The hardest part of writing this post was trying to remember what I played at the beginning of the year. Games that I played near the beginning of the year and that I thought were really quite good or even exceptional I nearly forgot about when it came to making this list. It’s just been that kind of year.
These games are going to me in an entirely arbitrary order, there is no ranking here. I enjoyed all of these games for different reasons and it would be a disservice to their quality to have them be in a ranked list.
Let’s get started.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
This was the first time I’ve played a single player Final Fantasy game and whoo boy it was an absolutely incredible way for one to get into the world of Final Fantasy. I love all the characters, Tifa, Aerith, Cloud, Barrett and the rest of the crew. Especially Jessie (psych! 💕).
I love the environment design and music in this game as well. The soundtrack is a total banger. Barring some issues with texture streaming/loading, this game does a great job with its visual aesthetic. Its not a large game from a world size perspective but every area feels dense and lived in a very real way with a lot of small details and idle chatter from NPCs that provide a lot of flavour for the game.
Mechanically, I enjoyed the combat system in the game for the most part, every party member has their unique weapons and attack styles which makes even taking out trash mob enemies a lot of fun as you switch back and forth between your party members. The way the materia system works and the way party members interact with each other in a middle of a fight using things like potions and spells provided a lot of depth to the combat system.
I am looking forward to the eventual PC release of this game to see what more powerful systems than the PS4 can do from a visual fidelity perspective. At least, I’m hoping for the aforementioned texture loading issues to be fixed.
XCOM: Chimera Squad
This was a pleasant surprise of a release this year. A more streamlined, focused XCOM game with premade characters for your squad was a recipe for success. There are a lot of little things in this game that add a lot of flavour to the world of XCOM in a way that the previous XCOM games never did. And its not just about your squad members, its about the society you operate in and the people that live in the city you do missions in. Even the bits of audio news segments are fantastic.
From a mechanical perspective, this game’s systems are simplified from XCOM 2 but that doesn’t mean they are boring. Because every squad member is a unique character, they all have unique abilities and strengths which means you can play a mission with a variety of approaches. Especially in the late game, the interactions of abilities between your squad members can be used to great effect and mastery of the game will require to you to understand those interactions.
The one big change from XCOM 2 is the way the turns work, its not just entirely your turn and then your enemy’s turn, there is a turn order and enemies and your squad members are in the turn order queue. This system adds a whole different kind of strategy from XCOM 2 where managing and messing with the enemies turn order is very important.
A fantastic little strategy game that I enjoyed quite a bit, I would love to see Firaxis iterate on this concept more because I would love to play another game like this in the XCOM series.
Crusader Kings 3
If at the beginning of the year you told me that one of my favourite games this year would be a Paradox grand strategy title, I would have laughed at you. Before Crusader Kings 3 I mostly dismissed Paradox’s grand strategy fare as games that were far too obtuse, complex and just plain inaccessible for a grand strategy newbie like me.
That changed with CK3 and here I have to give partial credit to the fact that this game was on Microsoft’s Games Pass service which means I got to try this game out without paying the full price of the game up front.
I am super glad that decided to give this game a shot because I can confidently say that this is quite possibly the easiest Paradox grand strategy game to into. Its tutorial is fairly competent and there are a lot of little UI design elements that guide a new player through the game.
Do understand that the game still has a lot of systems that interact in various ways and you won’t understand them all in your first campaign…or your fifth but at no point did I feel overwhelmed by the number of systems or the amount of things I had to deal with at once. There are a lot of different ways one can play a campaign and there isn’t a “wrong” way per se which meant that you are not just stuck doing the same thing over and over again in every campaign which is crucial for a strategy game where you are going to be playing multiple campaigns of for hundreds or even thousands of hours.
I took a break from this game to devote my time to other games but I am looking forward to getting back into it with a new campaign once I have no other games on my plate.
Supergiant’s games always have something special going for them but for the most part before Hades I never really got into any of them. I never played Bastion, Transistor didn’t really work for me and Pyre’s mechanics didn’t interest me at all.
When I first saw Hades in early access I was excited, here was a Supergiant game in a genre that I enjoyed. A Supergiant rogue lite was going to be interesting at the very least and if they nail the mechanics it would be a game I will enjoy very much.
Well folks, I am happy to say that when I picked this game after it exited early access this year, I was blown away. Not only had Supergiant nailed the mechanics to an incredible level, they married it with a narrative in a way that I have not seen a rogue lite game do before.
From a audiovisual perspective, this game is a masterpiece. Supergiant has always had a talent for incredible visual design along with audio and this game is no different. The soundtrack done by Darren Korb with appearances by Ashley Barrett is stellar. Especially, the Ashley Barrett appearance. If you’ve played the game, you know what I’m talking about.
The depiction of the Greek gods is bar none the best I’ve seen in a video game ever. That’s not an exaggeration. They are so good that whenever someone mentions a Greek god elsewhere I think of the depiction of them in Hades because they are so memorable both from a visual and voice acting perspective.
Hades is one of the best rogue lites I’ve played. Hell I can say it is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Like CK3 I had to take a break from playing Hades to play some other games but I am looking forward to getting back into the game and really finishing it.
In Nyx we trust.
