Early Access saw a difficult road, but now we’re about to get into the really cool stuff – the Honorable Mentions. These are all games that, while didn’t quite get into my Top 10 this year, are all great in their own way and well worth the look. Unlike 2019 in which some of my picks were games that had some serious flaws (cough, Outer Worlds and Greedfall, cough), these are all pretty solid. I will be talking about them in greater depth of course, so watch this space!
I only have so much room, so I will be limiting the number of Honorable Mentions this year to six games maximum. With the sheer number of games I’ve looked at this year, this has to be done.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Let’s kick things off with a game genre I don’t usually play. If there’s any game that benefited from this year’s devastating pandemic, it is Animal Crossing. It was so well timed that I wonder if Nintendo secretly created it…anyhow…Animal Crossing has taken the world by storm. Even I got to play quite a lot of it. If you told me in January I would have put in over 50 hours in this game, I would have laughed at you. Well, who’s laughing now? I know, it’s rookie numbers for a game like this, with people having hundreds if not thousands of hours in,
Animal Crossing is a really strange game, but it’s one where I understand the vast hype behind it. It’s been in the making for years, and the launch was massive on a scale unlike I’ve rarely seen. This game’s fanbase is colossal, and I can see why in a way. The game is 100% chill, even if the design of it revolves around owing a money to a greedy as shit raccoon. The game revolves around debt, but in a way in which there is no pressure or time constraints. If only that was true in reality, huh?
You create your house, invite villagers to join your growing community, unlocking new shops and stuff as things go on. Eventually, you’ll unlock terraforming, which is where the game really took off for me. My island still looks like a giant fucking potato, but at least I can pretty it up. There are fossils to collect in the new museum (one of my favourite parts of the game, and travelling in the museum is quite gorgeous at times), and real time events all year. There’s even a turnip market, which has become a vast industry in the scene for making a ton of money. Buy turnips cheap, and hope to god your turnip prices are good to sell them off before they become rotten and useless. Or fly to someone elses island to sell them for good profit! I’ve seen people sell this for insane money in communities, and don’t get me started on rare villagers. People are weird.
While I considered ranking Animal Crossing higher, I have a few issues with this game, which is why it’s not on my Top 10. For one, some of its systems feel slow for no reason apart from “quirky factors.” Allow me to craft multiple items, please! The constant repetitive dialogue, while charming at first, grinds on me too, and this really ramped up to gear fuck during the Easter event, with that damn bunny…I stopped the Easter event out of sheer frustration with how god-damn awful the dialogue was. One island per console is also a bit of a dick move, though I get they wanted to stop scumming/’cheating’. It’s a single-player game mostly, and the multiplayer options while fun and charming are deeply flawed, not helped by Nintendo’s piss poor online functionality in comparison with other publishers. Sigh…
I shouldn’t have to sit there twiddling my thumbs unable to move while the game goes through a slow as molasses cutscene for my friend to show up on my island, and this repeats every single time. The villagers, while adorable and quirky, their dialogue too gets repetitive after a while, and their personalities are a little thin. They are cute though, and I felt myself wanting to please them. Damn it, game! Not being able to skip any dialogue either is frustrating.
It seems in comparison to previous AC games, especially New Leaf, New Horizons is a bit barren on this regard, and I still can’t understand why Nintendo refuses to add any QOL patches to the game. I get that the game is meant to be slow paced, but that is no excuse for some of the game’s issues. At the same time, I see people complaining they run out of content while sitting on over 500 hours…which is just silly. Sure, it’s barren of features and it could do with more things to do, but that kind of complaint with that much playtime feels strange.
All it needs is a few improvements like that. Despite all my issues with New Horizons, I would never have played 50 hours if I didn’t like it. It’s addictive, and it’s interesting how such a mundane game at times grabbed me, making me want to play more. During the first few months I played it every day, and while I don’t play it much these days, I’ll always return to it. It takes a lot to do that. It just needs these things fixed, or at the very least improved for me to really love it, but they seem resistant to it. Eh.
