Game Of The Year 2020

2020 may not have been a good year out there in the real world, but in the gaming world, we have been spoilt with some fantastic games. I’ve comprised the following list of my personal top ten games of the year.

A small caveat before we start – I haven’t managed to play everything, unfortunately, I’m just one person and there are only so many hours in the day. There are some big names missing from the list, but they are going to be big games you’ve heard of. Hopefully, there will be some lesser-known games in here too, so if you’re stuck for something to play going into 2021, then why not check them out.

Let’s jump into the list.

#10 Teardown

Teardown is a strangely exhilarating game. You can smash, break and bust through walls in an environment that’s similar looking to Minecraft, but with updated textures and environments. It’s first-person and you have a few tools like a hammer, spray can and fire extinguisher to cause mayhem and ultimately escape from each level with the goods on a pre-planned optimum path.

At first, it feels like a very good and well-polished tech-demo, but the game has two central modes. There’s a sandbox mode where you can simply play around with the physics – smashing, jumping and literally tearing down all manner of buildings and environments. There’s also the campaign mode where you are a thief, down on his luck and needing some extra cash for the family. The main objective in each level is to scout out the area and find the valuables and then plan the fastest route to obtain all valuables before making it off in your getaway car.

You’re going to have to be fast though. Once you trigger the security system by touching one of the items you’re required to collect you generally have 60-secs to speed through the rest of the level, pick up what you need before making a getaway. Optimum paths can be found by smashing walls with trucks, banging holes in the side of houses with your hammer or driving vans into lakes to provide makeshift bridges. Once you’re set up your path, then it’s a race against the clock to get out of there.

The tasks do vary. In the opening hours of the game, you’re handheld through the various tools and mechanics. When you’re dropped into a level for the first time it’s all about finding the location of the valuables, or perhaps you have to knock something down completely. Keep an eye on the objectives and the fail states though, as sometimes you can trigger security systems that will make you fail fast. I picked up a blowtorch after the first mission, used it straight away on my second mission only to find that fire would set off the security alarm.

The exciting part is the race to exit. You’ll be scouting out the locations for the items and then it’s about planning your optimum route through the existing building. You may have to run up some stairs so perhaps busting a hole in the wall, or clearing a building completely off the map will help you gain that extra 5 secs you need to help you get to your van at the end to make a clean getaway. If you don’t make it before the timing runs out then the cops show up and you have to start all over again. You’ll likely spend plenty of time surveying and preparing, maybe even practising your runs.

Some of the solutions can be surprising. There was one job I was on where I had to get a couple of safes out of buildings and into the sea (I had to destroy some ownership records on a pier to make room for my friend’s yacht). I casually went up to a building, smashed a hole in the wall rather than going through the door as you do, and then went upstairs only to find I could move the safe with just my hands or my tools. No worries, I ran outside to find a truck and drove it through the building, only to find the safe dropped neatly into the truck I just ran through the house… and then drove that off the pier and into the sea.

The environment physics feel really good. Close up there’s not much fidelity as it gives off a similar feeling to a world in Minecraft, although that’s selling it kind of short as there are much better textures at play here. Minecraft is the obvious comparison though as everyone can relate to that blocky world in a first-person 3D space. You can knock down houses brick by brick with your hammer, or burn down places with your blow torch. The fire simulation feels really good and realistic. Again, on my pier early on in the game, I had to destroy a whole building (at this time not knowing about the fire alarm warning) and I set this place on fire. Much to my surprise and horror, the fire spread easily from one building to another. Sometimes the physics can feel a little weird when you’ve knocked down the perimeter of a building and the thing is still standing. However, there’s nothing more satisfying than bulldozing a warehouse and especially creating an optimum route through a bunch of warehouses to help that clean getaway.

There’s much more of a story to the game than I was expecting. You have your sandbox mode, which is great for playing around however after a few minutes of smashing and understanding how I can interact with the environment I needed an objective to sink my teeth into. The campaign mode is great, building tension with the heist mode of gameplay with tense music building during the planning phase then dramatic music during the 60-sec getaway sequence. You’ll likely fail a few times too, creating an element of a time trial against yourself. It’s very satisfying to gather everything and reach the goal with only a second or so remaining.

Teardown provides you with plenty of tools to aid your destructive habits. When you start out you have a hammer, extinguisher and spray can. You can also get into cars, trucks, bulldozers and boats. Each vehicle has a health bar so smash something too much and it’s simply going to be useless to you. I did notice the water effects looked great in this game. Initially, on the first inspection, you could write this off for having simplistic graphics, but look closer and you’ll see something refined and high fidelity.

#9 Pendragon

Pendragon is a narrative tactics game from Inkle Studios, creators of 80 Days and Heaven’s Vault, and this time they are taking on the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s great fun, sometimes touching, sometimes heartbreaking in this pop-up book style adventure through history and it’s an entertaining genre mashup between turn-based tactics and narrative adventure.

All roads point to Camelann and King Arthur facing off against his arch-rival Sir Mordred, but each time you play through you’ll make narrative choices which shape the story that unfolds before you. This plays into the strengths of Inkle Studios as they have built they’re fine reputation on wonderful narrative adventure games like 80 Days and Heaven’s Vault.

As for the other mechanics in the game, this is more of a departure for Inkle, as the combat comes in the form of a tactics-based game. On the world map, there’s a number of locations you’ll visit along the way, and each one is a board which you have to safely navigate your way across, one or two spaces at a time. Standing in your way will be enemies like wolves, spiders and Modred’s Knights or even wandering townsfolk. Your character or party then becomes like pieces on a chessboard.

