Brian sums up a relatively mild year in gaming, where only one title truly reigned supreme.
The Games I Haven’t Played That Should Probably Be on Here:
- Return of the Obra Dinn
- Monster Hunter: World
- Donut County
- Tetris Effect
- Soul Calibur VI
- Super Mega Baseball 2
10. Sea of Thieves (Rare)
When I wrote a first impression of Rare’s gloriously stupid pirate game back in March, I ended by saying that I enjoyed it but openly wondered just how much longevity it would have. As it turns out, that number was “about 10 more days worth.” When Sea of Thieves faltered, it faltered hard, and nobody played it anymore. But I still have fond memories of those two weeks anyone cared about it, and in a relatively weaker gaming year like this one, you could do worse than a weird, colorful game about shooting the shit with your pirate pals.
9. A Way Out (Hazelight Studios)
Speaking of a game about pals, here’s one from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons director Josef Fares about two almost-human crazy men who are trying to escape from prison so they can…shoot some people, or something? The plot is unclear. The character motivations are unclear. The setting is unclear. But having a truly cooperative game, one where you absolutely cannot progress without working together, is still such a novelty that I enjoyed it.
Plus, the actual plot twist in this game is one of the few in recent memory that actually surprised me. If this game had tweaked itself to have about 20% less gunplay and 20% more “playing backyard baseball with an obviously not American actor yelling baseball lines,” it might’ve been a darkhorse contender for GOTY. As it is, it’s not Brothers, but it’s fun enough. I’ll always have a soft spot for low-level AAA games that promise the moon but come up short, because at least they aimed for something. When’s the last time you saw that shit from Assassin’s Creed?
8. Ashen (A44)
Here’s a game that just sort of snuck up on me. I remember hearing about Ashen around E3 season as a sort of hybrid between Dark Souls and Journey, and being mildly intrigued but sort of dismissive. Such a project surely wouldn’t ever see the light of day, coming from a first-time developer on a short release cycle. And yet, barely even six months later, Ashen just sort of came out, announced only by a short release trailer at the accursed Game Awards.
It’s on Xbox Game Pass, and so I, still intrigued by the Massive Chalice-looking art style, grabbed it. I’ve been slowly working through it with a friend of mine, and it’s just…good. Maybe too derivative of the original Dark Souls, but there are worse games to emulate, and it being cooperative gives it a weird, friendly energy. It’s a true dungeon crawler in an age that has more or less abandoned that style of game, and it made me nostalgic for, of all things, the original Diablo and Baldur’s Gate games. Maybe it won’t end up being more than that, but in this year, that’s good enough.
7. The Banner Saga, Part 3 (Stoic)
While I’m remiss to say that I was actually disappointed by the third installment in the Banner Saga series, I do have to say that it wasn’t quite what I think it could have been. When I did this in 2016, a much stronger and deeper year for games, I had the second Banner Saga entry at #5, and loved it. This game is lower because, well, it doesn’t really capture that Oregon Trail wanderlust that the first two did. Part of that is because of just how apocalyptic and crazy things have gotten for our heroes, still as well-drawn and designed as ever.
Half the game is set in the human capital of Arberrang, as roughly half the cast hunkers down to survive the combined threats of the Blight, the Dredge and what’s left of the starving humans and Varl scrabbling for resources. It makes the roleplaying stuff feel more impactful and serious, but really robs the game of that adventurous feel it had when you were part of a desperate caravan, fleeing from an unseen menace. And really, these games just look a lot better in motion.
The other half is where most of the actual plot stuff happens, but it too fails to live up to standards set by the first two games, as it’s rushed, with a haphazard, confusing difficulty curve. I can’t really say much more without spoiling, but overall I’d say the biggest flaw with this game is how much it feels like everyone involved just wanted it to end. And when it does, the game just kind of exhales and stops — a lackluster conclusion to what has been a very interesting and unique series, but it is a conclusion, and as such, I’ll still recommend it. There’s still nothing quite like The Banner Saga, no matter how good it is.
6. Super Smash Brothers: Ultimate (Sora Ltd)
You know what this is. It’s Smash. You either like it or you don’t. It’s harder to play with other people than it used to be, because we’re all much older, and it’s strange that Nintendo still don’t seem to understand that, but it’s Smash. In fact, it’s every Smash. All together. Makes me wonder if after this, Masahiro Sakurai is just going to fade away like the Genie in Aladdin, but it’s really hard to complain about this one. Maybe we should be done with these games now, I guess.