I had high hopes for 2020, if for nothing else than the coolness of how the year sounded on paper: twenty-twenty. But as we all know, this year was a complete garbage fire across any number of individual categories: politics, treating others as equals, accepting inconvenience to prevent others from getting sick, and so on. Throw in a quarantine which (rightfully) encouraged us to not spend time with those we care about, and life felt unrelentingly bleak for a lot of the year.
What helped me get through the muck — beyond a wine club subscription — were two hearty handfuls of games that I either played by myself, with random internet strangers or in one of the countless Zoom video chats I sat in this year. I would not consider this to be an exhaustive list of “Best of 2020″ titles, but rather the games that helped me stay sane this year, and that’s good enough in my book. I hope they bring you similar joy in 2021.
The Jackbox Party Pack (4, 6, and 7)
If there’s one word I’d use to define my life in 2020 — besides “stagnant” — it would be “Jackbox.” Without a doubt, that’s the single game my virtual friend group wanted to play this year, over, and over, and over. Thankfully, the Jackbox games are actually a collection of packs that come with a number of mini-games in each, ranging from “I could take this to a desert island and be happy” to “huh” in their excitement.
I’ve singled out Jackbox packs 4, 6, and 7, but I’ll be the first to say that there is at least one to two absolute gems in all seven purchasable packs. I love the new Quiplash 3 from Jackbox 7, the quirky party game where everyone submits horrible answers to prompts and those not in a head-to-head matchup vote on their favourites. However, some of my friends (incorrectly) prefer Quiplash 2. I’m also a huge fan of Trivia Murder Party 2, which is exactly what it sounds like, and you’ll find that in Jackbox 6.
And while many of my friends also love the various drawing games from other Jackbox packs, I can’t draw for shit, so they are not on my list. I’m not bitter at always coming up toward the bottom of the pack or anything.
I’ve been an on-and-off World of Warcraft player since the game’s launch in November of 2004 — yes, it’s been that long — and I still remember watching the game’s opening cutscene for the very first time, as well as the gorgeous swell of the Alliance theme as I walked into Stormwind City. And what a long, strange trip it’s been since then.
I’ve since joined the many, many people making their return to Azeroth — or, rather, Azeroth’s afterlife — as part of the game’s seventh expansion, Shadowlands. And I feel like I’ve finally found the World of Warcraft I enjoy playing. With a reasonable amount of effort each week, my character is decently stacked for the game’s tougher dungeons and raids; I’ve found a guild I enjoy playing with; and I feel like I’ve finally gotten a chance to enjoy the full totality of an expansion, rather than being bummed because I’m too underpowered to handle anything challenging.
The big pre-patch event for World of Warcraft’s next expansion, Shadowlands, goes live today. If you’re coming off the game’s “free weekend for all lapsed players,” or you’re an old-school player with a new case of expansion excitement, this is the best time to get your character in shape for...Read more
I’ve had a blast in Shadowlands so far — save for dying repeatedly in The Maw — and I can’t wait to see what else awaits me with future content patches Blizzard has in store. I’m also 0.01% hopeful that Blizzard will take this time to update some of the game’s older regions with newer textures and graphics, better paths, and less confusion.
I confess, it’s been some time since I stopped building an island in the Nintendo Switch’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But that’s not because I wasn’t having fun with all the digital friendships I was making along the way — I loved visiting my friends’ islands and taking a big, long sip of their creativity.
I quit because the game’s UI drove me nuts. Continuing my adventures in Animal Crossing became a lot less appealing when I realised that half the many hours I’d spend building a gorgeous island would involve suffering through the minutia of Animal Crossing’s wasteful interface. It just takes way too long to do anything, and simple quality-of-life improvements — like even a dot on an item to indicate whether you already own it or not — simply aren’t there, and I don’t think Nintendo has any interest in ever putting them there.
I get it. Nintendo is all about the laissez faire approach to their games, and they absolutely want to encourage a very specific style of gameplay that’s as far away from min-maxing as much as you can. No problems there. But I’m not asking for a way to “beat” Animal Crossing in a week’s time — something Nintendo basically already validated with the game’s Stalk Market — I’m just asking for a way to not waste time unnecessarily. You can enjoy the slow leisure of island life without forcing me to suffer the 300th identical conversation for a repetitive task, or hours spent manipulating individual items that could otherwise be dealt with en masse.
That all said, Animal Crossing: New Horizons helped my friends and I get through the first of however many waves of the pandemic we’re on now, and I am grateful for that. Thank you, Tom Nook and #1-villager-for-life, Dotty.
Nothing is more fun than stabbing your friends — but, like, in a wholesome way. Sort of. I think Among Us is the perfect game for 2020, and here’s why. First, it doesn’t come with the dramatic learning curve as a “whodunnit” game, unlike something like Town of Salem, where I feel like I’d need to consult a user manual to figure out what’s going on during my first 42 games.