At the start of the game, there’s a nice tutorial taking you through the basics like moving, attacking and complimentary mechanics like the morale meter and rations. If you get in a real sticky situation, then you can flee, but beware – this doesn’t always work and you could be caught in a deadly situation.

As you make progress you’ll pick up new skills and abilities, like being able to push forward and gain an additional square or powerful skills like skewering two opponents in a line. The tactics elements have been boiled down to the bare essentials, which makes the game very accessible, but that doesn’t mean the game is easy by any stretch – you’ll have to keep an eye on what your enemies are doing and plan a few moves ahead. Don’t just go charging into battle as your playthrough could end very quickly. One false move and you’re dead, so do be careful.

The battle mechanics are easy to understand and if you’re well-versed in tactics games then you’ll take to this like a duck to water. Combined with attacks and movement you have the morale meter. If you play defensively then morale will go down. It’s wise to keep morale high as it will allow unlocking abilities in battle, so try to balance the morale and keep it on the higher side. You don’t want to be backed into a corner with low morale only to find a move that could save you is disabled due to low morale… believe me, I know!

Replayability definitely comes to mind when I think about Pendragon. As you unlock new characters along the way you’ll want to play through again from the start with these new faces to see and hear their point of view. Lancelot proclaims his love for Guinevere and hopes Arthur will find it in himself to forgive him, whereas Guinevere longs to see her King once again. A single playthrough of the game is relatively short (perhaps an hour or so), but you won’t uncover all of the details in a single playthrough.

Each time you start a new playthrough the board is randomised, so you’re going to get something new each time you play through whether that be unlocking a new playable character or finding one of the many secrets hidden within Pendragon. Finding out what Merlyn’s up to as well as the legendary sword, Excalibur was high on my todo list. There’s plenty of great secrets in the game and they will keep you coming back time after time.

There’s something about this combination of tactics and replayable storey adventure I really enjoyed with Pendragon. I vaguely knew the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but uncovering it through this series of different character perspectives is super fun and the gameplay mechanics are enjoyable too. I found the game quite tricky, but I am not a huge tactics game player – so experts in the field may have an easier time of it than I did. There are 3 main beats to the game – tactics, narrative adventure and Arthurian lore. if you’re interested any of these or a combination, then I’d definitely recommend Pendragon to you.

The game is charming with beautiful pop-up book style artwork and excellent music, so it’s a pleasure to play through again and you’ll want to as the characters are lovable and interesting. Successful playthroughs unlock higher difficulties so the more you play and the better you get, you have the option of ramping up the challenge. The overall visual design from the way the narrative unfolds to the clean UI, clearly explaining what’s going on is a massive strength of the game.

#8 Astro’s Playroom

Astro’s Playroom is a launch game that comes bundled with PS5 and it’s a cute and fun journey through PlayStation history plus demonstrates the capabilities of the PlayStation 5 Dualsense controller perfectly. There’s a feelgood factor here, so much so that you might be fooled into thinking Nintendo made it. The following is my review of Astro’s Playroom.

Astro has previously been on adventures in PSVR, however, this time it’s his job to show off what the PS5 can do. Astro previously starred in Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, and at first, there were eyebrows raised as to why Astro was coming out of VR and back onto the flat screen. Well, fears can be put away because this is a fantastic platformer in its own right with personality, graphics, audio and a dose of nostalgia too.

Sony’s history is plastered all over Astro’s Playroom and feels like a massive celebration of the last 25 years of Sony’s achievements since the original PlayStation. Astro plays with a PS Vita if you leave him be for a few minutes, and the world’s themselves are styled on PlayStation generations. There’s a bunch of PlayStation collectables to be found in each world, so if you’ve grown up through the PlayStation generations then there’s plenty here for you. If you’re a younger player and this is your first experience, then you’ll likely be dazzled by the graphics and the new controller, but there’s plenty in here for older audiences too.

The game, in essence, is a showcase of the PlayStation DualSense. As you platform and navigate through the different areas of the game you’re going to feel that right in your hand. Whether you’re walking around on sand or grass or skating on ice, you’re going to feel it right there in your hands. It’s something that’s hard to convey through reviews and youtube videos, but if you get the chance to experience this haptic feedback then it’s very much worthwhile.

As well as the Haptic Feedback there’s also the triggers to contend with related to the DualSense. Team Asobi has done a great job with the controller. It’s probably worth noting at this point this is a team who create the hardware for Sony, so they have been directly involved with the design and build of the controller itself, so as well as creating amazing VR and platforming experiences, they’re also a genius team when it comes to hardware.

The DualSense is perhaps the differentiator that may decide purchases between the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X. In the previous generation, there wasn’t much to split them, but this time around we have the controller. When Sony first came out and mentioned they were investing in something called ‘Haptic Feedback’, I think many thought it would be a gimmick and perhaps something just like ‘HD Rumble’. But this feels different, literally. It’s a great feature and could be the deciding factor for many.

Astro’s Playroom is a great showcase for the PlayStation 5. It’s one of the best-bundled games that comes with a system I have ever seen and it’s a heartwarming, fun introduction to your brand new console generation. This one may have flown under the radar when other big-hitters like Demon Souls and Spiderman: Miles Morales may have been stealing the headlines, but this one is worth your time and attention. You’ll come for the DualSense demo, but Astro will more than likely charm you into staying to hand out with him and his friends.

