who doesn’t: Cyberpunk 2077 is based on the Cyberpunk tabletop setting, which was originally designed by Mike Pondsmith in 1988. Thus, it’s vision of the future reflects those 80s sensibilities. This leads to weird anachronisms, like a future world where there are 1,000 cable channels and no apparent internet as we know it. This is also reflected in its environmental message: These people are worried about air pollution, street litter, and ozone depletion, because that’s what people were worried about in 1988. This can feel a little weird to a modern audience more concerned with (say) climate change and ocean plastic.

      The trick here is that author Mike Pondsmith was satirizing / criticizing the world of 1988 by taking all of the then-relevant concerns and cranking them up to 11. The problem, which you’ve noticed, is that there’s a fine line between exaggerating something for criticism, and exaggerating something to revel in its excess.

      Yes, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is hopelessly lurid, leering, and lecherous. Women’s bodies are all over the place, an endless display of flesh.

      But for me it’s so much – and the ads are SO crass – that it doesn’t come across as sexy, but sad. I guess “degrading” is a good word for it. And while the ads don’t often sexualize men, they are still degrading in their own way. The men in those ads are all horrible gross creatures, mindless consumers, and targets of shocking violence. They’re ugly, needy, hateful, vain, and shallow, and their suffering is played for laughs.

      This is a world devoid of love and compassion. The reaction you have to those ads is, I think, the intended reaction. Those ads weren’t devised by 14 year old boys to be sexy, they were designed by people who wanted to criticize this sort of advertising in today’s world by taking it to its logical conclusion.

      The problem is that no matter how ugly you make it, a few people will find the world aspirational instead of disgusting. It’s like people who Watch Wolf of Wall Street and think, “Oh wow. I wish I was having fun like Jordan Belfort!”

      For me, the desperate backdrop makes the personal relationships more powerful. Our heroes are finding love and forging friendships in this sick and loveless world. (This is one of the things that makes the early-game death so powerful. Jackie and Misty really did seem to love each other, which is apparently a rare thing in this world.)

      Having said all that, it’s totally reasonable to look at these ads and say, “Gross. Satire or not, I don’t find this entertaining.” I have the same reaction to the Grand Theft Auto games.

      1. Redrock says:

        To elaborate on your points, I’ve long felt that there’s a widespread confusion regarding the nature of both cyberpunk and Cyberpunk, so to speak. Lower case cyberpunk is often understood as this broad “high-tech, low-life” subgenre of sci-fi, or even something more basic – an esthetic, a Blade Runner-esque mix of chrome and neon. Which is a perfectly legitimate way to think about it, but hardly an exhaustive one. It’s really important to remember that cyberpunk was also a literary movement, highly specific to a particular period of time, roughly a decade between the early 80s and the mid-90s.

        Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, for example, is widely considered to already be post-cyberpunk, rather than cyberpunk proper, given that it, yes, satirizes the way too self-serious style of William Gibson or Walter Jon Williams, who served as an inspiration to Pondsmith. Almost all of the themes are so obviously specific to the era. Just like air pollution, rampant street crime is another cyberpunk theme that’s very 80s, see also Robocop. By the mid-90s the great crime decline was already in full swing, making that yet another outdated idea.

        So, while you absolutely can make a modern story with cyberpunk themes and esthetic, “classical” cyberpunk today is inherently retro-futuristic, much like Fallout’s brand of sci-fi, for example.

        When it comes to Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk tabletop setting, I’m no expert, but given the timeline and my limited experience, I’d assume he sits squarely between Gibson and Stephenson – mostly playing it straight, but with a generous splash of satire already. But, again, the tabletop setting seems to me to be primarily a kitchen sink amalgamation of each and every trope from the classical era of cyberpunk. So, yeah, Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t really proper 2010s sci-fi in the sense that a modern writer sat down and tried to envision a future based on our current fears, frustrations, hopes and sensibilities. Instead, CDPR set out to create a bunch of stories in this time capsule if a setting that’s more than three decades old and was already rapidly becoming dated at the time of inception. I think it’s way more helpful to think of Cyberpunk the setting as something more akin to Numenera or DnD or Shadowrun. A magical otherworld to play around in that just happens to feature ever so slightly more guns than swords.