Second, Among Us is approachable. The graphics are a lovely mix of simple and silly. It runs on plenty of platforms, and everyone can play together. You’re not just stuck to only playing with fellow smartphone users, even though your friends on their PCs might have a slight advantage in some tasks. It’s inexpensive — free to play, in fact, on Android and iOS — and it doesn’t take very long to get a few games in. You’ll have no idea what you’re doing the first time or two, but you’ll be a master by the end of your first day (even though your friends will have racked up the body counts).
Basically, Among Us is like someone slapped a bunch of polish on an addictive Flash game from ten years ago. I have yet to find someone who doesn’t like playing it.
Ugh. I had been waiting for a game like The Outer Worlds for some time, and 2020 finally delivered. This sci-fi action RPG has all the typical Obsidian Entertainment hooks: great character development, a grand story (and plenty of quirky side quests), and just enough RPG mechanics to cater to newbies and veterans without feeling entirely overwhelming for the former — as I often feel whenever I try to get into a new Fallout title. (Maybe that’s just me.)
I didn’t expect to love The Outer Worlds as much as I did, but I devoured this game when it came out. I can’t recall how long it took me to beat it, but I felt satisfied with the amount of content that I binged through harder than a typical Great British Baking Show fan. There was just the right level of weird in this game to split the difference between “typical sci-fi romp” and “Rick and Morty episode,” keeping me engrossed without making me feel like I’ve done my third poop-themed quest of the evening.
All in all, I couldn’t be happier with my time in The Outer Worlds. So much so, in fact, that I might fire up the game on its hardest difficulty and give myself a new challenge for 2021. Also, never forget: It’s spacer’s choice!
I mean, duh. Hades is probably the most interesting roguelike I’ve ever played. It’s challenging — boy, can it be challenging — but it’s not insurmountable. You might be terrible at first; you might be terrible on run number 30. However, you’ll get there. You will defeat Hades, I know it, even if you have to cheese your way a little bit by picking the (invulnerable) Shield of of Chaos. And once you beat Hades, you will feel empowered, and you’ll sink 60 more hours into the game trying to unlock everything.
Difficulty aside, there’s really nothing to dislike about Hades, save for the fact that I wish the game had even more to do. From all the power-ups, to the decorations, to the unlockable conversations, to the music, to…honestly, my list of things I love about Hades just grows the more I think about it. Hades, again, hooked me for way too much of my life, and given how much 2020 went to hell, I suppose it’s only fitting.
I’m not entirely sure why I got more into roguelikes in 2020 than ever before, but maybe it’s an indicative of the times. When one is stuck in a room with not much to do, a game that forces you to play, and play, and play more to “get good” and overcome harder challenges is ideal.
Monster Train is a roguelike CCG — short for customisable card game — but before your eyes glaze over at the thought of building out complicated Magic: The Gathering-style deck, hear me out. You start with the same base decks in Monster Train, and you add onto them based on your progression within the game. So, in effect, you’re creating your strategy as you go, rather than having to figure one out from a pile of 300 cards at your disposal.
The game can be a bit unforgiving if your strategy simply doesn’t work, or if you haven’t figured out the best possible approaches for the different decks, but that’s just fine. This is a roguelike, after all. Sometimes you win; sometimes you get totally destroyed. Restart, try again, and see if you do any better.
For those times when you’re waiting for Stardew Valley to release another content update, but you need to get your “build a life/farm/town” fix on, there was Littlewood as an unanticipated treat this year. It’s cutesy, has plenty to do, and scratches that Stardew itch perfectly. It’s less about farming and more about living a well-rounded life of activities, but that’s fine. It’s just so damn happy, I don’t miss watering three thousand crops a day and becoming a super-billionaire farmhand. Well, OK, yes, I do. But Littlewood is still great.
I’m a sucker for great idle games. In fact, as I type this, I’m currently letting my computer blow leaves for me so I can buy more virtual technologies to blow more leaves. Such is the joy of a game that requires minimal input from the user, and NGU Idle is the boss mode of the genre. What it lacks in graphics, it makes up for in sheer complexity. I think I’ve probably spent the entire year playing this game, and I still haven’t unlocked its hardest difficulty, nor am I anywhere close to “completing” it.
Since it’s an idle game, you don’t have to actively play it. Let it run in the background, check back in once a day (or week), make some adjustments, and repeat the process. Winning by doing nothing is kind of the mantra of 2020, isn’t it?
— Gene Park (@GenePark) December 20, 2020
This game is trash, but reading about Cyberpunk 2077’s terrible launch has given me plenty to do during the latter part of 2020. Nothing helps quarantine life pass by like a little schadenfreude.
Editor’s note: This article was originally written for a U.S audience, we’ve done our best to update for local Australian readers.