Games of 2020 – 10 to 6

We are finally here with our top 10! It’s been a wild ride, 2020, and I can’t fucking wait for it to end. In the meantime, we’ll be going through my Top 10 favourite games that released in 2020. Let us begin with some reminders!

Previous Years

For fun, let’s look back on the other years for my lists. These are not completely in sync with the articles of those years – they are with hindsight.

Top 10 from 2017:

  1. Divinity Original Sin 2
  2. Hat of Time
  3. Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  4. ELEX
  5. Assassins Creed Origins
  6. Total War: Warhammer 2
  7. Hollow Knight
  8. Spellforce 3
  9. West of Loathing
  10. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Top 10 from 2018:

  1. Rimworld
  2. Kingdom Come Deliverance
  3. Hitman 2
  4. Pathfinder: Kingmaker
  5. Kenshi
  6. Subnautica
  7. Two Point Hospital
  8. Red Dead Redemption 2
  9. BATTLETECH
  10. Crosscode

Top 10 from 2019:

  1. Outer Wilds
  2. Pathologic 2
  3. Disco Elysium
  4. Enderal: Forgotten Stories
  5. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
  6. Streets of Rogue
  7. Wildermyth
  8. Lost Ember
  9. Planet Zoo
  10. Outward

RULES

Yep, we’re back to the rules. I’m following a strict guideline because of the sheer number of games I’ve played this year.

1. Candidates have to be released in the year they are made, for any platform. I have to own the game and play it for a decent amount of time to count it.
An easy enough rule. GOTY Games for me are games released that year, rather than games I’ve played. So, stuff like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Death Stranding, while PC releases and good games, cannot be part of my list.
2. Early Access Titles that are launched in 1.0 this year count, but only if they weren’t featured in previous years. Trying to keep this to a minumum for my Top 10!
I will give a little spoiler, there are three high profile games in this category that are in a battle for who gets to be on my Top 10. I wonder if anyone can guess what they are? There will only be one of these in the Top 10 this year, but it is such a strong game I had no choice. This rule is because of 2018, where several older games made the Top 10, with Rimworld winning outright.
3. Remasters or Remakes will be allowed if they add a good amount of new content.
A fair rule, exists to avoid too much clutter.
4. Early Access titles ARE allowed, but only with enough content to support my view. Only three games from these criteria are allowed in Top 10, which will be declared in “Best of Early Access.”
Again to avoid clutter, but this is going to be an extremely difficult discussion, so much so I’ll have at least one article dedicated to it. Indie Early Access has been huge this year, with several excellent titles that could be a challenge for the GOTY.

I will also say this outright, I will not be featuring Baldurs Gate 3. While Larian’s latest title has potential to be a giant killer, and despite me enjoying what I have played, it is just not in the amount of content/polish where I can justify putting more time into it. Perhaps 2021?

While I am allowing 3 titles to be in my Top 10, it’s just a guideline.
5. I need to be fair. You’ll see why. In other words, No games I worked on can be in my Top 10, even if I may think they deserve to be in my Top 10.
Yeah…you’ll hear me gushing to the heavens on media long before I mention the game. A simple rule, just for fairness, really. That was Spellforce 3: Fallen God.
6. No Ports.
Again, this is to avoid clutter. Sorry, Persona 4: Golden ❤

Previous Articles for GOTY 2020

https://thousandscarsblog.wordpress.com/2020/11/27/games-of-2020-best-of-early-access/

https://thousandscarsblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/02/games-of-2020-the-honorable-mentions/

https://thousandscarsblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/08/games-of-2020-dropped-the-ball/

And now, the big reveals. I’ll be showing off the 10-6 rankings for today! Let us begin:

10. Crusader Kings III

Let’s begin with something that did not expect me to like so much, partly because I am iffy about the company as a whole.

Crusader Kings III surprised me in a way I did not expect, and I have to give Paradox some credit for this one. Again, something I wasn’t expecting to say. This game is good, but let me delve a bit deeper.

I have an odd relationship with Paradox games in general. They make good games, and support them for years, but they do so with a very liberal approach to DLC which makes getting into their games after a few years intimidating. This has been a double edged sword: on one hand you know they will support their games for a long time, the bad news is you often have to spend a ton of money to pick up the “optimal” version of the game. This is frustrating, and it leads to quite a few developmental problems. Stellaris still struggles with this, and Battletech is, well, Battletech. A lot of underlying problems don’t get fixed.

