Games of 2020: 5-1

We’re finally here after weeks of teasing and build up. Hey, at least it’s not eight years worth!

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/

https://thousandscarsblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/16/games-of-2020-10-to-6/

Without further ado, my Top 5 favourite games of 2020!

  1. Desperados III

I was fortunate enough to get the chance to play this awesome game six weeks before release, thanks to the awesome guys at THQ Nordic. Desperados III is made by the same cool people who made Shadow Tactics, Blades of the Shogun. I’m happy to say that Desperados III is a brilliant sequel to the series, and it does a great job in expanding everything that Shadow Tactics did well, and improving on those mechanics.

The gameplay is the lynchpin of the entire game, and my word does it hold up in this regard. You get a bunch of different, fleshed out characters, each with different and specified abilities, and you’re thrown a gauntlet of challenging missions to test your skills on. From Cooper’s knife throwing, loud guns and coin distractions, to Hector’s traps and axe play, to even some mind-fuckery with Isabelle, you get a ton of options for completing the levels. The characters are well designed, and while I haven’t found anything particularly enthralling about the story, it’s serviceable and keeps me entertained. It’s the character personalities you play that’s the true strength, despite the villains being a bit cartoon evil.

Shadow Tactics was known for it’s difficulty, and Desperados III is no exception. I’ve never been one for difficult games like this, so I look at my 48 hours played and barely halfway through the game as a kind of humiliation. While it can be frustrating at times, I’ve grown rather fond of it, and it’s genuinely rewarding to complete the tasks each mission gives you, especially after struggling with it for hours on end. The game blesses you with a no-penalty quick-save option and pause to plan your moves real time, and the sheer versatility and options it gives grants you a lot of replayability. I know I’ll be replaying this game on completion to try and get the achievements. There’s a ton of content, and while it may not look like that with sixteen missions (nineteen if you count the Season Pass), the missions are all rather chunky with lots to do. With the Baron giving you tons of additional options and unlockables, with a flexible difficulty setting, there’s no shortage of things to do in this game.

As for flaws? There aren’t many. They did a really good job here. I have seen a few instances where my game refuses to load saves, forcing me to backtrack (though it may be to repeated quick saving and saving over them, causing corruption. Don’t abuse that mechanic like I have). The repetitive dialogue of the enemies when looking for you can also be a bit grating, but these are minor nitpicks. This is a chunky, well made game, and well worth its hefty price tag. Don’t be put off by that, give it a try. I would have been happy paying full price for this, and I’m someone who doesn’t like buying anything for full price. Take that anyway you’d like.

Desperados III is a real success story, and I hardly expected to enjoy it as much as I have done. I haven’t finished the game yet, but I’m sure going to keep at it. It’s a game that keeps on giving, has great build quality, and enjoyable difficulty. Even when I want to punch things when the evil guys spot Hector sneaking into position with his trusty Bianca and blows my ten minute planned scheme into smithereens. The Top 5 spot feels right for Desperados III, and its well deserving of that rank.

  1. Monster Train

Deck-building games have been growing in popularity since the launch of Slay the Spire (Which came out of early access in 2020, but you won’t be seeing it this year. Why? Because I haven’t played enough of it)

Monster Train’s systems are easy enough. You have to defend your train from a growing onslaught of enemies, and protect your heart (called the Pyre). If it gets destroyed, you lose. Simple, but makes for an addictive gameplay loop. 8 levels, with increasingly difficult enemies to fight.

There are five different decks in the base, with a major deck and a minor as backup. This makes for some interesting different strategies, and it’s something I’ve really enjoyed playing with. Each deck has a different core plan around it. For example, the Awoken are based around damaging your enemies through them hitting your monsters while using spells for damage, while the Morsels are eaten to buff your stronger monsters. Be careful, because different enemies have different plans of their own. For example, the Morsel deck is powered by sacrificing your army to strengthen your bigger guys. Be a shame if one level had monsters that gained strength for every death?

Just like your opponents, you get boss monsters of your own, and every few levels you’ll get to upgrade them. Transform your champion into something stronger, and you get the chance to strengthen your monsters as well, giving them more HP, more attack damage or give them more abilities. All you need to do is give up gold. There are special challenges too, where you can accept a difficulty modifier for a greater prize. Artifacts also add replayability, with boons that help you out along the way.

Because of this, there is a ton of strategy involved, and it’s really been addictive. I haven’t played 60 hours plus in this game for no reason. Monster Train was not long in Early Access this year, relying on a lightning fast development and launching in 1.0 earlier this year. That’s good, because even at launch, the game was in a beautiful state, with a ton of content and very few technical issues. This game is charming, polished, highly re-playable, and above all, extremely well made. Roguelikes need good gameplay, and Monster Train does so well in these regards.

There’s even mod support now. It’s a slow start, but I know there will be even more content from modders soon. Monster Train is brilliant, and deserves to be at the top of the pack. The best Early Access title of 2020 for me, and it deserves its high place of honor.

