The job of a guide writer isn’t a particularly glamorous one. It skews your perception of video games, as you’re forced to constantly look at how to solve every problem offered in the easiest, most efficient manner. My job is to make everyone’s lives easier, which has the double-edged effect of ruining most games since I spend a lot of time deconstructing them. Rarely do I get to just experience a game without worrying about how to correctly explain often complex mechanics in the simplest terms possible. This makes it tricky for a game to truly stay with me. I am always moving onto the next big Triple-A game right away. Yet, 2020 offered quite a few games that managed to surpass my often too analytical approach and remind me why I love this medium so damn much.
Honorable Mentions: DOOM Eternal, Metro Exodus: Sam’s Story, Demon Souls
10. Destiny 2 Beyond Light
It should come as no surprise to those that follow my work that Destiny 2’s latest expansion — Beyond Light —made my yearly list. While I am always willing to dive into Bungie’s FPS/RPG hybrid, Beyond Light brought radical change for both better and worse. Despite hordes of weapons and armor getting the boot, exploring the icy moon of Europa was a captivating experience. Plagued by harsh winds and blinding snowstorms, Europa is easily one of the best destinations in the Destiny universe. What seems like a bland moon slowly reveals itself as you explore Fallen fortresses, ruined cities, and sterile laboratories hidden under the depths.
Yet, it’s Beyond Light’s Deep Stone Crypt raid that really saves this expansion. A testament to Bungie’s superb raid design team, Deep Stone Crypt is a wild experience with some of the most inventive boss fights I’ve ever seen in Destiny. Boasting unique encounters that actually tell a story, this raid is a shining example of what makes Destiny 2 such an enjoyable experience. Did we mention the superb armor sets and return of raid-specific weapon perks? Look, Beyond Light is far from perfect, but it’s more Destiny and that’s really all I ever need.
9. Fall Guys
One of several multiplayer games that dominated in 2020, Fall Guys is an adorable battle royale game that throws out weapons, armor, and even dropping onto the map for adorable beans being flung helplessly into the air. It’s a silly multiplayer game that never takes itself seriously, yet you will absolutely get uncomfortably competitive playing it. Developer Mediatonic flexes their creative muscles, showcasing a collection of mini-games ranging from obstacle courses to team-focused modes to one that has you hoarding a robotic penguin from everyone else. It’s impossible to not smile while playing, as characters are launched left and right, their colorful bodies crashing into one another as they stampede towards the finish line. Fall Guys is the type of silliness that 2020 desperately needed.
Tip Toe can still get fucked though.
8. Final Fantasy VII Remake
Unlike many of my Fanbyte colleagues, I actually have almost no experience with the Final Fantasy franchise. This made Final Fantasy VII Remake a unique if confusing experience that left me both captivated and highly entertained. Why the fuck is there a talking red lion? Am I fighting a giant robot house? What do you mean there are different timelines at the end? Goddamn does Cloud have some moves! Honestly, none of these questions ever get answered and that’s just fine. While this can cause some feeling of stumbling in the dark, Final Fantasy VII Remake’s relatable cast, stunning visuals, and tight combat more than kept me engaged from start to finish.
Characters are well developed, making me regret their absence and revel in the small moments we get to spend together. Tying this all together is polished moment to moment gameplay that saw me cutting my way through hordes of Shinra soldiers in a flashy spectacle of blades, bullets, and magic. Could I explain the ending in a coherent manner if you asked? Absolutely not, but I cannot wait to see what happens next.
7. Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima is an odd game, one that have I have had conflicting thoughts about since I started playing it. Despite having a rather uncompelling narrative that tends to meander, the excellent combat and absolutely jaw-dropping art direction more than makes up for Jin’s weak story. Sucker Punch has done a fantastic job making you feel like an expert samurai, capable of slicing through hordes of bandits with only a few slices. Yet, what pushes Ghost of Tsushima this high on my list is the Legends multiplayer mode. Mixing a loot system like Destiny with great, skill-based melee combat was a recipe for success. Boasting solid story missions and endgame activities, Ghost of Tsushima: Legends is, somehow, one of the best new looter games of the year.
Phasmophobia has no business being as good as it is. On the surface, developer Kinetic Games’ horror multiplayer experience looks like a PS2 game, is filled with bugs, wonky animations, and has a limited amount of levels to explore. However, Phasmophobia is one of the smartest, scariest, and entertaining horror games in years. Taking on the role of ghost hunters, players must use equipment to not only track a spirit’s location, but determine what it is.
The big twist is the ghost can actually hear you via your microphone and well respond based on what you say. Yell the ghost’s name and you may aggravate it, ask a question and the entity might just whisper the answer over your shoulder. It’s a level of immersion rarely found in horror, one that breaks the barrier between the game and the player. Even though Phasmophobia is still rough around the edges, it’s pushing the genre forward in an exciting direction.
5. Apex Legends: Season 4
Despite Call of Duty: Warzone spiking in popularity, it was Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends that sucked away hundreds of hours. As someone who has always enjoyed this game, it was the recently released Season 4 that truly made this battle royale shine. Boasting a new, utterly gorgeous third map and a new legend, Apex Legends has found a terrific balance among its colorful roster.
