I wanted to do a ‘Games of the Year’ list because I love the idea of talking about games I loved in what was – in most ways – a brutal year out to wear us down at every turn, but I realized early into the planning that it had to be different.
For the most part, this is a one-man operation and, while I’m lucky enough to be able to dedicate more of my free time to gaming than a lot of people, I still need to pay the bills, play ball and hockey (not so much this year), and spend time with the family – so there are only so many games I can play in a year.
Let’s be super clear about it and hopefully fend off all the ‘what about [GAME X]’ questions: this is MY favourite games of 2020, not YOUR favourite games of 2020. You can have a different opinion and that’s ok. Maybe you played games I didn’t – maybe you were luckier than I was and got your hands on a PS5, for example – or maybe I played games that you didn’t.
Basically just don’t be this kid:
My Favourite Action Role Playing Game:
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
Valhalla somehow manages to be both enormous and gorgeous, with a sprawling world full of unique experiences that never stopped amazing me through over 80 hours of gameplay. Changing the series over to a much more open-world RPG was a gamble for Ubisoft, but I’ve loved the new focus that started with Origins and I’m on board for whatever the future brings.
Eivor is a great character, and that holds true no matter which version you choose to tackle the story with. There’s not as much stealth here as fans of the ‘classic’ Assassin’s Creed might want, but the sprawling skill tree does allow you to spec your character into a one-shot murder machine if you’d like.
It’s also worth noting that there are a slew of options here for customization and accessibility, including things like independent difficulty levels for stealth and combat.
Runner Up: Mortal Shell
Mortal Shell – reviewed here – is the debut effort by Cold Symmetry and what a debut it is. They’ve supported the game well post-release and I can’t wait to see what’s next from this dev team.
My Favourite Role Playing Game:
I love an RPG where the decisions you make have consequences, and Wasteland 3 hammers that home early and often. Couple that with enough character build options to make Elon Musk second-guess himself and I’m in heaven. I’m positive I set a new ‘restart to try something new’ record on this game, finally eclipsing the previous mark set by Divinity: Original Sin 2, and there are still some weird character builds and party comps that I’d love to try one day…
Like Divinity, this isn’t a game that takes itself seriously 24/7 and I’m here for it.
Runner Up: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
I backed Pillars of Eternity way back in the day and I’m delighted the sequel – which I finally got a chance to play when it hit console this year – kept to that more traditional ‘Baldur’s Gate’ style. An amazing setting, strong dialog, and a plot with a credible threat made the choice between this or Wasteland 3 far more difficult than I thought it’d be.
My Favourite Adventure Game:
Kentucky Route Zero
I’ve been hearing about Kentucky Route Zero for over a decade, starting with the crowd-funding efforts and ratcheting up every time a new act was released, and to be honest, I really wasn’t all that into it. Even when it released in full and a friend who loved it tried to sell me on the game, I just didn’t get it.
But I tried it anyway, and yeah – it’s fantastic.
This isn’t a very traditional game. It seems to start out that way, but holy cow does it go places and I’m not sure I can explain why it’s so special. As you’ve probably figured out from previous ‘Favourite Game’ selections, I love it when my choices matter, and that trend continues here, but Kentucky Route Zero’s choices are almost entirely conversational in nature.
There’s no way to optimize your playthrough because there is no ‘right’ answer. Any choice you make, because you made it, becomes the ‘right’ answer and this is explored in so many weird and inventive ways.
Runner Up: Star Wars: Squadrons
Electronic Arts landed the Star Wars license in 2013 but struggled with the weight of that fan favourite property until Fallen Order released in late 2019. Squadrons shows that wasn’t a one-off fluke, with a campaign that’s a lot of fun and multiplayer battles that bring back memories of X-Wing vs TIE Fighter.
It’s a 1997 game, kids. Look it up.
My Favourite Action Game
I came around on roguelikes in the 12-18 months, and I’m not sure if that’s because I changed as a person or if the games have changed.
Every playthrough of Hades is different and some runs are harder than others, but they’re all a ton of fun. The dialog is great, something that’s been improving in roguelikes – see I told you they were the ones changing – and I love the relationship building that every failed run brings with it.
That’s huge because it took me about 25 runs to finally succeed. After you finally escape? It’s the staggering number of boons and weapons that bring you back for another run and another run, etc…
There aren’t many games out there that are this close to perfect.
