We might have ticked over to a new year, but we still have thoughts to share on the games from 2020. We have talked about Our 2020 Year in Games, a joyful tale of our adventures in gaming through that topsy-turvy year. This time we’re taking a look at our Games of the Year. Some of us might have multiple Games of the Year, others might just have one, but there is one simple rule, the game must have been released in 2020. Here we have Chris sharing thoughts on his top games from 2020.
There are so many games that have come out this year which I haven’t played, yet I know would have been worthy of a spot in my Games of the Year list. I’m thinking of games as diverse as CyberPunk 2077 through to Hades or even Half-Life Alyx. As it is, I’ve still played a whole heap of games, and what follows are some highlights of 2020’s releases. There’s no particular order, but let us know what what you’re Games of the Year were.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Gears Tactics in this list. It was a game which landed on the PC in the early days of lockdown, and really provided me a game that I could sink my teeth into. The early days of lockdown were a strange time, and I found myself bouncing off games like Doom Eternal or clearing Portal 2 off my backlog. Gears Tactics then was the first new game from 2020 that I was able to really enjoy. I’m not usually one who gets too involved with turn-based tactics games, they’re much more Jon’s cup of tea and in something like Age of Wonders: Planetfall I much preferred the grand strategy elements to the battles. In Tactics though, the down and dirty fighting was a riotous blast of grenades, chainsaws and killer combos. The game is far from perfect, with the side missions (despite their fun modifiers) seriously padding out the playtime, but when I was in a groove, I would sink hours at a time into it. I loved digging deep into the skill trees of my various squaddies and learning how best to utilise their skills in combination with each other. In a more normal year this might not have made my Games of the Year list, but it still resonates with me as one of the early games to help me get through those lockdown blues.
Crusader Kings III
I didn’t get around to writing a review of Crusader Kings III this year, something which fills me with shame as it is really so damn good. While Gears Tactics slots onto this list primarily for how it emotionally resonates with me through this strange old year, Crusader Kings III stands proud as a truly worthy entry in my Games of the Year list. Paradox Interactive developed something of a reputation in their earlier years for releasing grand strategy titles which were horrendously buggy, missing expected features or plain scary to a newcomer. They’ve improved the quality of their initial releases as time has gone by, and Crusader Kings III is an example of that hard work really paying off. For once you have a tutorial, UI and encyclopaedia that blend to provide a much easier entry point to a behemoth of a game. The various systems combine so well that the day-to-day management of your duchy, Kingdom or Empire is simple with enough depth that once you understand how they interlink you can have some great fun. In a similar way to the Football Manager games though, the thing which attracts me to Crusader Kings III is the ability to tell your own story. I went from ruling a small part of a disjointed Wales to forming the Kingdom of Wales only for my King to die and a bloody family civil war leave my side of the family penniless and with a just a tiny scrap of land in mid-Wales to call my own. As I swore fealty to my more treacherous family members who were ruling the Kingdom of Wales, I carved out more power and land for myself until I was able to declare independence and form the Kingdom of Ireland. When I return to my Kingdom, I’ll be exploring what I need to do to conquer all of the British Isles.
art of rally
I touched on some of the racing games that I played this year in my Our Year in Games article, and I purposefully avoided talking about art of rally there. This is a racer that caught my eye at EGX in 2019, and was something I followed closely from then on to release. It is an exquisite looking rally game, showing that modern high-tech graphics seen in Dirt 5 aren’t an essential component to making a game look good or play well. On the surface, art of rally looks like a simple racer with a top-down camera and no need for co-drive pace notes. It might be easy enough to get from the start of a stage to the end, but mastering the game requires the same level of attention that you would expect from Dirt Rally 2.0. The various locations have a distinct look, and their surfaces provide a realistic sense of grip levels, while the assortment of cars range from the easy to tame to nightmarish Group B monsters. It’s a truly exquisite racer, and good enough that I would recommend it to those who normally shy away from racers.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
When I wrote about Valhalla in my December Verdict I was probably about 25-hours in, and I have since added another 15-hours yet there is still so much to do. I’ve worked my way through the starting counties and most recently completed the story arc in Londinium and am still constantly impressed by the breadth of the game and the number of things to do. I still don’t buy the argument some make that there isn’t much to do in this game. Yes, the traditional side-quests have been removed and replaced by world events, but there is so much joy to be had when you scratch beneath the surface. After completing the Londinium story arc, I took a break from the story and did some exploration of the Roman ruins in the city which led me to unearth an Assassin’s Bureau which required some classic Assassin’s exploration and environmental puzzling to access. I took a look at the Order of the Ancients menu and followed clues to reveal these evil figures, the clues took me jumping around the counties before finally taking me to the target to deliver the killing blow. By stripping away the usual array of side-quests, Valhalla offers a more concise and easier to follow main storyline, while giving you the breathing room to explore the other offerings the game has. It isn’t perfect, but I still stand by my Red Mist Verdict.
That Red Mist Verdict on Valhalla was written in December.