        Now, and we’ll always keep coming back to this, CDPR shoulders some of the blame for this confusion. I’m sure I’ve heard them talk in promos about how they were trying to “imagine the future” or “design the future” or whatever. Which is, of course, complete and utter bullshit. But that’s the mental gymnastics we’re stuck with – having to constantly separate what CP2077 actually is from all the nonsense CDPR managed to say about it over the years.

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        This is a world devoid of love and compassion. The reaction you have to those ads is, I think, the intended reaction. Those ads weren’t devised by 14 year old boys to be sexy, they were designed by people who wanted to criticize this sort of advertising in today’s world by taking it to its logical conclusion.

        I think that does not actually contradict Leslee’s view. The ads weren’t created by 14 year old boys, they were created by mature game designers seriously envisioning a world in which ads are basically created by 14 year old boys. If the author was merely roleplaying a pervert, there’s an important sense in which he was still being a pervert.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Yeah, it’s like someone saying they don’t like Romeo and Julliet because it’s too tragic. Yes, it’s meant to be a tragedy, but that doesn’t mean that “it’s too tragic” is an invalid reason to dislike it.

      3. Gethsemani says:

        It might be worth noting that Cyberpunk 2077 was developed alongside Cyberpunk Red, the successor tabletop RPG to Cyberpunk 2020. Cyberpunk Red is a serious update to an outdated brand and Pondsmith and his team of writers have done an admirable job updating a really aged game world to modern sensibilities. While street crime is still a major theme, the other themes that CPR deal with are climate change, social inequality, refugees and the death of democracy, much more so then 2020 ever did. For all points and purposes Cyberpunk (2077 and Red) draws its aesthetic from the 80’s but the setting is modernized to deal with modern problems and issues.

        That all being said, I share Leslee’s sentiment that the ads in CP77 are just too much, especially in conjunction with the recurring problem of women NPCs being way too exploited. I understand their intention as satire, but the extreme sexualization of women in comparison to men means it comes way too close to feeling like at least some of the artists/writers were either turned on by their own work or didn’t really understand what the game was trying to achieve. In a previous discussion on another forum I went into the game and counted the ads and the numbers are something like 3:1 sexually provocative women in the ads for every man. On top of that, in every ad that a man is sexualized it is also in a submissive or degraded fashion and ads that show despair are uniformly portrayed with men in them. What this all ads up to for me is that the ads simply lack a feminine gaze and a deeper understanding of gender and sex, because even the ads that sexualize men do so in a stereotypically male fashion where being sexually submissive to a woman is degrading in itself and not, as it is to many men, an actual turn on.

        I realize I’m straddling the line of discussing politics here, so I won’t delve deeper into that argument. Sufficient to say is that I see what the artists were aiming for, but I don’t think they hit the target.

      4. stratigo says:

        As a trans person, CDPR’s engagement with trans imagery in their game left…. a lot to be desired. There was no commentary, just lurid imagery. And when you are using marginalized communities to build a setting, it always behooves you to say something, not just use them the way… well, real life porn does.

      5. Thank you for your response, Shamus! I was indeed curious.

        While I do recognize the attempt at satirization, it still felt to me that the game itself was pandering specifically to the male gaze. Both Judy and Panam are depicted as attractive women that the player is invited to flirt with. But so far (I have not yet completed the game), there have been no conventionally attractive male characters that are obviously intended for the female gaze.

        It feels to me that CDPR did not create this game with the intention of male and female players having a similar experience.

        1. Shamus says:

          I found this kind of annoying as well. I’m not into dating dudes, but it does make me happy to see a variety of options. (If you’re curious, Judy is explicitly lesbian, and Panam is firmly straight.)

