Technically, 2020 was the longest year in recent memory since it was a leap year. That means an extra day of gaming! And what a year for gaming this was. Sony and Microsoft both released their newest generation of consoles as expected and promised, and yet Nintendo is still going strong, as the Switch keeps being a big part of gaming. As always, Epic, Origin, Steam and uPlay keep battling it out, some to a greater degree than the others, and much like life itself, gaming is ever changing, mutating into the gaming of tomorrow. A tomorrow which a lot of you look forward to, more so than previous years. After a bit of a decline in previous years, participation increased again this year, with 131 goodjers submitting their lists and mentioning 487 games (versus 120 goodjers and 440 games in 2019). It’s an absolute delight to see so many folks participating, coming together in their love and enthusiasm for gaming, sharing what kept them going and what truly sparked joy, and you all have my deepest thanks for that.
After two years of photo finishes (a 3-point gap in 2019 and 19-point gap in 2018), this year, we have another landslide, beyond the scope of Breath of the Wild’s 184-point lead in 2017. This truly was a landslide unlike any we’ve ever seen.
This wasn’t the only surprise, and I expect folks will be pleased to see that a few games made repeat appearances…
(For ease of reading, the release date mentioned will be the earliest one and early access will not be included.)
The top 10 of the Gamers With Jobs Community for 2020
#10… Crusader Kings III (80 pts)
Release date: September 2020
Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux
A role-playing, grand strategy game, Crusader Kings III is a Paradox game, through and through. For some of us, the mechanics will remain impenetrable. Spanning up to six centuries, the dynasties players can manage will spawn stories that are fascinating, bizarre, and sometimes down right hilarious. The dynasty’s members have full-body, 3D models, as well as traits, specific characteristics. Religions and government types come into play, alliances, trading, wars… With so many variables, there’s no end to the replayability. And with a more robust engine, fans of the series will be kept busy for quite some time!
“The systems for this game are vast and it requires you to plan things out through generations and not just the here and now. It was hard, but it was fun. Still think it's the best medieval story generator that scales from the simple to the bizarre.”
“I recently called Crusader Kings II my second-favorite game of the 2010s, so that’s where I’m coming from when I now ask: Why did I spend so much time with such a janky interface? Now it's easy to chase related information through multiple popup dialogues, which is critical not just for learning the game but also for figuring out who I should next target for skullduggery or marriage (or both). Crusader Kings was always an RPG in a strategy costume, and III takes this further by adding hooks to manipulate (or be manipulated by) your lord and your vassals.”
“A new heir takes over the dynasty! Paradox has learned a lot from the years they supported CKII, and they have managed to streamline the old game's admittedly steep learning curve into a much more digestible game.”
“A worthy successor to one of the greatest strategy games ever made, CK3 combines strategy (what decisions should I take to strengthen my realm?), personal drama, and a rich historical backdrop. I led Alfred the Great and his descendants in a doomed bid to defend England from the Viking horde; took an equally doomed Viking expedition all the way to India; and finally found success leading Scotland to dominion over Western Europe.”
- Mind Elemental
#9… Marvel's Spider-Man Miles Morales (86 pts)
Release date: November 2020
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
With its predecessor placing first in the 2018 GOTY and eighth in the 2019 GOTY and with the popularity of animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Marvel's Spider-Man Miles Morales was expected to do well. Picking up where the first game left off, the narrative follows the story of Miles Morales who gains powers similar to Peter Parker’s. In the snowy open world of modern-day Manhattan, players control Miles much like they did Peter, with a few new abilities, gadgets and animations. Initially planned out as an expansion, the game was later fleshed out as a standalone game and while Marvel's Spider-Man Miles Morales did not swing its way to the top, it was nevertheless very well received. Also, there’s a cat. <3
“Quite often this year I found myself wanting a game where I could just be in the air, whether flying or jumping, or anything really. This delivered. I'm not much into media that focuses on teenagers and their coming of age/figuring stuff out narratives (I've had my fill), but this one managed to make me smile and root for Miles, even if I saw many of the twists coming from a mile away. This wasn't a game about those twists, so much as about community and what we owe to each other. It further helps that the stealth feels much improved from the first game.”
“The story was quick and impactful and just a ton of fun. Get in, get out. Cry. I will treasure the brief time I had with Miles and the gang. So dang good! Makes me think Marvel’s Spider-Man could’ve been half as long and that might’ve made it a tighter/better experience, in my opinion.”
“With all that said this is Spiderman 2018 without the bloat & annoying Mary Jane/Miles Morales stealth missions. The crimes seem far more streamlined & don't seem to repeat over & over. The side missions have a bit more thought & personality put into them. The real boons however are the Venom powers which feel proper power fantasy when unleashing them onto groups of enemies. There's more bite in those than anything Peter Parker had at his disposal. The invisibility lends to a deeper stealth experience overall, being able to escape to a lamppost or crane high above enemy infested ground level is welcome.”
“The follow-up to my 2018 GotY, and in most years it would have been GotY for me again. It's really good, an improvement in pretty much every way. Even the annoying side missions that you can focus now if you want to complete instead of waiting for random things to happen. Combat is so much better with the addition of a way to stealth again when seen. And the electric powers are cool, just variety. Peter has more gadgets, Miles has more powers.”
“A very late entry onto my list, this has been my Christmas vacation binge game. The gang at Insomniac continues to impress. I had heard this is a short game, but it is a complete one: there's plenty to do around New York, and plenty of story, as Miles learns to take the reins and make the Spider-Man role his own. The new powers and personalities make this more than just a remix of the last game, and I absolutely adore seeing the relationship between Pete and Miles.”
