The year 2020 will long be remembered as a tumultuous year. As a global pandemic raged on, social unrest and the United States political system brought even more news to the table. Regardless, the video game industry marched on, realizing record revenues (partially thanks to stay-at-home orders) and ushering in a new generation of hardware & software. As I write this, it is nearly impossible to find an Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, or RTX graphics card. Demand is far outpacing supply. The games market is active, to say the least, and it’s not just people avoiding Covid-19.
I know 2020 has been unorthodox, but today’s post isn’t about what a strange year it’s been, or the business of video games. Today’s post is just about the games we enjoyed most in 2020. To accomplish this task, I wanted to do something a bit different. Instead of writing a list of the games I personally enjoyed during 2020, I reached out to some friends and collected their thoughts on the “best” games of 2020.
- There is no particular order to these games. Our group tends to avoid ranking games or placing a “score” on an experience.
- The release date was not important. It was only important that the game was played in 2020.
- This list is not exhaustive. There were other enjoyable experiences that we did not include.
Jedi Fallen Order
It’s hard to describe Jedi Fallen Order (JFO) without playing it. The designers & developers at Respawn utilized components from multiple genres and ended up with something where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Borrowing partially from Dark Souls, Metroid, Jedi Knight, and even Titanfall, JFO is a stand-out accomplishment not only for Respawn, but EA as well. The world of JFO is a hand-crafted masterpiece, punctuated by some of the best voice acting I have ever heard in a video game. It was the best single player experience I had in 2020 (it released in 2019), and with “next gen” versions being released for Xbox Series X|S & PlayStation 5, now might be a good time to check it out.
Star Wars Squadrons
At least two of us are calling Star Wars Squadrons our surprise of the year (2020). Besides being an excellent, immersive, Star Wars space combat game, it is one of the few titles that I would call a “should play” on VR. It doesn’t require VR, and it works well without it, but the experience is absolutely amazing through a VR headset. EA (Motive Studios) avoided diluting the experience with micro-transactions, leaving the player to simply enjoy the experience as it is presented. This comes with the caveat that the game will likely not see any long term updates, but that doesn’t take away from the experience as it supplied to the player.
To quote JBreeze (the co-author on GO30):
“In regards to games that came out in 2020, I’m going to vote for Star Wars Squadrons. It’s an amazingly immersive game (even without VR). I haven’t played a recent AAA title that focuses on a primary gameplay loop and core mechanic so well. I can’t recall a game that kicked so much ass that I wanted to buy additional hardware just to enjoy it even more. It’s all the more impressive to see EA, of all companies, release a game across distribution platforms that was well designed for keyboard/mouse, game pad, and VR in a single game (and without micro transactions)!”
When I asked my core gaming group for the best games they played in 2020, Hades came up multiple times, including my own list. Supergiant Games has several indie “hits” on their wall, but Hades has surpassed them all, in terms of industry & critical praise. On the surface, Hades is another rogue-lite that specialized in action combat. Fortunately, it is so much more than that when taken a sum of its parts. Similar to other rogue-lites, the game offers players multiple ways to “win”, using a variety of rewards, upgrade paths, and weapons. Where Hades shines is in the execution of the rogue-lite formula. Every time the player fails they are treated to more “chunks” of the (fantastic) story, along with additional upgrades to help them on their next attempt. The bow on top the package is the rocking soundtrack that never seems to get old. (Note: At this time, it is only available on PC and Nintendo Switch.)
In our Discord, our friend Mustard Tiger had this to say:
“For me, this was the year of Hades. Supergiant Games did the impossible and made a roguelike that is better than Dead Cells in almost every way. Everything about this game is amazing – voice acting, action, art design, game mechanics, and feel of the game are just outstanding. If I bought music, I would buy the soundtrack, no questions (In the Blood is FANTASTIC). All the accolades this game gets are well deserved.”
Red Dead Online
I never purchased Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) but when the online portion of the game was offered for $4.99 I decided that it was worth the risk. Our gaming group has played hundreds of hours of GTA Online and I figured Red Dead Online (RDO) can’t be terrible. What’s the worst that can happen? If I play for a few hours and I don’t like it, I’m only out five dollars. As it turns out, RDO is…weirdly enjoyable?