          There is indeed a dude to date in the game! My problem is that he’s a cop. (Boo! What self-respecting street kid wants to hang out with a cop???) He’s also slightly off the critical path of the game. At some point on the main quest you’ll be offered the job “I Fought the Law”, and that’s where you meet the romance option for straight women. He’s also a generally cool dude with a decent side-mission, so it’s worth meeting him even if you’re not interested in romance. Despite my joking above, I do like that we get to meet a cop in this game so it doesn’t feel like Night City is inhabited entirely by criminals.

          (There’s also an option for gay men, but I won’t spoil that here. You’ll know him when you see him. He’s obvious and he’s right on the main story line. )

          1. stratigo says:

            I mean, the cops in night city are pretty much the chief criminals. Most of the open world make work is contextualized by you murdering people for them. Cyberpunk has a firmly political perspective on police, and it’s not, uh, a favorable one.

            Honestly, even despite CDPR’s puzzling disinterest in SAYING anything with the genre, the very genre itself is deeply political in a way that you can’t talk about without touching politics.

            But CDPR’s struggle to say anything is what makes the satire feel kind of soft. They just aren’t successful in giving us any commentary on the tits and ass advertising. It’s just there, over the top sure, but over the top is no guarantee of satire, especially considering how dead Irony is in the modern era.

  28. EOW says:

    Honestly, cp77 is the best game for me as well. It could’ve been better, but holy shit when it’s good it’s some of the best stuff in videogames i’ve played.
    My only fear is that, assuming they haven’t dropped support for the game, they will just waste time on ultimately pointless stuff like cop chases.

  29. Redrock says:

    Hard agree in Cyperpunk 2077. I was one of the lucky ones who could run it with little trouble and encountered few bugs that required anything more than a quick reload to fix. Then again, I’m a Troika and Obsidian fan. The bugs, as the song goes, never bothered me anyway. But the characters, the visual design, the city and the punchiness of the combat more than make up for any broken promises, especially since I never really believed any of those. I expected a well-written eurojank title and got exactly that.

    As for my personal favorites this year:

    5. Severed Steel. I highly stylized little FPS that emphasizes movement, precision and, of course, bullet time. You can slide, wall-run and somersault, and you have to do that constantly, because standing still means death. It’s fluid, fast and extremely satisfying, and the music absolutely rocks, to the point where you start feeling like you’re in a rhythm game. It also, surprizingly, features almost totally destructible voxel environments, but that’s just icing on the cake. However, it’s on the short side, but features a highly replayable score attack mode with modifiers and cheats.

    4. Forgotten City. I loved it as a time-loop mystery Skyrim mode, and I enjoyed it even more as a standalone remake now set in ancient Rome. The writng is decent, the time-loop mechanics aren’t fleshed out all that much, but functional, and easily the worst part is a completely unnecessary stealth-combat sequence in the middle. It is, however, a good sequence in terms of themes and atmosphere, so it kinda balances out. Also, Forgotten City has one of the more satisfying endings I remember in games this year.

    3. Guardians of the Galaxy. A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. It’s actually surprisingly janky, and the combat is decidedly ‘meh’, but the lights and colors are pretty and the writing and characters are fantastic. I’m amazed by how much better the characterization in this is, compared to the MCU films. The mix of comedy, tragedy and drama is just right, and the weakest characters in the films for me – Gamora and Quill – actually shine in the game. Quill, in particular, finally seems like a proper old-school hero: flawed, immature, not especially bright, yes, but brave, kind and fiercely loyal, with the game going out of its way to make the point that those are the qualities that truly matter. Overall, a very pleasant experience, especially since I got the option to pummel a huge-ass space dragon to Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’.

    2. Tales of Arise. Yeah, it’s a very conventional JRPG in many ways, but it gave me what I can rarely get out of games these days – a fun and engaging adventure. It helps that the combat system is so very satisfying, full of big colourful explosions and people yelling out the names of their attacks, as one does. I like the little touches too, like how your most powerful attacks, the awkwardly named Boost Strikes, have any two characters team up for an explosive assault. It’s like somebody has figured out that gameplay mechanics should reflect the story beats and vice versa, imagine that.

