You might say that it is a bit early to post my game list for 2020, but nothing could be further from the truth: I’m sure to be busy until the end of the year before I can clear The Witcher 3, especially because I’m doing a completionist run for that game. I probably won’t have time for other games; as such, my picks are unlikely to change. So, here is my top list of games I played in 2020. As usual, the game needn’t have released this year, I just need to have played it this year.
Ghost of Tsushima
Played on PS4. Released in 2020.
I started playing Ghost of Tsushima on a whim this year: I had planned to finally start playing The Witcher 3; however, this game made such a splash I postponed my Witcher playthrough a bit and I got to experience my favourite game of the year.
Ghost of Tsushima is the story of Jin Sakai. This samurai eventually became known as The Ghost of Tsushima during the time of the Mongol invasion of Japan. The game’s opening act shows you the last stand of the brave warriors of Tsushima, and their subsequent defeat after the Mongols and their leader, Khotun Khan, completely outnumber them and defeat them.
The island of Tsushima in this game is absolutely astonishingly beautiful. The island itself is mostly inspired by the real Tsushima, but not an accurate recreation of the genuine article. That hardly matters, for this game is not a historical reconstruction of this time period. I just wanted to note this because in terms of historical reconstruction, Assassin’s Creed games tend to do a better job. This all does not take anything away from how beautiful this game’s atmosphere is; and the island is the true highlight.
The game begins in earnest with Jin waking up after this defeat, having been miraculously saved by a thief, after being pulled away from the battlefield. He is one of the few remaining samurai on the island and it is up to him to rescue his uncle, Lord Shimura. As the local lord, his uncle has been left alive by the Khan, and rescuing him might mean Tsushima can be saved. And so, with the words “Rescue Lord Shimura”, the first act of the game begins, and it’s up to you to start your journey as a samurai. Throughout the game, you will explore the beautiful island, liberate outposts, and attempt to save the people of Tsushima. It’s quite the story.
Jin Sakai is the protagonist of this game. After the death of his father, his uncle took him in and raised him. This uncle, Lord Shimura, is the jito of Tsushima: he was appointed by the Emperor to govern the island. The concept of honor is the running theme of this game: in order to stop the Mongol invasion, Jin and his uncle end up disagreeing on how to approach the situation. Jin believes that subterfuge is needed in order to win the conflict, while Lord Shimura believes that above all else, honor is paramount, even if it means defeat.
Due to the game’s visual presentation, atmosphere, setting and music, I consider it my number 1 pick this year. I was especially fond of some of the details that the developers of this game absolutely nailed; a special shout-out for example needs be made to the audio design team: both the sound effects and the soundtrack are phenomenal.
Everything just sounds so good; even the sheathing of the katana sounds real! As far as the OST is concerned, the main theme, “The Way of the Ghost” remains absolutely haunting, especially so after having completed the game.
If I have only one complaint about this game, then it is that some of the side content got repetitive after a while. But that was only during the latter part of the game (the last 20% or so). For the most part, all of what Ghost of Tsushima had to offer was exciting and a ton of fun. Even some of the side content was quite high quality, with the missions that require you to learn a legendary technique being the highlight of the game. A close second are the many opportunities for 1-on-1 duels with other samurai, ronin or invaders.
Ghost of Tsushima is such a delight to play, but also a very brutal game in terms of its combat. Even at the end, the combat feels visceral and brutal, and the game remains thematically strong until the credits roll. The final samurai showdown in the game prior to the credits is a clash I won’t soon forget - it’s where the entire game comes together. I did a completionist run of this game, and enjoyed every moment. Game of the year.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
Played on PS4. Released in 2020.
I never played the original Final Fantasy VII, because I was never fond of roleplaying games when I was younger, preferring to play real-time strategy games instead. I missed out on perhaps one of the most well-known and beloved JRPGs in existence. Fortunately, the folks at Square Enix decided that the beloved story needed a remake, so this year we got a (partial) remake of the story of Final Fantasy VII, in what honestly should have been called Final Fantasy VII Remake: Part 1.