Crusader Kings III is something I had my eye on ever since it got announced, but I did have my concerns. The last big Paradox game to come out was a god damned mess at launch (Imperator Rome) and it probably pissed off a lot of people. With that in mind, as well as Paradox having their hooker love relationship with add on content, I wanted to wait on Crusader Kings III and see what people thought. Crusader Kings III also launched with quite a high price tag, and with Paradox’s reputation taking somewhat of a hit in recent years, this turned a few people off. What softened the blow was the game being available on the rather nice Xbox Game Pass for the PC (an excellent gaming deal, even if their app is a bit shitty.) It has a relatively small footprint on the harddrive, with system requirements that are fair. So I picked it up and began playing.

I needn’t have worried too much. Paradox likes making complex games with a lot of depth, but there is a sacrifice for that. It usually involves a massive learning curve, and if it takes too long to get into the game, you’ll turn off a lot of people. They seemed to want a change, and Crusader Kings III does a wonderful job at easing you in gently into its meaty folds. That was a terrible comparison, I apologize.

Crusader Kings III still a deep, complex and complicated game with a steep learning curve, but with much better UI and a tutorial that constantly helps you learn as you play. This is huge, because I found myself getting absorbed by this third edition than any other Paradox management and kingdom builder game. The content is chunky, I care about the characters I make, and it’s just generally good gameplay. Overall, it’s one of the strongest Paradox launch games in years. It feels like a true sequel to Crusader Kings II, and while it could do with some more features, it feels like a much stronger experience for it. They did a true 180 on their previous launch in Imperator, and that’s a great thing. While some features have been streamlined for the sake of bringing people in, they didn’t dumb it down like other game franchises. (Makes a cough that sounds a lot like Skyrim and Todd Howard). It’s still early days for this giant, but I’m quite impressed so far. It’s a much better game than I expected from them, and even though I only own the base game for now, I’m liking it enough to consider the DLC. It still has some way to go, however.

Paradox, you have impressed me so far. Keep it up! (And don’t fuck us with DLC without some good lube, at least.) It’s just a shame you once again fucked us with Empire of Sin…

9. Traveller’s Rest

There are three early access titles on this Top 10 list, and I probably won’t change much for what I have to say. So these are mostly copy/pastes from my previous Best of Early Access article for that particular game, with extra notes. At number 9 this year, I place the lovely Traveller’s Rest.

You notice how in RPGs, you always seem to go to taverns? You drink beer, occasionally get into fights with people, piss off the innkeeper, occasionally solicit tavern girls and pick up quests? What if you were the innkeeper? There’s been a serious shortage of these kinds of games, and often they struggle with their design. Crossroads Inn is one of the few examples I can think of, a game that’s had a rocky development to say the least. It’s still interesting, and I’m looking forward to playing that more, but it’s a genre I wish we had more games of.

That’s why I was so interested in Traveller’s Rest. Released in August of this year, Traveller’s Rest is a charming game that reminds me a little of Stardew Valley in its art style and design. You get your tavern from humble beginnings and you need to build up from scratch, making your tavern as comfortable as possible, sell drink and food (which you make yourself) to your guests and rake in a profit. It’s pretty quaint, and surprisingly well polished for a game from a single developer.

There’s a lot of charm in this game as well, with lots of content. You unlock more and more tools and equipment the higher your reputation goes, such as a farm where you can plant crops, and upstairs rooms where you can host guests. The game has a lot of micromanagement especially early game, and you may find yourself overwhelmed at the beginning. This does get easier when you unlock bar staff, who will take care of most of the legwork allowing you to focus on brewing and crafting. With the amount of customization you get to do with your food and drink, there’s an awful lot of experimentation.

Your customers are fickle, and you’ll need to work hard to impress them. Make sure your tavern is clean, as if your little guy don’t like their experience, they will give you a negative feedback, which reduces your reputation score. It’s best not to expand too quickly, a few tables to begin with to seat guests, and order in more stuff as things progress. You get an extensive XP and Tech tree as upgrades which all contribute to your experience, adding more things you can craft or make, improving your abilities as an innkeeper and all sorts.

While this game is addictive, charming and a lot of fun so far, I do have some minor issues. The menu/UI systems are a little clunky, and you’ll need to micro them about by clicking through menus constantly to get where you want to be. That could be improved. Furthermore, NPC interaction leaves a little to be desired, with limited options so far. You do get to unlock more features, but I would like to see an overhaul of their dialog system just to add a little more life.

Despite the few flaws so far, this is a well crafted sim, and one of the strongest in its genre. We’re only a few months into its development, and I’m really excited to see how it progresses. One to look out for, for sure!