  1. Hades

It came down between Hades and Factorio for the ‘Game from previous year that hit 1.0 this year” award, and I decided that while Factorio is a subjectively better game, I just haven’t played it enough to review it properly. Hades is still amazing, and goes beyond its genre in ways I can’t even begin to discuss.

This game broke me for other roguelikes, though there are great examples of them elsewhere. Hades just goes that step further. I have to say, deciding where to place this was probably the hardest task of all. I knew it deserved to be in my Top 5 at least, but how high? With the top two slots given to games that gave me incredible enjoyment, I think Number 3 is the best place for Hades.

Releasing in December 2018 on the Epic Store in Early Access, Hades eventually came to Steam a year later, and launched for real in the middle of September 2020. Made behind the same brilliant guys who made Bastion, Transistor and Pyre, Hades is by far the best game they have ever made, and it’s an example of how good you can make a roguelike/rogue-lite.

I’ll be honest…I don’t particularly like many games in this genre. It might be fatigue because the gaming scene is oversaturated to hell with them, especially in the indie scene. I understand why. It’s a simple mechanic that doesn’t require too much thinking to create. Randomly generated dungeon crawlers, often with permadeath and unlockables to carry through, the gaming scene is overloaded with them. What was once the open world sandbox, Minecraft clone or zombie game 20014 is now the roguelike. It’s really difficult to find games in this scene that really stand out. Hades might just be the best of the lot, and it has a quality to it which people will use to judge all future roguelites/roguelikes/roguebottoms for years to come. It’s that good.

The concept of Hades is simple. You play as (roll credits), Hades’s son, immortal prince of the Underworld. You don’t like living there anymore, and your goal is to escape. That’s it. Joking, there’s a ton more on the surface, and the many Olympian gods juggle to offer you their support to escape the grouchy Dad, playing their own power game. The writing and voice acting in this game is astonishing from beginning to end. It’s unbelievable just how solid everything feels. It’s the best example of what a roguelite can really be, with a story that’s engrossing and emotional, characters that are fleshed out and keep giving after hundreds of hours of gameplay, and fast, well paced combat that never gets boring. Seriously, I’ve got a lot of hours into it, and I’m still finding new voice lines I’ve never heard before. There is a rich and diverse cast, and the game oozes both charm and quality design. The art style is beautiful, with randomly generated paths in Tatarus that are a beauty to look at, and the combat is brilliant. Even for a complete dunce like me at these games, it’s enjoyable and satisfying, with a design that’s easy to play, but difficult to master. The boss battles feel personal, and finishing them is a delight.

There’s so much to unlock as well, extra content, upgrades for your character and bedroom, rooms to unlock with all the nice features, new weapons and ways to upgrade them, and so much more. The amount of content that’s packed into Hades is frightening, piled into a price tag that’s almost insulting to the developers. I rarely find a game that punches below its weight in terms of cost, and too often I find games overpriced. For Hades, I think they could charge more and it would still be worth every penny. With a Switch port that’s brilliant in every way, including Crossplay, Hades is a standout game of 2020, and one of the best games I’ve played, not just this year, but perhaps ever. Even if you don’t like games of this type, I ask to give Hades at least a try. It has no real flaws, except perhaps a difficulty curve that can get frustrating if you’re not suited to difficult games. It does have the same progression issue of other roguelikes, but again, everything feels so tight and well crafted that it’s rarely an issue.

Bravo, Supergiant Games. Bravo.

  1. Popup Dungeon

I love games like this, where you get given a vast toolbox and the speech: “go and explore, have fun. Hell, make your own games!” I picked up Popup Dungeon during September, about a month after its release in the middle of August. I remember wanting it as soon as I saw it, but because I was working hard on the release of Spellforce 3: Fallen God, I had a ton of work to do writing and worldbuilding wise, so I held off on making any big purchases. When things calmed down towards the end of September, I bought Popup Dungeon and began to play. I was not prepared at all for how much I began to enjoy it, and it came so close to my GOTY you could taste it.

The art style grabbed me from the beginning. It’s built around some kind of papercraft model artwork, with a goldmine of cool designs. There’s so much love and charm that oozes through the walls, and all the varied set pieces. Popup Dungeon is a game where you can create almost anything, a game engine within a game. You can make your own characters, spells, enemies to fight, items. Whatever is in the game, you can make yourself with a little work, and there’s no programming skills needed. I’ve waited a long time to find something like this, and I’ve had a ton of fun with it so far.

The game functions like a dungeon master, with events that pop up during the several campaigns already given to you at the start, including a twenty-five level dungeon crawler where you must ascend the Wizard’s dark tower, and all of these have stellar voice acting. The different themes and settings are quite diverse (medieval high-fantasy, Sci-Fi, outer space colonies, etc.), and the characters are all memorable. The devs did a great job making the campaigns interesting, especially for those who just want to play. There’s also a buttload of endless content available too like arena modes if you just want to try out some character powers, or test your new creations in the field. There’s a serious content overload, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what to expect in this game. Combat is a turn-based tactics like Xcom, with so many abilities, enemies and different spells that it can be overwhelming to work out what the hell you’re supposed to do. The gameplay is deep, addicting and enjoyable, with a sense of progression that always left me coming back for more. There’s a charm system you can use to add upgrades to your roster of characters, but this will also increase the difficulty of the encounters!