    1. It Takes Two. More great local coop like that, please, gaming industry. It’s ‘Honey I Shrank the Kids’ premise lends to some very imaginative settings, but what really struck me was how willing the game was to introduce completely new mechanics for every level, and every time they were balanced in such a way that both players had the same amount of fun in fulfilling their assigned roles. The writing is weird, though. It takes a very immature approach at such a complex issue as divorce, and I also don’t think the author realized just how awful they made the two main characters look at times. Still, my partner and I had a lot of fun playing that one together, which doesn’t happen all that often, and for that alone it absolutely deserves my top spot this year.

    1. Syal says:

      and I also don’t think the author realized just how awful they made the two main characters look at times.

      I don’t think you can write The Sequence without knowing these characters are monsters.

      If you haven’t seen their previous game, A Way Out, it’s janky fun in the same vein, though more grounded. (And I’m going to link the best thing in it, at the 1H2M mark. Very minor spoilers.)

      1. Redrock says:

        It’s not just The Sequence, though, it’s how they’re more than willing to lie to and manipulate literally everyone they meet if it serves their own interests. I mean, I often talk about just how deliciously ruthless Velvet from Tales of Berseria can be, but those two are on another level entirely. And given the ending, I don’t think that’s fully intentional on the writer’s part.

        We had a lot of fun with A Way Out back when it released. It Takes Two impressed me even more because of how the developer managed to transition from Telltale-esque walking sim design to full-fledged 3D platformer with numerous mechanics. You don’t see that kind of growth every day.

    2. Chad+Miller says:

      easily the worst part is a completely unnecessary stealth-combat sequence in the middle

      Ugh. I actually liked the combat itself although it was probably a bit much to have at once. Which ties into what I think is one of the game’s worst missteps: the fact that the quest in question has a popup saying “skip this quest if you don’t like action or horror elements”. Setting aside the debate on content warnings in general, if you must have one of these then it should have really been a prompt at the beginning of the game that disables the quest if the player doesn’t want anything to do with the combat. As it stands, it’s a huge inline spoiler to have a popup saying “BTW SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS ON THIS QUEST” and what’s worse is that if you think about it for 10 seconds it becomes obvious that if the quest is skippable, all combat outside of that quest must also be skippable. So it’s a quest to get a weapon for the combat that’s only required on that same quest.

      All of that said I went into the Lower Cistern before that point and that was one of the game’s big “wow” moments for me. Which was then ruined when I found out you could kick Peeled Statues and it deflated all the tension

  30. evilmrhenry says:

    So, what did I play this year?

    The meh:

    Shrine II: Great Doom total conversion, except for the horrific difficulty level in the second half.

    Krystopia: A Puzzle Journey: A puzzle game that really shows its mobile roots. Not spectacular, but a reasonable time.

    Krystopia: Nova’s Journey: While it is similar, this is more of an adventure game when the first was more of a puzzle game. I don’t think this change helps the game.

    The Spectrum Retreat: First person puzzle game. I don’t think it quite works, (it’s too easy to softlock yourself in a puzzle, the story is mostly told via letters in the environment that can be difficult to read because of the lighting, there’s a lack of variation in the environments) but it’s a reasonable entry in the genre.

    The Cave: Side-scrolling adventure game. I don’t think it really works.

    Event[0]: A walking simulator/simple adventure game. There’s not much here, and it doesn’t really get cheap enough to recommend just based on the experience.

    The Initiate: Room Escape adventure game. Not awe-inspiring.

    The Good:

    Super Mario Galaxy (Wii): It’s still a 3D Mario game, but it’s held back by the Wii controller, and the gravity manipulation mechanic creating oversimplified levels.

    Lycanthorn 1 and 2: Lycanthorn 1 is more of a prologue. Lycanthorn 2 is the actual game. This turns Doom into kind of a metroidvania game, but I don’t think it really succeeds at that. Still good, but it would have been better as a more linear experience.

    Kairo: A short exploration/puzzle game. Not that hard, but a decent experience.

    Chuchel: Simple one-screen adventure/puzzle game. Fun, I just don’t have anything to say about it.

    Restrict Skyblock: Yet another quest-focused Minecraft skyblock. I liked this, even though the final singularity quests ended up requiring creating a lag monster.