#7 Super Mario 3D Allstars

Super Mario 3D Allstars on the face of it is a wonderful collection. 1997’s Super Mario 64 revolutionised 3D platformers, 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine improved on many of Super Mario 64’s mechanics and added a new FLUDD system and 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy is a wonderful experience. However, when brought together in this collection for some reason it doesn’t feel as good as it could be. Before I get into the improvements, let’s have a look at the games first.

First of all, we have Super Mario 64. It stays pretty much true to the original game with some graphical upgrades. The game stays at its original aspect ratio and runs at 30 frames per second. It plays just like the Super Mario 64 I remember. I got this as an import from Hong Kong back in the days before the internet was widely available and I still remember playing it over and over as a teenager. Super Mario still holds up pretty well, albeit with a few camera issues here and there (that may even be true to its original form). The game is still as fun as it was back in the day and the visuals look crisp and there are the familiar music and open feel to the game which takes me right back. It’s incredible to think Nintendo made this 3D platformer and executed it so well on their first try. To take Mario and transfer that feeling of movement and joy of exploration from 2D to 3D, even today this game either tops of is a mainstay of ‘top 10 games of all time’ lists.

Super Mario Sunshine is an interesting one to go back to. Arguably of the games in this 3D collection it’s the weakest entry, but that’s not to say it’s a bad game at all, just when you compare it to two of the greatest games of all time the flaws are more obvious. Nintendo introduced FLUDD into this game allowing Mario to spray water, attack and move in new ways. It’s still a fun adventure with many of the characters this time given voice lines and there’s a significant graphical upgrade over Super Mario 64, gone are the polygons and sharp edges and this is much closer to the visuals of Super Mario we know and love today. Super Mario Sunshine didn’t manage to live up to the very high expectations set for it by Super Mario 64, but it’s still a good entry in the overall history of Super Mario games. If you’re coming to this fresh having never experienced Super Mario Sunshine, then it’s worth playing through.

Super Mario Galaxy is much more like it and perhaps one of the most ambitious Mario games in the series. This port onto the Nintendo Switch looks absolutely beautiful and had stood the test of time albeit a 13-year-old game. Motion controls are mixed with traditional controls and the Mario is taken to a new level with the ability to explore the cosmos. Mario can explore little planets and the sense of gravity, exploration and space is turned on its head. Nintendo really innovated here and elevated Mario to a new level after the semi-lacklustre showing of Super Mario Sunshine. This game is a joy to explore from start to finish with Nintendo trying out new ideas all the way through. The gravity and Mario’s traversal across the planets and moons is something to behold.

Super Mario Galaxy is the one I keep coming back to time and time again. Its story, graphics and music are all wonderful, and perhaps one of Nintendo’s greatest achievements in their long history of making amazing video games. The only tricky thing with porting this to Nintendo Switch is the motion controls. This game was designed with the Wii Remote in mind, and you can use a combination here of motion controls in the pro controller or in handheld mode by using the touch screen.

This is a collection of some of the best 3D Mario games out there, with Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy being near-perfect games. Super Mario Sunshine is an interesting game that’s worth playing, but if you have never experienced Mario before Super Mario Odyssey, then it’s worth checking out this collection and understanding how we got to modern-day Mario games. it would have been great for Nintendo to ‘celebrate’ this collection a little more in-game. For me, Super Mario Galaxy is worth the price tag alone and it’s a great bonus to have the other two games on there even if they don’t hold up quite as well as they do in my memory.

#6 Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 is a fan-made homage to the original series, much like other game series that have been brought back recently. Nostalgia is doing well right now with other big 90’s series doing well in 2020. Streets of Rage 4 is quite unique though as it tackles a style of game that’s faded away almost completely in the triple-A space.

The gameplay of Streets of Rage 4 stays largely the same as previous incarnations of the series, however, the graphics have had a complete overhaul by developer Liazrdcube. They are the ones who took on another 90’s classic previously with Wonderboy, a game that Game Gear fans will remember. The artwork is cell-shaded, colourful and looks like a comic book that you can control – it really brings the action to life. There’s the option to turn on the retro filter, allowing you to experience the updated game in full 16-bit glory, which if you have the nostalgia for the 90’s games then I’d definitely recommend this mode.

When you first start the game you have four characters to choose from. Axel, Blaze, Cherry and Floyd. Axel is your all-rounded, Floyd is bigger and moves a little slower whereas Blaze and Cherry are more nimble. Each character has a standard punch or kicks attack, holds and suplexes as well as a special attack. Be wary of the special attack though as it’ll drain some energy. Once you build up enough energy there’s a super attack. There are some nice attacks which you can chain together and the damage numbers and combos are reflected on the screen which is nice.

Attacks certainly are true to the original form of Streets of Rage. This is both good and bad. It feels authentic for sure, however, it can get a little button mashy and repetitive. The combo system is the saving grace of the battle system with the ability to juggle enemies in the air, more so with some characters than others. Out of the original characters I probably had the most fun with Cherry as combos include a lunge with her jumping forward and pounding her opponents with a follow-up punch that sends tingles down your spine. The developers definitely have injected plenty of fun and feels into the game.

There some nice systems in the game to keep you entertained and coming back for more including unlockable features such as characters, graphical styles and other game modes. There are a leaderboard and grading system to let you know instantly how you did. There’s a story mode, which isn’t too long (roughly in the region of a few hours). Once you have finished the story you unlock other game modes such as Stage Select, Arcade, Boss Rush and Battle mode.