Runner Up: Ghost of Tsushima
I wasn’t sold on Ghost of Tsushima early on, read my review here, but Sucker Punch has put out patches at a frantic clip – adding multiplayer, New Game+ mode, and a wealth of quality of life improvements – and it’s now the kind of game I expected at launch.
My Favourite Platformer
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Though it originally launched in March, Ori and the Will of the Wisps got a rebirth of sorts as one of the ‘showpiece’ games for the Xbox Series X launch and holy cow does that game look amazing in 4K HDR at 60 fps. The graphics, the sound, the environments, the weapons, the traversal…Moon Studios is perfect across the board.
The greatest thing about Ori and the Will of the Wisps is that you can put aside the way they absolutely nailed everything else and still love this game for the story alone. A platformer with a story as nuanced as the much-heralded Spec Ops: The Line?
Runner Up: Spelunky 2
Pixel-perfect controls, fun gameplay, and every bit as difficult as the original. I don’t think I have to say anything else do I?
My Favourite Fighting Game
Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate
Slick combos, great graphics, and a roster of characters that’s close to perfect. NetherRealm Studios has done a great job of working to keep everyone happy, whether they want to fight the CPU or other players. I’m a ‘grind out wins against the CPU’ guy, personally, and I couldn’t be happier about having a nearly endless supply of single-player content available.
Runner Up: Them’s Fightin’ Herds
I gave this weird little fighter a chance based off hearing impressions on a podcast, and I’m glad I did. It’s got next to nothing in terms of roster, but the four-button fighting is fun and that’s what matters.
My Favourite Simulation Game
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Though MS Flight Sim gives you literally the whole world to explore, like most people my first flight was to see where I grew up. After that I broadened my horizons, checking out nearby landmarks before expanding to different provinces, countries, and continents.
On the advice of a friend who’s a commercial pilot, I checked out Trinidad’s airport and the surrounding areas. My kids watched Madagascar, then asked me if we could fly there.
The only thing more incredible than the game is the timing of its release. In a year where we can’t go anywhere, MS Flight Sim gave us the world.
Runner Up: Two Point Hospital
Fun game with solid hospital building and hilarious diseases to cure. Reminds me a lot of Theme Hospital.
My Favourite Ongoing Game
My schedule doesn’t typically allow me to stick with games for more than a month or two unless they’re special, and I’ve been playing Fortnite every single week – albeit in varying amounts – for three years now.
I’m still a terrible builder but I find the game a lot of fun on a casual ‘really only care about getting one win in a season for the umbrella’ level, and the crossovers they’ve done are just incredible. Look back even a year ago and who would have ever expected to see Star Wars, Marvel, Halo, God of War, and Ghostbusters characters in the same game?
Adding to that are the season-ending events, the ‘live’ concerts, and other attempts to push Fortnite from being a game to being a platform. I’m curious to see where this goes next. How close can Epic get this to being Ready Player One’s Oasis?
Runner Up: Call of Duty: Warzone
Warzone doesn’t have the hold on me that PUBG once did, or that Fortnite still does, but I’m still taking up precious SSD space on the Series X to keep it available for those ‘I have to play this’ urges. I love the feel of the guns, but the mode just hasn’t grabbed me the way Fortnite has.
My Favourite Mobile Game
This is a gorgeous game that has a lot to offer if you can avoid falling into the gacha loot frenzy. It’s one of the few mobile games I play for more than 15-20 minutes in a stretch, thanks to the beautiful open world and the fun combat.
Runner Up: AFK Arena
A friend got me hooked on this one and I’m still playing. It’s harder to love as a free-to-play gamer, but it’s perfect for me ‘five minutes of play during downtime’ mobile play style. If you play, check Reddit for redemption codes good for free gems and characters.
My Favourite Racing Game
Codemasters pushes away from the hardcore simulation side a bit more with Dirt 5, which opens the game to a bit wider audience. Great graphics and a silky-smooth 120 fps mode help make this feel more next-gen than I’d expected.
Runner Up: Forza Horizon 4
Playing the enhanced version of this on Series X, it’s hard to believe this game came out two years ago on a last-gen system. Playground Games has set the bar incredibly high, and I can’t wait to see what they do with the new hardware.