While 2020 has been an awful year for obvious reasons, a bright spot was that it was a phenomenal year for both AAA titles and indie games. The industry broke new ground with the release of next-gen consoles and GPUs, and games have had a 20% global increase in sales as players virtually traveled vast worlds together while socially distancing. With that said, I thought it would be nice to list out some of my personal favorite games from 2020.
You’ll probably find that I’m missing a few games that many other writers put on their top ten lists, but that’s probably because I didn’t play those games. In addition, I don’t own either the next-gen Xbox Series X/S or Playstation 5, and I don’t have access to a VR headset (sorry Half Life). Also, just a quick note before we get started: Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t being considered in this list because #1. The Game Awards didn’t consider it this year and #2. I haven’t finished it yet. However, I will definitely consider it for the 2021 list with its numerous launch bugs in mind (which despite them, I absolutely love the game so I can imagine I’d love it even more as the year goes on).
Games I didn’t play: Half Life: Alyx, Resident Evil 3, Star Wars: Squadrons, Spiritfarer, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Bugsnax, Watch Dogs: Legion, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Paper Mario: The Origami King, Persona 5 Royal, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, Demon Souls Remake, 13 Sentinals; Aegis Rim, If Found…, Spelunky 2, Crusader Kings 3, Baldur’s Gate III, and Kentucky Route Zero.
Honorable Mentions: Call of Duty: Warzone, Fall Guys, Genshin Impact, Phasmophobia, Gears Tactics
Special Honorable Mention Because It Was So Close to the #10 Spot: Among Us
Though Among Us came out in 2018, it’s incredibly difficult to ignore its impact this year. The game skyrocketed to insane levels of stardom that lasted for months and for good reason. It’s a brilliant take on the Mafia party game, and in any other year, this would not only make this least, but probably be well within the top five.
10. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a visual spectacle, offering some of the best platforming seen since the first game, Ori and the Blind Forest. The 2.5D graphics look absolutely beautiful, balancing its terrifying boss battles with calm, luminescent environments. Do not be fooled by the beautiful scenery, however, Ori is no walk in the park. Ever since the first game came out, platformers have had a drastic rise in popularity, and developer Moon Studios really outdid themselves to deserve a spot amongst the genre’s greatest.
Media Molecule’s long-standing passion project Dreams is the perfect introduction to game development and I’m all here for it! The fact that everyone can now make games just with a Dualshock controller is absolutely incredible. A lot of people forgot this game existed since it came out in ye olden times, but Dreams is one of those things that really reminded the players who stuck around that we can all share our creativity even if we’re thousands of miles apart. The single player campaign is pretty fun too, offering some light platforming that utilizes the game’s creative lego-style approach to problem solving.
8. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is almost a great example of taking the best parts of a franchise and leaving the bad stuff behind. Ubisoft Montreal clearly put a lot of love into the two vast open worlds offered in the game, and the main plot following 9th century Norwegian Vikings as they conquer England is riveting 90% of the time. During the other 10%, however, the game feels like an absolute drag with padding that can protect anyone from a 50 foot drop. Seriously, this game’s campaign is 60+ hours, which would be fine if not for the confusing and contrived ending that made the previous journey feel a bit undercut. However, I can forgive that since there’s just so much to do, and there’s literally an entire open world arc where you go to Asgard and literally become a Norse god. It has nothing to do with the plot and can be its own game, but Ubisoft really went the extra mile here. Also, contrary to popular opinion, I actually don’t mind giant branching skill trees too much, and Valhalla had one massive constellation of skills to choose from.
7. Final Fantasy VII Remake
As someone who’s not really a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise who has never played the original Final Fantasy VII or even any major JRPGs other than Pokemon (if that even counts), I didn’t really have the highest expectations for this game. All I really knew going into this was that a certain someone is destined to die and that this is an expanded remake of the first act of the original 1997 game. In addition, I remember really liking the combat of FFXV a couple years ago so I was happy to see it return, but I just wasn’t invested in the game with the guy I sometimes played as in Super Smash Bros. With that all said, Final Fantasy VII Remake pays a stunning level of attention to every aspect of its grindy, JRPG gameplay. My biggest issue with the game is the same as AC Valhalla: it’s obvious that it’s way too long. Even without knowing that the Midgar portion in the original game was only 6 hours, this game still shouldn’t have been upwards of 40 hours of mainline content. A lot of things in this game comes off as unnecessary padding, but the core environmentally-focused story is just so good and the visuals are absolutely stunning at times. Even though I was so confused having not played the original as you quickly find out this isn’t even a remake but an alternate timeline, the game does a great job at explaining what is and isn’t happening correctly according to the original game. Also, this game finally made me respect my boi Cloud so it gets a spot on this list.