Streets of Rage 4 can be played through in single-player mode, however, the classic co-op mode is back. This time there’s online matchmaking allowing you to team up with other fans and this is a great addition. Playing back in the day with another player on arcades was great fun and that was brought into the living room with console gaming, so this addition of online co-op play is great and pretty straight forward.

Overall, Streets of Rage 4 is a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Scrolling beat em ups have almost disappeared completely from gaming, so this is a nice reminder of those times. Whether it stands up on its own is another story against many other great titles that are vying for your time these days. I had fun with it, I played it on Xbox Game Pass on PC as part of my monthly subscription there. I was thinking when I was playing it, I don’t know if I’d be happy if I paid full price for the game as I don’t think it’ll have too much longevity for me. For fans of the genre, this is most likely the best it’s going to get on modern consoles and a wonderful trip down memory lane.

#5 Spider-Man: Miles Morales

This is a follow-up extension of one of the best games of 2018, and Insomniac have a new set of tech tools to play with to show off what they can do. This is a much more condensed experience than Spidey’s previous outing, but it’s big on heart and is a great demonstration of the power of the PS5.

The game is set about a year after the first game and we’re given a quick catch up at the start if you either missed out on the game or happened to forget the events of the original. Miles and Peter meet up in the opening mission of the game to take on Rhino after a wreckless Miles tries to help, but unfortunately frees a bunch of enemies and Rhino himself, leaving Peter badly beaten and bruised. Miles discovers some powerful new abilities in his battles with Rhino, and leave him out cold and eventually saves the day. Peter’s called away with MJ and the Bugel on assignment, leaving Miles as ‘the only New York Spider-Man’ for a few weeks, leaving Miles a little shellshocked, but excited at this news.

Swinging around the city feels fantastic as it always has. Swinging from skyscraper to skyscraper, running up the face of the building and leaping off mile-high buildings has never felt more fun. This is quite literal too with the haptic feedback and the graphical improvements. Miles adds his own personality to the traversal feeling slightly awkward and squirming all over the place, making him feel not quite as fluid as Peter, but unique to Miles himself. There’s an element to Miles and the way he moves suggesting he should be wearing some kind of L plates… and in his own way he’s very charming.

This is a game where travelling from A to B is great. Some recent games like Red Dead Redemption 2, sometimes you just want to skip to the destination, but Spider-Man rewrites the rules on in-game travel and makes it a joy every time. This is further enhanced by the power of the PS5 in either of the graphical modes. There’s the raytracing a 4k capabilities, or you can play a 60fps… both look and feel great. You can feel the webbing hook into the buildings and sometimes when you rush and dive off a building you’re heart goes into your mouth. Sometimes I genuine felt a little twinge of vertigo as I dove off a huge building only to shoot out some webbing at the last minute to fly through the Big Apple and then we-zip forward to land gracefully on some traffic lights. This has to be a new benchmark for traversal in games.

New York has been given a lick of paint, new missions and the whole place breaths like a bustling city should. As you travel around you pop in and out of missions with ease. The power of the PlayStation once again comes into focus as the loading times are barely there, able to load massive areas with incredible detail in seconds. Combat feels very good once again. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to fans of the original game as the game flows from combat to exploration in a very seamless manner. One minute you’ll be on the top of a building scouting out the zones, next minute you’ll be web-shooting and duffing up a bunch of bad guys or the latest big bad boss.

Spider-Man Miles Morales builds on the first game in so many ways. Given the success of the first instalment, Insomniac’s job here was to tweak and add small additions. Miles works great as the lead from a narrative point of view, but also from a gameplay perspective too. Miles’ Mum, Rio Morales, plays an important role in the game and Gank Lee too, Miles’ close connections play a big part here and it leaves you with a warm feeling once you’ve played it. I can’t say too much about the extended cast without giving away too much, but there are some fantastic characters in here. Gameplay and action-wise this is very high up there on the charts, however, the story does run out a steam a little bit perhaps demonstrating it’s more on an expansion rather than a fully-fledged sequel. No doubt Insomniac will be back with a bigger, better, more impressive Spider-Man sequel in the not-too-distant future.

Overall, Spider-Man: Mile Morales is a great expansion to 2018’s Spider-man, more than living up to the high expectations that game set for itself and in many ways it succeeds. The combat is as enjoyable as every, the traversal and movement are fluid and fun as you’d expect. Given it’s 2020 and I imagine it’s been tough to make a game like this working from home, I can help but get excited for what Insomniac may have in store for us next, now knowing the capabilities of the PS5 and the talent they have in their studios. All-in-all it’s a great PS5 game that respects your time and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.

#4 Roki

Röki is a game full of magic creatures, adventure but also it’s about dealing with life’s hardships too. Prepare yourself for a heartfelt tale of family, love and mystery as you explore frozen forests in this exquisite adventure from Polygon Treehouse.

The game starts out with you as Tove playing with her younger brother Lars playing hide and seek amongst the snow-covered wilderness just outside their house. They’re clearly having fun, but it’s dinner time and Tove is hunger so she does her very best to get her energy-filled Lars back to the house in one piece. Father is asleep by the fire and you have to cook dinner, and eggs are the only thing left in the cupboard. Clearly the family has been through some tough times, as a mother is nowhere to be seen and Tove looks slightly worn down. After a bedtime story, something big comes crawling out of the forest and steals away Tove’s younger brother, then it’s time to find out who (or what) has come for them and restore some kind of normality to their lives.