In this game, you play as Cloud Strife, an unsociable mercenary who claims to be a former first class SOLDIER. The game starts off with him aiding an eco-terrorist organisation, AVALANCHE, and they’re about to blow up a reactor that is sapping the natural resources (called “Mako”) of this world. Cloud’s a good guy, but he’s doing some bad things in order to try to make some change (or at the very least, some money). That’s how this entire story starts, at least…
It is unfortunate that this game is not a complete story, but just the first part of one. It’s a lengthy adventure; some claim that its content is stretched out and spread too thin: I cannot judge said opinion, but I do know that I really enjoyed my time with the game regardless, never feeling like the game was too long or events were proceeding too slowly. So, incomplete in terms of narrative, sure, but not too short - and also filled with references to other games. I won’t say more in order not to spoil anything specific.
Most JRPGs rely on an interesting cast and intriguing story; both are present here. Iconic characters such as Cloud, Tifa, Barrett and Aerith obviously reappear but even minor characters that were not very fleshed out in the original have now received an expanded role: Jessie, for example, is a minor NPC in the original game as a member of AVALANCHE, but she is an important secondary character in the remake. (She’s quite the flirt too, and many have taken a liking to her for this very reason. It also helps that everyone is very attractive in this game, both the men and the women look pretty dope.)
The world of Final Fantasy VII is very dark but very interesting. In the remake all you get to see is Midgar, a huge city with a serious case of class divide: during your playthrough, you’ll visit both the slums and the areas where the rich people live.
In terms of gameplay, this game is quite different from the original. Whereas the original was a turn-based JRPG, this game has real-time combat with a few mechanics that allow you slow down time and make tactical decisions.
One thing to note: the game seems to be quite faithful to the original in terms of what appears in the game: no real omissions have been made. But here’s an interesting twist: the title, Final Fantasy VII REMAKE, refers as much to the remaking of the game on a new platform with new visuals, as it does to remaking the original story of the 1997 game, as in: you’re actively remaking that story’s narrative by playing through this game. That’s right, the story of this game is slightly different to the original. Even as a new player, it was easy to pick up on this and it is a plot point that will likely be expanded upon.
This version of the game also features a remastered soundtrack that felt quite nostalgic, even though I’ve never played the original. I suppose that means that the music sounds great, and the various character leitmotifs throughout the game do a good job at heightening emotions during key moments of the game. The music is just plain good. I also took some time to listen to the original OST and ended up really liking this remaster.
Some folks recommend playing the original prior to this game. I did not do so. It was fine. I really enjoyed my time with this game and I really should go back and play through it again on a harder difficulty, but I’ll save that for when the sequel arrives. Hopefully that’ll be sometime in 2022; from what I understand, the company did not make much progress on the sequel this year due to the pandemic.
Final Fantasy VII is a game that I’d recommend to those who enjoyed the original or can’t wait for the subsequent part to come out. I certainly had a great time and can’t wait to play the next part. Maybe if the developers take too long I’ll just play the original instead… It’s just that going back to those graphics might be a bridge too far for me. As far as this remake is concerned, it was great fun.
Persona 5 Royal
Played on PS4. Released in 2020.
Another year, another Persona game in my top games of the year list: at this point it’s a given!
Persona 5 Royal is a serious improvement to the original game that released in 2017 and earned my top spot that year. I won’t lie to you: this is mostly the same Persona 5 that I played three years ago. If it wasn’t for a few new scenes at the start of the game and some minor UI changes, your probably wouldn’t be able to tell which version of the game you just started - the old one or this new version.
Overall, there are changes to some of the systems of the original, and the most important additions to the story come in the form of a new 30-hour arc that takes place near the end of the original game. Here and there, new events and occurrences have been added as well, along with a new hub area that wasn’t in the original game. It’s a great choice if you just wanted to replay Persona 5, but since very little has changed for the first 80 hours or so you need to love this game. I sure do, so I had a blast. If you haven’t played Persona 5 yet, this is now the definitive version to play: it’s by far the most polished Persona experience out there.
In this enhanced version of Persona 5, some minor cosmetic changes have been made throughout the game: a new font is used to enhance the readability of the text, and the game now runs at a higher resolution, leading to an even crisper presentation than the original game. It’s still oozing with style, but the game a tad bit more accessible.
If Persona 5 Royal had been truly innovative, it probably would have been my top pick for this year! However, with both Ghost of Tsushima and the Final Fantasy Remake here, I could not put this enhanced version of a three-year old game as my number one pick for the year. Instead, it is additive - and that’s perfectly fine. The game even comes with a kickass new battle theme, a theme that is arguably better than the original.
