In many ways, 2020 was a banner year for video games. In addition to the launch of next-gen consoles, including the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series S|X, this year also saw record-breaking Nintendo Switch sales and an influx of indie titles that rapidly became best-sellers across platforms, whether they were released this year or not.
The gaming industry also faced a number of issues in 2020. Developers, publishers and manufacturers were heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and more than one AAA game was delayed as a result. There were accusations of sexual misconduct, major departures and more than one broken game released into the world. Meanwhile, as people faced shelter-in-place and stay-home orders all over the world, video games became a salvation. Gathering digitally with friends quickly became the norm this year, as did spending hours in-game for a little bit of escapism.
In determining our top 10 video games of 2020, we took all of these factors into account. There were dozens of games released this year and it would have been impossible to include them all — which is why you’ll find Honorable Mentions, as well. These are the video games that made an impact in 2020 and will surely continue to generate conversation and buzz for months or years to come.
Although it was released in 2018, InnerSloth’s Among Us became a viral hit this year, and its popularity doesn’t seem to be decreasing at all. It’s quickly become a favorite among streamers and friend groups, especially since there are so many ways to play. Rather than release a sequel, as originally planned, InnerSloth has decided to continue improving the first game, which means there’s more content — and chaos — to come.
Regarding multiplayer games that embrace chaos, Monster Prom sequel Monster Camp invites players to get cozy around the fire and court their favorite monsters — or not. This unique dating sim offers a multiplayer option, minigames and tons of amazing characters to spice things up and create tons of replayability opportunities. It’s rare that a dating sim can generate such a dedicated fanbase, but Monster series players fiercely adore these games, for good reason.
Our other Honorable Mentions this year are Microsoft Flight Simulator, which offered players the chance to examine the nitty-gritty mechanics of flying an actual plane and create some sense of travel in a year when such things were basically off limits; Final Fantasy VII Remake, which gave players the content they’d been craving for well over a decade, and still has more to come with Part 2; Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which gives players even more options for character customization and accessibility as a viking warrior; and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, which further expands the lore of The Legend of Zelda.
Each of these games captured hearts and minds in 2020, and we’d be remiss not to mention them, even if they ultimately didn’t make the cut for our top 10 games of the year. — Samantha Puc
10. Immortals Fenyx Rising
Those who call Immortals Fenyx Rising a Breath of the Wild clone aren’t entirely wrong. Ubisoft‘s latest open world adventure takes a lot of BOTW‘s ideas and mechanics and incorporates them into a colorful world based on Greek mythology. Players take on the role of Fenyx, a storyteller and aspiring warrior who has never seen combat, who finds themself washed up onshore following a shipwreck.
From there, players get to explore the colorful Golden Isle, encountering mythological monsters and heroes, solving puzzles and freeing gods and goddesses to get more powerful and defeat the titan Typhon. All of this occurs with the input of unreliable narrators Zeus and Prometheus, who keep Immortals‘ tone light through their entertaining (though sometimes groan-worthy) banter.
In some ways, Immortals Fenyx Rising is the child of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Breath of the Wild, but comparisons to two critically-acclaimed, open-world games are far from a bad thing. Plus, Immortals‘ vibrant style and lighthearted take on a typically serious and gory genre help it stand out from the crowd. — Noelle Corbett
9. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
The Yakuza franchise has a troubled history in the West. Once upon a time, Sega was prepared to stop releasing new entries in America after several lagging entries. That all changed with the release of Yakuza 0, which received such a stellar reception that it kicked off a new wave of interest in the series. However, it also came as the franchise was wrapping up the story of long time protagonist Kiryu Kazuma with the 2018 US release of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.
As long time fans know, Yakuza is too bold to be held down, and the beat ’em up franchise found new life with Like A Dragon. Not only did the game revolutionize the franchise by repackaging it as an honest-to-goodness, turn-based RPG, but it also charmed players with a likable cast spearheaded by new hero Ichiban Kasuga, a nerd who aspired to become a hero. Whether you’re a die-hard fan looking to revisit the world or a jaded JRPG fan who misses turn-based battles, Yakuza: Like A Dragon is an easy must-own for any gamer in 2020. — Christopher Baggett
Plenty of games deal with death in some capacity, whether it’s through losing lives and respawning, or with players themselves being the bringers of destruction. Spiritfarer takes a vastly different approach to its dark subject matter, and it makes for a powerful, cathartic gameplay experience that was so necessary in 2020.
In Thunder Lotus Games’ “cozy management sim about dying,” players take on the role of Stella, the new Spiritfarer responsible for guiding departed souls to the Everdoor. After boarding her boat and setting sail, Stella has to care for her passengers until they are ready to move on to the afterlife. It’s up to her to gather resources, build rooms on the boat, craft items and provide favorite meals and hugs as she prepares her passengers to face the inevitable.
Through its colorful artstyle and strong writing, Spiritfarer masterfully blends the sensitive (often taboo) topics of death, dying and grief with a celebration of life, love and friendship that balances the bitter and the sweet. It also serves as a gentle reminder to cherish those we love, especially those who are only with us in spirit. — NC
7. Demon’s Souls
By all accounts, Demon’s Souls shouldn’t be as big as it is. The original PlayStation 3 release suffered a troubled launch, and compared to its successors Dark Souls and Bloodborne, Demon’s just feels archaic. All the tropes you hate about the Soulsborne franchise started here, and they’re all kicked up to 100. Add in a confusing World Tendency system that was never really explained, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
So why has Demon’s Souls continued to flourish? It’s because it also kickstarted the basic tenets that make the Soulsborne genre so appealing — challenging yet simple combat, a unique setting and a plethora of charismatic NPCs.