A rich history is weaved in the first hour of the game where you’re introduced to a series of characters in books, legends who once looked over and protected the forest. We’re given a slight glimpse into the sad background of Tove and her family, all against the backdrop of beautiful music and graphics that draw you into the lore of the game world. It’s all very inviting like a comfy chair next to a roaring fireplace. Once you have made your escape from your initial encounter with this new, dreamlike danger the world comes alive. Ravens, statues and the landscape itself brings a vibrance to your exploring. There are trolls, an all-seeing tree and secrets around every turn.

Röki is a point-and-click adventure game and you’re introduced to the mechanics very early on in your adventure taking care of your little brother and making sure dinner is on the table and there’s enough firewood burning to keep father warm while he gently rocks to sleep in his chair.

There’s the classic gathering of items in your inventory and various combinations, but it feels smoother than other recent point-and-click adventure games I have played. Each item has it’s logical next step and I didn’t feel the need to sweep the screen for something to interact with. This is helped by a great system where you can press a button or key to identify areas on the screen that you can interact with. This really helped with reducing the sometimes frustrating experience of other games in this genre.

The central inventory system keeps things nice and simple where you can either combine items with one another or drag them onto the environment. The audio design in the game does a great job of positive reinforcement here when it comes to your inventory with a satisfying chime when you get something right, or when Tove scribbles something in her notebook.

The puzzles found in Röki are never too obtuse as you work your way toward a goal. There’s normally more than one mystery on the go at any one time, and there’s a sense of innocence and positivity to the game that feels rare. This is the story of a little girl trying to save her brother, and do all she can to help the creatures she meets along the way. The game is split into 3 chapters and in the 2nd chapter, you’ll get some handy hints from the Tree Of Many, making the puzzling even less of an issue. There’s also a really handy fast-travel system here, but unfortunately, that system doesn’t last all throughout the roughly 10-hour adventure.

The whole inventory system works beautifully well together. Tove has a map of the local area as well as notes she takes along the way. There’s loot to collect like bugs and scraps found on the floor which she carefully adds to her notebook as ‘loot’ and you also have badges too to show off your achievements. The UI in this game is complimentary and doesn’t get in your way.

The graphics and the audio complement each other well as the world is beautiful. Snow-covered trees and caves and ice glisten around every turn, and the music offers a bright and breezy upbeat soundtrack to an otherwise sometimes sad and lonely adventure.

This is a game where the narrative takes centre stage and everything else compliments it rather than adding obstruction. The controls and systems made gliding through this game a breeze, which sets you up nicely for the hard-hitting story of folklore, family and love. The mystical fantasy that’s weaved around Tove sometimes mirrors that of her family life, but to go into any more detail would be encroaching on spoiler territory.

The biggest compliment I can give to this game is you should play it. It’s available on a number of platforms from PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch and it’s one of the most engrossing stories I have played in some time. Röki is a game that will delight and surprise and I’d recommend you giving it a try today.

#3 Destiny 2 Beyond Light

Bungie dropped their latest update to Destiny 2 called Beyond Light on the 10 November and with it comes to a bunch of changes, streamlining and improvements to the overall player experience. This is very much more Destiny, so if you’re a fan of the franchise then you’ll likely enjoy the expansion. However, it’s not without its controversy with sunsetting and many old weapons being removed plus the addition of Stasis, the new cosmic ice subclass and our Guardian’s walking the tightrope between the Light and the Dark. The following is my Destiny 2 Beyond Light review.

First of all, we should start up with the campaign. All of our gear has been brought up to the new base power level of 1050 and we start out on Europa, one of the frozen moons of Jupiter. A faction of the Fallen, led by Eramis, have set up camp here on Europa and there in search for their new God, having been deserted by The Traveler many years ago. Eramis is leading a ragtag bunch of Fallen, the Pirate race in the Destiny Universe, and promising to share Stasis with them… a new icy darkness ability that they are going to punish any followers of the Traveler with.

Variks, a returning character from Destiny 1, sent a distress call out and we’ve answered along with an unlikely fireteam of The Drifter, Eris Morn and The Exo Stranger… another returning character from Destiny 1. Drifter and Eris wield the Light, but The Exo Stranger is a new addition, with some very complex lore and backstory that is no doubt going to open up as the content unfolds through the year we have ahead of us in Beyond Light. Our job is to help out Variks and help him rid Europa of Eramis and her evil influence.

The campaign is fairly standard as Destiny campaigns go. We travel around the new and existing destinations, levelling up and beating a variety of bosses. There’s a good amount of storytelling and exposition with the NPCs and this feels like one of the best campaigns we’ve had in Destiny since The Taken King and Forsaken. Shadowkeep last year did feel a little bare-bones, however, Bungie had just been through the split with Activision, who took away a considerable amount of development resources when they left. On a positive note, they left Bungie on their own to take Destiny in their own direction and they’re learning much more into the MMO/RPG elements of the game now. WHere as before the game could be clearly labelled a looter/shooter, now it’s much more of an action MMO.

Back to the campaign. The boss fights throughout felt entertaining and the final battle was satisfying. Much like other campaigns though, we didn’t get too much of a build-up with Eramis, so beating her in the relatively short campaign can feel a little hollow as we don’t know her that well. At the end of the campaign, we get our new stasis ability. Peppered throughout the campaign we have opportunities to use stasis, but getting it for real is saved for the post-campaign.