If you don’t have a PS4, you may want to pick up Persona 4 Golden on PC instead, as it was released for PC this year! For the first time ever, Persona is now available on PC, and it’s a game that was exclusive to the PS Vita! It’s no surprise that the game sold a ton of copies right away. There is a rumour that Persona 3 is also coming to PC, but so far nothing has been confirmed on that front.
Persona 5 is a long game, and Persona 5 Royal is even longer. I’d recommend that you make sure you’ve got enough free time to play this game, because… hoo boy. It’s gonna take a while to finish! If you’re aiming for the platinum trophy on PlayStation, you can do it all in a single playthrough, so Persona 5 veterans won’t have to play the game twice. If you’re new to the game, you might still be able to pull of a platinum, but you may need to reload an older save.
If you’re planning to make use of PlayStation Plus’ free offering, consider playing this enhanced version instead of the original that they’re making available for free for PS Plus members. Remember, you can’t transfer saves so it’s not possible to jump from P5 to P5R without starting over.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Played on PC. Released in 2017.
Have you ever wanted to see an assassin climb the pyramids? Explore the tombs of the pharaohs? Walk the sands of Egypt? You can do that in this game, because in Assassin’s Creed Origins, the setting is Egypt. I have to be honest, I had my doubts about this setting when I first heard about it. In addition, in terms of gameplay this game is a huge departure from the Assassin’s Creed formula of years before. I did not play it when this game first released in 2017 for that very reason.
Three years later, I can finally say that YES, I’m pleased to say I loved the entirety of Assassin’s Creed Origins, including its crazy DLC (I liked Curse of the Pharaohs the most). It was a super memorable experience and the setting was absolutely stunning, the characters were well-developed and the moment-to-moment gameplay was great. Yes, perhaps the map was a bit too large, but it did not bother me too much. As of writing this post, I have not played Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, so I might get tired of this new gameplay system sooner or later.
Previous Assassin’s Creed games have always followed the same formula and gameplay mechanics. Every release made minor changes to the formula, but with Assassin’s Creed Origins many things have changed. A large open world with many side-activities to discover are new to the franchise. Previous games were mostly linear with some side content, but the scale of this world is truly massive. The biggest change in Origins is the level system: each main mission now has a level requirement, and playing some side-content is actually required in order due to level scaling.
Bayek is one of the greatest Assassin’s Creed protagonists ever, rivaling Ezio - unfortunately, I hear that this game’s successor did not rise to the same narrative heights as this game did, which frightens me a bit, to be honest. I’ve always played the AC games for two reasons: exploring the past (fictional or not) and experiencing a riveting tale. This game succeeds in both regards. Its open-world does hamper the pacing a little bit, but that is no bizarre occurrence in a modern open-world game. After Egypt, I look forward to exploring Greece.
In Assassin’s Creed Origins, the primary protagonist is Bayek, but you are also introduced to his wife, Aya. Originally, she was envisioned as a possible protagonist, but due to demands from upper management at Ubisoft, apparently the team had to decrease her role as a part of this story. I have to say that this is unfortunate: while I really enjoyed Bayek as a character, I could tell a lot of love was put into Aya’s character as well. You can get a feel for how a game with her as a protagonist would have played as you go through specific main story missions where you control her. The majority of the time you’ll be playing as Bayek, though.
In terms of gameplay, I had a great time going through both the main storyline as well as the side content that Assassin’s Creed Origins had to offer. I don’t think much of the side content was very memorable to me, but the main story was great and the villains were cool. I was constantly at awe either when walking through the desert, ancient Thebes, or when visiting the library of Alexandria. You can even climb on top of the lighthouse in Alexandria, and that’s just one of the few interesting spots you can climb.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Played on PC. Released in 2012.
Last year, when I played the very first Witcher game, I got to know Geralt of Rivia a fair bit. He’s a witcher, and he’s the person you need if you have a monster-related problem in the world of the Witcher. The first Witcher game by CD Projekt RED is a dated affair by 2020 standards, but I deemed it ultimately still quite enjoyable and spent quite some time playing through the 2008 classic last year, although I did dread some of the back-and-forth fetch quests in the original. (I am happy to report those aren’t a thing in the sequel.)
