Back in late 2019/early 2020, I set out to finish a handful of games I’d missed that year. The goal was to play a few games I’d heard really great things about on podcasts, forums, and websites before finalizing my top 10 list. The result was a massive disruption to my original top 10, and a final list I was pretty content with. I’d played and finished the majority of the games that mattered to me, and the list felt like it reflected my complete opinion of the year.
2020 hasn’t been like that. Despite playing more games, I didn’t always play games released in 2020. Others, like Doom Eternal, took up a lot of my time but didn’t end up being top 10 material.
Then there are the games I’d heard so much about, but for whatever reason (even with many of them being on Playstation Plus or Xbox Game Pass), I didn’t even take the time to try out. These are games destined for the backlog, but I’m hopeful I’ll get to some of them soon.
Lastly, there are the games I played but didn’t finish. I don’t feel comfortable putting games in my top 10 list if I have not played them thoroughly. A bad ending can sour an experience after all. That said, these games had the potential to cause the most disruption to my top 10 list. A few of them may have even taken the top spot.
This is all to say that the following list of games feels necessary to inform what my final top 10 list is. I don’t want to take anything away from my real top 10, but I do want people to understand where I’m coming from. Consider these notable releases, honorable mentions, and in some cases, missed opportunities in what could have been a very different GOTY list.
I didn’t play Bugsnax at all, but this PS5 launch freebie got a lot of attention for its silly concept and trailer song. Even if I never play it, I won’t forget this video of Jeff Bakalar’s son reacting to the trailer. That said, I think I will end up playing this game soon, because I am really curious about the ending that so many podcast hosts have hinted at. There’s more to Bugsnax than a cutesy adventure, and I am really curious.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
I really enjoyed Ori and the Blind Forest. I have a 4K TV with 120hz and HDR. I have Xbox Game Pass, so Ori and the Will of the Wisps is basically free for me. So I’m really not sure why I haven’t even loaded up this sequel, if only to see how beautiful it is. Regardless, I’ve heard a lot of good things about how this second game builds on its predecessor and takes inspiration from the excellent Hollow Knight. I really need to give this one a shot in 2021.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
This one has jumped onto my radar more recently, but it highlights a more egregious gap in my gaming knowledge. Not only have I not played 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, but I’ve never even played a Vanillaware game. Muramasa, Odin Sphere, and Dragon’s Crown are all members of the backlog club, and 13 Sentinels has put in for a membership. This is a gap I should really try to fix this year.
Of all the games I didn’t play at all, this one hurts the most. I’ve heard so many good things about Spiritfarer. I really liked Thunder Lotus’s last game, Sundered. I feel like when I finally get around to this one, I’m going to feel shitty about all the time I put into Animal Crossing instead of this. Everything I’ve heard makes it sound like it would have been an easy entry in my top 10.
Deadly Premonition 2
Now we are getting into the games I actually played a bit of. I stopped playing Deadly Premonition 2 because it was (and still is) a technical disaster on Switch. It was such a horrendously ugly game to look at—with a standard frame rate in the teens—that I decided to wait for patches that may never come. That said, it is a sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, and while the jury is out on whether it is actually any good, there’s a chance this would have cracked my top 10.
I played the original Demon’s Souls a few years ago. Just enough time to get some distance from it while appreciating what Bluepoint has done with this total remaster. I only ended up playing through the first section of the game (what people generally refer to as 1-1), but it looked and played like a dream. This game is an incredible showcase for the PS5’s fast loading and graphics horsepower, while also giving new life to a classic, but lesser known, entry in From Software’s Soulsborne collection of games. The reality for me was that it was a remake that came out at the tail end of the year, and so I prioritized completely new games for my top 10. Regardless, I’m really excited to get back to this game soon.
Nioh 2 came out at the height of the pandemic response in my area. This was when the idea of lockdown was at its peak, with many folks stuck at home, not working, and bored. I had already bailed my office and started working remotely, but I can’t deny the tinge of jealousy I had for those who could collect unemployment and enjoy a staycation. That included my wife, who ended up playing a ton of Nioh 2 while I was working in another room. Her getting so far ahead, combined with me never finishing the first game, killed my energy to dive into this superior sequel. What I played seemed great though, and I intend to revisit it when the PS5 upgrade is released.