Once you finish up the main campaign then there’s a little bit of post-campaign work to go through, but it’s entertaining enough in its own right. We get to earn a new exotic stasis grenade launcher through one of the best missions in Destiny history with our ghost doing an entertaining impression of Drifter, plus the exotic reward itself. There are 2 post-campaign questlines too with Variks and The Exo Stranger. Variks’ post-campaign missions open up an activity called Empire Hunts, which are repeatable activities where we face off against bosses from the campaign and give us access to the new Europa weapon set. The post-campaign missions with The Exo Stranger allow us to go after Fragments and Aspects, our new subclass customisation suite of tools.

Stasis is one of the main selling points of the DLC. We’ve been flirting with the Darkness for some time and now we have our first opportunity to wield the darkness in the form of stasis. We only have one stasis subclass at the moment, with more promised in the coming years. We already have 2 more DLCs planned – The Witch Queen in 2021 and Lightfall in 2022 where we’re likely to get more stasis subclasses (poison and earth abilities are currently being rumoured at the moment). Stasis is game-changing… it feels super powerful in PVE, and pretty much game-breaking in PVP, which has reignited the talks of splitting off the sandbox in PVE and PVP. Having one global system that caters for all game modes is very tough, further highlighted this week when only after 7 days stasis was nerfed for the Warlock class, given its overpowered nature across all game modes. The new aspects and fragments system is very good, and the opportunity for new and exciting builds is great… plus it unlocks over time, so there’s plenty to chase and go after each week.

The new location Europa is beautiful. It’s covered with ice and is full of secrets – there’s plenty of lost sectors, hidden loot chests and wide-open spaces to explore. There are new types of public events and even new enemy types too with the Fallen Brigs and the Vex Chickens. Bungie has introduced a dynamic weather system to the location too so the wind picks up and the snow comes in, making it really hard to see. The dynamic weather gives life and variety to the new location. The only thing it lacks is a landing point to the north at the moment. The place is huge too, with Vex and Fallen being the main enemies on this location. There’s a bunch of Braytech ExoScience buildings there, as this is the birthplace of the Exos (although more on the lore with Clovis Bray later on).

Now, let’s have a chat about loot. There has been much talk in the build-up to Beyond Light, due to sunsetting. Bungie decided to implement a power cap system, so a whole bunch of weapons in the game cannot be infused, or their power raised to the current levels… essentially making 50% of the weapons in the game irrelevant. This made a whole bunch of people mad, for good reason… we’ve been collecting for 3 years. However, Bungie promised this removal process was making way for new loot that would be introduced. Currently, in the game, there are about 35-40 new weapons, which seems much less than years before. This is likely due to a resourcing issue. We have the new Europa set, there’s Adept Trials Weapons, plus the new seasonal weapons and playlist specific drops for strikes, crucible and gambit. There was a rapid outpouring of rage when the game was released, with many fans disappointed with the current levels of loot. Bungie responded to this fairly quickly by adding in all of season 10 and 11’s weapons back into the game and acknowledged things weren’t as good as they could be. That new/old loot is being added back into the game on 24th November. As well as some of the weapons being sunset, 4 locations have been removed as well as a bunch of legacy raids too including Titan, Mercury, Mars and Io.

Many of the changes here affect existing players, but another big criticism of the game in a past way the onboarding process for new players. This is called New Light, and it allows new players to get into the action straight away. New Light has initially introduced into the game 12 months ago with the DLC called Shadowkeep and it came in for a lot of criticism because you did a short quest and then were dropped into the Tower, the central hub or home space in Destiny, and players were overwhelmed with quests, NPCs and icons. It was a confusing mess, leading to many players simply bouning out of that experience.

Thankfully the New Light player experience has had a complete overhaul and a new character has been introduced called Shaw Han. He walks you through the opening missions and you get introduced to all characters in the tower in a less confusing manner, although it’s still not without flaws. It does a good job of explaining controls, mechanics, exploration, destinations and systems to new players and hopefully, this will help fewer players bounce from that initial experience. The beauty of Destiny can be found within the end game, but it does take some investment to get there and that isn’t immediately obvious from these player onboarding processes and I can understand why so many players leave confused and frustrated. The breakthrough that initial hard work though and you will be rewarded tenfold.

Beyond Light is full of secrets as you would expect. For example, there are a bunch of dead exos laying around on Europa, and you have to find 9 of them in total for a reward later on. We have Exotic Weapon quests coming, with some really powerful weapons coming soon including the Lament (a chainsaw crossed with a sword) plus Cloudstrike (a sniper that causes Lightning to rain down on opponents on precision kills). There’s even a bunch of penguin collectables to find, although no one is sure what they mean yet.

Another huge plus in this expansion so far has been the lore. This is the storytelling and the narrative weaved into the game. Bungie has not always executed the story elements well in the game, but this is a massive improvement with the re-introduction of The Exo Stranger, Clovis Bray and Ana Bray. Here we have many story elements coming together – The origin story of the Exos, A megacorporation called Colvis Bray headed up by a man with the same name who thinks he’s a god and wants to dabble in immortality. Here within Beyond Light, we have science fiction being told at the very highest level. It really makes me excited for the new 12 months and what we’re going to see. The day I am creating this feature teams of 6 players all over the world are running the new Deep Stone Crypt Raid and it’s possible we could see the world in Destiny 2 change as a result of the winners being declared. We know there are some Exo Training activities yet to be released in the game and I managed to glitch into a secret area earlier in the week, which revealed a massive Exo head… which could be the AI of Clovis Bray himself. All very exciting stuff.