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the sequel to said classic. In it, Geralt makes his return and the stakes are bigger than they’ve ever been. In the opening act of the game, the king the Witcher serves, King Foltest, is murdered. Geralt is implicated and thrown in prison. He’s quickly interrogated and eventually Geralt succeeds in convincing his interrogator, Vernon Roche (a major secondary character) that he’s innocent.
However, in the eyes of the common folk he’s now considered a kingslayer regardless: in order to free himself from this unjust title, he needs to find the real kingslayer and prevent additional regicides. Tracking down this assassin proves harder than he thought, and during various different chapters, Geralt is tasked to deal with monsters, people (who occasionally end up being monsters too), and a variety of problems that only he, as a Witcher, can solve.
At the time of writing, I’ve started playing The Witcher 3, and am I glad that I played the first two games. It helps to see some of your decisions in the previous games have consequences, and the background knowledge (including just names you’re heard before) really helps. If you somehow haven’t played The Witcher 3 yet, I’d urge you to play the preceding games first. The very first game is arguably skippable, but it is a nice introduction to the character of Geralt.
In the end, The Witcher 2 is a game that requires at least two playthroughs to fully comprehend, especially so if you wish to truly see everything that there is to see in: during the second chapter of the game, the narrative splits in two, based on a choice you made during the first chapter. What kind of second chapter you play greatly depends on the outcome of that first chapter. You can get a tiny taste of what to expect of the other outcome as you finish up the game’s second chapter, but it’s just that - a taste. You’ll want to play both (and thus the game twice) if you truly wish to completely understand the story.
The game is shorter than the first one in the series, but it is a massive step up in terms of visual fidelity and production quality. It doesn’t quite feel like a game from 2012, except for some clunky UI decisions. I’d recommend playing through this at least once, so that you can take your save to the next game.
Played on PC. Released in 2020.
“Rip and tear until it is done”, is the motto of DOOM Eternal, and for a good reason; 2016’s DOOM reboot was a great success and this game has also proven to be quite popular, although probably not to the same level as 2016’s game. Certain design decisions seem to have annoyed certain players, as ammo scarcity is a real problem in this game. I personally enjoyed the challenge, and am looking forward to playing the expansion content.
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
Played on PC. Released in 2016.
Civilization V is the game I played for more than 200 hours when it was around, and this time Civ VI has gotten even more complex and intricate. I did not play the game at launch because I did not like the visual style and had issues with the UI. Most of these issues have been resolved by the expansions or mods, so I’ve been playing some Civ this year, and I’m happy to report that the extra content they’ve brought out with their seasonal content pass is pretty fun. A good pick for strategists.
A Way Out
Played on PC. Released in 2018.
I did a relatively short playthrough of this co-op game with a friend and ended up enjoying my prison break. If you have a couple of hours of dead time and a friend, you can enjoy this brief but action-filled adventure together. Since there are several branch points in the story, there’s a little bit of replay value here. Since you control one of two characters, I’d say you can do at least two distinct playthroughs of this game without issue.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Played on Nintendo Switch. Released in 2020.
Animal Crossing released exactly as the pandemic hit this year, and most folks really were able to cope well due to this game; after all, Animal Crossing is all about going to your getaway island and building a new community there. So with us stuck inside, we were able to befriend cute animals with hilarious personalities, and play a casual slice-of-life game you play a couple of minutes every day. Each day brings progress to your island, so Animal Crossing is not a game for those who like to play tons of the same thing. There’s an enjoyable slow burn here.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Played on PC. Released in 2013.
Before the pandemic, in early January, I finally completed the main story of Final Fantasy XIV’s base game, A Realm Reborn. You can play it as well, since all of this content, including everything up to and including the first expansion is now available for free. As for me, I have yet to play much of what FFXIV has to offer, but we’ll see when exactly I dive back in. I’m happy to report that they have streamlined many quests on the road to the first expansion, so the grind I encountered has been reduced. Final Fantasy XIV isn’t really my cup of tea, but it is fun if you’re looking to escape into the world of Final Fantasy.
Assuming the game releases in December, I will probably be playing Cyberpunk 2077 next year, as well as various other games. If I can get my hands on a PS5 I will also probably attempt to play Demon’s Souls, and I hope to start a Xenoblade game next year as well. With the next generation of consoles arriving I’m very excited to see what the future will bring! (Note: I did not obtain the PS5.)