RDO is all about forging a path in the wilderness, and establishing your camp. The pacing in RDO is much more methodical than Grand Theft Auto and the world is meant to be absorbed, instead of blown up with a fighter jet. You’ll often find yourself marveling at the wilderness while on your way to your next quest. If you’re already familiar with RDR2, you’ll find many similarities in the online portion: collection quests, bounty quests, story quests, hunting, etc. Almost all of the various events & quests can be enjoyed cooperatively with friends, but the game contains several matchmaking tools as well (similar to GTA Online). Admittedly, some people will be turned off by the way that Rockstar has monetized the product (similar to GTAO monetization), but large portions of the game can be enjoyed without spending an extra dime. If you are looking for a wild west simulator to play with friends, RDO might be for you.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare / Warzone / Zombies
What is there to say about Call of Duty that hasn’t been said before? Activision arguably revived the series with the success of the “new” Modern Warfare (released October 25, 2019), but the addition of Warzone (battle royale) brought millions more people into the franchise. I spent many hours in Modern Warfare multiplayer during the months of 2020, especially since the pandemic forced me to spend much of the summer. Judging purely by hours played, I put more time into Call of Duty Modern Warfare (CoDMW), than any other game in 2020. Everything about CoDMW “clicked” with me. The movement mechanics felt fast but properly grounded, the guns were varied and interesting, and the sounds design was excellent. It is the first shooter since the original Modern Warfare that I felt was worth spending dozens of hours battling in multiplayer. It’s also worth mentioning that Warzone (the battle royale extension of Modern Warfare) released in 2020. A few friends and I spent a lot of time in that mode, taking a few wins over the course of a few months. Cheating, heavy controller auto-aim, and other aspects of Call of Duty took their toll on us after a while, but we genuinely enjoyed much of the time we spent there. We aren’t playing as much today, but we do log in on occasion and play a few rounds.
Call of Duty Cold War released late in 2020 and at that time, we were looking for something new. Burned out on Warzone, Cold War Zombies (CWZ) was the perfect change of pace. CWZ gives the player a chance to experience the fast-moving, pseudo-military action that Call of Duty is known for, but do so in an environment devoid of PvP (player vs. player). It’s a welcome break from the pressure of competitive PvP, allowing the player to kick back and mow down hordes of zombies, with just enough challenge to make it dynamic & intense.
Our friend, Pyro-GX, had this to say:
“However, that’s where the Zombie mode shines. Despite suffering from relatively bad performance, Zombies provides just enough progressive challenge that it can be played as casual or as intense as desired. The in-game option to end the game after an optional number of rounds (ex-fil) provides an exciting ‘final round’ that gives a good sense of accomplishment before the difficulty ramps up to the point of frustration.”
Here are a couple other games that were nominated by friends in our Discord channel. I don’t know these games well enough to generate a summary, but these folks certainly do.
The Baggage Man says…
“The Harvest Moon series is absolutely my favorite series of all times, but when I started playing games primarily on PC, I struggled to find an adequate replacement. Games like Terraria, or Minecraft kind of scratched that itch, but my gaming needs were answered by a dev named Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone on Feb 12th, 2016. Stardew Valley grabbed my attention immediately and has held it for over 300 un-idled hours. With continued regular updates from Barone and Sickhead Games there seems to always be something new to find, explore, grow, fish, or maintain. The relationships with the people from the valley have emotional and significant progressive scenes as you further friendships or romantic relationships. With either local or wan Co-Op you can drag your unwilling friends in and force them to have fun with you. For the people who like to 100% their games, there are not only Steam achievements, but in game achievement lists. With all that being said, regardless of updates, It’s always fun to start from scratch and build your fruit and vegetable empire. Stardew Valley is very likely a game I will play my whole life.”
“I’d probably give the nod to Death Stranding. I was genuinely surprised at how well the story and tone are executed, it’s haunting and spooky in all the right ways, and the inevitable transition from scary unseen monster to just another obstacle that most horror-esque games fail at is actually leaned into really well by ramping up the threat and adding tools to deal with it at well timed intervals. I’m not done with it cause I slept on it for months, but 35 odd hours in and the story still has me hooked, and the mechanics are still satisfying. I’ll give them a nod for the first time I’ve ever seen advertising tie-ins that didn’t immediately annoy me. The silly little special events for portal and cyberpunk meshed into the game well, added some real benefits for doing them, and didn’t pull me out of the narrative.” (You can pick up Death Stranding on PC or PlayStation.)
That wraps up our list of “The Best Games We Played in 2020”. We hope gives you something “new” to try in 2021. All of these games will be added to the recommended list. If you’d like to comment, or discuss, or criticize, come follow us on Twitter. (The highlighted image at the top of the page is from Everspace 2 Early Access.)