Kentucky Route Zero
I played the first episode of this when the TV Edition was released. I’ve heard nothing but good things and I enjoyed my time with that first episode. It felt like I read the prologue chapter of a book, loved it, and then threw it into a giant pile of other books where it got lost. I don’t know what compelled me to fall off of it, but this is another entry in the shame pile I hope to revisit soon.
So many people have Hades in their top 10 lists for 2020 that it feels like my credibility is on the line if I can’t properly explain myself here. My time with Hades has been defined by fits and starts. I originally bought it on Switch and found the soft visuals and spotty performance lacking. I pushed through enough to make some decent progress, but ultimately decided to pick up the PC version and see how that fared. After a couple of runs on PC it was obvious to me that the Switch is a pretty bad place to play Hades. It’s a shame, but the handheld really hampers the experience of this fast-paced action game.
Then Supergiant announced that cross-save was coming, which turned into me waiting months to transfer my Switch save. When it finally launched, technical issues almost caused me to lose my Switch progress anyway. And now that I’m finally settled with the PC version, on my Switch save, I feel like I’ve had one too many false starts with a game everyone loves. I see the appeal, and I am amazed by how much my character builds in each run feel unique and special, but I’ll need to give it a fresh shot in 2021.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
The real reason I am writing this article is so that I can explain to you that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla may have been my 2020 game of the year. I am 100 hours into it with no ending in sight, and I’m still in love with it. I don’t think Valhalla is too long, as many have indicated, but it is too long for me to finish before committing to a top 10 list. After all, tomorrow is the start of February 2021. Most people are well and done with their GOTY discussions.
I have played every Assassin’s Creed game, and consider myself a long-time fan of this messy series. That said, I fell off of the last game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, about halfway through. I always intended to go back to it, but put it off until Valhalla’s release, which meant plowing through the rest of Odyssey and its DLC expansions to get caught up.
What followed was a month-long slog to push my way through the rest of Odyssey. There are a few big story beats that I was glad to see before starting Valhalla, and the protagonist Kassandra had her appeal as a Wonder Woman-esque superhero, but ultimately AC:O felt like hours and hours of busywork. By the time I finished it, the idea of jumping right back into another one of these felt exhausting.
And that is ultimately a big reason why I love Valhalla so much. The cards were stacked against it. I was completely burned out on Odyssey’s open world loop of infinitely nested sidequests and storytelling that never had much weight outside of big moments. I was in no mood to have another Ubisoft game waste my time. Little did I know that the feeling of weightlessness and wasted time was the biggest issue Valhalla would address.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the first game in this more recent trilogy to fulfill the promise of a big RPG inspired by The Witcher 3, Dragon Age, Skyrim, etc. The main character, Eivor, is more my speed. She is not as charismatic as Kassandra, but she has her own poetic, dorky charm. She is more of a Bayek (Origins’ protagonist) than a Kassandra or Ezio, and if those names mean anything to you then you probably know what that means. She isn’t larger than life, but she’s still a lovable character with a good heart.
Eivor’s journey to build alliances and expand her clan’s influence across England is full of smaller stories that feel impactful. Each alliance usually comes with a quest to help place a new lord in power, fish out a spy, or make decisions that will influence a coming battle. These episodes within the larger game introduce a cast of characters that stick with you and return in later chapters, allowing for interpersonal drama and bigger consequences.
Prior to this most recent trilogy of AC games, a typical entry in the series was only 15-30 hours long and focused on telling one good story. Origins and Odyssey, on the other hand, could take over 100 hours to finish, with a lot of that time spent helping out random people with fetch quests and never talking to them again. For me, Bayek’s charm in Origins kept that loop interesting, but a second round of that format in Odyssey was too much. Valhalla strikes a perfect balance, maintaining the massive scope of the newer games without sacrificing the weight of the storytelling. In many ways, Valhalla feels like a return to form for long-time AC fans.
There is so much to speak about with this game, and I hope to do so with a larger review when I finally finish it. But for now, it is stuck in a bit of a weird limbo. I can’t truly say where it lands in my top 10 without ensuring that it sticks the landing, and if I called it my GOTY now, I’d feel awful if I ended up disliking the rest of the game.
And so, with that said, there it is. With all my excuses out of the way, I hope to get my top 10 up on the blog as soon as possible. Stay tuned!