As of writing this, I’ve put in over 40 hours into Popup Dungeon and completed perhaps 10% of the content. It might be because I just suck at the game at times, and there is some serious difficulty spikes. This, combined with the sheer weight of choices, make it so getting into it might be a bit overwhelming at first. However, I cannot recommend Popup Dungeon enough, and it’s why it’s so high on my list. I even had it as my Game of the Year a couple of times. Really, just give it a try. It’s unique on the market, and one of the best indie releases of the year. The build quality is amazing, there are surprisingly few bugs for the complexity of the game’s mechanics, the campaigns are fun, light-hearted and deep entertainment, the voice acting is brilliant, and there’s so much creativity unlocked. I’ve found a ton of modded, custom made content. Hell, I can fight enemies and crush them with Seto Kaiba’s Blue Eyes White Dragon, protecting them with the Death Star. True story.

  1. Spiritfarer

It takes a lot for a game to emotionally grab me. Outer Wilds did it last year, which won my unofficial GOTY award for 2019. Sitting in the forest with my fellow friends, toasting marshmallows and playing music to the end of the universe gave me catharsis. Enderal: Forgotten Stories is another game that was an emotional rollercoaster, and Lost Ember was the beginning of my enjoyment of ‘arty emotiony feely’ games.

Spiritfarer made me cry. Blame the lovely hedgehog spirit with dementia, who finally remembered me after I wore the hat that reminded me of her daughter…yep…Spiritfarer is an emotional gut punch, but it’s a very wholesome gut punch. Fuck you, game.

Spiritfarer is a game that explores death, but it does it in a cosy and chill way that’s almost a meditation in itself. Artistic indie games are all the rage, but few manage to grab you on a video game level as well. While Spiritfarer isn’t perfect in that regard, it does a hella better job than many others in its category. It celebrates relationships, and while its a reminder that death is a painful thing, it’s incredibly wholesome. The tears I’ve shed playing this game so far are from remembering good times in my own life, as well as emotionally engaging with the characters in Spiritfarer, who come from a diverse and well written cast despite the subtle dialogue. Some of the characters are adorable, others are frustrating but begin to grow on you, and others are just so fucking lovable you feel a gut punch when they finally go.

On a personal note, I’ve been to a few funerals in my time, some a lot more painful than others. One which always sticks out to me was my nanna’s funeral in 2018. While that whole weekend was for a sad occasion, I cannot look upon it without feeling fond of the whole thing. My family and I celebrated my Nanna’s life, who was a wonderful human being in every way, and the funeral and service was both memorable, wholesome and beautiful. I will always look back to that weekend as a positive experience. My family spent our time at a lovely hotel at a marina (one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed at) and I recall a lovely evening with myself, my parents and my sister around a table in the restaurant, just remembering things. It was nice.

Back onto Spiritfarer, while the journey has been an emotional one, it’s been pleasant, because Spiritfarer is comfortable in the best way possible. You play as Stella, newly appointed ferrymaster to the Spirit World when Charon retires. With your rowboat and ship, and accompanied by your adorable kitty Daffodil (The loading screen is her playing with string. Insert adorable squeeing noises), you take on a growing cast of spirits who want to make peace with themselves and journey the world. There’s a lot of management as you build homes for your new family, providing to their needs. You can cook food for them, and there’s a dedicated hug button. The world needs more hugs than ever.

There is crafting, fishing, cooking, plant growing, building, platforming, all the usual elements in a game like this, and all of them are pretty nice to get into. Sure, some of the timers for them are a bit annoying and require some fiddly controls, but it’s all done well. There’s also no pressure to do any of it. Plants don’t die off, though they might get eaten to fuck by sheep (keep those greedy boys in pens!) Your guests will also never starve, even though they’ll complain a lot if you don’t feed them. Guess spirits don’t need food to survive, it just tastes good. Huh.

Spiritfarer is a deceptively long game, with around 30-35 hours estimated content. It took me over 50 hours to complete my playthrough, as I loved exploring and taking time with my spirit friends before the goodbyes. The only flaw I can think of for Spiritfarer, besides occasionally frustrating platforming is it possibly overstays its welcome? I’m not sure. But I cannot fault Spiritfarer for the way it grabbed me on a personal level. Few games are able to do that, and it’s for that reason why Spiritfarer is my personal GOTY.

Finale

It’s been quite the journey. Nearly 20,000 words over six articles, 31 games covered, and a lot has been said. It’s been a strange year for gaming. Giants have fallen, indie and AA continue to impress, and so much more. Let’s see what 2021 brings.

And yes, you will be seeing a Cyberpunk 2077 review early next year. Perhaps by the end of January. And boy, do I have a lot to say about it, both good and bad.

I hope everyone has the best Christmas and New Year they can under the circumstances. Be good to each other.

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