It feels a little like Pokemon Sword and Shield, and boy I know that’s a controversial comment to make. I enjoy the game, but New Horizons could be so much better….*collapses under horde of AC fans*.
Still, it’s my first Animal Crossing game and I liked it. I’ll keep playing it too. That’s why it’s on my list.
Final Score: 8/10
This game was difficult to place. In some regards, the game is of a quality where I feel it belonged in my Top 10. On the other hand, parts were so frustrating that it nearly ended up in my ‘Dropped the Ball’ shit list. At the end of the day however, I decided to place Wasteland 3 in this spot.
Boy, did inXile Entertainment have high hopes for this. £55?!! That is an insane price tag, and it got a lot of criticism for it. Any studio, even AAA needs to justify having that price, and for a small studio like these guys, who have a lot to prove after a few struggling launches in Wasteland 2 and the really rough Bards Tale IV, £55 was a lot to ask for. There was a silver lining this time, with Wasteland 3 being part of Microsoft’s good-value Xbox Game Pass, so for a few quid you could pick it up and play easily. That’s what I did.
Fortunately, Wasteland 3 is by far the best game inXile have put out in a long time, and the quality in some regards shines. A vast Fallout-esque setting where you get the freedom to do anything you want, coupled with strong writing and really good voice acting, Wasteland 3 is quite the impressive experience. It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a solid RPG, and Wasteland 3 ticks quite a few boxes. With your team of Rangers destroyed during an ambush by the psychotic Dorseys, you’re recruited by the Patriarch of Colarado, in which you need to try and bring his three children to heel. Set in a post apocalyptic Arizona, the game world is really quite impressive, and the game is not only chunky, but completely open. There’s a lot of side quests, but you don’t need to do them. If you want, you can complete the main game in around 25-30 hours, but it can easily stretch to 50+ if you wanted. There needs to be more games like that.
Combat is done in turn-based mode, and it’s quite meaty with a lot of customization and options for your squad, in which you get many ways to flesh out. The writing in the game is surprisingly good, with full voice acting to boot. The factions are quite wacky and there is some issues with ‘one dimension syndrome’, but they were memorable enough for me to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the biggest issue with this game for me was the bugs. I’ve rarely played a buggier game, and this is coming from the guy who plays a ton of early access titles, Kingdom Come Deliverance at launch and fucking Skyrim. Man…the bugs were rough to get through, and if you wanted to play co-op at launch? Good luck with the breaking quests and crashes. The combat is quite slow, with some encounters taking nearly 30-40 mins. Imagine my anger at the end of these difficult segments when the game freezes…sigh. Patches have fixed a lot of the problems, but the trick here guys is to ensure you have a good launch, not a bad one. People get frustrated with all these games releasing in such a buggy state, having to wait a while for things to get fixed, and with a big RPG like this when such a broken quest can doom tens of hours of progress? It’s a real problem.
Things like that, as well as little stuff like subpar music, muddy visuals and a frustrating UI is what keeps Wasteland 3 off my Top 10. I did wonder whether to include it, because I’ve had buggier games in my list before, but it was just a bit much. Still, keep an eye on it. I’m recommending it because I’ve enjoyed my playthrough of it a lot so far.
Final score: 8/10
Spellforce 3: Fallen God
Remember what I said about not including games I had a part in my Top 10? Yep.
This is the one. Unlike Soul Harvest, in which my involvement was behind the scenes testing, dialogue fixing and a couple of in-game books and documents, I had a lot more involvement with Spellforce 3 Fallen God. Hundreds of descriptions for in-game items and weapons, worldbuilding inspections, books and letters were written by me this time, as well as some role in the narrative and character designs. It’s a lot harder to remain neutral about Fallen God, but I will try. First off, a big kudos to my fellow people at Grimlore Games for this release, because they’ve come up with an even stronger game than Soul Harvest.
Trolls are very rarely covered in video games, and they haven’t been seen much in Spellforce since the olden days which is why we went with the Trolls. Taking the reins of the Moonkin tribe, a clan of trolls fading due to after-effects of a devastating plague, enslaved by resurgent orcs and hunted by elven tusk hunters, they are on the brink of destruction when a mysterious stranger offers a chance of survival – reviving a fallen god.
