This year has been rather difficult for me — in my personal life, I had to deal with tough and painful situations, accept an inevitable end and had to learn how not to feel lost after a sad break-up.
Unsurprisingly, video games can easily touch upon themes such as these. That’s why my top 4 is the way it is: a reflection of my year. As is the yearly tradition at this point, I’ve made a list of the best games I completed this year. That means that games from previous years have also made this list.
Played on PC. Released in 2019.
Sometimes you must accept an inevitable end.
Outer Wilds is one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played, and has quickly become one of my all-time favourites. It’s a game I won’t soon forget.
Before I explain more: if you even remotely enjoy video games, here’s what you should do: stop reading this post, set aside some time, and go play Outer Wilds yourself. Then, come back to this particular entry in the post.
In case you’re on PC, you can grab it here. If you’re on console, you can head over to the PlayStation or Xbox storefronts and buy a digital copy there.
Go on. I’ll wait.
If you’re patient, Outer Wilds is also coming to the Switch later this year. If you are playing on PC, make sure you have a controller connected, it is the superior experience.
So, at this point I’m assuming you’re still here and you want to know more. So… This is quite the game. I can’t really do it justice with a simple explanation. I already wrote a bit about the game before. Now, if you don’t want to be spoiled, just skip to the second item on this list! This is your last warning.
Here’s something you probably didn’t know: Outer Wilds gave me an existential crisis, and allowed me to come to terms with the fact that sometimes, things just end. In one of my previous posts, I wrote about the fact that I was forced to break up with my partner this year, after being together with her for almost 12 years. This game really helped me accept that in my personal life, a journey with an ex-partner had come to an end, and that sometimes things just end.
So. You’re a Hearthian, an alien. You wake up at a campfire on Timber Hearth, your home planet. You’re a space cadet and it’s the first time you’re going to explore space. Actually, today is launch day! You’ll be taking off in your shuttle, soon. After checking out the local museum and getting the launch codes, you set out to explore the solar system. Here’s where we begin.
Exactly twenty-two minutes later, something bad happens: the sun goes supernova, destroying the solar system you’re in.
You’re done for — or so it seems. A few moments later, you wake up again. Wait, what? Hold on, you remember doing this before! You can remember the launch codes, and the sun going supernova?!
Is this… the same as before? Not quite, your remember what happened, and you have the launch codes. This time, you can leave right away. Turns out, the solar system ends… every 22 minutes. Then, it’s almost like time rewinds and you’re back the campfire again. Now THAT is intriguing. It’s up to you to figure out what is going on in this space exploration time loop.
From a practical point of view, Outer Wilds has it all: a mysterious story, space exploration, the feeling of discovery, and just generally a ton of fun gameplay and puzzles.
You’ll end up exploring various planets, you’ll discover the mystery behind the time loop, the end of the solar system, what happened to the Nomai (other space-farers who now seem extinct?), and you’ll discover what’s up with the strange moon in the sky, among other things.
Due to the nature of the game and the main gameplay look including a lot of space flight (and piloting a shuttle) it is recommended to play the game with a controller. I played on PC, which is definitely the best version of the game, with it running at an unlocked framerate.
I also really loved the soundtrack, which was created by Andrew Prahlow. I especially love how the Travelers theme works in-game, which kind of acts like a leitmotif throughout the entire experience.
The game also got an expansion this year, Echoes of the Eye, and I am happy to tell you that after finishing it, I can say it was also excellent! I would recommend starting the expansion only after you have finished the game at least once, since there are some benefits to doing so.
If you’ve played the game befcore, I also wholeheartedly recommend watching this documentary. It’s an interesting breakdown of how the game came to exist in its current form.
Due to life circumstances and the existential crisis it is capable of inducing, this is the best game I played this year. It was a close call, because number two came really bloody close (excuse the pun). Not only is this game one of those amazing games you’ll have a hard time forgetting, it’s also one of my all-time favorites now.
Played on PS4. Released in 2015.
You can face and overcome difficult odds.
Bloodborne is a quintessential From Software game — that means it’s been made by the same folks who created the very popular series, Dark Souls. For many, Bloodborne is the most daring and interesting game in their repertoire.
