With 2020 nearing the end, it’s time to kick back and take stock in this long decade of a year. After playing over a hundred new titles in the past twelve months, whittling them down to just ten favorites proved an immensely hard task – one that I’m not certain I’m entirely finished with just yet. Nevertheless, here are, in no order, my ten favorite games of the year. Each of them more than worth your time.
I’m not a massive fan of rogue-lites. While I understand the appeal, I just don’t have the fortitude to hack away at them in a way that would yield the best results. But HADES does things differently. It rewards failure and weaves its narrative into the repetition in a way that never feels detrimental to enjoyment. Yes, it still essentially tells you to “git gud” every time you die, but nicely.
Then there’s the immaculate storyline, told as a bildungsroman mixed with Greek mythology, about the son of Hades attempting an escape from the underworld. Aided by mischievous gods from Olympus, ancient heroes lost to the ravages of time, and his cunning wit, Zagreus’ adventure is one of the all-time greats in videogame history. Even as I completed the first run through the underworld, I couldn’t wait to get back to explore the additional storylines, drama, and secrets peppered throughout the world.
HADES is proof that a great concept and writing triumph over massive budgets. A perfect marriage of brilliant design and superb storytelling. It’s an instant classic.
FINAL FANTASY VII: REMAKE
What could have been a nostalgia victory lap instead turns into a smart, hugely emotional exploration about time and legacy. Refusing to be a simple HD remaster, FF7 REMAKE is more of a sequel, a reimagining, and a meta-commentary on everything surrounding Square-Enix’s 1997 masterpiece.
Thanks to music legend Nobuo Uematsu returning to spruce up his majestic soundtrack, and a brand new voice cast of impeccable actors, FF7 REMAKE is now the definitive version of the iconic classic.
GHOST OF TSUSHIMA
TSUSHIMA is a project that could have gone so wrong. As an American production of Japanese history that’s also a love letter to Akira Kurosawa films, there are plenty of places where Sucker Punch’s epic could have faltered. Instead, TSUSHIMA is the rare breed of outside perspective, where the adoration mixes with understanding, building to a captivating and emotionally rewarding adventure story.
Coupled with an immaculately designed replica of the real Tsushima island, GHOST OF TSUSHIMA is an audiovisual treat, thanks to gorgeous art direction and a beautiful score by Ilan Eshkeri and Shigeru Umebayashi.
ASSASSIN’S CREED VALHALLA
It’s so unexpected to include a Ubisoft title here, but this is the kind of bizarre year that 2020 turned out to be. ASSASSIN’S CREED VALHALLA isn’t just a fantastic addition to the bloated series; it’s one of the most genuinely enjoyable open-world adventure games in years.
Setting players loose in medieval England, Valhalla also surprises thanks to its unexpectedly nuanced take on the Vikings’ less explored side as vicious conquerors instead of the romanticized heroes of the past.
If DEMON’S SOULS were just a simple remake, it would be far easier to dismiss as one of the best games of the year. But instead, thanks to the elaborate work by developer BluePoint, this is a loving reimagining of the cult classic.
Beautifully remade from the ground up, it fixes that which hasn’t aged well while preserving the aspects that made DEMON’S SOULS a classic in the first place. Daunting, vast, and terrifying, the dark world of Boletaria has never looked better, and there isn’t a single moment in this impressive action-RPG that doesn’t make a lasting impact.
BEFORE WE LEAVE
Like a playable Carl Sagan novel, BEFORE WE LEAVE is a brilliant debut by indie developer Balancing Monkey Games. Depicting the world after an unexplained global apocalypse, BEFORE WE LEAVE returns you to the surface to find the planet stripped clean of humankind and a society waiting for you to lead them into the future.
What begins as a small-scale CIVILIZATION game soon leaves you on a cluttered Earth filled with too many people for the limited resources. Eventually, the time comes for you to leave home behind, only to restart again somewhere else.
Both a gentle city management game and a melancholy exploration of our time on this planet, BEFORE WE LEAVE is a haunting and unique game unlike anything else I’ve played this year.
CALL OF DUTY WARZONE
While CALL OF DUTY has plenty of huge problems with its morality and campaigns, this spinoff title, released in March of this year, sidesteps most of those by focusing on the one thing the series has always excelled at: team-based competitive play.
It still struggles with poor optimization, rampant cheating, horrible servers, and a toxic community, but playing with a group of friends as you rampage through the abandoned city of Verdansk is FUN in all caps, unrivaled by any other multiplayer game this year.
SPIDER-MAN: MILES MORALES
It’s about damn time that Miles Morales got his own game, and equally refreshing that it’s the second installment from Insomniac Games, right at the heels of their award-winning SPIDER-MAN from 2018. While much shorter than its predecessor, MORALES boasts a better and more engaging story as it updates and refines the mechanics learned from the prior outing.
Thanks to smart writing, a terrific leading trio of characters, and still the most fun traversal mechanics ever made for a videogame, MILES MORALES continues the gold standard of comic book adaptations. Bring on the sequel.
As a sequel, ETERNAL isn’t as good as the first DOOM from 2018. It’s way too long for one, and the new platforming sections don’t work as well as the developers probably expected. Some of the bosses are a pain in the ass in all the wrong ways, and there’s an annoying tendency to rely on twitchy timed events in certain fights that gets old quick.
But, when ETERNAL works, it’s pure and sublime FPS goodness. The Arthurian legends infused with the Doom Guy mythology works surprisingly well, and the utter audacity of the brutally metal hellscapes remain unmatched by anything else.
THE LAST OF US: PART 2
I wasn’t thrilled with THE LAST OF US when I reviewed it back in June, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an essential and vital game for the industry. Marred by stories of horrible working conditions and a muddled narrative, TLOU2 has plenty of problems that stand out when talking about it.
The gameplay itself isn’t particularly fun (not to mention how repetitive it gets), and the pacing is glacial in places. There’s also an over-reliance on taking control away from the player, especially in places that don’t need it. Still, Naughty Dog is willing to take its lauded franchise into territories most companies wouldn’t touch, and that’s nothing to sniff at. Very few games have the backbone to treat its audience as adults this way. While not perfect, it’s an important step for the industry forward as an art form.