2020 has been a wild ride — from elections to lockdowns it seems every corner of the world had its fair share of dramas — and we can all agree that it was a strange year for the games industry as well. With COVID-19 creating a whole host of issues for our industry, it’s a wonder that anything actually managed to come out, but given that so many of us were stuck at home with far too much time on our hands, it’s great to know that there were some real standouts released throughout the year. It’s also just going to be good to see a fresh start for the industry, with a new year and new consoles to create for.
My game of the year: Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima is easily my game of the year. It’s the experience that stuck out most for me, with fantastic combat (and I mean fantastic), wonderfully intuitive exploration, beautiful art direction and enjoyable story. It’s a game that so clearly wears its influences on its sleeve, from Akira Kurosawa to Assassin’s Creed. Funnily enough, it also addresses some of the issues myself and many others have had with the Assassin’s Creed series as of late — especially when it comes to exploration, for which Ghost of Tsushima has now set the standard.
With that being said, Ghost of Tsushima’s world is the real star of the show. It’s gorgeous and well-realised, with its vertical map design, unique biomes and locations showing that you can make exploration intuitive, inviting and, of course, unintrusive. Using the wind instead of a standard map marker is an inspired take, as well, and it’s paid off so very well for Sucker Punch Productions. Then there’s the combat, and the way everything around it feeds into the pure samurai fantasy on display: it makes you put in the effort to become a master swordsman, and by the end of the game you really feel like the Ghost of Tsushima as you tear through hordes of enemies.
Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot more that needs to be said; Ghost of Tsushima is the complete package, and it’s easily the best of the best in terms of Sony’s 2020 exclusives.
Honourable Mention: Persona 5 ROYAL
Persona 5 is one of the best JRPGs in recent memory, especially within its own franchise (a high bar when you include Shin Megami Tensei), so it’s no surprise that it’s also gotten an expanded re-release. Much like Persona 4: Golden and even Catherine: Full Body, Persona 5 ROYAL is less of an expansion than it is a director’s cut. Atlus tweaked the game’s mechanics and made some subtle quality-of-life improvements, but the real star is the expanded ending: just like in Persona 4: Golden, we’ve got an entire new act, complete with a new Palace, new confidants and, of course, Shoji Meguro absolutely killing it with the soundtrack. It’s not going to change your mind if you’re not a Persona fan, but it takes a 100-hour JRPG up to 150 hours and you won’t regret dipping back in if you’re already into the series.
Honourable Mention: Yakuza: Like a Dragon
In arguably the boldest move for the franchise yet, Yakuza: Like a Dragon ditches the flashy beat-‘em-up combat synonymous with the series, along with leading man Kiryu and his motley crew of characters (for the most part). Instead, we get the new boy on the block Ichiban and turn based JRPG combat. Spoiler alert: it’s fantastic. It’s honestly been incredible to see Yakuza’s belated Western success coming to fruition over the past few years, and SEGA deserves to be commended for coming out swinging into the next generation with such a good reimagining of such an established core gameplay loop.
Honourable Mention: Cyberpunk 2077
Yes, it’s only just come out. Yes, the console versions are an absolute disaster. Yes, it’s a buggy mess. Yes, its marketing campaign was a transphobic disaster. In spite of all that — and I don’t feel all that comfortable admitting this — I’m hooked. Separating the art from the artist (or, more accurately, the corporate shenanigans) and looking at just how much time I’ve spent in Night City over the past couple of weeks, it would just be dishonest of me not to mention it here; it just ticks so many boxes for me, from genre choice to gameplay style and everything in between. Assuming you can run the game on PC and you can handle a bug or two here and there, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Otherwise, wait for the next-gen versions and some patches, because this is a game that deserves to be played.
2020’s biggest hits and misses:
Miss: Cyberpunk 2077’s Release
It’s a shame that this is what’s going to cap off of 2020. After being announced eight years ago, going through numerous delays and, of course, the unacceptable reliance on crunch in a year when people can’t even leave their homes, to release a game in this state is just sad. In fairness, the experience is phenomenal and PC and all of the issues it does have can be patched out, but the state of the console versions — particularly base models — is appalling. No matter how many patches CD Projekt RED pumps out for those versions, there’s nothing that can change the fact that the game is simply too much for the systems; for CDPR to have the audacity to release on them, embargo reviewers from talking about its issues, and suggest that it’s going to be a perfectly good experience is EA levels of shady, and simply unacceptable from such a beloved, talented developer like CD Projekt RED.
Miss: The Last of Us Part II and the Community’s Mob Mentality
The Last of Us Part II’s release was nothing short of a shit-show. Disgraceful crunch practices and the rumours of general nonsense from Neil Druckmann and Naughty Dog’s higher-ups are stories all of their own, but the strangest drama surrounding the game, for me, was the reception it received after being one of the most anticipated sequels in a long, long time. Mob mentality is a real thing, and both extremes in the debate surrounding this game are ridiculous.