This doesn’t take anything away from how I personally find the game though. I go into everything separated on how I view the game, and it’s how I treated this game as well. What I will say is it would have been in my Top 10 otherwise. No questions asked. It’s better than previous Spellforce iterations.
It’s also very reasonably priced at £19.99/$25, with a discount to anyone who owns Spellforce 3. For a game with a main quest that’s around 20 hours, with total gameplay totaling at least 30 (I cracked 25 hours each in two different playthroughs while testing), I was very impressed with its value. As someone who hates spending money on anything, that’s testament. We intended on a shorter game than Soul Harvest this year, but ended up with something around the same length. Weird how life happens, doesn’t it?
The characters nailed it for me in a way which previous Spellforce games didn’t. The trolls were all fleshed out and well written, and a huge achievement to the fellow writing team (I didn’t do anything with the troll dialogue, so this isn’t biased!) The crafting system is also clever, and the troll faction itself is fun to play.
My only real gripe with Fallen God as a gamer is I wish there was more enemy diversity, with bugs and spider mobs occurring a little too much for my liking. There’s also a few bugs and glitches, but I imagine they will get fixed.
It really was an honor to work on Fallen God, and I think fans of the RPG genre will really like this one. As of writing this, it’s sitting on 96% positive reviews on Steam, so we’ve done something right!
Final Score: 8.5/10
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
I’ve never been one for multiplayer games, let alone stuff like this. A few games, usually by small studios, have really taken the gaming world by storm this year, such as Among Us, Phasmophobia and this one, Fall Guys. I played the open beta of this game before launch and I had a lot of fun with it. Think Takeshi’s Castle for its madness.
In a Battle Royale style party game, you and up to fifty nine others must fight in a swathe of obstacle courses to become the winner. The physics engine is what makes this game tick because you bounce and fall around like a guy with an inner ear infection. I get to make that joke because I had an infection last year. It was fun. Not.
It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s nice just to log in for half an hour or so and see how we go. I’ve never won a Fall Guys event, but other people I know have. *Glares at a certain someone with his 30 odd wins* It’s entertaining to go into the different party games. Some are team-based which are frustrating depending on who you get, while many are single-versus races to the depth. There’s a nice amount of variety, though I would love to see more races and courses.
Hacking was a huge issue for this game in the early days, and it took nearly three months for an anti-cheat. This turned a lot of people off it, and I would like to see some kind of discount for the game in the future. 20$ isn’t bad, but you’re going up against the 5$ Among Us and 15$ Phasmophobia as competition, who have both overtaken Fall Guys. It needs more work and more courses, but I’ve enjoyed Fall Guys a lot, and it deserves a mention.
Final Score: 7.5/10
Honestly, I’m insulted I have to put this game here. Because of my rules, only one game in the “Pre-2020 Early Access hitting 1.0” category can make my Top 10 this year, and that game is not Factorio. I wish it could be. You’ll find out what that game is in the coming weeks. I didn’t want to clutter up my list too much, you know my reasons why.
This is nothing on the game, because Factorio is one of the best games I have ever played. Deeply addictive factory management where you can play for thousands of hours, there’s a good reason people refer to this game as: the video game crack. I can certainly see that. Factorio is an absolute delight to play, and I can’t even begin to even review it…
Which is the only reason it is not in my Top 10. I have less than 20 hours playtime in Factorio so far, which for me, is nowhere near enough to even come close to scratching the surface. I’ve played, and I’ve loved it. It’s in an incredibly stable state, with very few bugs. The gameplay is rewarding and enticing. The learning curve is steep, but the beginning is very kind to you. You can customize almost everything you want. It has dedicated mod support. The tutorial campaign is well made, rewritten from the ground up, and I’ve been having a blast learning and failing. The only thing about this game that could be improved is the music, which gets the job done, but that’s about it. I can’t criticize anything else.
