As we all know, this has been an incredible year for playing videogames. Despite not being an industry professional, I have tried to play as many of them as I can. The games on my list are the cream of a very strong crop.
To that end I feel the need to mention a couple of close runners up. The Dishonored 2 DLC, Death of the Outsider gets a very important shout out; the game distils what made the series great into arguably the best product of the bunch. Secondly, Heat Signature was an indie game that got a relatively quiet release but is an incredibly fun roguelike in a roughly similar vein to FTL. Honestly, Heat Signature was the closest to making the top five and if I’d had a little more time to play it it could have been up there.
Finally there was the much maligned Middle Earth: Shadow of War. I seriously thought this game was amazing. I am a big fan of the (admittedly crowded) open-world genre, and SoW does this very well with the glorious cherry on top being the nemesis system, constantly bringing new and interesting enemies into your world. No game this year gave me the “where did those six hours just go” feeling like SoW as I was clearing out strongholds, assassinating orcs and just having a jolly old time. It would have no doubt made the top 5 if it were not for the atrocious final act, which effectively has you play the same tiresome mission 20 times. You read that correctly: 20 times. In each repetition the enemies become more difficult in a shamelessly ham-fisted attempt to encourage players to buy loot boxes. If the game had just stopped before this final act it would have been great but I found it to be so offensive that my opinion of the game as a whole was irreparably damaged.
With all that out of way, lets get down to the business of the stuff that did make the list:
5. Assassin’s Creed Origins
I debated long and hard with myself about whether AC:O would be up here, but after completing my 20th hour in the game I decided it was on.
The reasons not to include AC:O are numerous: it’s just another AC game; traversing the world can be tedious; the main storyline is lacking. Nevertheless, Ubisoft have changed enough about the game to really make a lot of it work. The complete overhaul of the combat system is more engaging than the former Arkham-style and the upgrade tree, while a little sterile, is satisfying and empowering. The game really shines when clearing out one of the “bandit camps” or “military bases”, in which you employ all the tools at your disposal to clear out an enemy outpost.
AC:O has done enough to scratch my Ubisoft-open-world itch in fresh ways this year to make it onto the top 5 list.
4. Stardew Valley
While not technically released this year (came out last year on PC), I had been waiting a long time for SV to be released on Switch, and I was not disappointed.
The game is ported to Switch well, and is perfectly suited to mobile play. Bringing back nostalgia of playing Harvest Moon on GBA, SV provides a deeper experience than any Harvest Moon game that I’ve ever played. It has farming, dungeon crawling, crafting, fishing and a relationship sim all wrapped up in a charming visual and audio package. The scale of the achievement is underlined by the fact the game was made by just one person!
I haven’t spent as much time as I would have liked with SV, but I am in no doubt it has earned a place on this list.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
As the follow-up to Mario Galaxy 2, Odyssey had a lot to live up to. Not only did it succeed, but added to the series in new and amazing ways.
Every moment playing Odyssey is a joy, the movement control is flawless and the level-design is top-notch. The frequent acquisition of moons gives you a constant feeling of progress. Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic game and I would argue the best platformer of all time.
SM:O would probably have made its way further up this list if it had held me a bit longer than it did (I fell off at about 400 moons, feeling I had gotten everything I could from the game) but nevertheless is a ride that I am delighted to have taken.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Having played every mainline Zelda game but never really getting gripped, I have always felt like something of an outsider when it came to the series. This all changed with BotW, which drew me inescapably in within moments of entering its vibrant open world; BotW uses everything in its power to create one of the finest pieces of game design I have ever seen.
The game teaches its sometimes complex mechanics without ever resorting to a tutorial. A careful drip-feed of knowledge from NPCs combined with playful encouragement of experimentation teaches players how to live and survive in the world. Sight-lines have been carefully considered so when you finally reach that distant glowing shrine, two more, plus a mysterious lake, are visible. Unique combinations of unrelated in-game mechanics frequently yield useful results.
Aside from the wonderful design, the game looks beautiful and really sold me on the Switch when I first bought it. The characters are charming and the world dense with wonder and excitement.
BotW is certainly not without flaws – the non-existent end game and lack-lustre DLC offerings to mention a couple – but no game has transported me back to the feeling of gaming as a child like BotW.
1. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
A quick and horrifying calculation revealed to me today that I have spent 12% of my waking hours playing PUBG since I purchased it in April. This just about sums up the impact it has had on my life.
The issues and problems with PUBG are well-documented, from lag to bugs to performance, but despite this the light of its wonderful core concepts shine through. While far from the first to tackle the battle royale genre, PUBG – by either luck or design – brought together all the necessary factors into the prefect storm of a game.
Long periods of quiet looting punctuated by moments of abject horror and glorious victory form the addictive loop of this game, with the drip feed of dopamine just enough to keep you coming back.
I wrote at length about PUBG back in May, and my feelings for it have only intensified since then. I have never seen anything quite like it.