As my first Soulsborne game, I was not sure what to expect, other than a difficult game. In case you don’t know what the game is about: it’s a third-person adventure game in which you explore the city of Yharnam.
To be more precise, Bloodborne is a game about a Hunter who travels to the city of Yharnam, looking to learn more about the plague and find a possible cure. To do so, he has to brave the horrors of Yharnam… The hunter will end up hunting beasts as he explores the city, which is a dangerous affair, to say the least.
Soulsborne is a term used to refer to the unique type of game that Dark Souls and Bloodborne belong to. Since the invention of this term, Sekiro was also released and Elden Ring is scheduled for release in February of 2021. Many people also use the word Soulslike to describe games with similar gameplay and/or difficulty. You might find some reviewers commonly say something akin to “X is the Dark Souls of Y”.
After witnessing a disturbing blood transfusion, you — taking on the role of the hunter — are off to explore the city of Yharnam, which is a stunning and haunting Victorian-era inspired city.
While you roam the streets, you’re sure to bump into various madmen in the process… or worse, beasts. It’s up to you to make it through the night of the hunt. Try as you might, it’s very likely your Hunter will die very quickly.
Once your hunter perishes, your character will find themselves in a place called The Hunter’s Dream. This is more or less the safe hub you’ll spend a lot of time in between excursions into the city.
The first time you arrive there, there’s a haunting melody that plays… Have I mentioned that the soundtrack is so very fitting for the different tones the game attempts to set? It was then when I knew that this game was indeed very special.
In January, I wrote about the difficulty of Bloodborne and how it was teaching me to overcome specific challenges. In the post, I recounted my experience playing through the first two hours of the game:
My first two hours of playing the game were a bit like slamming my head repeatedly at a wall: it was quite painful and frustrating. In fact, from what I understand, a good chunk of people who try this game give up within this period of time because the game can be quite hard for those starting out, and the checkpoint system is extremely punishing compared to other modern games.
After pushing through, I found myself finally beating the various bosses. A few surges of adrenaline later, I was able to write the following:
There’s a good chance that the very first boss you encounter is Father Gascoigne (unless you encounter another optional boss first). Gascoigne is considered to be a great “skill check” enemy. Unless you understand how to really play the game, this boss will just absolutely wreck you, impeding any further progress. Beating Gascoigne was my “holy shit” moment, and that’s when the game really clicked with me.
At this point, after a few evenings of playing the game, I’ve beaten a variety of bosses. Each of those fights was quite the rush: after the first few battles, I found out that keeping your cool is something you need to master in order to beat these bosses.
Finding the what each boss is weak to is not the only requirement, you have to stay focused while whittling down the health of these guys. You have to be able to read their moves. With a rush of adrenaline going through your body, this is something you have to master. It’s a part of what makes the game challenging, and rewarding: when you finally beat that boss, it’ll be very rewarding. It is hard, though. You will be retrying boss fights quite a bit as you try to improve each time.
I then concluded that Bloodborne could teach you to deal with the following hard things in life: frustration, anger and stress. I also wrote this:
If I can eventually beat the game, I’m sure this will end up ranked quite high on this year’s games list, as Bloodborne is quite the package (in terms of gameplay, visuals and audio design). It’ll be a challenge, to say the least! Wish me luck.
Two weeks later, I did beat it. Two weeks of non-stop Bloodborne on my mind. A true obsession. It was great to be entranced by game like this again… as this doesn’t happen often. It was a terrific experience overall, with many highs (when I beat bosses) and lows (when I got crushed).
I also completed the expansion — The Old Hunters — and earned all trophies for this game. I had to get some help from a brocolli boi to beat the final boss of the expansion, though, which I found very hard to beat on my own.
At some point in the story, you’ll find that this already quite dark game gets even more twisted, as Lovecraftian abominations start appearing. Just saying that the game is unsettling or creepy does not do it justice. The fact that the game does not make use of jumpscares is also a testament to its quality.
When I was finally done with the single-player content, I went through the extra dungeons and defeated the Queen of Yharnam, earning me the platinum trophy. I got some help from friends going through the different extra dungeons, and beating the bonus bosses.
