2020 was QUITE a year. The density and weight of events taking place, including the world-stopping virus, made it seem like we crammed two-years’ worth of time into it. That also had some impact on video games, with many, many delays interspersed with some really unexpected successes. Oh, and PS5 and X Series X/S released, some people even managed to buy them!
Let’s take a look at some of the stuff that happened before we get into a list of games that were worth remembering the most from this 2020, in a good way.
The Best Games of 2020
The best games of 2020 (and one from 2018, technically)
|Release:||June… of 2018|
|Genre:||Party, social deduction|
Still kinda sus
This year feels like it’s been two years long already. On the flipside, a game that’s two years old feels like it only came out in 2020, because of an unexpected boom in popularity. It’s a weird year, ok? Anyway, Among Us in some ways is a perfect game: it has simple, easy-to-understand rules; a clear, entertaining premise; and system requirements low enough you can play it on low-end PCs and even mobile phones.
It’s a multiplayer game for up to ten people, playing Crewmates on one of three maps. Everyone has some tasks to perform, mostly maintenance of various systems, but some players are alien impostors trying to sabotage these tasks and, hopefully, kill a few crewmates without being discovered and forcefully ejected out of the map. It’s a game of stealth, mischief, and deduction, endless fun! It’s also cheap, which matters.
3D before HL3
Half-Life: Alyx wasn’t the Half-Life game everybody is waiting for, but it showed how much can be done with VR. People who have the necessary hardware could enjoy a surprising, and fascinating degree of simulation, going so far that people could even juggle items in real-time, or smash the glass in most, if not all, windows. It also gives some screen time to Alyx Vance, which is nice.
The story is set a few years before Half-Life 2 starts, but after Alyx and her father, Eli are captured by the Combine. What follows is best left to discover on your own, if you can focus on the story while the virtual environments are so detailed and tactile. If you have a VR headset, you should absolutely give it a shot, because this game feels like discovering the Gravity Gun for the first time in 2004.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Forest of wonders
Ori and the Blind Forest was a charming, and frequently pretty challenging Metroidvania/puzzle platformer and the sequel was eagerly awaited by its fans. It’s nice, then, that Ori and the Will of the Wisps turned out to be at least as good as its predecessor. It’s even more beautiful, the gameplay is tighter and with new interesting maneuvers you unlock to gain access to new areas.
There’s a strong and satisfying Metroidvania element to the new Ori, and as you reach new areas, the story will keep unfolding in front of you, from the moment where Ori and the Blind Forest ended towards the ending you’ll need to reach yourself. It’s a great follow-up to a great game, and if you enjoy a good fable AND a good Metroidvania, you can’t go wrong with Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
|Developer||Square Enix Business Division 1|
A breath of fresh Aerith
The hellscape of 2020 had a few rays of sunshine, few as cool as the remake of one of the most beloved Final Fantasy games. People spent ages pestering Square Enix to make it, and, after a long, long, LONG time, we finally got the first part of it. And it turned out very well! It looks fantastic, the city of Midgar looks much more like a real place, and even the story got expanded!
The world and characters look like they were taken straight out of the Advent Children movie, combat is dynamic, but retains elements of the ATB system, and promises a new story woven on the basis of the source material, which is exciting, if potentially unsettling. Either way, the game’s a joy, the characters have more personality, and there’s plenty of new scenes and side activities.
Ghost of Tsushima
|Developer||Sucker Punch Productions|
Ghost of Tsushima somehow managed to not only make good on the promises it made, but also turned out better than many people even expected. It’s an absurdly beautiful game, with as much of this beauty attributed to artistic direction as to the technical quality that Sucker Punch managed to squeeze out of PlayStation 4. And there’s so much to do you’re not likely to get through it all quickly.
There are no obvious, video-gamey markers. Instead, wind gusts will direct you to the location you want to reach, and animals (foxes and yellow birds) will reveal hidden locations to you. The story is also interesting and quite nuanced, woven around the historical event of the first Mongol invasion of Japan, and focused on Jin Sakai, a samurai who fights against the invaders, by any means necessary.
Press F1 for pit stop
Formula 1-based racing games are a bit of a niche, but it doesn’t mean they are bad, far from it. For example, F1 2020 is a damn great game, and it deserves being among other greats of the year. Codemasters have years of experience making racing simulation games and it does show here. The attention to detail is staggering, and the extent of customization should be a gold standard.
You can customize not only your driver, but also the composition of your entire crew, pick the sponsors and component manufacturer, even work on the facilities. And that’s before you even sit in the driver’s seat, rev the engine and get to enjoy the game’s driving physics. It’s not the easiest game to get into and get the hang of, but if you’re an F1 fan already, you’re in for a real treat.
|Genre:||Battle royale, platformer|
Fall Guys’ success was a surprise for everyone, most of all, it would seem, the developers themselves. But, like Among Us, it seems like a game that’s really, really good at being a great game. A bunch of players (up to 60) have to complete various challenges as cute, round, clumsy beans. There are races, games of tag, team-based competitions, and more, usually with physics-based obstacles.
And there are tonnes of neat costumes for the beans, many inspired by, or made in cooperation with, bigger franchises. On top of Fall Guys being just a cute, colorful, extremely entertaining game, some consideration must be given to the developer’s top-tier Twitter game. Even if you’re not playing Fall Guys, you really should give their Twitter a look, it’s going to be worth your time.
Crusader Kings 3
|Genre:||Grand strategy, role-playing|
|Developer||Paradox Development Studio|
The Crown: Medieval Edition
Paradox’s Crusader Kings III is the latest entry in the Swedish studio’s series of Medieval dynasty simulators. You can join a historical noble house, or create your own, and try to keep your family alive over centuries. Pick heirs, arrange marriages, and maybe even get some people on the throne somewhere. And a recent update added a really, really good ruler creator. A REALLY GOOD ONE.