#8… Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (99 pts)
Release date: November 2019
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia
Our first “returning star”, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order had placed fourth last year. Cal Kestis no longer needs an introduction, and the game's enduring appeal has cemented its place in the modern canon of popular action games. An ambitious hybrid of multiple trends in AAA game development, the game has continued to delight Star Wars fans with its rich visuals and loving recreation of the look and feel of the classic Star Wars films.
“The most “videogamey” of the video games I played this year, in that it’s very faithful to the explore + puzzle solve + fight + cut scene + repeat structure and pacing, and never tries to be anything other than what it is. It’s not immersive like some of the other games on my list, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a formula that works, and it’s Star Wars. Just plain fun.”
“Fun lightsaber fights and acceptable exploration, what's not to like?”
- Mr Crinkle
“Boy, was I excited to crack this one open. The first big-budget, quality Star Wars game in years? The opportunity to be a Jedi? Yes please! I thought the characters were really well drawn, and the story was pretty good. This game was great at set-pieces, less great at rewarding exploration, and provide a good lesson that a 20-hour, streamlined experience can be better than adding content to reach an ideal playtime length.”
“I started this up around the beginning of the year and finished it without much issue. I thought the gameplay was good, the story was decent, and was so happy there wasn't a light side / dark side choice (or at least not one that I remember...). Those tend to ruin jedi games.”
“The story is better than many of the movies and reminds me of the things I liked about KOTOR. Combat was quite fun and the game is gorgeous.”
#7… Outer Wilds (102 pts)
Release date: May 2019
Developer: Mobius Digital
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Not only was Outer Wilds in the community top ten last year, it actually gained a few ranks (#10 last year). This is unprecedented. And barring our grand champion, this game placed at the top of people’s lists more often than not (second place in the “most #1 votes” race). Last year, I wrote about being a space explorer and only having 22 minutes before the supernova resets the time loop. Now that I’ve actually played it… Outer Wilds is brilliantly designed and so intelligently put together. The way it presents the world to you, how it guides you from one place to the next, the manner in which it leaves several options open to you… It truly is a thing of beauty.
Star Trek Discovery of the year - The tiny star system (almost a pocket universe), a wooden (?) spaceship and cute 3-eyed alien race who mainly use they/them for pronouns, not to mention a mind boggling mystery.”
“The indie darling Outer Wilds sucked my veteran like gaming expectations into a black hole, to be forever changed going forward. If we talk about discovery, then what is achieved with Outer Wilds own little Solar System & the planets within it, is something magical. It evokes an almost childlike sense of wonder of what your about to see or the knowledge your about to acquire. (…) Outer Wilds has that special something, it’s got a gripping story that you can uncover in any order you want. A phenomenal ending, visually amazing planets with vastly different makeups, a time loop that gives a sense of urgency & expertly crafted mechanisms tied to it. There are secrets/certain areas that you can literally get to at the start of the game if you had the knowledge ahead of time of where to go, how things operate”
“A beautiful celebration of exploration and discovery and the desire for understanding.”
“This game grabbed me and absolutely wouldn't let go. The space physics, the story, the open world (solar system?) puzzle to slowly piece together. The beautiful musical and character details that tie everything together. One of those games that I finished and just sat watching the screen and digesting everything that had happened.”
- Jolly Bill
“I was told to go into this game knowing as little as possible, and I took that to heart enough that I didn't even realize it was a space game until I first fired it up. Unraveling the mysteries of the universe as I explored was endlessly rewarding, and it was really refreshing to play a game that focused so clearly on that one goal and did it well. My first few loops were rocky as it took a while to learn the spaceship controls, but soon enough I was expertly landing (I mean, not damaging my landing gear) on planets and dashing off to the next mystery. Immediately after chasing down every log entry and finishing the game, I had the pleasure of watching Mr. Dragon take it on and experience it in a totally different order. This was truly a delight through and through and is up there with Return of the Obra Dinn as experiences I'll heartily recommend for years to come.”
#6… Ghost of Tsushima (120 pts)
Release date: July 2020
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
This action-adventure stealth game featuring an open world follows the story of Jin Sakai, a samurai whose mission is to protect the island of Tsushima during the first Mongol invasion of Japan (November 1274). His arsenal includes a grappling hook, firecrackers, kunai, smoke bombs and a tachi. In a world without waypoints, players explore an island populated with shrines, villages, farms, mountains and different landmarks. Akira Kurosawa films were a source of inspiration and by all accounts, the resulting game is gorgeous.
“I gambled on this and preordered about 3 days before launch. Really ended up enjoying it (enough to go for the platinum trophy, a rare occurrence for me!). Open-world(ish, some areas and content are gated behind story progress beats) w/ a familiar trapping of icon scatters, a minimal HUD, and an interesting “follow the wind” gameplay compass. Combat was fun, if repetitive.”
“I have a deep connection to Japan and Ghost of Tsushima brings me a weird amount of nostalgia considering my wife’s family home is probably around 100 years old. The island of Tsushima is portrayed as an amalgamation of what foreigners think of historical Japan; it is fanciful but not fantastical. The story is serious and predictable but with strong characters and emotional stories. It treats death as important, something that most games fail at.”