There is plenty to be happy about with Destiny 2 Beyond Light. There’s also room for improvement too, primarily concerning loot. So much content has been taken away with weapons, destinations, NPCs and lore. The game was getting massive, and it was trimmed from approx 150GB down to about 70GB. I’d love to see more done with the old subclasses too, they instantly feel out of date and less powerful than the new stasis ability… but I guess that is a good selling point for Bungie. Loot is the main concern at the moment and it’ll be interesting to see what Bungie does in the long term. It’s a tricky one to balance, as they want players to use the new weapons and armour when they come out because a lot of resources, time and effort has gone into creating those. Personally, I’m for sunsetting, but it’s got to be done in the right way and I think we’re at the harshest moment right now concerning sunsetting. From here it’s only going to get better.

#2 Ori & The Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a beautiful game full of fluid movement, big set pieces, furious action and heartfelt quiet moments that will amaze and delight you. This is the follow up to Ori and the Blind Forest from Moon Studios and with big boots to fill after their superb first game, the boots have definitely been filled.

The colours and world of Ori and the Will of the Wisps is vibrant and pops out the screen regularly throughout the game. This game levels up from the first in almost every way related to gameplay, combat, puzzles and the vibrant world you inhabit. There are times throughout the game where your jaw will drop at what you’re seeing in this game. The world around you is alive through the leaves on the trees, the animals you interact with and the dangerous environment that’s out to get you.

The story in Ori and the Will of the Wisps carries on from where we left off in the last game. Ori went on an adventure to save the forest and now life has settled down. Ori is raising a tiny Owl, left to her by Kuro, a massive bird that spent much of the last game chasing Ori. Ori’s Owl is having trouble learning to fly and Ori offers the tiny Owl a feather from Kuro to help them. After a beautiful cutscene where Ori and the Owl take flight, both are caught in a huge storm caused by the corruption of the last game. It’s back to once again cause Ori and the forest problems. Ori and the Owl are split up during the storm and it’s down to Ori to restore the forest once again and reunite with the Owl.

Due to the storm, Ori is left alone in a new part of the forest with new secrets and power-ups to find as well as face an old enemy. Old characters return in this game along with Ori. The Spirit Tree is back once again, along with the incredible sound effects and voice that drives the narrative forward in the game.

There are some elements here that have been inspired by other Metroidvanias like Hollow Knight. NPCs are dotted around the map offering more story details but also tools to help you along your journey. Lupo, who helps you with your maps is there, as well as Moki, the group of furry little creatures provide more details about the world around you. Twilen is the vendor who sells you various items like shards and stones that provide new skills and buffs.

Side quests are more apparent in the Wellspring Glades this time, which provide extra secrets and narrative for you to explore along the way to finishing the main story. These extra characters and quests provide another layer that was perhaps missing in the first Ori game and allows the player to have a deeper connection with the game world that Moon Studios have created.

Power-ups and finishing your skill tree is an important part of Ori and the Will of the Wisps. New areas will be locked off to you without these skills, so finding the Spirit Trees and levelling up is your first priority. These skills and abilities drastically change the way Ori plays and traverses the environment. The world is designed with these new skills in mind with forests, water and sand blocking your path. As well as the power-ups that can be gathered out there in the world you can also head back to the village to buy new skills through the vendors like Twilen.

Skills brought at the village can feed into your combat options. Layers of complexity have been added to the combat controls in Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Whereas in the last game you could probably get away with button mashing to get through enemies, here more skill and timing is required. Multiple attacks in the air, lock-on attacks, double-jumping, fireballs are all available at your disposal this time around. Ori feels fluid and free as you move through the environments and attack your opponents. It’s one of the best feeling games in terms of traversal through environments and chaining combinations together.

This time around the platforming has been toned down and combat and big set pieces have been brought into focus. There are huge boss fights, but rather than chasing huge bosses through areas as we did in Blind Forest more traditional boss fights have been installed here. There’s a layer of complexity that has been added with various systems either through combat or developing Ori’s skilled which will divide fans. Personally, I enjoyed the improvements, but it’s unclear if it’s going to be a welcome evolution from the first game.

The graphics and audio in the game are another huge success from Moon Studios. The colourful, vibrant characters and the immense world has been created with care and once again we have huge set pieces that will make you sit back and simply go “wow”. This is like a cartoon come to life, one that you can control and shape the story ahead of you. Performance at times can send the computer or console you are playing on into overdrive, but thankfully many of the issues that were found in early release versions of the game have been fixed with a day 1 patch.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps has to be the best game released so far in 2020. It’s also available from day one on Xbox Game Pass, so if you’re a subscriber to that service then here’s another amazing game to add to your game library.

#1 Hades

Hades is tons of fun, right from the start. It may be because the game from developer Supergiant Games has been in early access for a while now, or perhaps the influence of the Greek Mythology and the slick & sexy feel to the game. Hades has fast become a must-play game of 2020 and if you’ve been on the fence about it, then I recommend you get down immediately and download it on the platform on your choice.

First of all, Hades is a beautiful game. Before we get into the smooth gameplay and the excellent writing, I’m first struck by the gorgeous veneer on this game. Played from a third-person, isometric perspective you control Zagreus making his way through Hades and conversing with Ancient Greek Gods like Zeus, Aphrodite and Athena. The environments are detailed, packed with danger and beauty. The puddles shimmer and the jewels dotted around the place shine as you battle across the marble floor and blood-splattered walls.