Completing Bloodborne served as a very nice introduction to what is considered to be one of the most challenging game series in modern video games, so I’m very excited to play the Dark Souls games, as well as Elden Ring next year. (Oh, and Demon’s Souls, too, I suppose.)
After completing the game, I was certain that this was going to be my number one pick of the year. But then, I started playing Outer Wilds, which has left a more lasting impression.
In a way, it’s a shame Bloodborne is a PlayStation exclusive: I hope it eventually receives a PC port or a remake. The only disappointing thing about the game is that it runs at a little below 1080p and at a locked 30 FPS on console, with no choice of a better experience. Since I played on the PS4 Pro, I did have a pretty good experience with no real perceptible issues or slowdown.
This game, though, is actually a masterpiece. If you’ve got a PS4 or PS5 and haven’t played this, I would recommend giving this game a shot. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s also a very rewarding game, and there are ways to make the game easier.
Regardless, it sure was one hell of a trip to Yharnam. In the future, I might want to visit again, this time with a different play style.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward
Played on PC. Released in 2015.
Even after a horrible defeat,
it is possible to regroup and rise again.
I have an interesting relationship with Final Fantasy XIV (henceforth referred to as “FFXIV”). Over the years, I’ve given this multiple tries, which usually ended with me quitting at some point. I played a bunch of the main story last year, but this year it really clicked with me.
Over the last summer, there’s been a lot of people who have been trying out FFXIV, which is (probably) currently the number one most played MMO in the world, now that World of Warcraft seems to be seriously losing players, which seems to be directly linked to all the big problems that seem to be going on at the company that makes the game.
There’s no better indicator of this loss in popularity than by looking at various prominent World of Warcraft players and streamers who are now trying out FFXIV after being dissatisfied with their usual go-to game. It’s quite interesting to see. (All of those folks are really enjoying the game, too! Some have even ditched World of Warcraft entirely.)
Have you heard of the critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV? With an expanded free trial which you can play through the entirety of A Realm Reborn and the award winning Heavensward expansion up to level 60 for free with no restrictions on playtime.
The community around FFXIV also seems to have grown because of the brand new expansion, Endwalker, which is supposed to tie up the main story that’s been going on ever since the game was rebooted a bit less than a decade ago. I look forward to getting there. But… I’m not there yet. This entry is about Heavensward, which is merely the first expansion! (And also, remarkably, free content, if you’re on the free trial.)
I played through the original A Realm Reborn questline in 2019, with me finally beating the main story of A Realm Reborn’s scenario in January of 2020, which meant that the game ended up on the video game list of that year.
As we speak, the game has been dealing with an incredible player growth over the summer. This, in conjunction with the recent release of Endwalker means that it’s very hard to actually get into the game without waiting a few hours due to queue times. Sadly, this seems unlikely to change given the silicon shortage: it’s incredibly difficult for Square Enix to actually get the servers they need now. The game’s director, Naoki Yoshida, actually wrote about the difficulties on the game’s official blog.
However, I never actually got to the good part. FFXIV’s story is usually described as fantastic, except for the initial A Realm Reborn experience, which is the first part of the experience that plays quite like a traditional MMO. It’s a bit grindy, there’s a bunch of fetch quests and the story’s simple. However, it sets up the basis for the rest of the story.
In fact, I originally wrote this in my 2020 game log:
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.
The story of FFXIV is told in the various MSQ (“Main Scenario Quests”) of the base game and various expansions. The expansions were released in 2015, 2017, 2019 and the last one this year. Each of these expansions comes with a substantial amount of new story, content, jobs (classes) and more side-activities to enjoy.
If you’re new to the game today and you purchase the game’s starter edition, you’ll end up with all of the content except for the latest expansion.
After playing the main content of an expansion, there’s usually some post-main scenario quests too, that are introduced some time after the expansion drops. For a complete list of all main story quests, you may consult this wiki page. There’s a lot of content in this game.