“Beautiful world. Good combat, plenty of ways to deal with enemies. Maybe not very well balanced, as you can generally destroy groups of enemies with no problems. Which might be good, nothing should come between me and my birds. It is very much an open word game (in a somewhat lite version, compared to a certain other game on my list). But many of the tedious repetitive tasks are hidden behind actual quests (gasp!). With good side stories. And the game generally knows to not disturb the player too much with all of it.”
“Ghost of Tsushima is, at its core, just another open world game similar to the AC series but using a samurai theme. What makes it special to me is that it looks beautiful and takes a bunch different ideas and mixes them all up to make a rather interesting combat system. While early on you're not doing much more than just stabbing guys with your sword, by the end you're switching stances and using tools to just completely annihilate groups of enemies. Then there are samurai duels which are unique fights each time just to keep you on your toes.”
“One of the side activities in Ghost of Tsushima involves writing haiku. You find a beautiful spot in the world, kneel down, and begin surveying the landscape. At the surface level, such an activity checks an icon off your map and grants you a collectable. However, what it really does is it allows you to stop and look at the beautifully rendered world Sucker Punch has created. Many Ubisoft icon-style games are go go, but Ghost of Tsushima knows when to make the player stop and just look, whether it’s relaxing in a hot spring hidden in the hilltops or awaiting your chance to strike a killing blow during a standoff.”
#5… Animal Crossing: New Horizons (131 pts)
Release date: March 2020
Developer: Nintendo EPD
The fifth main Animal Crossing game hit the shelves at the end of March, at what some would say was the perfect time. The same day as Doom Eternal, which just ended up being absolutely perfect and spawned some of the most mind-blowing crossover fanart in recent memory. The premise is basically the same, it’s a social simulation and players control a human who starts living among anthropomorphic animals. You fish, cut down trees, catch bugs, design clothing (I checked, N7 hoodies and caps are floating around out there!), mine ore, plant flowers, and build furniture. The island is your oyster, well… provided you pay off your debts to Tom Nook.
“Such a jolly game. It really is the title that brought everyone together when the #$#[email protected] first hit the fan. My favorite part was just having people visit and visiting other people's islands. Friends and family alike that I hadn't spoken to for years suddenly wanted to come over and shoot the breeze while we toured the island. And for that, I'll be eternally grateful. New features like terraforming were a welcome addition and I hope Nintendo keeps supporting it with updates for a while more. Island minigames, where?”
- Forlorn Hope
“This crazy year this game brought so much joy to me, my wife, my two nieces, and my brother in law that it would be a crime not to include it. With everyone staying at home, we could have a fishing contest, my very creative older niece could show off her islands and designs, my animal loving younger niece would show off her fish and insect collection.”
“I hadn't played an AC game since sharing Voidville with my little siblings on the Gamecube, and as its release date approached I was on the fence about getting it. But by late March it was clear I'd need the kind of simple toil and reward these games provide. I have since hunted down every fish and bug in the game (the rest of the sea creatures have to wait a few months) and am making a dent in collecting art from our favorite shady dealer. My friends and I obsessively tracked the Stalk Market and gathered more Bells than we know what to do with. I'm still logging on every morning to do some daily tasks, and have lately been clearing the flowers that took over the island so that I have space to make Snowboys. Now I'm off to go ring in the New Year with my villager friends.”
“What it is, though, is the exact same wholesome, relaxing, charming bit of warmth that Animal Crossing has always been. I desperately love it, and I’m so, so glad this one came along exactly when it did. I needed it. We needed it!”
“This was a vital part of my routine for most of the year, and especially the few months after its uncannily well-timed release. It was comfort just when I needed it. I’ve visited a few GWJers’ beautiful, creative islands, and I like showing mine off too. I still check in almost every day, even if just for a minute to see if Celeste or that thieving Redd might be in town.”
#4… Control (147 pts)
Release date: August 2019
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Luna, Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
After going home with the gold last year, Control makes a return appearance. Using Jesse Faden’s Force powers (telekinesis, levitation and control) has not lost its appeal and no fewer than 21 goodjers nominated the game this year. The rest of the gaming zeitgeist agrees, as no fewer than 19 awards bestowed upon it.
“Hands down the best single player action game I’ve played in quite a while. A perfect blend of action, story and worldbuilding that feels like it’s following the maxim of “show, don’t tell” with a surprisingly self-aware streak of humor running through it.”
“The most delightful part of this game is how much it nails the bureaucratic nightmare that is working for a government or other large organization. The squabbling between the different scientific disciplines is also spot on. The game itself is also pretty great. The story was definitely written by people who grew up enjoying the same media as I did, so I was hooked as soon as Ahti appeared for the first time.”
“The bizarreness of the setting was great and the action very good. I think it was one of the few games I wasn’t itching for it to end.”
“Fantastic worldbuilding. Dark and weird in all the right ways. Fun gameplay. A very enjoyable, and memorable game.”
“Don't bother rewatching X-Files: Play Control, it's better anyway.”
#3… Final Fantasy VII Remake (156 pts)
Release date: April 2020
Developer: Square Enix Business Division 1
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4
Announced in 2015, the Final Fantasy VII Remake was highly anticipated. The first in a series of games planned to remake the 1997 classic, FF7R is an action-adventure game featuring mercenary Cloud Strife as he takes on megacorporation Shinra along with the rest of eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE. Not only has the entire game been completely remade, using real-time polygonal graphics as opposed to the pre-rendered environments of the original, it also expands on character development and story beats. The result has captured the attention of Final Fantasy fans, old and new. (And spawned a lot of amazing CloTi fanart, so thanks for that!)