In another world and another year, Factorio would have been my Game of the Year, but it’s just not happening. I haven’t played it enough yet. Buy it, please. Try it. An amazing game that’s still being worked on years on, with great developers and incredible value for money? You can’t go wrong. I’ll give this game the review it deserves in the future, that’s a promise.
Ongoing Score: 9.5/10
Another game that launched in 1.0 this year, and this game is a real charmer. There are very few dinosaur management games available on the market, and Jurassic World Evolution was one of the bigger ones. However, that game was a massive disappointment for me. It was by far the most regretful purchase I made in 2018, because Jurassic World was such a half-baked launch, rushed out by Frontier in time for the Fallen Kingdom movie. I’ll quote from a previous review I did about that game here:
“The map sizes are also tiny, making it feel very like the universally panned Simcity 2013. You just can’t do much with what you make. Sure there are five islands to do with some different challenges, but to what extent can you make different parks? There isn’t much you can do. The variety just isn’t there and the main problem is how the game limits you to what you can do to make your park look good. This isn’t helped by a terrible Peep AI. Drive a jeep at them and they just jump aside in this stupid glitch movement that’s worse then Rollercoaster Tycoon World.
You want to see shitty people AI? Look at that abomination of a video game, then cry as you realize Jurassic World Evolution has things worse. At least the peeps in RCTW do something, even when they move like sausage rolls tap-dancing across ice. There is no interaction with the guest. Zip. Nothing. I get the game is geared for the dinosaurs more then the park, but when games from 10-15 years ago do things better then this one, you can tell you’re doing something wrong. Sure there’s dinosaurs and lots of them, but not much point when you’re constrained to such a small map.
I get it was rushed out by Universial Studios pressuring Frontier in time for the new movie, I get that. But come on, the game was barebones on launch, missing features that were advertised in pre-launch trailers! It felt like a slap to the face, particularly when the game was 50-60$ in the first place. Sure it’s been improved significantly since launch, but I’m quite surprised the game has sold so well when it has had so many problems. The extra dinosaur skin DLC doesn’t really help its fundamental flaws, and the complete lack of modding (not really Frontiers fault on this one) does not help it’s case. When my favourite part of the game is driving the little jeep or Gyroball around the tiny park, you’ve done something wrong.”
Yeah….Jurassic World Evolution annoyed me on a level that few games have. In fact, I don’t think I was as disappointed in a game launch since Total War Rome II. To be fair, Jurassic World Evolution has improved things a great deal, and I will give it a chance in the future.
Parkasaurus contains all the charm and love that I feel Evolution lacked. It’s a complete, well made dinosaur zoo builder with some real quality to it. The dinosaurs are cute, with real personalities just like the peep AI, which is far better than most tycoon games I’ve played. There’s a surprising amount of depth in this park builder, and setting up your park while simple has a nice, gentle learning curve. Made by just two people, it’s really the perfect example of giving you some challenge, but never forgets to have fun. That’s something a lot of management games lack. Planet Zoo does things in a bit more depth, a rather well made game from Frontier in what I believe is a welcome return to form for them, but Parkasaurus is a very close second.
If you want to look after little dinosaurs in a highly competent game, Parkasaurus is my first pick. There’s more content coming, and the developers are great at communication. I’m also aware this was more a dig at JWE than a review of Parkasaurus. I will be willing to give Evolution a better chance in the future, especially with its new features and updates. However, I’m happy to say that this game is very enjoyable with a lot of content. The fossil mechanic to find new dinosaurs is solid, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s truly wholesome. The music isn’t bad either.
Final Score: 8.5/10
There were quite a few games that would have gotten a mention here. Teardown and Ruinarch were my two standout Early Access titles to add as an Honorable Mention, which while neither make my Top 10 this year, are both solid games with a ton of potential. It was a really close run thing, particularly Teardown. There were just a couple of games in the early access list I felt did things a little better overall.
Sorry, Sands of Salzaar. You’re almost there, just need a bit more polish. It’s been a strong year by you, though!
Join me next time as I start the Top 10 countdown proper!