This year I made some very good life changes, and as such I didn’t play as much as I would have wanted to. I did manage to cobble together a list though. Enjoy!
10) The Outer Wilds
This game gets the award for game I wish I could play more of except for the motion sickness. The breadcrumb trail approach to exploration is great, and I like the navigation although it can get pretty fiddly. If I was able to play more I’m sure this would be higher up, but as it is I’m just glad it exists.
Game Most Likely to Make Me Lose My Lunch
9) Ape Out
Jazz is cool and so is playing as a gorilla going on a rampage in a laboratory. Ape Out lets me enjoy both! This game is absolutely frenetic and its energy is infectious. The gameplay is a bit one note but it’s a good time if you can keep up.
Best Use Of Lab Employees: Throwing them into other lab employees
8) Later Alligator
Later Alligator is extremely charming and uses every moment to express it. The animation is fantastic, and the music is a perfect approximation of what anthropomorphic alligators would seem listenable. Coupled with some light but fun gameplay, and Later Alligator makes for a really enjoyable experience.
Best Location: Alligator arcade in Alligator New York
7) Yakuza Remastered Collection
As of this writing, Yakuza 3 and 4 have been rereleased in this package which is a steal if you like kicking ass in Japan. Yakuza 4 stands out since it lets you play as three interesting characters alongside Kiryu. These games aren’t my favourite in the series but it’s fun to see where the series came from.
Yakuza 3, unfortunately, is tough to play since most of the boss characters are extreme damage sponges. Worse still, the story spends a considerable amount of time on a group of plucky orphans who Kiryu has taken in. An inordinate amount of time is spent on these little rascals that undercuts the crime story that acts as the main plot. Three games for the price of one still makes this a great way to catch up on the Yakuza story, however.
Best Fight Arena: A bull fighting ring in Okinawa
I devoured the Advance Wars games as a kid and Wargroove delivers on its promise as a spiritual successor. The gameplay is really tight, and the hero system that Chucklefish implemented works really well without being too broken. Apart from some questionable casting for its voice acting, Wargroove is easy to recommend for anyone who wants to experience some modernized tactical gameplay.
Fantasy Creatures I’m Always Down For: Plant people
5) Civilization VI: Gathering Storm
One of the smartest things about Civ VI is the ways that it allows players to interact with the world. Gathering Storm doubles down on that premise by introducing climate effects to great success and being able to fight climate change through smart policy decisions is surprisingly empowering. With some great civilizations being added (the Maori and Ottomans are a blast), Gathering Storm is a solid expansion.
Overly Quoted Award: Winston Churchill
Worst Quote: Some shit Ayn Rand said about ballet
4) Monster Hunter World: Iceborne
In the lead up to Iceborne, I read tons of veterans of the series listing the monsters that they would like to see return. I thought it would be more of the same, so I was pleasantly surprised to get dunked on by sleek panther-bats and electric wolves. These monsters do not fuck around and it was fun to enter that survival of the fittest gameplay loop that Monster Hunter excels at.
Capcom should also be applauded for the tons of free content that it’s included post release. New monsters and events appear pretty frequently, and they’re doing a much better job of being receptive to fan’s criticisms. I fell off of Iceborne sooner than vanilla Monster Hunter World because I’d grown tired of the grind it required. With 700+ hours in this game, though, I’m happy with the time I spent destroying fools with a giant hammer.
Favourite new monsters: Glavenus, Zinogre, Nargacuga
Best variant monsters: Ebony Odagaron, Blackveil Vaal Hazak
Monsters that can go fuck themselves: Barioth, Rajang
3) Risk of Rain 2
Risk of Rain 2 is a power fantasy simulator; it’s the best Dragon Ball Z game to come out this year. This is a game that expects you to break it and throws your bullshit back at you. You can go from plinking away at a golem with your two measly pistols to summoning lightning strikes with a look. There are always going to be unlucky runs but the game encourages you to keep going with enticing and fun loot.
It also can’t be understated how successful Hopoo Game has been at retaining the hectic gameplay of the first game into a 3D environment. I was immediately struck by how familiar the game felt despite it having a foot firmly in the 3D space. Returning characters feel fantastic to play, and new characters take full advantage of Risk of Rain 2’s new dimensions. On top of this the devs have proven a willingness to listen to community feedback which they should be commended for. Risk of Rain 2 functions amazingly well and I’m excited to see what Hopoo does upon release.
Best Item: Soldier Syringe
Worst Item: Wax Quail
Secret Best Item: Cautious Slug
2) Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro asks a lot from its players. Even for a company who is famous for creating games with unforgiving gameplay, Sekiro stands apart with the narrow path that it demands its players walk. It’s a fundamentally different game than its predecessors even though much of the gameplay can seem familiar to veterans of the Souls series.