“There were so many other things this game did well. Illustrating the scale of Midgar. The rhythm of combat. All of the musical remixes, in multiple different styles. The Andrea Rhodea dance sequence. I could go on and on. Once that prelude transitioned to the bombing mission music, and Cloud jumped off that train, I knew I was in for a ride.”
“The ultimate nostalgia trip. Final Fantasy VII was the game that got me into RPGs. After learning that FFVIIR was going to be a reimagining of the original instead of just a prettied up remake, I was equal parts anxious and excited, and boy, I think they pretty much knocked it out of the park. Aside from the obvious wins like the beautifully updated visuals and fantastic soundtrack, the newly imagined combat system was better than I could have hoped for. They finally figured out an effective combination of active and turn based combat.”
“This is much more than just a retelling of a classic JRPG, it expands on it and much like my #1 pick, makes it a unique and interesting experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the combat, spending a lot of time "optimizing" my party (which is really just to let Tifa beat the crap out of everyone) and taking the time to do the simulation battles. I loved the direction they took the story and how all the twists and turns can be interpreted by different people. Square Enix took a game that I already loved as a kid and made me feel as if I was playing it for the first time again. I know it'll be awhile before we see the next installment, but they knocked this first game out of the park so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on the next one.”
“This is the first major single player Final Fantasy I’ve played at release, and it was a ridiculously fun time. I’ve only played the original once a few years ago and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a formative game for me, or my favorite in the series. The remake is so well done, though. After getting used to its quirks, the combat system really grew on me. There’s a lot of depth there, and at some point I’d like to go through again on Hard but I’m afraid I’ll have forgotten how it all works by that point. (…) The quality and polish in this release makes me optimistic it won’t be too long before part 2 arrives, and coupled with the team working on FF16, gives me some hope that SE has re-learned how to confidently release triple-A RPGs again.”
“This is probably one of the most anticipated games of 2020 - and in my opinion, Square Enix knocked it out of the park. Even though it’s only 1/3 of the original game, they took something that is a formative experience for a lot of gamers, and still managed to both faithfully recreate it, add a bunch of interesting dialog and soul to the characters - but it also managed to plot out the story in such a way that they aren’t necessarily locked into a one for one remake.”
#2… The Last of Us Part II (167 pts)
Release date: June 2020
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Set five years after The Last of Us (released in 2013), this opus focuses on Ellie’s and Abby’s journeys. It’s still an action-adventure game in third person perspective with survival horror thrown in, as well as stealth options. Beyond the technical and the mechanics, what truly spoke to gamers was the tale of revenge and retribution, beautifully complemented by a dazzling performance from a cast of all-star voice actors (Troy Baker, Laura Bailey and Ashley Johnson).
“Loved it. Not as easy of a story to love as the first one, but I admired the risks the story took. Like RDR 2, it technically might have gone on longer than it should have, but in the end it worked for me and made the tale seem even more epic.”
“This game is one of the only games I’ve ever played that I feel I have to wrestle with over my feelings after the fact. After it’s all said and done, I still struggle with how I actually feel about this game and it varies from day to day. Maybe as we get even further out from this game, the heart will grow fond. But for now, this is where I’m placing it. But for all the flaws and conflicting emotions, it has stayed with me.”
“To a certain extent we can’t choose the stories that work for us. Some people see a game like this as adding unnecessary grimness to their lives others, like me, find a game that acknowledges how difficult and painful life can be to be deeply cathartic. I’m thankful that other people share my taste in intense and gritty games and I’ll always be grateful to the talented people who dedicate their boundless skill and creativity to creating the gaming experiences that enrich my life.”
“A great story is one that invokes strong emotions, whether those are feelings of joy and exhilaration, comfort and hope, or anger and sadness. The Last of Us Part II is a triumph of the latter, a roller coaster of anger, grief, disappointment, and loss inter-spaced by bittersweet memories of happier, more innocent moments and told in a complex manner rarely approached in video games.”
“For such a brutal and dour game, it sure does have some wonderfully heartwarming moments, a one of which I found myself thinking about often in the weeks after finishing the game. I can’t think of another 3rd person shooter that feels as good or flows as smoothly between stealth, melee, and shooting. There were several times where I restarted combat encounters just to experiment with different ways they could play out. Each time was wildly different and made me want to get even more experimental come the next encounter.”
#1… Hades (454 pts)
Release date: September 2020
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Platforms: macOS, Windows, Switch
With a small team of 20, Supergiant had decided to release the game on the Epic Games Store in December 2018. As a result, the game was tweaked, fine-tuned and distilled into the roguelike action role-playing game that was officially released in September. Not only did Hades garnish critical acclaim, it was hit with our own community, taking home the gold medal not only for highest weighted score, but most #1 vote and most votes as well. With a gap of 287 between first and second, Hades left other games in the dust. All signs point to this gorgeous game being popular for quite some time to come.
“Apart from the fact it plays beautifully and has a very cleverly implemented ‘god mode’ for those of us with little patience for roguelites, it has amazing voice acting, music and the dialogue between and during missions is impeccable. Even now I still chip away at it knowing that I've barely even scratched the surface of the little extras available (I only have one of the support ‘pet’ items which I didn't even know WERE A THING after many hours of playing already).”
“Engaging story with great dialog, fully voiced (which still boggles my mind how they squeezed so much into this game, every time you speak with an NPC it has something new to tell, new line to say, it is insane!) and the flow of the game is somehow so relaxing. I am always curious what has changed after I die, what will be new, what powers I will get at the beginning. They really balanced those things very well to keep you entertained and wanting for more. A marvel.”