It took me some time to decide where to place Traveller’s Rest on the list, and ultimately I decided on replacing Teardown on the Top 10 (Sorry guys, you’re an amazing game too!) However, I decided that 9th place was a good spot. It feels stronger than Crusader Kings III, while not as memorable or interesting as other games higher up the list. It’s a very strong indie title, and if development continues in the way it has into 2021, this could be one hell of a sleeper hit.

8. Paper Beast: Folded Edition

This game proved to be both an acid trip and a really pleasant surprise.

A late addition to the Top 10 list this year, “Happy Clusterfuck” is the best way to describe this game. I still have no idea what’s happening, how to approach the puzzles, and why I’m playing it, but it’s struck me like few other games have. It may be relatively short, but it’s unique, and certainly enough to catch my interest. Right now, it’s only sitting on a handful of reviews on Steam, which is a shame. More people need to try this out, because it’s the right kind of acid trip a gamer should take.

The world explores animalistic behaviors with critters beautifully crafted in an origami style, and you partake on an adventure where you must solve puzzles using the rules of the world. You have a grabber kind of tool where you can seize things, generally the different animals who all have weird traits. Some are predators, some function like dung beetles, some shit out sand as they walk and follow shiny things (so you can manipulate their path as they walk. It’s pretty cool), herbivores that only eat certain plants, strange worms that suck up sand with one end and vomit it out of their asses on the other end. The puzzles are quite elaborate and extensive, and while the adventure mode is pretty linear, there’s a decent amount of content for the price. There are unlockables for the games sandbox mode, which gives you a god’s playground in order to experiment with the many tools or animals. I love stuff like this from my days playing Black and White, Spore and Fable, and this little world gives you room to have some fun.

The physics engine is really pretty quaint. You start off with no fucking idea what’s happening, as you have to run from a sand storm and forced underground. From there, you have to work your way back to the surface, unblocking passages through difficult puzzles…really, I had no idea what was happening at the start. A few times I had to look up video walkthroughs, as some parts of the game are quirky.

Paper Beasts isn’t particularly long: you can go through the seven chapter, twenty-something long campaign in around 10 hours or so. However, it’s one of those journeys that sticks with you. I’ll probably give this the “Lost Ember” slot for this year. The sandbox and god game elements are also fun to mess around with and add some pleasant replayability. I highly recommend giving this game an honest go, as it deserves more recognition, and for that reason, it belongs on my Top 10.

7. Cloudpunk

For those who don’t own Cyberpunk 2077 yet, if you want a cyberpunk setting, Cloudpunk might just surprise you. Oh, and before anyone asks, Cyberpunk 2077 is NOT in my list this year. It got delayed too much, and I finalized my Top 10 before playing it, so it’s not in consideration. I’m willing to discuss it in a later article of course, as I am playing it as we speak.

It was between Cloudpunk and Wasteland 3 for this slot, and I gave it to Cloudpunk based on the atmosphere alone. Driving chill games are a pretty big niche but when done well, are done really well. Euro/American Truck Simulator and Elite Dangerous are two such examples, and I’m going to add Cloudpunk to that list.

Cloudpunk is a game that has certain issues, some superficial, and others more serious. The story is relatively short, and suffers from pacing. The entire story takes place on a single night, when spreading the events out over a week might have fixed those issues. You play as Rania, a girl moving from the outer districts to the massive megalopolis of Nivalis, a gritty, cyberpunk city where profit and debt are king. Yep, we’re back into the capitalist vibes that come with every cyberpunk theme. You’ll see the usual stuff, AI things, droids and all that stuff. You play as a delivery driver working at Cloudpunk, a nice little taxi service with a dark undertone. You get to do nice things like deliver suspicious parcels (that may or may not be to do with explosives), pick up odd passengers and run across the city multiple times in order to fund your iffy new life in Nivalis. Accompanied by your AI dog companion, it’s a short but sweet story. It’s amazing at setting the scene, and the worldbuilding while very subtle does the job well.

You don’t get an awful lot to do in Cloudpunk right now, which some may find a little offputting. You can drive your flying car around, and there are segments where you go out into the streets to chat to people, pick up collectables. You can upgrade and repair your car with gear, but this doesn’t do a whole lot. It’s not the substance that makes Cloudpunk interesting however, it’s the immersion. It really makes you feel like being in a crowded, over the top cyberpunk city. In the early stages of Cloudpunk’s launch, you could only drive/go on foot in third person, which made for some really off camera angles. However, the devs have made wonders in recent patches, and now you can play the entire game in first person now.