First, you’ve got the fans who made up their minds about the game before it even came out, based on a couple of leaks, and decided to throw a toddler-esque temper tantrum that carried on after the game’s release. Now, I do tend to agree that the game’s story and themes are at best weak and at worst pretentious, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to abuse and even threaten the life of Naughty Dog staff or members of the game’s cast. Seriously…
On the other hand, those hailing The Last of Us Part II as the next evolution in video gaming and condemning anyone who thinks otherwise also need to pull up. There’s nothing wrong with liking The Last of Us Part II, but seeing the nonsense that people spout online and the recent travesty that was The Game Awards only adds fuel to the fire. When games become devoid of any meaningful player interaction or mechanical complexity for the sake of force-feeding a contrived story while emulating film for the continuing and redundant pursuit of artistic legitimacy… you’ve only got yourself to blame. The Last of Us Part II doesn’t need to be defended — criticism is good for all forms of artistic expression and, much like its predecessor, The Last of Us Part II is far from a perfect representation of what video games can be. The worst part of all, however, is the fact that you can’t even have a conversation about The Last of Us Part II without conflict. It’s a sad reminder of the world we live in, where people only deal in absolutes. Why can’t we all just get along?
Hit: Next-gen Backwards Compatibility
As someone who tends to spend most of their time replaying older games rather than chasing new releases — especially as I get older and have increasingly less time to partake in any of my hobbies — I love that both Sony and Microsoft committed to carrying a good chunk of our existing libraries over to the new generation. Game preservation is a real issue as time goes on, with many good and interesting games ending up lost to time, but as console architecture becomes increasingly similar to that of a gaming PC there’s really no excuse to abandon previous-gen libraries. Let’s just hope that we see fewer “remasters” in the coming years because of this.
Criticisms of The Last of Us Part II aside, one thing Naughty Dog has set the standard for is in-game accessibility options. The game includes an extensive list of options to tailor your experience to best fit your needs, whether it be through mechanical advantages, input methods or even UI navigation. It’s great to see a developer really put the effort in to help bridge the gap between the many different individuals that make up the gaming sphere, and it’s great to see other developers like Ubisoft starting to make the same strides.
What I’m looking forward to in 2021:
Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines 2:
Cautious optimism, something I’m starting to get used to. With all the goings on over at Hardsuit Labs and Paradox Interactive I wouldn’t blame you for avoiding this one entirely… and yet, I’m hopeful, not only because it can’t possibly release in a worse state than its predecessor — I hope — but because it’s another entry into this series. Vampire games are few and far between for some reason, and with tabletop properties becoming more prevalent in the industry (see Warhammer and Shadowrun), it’s not too far-fetched to believe that the Worlds of Darkness could be up next.
BioWare’s first steps to redemption:
BioWare has been around for a long time, and for most of that time it was one of the very few developers who could do no wrong. Now that the studio’s been assimilated into the EA machine, however, that’s no longer the case; I suspect that many have gone as far as to write it off entirely after it released Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem in the worst states one could imagine, so colour me surprised to see that we’ve got new entries in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises to look forward to. Although I can almost guarantee that we won’t be playing either game in 2021, I’m at least looking forward to seeing and hearing more about them both. Here’s hoping Dragon Age 4 can do what inquisition did and win back some of the faith and respect BioWare has lost over the years — though after Mike Laidlaw’s departure, I’m a little concerned.
We haven’t heard too much about any upcoming Star Wars games lately, but I’m expecting to see some of those announcements in the new year, especially given that there are some rumours around. With Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Star Wars: Squadrons both under EA’s belt, I’d wager that whatever the next Star Wars game announcement is will be something to get excited about.
Fate/Extra Record and Tsukihime Remake:
At this point I feel like it’s become obligatory for me to mention Type-Moon and its franchises, but here we go again. Along with the announcement of its newest subsidiary, Type-Moon Studio BB, the developer announced that it will be remaking Fate/Extra, a game with a great story but admittedly weak turn-based combat (rock, paper, scissors!) that got lost to the PSP’s lifespan. A full-HD remake would make for a really special JRPG, but at the very least it could pave the way for its sequel, Fate/Extra CCC, to make its Western debut. Knowing Type-Moon, though, that’s wishful thinking. As for Tsukihime, after an agonising wait that seemed like Type-Moon had forgotten one of its best works, the remake resurfaced at the developer’s 20th anniversary live-stream along with a Summer 2021 release date. After years of memes and constant disappointment, and the Fate franchise’s success causing a shift in priorities that saw anything that wasn’t Fate get pushed to the wayside, it’s finally happening, and my excitement is quite simply immeasurable. Now all we need is the Mahoutsukai no Yoru translation to come out as well and 2021 might end up being a real gift after all. For now, though, in the words of the great Kirei Kotomine: yorokobe!