“My favorite new game of the past several years! Buttery-smooth action-RPG gameplay. Characters who still have new and interesting things to say and do even after hours and hours of gameplay. Fantastic soundtrack, complete with musical stingers/outros that play as you defeat a boss or clear an area that somehow perfectly sound as though they were a part of the original music track. Excellent progression system with enormous replayability value.”
“The list wrecker. I'm up to 70+ runs now and still manage to sneak in a run most days. At first it was the thrill of discovery, then an addiction to trying out all the toys, then the characters started to pique my interest, and now, now I just like to zone out and see where the gods lead me.”
“One the best games I've played in years. The more I played the more I saw how expertly designed it all was. The incredible design and mechanics mixed with Supergiant's ability to put heart into a game makes this an all-timer. It's a once in a generation achievement. Bonus, you don't have to be good to have fun. I'm not good at the game. The game came out and people where like completing their first run after 20 or 30 tries. I'm pretty sure I was around 60 the first time I completed a run. Despite that I never felt like time was wasted. I was always improving and making progress.”
Best adventure game – Kentucky Route Zero
Release date: January 2013 - 2020
Developer: Cardboard Computer
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Platforms: Windows, OS X, Linux, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
With its first episode released in 2011, KR0 finally reached the end of the road with the fifth and final act hitting the shelves in January. The result is a rather unique point-and-click adventure game following truck driver Conway as he makes his way across the fictitious Route Zero in Kentucky. KR0 has been praised for its art, atmosphere, themes and storytelling. Some would argue it’s an experience more than an actual game, but regardless, it’s very much worth giving a shot.
“Not really the conclusion I particularly wanted or expected to the game, but maybe the one that I needed. It found me in a particularly rough and vulnerable place space to pause, mourn our losses, catch our breath and figure out where we go next. I’ve been lauding the game throughout its production. It’s such a rare and extraordinary gem that manages to feel timeless and urgent all at once.”
“This game really hits hard in 2020 at my age of 37 taking a long hard look at America. That last act and ending is a punch to the gut. I think the game will age well looking back at it a couple decades from now.”
“This game. I started right after the pandemic and lockdowns started, and it is so bleak, dreary, and yet I couldn't escape. Despite releasing each episode over multiple years, this final episode and everything leading up to it felt like holding a mirror up to where we have been and are. The musical interludes (as with Hades, actually) always caused me to stop, listen, and allow myself to just feel whatever the moment was trying to express.”
Best brief game – A Short Hike
Release date: July 2019
Developer: Adam Robinson-Yu
Publisher: Adam Robinson-Yu
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, Switch
This little indie exploration game was created in no more than three months. The world may be a small one, an island, but it’s still a bit of a hike to the top of the mountain, as the player sets out on a quest for… better cellphone reception! Fly, jog, climb, swim, glide your way to the top. Or play some beachstickball by the sea. Or collect coins, or sticks, or shells. Whatever you decide to do, you’re guaranteed to have a relaxing time.
“You are on a cute little island and talk to other cute little animals. You find out about little mysteries, goofy little bits of mechanics, other areas to explore. You solve some silly puzzles, do some light platforming, and eventually get a moving payoff to the brief story. I played this in mid-March, some evening when I was feeling a bit panicked and worried about the state of the world and it was a lovely little antidote to everything going on. All the other games on my list were longer, most of them were better looking, they all had deeper mechanics, etc. But this one hit me in just the right way to have a profound effect on me that I won't forget.”
“An adorable bird hangs out on an island full of funny characters, looks for hidden tiny secrets, and needs to get to the top of a mountain in the middle of the island for some heart-warming reason. Made me go ‘Awwwww’.”
“True to its name, this 3D adventure/exploration game is proof that even a very short game can be a delightful experience. I enjoyed a fun evening playing through this charming game in 3 hours or so, didn't come back to it afterwards, and it was still one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year.”
Best gacha hell game – Genshin Impact
Release date: September 2020
Publisher: miHoYo, SPay
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Android, iOS, Switch, PlayStation 5
A free-to-play role-playing game in a fantasy open world featuring elemental magic, Genshin Impact has received critical acclaim and grossed over $393 million in two months. The secret to such revenue is its gacha system, but also its characters which encourage players to keep rolling the gacha over and over, in the slim hope of unlocking their favorite, whether that be Albedo, Diluc, Zhongli, or Childe. Items and weapons are also unlockable as well. The beautiful world miHoYo has crafted with its different nations and exquisite landscape are well worth exploring.
“My biggest surprise of the year. I fired it up looking for a free way to satisfy a Breath of the Wild itch for a few hours. Months later, I’m still playing. In the ways that Genshin Impact compares most directly to BotW, it doesn’t quite measure up, but it’s still damn good. Exploring the absolutely gorgeous world they’ve designed is enjoyable enough on its own, particularly the second major area that you discover later in the game. There are chests to open at every corner and plenty of environmental puzzles to discover, as well as a ton of quests of both the world and story variety to tackle at your leisure.”
“This anime themed, open world, gacha game has been my new obsession this year, and thankfully I’m not alone. Colorful fun characters, gorgeous landscapes, relaxing soundscapes, and a combat system that provides a depth of strategies without being complex all help make this game a fascinating ride. While there are numerous systems about its gacha-related restrictions, I feel that most of these are fair enough for a gacha game. If anything, my complaint about the game is that we don’t get to see enough of its playable characters inside quests and stories.”