First person driving is a game changer, as these screenshots down below show. It just…it’s breathtaking how the game looks and feels from this angle, and it’s amazing how one change revolutionizes the game. Before this update, Cloudpunk was on the brink, but I was planning on dropping it from the Top 10 for Wasteland 3. However, upon playing the game with the new driving update, it’s an incredible change and it’s so relaxing driving, listening to the rain. With big content updates planned in the future for a more extensive main questline and other things (which this game really needs), there’s a big hope for Cloudpunk.

The story isn’t much to write home about; dealing with an increasingly rogue AI called Cora while Nivalis buckles under its own weight while you do odd jobs, but the characters are overall solid, and diverse. I used to laugh at the voice acting, because it’s one area that really needs improvement. Some are excellent, while others are atrocious. The dialogue and writing are a bit of a mixed bag as well, and it’s almost a blessing that the main game is an 8-10 hour experience.

This isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is important. With more games relying on expanded playtime, it’s sometimes nice to have a shorter game. The ending is a bit of an anti-climax that doesn’t change much in the long-term, but it gets the job done, I guess. Storytelling isn’t the game’s strong point.

I’ll make this clear: Cloudpunk has absolutely stunning sound and visual design, and it’s that which sells the game for me. I’ve rarely played a game in 2020 that drew me into its world, and it does it gently. You can’t really interact much with the world, and I’d love to see future updates that allow little things like that, but the driving is a pleasure, especially in the first person, and you’ll rarely find an indie game with as much atmospheric delight at this. It’s relatively cheap, and a fresh experience. You might need to fiddle with settings for top performance, as it’s surprisingly intensive, and it might be the most flawed game on my Top 10, but it deserves to be here. It has a charm to it that other games haven’t given me, and that’s why it is so high on my Top 10.

Just don’t buy the Switch version. Please. Don’t embarrass yourself. Stick to the PC version. And developers, fix your Switch port. Please?

6. Urtuk: The Desolation

Just like Traveller’s Rest, I’ll post the review in italics, but do not sleep on this game. I’ve rarely enjoyed a tactical experience like Urtuk.

Single developer games are really ramping up in quality, and this turn based tactics game is really strong. Made by a single guy, David Kaleta, Urtuk: The Desolation is really an interesting game with a ton of polish.

Set in a grim, low-fantasy open world, you command a small force of brave adventurers as you travel through this desolate, ruined realm, looking for a tunnel to advance through the world state. I have to talk about the combat, because I have rarely played such a strong, dynamic system. Heavily relying on terrain, the turn-based system is fluid, highly adaptable with a ton of depth. Your characters are diverse as well. Support your characters with a wide range of styles too, and upgrade them with mutators; dangerous abilities that reduce your health, but vastly increases your options. Attack from range with your crossbowman, snipe them with your assassin blades, be a high risk, high return berserker with a big axe, support them with your monk. Being able to swap out mutators at will gives you a ton to work with, and I mean it when I say this is one of the best tactics games out there.

Like I said before, the terrain gives you plenty of things to do. Shove your opponents into spikes to damage them, into oil pits to slow them down, or down spiked ravines to kill them instantly. Of course, your enemies can do the same to you as well, so be careful. You can also extract abilities from your enemies, who come from a wide range of classes like Scavengers, Beasts, Vampires and Werewolves, and use resources to steal them for yourself. This gives even more replayability. Upgrade your characters to gain more stats, and you gain money and life essence. If your characters are injured, heal them with medicine, which is limited. You can buy more, but this is a gritty world and it doesn’t come cheap. The world grows around you as well, with parties hunting down your mutated characters and they grow stronger alongside you. Your guys also level up and learn new abilities, which gives a ton of awesome new things to do. There’s a lot of experimentation available, and it’s open-ended gameplay is a strength, not a weakness.

Urtuk really is a passion project with some excellent build quality. There’s even a Conquest mode in beta set aside from the main campaign, with unlockable options and more planned. It’s also fairly cheap and runs on almost anything, with a great soundtrack.

Urtuk is really fucking good, guys. It’s a tight and well designed tactical RPG, and it might be one of the best in the business. It was difficult deciding where to place this, because a large part of me wanted to put it in my Top 5. However, I think it’s in a good place. Give it a go, and I think you’ll be as impressed as I am. Really one to look out for. Take a bow, David. You’ve done an incredibly good job.

Finale

Before we announce the Top 5, I will have one more article to show, which will be a buffet of games that deserve at least a few words, good or bad. Until then, be prepared!

One thought on “Games of 2020 – 10 to 6

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