    Murder By Numbers: Visual novel/Picross puzzle game. Don’t think it quite works; Picross was a bad choice for the puzzle to use, as there’s no good way to add twists to it, and the puzzles interfere with the pace of the visual novel.

    High Hell: 3D Hotline Miami. I think it’s fun, though looking for the secrets will tank your momentum.

    Spyro Reignited Trilogy: It’s still Spyro, and I feel this holds up better than the similar Crash Bandicoot trilogy. The only sticking point are a few technical issues with the last game that make the skateboarding levels significantly harder than they were in the original.

    The Great:

    Axiom Verge: It’s a well-done metroidvania. Don’t have much to say about it, but if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s a good time.

    Witcheye: A 2D “platforming” game where you move a bouncing eyeball around a level. Obvious phone port, still fun. Mouse control is playable, but I think you’ll want a controller. Easy and Normal difficulty change up the enemy and secret placement, so there’s replay value there. (Hard also does this, but it also adds a strict timer to every level, which I didn’t find interesting.)

    Darksiders III: Easier than you might expect from something that has so much Dark Souls influence, it even has difficulty levels. The game does expect you to learn the dodge move, but once you do you’re set for the entire game. I still prefer the genre of the first game, but it was a good time.

    Aragami: Stealth game. It’s good, though I think I damaged my enjoyment from killing every enemy on my first time through. That’s a little too difficult for the number of checkpoints you get, and the way you die in one hit. So, don’t do that.

    Shadow Complex Remastered: A much more action-focused metroidvania game than the usual entries in the genre. It’s good.

    Dungeon Warfare 2: Like the first, only more so. Think a 2D Orcs Must Die, or a tower defense game focused on physics traps.

    Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King: Very inspired by Link to the Past. I’m okay with this.

    Ittle Dew 2: Like the first, but better in every way. (Also harder, especially some of the optional stuff.)

    Smile For Me: An adventure game about cheering people up. A good time, and less frustrating than most adventure games.

    The Room 4: Old Sins: adventure/puzzle game with a Lovecraftian vibe. Very similar to the last 3, but I’m fine with that.

    Hyper Light Drifter: Like Darksiders III, this is something you might have been put off due to perception of difficulty, but it’s not as bad as you might think. The game is really focused on exploration and finding secrets, so it’s metroidvania-adjacent, if not actually a metroidvania.

    I’d give out a GOTY award, but honestly, nothing stood out enough over the rest of the pack. If pressed, I’d go with Hyper Light Drifter, but I just finished playing it, and I don’t know if it will stick with me.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Ittle Dew! Yes, it’s way better a game than it may appears to be on first glance, a first-rate puzzle/action/adventure game.

  31. tmtvl says:

    Lessee now, my top 3 for 2021 would be…

    3. Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura – while VtMB (Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines) and ToEE (The Temple of Elemental Evil) are both really amazingly wonderful games, Arcanum is my favourite of Troika’s ensemble.

    2. Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn – quite a bit of nostalgia here, but I like the quests, the characters (Korghan, Edwin, Jan), and the story.
    Irenicus is a villain who can really draw animosity and the game is stuffed with these little touches that reward fans for taking their time and looking at the world. (also, insert mean words for the abomination here)

    3. Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen – I am just a massive sucker for games that tie everything into a theme. Now the theme may just be a lucky coincidence for Capcom, but from how the music contains little fragments of the main theme, the way the theme is set up from the very beginning of the game, the foreshadowing through the first arc, the twist for the second arc, and then the reinforcement during DA’s BBI arc just get me.
    Also helps that the game is really fun to play.

    Yes, I know there’s no games from 2021 or even 2020 in here. The most recent game in my collection is Littlewood (from 2019) and that’s the only 2019 game I have. There just hasn’t been anything worth getting.

  32. Christopher says:

    Shoutout to Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth and Resident Evil 8 I suppose. I liked those games. I played very little in 2021, though.. Maybe 2022, you know.