“Probably my SOTY – Surprise Of The Year. It came out of nowhere, and I figured I’d have a go based on the buzz. I ended up sticking with it, and it became the game my daughter wanted to watch all the time, to the point that “no Genshin for a week” was used as a punishment for drawing on the furniture in Sharpie. The F2P nature and the stingy gacha mechanics didn’t get in the way of a fabulously enjoyable open world exploration and combat game, and it’s entirely enjoyable without spending a cent on it. Obviously it owes an enormous debt to Breath Of The Wild, but it takes that inspiration and runs far enough with it that it never feels like a cheap knock-off.”
Best gif generator game – Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Release date: January 2020
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5
Focusing on protagonist Ichiban Kasuga instead of Kazuma Kiryu, the latest edition in the Yakuza games takes players on quite the ride, from the new Dragon Kart activity to karaoke and turn-based fights. The tale is one of betrayal and revenge, keeping to the spirit of the Yakuza games while still taking it in a fresh, new direction. If anything, it has spawned quite the collection of absolutely outrageous gifs and it’s a delight to behold.
“It’s a new Yakuza game. It’s going to have to work very hard to not be a shoo-in on my top ten, and this works very hard on being good and heartfelt. In a year as sh*tty as this, where you see sociopaths arguing that people need to die for the dow, having a game like this come out, that is concerned with class, and marginalized people feels like getting a warm hug.”
- Alien Love Gardener
“While previous games it's been Kiryu against threats to his former clan, Like a Dragon is more about the city of Ijincho and its inhabitants. Even with the new system and the new protagonist, Like a Dragon still manages to keep the spirit of the Yakuza games alive while making it a unique experience. The off-the-wall side stories are still there, but you also have minigames like can collecting, shareholder meetings, and even a Mario Kart-like section. All of these contribute to giving Ijincho its own identity and are great additions to the series. (…) I cannot wait to see what they do from here.”
“Thus far, Like a Dragon seems like the best of the series from every angle. The mini-games are the most enjoyable and most polished, the side quests are largely less troublesome to find and complete, it is easier to avoid combat with random hooligans (though they are still more numerous than I'd prefer), and while I really dig Kazuma Kiryu and Takayuki Yagami, Ichiban Kasuga is just a whirlwind of optimism, imagination, and stubborn justice.”
Best multiplayer game – Deep Rock Galactic
Release date: May 2020
Developer: Ghost Ship Games
Publisher: Coffee Stain Publishing
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One
As a cooperative first-person shooter, Deep Rock Galactic brought folks together as they explored procedurally generated cave systems. Taking the role of a space dwarf, one of four classes (engineer, gunner, driller and scout), was also quite the highlight, but mining minerals, stealing alien eggs, retrieving lost equipment were all missions that made the game engaging.
“The Best Example of Procedural Generation I've ever seen combined with an industry leading level of commitment and support for the community and a deep and interesting endgame system that's 1000x more rewarding than anything ever put into a Destiny game.”
“Did not play as much as I would have liked, but had some great times with the folks I was able to play with. I am bad and will let my team down every time in one way or another but we will all laugh uproariously.”
“Right off the bat, the style and humor hooked me in, and I loved the differences between the classes. Add in the mission variety and this was easily one of my favorite games to play if there were a few friends who wanted to get together on Discord, have a few drinks, and knock out a mission or two.”
Lists, graphs and stats
Hades slayed the competition, leaving The Last of Us Part II and Final Fantasy VII Remake to narrowly battle it out for silver and bronze. Outer Wilds returned, ranked higher than last year and was the runner up in “most #1 votes.”
It’s rare, but every once in a while, some games will place on someone’s list only to be left on the cutting room floor after an edit or two. The poor unfortunate games that got left behind this year are Elder Scrolls Online and Fitness Boxing 2.
Single voter games: 301 (out of 487 games total)
Number of times I wrote Mnoster Train instead of Monster Train: 10 (out of 10 votes)
Most votes: Hades (58 votes), runner up The Last of Us Part II (23 votes)
Most #1 votes: Hades (19 #1 votes), runner up Outer Wilds (8 #1 votes)
A history of gaps…
The Top 30
- Hades (454pts)
- The Last of Us 2 (167pts)
- Final Fantasy VII Remake (156pts)
- Control (147pts)
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons (131pts)
- Ghost of Tsushima (120pts)
- Outer Wilds (102pts)
- Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (99pts)
- Marvel's Spider-Man Miles Morales (86pts)
- Crusader Kings III (80pts)
- Cyberpunk 2077 (76pts)
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps (74pts)
- Assassin's Creed Valhalla (73pts)
- A Short Hike (63pts)
- Disco Elysium (63pts)
- Genshin Impact (62pts)
- Monster Train (61pts)
- Deep Rock Galactic (58pts)
- Immortals Fenyx Rising (57pts)
- Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (56pts)
- Death Stranding (54pts)
- Kentucky Route Zero (54pts)
- XCOM: Chimera Squad (50pts)
- Red Dead Redemption 2 (50pts)
- Children of Morta (49pts)
- A Plague Tale: Innocence (48pts)
- The Outer Worlds (48pts)
- Assassin's Creed Odyssey (47pts)
- Hardspace: Shipbreaker (46pts)
- Return of the Obra Dinn (46pts)
Charts and graphs galore
As is most often the case, people are mostly voting for the new hotness (but not exclusively!).