Are some still a little too powerful for their own good? Sure, but never has Apex Legends come so close to making almost every character viable if used correctly. Whether it’s denying everyone’s abilities with Revenant or sucking a squad into a black hole with Horizon, there’s always another crazy firefight just around the corner. Sure, the battle royale genre has peaked, but Apex Legends stands as a testament to how critical characters, storytelling, and gunplay are to this genre.
At this point, what can I say about Hades that hasn’t already been discussed at length? Developed by Supergiant Games, Hades a masterclass in marrying strong gameplay design with compelling story elements. But chances are you already know this, so instead, we are going to do a ranking inside a ranking. Here are the best Hades ships I’ve been quietly obsessing over:
- Zagreus, Thanatos, and Megaera – Because it’s not fair to make me choose.
- Orpheus and Eurydice – I will move mountains to mend their relationship.
- Achilles and Patroclus – Patroclus is a bit of a jerk, but as long as Achilles is happy I guess he’s okay.
- Ares and Aphrodite – I’m just forcing this one because Doom plus Weak is my favorite Boon combination.
- Theseus and Zagreus’ sword – Nothing is more satisfying than killing this smug champion over and over again.
- Dusa and No One – We don’t deserve Dusa. She is an adorable, formally murderous, ball of joy and we should protect her at all costs.
3. Immortals Fenyx Rising
This may seem like an odd pick to some, but hear me out. Even though there were plenty of terrific games released this year, rarely was one as rewarding and downright fun as Immortals Fenyx Rising. An open-world game that bucks the typical trends of the genre, players will not be bogged down by chasing numerically higher gear or being told what to. Instead, you’re dropped onto a colorful Greek island and left alone to forge your own path. Tasked with bringing down an elemental being known as Typhon, you’ll work alongside gods and mythological figures who are more than just Pixar-esque caricatures of themselves.
Yes, Fenyx Rising can be a bit too campy at times, but it also does a magnificent job of discussing (and recreating) various Greek fables. Connecting all this together is a simple to grasp, but deliciously complex combat system that rewards precise timing and positioning. Reflecting a harpy’s laser beam into another soldier never gets old and the streamlined progression system kept me from worrying about artificially increasing a number on my character. Puzzles are also fiendish and easily the highlight of Immortals Fenyx Rising. Taking a page from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s playbook, you’ll find puzzle rooms that force you to rely on your own skill and creativity. Rarely does a puzzle every explain itself, which gives the player a real sense of agency that so many games have stripped away.
It’s not the best game of the year, but Immortals Fenyx Rising is a damn good adventure that constantly captured my imagination. It also doesn’t corrupt your save file if it gets above 8MB, so it’s already better than Cyberpunk 2077.
2. Paper Mario: The Origami King
I’ve always had an affinity for the Paper Mario franchise, but some of the most recent entries have seriously disappointed me. Whether due to an inconsistent story or poorly implemented mechanics, I longed for a game to capture the spirit of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. Enter Paper Mario: The Origami King, a puzzle focused RPG that not only delivers some of the est writing in the series’ entire history but a unique battle mechanic that was actually pretty damn good. Instead of revolving around turn-based combat, players would need to quickly rearrange the battlefield’s enemies to line them up into rows or groups. Doing so gave Mario a big damage boost, allowing you to wipe out hordes of folded foes with ease.
Boss battles become even more complicated, as you’ll need to construct elaborate an elaborate maze to gather resources, activate power-ups, and attack the boss. It’s a deeply addictive combat system that challenges you at every turn. Surrounding this is a vibrant world filled with terrific characters and locations that subvert the typical water, forest, fire, and desert areas found in most adventure games. The Origami King also offers a remarkably emotional story that has one truly gut-wrenching moment. It’s also funny as hell, thanks to the sharp writing and willingness to poke fun at the absurdity of the entire setting.
I know a lot of people have overlooked Paper Mario: The Origami King, but I urge readers to give it a try if you’ve been looking for a great RPG to sink several dozen hours into it.
1. Persona 5 Royal
I started Persona 5 Royal right before quarantine and it ended up being the exact type of game I needed. There’s a lot to be said about Persona 5 Royal’s amazing combat, jaw-dropping art direction, and funky as fuck soundtrack. I could also go on about the myriad of small and large quality of life changes that Royal introduces, but what really makes it one of my favorite games of all time is the sense of routine it offered. Being able to just explore Tokyo, participate in mundane activities, and chatting with Joker’s friends staved off the feeling of isolation. In a time where we as a society could not physically interact with one another, Persona 5 Royal was a comforting embrace to remind us of what it was like to go to the movies or a nice cafe on a rainy day. It’s these moments of quiet contemplation that stuck with me well after my 120ish hour playthrough.
This isn’t to take away from the simply incredible gameplay offered. Royal’s slick turn-based combat remains both challenging and rewarding thanks to a greater emphasis on powering up your allies via the Baton Pass or exploiting an enemy’s weakness. Previous boss battles were updated, making them less oppressive and the new final chapter offers the best villain in the entire game. One of the best RPGs ever made, Persona 5 Royal is an unimaginably emotional experience that grabbed me from the first frame and kept me going long after the credits rolled.
I guess I should play Persona 4 Golden now, huh?