The reason I stopped playing in early 2020 was because there was a huge amount of filler quests between the base game and the first expansion that I didn’t want to suffer through. (In retrospect, those quests actually got progressively better, so I should’ve just carried on.)
While the FFXIV team had been streamlining the main story in the preceding months, in August of last year the most substantial changes yet were finally introduced:
[…] a lot of the filler quests have been streamlined. You’ll spend less time running around, looking for and delivering random items to NPCs, and more time on actually absorbing the story beats. The beginning of any MMO is always a drag, but the ARR (“A Realm Reborn”, the base game) rework definitely makes the experience more palatable.
Not only have some filler quests been cut, but existing key MSQ has been streamlined as well.
In fact, level 1-50 is actually a long, long tutorial. As long as you look at the game like this, you’re in the right mindset. Yes, it’s a big time investment, but there’s no better time to start playing; with more people playing than ever, it’s actually a pretty good experience.
The content that takes place between the base game’s ending and the first expansion’s start culminates in a two-part arc (“Before the Fall”) that ends directly where Heavensward picks up. It’s easily the most interesting part of the game up until then (narratively), and it seamlessly introduces you to the first expansion.
Right before midsummer, I played through the remaining content of A Realm Reborn. Then, after a tough period and a couple weeks of emotional turbulence, I had the chance — and lots of free time — to finally play the first expansion for this game, Heavensward.
To say I was looking forward to this is quite the understatement! This was to be my comfort blanket, my video game escape from the sudden sadness of real life.
To preserve the dawn’s light, the Heroes journeyed north
Their hearts filled with hope and eyes fixed Heavensward Seen when starting Heavensward
After the main storyline of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the outcast heroes of the story journey north, to Ishgard, hoping that they can regroup and find purpose again.
At that point in the story, your character and some companions have to redeem themselves and, of course, fight a new threat! It’s a new city, with new people, and all sorts of things to do.
So far, I’ve completed all of Heavensward’s main content, and a good chunk of the extra patch content leading into the second expansion, Stormblood. I’ll have more to report on this next year, no doubt — when I can finally play again.
I’ve put a lot of time into Final Fantasy XIV this year. It is absolutely my comfortable post-breakup cushion, in a way. For that very reason it is my number 3 pick this year! I look forward to playing more.
The Witcher 3
Played on PC. Released in 2015.
If I’m to choose between one evil and another,
I’d rather not choose at all.
After having completed the two preceding entries in the series, it was a delight to finally get to playing The Witcher 3. I reported in my 2020 game list that I was enjoying the game, and I was able to roughly complete the base game by the end of last year.
The Witcher 3 starts with a dream: Geralt is at the Witcher’s castle, Kaer Morhen. However, he’s there with Yennefer and Ciri, who seems to be in trouble. As the dream continues, he finds that the Wild Hunt pursuing Ciri!
Spurred on by this dream, Geralt is eager to confirm that his adoptive daughter is safe, but he must first locate Yennefer, who might be able to help.
That’s how The Witcher 3 begins — with a dream and a call to action. The main plot of The Witcher 3 ends up being a search for Ciri, and you (playing as Geralt) following in her footsteps as you attempt to track her down.
This journey brings you to places all over the continent. The Witcher 3 comes with an absolute behemoth of a map that you can explore. You even visit various other locales throughout the game, including the Skellige Islands, Kaer Morhen, and more.
I found the experience of going through the base game quite fun! I knew ahead of time that many were very happy about the side quests in this game, and I understand now why. The side quests don’t really feel like filler content at all, which is great.
In the end though, I felt that the game lacked a bit of polish — I understand that there are mods to solve this, and that there is an enhanced release coming in 2022, so I’m curious to see what has been changed. For a 2015 game though, I can see why this won so many rewards.
Perhaps I’ll end up replaying this one again, once the updated version releases? It could be that the game just feels a bit aged (it did release in 2015, after all) but the way I understand it, movement and combat complaints were there at release, so perhaps it’s not just that the game aged poorly.
To be clear, the game is still phenomenal.
After completing the main game, I moved on to the first expansion, and that is when I really felt like the story was done very well. In fact, I prefer the story of Hearts of Stone over the main plot of the game.