The following graphs show the number of points each game acquired as time passed and lists rolled in. Each graph can be zoomed in if you open the image itself (right click and open in a new tab).
And last, but certainly not least, two visual representations of the race as the lists rolled in, one with the top ten games and another with the top twenty. Many thanks to staygold who made these gifs happen!!
The race for the top twenty:
The race for the top ten:
Sinatar… For forging the way and beginning this now old tradition (at least fifteen years old!).
ClockworkHouse… For picking up the mantle and carrying it for years, building and expanding what Sinatar had started. For passing it on to me and trusting me not to mess it up. For their patience as I keep coming back with my questions and misgivings. For nudging me in the right direction and helping me out when I got stuck with writer’s block.
Staygold… For his enthusiasm and support, and helping me make an amazing thing even awesomer.
Amoebic… For taking over operations at GWJ, making it a better place and being incredibly patient and supportive.
Thanks for all the hard work Eleima putting this together! Somehow you are able to make this more impressive every year!
scans Top Ten.....
scans Top Thirty...
YAKUZA 7 WAS ROBBED!
Thanks for doing this Eleima! I know how much work you put into this and it is much appreciated!
Thanks again Eleima! Great work as always.
I love seeing the total dominance of Hades, but I'm even more pleased to see Outer Wilds reappear and place higher than in 2019. It's great to see so many others discovering just how incredible it is.
I need an "I'm with Dyni" t-shirt. -- Localgod54
Thank you Eleima. Your hard work on this thread absolutely blows me away every year.
Also: Well done, us. Some great choices and stellar writing here!
LastSuprise: Destroyer of Wallets would be an excellent tag and/or third handle for you.
Way to go Eleima! You know you could make things easy on yourself without the deep data interactive charts. But it is very appreciated!
One of the things I love about these lists is I get to see all the games I should check out.
Thanks for all your hard work here!
zeroKFE on: XBL | Steam | Instagram
Thanks Eleima! Awesome display of data. And so much work pulling review quotes.
Yay for Hades.
Interesting both recent Assassin's Creed games in the top 30. Valhalla was probably too late in the year to chart.
What Stele said ^ -mortalgroove
Thank you for doing this every year, Eleima. It's a lot of fun and you really make it happen.
Hades dominated. Wow.
Final Warrior Quest - Play it for free!
Agent of Fate - Play it for free!
Yeah I already picked up Outer Wilds on sale back in Dec based on the thread. Probably will end up on my 2021 list.
What Stele said ^ -mortalgroove
Thanks Eleima. Great post as usual.
No surprise Hades won, but damn, it dominated.
Glad to see Outer Wilds reappear. Also, Disco Elysium at #15!
Just absolutely wonderful work, Eleima. Seeing Hades perform this way feels like vindication for it climbing high but not taking a bunch of other awards from less prestigious websites.
Blizz.net - Minotaar#1422
This was great, as always. Thanks Eleima!!!
Also thanks for lifting up Deep Rock Galactic. Anyone looking to play, hit me up on Steam or Discord.
SteamID | BGG | Discord: EriktheRed#2585
Thanks Eleima, amazing stat work!
Wow Hades soared, best get around to it giving it a proper go this year!
Me, in the other thread:
Well, I got my answer.
Eleima, in the 2019 roundup:
I was one of those folks saying something like that, but I may have to revise my opinion of 2019 upward a bit after catching up this year. And sure enough, but here are a trio of 2019 releases, sticking around in the top 10.
And hey, CKIII managed to sneak in!
Thanks for all the effort!
It's shocking to see how A Short Hike was so popular.
How did I live before digital distribution of old, cheap games?MilkmanDanimal wrote:
You did live before digital distribution of old, cheap games. Now you just play games.
Wow, that 1st to 2nd gap was an absolute blow out.
Great work, Eleima. You outdid yourself as usual.
Struggling to sleep? Try my sleep podcast! Sleepy Time Tales.
Need Podcast editing? Go to Bright Vox Audio
Excellent! Great work, Eleima! Many thanks indeed!
Steam | Backloggery
Thank you Eleima, and thank you Zagreus?
oilypenguin: That is a terrible joke and I'd ask you to be ashamed of yourself but you've been around here long enough that I know you'll be proud of it.
detroit20: UptoIsomorphism has it right.
It was a great read and very interesting to see what games came out on top! I've only played four games that are in the top 30 but I'm sure I'll get to some of the others in time.
Thanks Eleima for all the hard work and the fascinating graphs! Now you might have some time to play the best adventure game – Kentucky Route Zero!
Currently playing: HITMAN 3, Death Stranding, Eliza, Empire of Sin, Old World
Thank you for all your hard work Eleima! It’s always a fun read, and I’ll admit to being surprised by the sheer size of Hades’s win. I figured it would, but not by that much!
GWJ Boss Key Master List
That was great! Thanks for much for doing this Eleima!
I see what you did there!
Here's my thoughts looking at the list.
1. Eleima is a saint and a force of nature.
2. I love how for most (if not all) of the entries, it seems like graphics are important as each of these games are attractive in their own way, but for each gameplay and story take precedence. It's simply not enough for a game to be a beautiful broken mess. Otherwise Cyberpunk would be higher on the list.
3. One common theme that seems to stick out for me when I see this is list is that most of the games emphasize balancing a personal story within an epic event or setting. It's as if the main character is trying to find themselves or make sense of their world despite the scale of events surrounding them.