Ghost of Tsushima
When Sony first showed this game’s first cinematic trailer at a long forgotten E3 presentation I was not impressed. The trailer didn’t show off anything particular interesting so this wasn’t a game I was particularly interested in from its first previews
Fast forward closer to the game’s release, it was made clear to me that Sucker Punch had developed a open world game set on Tsushima island during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. As a fan of open world games I was intrigued about what Sucker Punch could do with the concept.
I am happy to report that Sucker Punch nailed it. This is a rock solid open world game that while not doing anything particularly new or innovative does all the usual open world tropes quite well. It focuses more on exploration in the Breath of the Wild way than a Ubisoft open world. Your map doesn’t get filled up when you climb a tower in a area, you gotta ride around and explore.
From a environment design perspective, Sucker Punch really nailed the feeling of just being in the world enjoying its sights and sounds. The way the leaves move around when you walk on them, the wind’s movement, the ambient sounds of the forest, all of it is very well done and provide a good sense of immersion into the game’s world.
I enjoyed the story quite a bit, I am not familiar with the Kurosawa movies this game is inspired by so I can’t say how it compares on that front but what I saw was well written and interesting with a decent variety of characters. I especially liked the way the protagonist’s progression as the titular ghost was depicted through the duration of the narrative.
Mechanically, the combat systems of this game is a delight, every time I hit a perfect parry in this game it felt really fucking cool and the sense of feedback from executing Jin’s various moves was sublime. The way the game used its stance system for different types of enemies also meant that you weren’t stuck in a single pattern of combat for any particular enemy encounter. Also, all the little animations with the sword are really fucking cool. I especially like the animation where Jin cleans the blood off his sword and puts it back in its sheath.
Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best open world games I’ve played in a while, it reminded me of the older Assassin’s Creed games like AC2 in all the best ways, I am looking forward to what else Sucker Punch has in store for us for the PS5 generation of games.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
When I saw the first few trailers for this game I was instantly turned off. The Viking aesthetic didn’t seem interesting and the world presented in the trailers didn’t seem interesting. For the first time, I actually actively did not want to play a main line Assassin’s Creed game.
This is another game that I gave a shot because of the new game rental subscription services that are becoming popular, in this case Ubisoft’s particular service Ubisoft+ which meant that I was able to play this game without having to pay the full asking price for it.
Suffice to say I was pleasantly surprised just how much I enjoyed this game. I liked Eivor as a AC protagonist more than I liked the last two (Bayek and Kassandra). The game’s use of separate story arcs made it so that the writers were able to write more focused stories that still contributed to the overarching narrative without feeling incoherent or too big in scope. I would say that this is the best of Ubisoft’s narrative design that I’ve seen a long while.
The real-world story is still a weird mess that I wish Ubisoft would either get rid of entirely or actually focus and write a better story than the one they have going on right now. It just feels like they halfheartedly put in the real world story because its part of Assassin’s Creed tradition and not because they had anything interesting or fun to add to it.
Mechanically, the combat systems were a little jank compared to Ghost of Tsushima but in general, the variety of abilities and weapons in this game make up for the issues as you stack status effects on your enemies and watch them be set on fire while being poisoned at the same time. Lots of fun. However, I still wish the parrying system in this game actually felt worthwhile and not an afterthought.
Valhalla was a rock solid entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise and I’m hoping Ubisoft keeps iterating on the good concepts they have here (story arcs) and discard the failed concepts (The fishing minigame. Did we really need that?) for the next game.
Call of Duty: Warzone
For the past three years or so my multiplayer shooter of choice has been Overwatch. However this year I was finally starting to feel the effects of burnout from having played that game for so long. I needed a replacement and a change of pace, something to fill the multiplayer shooter shaped void in my heart.
Cue, the entry of Call of Duty: Warzone. A battle royale game set in the Call of Duty universe (if you can call it a universe). At first I was leery of the concept, Call of Duty hasn’t been a series I have given a fuck since the Modern Warfare 2 days.
Two things convinced me to this game a shot – it is free to play and it is also cross play across all the platforms it is available on. This meant that I could play it with my friend chosafine who plays on Xbox while I play on PC. Cross play really is the most killer feature that I wish more shooters would pick up.
So that means chosafine and I played this game throughout the year since its release and had a blast doing it. Warzone adds a interesting innovation in the battle royale genre, namely the gulag system. This system means that your first death in the round is not game over but a chance to stage a come back which adds a lot of spice to the usual BR game loop.
Unless something drastically changes in the game, Warzone will remain my most favourite battle royale game. Just a rock solid game all around. Here’s hoping I can get my first win next year 🤞🏾.
The Honourable Mentions Section
This section is for some other games I’ve played this year that I did enjoy but I don’t have as much to say about them like the stuff above.
- DOOM Eternal – fuck the Marauder, but otherwise a great shooter, Mick Gordon is still making bangers
- Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2 – more of the Yakuza shenanigans that was enjoyable enough but not as good as Yakuza 0
- Apex Legends – my second favourite BR game, the Rampart and Loba brown girl squad ain’t nothing to fuck with
- Spellbreak – an interesting concept for a BR game that I’m terrible at but I’ll give the developers kudos for the unique nature of the game
Let’s Wrap This Up Folks
That’s all I have for my games of the year, hopefully y’all enjoyed reading my ramblings about these games as much as I enjoyed playing and writing about them.
Overall, a strong year of video games for me with a lot of unique and memorable games. Here’s hoping 2021 is just as good or even better than what I played this year.
Stay safe out there folks!