I’ll spare you the jokes about the year that has been since we all know it was pretty bad, though it was mostly business as usual for me with my university studies from home in addition to nationwide lockdown giving me the peace and quiet to ace my exams. For gaming, however… Though this year had many big releases I found myself mostly playing old classics like Planescape: Torment and Vampire: the Masquerade — Bloodlines rather than new releases, a habit exacerbated by my lack of a console to play major exclusives like The Last of Us Part II. That said, the few new games I did play this year really blew me away, eating up all my free time and then some of my study time, too! This year was not kind to gaming culture in general, with terrible controversies ripping through the competitive Smash scene, games being review-bombed and developers being threatened on social media. The internet toxicity pot really boiled over this year and a lot of good people were hurt in the process. I don’t expect this culture to improve given much of the world’s current political climate, so I’ll just chalk it up as another feature of the year that was.
My game of the year: Cyberpunk 2077 (PC)
This might upset some people, but where I can I put no stock in internet controversies and generally pay no mind to what people are angry about on Twitter or Reddit with respect to video games. I prefer to play and judge games as they are, separated from the circumstances of their development or their developers.
In 2020, no other game held my interest and attention quite like Cyberpunk 2077. I will happily put it on my personal list of best RPGs ever, alongside Planescape: Torment and TheWitcher 3: Wild Hunt (big surprise). I’ve played a lot of time-wasting games this year but I can’t resist a solid single-player RPG to absolutely pour my life into after I get home from work, and Cyberpunk 2077 has truly spoiled me with hours upon hours of content.
Despite the drama, delays and occasional bugs, Night City had me enraptured from the first moment I started playing. I can say with confidence that CD Projekt Red (CDPR) has nailed its reconstruction of the dystopian metropolis from the tabletop Cyberpunk game. Night City is enormous, gorgeous, bursting with detail and inhabited by characters just as memorable as those of The Witcher 3. Jackie, Judy, Panam and Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand provide more personality and life than some video games can muster in their entire cast of NPCs. The fantastic writing is only aided by the actors’ fantastic performances, bringing genuine emotion to the trauma and tragedy many characters endure in their stories and build on the immersion created by the game’s phenomenal art direction and soundtrack.
Night City does lack some of the sandbox elements that fans of franchises such as Grand Theft Auto are accustomed to. That said, the city and its inhabitants left me with so much to see and do that I left a poor, neglected main quest NPC languishing in a diner waiting for me for several weeks before I finally decided that I would progress with the main quest. I could barely drive down a street without a sidequest or activity popping out at me, just begging me to go hack up some goons with my military-grade cybernetic arm-blades or hack their neuralware to leave them all smoking husks on the ground… all before even leaving my futuristic sports car.
Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t the life-changing RPG some thought it was going to be, but with huge content patches underway for next year, plus two game-sized DLC launches and the promise of multiplayer on the way over the next few years, it is hard not to be optimistic about its future
Honourable Mention: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
This game came at the perfect time for me, as it did for many, with the news of COVID-19 lockdown for my state meaning that I would not see my girlfriend for another year or my friends for several months.
Animal Crossing was always about offering the perfect escape from the world. Instead of worrying about your real-life problems, it invites you to worry instead about paying off your virtual home loan or cleaning trash off the digital beach to entice visitors. New Horizons is no different in its generous offerings of animals to find, furniture to collect and villagers to meet and recruit to your island. Though the sheer amount of stuff you can do can be intimidating at first (I know I didn’t want to terraform my island for days for fear of messing something up), the game introduces you to its mechanics slowly and gently.
Unfortunately, once I had worked my way up to a certain point I inevitably lost interest. After discovering everything on offer, I wasn’t too interested in completely reconstructing my island to a particular theme or assembling outfits for each different season, so combined with a woeful amount of content updates, Animal Crossing simply slipped my mind one day, and I haven’t played it since.
Honourable Mention: Hades
Now, this is an easy one. Supergiant Games is well known for its finely crafted narratives, colourful characters and stellar music, and Hades is all that plus a generous extra helping of replayability.
