Kenneth Shepard’s Top Five Games of 2020

And also Overwatch.

As I did last year, I’m only ranking five games as my favorites in 2020. Why am I not doing the standard ten games? Because I only have enough love in my heart for five games at a time. Unlike your parents who deflected when you asked who their favorite was, I do not have enough love to go around. Certainly not to give to ten video games in one calendar year. 

In 2020 I went from working weekends here at Fanbyte to being here all week, and to those of you who had to put up with me Monday through Friday: I’m truly, truly sorry. Not sorry enough to stop subjecting you to my presence, however.

Here are the newsie’s five favorite games from 2020…and also one other.

Old Game of the Year: Overwatch

Yeah, Overwatch is four years old. Yeah, there are legitimate questions about whether the game is still any good in 2020, although it’s in one of its best balance states as of this writing. But until Overwatch stops being the game that takes up the most time of my life every year, it will remain on my Game of the Year lists. Until Overwatch 2 comes out, at least.

5. Astro’s Playroom

I generally pride myself on not being a nostalgic person, but every now and then something comes along that reminds me I’m full of shit. Astro’s Playroom was primarily marketed as a tech demo for the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller, but really, it’s such a loving and joyful celebration of PlayStation’s history I wish that had been more prevalent in the marketing. Not that it really needed marketing as a pack-in with the PS5, but it might’ve made me play it first instead of second or third when I opened the box on launch day.

Even without all the appearances of characters from favorites like God of War, The Last of Us, Sly Cooper, and Parappa the Rapper, Astro’s Playroom is a really solid platformer on top of it all, and does a lot to help you understand how the DualSense’s adaptive triggers and haptic feedback work. And honestly, no other game that I’ve played on my PS5 has lived up to it yet, so I’m interested to see the next game that actually takes advantage of those features on this level.

Still need to go back and find the PlayStation Vita collectible, though.

4. A Fold Apart

A Fold Apart hits differently at the end of 2020 than it did when I first played it back in April.

It’s a sweet puzzle game about relationships, anxiety about the future, and whether or not love between two people is doomed to fail if there’s distance between them. And now that we’ve been quarantined during a pandemic, I’ve had to reckon with all of those emotions as my own connections have been primarily facilitated through a screen and a keyboard.

Even when it’s lighthearted, A Fold Apart manages to distill the disorienting and anxious feelings that come with caring about someone you can’t see every day into a really fun puzzle loop: folding the world around you so your character can walk from one irrational thought to another, ultimately finding the hopeful, realistic conclusion at the end. It manages to make the inner turmoil of an overthought text or a silent phone into something that can be broken down and examined one step at a time, rather than all at once.

It’s strange to play it again now after I spent so many months maintaining my relationships over Discord calls and Twitter DMs, because I think real life has shown that anyone willing to put in the effort will make it work. And I think by the end that’s the message A Fold Apart conveys: even if it’s easy to get caught up in every little word of a text and overthink all your interactions, real connections close the distance.

3. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Putting Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla on this list is kind of weird because there were non-insignificant swaths of that game I didn’t like. From the open-world bullshit like having to search for members of the Order by wandering aimlessly around a ridiculously huge map, glitches that prevented me from even finishing the game to my liking, and a twist at the end that made my existing in that game as a gay man so fraught with inconsistencies I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to reconcile it. But man, it was a good ride on the way to all those bad things.

Even if the ending meant protagonist Eivor isn’t exactly who I wanted him to be, I still had a ton of fun exploring the stupid large world, experiencing the vignettes Ubisoft Montreal had to show of the various territories in England, and yeah, I enjoyed being a gay viking and spreading the love to every willing man in England while it lasted. It also gave me the perfect entry point to come into the series after having never played an Assassin’s Creed and showed me everything I needed to know I didn’t need to come back. I’ll see Eivor again in the DLC, but I think I’ve seen enough to know the series isn’t for me. 

Cool things I wrote in 2020:

2. Persona 5 Royal

I started playing Persona 5 Royal at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and it felt like a tone setting experience leading into what would be a very rough nine months. In a year where the stakes of social interaction and being conscious of the state of the current administration was at an all-time high, a game about fighting corruption with your best friends is more than just cathartic, it’s essential

Royal was before the months of finding alternative ways to see and feel close to people, and before we watched the Trump Administration and the COVID deniers ruin any chance we had of things being normal again in 2020. But it was at the right time to have lit a fire in me to want to fight for something better, in whatever way I was capable of. It was also a surrogate for socialization when I was isolated at home and couldn’t see friends, but could still hang out with the Phantom Thieves.

As much as it was good to see my heart-stealing friends again, I don’t want to downplay how much of Royal stands out above it being “just more Persona 5.” From quality of life updates and a new localization to a new ending spearheaded by the series’ best villain, Persona 5 Royal is a definitive edition of one of the best RPGs of the decade, and is the version I will recommend to people when they’re looking for a place to come into the series for years to come.

1. The Last of Us Part II

It’s still exhausting talking about The Last of Us Part II, even six months after it launched. Talking about Naughty Dog’s sequel to a game I never wanted a sequel for feels like unwrapping wounds and showing them to people in hopes they understand. 

It’s a game that uses perspective to encourage empathy, even toward those who you have felt nothing but contempt for. It’s a story about grief and how as much as we try, we can’t always understand how everyone is going to cope with loss. It’s also about healing, and how the path to doing so isn’t always linear, and sometimes, we can cause more damage than good on our way there. But it ends on the hopeful note that it’s never too late to come back from your darkest place and be better than you were yesterday. 

The Last of Us Part II is built upon a pain, while begging everyone who exists within it to let go. For some, that pain might be too much to sit through, but for me, it’s a reminder that it’s never too late to forgive someone, when and how you move forward is up to you, and that the best parts of someone you cared about are the things worth holding on to.

Even if The Last of Us Part II wasn’t already my favorite game of this year, it’s going to be the one that sticks with me the longest. It’s solidified itself as one of the most important games of my life. I’ll hold it in my heart forever.