Although this entry adds more RPG elements to the experience, make no mistake: it’s still a complex, demanding game. The campaign can span almost six centuries, many generations, and things that happen to your house in that time can be ALMOST as entertainingly messed up as real medieval history. If you take the time to learn the systems, CK3 becomes a generator of infinite stories.
|Genre:||Rogue-like, action role-playing|
Supergiant Games’ games already have a reputation for being great, but Hades puts them all to shame. You play as Zagreus, a son of Hades himself. When you meet the small-statured deity, he’s just jumped off his balcony and is about to attempt his first escape from his father’s realm. Nobody escapes Hades’ domain, as the grumpy god keeps remind you, but Zagreus gets the help of Olympian gods.
The game is a fantastic rogue-lite with a tight combat system with six very different weapons (with four variants each), complex dialogue system, which may not give you conversation options, but it does respond to your actions, weapons, etc in a very clever way. Beautiful tile sets, engaging storyline, complex progression systems and memorable hades all contribute to Hades’ stellar quality.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access
|Release:||October (Early Access)|
Psychic parasitic passenger
Nobody expected a new Baldur’s Gate game, especially after the Bhaalspawn story was concluded in the original BioWare-made BGs. When Larian Studios, at the time famed for having made Original Sin 2 announced they are making it, much rejoicing and conversation happened. After several extensive gameplay livestreams, the Early Access version of Act I launched in October. And it’s great.
The game adapts the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons to adjudicate your action in the game, and thanks to a turn-based combat system it manages to adhere quite closely to the ruleset. The map is full of stories big and small, including getting rid of a psychic parasite in your head; ending the conflict between goblinoids and a druidic grove, and finding your way to the infamous Underdark.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
Viking and hiking
Ubisoft’s long-running tour of history filtered via the Ancient Aliens science-fiction trope has visited many regions and periods, it an inevitable, perhaps, that it would end up in the Viking era at some point. Valhalla takes place some time after the fabled conquests of Ragnar Lothbrok, and you play as Eivor, a young raider seeking to make his or her (players can choose) fortune in 9th century England.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is much more of an action-RPG than even Odyssey or Origins, and the world is rich in small stories, memorable NPCs, and plenty of things to do in the game’s open world. In addition to hunting legendary artifacts left by the Isu, you could engage in more thematic activities, like Norse verbal battles called flyting, or building cairns in noteworthy locations.
|Developer||CD Projekt Red|
Do you feel lucky, cyberpunk?
The year’s biggest launch finally came on December 10th, and vast numbers of players took a trip to see the marvels of Night City, a technological metropolis of year 2077. The new action RPG from the creators of The Witcher 3 promises cybernetic urban adventure within city limits and some vehicular fun when you drive out into the Badlands beyond Night City. And it did delivers on that and more.
There are many things to know about CP2077. The city is huge, detailed, and pleasantly diverse from district to district and block to block. Johnny Silverhand (played very well by Keanu Reeves) is a frequent presence in V’s (the protagonist) head, and the game give you a nice degree of choice in how you approach missions, which evokes pleasant memories of playing Deus Ex games.
A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one
Two games experienced an unprecedented degree of success this year. One is a cute game about clumsy bubbly humanoids competing in various minigames, and another is a cartoonish game which is a hidden role game in science fiction clothing. It’s not hard to come up with possible reasons they both got a LOT of action this year. They are, ultimately, pretty simple, very easy to get into, and losing can be quite funny, or at least stressless. But there’s also another facet: they are very social games. Among Us relies heavily on communication and working together which players are impostors (or framing innocent players), while Fall Guys… you won’t talk much, but the beans you play as have the energy of small children in a playground. In a year when many people didn’t get to spend much time with friends, that counts for a lot.
Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t have a good year. Due to various factors, it’s release was delayed three times, moving the launch from April 19th to December 10th. It generated a lot of negative emotions, stress, and messed with many people’s plans. The delays even caused turmoil in the launch schedules of OTHER games. Several smaller (than CDPR) developers realized that it may be a bad idea to launch games around the time Cyberpunk 2077 releases after months of edging its fanbase. The three that immediately come to mind are Everspace 2, an expansion for Path of Exile, and an expansion for MechWarrior 5. All delayed, because suddenly Cyberpunk 2077’s release came too close for comfort. On a more positive note, the final product is looking hot and delivers on the promises from its many trailers and marketing materials and it’s worth checking out.
What awaits us in 2021?
The future is always in motion, and 2020 has done a really good job teaching us not to trust launch dated too much. Nevertheless, some games are announced to have a possible release in 2021. Most notably, there are many interesting sequels scheduled for 2021 (for now). God of War may present a new chapter in the story of Kratos and BOY, Hitman 3 is sneaking by, while Capcom is prepping a new Monster Hunter game. Of course, we can also expect Halo Infinite while fans of fighting games have new Guilty gear, Strive, to wait for.
On the “tabletop origins” front there are some Warhammer games, including Blood Bowl 3, and Warhammer 40k: Darktide, made by the creators of Vermintide. There’s also Vampire: the Masquerade 2 – Bloodlines and a few games based in the same setting, like Werewolf and Geist. Maybe even Baldur’s Gate 3 will get to leave Early Access, who knows? Of course, there are many, many more games launching, or at least scheduled for release. Maybe 2021 will have its own unexpected hit selling like hotcakes, its own Fall Guys. Maybe there will be another game brought back from oblivion, like Among Us. There’s no way to know, but hopefully, the coming year will be interesting in all the best ways.