6. Microsoft Flight Simulator
Simulator games these days are at the peak of popularity with RPG-sims like Civilization, The Sims, and Crusader Kings and management/building simulators such as PC Building Simulator and Planet Zoo, and Microsoft Flight Simulator is a technical marvel that stands amongst the best in the genre. The game’s whopping 150 GB install size is just the tip of the iceberg as the game generates its unrivaled graphical fidelity of planet Earth from two petabytes of geographical data. Yes, that’s two whole petabytes as in 2000 terabytes or TWO MILLION GIGABYTES. I have an RTX 2070 Super, Ryzen 5 3600, and 16 GB of RAM, and it still wasn’t enough to handle this game at 1440p max settings. It’s obvious this game will last gamers and flight enthusiasts for potentially decades just like how Flight Simulator 2000 came out when I was a year old, and I picked it up for a bit before this game’s release. In a time when people are stuck in place, virtually traveling the world if only to see home from the sky really feels good.
5. The Last of Us Part II
Naughty Dog’s sequel to the groundbreaking The Last of Us took home the top prize at this year’s Game Awards and for good reason. This game not only boasts a mastery in technical prowess, but also contains one of the most challenging and risky single player stories in all of games. In any other year, this would take the top spot so just because it’s #5 on the list doesn’t mean it’s bad. The Last of Us Part II‘s character studies of Ellie and newcomer antagonist Abby is heartbreaking throughout, forcing viewers to contemplate the repercussions of each and every action they make. It’s a reflection of grief and hatred, humanizing each character to culminate in a finale that had me genuinely concerned for everyone involved. Sure, there were some storytelling issues in my opinion, none relating to the controversy that this game is known for, but that’s not a knock on anyone in the team. This could have easily been a kill-this-guy-and-go-kill-this-guy mindless shooting game, but The Last of Us Part II meditates on what it means to be a human being who actually does that. The team told it’s story, and for the most part it’s amazing, there’s just a few plot related things that kept me from putting this at the top.
4. Ghost of Tsushima
Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima in my opinion is definitely the most visually stunning game of 2020. This is an open world done right with absolutely no flaws whatsoever. Everything feels like it has a purpose, even the weather. It also just so happens to be one massive Kurosawa-inspired epic, drawing its themes, characters, and combat from history and popular 1950s Samurai films. Jin Sakai is a really compelling protagonist, and the game’s central conflict really revolves around his internal struggle of maintaining his father’s legacy while becoming something entirely disrespectable in order to save his people. While the story sometimes veers into mystical territory with some of its folklore, it’s mostly grounded in reality. I felt like I learned stuff about history that I didn’t know before, and I had a ton of fun doing it.
3. Doom Eternal
This game for sure wins the “fuck yes” award. The fast paced run-and-gun gameplay mixed with just the right amount of platforming made for so many epic moments. Id Software’s 2016 reboot of Doom was the best first person shooter I had played at the time, and I was pretty doubtful that anything could top it. Somehow against all odds, Doom Eternal ripped and tore its way to that top spot, becoming the most fun First Person Shooter I think I’ve ever played (and I really don’t like FPS’s that much, seriously anyone who knows me knows that I hate most shooter game plots). Moreover, the soundtrack one-uped its predecessor, tuning its experimental tones to perfectly harmonize with its fast-paced gameplay. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome, ending at the perfect time, offering room for a sequel, and opening up a fast-paced multiplayer mode that differentiates it from the typical deathmatch stuff.
2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Despite the initial lack of content at launch, Nintendo has crafted the most wholesome experience of 2020, and even 200 hours later, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a blast. Sit back, relax, and let Tom Nook, Isabelle, and gang take you on the best vacation of the year. It’s not the most technically impressive game of the year or a story-driven work of art, but New Horizons is a masterpiece nonetheless for simply respecting its players. I’ll never forget on my birthday when I opened the game and was treated so kindly by all the villager friends I made. They even threw a party for me and gave me presents. Especially in this year, that meant so much to me. It’s moments like that one that will keep me coming back for years to come. In addition, the music is so relaxing. If the last few months have been incredibly difficult for you in any way, I’d highly recommend getting this game.
As a game designer myself, Hades had to take the top spot. In terms of feeding my design brain, no game was more innovative than Supergiant’s masterpiece. Even if this game just had its incredible roguelite combat alone, I’d put it on this list, but the amazing narrative interwoven between runs is incredible, keeping me coming back every day for more. The seductive, diverse spin on Greek gods and the genuinely interesting world that our hero Zagreus inhabits are bonuses on top of the countless playstyles and strategies players can employ to escape the Underworld. In addition, every attempt encourages players to switch up their gameplay style by offering bonuses to the six different weapons that Zagreus can use. On top of that, there’s some great RPG-like choices that never overstay their welcome or feel too grindy to achieve. If that weren’t enough, the game dashes past its genre’s notorious skill barriers with a God Mode for players who just want to experience the story without all the trial and error. With Hades, Supergiant took everything good about its past games and cranked them up to new highs. Its stylistic, fast-paced, and oftentimes moving gameplay and story make Hades one of the best games ever made in recent years.
So there we have it! What were some of your favorite games of 2020? Is there something that you had on your list that wasn’t on here? Please feel free to let me know in the comments section! Thank you 🙂