  33. Scerro says:

    to get characters I can connect with then I’ll take it, bugs and crashes and all. If you told me right now that there was another game with moments as powerful as the ones in Cyberpunk 2077, but the game was also just as buggy, I’d still buy it.

    I’ve not planned to go all FF 14 advertisement mode, but here we are. You asked for it.

    You’re fine with bugs, but how good are you at wading through slower, less exciting content? Final Fantasy 14 has those moments and characters, especially come the 3rd expansion, Shadowbringers. The 4th one, Endwalker just released, and keeps up those expectations. It’s truly a story driven game with an MMO tacked on. The original game can get sloggy, as it was what was rebuilt from the ashes of 1.0. Still it has a great climax and I enjoy it even for what it is alone.

    I also recommend FF 14 because Naoki Yoshida is truly what a director and lead should be. He’s a passionate gamer that turned around FF 14, understood what was broken from the original game, fixed it, and expanded FF 14 into something on-parity with WoW (I’m not going to say it). He’s not an executive divorced from the reality of what a game needs. This documentary, which is quite old in the game’s history at this point, highlights a lot of his choices when moving the game forward – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs0yQKI7Yw4 .

    The best part of me trying to sell you on it? The game is suspended from being purchased and the Free Trial because they can’t expand their data centers because of Supply Chain + Semiconductor shortages. So you can’t even go play it.

  34. Syal says:

    Well, I suppose with the defeat of 2021 we’re no longer shackled to listing recent games. Can I think of anything else worth mentioning? Not really, but I’m going to mention them anyway.

    So last year I’d mostly been playing:

    Torchlight 2. This game scratched a very particular itch when I first played it (shooting fantasy monsters with dual-wielded infinite ammo pistols). So it’s disappointing to realize the game’s got problems melee-side. Over half the enemies leave melee range constantly, so unless you’ve got an immobilization ability you’re mostly running around like a Keystone Kop, swinging at empty air. Plus I just ran into resurrection enemies who can revive the other resurrection enemies. Very sad to see.

    Kingdom Hearts 3. I skipped from 2 straight to 3, and let me tell you, the plot really does not expect that. Lots of quick references to the middle games, lots of “wait why are they still here” moments. As for Sora’s plot… I’m not sure he has one? I think Sora’s motivation is literally “let’s kill some time while we’re waiting for the plot to start”. Also got a bad habit of the villains constantly winning in cutscenes, also also the New Disney villains don’t lend themselves to bossfights. Mechanics-wise, I liked the Drives becoming a combo thing, land enough hits and you activate your Drive. But lock-on is absurdly strong, spinning you 180 to attack the enemy the game wants you to attack instead of the one in front of you that you wanted to hit, and there’s too many super moves activating all the time, it’s hard to avoid using them and autowinning.

    Best part of the game is the intro, which kept me invested for a long time, even knowing the game wasn’t going to live up to it.

    Tales of Symphonia. About halfway through this, just past the Big Reveal. Wasn’t impressed the first time, but as the game goes on the plot and characters are becoming progressively stronger. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s interesting and charming. That said, the gameplay is bad, and the game is hard for the wrong reasons. You’re on a 3d map, but you can only walk toward or away from your target; if you want to switch directions you have to switch targets. Early on, all you can do is walk into the enemy and exchange blows (and blocks). You can’t even heal yet. It’s misery. Later you get some moves that let you move yourself and enemies around and the gameplay rises to ‘tolerable’. I plan on finishing it, but I’m not playing any other Tales game before Berseria, this system is a slog.

    Final Fantasy 12. Getting close to the end of it I think. FF12’s got the problem that it’s all brain and no heart; that is, the plot is a cerebral story of political maneuvering and long-term strategy, and none of the characters have any emotional investment in events at any point. (People say Vaan has no plot relevance, but… none of them do. Even Ashe could be replaced by a rando.)

    But the game loves world-building; areas cross-connect with each other, every monster has a write-up on why it lives where it is, cities have explanations for their economies (though they hid them behind killing monsters, which seems like a really bad idea), and it manages to combine the settings of Tactics and Tactics Advance into an improved version of both. The Gambit system is fun, and is a rare form of a game playing itself that’s actually still enjoyable. Apart from some weird plot beats (like Schroedinger’s Treason Witness), I must grudgingly admit that FF10 was not the last good game in the series.