Hades is a rogue-lite brawler pitting you literally against runs through hell. As you make your way through the series of levels, you’ll earn powerups that aid your run each time. Ancient Gods will pop up out of the blue, all seem to admire you and sympathise you having to spend your time down there in Hades, while they are living it up above. The objective of the game is to get through a run in one piece, but you’re going to have to have your wits and skill about you because this isn’t easy. One false move and you’re toast.

Roguelite’s are often about mastery. As you make your way through runs, you’ll get better with practice and repetition. The game reminds me a lot of Dead cells, not in the way the game looks as that’s a 2D platformer, but in the way the game feels. It just feels so good to hit, smash and dodge in this game. It makes you want to go again, just do one more run… even if it’s 11.45 pm. Supergiant has honed and crafted a game that just feels good to play and layered on narrative elements that keep me coming back time and time again.

As with many great feeling games, the controls are simple to pick up but take time to master. There’s an attack, dash, special and cast move in your toolbox. Together with these fairly simple controls, you have a range of weapons that unlock over time. Zagreus starts out with a deceptively simple sword and over time as you collect keys you can unlock a Spear, Shield and Bow & Arrow. At first, I thought “How can a shield compare to a spear?!?” But then you try the shield and you fall in love with it.

The sword is fairly straight forward, you can run in there and whack things and then run away. The bow & arrow does exactly what you think it does – gives you a good amount of range and also on the special move a rapid-fire multi-arrow move which will help you out if you get surrounded. The spear has good range but can also be thrown, and it comes back on command similar to a boomerang. The shield is a kind of hybrid melee and ranged weapon, which has to be experienced. Believe me, unlock the shield as fast as you can, it’s amazing.

There’s a range of enemies in the game to use your arsenal of weapons on. There are ghouls that teleport in a shoot at you from range, and huge melee enemies that slide towards you with little notice. The enemies attack from a variety of directions and means, so you have to keep one eye on every angle otherwise there’s going to be trouble. There’s snakes, witches and all kinds of nasties ready to kill you in an instant.

Hades is procedurally generated so the game is infinitely different each time you play through. Hell itself is reconfigured each time you try and escape, meaning there’s no particular route to learn on how to get out of hell, but it’s more learning the attack patterns of enemies and learning how to use the skills you pick up along the way. As each run goes by you get stronger and stronger as you get further through the levels, but one false move and you’ll lose it all.

It’s not so bad losing everything though as you’ll go back to the lavish House of Hades. Hades, your constantly disappointed father, has got the hump and seems locked to his desk doing paperwork. Nyx and Dusa (the severed head of the famed Medusa) are hanging out there too. The more runs you do, the more of the area opens up and narrative moments happen too, keeping you engaged and helping soften the blow of that last failed run. In the House of Hades, you get crucial story material but you also get to purchase items and upgrades for not only you but the house itself helping you in future runs. There’s also a practice room where you can test out the weapons (and unlock new ones) with Skelly, your fragile training partner always willing to take a beating for the team.

Then it’s back for another run, which is going to be much different from the last. Sometimes you’ll have an amazing run with the Spear, and then a very quick beating which will turn you onto another weapon. It’s worth trying out all the weapons and you’ll have good and bad runs with them all. There are a few random factors in each run – the gods and the prizes you select once you have cleared out a room.

When you first start a run a random God will welcome you and upgrade your abilities. Maybe you’ll get the power of Zeus and additional lightning strikes on special attacks, or perhaps Poisidon will grant you his powers. Each run is different and the combinations will be different too, making you more and more powerful as your runs go on. The other random factor is also the items you choose at the end of rooms. Once you finish up a room you’ll have a choice, do you go left or right? Which prize do you want? These items combined with the power of the gods make Hades infinitely replayable and very fun. Combined with the way the game feels, Supergiant Games have hit upon something special here.

Then there’s the narrative. As you make your way through the level new narrative arcs will open up. I’ve heard of players going through hundreds of runs and not seeing the same stories twice, which seems incredible and the sheer amount of narrative in this game is staggering. It’s all voice acted too, with charm, wit and humour. As well as the well-acted voice lines and the thousands of lines of dialogue there’s a sexiness to the game through the artwork, the interactions and the feel. It’s a polished package that drips and oozes quality, and one you simply have to give a go.

Supergiant Games have a reputation for excellence from Bastion, Transistor and Pyre. Hades though seems to have taken that polish and quality to a new level. Perhaps it’s the mixture of Greek Mythology or the many months of early access, I don’t know. I remember sitting in a classroom and being fascinated by Ancient Greece as a child, studying the myths and the stories of the Minotaurs and River Styx. Later in life, I made my way to the Greek Islands many times and have been up close and personal with the ancient ruins and this game reminds me of those experiences. Hades is a polished package that has a great feel, fast action and wonderful dialogue and story. It’s also available on Nintendo Switch, so if you happen to be on a train then you can play it at your convenience.

Hades will no doubt be in the conversation when it comes to Game Of The year 2020. Whether it has the lasting power to beat games like Last of Us Part 2, Fall Guys or Ghost of Tsushima is a conversation for another time, but it’s a fantastic game that can be played for hours on end or picked up and put down in 30 mins.

That’s it for the rundown of my top games of 2020. There’s plenty in here that I would have loved to include given the time – Ghost of Tsushima, Demon Souls, Cyberpunk 2077 and Genshin Impact to name a few that I’ve played, but not enough to count towards my personal game of the year.

2020 has been a tough one, but in terms of games, we’ve had a lot of great titles added to our roster this year.

Let me know what you think of the list down in the comments.