Wow, 2020, am I right, guys? Oof. Although, I think it is important to not lose sight of the overall quality of games in 2020. Whether it was 2020 part 1 which saw Resident Evil 3, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Doom Eternal, or 2020 part 3: The Againening when Ghost of Tsushima, Miles Morales, and 3-5 units of those brand-new consoles found their way to market, there was plenty to love in the video game world. This was a very tough list for me to narrow down and I changed the order multiple times while writing it all out. 1 and 2 could go either way, and 3-5 is basically a 3 way tie, but I tried to order them based on which ones were the most fun, had a lasting impact, and sucked away my free time in the best way possible. And it all starts with:
5. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
I know everybody loves AC Odyssey but I tried it for 10 hours and bounced. With too much nonsense loot, quests, and icons literally everywhere, it was everything I didn’t like about open world games. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla fixes all of that. Exploring feels rewarding, side quests are quick but incredibly creative, and the combat is dumb fun. By and large, Valhalla is the king of the ‘check items off a list’ genre, and doing just that is fun in an almost therapeutic sort of way. It expertly guides you through the world and its various objectives with a kind of ease that only comes from having made so many of these games at this point.
The story is also something I’m quite invested in and every new area indroduces even more characters for me to appreciate. I’m totally lost in the English countryside right now and it feels so good. It also doesn’t hurt that Valhalla looks drop-dead gorgeous on my PC and I stop to take dumb photos every 20 minutes or so.
4. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
There’s literally no reason for this game to be as good as it is. It’s like some monkey’s paw wish where FF7 Remake came out and was fantastic but it caused the whole year to be terrible.
Child Gamorra: What did it cost?
Thanos: Everything. (turns to look at the front page of a newspaper recapping 2020)
I don’t have any nostalgia at all for the original FF7 – I played it years after its release and thought it was fine – but this remake does almost everything right. The story and characters are expanded, the details your mind filled in are completely realized and in a way that can only be described as dreamlike. The story implications of the ending are also worthy of praise and I really hope they aren’t hollow, but I won’t spoil anything. It might have ranked higher if Wall Market wasn’t 40 hours too long. Yeah, I’m still annoyed about that all these months later.
What takes FF7R over the top are the performances that instantly became the definitive versions of these 20+ years old characters. A lot of moments in this game feel closer to an Uncharted than a typical JRPG and that only goes to show just how far ahead it is. I mean, look at Persona 5’s cutscenes with 2d representations of characters talking back and forth and try to lie to me that it’s better than actual 3d models acting everything out. It’s not, and this is the most AAA I’ve ever seen a JRPG be.
3. Immortals Fenyx Rising
Art style notwithstanding, Immortals does almost everything at a level of polish a lot of games can only dream of obtaining. Admittedly, the game starts off slowly and feels very unremarkable, but after everything opens up and upgrades begin to accumulate, I was hooked. The combat is fast, flashy, and makes you feel powerful. The upgrades are substantial and meaningful, there are no wasted skill points or item upgrades here. But the biggest thing to me was the way the open world felt to explore. All the quests and puzzles litter the landscape with markers, but most just exist in the world and you have to solve them of you own accord. I really am a sucker for puzzle games and Immortals has them everywhere, and I didn’t grow tired of it. A lot of people wrote this game off as a Breath of the Wild clone but I think it does a lot of things better. In fact, if this had been BotW 2, people would have been losing their minds at how good it is. This also isn’t a typical Ubisoft open world where there’s way too much stuff to do and it quickly becomes overwhelming. It took me 50 hours to get all the achievements in Immortals and I pretty much loved every second of it.
2. Half-Life: Alyx
Half-Life 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. Waiting a few years to tear into Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and experience that ending is a gaming moment I still remember over 10 years later. After that long gap, I never expected to get anything Half-life again— and I had grown OK with that. That is, in part, what makes Alyx so masterful: it manages to not only be one of the best VR games ever made, it’s a worthy continuation of the Half-Life world. I cannot stress enough how well Valve hit this out of the park. The final hour of this game, the very last story moments… only 13 years of hype and hope can create how I felt seeing it. And they exceeded my expectations with that ending. Without saying anything, it is perfect and exactly what this franchise needs. I can only hope it means we won’t have to wait so long next time.
There’s also nothing else like taking on the Combine in VR. So many moments are heartpounding because it’s VR and it’s unlike anything else. The first gunfight against 2 enemy soldiers is one of the most memorable battles I fought in games in 2020. Physically crouched, knocking virtual bottles off a box to get a better view, peeking out from behind a pillar, the list goes on and on. It is also worth mentioning how much of Alyx is a survival horror game and Jeff, Nemesis’s long-lost cousin whose eponymous chapter is filled with creative horrors, is something completely unforgettable. Now, the unforeseen consequences, as it were, of the ending are perfect, but the game does not always hit this high bar. Many sections drag on just a few moments too long for my tastes and the enemy AI is either really dumb or pro flankers. Those reasons are what pulled it down from the number 1 spot.
I had this as my #5 game for a while, but I cannot in good conscience have it on the list in its current state. I’m playing the game on a pretty good gaming pc and have been fortunate to not have any major bugs or issues. However, the promise of significant patches coming to the game over the first bit of the year has soured my excitement. I’m chipping away at the game, and loving it, but I’ll be waiting a few months to see just how substantive the changes to the game will be. While its gameplay isn’t anything revolutionary, and these patches won’t do much for that, the odd mix of Deus Ex meets Fallout is my gaming peanut butter and chocolate.
Demon’s Souls Remake
The original Demon’s Souls is one of my favorite games of all time and I’m sure this remake is great, but buying a PS5 has so far eluded me.
I’m a big fan of the original Doom but was in the minority in thinking DOOM 2016 was just ok. With Eternal, they fixed everything I thought was wrong with the reboot. The combat is fast, stylish, and intense and always leaves you wanting more. Except for that one enemy. You know what you did.
XCOM: Chimera Squad
I love XCOM and this newest version distilled the formula down to its essentials. The arenas and squads are smaller and that allowed it to be a constant stream of tactical goodness.
1. The Last of Us Part II
I certainly didn’t ask for this sequel but I’m very glad we got it, even if I don’t agree with some of the directions it took. Set aside the best in class graphics, animation, performances, and so on, and we’re still left with a gameplay loop I simply adore. Scrounging for materials, crafting on the fly, using distraction tactics on unaware enemies, it all felt so good. Mechanically, I think TLoU2 is basically perfect. One of my favorite genres is survival horror and it helps that half of this game is basically the best Resident Evil game in the last 5+ years. Seriously, Naughty Dog needs to stop toying with my heart and just make a pure survival horror game because they would clearly be great at it.
Without going into any spoilers, there are about 5 moments in this game I won’t only never forget, I’ll be thinking and gladly having spirited discussions about for the rest of my life. It’s truly a one of a kind experience and, even if I don’t think it nailed some of what it was going for, what we got still blew me away.
Now let’s see if 2021 can stack up.