    FF7 Remake. Had a lot of fun with this one, although you can definitely feel the padding sometimes, and some of the new stuff made me cringe. The combat system is fun, the character beats are mostly really good, the sexual innuendo is uncomfortably brazen, they managed to cram in almost every mechanic from all of 7 into this Midgar section. It’s really good.

    The Outer Worlds. It’s short, there’s only two major planets, but what’s there is a silly good time. Not much else to say, I guess, it’s over the top with lots of comedy and moral choices in various sizes.

    Tales of Berseria. About halfway through my replay, just rescued Scream Child. The Middle Muddle is not as bad as I remembered it being, though I’m sure that’s because I know it’s coming this time. The game’s got villain protagonists, which shifts the comradery enough to keep it new. Artorius is maybe my favorite villain; he’s a nice, friendly guy in a vacuum, who will murder people without blinking if it’s in pursuit of a goal. And then Velvet’s the same, except for the ‘nice’ part. Gameplay is fast and button-mash friendly, and on high difficulty settings ends up being rocket tag; normal attacks cause status effects and status effects usually result in getting beaten to death before they wear off. Intense Mode makes you very aware of how far the save points are from each other.

    So, top five would be FF7R, then Great Ace Attorney, then Loop Hero, then Outer Worlds, and Berseria at the top.

    1. Redrock says:

      I’d argue that Velvet can be nice in her own way, especially if given time. Problem is, her thing is mostly love of life, just like her comrades, but the game doesn’t necessarily think that that’s a good thing. What interests me about Berseria is that, especially in the context of Zestiria, the author never completely commits to the idea of the protagonists being right and the villain being wrong. Mind you, the world of Berseria and its underlying magic are low-key some of the harshest I know, basically saying that humans living as humans would inevitably lead to the creation of monsters, to pain and strife and suffering. The danger of emotions is made literal in this world. The choice is, therefore, turn humanity into a bunch of drones, dull, but safe and docile, or embrace life, with all the evil that comes with it. And that choice is never acknowledged by the game to be a false dichotomy. The world and themes of Berseria are weirdly depressing once you really think about it, moreso than in a Yoko Taro game, which actually feature pretty hopeful endings.

      On an unrelated note, when you talk about cringey new stuff in the FF7 Remake, do you mean the meta stuff or something else?

      1. Syal says:

        when you talk about cringey new stuff in the FF7 Remake, do you mean the meta stuff or something else?

        I was mostly thinking of Roche and Beck’s Bandits. Those characters made me want them to go away. (Although I still wanted Roche to come back for a fight during the Shinra Building, they introduced him after all.) There’s probably more but those are the stand-outs.

        1. Redrock says:

          Dang, I always forget Roche is even a thing. Yeah, he is a lousy character in every way. That said, I get the reasoning behind his inclusion. The lack of any noteworthy SOLDIERs outside of Zack, Cloud and Sephiroth in the original FF7 always rubbed me the wrong way. We hear so much about those supposed super-warriors and their classes, and when they finally do show up, they are just random encounter mooks.

          1. Syal says:

            Yeah, the reason for both is there; there’s classes of human enemies, let’s make them into characters with personalities.

            Roche could have been fun if he wasn’t attacking his own guys every time he shows up. He’s a huge “stop the plot and look at me” character.

            I’m going to give Beck’s Bandits way too much credit and assume they’re funnier in Japanese. Maybe they’ve got some puns going on, or something. But in English they’re a comedy group with loud voices and no jokes.

    2. bobbert says:

      The only part off FFVII I remember is the bird management mini-game.

    3. Thomas says:

      I really thought Kingdom Hearts 3 was going to treat it as though KH1, KH2, KH3 were the main games, and the spin-offs were extra detail that only the core fans would know and care about.

      I was naive.