Sekiro is razor sharp in all aspects. In a departure from the Souls games, the story centers around an established character; Wolf interesting but doesn’t quite break the mold as a gruff but determined ninja. As the plot progresses, the early modern Japan of Sekiro reveals itself as a rich environment for storytelling. It’s populated by power-hungry samurai, aristocrats and wild apes. Most memorable to me are a sect of Buddhist monks who reject teachings of reincarnation and instead pursue immortality by way of becoming possessed by demonic centipedes. Sekiro’s story explores the familiar theme of the cost of power, but it does so in a subtle way that rewards exploring its world without blindsiding the player with inscrutable characters and item descriptions.
When thinking of Sekiro’s gameplay, I always come back to fighting games. Sekiro is uncompromising as you have very few options compared to other Fromsoft games. Learning to parry was extremely frustrating until the timing clicked. Basic enemies were intimidating until I realized aggression solved most of my problems. This dependency on aggression means that the solution to most fights is self-evident, but it’s in finding the gaps in an enemy’s defenses where I found the combat to be thrilling.
Success in Sekiro left me feeling triumphant. I relished mastering the smallest encounters because I could see how I had improved right away. If Sekiro is what happens when Fromsoft decides to create a more focused game, I hope to see many more games like it.
Best Swerve: Guardian Ape
Best Designed Boss fight: Genichiro
Funnest Ninja Tool: Mist Raven
Best Area: Bodhisattva Valley
1) Disco Elysium
There is so much that Disco Elysium does right that it’s hard to choose where to start talking about it. It’s a CRPG that simplifies its gameplay to a degree that makes it extremely accessible. It’s a game that proudly displays its roots in tabletop and computer RPG’s while retaining its own identity. It’s unapologetically political when some of the most famous writers in the industry insist there’s no room for politics in the medium. It’s impossible to say this without sounding hyperbolic, but Disco Elysium marks a sea change in the RPG space.
The main character of Disco Elysium, an alcoholic amnesiac cop, is a broken man. You start the game waking up from an apocalyptic bender. You stumble from your hotel room, meet your new partner Kim Kitsuragi, and begin solving the case of a man’s hanging by the local union. Kim serves as your anchor to reality, and quickly becomes a confidant who you grow to depend on when you have questions about the nature of reality. Kim is also a wonderfully fleshed out, if understated character in his own right. But he’s not the only companion you take along.
Another fantastic part of Disco Elysium is how the main character’s psyche effectively act as your party members while you solve your case. These stats cover everything from your sense of professionalism, your hand-eye coordination or how much pain you can take. Empathy helps you understand others, while Drama will detect when someone is lying to you. My favourite “companion” was Inland Empire, which is the stand-in for your characters imagination and ability to ignore reality. Each aspect of your psyche is written with its own voice, and after I moved on to other RPG’s, the absence of these voices left me feeling lonely.
What makes Disco Elysium so remarkable is that its innovations don’t feel remarkable at all. Many games in the RPG space have sharp writing, but what separates Disco Elysium from other games is the staggering amount of factors and interactions that the writing accounts for. There is a thoroughness and thoughtfulness in the implementation of the dialogue system that just doesn’t exist in other RPGs. That’s not to say everything is accounted for, but more often than not when I followed a hunch I was rewarded with more information.
The most important part of Disco Elysium is how completely it embraces politics and ideology in its story. You shape the main character’s outlook as you help him relearn the facts of life. This includes political views, of which you’ll see a whole spectrum as the game progresses. Your character can insist he’s a communist cop, an experimental hybrid of pig and comrade. You can play the role of an above-it-all centrist or a free market prophet who’s doomed to hustle forever. You can also play as a fascist and racist.
When games take on politics, they live or die based on how they handle the worst ideas that humanity has to offer. While Disco Elysium is not a bigot simulator, it allows you to ‘go there’ to a far greater degree than any other game that I’ve played. Disco Elysium takes place in the aftermath of a failed communist revolution, and so it should come as no surprise that the society depicted is a politically charged one. When picking racist dialogue choices your main character, who is coded in universe as a white man, faces little material consequences. Kim becomes angry with your racist remarks, but he is never shocked. The game makes clear that your status as a white man, and a cop at that, means that most of the time, the damage you take as a character will be self-inflicted.
I see Disco Elysium as an answer to what Mass Effect promised at the beginning of the decade. You are not a Commander Shepard, saving the universe and making galactic level political decisions. You are a broken man whose ability to shape his world is limited. My initial playthrough of the game ended up being about what it takes for someone to heal. I’ll be forever thankful to Disco Elysium for that allowing me that experience.
Best Partner: Kim
Best Sidequest: Helping Soona register the pillar of silence
Best Copotype: Art Cop