One of my woes after completing Transistor and Pyre was that they were simply over, and I had no real motivation to continue maxing out my levels. Hades has no such issue as it combines the rogue-like formula of accumulating successful runs with progression of the game’s narrative. I could not stop playing as I hung onto every NPC’s words and desperately wanted to know how the story was going to end. With an array of arms to fight with, a dizzying number of potential combinations of powerups and continuous weapon upgrades, Hades was another quarantine time sink that I truly loved.
What keeps it from my top spot is that much of its cast is decidedly one-dimensional. In addition, the game does go light on some core rogue-like elements such as enemy variety and level design. It only took me around five to ten runs to have seen every enemy and room layout the game had to offer and, while weapons do feel distinct from each other, I never felt like I was doing much more than smashing the attack button to bash the bad guys and occasionally smashing the dodge button.
2020’s biggest hits and misses:
Hit: Great Early Access Launches with Strong Post-Launch Support
Early access has become something of a dirty word in certain places, given that the Venn diagram of abandoned games, shovelware and early access can become something of a circle. That’s why it was so encouraging to see excellent releases from Larian Studios and Obsidian in the form of Baldur’s Gate 3 and Grounded, both of which launched with far more playable content than any other Early Access titles I’ve played in recent memory.
My games library has innumerable titles that are years old and have never been polished, built upon or had any semblance of support — something which (depending on the state of the game) ranges from disappointing to downright infuriating. To see developers like Larian Studios carry on their tradition of unending support for their big-name titles is encouraging, to say the least.
Better yet, the Baldur’s Gate release was followed by consistent post-launch support in the form of content updates, patches and sizable expansions of playable content. It is almost expected nowadays for anticipated titles to launch in poor states that never get fixed, so consistent post-launch support for games sets good standards in game development. I hope to see more companies follow.
Miss: Gaming Culture, Review Bombs and Outrage Culture in Gaming Media
Gaming culture can be up and down, but 2020 saw some really awful incidents. We saw how truly worthless user scores are with a series of big releases being review-bombed on release in some display of ‘resistance’ from 4chan dwellers and internet busybodies. It’s never been unusual for this to happen but the scale on which it occurred for The Last of Us: Part Two is unprecedented. The original subreddit for the game was even completely hijacked to focus on hating it — and it’s still active.
The sheer amount of effort and time poured into hating games, their developers and their publishers truly boggles my mind, and the gaming media outlets who deliberately feed the flames have no small part to blame in this. Unfortunately for gaming culture, we definitely live in a time where websites and YouTube channels dedicated to getting angry about video games are prolific. It really is a depressing moment when developers have to deactivate their social media accounts just to get away from the rabid hordes of gamers and their vitriol.
What I’m looking forward to in 2021:
Elden Ring: Please, FromSoftware, I Beg You
Elden Ring… Nobody knows anything about it, when it will release, what it will be about or what exactly George R.R Martin even did for the game. In true FromSoftware fashion, information is incredibly scarce. So scarce in fact that internet communities surrounding the game have their own inside jokes about the sheer despair of desperately waiting to hear anything about this game, which to-date has seen no marketing at any major events in 2020.
Personally, I really like the RPG formula of FromSoftware’s games and if Demon’s Souls is anything to go by, Elden Ring ought to be a next-gen showstopper. I’m absolutely crossing my fingers at this point that we hear something, anything, about the game in 2021.
Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart: The Only Thing That Will Make Me Pay Next-Gen Prices
Next-gen prices are terrible and the current next-gen game lineups are miserable but I’ll be damned if I’ll miss a Ratchet & Clank game. It’s my all time favorite franchise, the first game I ever played and something I always return to when I feel burnt out on video games. I have never skipped an entry (yes, even the tower defence one) and if it means I have to cop PS5 retail price tags then so be it. A Rift Apart looks fantastic — I’m dying to get my hands on it and revisit that single-player platforming magic that got me into video games all those years ago.
Back when A Crack in Time released we were told that it was the end of the Ratchet and Clank story — a decision later reversed with the release of Into the Nexus, which got my hopes up again that the series wasn’t going to end just yet. Hopes were dashed with years of radio silence, but are now reinvigorated in anticipation of Ratchet heading to next-gen consoles.