It’s a more focused, character-driven experience with plenty of memorable moments. This expansion also introduces one of the best villains I’ve ever gone up against in video games, period.
After completing the first expansion, I took a break to play a different game (Bloodborne) and then I returned with vigor to play the second expansion — which might have been a game in its own right — Blood and Wine, which I loved. This expansion provided a great conclusion to Geralt’s story, while also giving you an epic story set in a beautiful setting and with an enjoyable (partly new) cast.
If Hearts of Stone was a plot-driven expansion, then Blood and Wine is the opposite, in that it introduces a big chunk of non-linear content to the player, with a whole area to explore — which is absolutely stunning. The new area, Toussaint, feels like a sunlit, midsummer, Witcher version of medieval France, which was a delight to experience.
Overall, I really enjoyed all of The Witcher 3, regardless of how old the game is. My expectations were perhaps a bit too high due to having this game on the backlog for a such a long time, but at the same time I’m happy the game didn’t disappoint.
I also completed…
Persona 5 Strikers
Played on PS4 Pro. Released in 2021.
I’m going to be honest, I’m reaching a bit here — I did not love Persona 5 Strikers the way I loved the rest of the Persona games. That’s why it only gets a simple mention here. The reason I didn’t like the game might have to do with the difficult circumstances I was dealing with at the time, but I’m also not the greatest fan of the hack-and-slash gameplay loop of the Musou (“Warriors”) games. Perhaps I’ll revisit this one at some point, and enjoy it more.
Apex Legends: Legacy
Played on PC. Season took place in 2021.
The Legacy season of Apex Legends was a highlight for me as a fan of Titanfall 2. It introduced Valkyrie, a new character who is the daughter of one of the Apex Predators, Viper, whom you are forced to take out in Titanfall 2’s campaign.
This season then deals with the legacy that Viper left behind, and how his daughter has dealt with his death. Not only was this great fun for the lore nerd in me, but also from a gameplay perspective: Valkyrie is a lot of fun to play, so I played her a ton when her character was first introduced to the game.
I played quite a lot of Apex before diving back into Final Fantasy, so this was very much a game I played a lot of in the early months of 2021.
Played on Nintendo Switch. Released in 2020.
Coffee Talk is a short game, and quite like VA-11 HALL-A, which I loved a couple of years ago. Quite like the cyberpunk bartender game, this is a heavily story-focused game, with nice music and bartending action in the background.
Short and sweet, and good fun. (Unless you like your coffee bitter? The game’s name is Coffee Talk, after all.)
Ring Fit Adventure
Played on Nintendo Switch. Released in 2019.
After plenty of workouts, I finally completed the “main story” of Ring Fit Adventure. It’s a great way to get and stay in shape: I can attest to that. Or at the very least, it’s a good way to get you into workouts.
It helped me get more into exercise than anything else, so I consider that an excellent achievement. This game helped me get into the rhythm of working out a little every day.
Next year has a large selection of games that I’m very excited about. Oh, by the way: I was able to get my hands on a PS5 this year!
With it in my possession, I think it’s going to be great to play a variety of upcoming games, including Elden Ring and Horizon Forbidden West. (If all goes well, God of War Ragnarök is also releasing next year, right? What a stacked year for PlayStation Studios.)
I’ve also got a few items on my backlog that I look forward to playing, namely Ace Attorney Chronicles, which I didn’t feel like playing when it released (break-ups suck, okay?). As usual, I also missed out on a couple of games this year: like Demon’s Souls or the Ghost of Tsushima DLC, both of which I had planned to play but I ended up having little time to actually dive in.
There’s also a few retro games on the bucket list, including Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, which I have been looking forward to playing for some time now. I feel like next year’s the year I will play it. (I got a new retro handheld that I want to blog about as well, so stay tuned for that.)
And of course, I plan on getting to the story content of Final Fantasy XIV’s Endwalker, the latest expansion that supposedly wraps up a decade of storytelling in the world’s best MMO.
I’m about to get into Stormblood (the second expansion), so I’m exactly two expansions behind. It’s going to take a while… especially now that it’s hard to even get into the game!