      1. Retsam says:

        Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone would expect that after Kingdom Hearts 2 – which came out only a few years after 1 – picked up immediately where the handheld spin-off (which was sequel practically disguised as a thinly justified retread of the previous plot) left off.

        With the decade and half-dozen spin-offs between 2 and 3, I’m not sure they could have written a plot that didn’t depend on a lot of the elements introduced in those spin-offs.

        1. Syal says:

          I skipped both KH 1 and KH Chain, and 2 still worked: I felt like I knew what was going on, as weird as it was. I was actually thinking Chain came out after 2 to fill in characters they didn’t have budget for. Everyone gets introductions and arcs*. They open with flashbacks to the first game so you have a general sense of who people are.

          3 doesn’t. They spend a long time talking about Aqua before they tell the player who Aqua is. Demyx is back but gets pretty much nothing; I don’t think he even does anything in the plot. I don’t think Ansem and Xemnas get explanations, and all the Xehonorts made me think of an old Key and Peele skit (NSFW). Every time one of them showed up I thought “That’s two Steve Urkels and no family on a show called Family Matters!”

          *(well, they mostly get arcs. They get boss fights anyway. Except Maleficent for some reason.)

  35. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Regarding Cyberpunk I’m less warm than you but I agree that it had some great emotional moments. The two ones that got me were the gods damned crucifixion scene, and that sidequest about the cop that is getting more and more depressed since he lost his best friend. When you learn that the friend was a turtle, and that even cop hating always an asshole Johnny is genuinely sad and worried for the guy, it just got me.

    But my game of the year by FAR is Pathfinder : Wrath of the Righteous. With the proper mods (toybox, respec mod) this is the best CRPG of the new era. It’s still not perfect and getting better every patch, but the writing is very good, the characters are very fun, the system is tough but incredibly rewarding to master, it’s pretty, and most importantly the Mythic system is incredibly fun and offers a ton of replayability without taking away from the first game. Want to be an angel, an azata (chaotic good hippie go lucky angels), a lich, a gold dragon, a gods damned swarm? You’ll get unique powers, special companions, your own quest lines and endings! It is SO good you guys!

    1. tmtvl says:

      Well, you’ve sold me on WotR. When I get a machine capable of playing it (I can currently run Kingmaker at ~10FPS) I’ll pick it up pronto.

    2. Gautsu says:

      Wrath really is awesome. Although 10+ playthroughs of chapter 1 and 2 have gotten old, I’ve beaten it twice (Angel and Azata) and have an Aeon at the end of Chapter 4. The way each mythic path plays out differently is really a highlight

  36. Orophor says:

    Played CP2077 for over 400 hours over five play throughs. My favorite was Streetkid female V that romanced Judy. Happiest ending was my Male Nomad with Panam, Alacaldos for life! Did the secret ending with Johnny and left him in charge, that was the most cyberpunk version IMHO.

    Was the game not what was hyped? No game could have been without tens of thousands more hours of work and compute time which can’t be made for $60 a copy. There just are not enough units sold to justify the cost. Did I have fun in spite of that, hell yes. The soundtrack was great. The graphics (RTX 3080) were amazing. The city felt like a place I just just get lost in and the badlands outside felt like the eco-disaster mad max vibe that is true to the setting.

    Only things I wish were different was if they had actual classes (fixer, solo, netrunner, rocker, corp, media, tech, etc) like the pen & paper with skills that matched so I could make a real cyberpunk V. The cyber ware stuff they showed in promotion of wall climbing with the mantis blades or using cyber eyes and smart guns to bounce bullets around corners would have been great. And there are too many choke points in the story where you have only one way to progress, especially the brain dances which were cool but underdeveloped and it was a bummer to have to do the same exact ones for every play through.

  37. TLN says:

    In defense of Obsidian characters, Kaelyn the Dove from Mask of the Betrayer (the first expansion to Neverwinter Nights 2, also one of my favourite games) is an outstanding character with a fantastic voice actor. Every time I replay it I find myself going through all of her dialogue never skipping a single bit, and her arguably misguided quest is possibly the most compelling thing about the whole game.

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