4. Another theme that seems to come through for several of the games is coming to terms with death and what happens afterwards. Maybe I'm biased based on the previous year I just had - it's actually something I've been thinking about as a new thread: how games cope with the concept of death and how they can help us cope with the unavoidable reality of death. Whether it's leaving a legacy with CK3, to escaping Hades in, well, Hades, to the samurai stoicism of Ghosts of Tsushima, even to finding a life after an apocalypse in Outer Wilds or Last of Us 2, each of these titles finds a way to come to terms with death, dying, and survival.
1. I'm not surprised at all Hades is at the top of the list. I had just started playing it when I submitted my list, but had I started earlier it would have been my #1 as well. The game takes Greek mythology, anime, roguelikes, Diablo 3, even Groundhog Day and blends them into a perfectly balanced game that rewards you for dying. Hades has mastered pace, sometimes proceeding at a frenetic pace, other times giving you a moment to breathe and prepare. It also allows you to iterate on Zagreus so much, whether it's achieving and improving a new weapon (each of which has their own "language"), to improving skills, even getting a poster of Achilles in your room. Even the story and character/NPC development is doled out in such perfectly sized bite sized chunks that you don't mind dying and returning to the court. The game requires you to fail so the game can succeed. And the combat...is perfect. It's simple to learn, but rewards improvisation. Each weapon has a particular style associated with it, but as you get new boosts repeatedly through each escape attempt, the strategy you had at the beginning of your run will be completely different by the end due to all the microdecisions you're forced to make in 2 minute action chunks. Do I take the boost to slow my enemies and show support for Dionysus or do I take Poseidon's boon and knock my enemies back? And how will that work when I get to the next boss? It starts out as checkers but turns into chess and I'm engrossed. This is already on my 2021 GOTY and will have to be knocked off before relinquishing the throne.
2. I'm kind of surprised/not surprised Cyberpunk missed out on the list. I've been blessed to have only a few minor bugs, but from everything I've heard it's a shame the game was rushed in the state it was in, but even in that buggy state the game still managed to shine, flaws and all.
3. A little surprised Chimera Squad didn't rank higher. I wonder if that's because it was released around this time last year. It was a solid title. Similar thoughts for Jedi: Fallen Order.
4. It's amazing that 10 years after it's initial release that Kentucky Route Zero still managed to amaze. I love how patient people were waiting for the final episode and how the game rewards the player with a beautiful but semi-incomprehensible story. I still don't know why I liked the game so much (or even what really happened), but I enjoyed my time on the Zero.
5. Other than CK3 (which is superb), very few strategy titles made the list. Is it an off year? Nothing major released? It's just interesting.
6. Glad that Children of Morta made the list! If you loved Hades and want something different, you'll love this game as well.
7. My only disappointment is that WoW: Shadowlands and Spiritfarer did not make even the expanded list. The Shadowlands expansion is some of the best work Blizzard has done in quite some time, and Spiritfarer is just such a beautiful, joyous title that deserves a larger audience.
Thanks again Eleima. You're the best. The bestiest best.
My Trump Comedy Blog: The Trumpalogues
Thank you, Eleima! You're the best!
"Mario likes everything."
Thank you, Eleima!
Steam & Xbox: Maclintok | PSN: Maclintok77 | Discord: Maclintok#4672
Eleima is the best.
The best there ever was
We all love Eleima
We love her just because
Also Blaseball was robbed.
I wonder how high Hades will rank next year, I will probably play it after I am done with Jedi Fallen Order and Control.
I hope life gets better. From one dumpster fire to another.
Blaseball Playoff Status
Awesome work, Eleima! Fun data. Not surprised by Hades' blowout, even if it hasn't clicked with me the way it has for so many. I am more surprised about the rest of the top-10 including so many non-2020 games, I'm not sure how much of that is 2020 being a weak year or those older games being a special combination of good but slightly overlooked on initial release.
Battle.net id: RolandStazak#1741
So Eleima, going for 3D or VR next year? Amazing work, truly stunning!
Awesome work, love the visualizations! As if it weren't already dominating my radar, as a console-only gamer I'm now really, REALLY awaiting a console release announcement (this-gen, last-gen, I don't care) for Hades! Similar comment applies to Disco Elysium, though it's been announced now as coming out (even bigger and better) for PS4/PS5 in March.
Other takeaways for me (thanks to the community and your hard work Elemia!):
1. Control being #1 last year, #4 this year around here, yet being this underwhelming thing in my brain that I've yet to (maybe even halfway?) complete is bothering me more and more. I'm feeling more like I need to just start it over, go through the optional dialog moments, absorb the narrative from all the collectibles lying around etc. to try and connect to it more. It clearly has a lot to say that's just missed the mark for me so far, and I'm a Remedy Entertainment fan.
2. This is largely a PC-first/-focused community from my experience over the years, yet Sony Playstation exclusives took 4 of the Top 10 spots. What a juggernaut, and what a competitive advantage.
3. We're in the middle of this massive paradigm in gaming where the biggest titles in terms of popularity, revenue, streaming viewership, cultural impact, etc. are mostly about mobile or competitive/online multiplayer titles, yet 8 out of the Top 10 (and most of the Top 20) are purely single-player experiences.
I'm still working out what all that means to me, but GWJ is largely captivated by lengthy, deep, personal experiences on dedicated hardware, and strong narratives largely free of competition/FOMO/whatever's taking the Internet by storm and I (have always) really liked that about this place.
Eleima, I appreciate the effort you put into this. Great job. Love the graphs.