The original version of Demon’s Souls may be functionally dead, but the remake is better than it could have ever hoped to be. Bluepoint Games crafted something sorely lacking from the launch of next-gen consoles: A truly next-gen experience. Demon’s Souls looks, plays, feels and even loads like the best of next-gen at a time when games are just kind of still running like they always have. It’s been far too long since we got a new Souls game, but Demon’s may be the standard-bearer yet again. — CB
6. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Some games released this year were simply lucky. When the pandemic broke out, gamers were looking for anything they could find that allowed them to play with friends from the safety of their own homes. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout managed to land at just the right time, and it rode that wave all the way to the top of charts for months over the summer.
It wasn’t all luck, mind you. The game being gifted to PlayStation Plus members didn’t hurt, as it meant it instantly had one of the biggest player bases in gaming. While Fall Guys‘ place in the broader world of gaming has certainly decreased in the months following its release, it remains one of the most played games on any platform, and the ongoing slew of DLC costumes, games and new seasonal content means it should remain so all the way through 2021. — CB
5. The Last of Us Part II
It’s hard to say The Last of Us Part II is an improvement on its predecessor. Graphically, the game stands tall, but the emotional punch and story beats within The Last of Us just felt so much stronger. On the surface, The Last of Us Part II looks to be a pretty by the numbers game, with players traversing what amounts to long, straight paths with occasional open areas, all in a mad quest for revenge.
It’s what Part II represents as a whole that makes it so much more powerful. It’s not until that final, bloody confrontation that you realize The Last of Us Part II isn’t a game about revenge — it’s a game about acceptance, about letting go of the past and forgiving yourself for all the things you didn’t say. Ellie and Abby both go through hell because they can’t accept the past, and both very nearly lose everything because of it. While the gameplay and emotional beats may not be as intense as the original, the continuing narrative and the way characters grow throughout make this one to hold close. — CB
4. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
As a character, Miles Morales has overcome insurmountable odds to become a pop culture fixture. Spawned by some of the worst stories in the Ultimate Universe’s history, Miles’ likable nature and relatable story made him a modern marvel (no pun intended). Having already conquered comics and on the cusp of taking over film, Miles Morales is now one of gaming’s most important characters in 2020.
While Miles may have made his big-time video game debut in Marvel’s Spider-Man, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales makes him the central focus of a bigger world. We’ve talked at length about the importance of Miles’ representation as both a hero and a POC, and this game delivered on both in spades. Miles isn’t just a likable superhero anymore; he’s a superhero that anyone, even those who have previously felt unseen in games before, can see themselves as. Miles Morales is the hero gaming needed in 2020, and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. — CB
After years in early access, Supergiant’s Hades finally launched to critical acclaim, proving how developers can use this sometimes controversial approach of releasing an in-progress game to everyone’s benefit. Hades is a roguelike, but one with wide appeal even to those who are not normally fans of the often punishing genre.
Hades masterfully combines solid, smooth combat with brilliant storytelling, sharing bits and pieces of world-building and character development through and in-between runs. As Zagreus, the son of Hades trying to escape the Underworld, players will die a lot, especially early on. However, whereas other roguelikes make starting over feel like a penalty for failure, a return to the House of Hades is an opportunity to switch your weapon, spend your Darkness on upgrades, speak to the House’s residents and visitors, and (of course) pet Cerberus before starting fresh and beginning the next escape attempt with a new build.
With Hades, Supergiant has not just crafted one of the most engaging and compelling indie titles of the year, but one of 2020’s best games overall. Whether you want to assist mythological figures, romance Zagreus’ friends, or see what happens after a successful escape, there’s plenty here to keep you coming back to the Underworld. — NC
2. Ghost of Tsushima
Everything The Last of Us Part II aspired to be, Ghost of Tsushima is. From Jin Sakai’s journey to save the people of Tsushima to his gut-wrenching path toeing the line of dishonor, the gripping narrative as Jin embraces his identity as the Ghost is just the tip of the iceberg for why this game was such a revelation. It even continued to impress after launch, thanks to the stellar multiplayer Legends DLC.
Ghost of Tsushima may not have become the cultural zeitgeist other titles did, but it was never going to. It’s a laser-focused narrative aimed at a core audience that was never going to find the same general appeal as Fall Guys or Animal Crossing. But Ghost of Tsushima knows what its audience wants, and it fulfills that. From the white-knuckle ronin duels that tested hours of combat training to the heartbreaking cutscenes showing Jin shunned for his actions as the Ghost, this is a game designed to suck players in and give them an emotional experience. Naughty Dog’s ode to Kurosawa is a true masterpiece of gaming and the perfect closing note to a generation of PlayStation greatness. — CB
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
When Nintendo released Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Switch in March, it seemed as if players breathed a collective sigh of relief. The gameplay in New Horizons is simple: The goal is to create an island paradise and befriend anthropomorphic animals. It’s a relaxing life sim and management game with a deeply dedicated fanbase, and it became a major reprieve for millions throughout this hellscape of a year.
Animal Crossing isn’t going to take home any awards for story or graphics (packing too many items onto an island can cause serious lag), but it’s difficult to name a game that had more of an overall impact in 2020. It broke sales records in Japan, North America and the United Kingdom upon launch and has hardly slowed since. It’s actually the second best-selling video game of all time in Japan, topped only by Pokémon Red & Blue — which released more than 20 years ago.
In addition to its impressive sales numbers, New Horizons also established a flourishing and powerful fandom. It presented players with a much-needed chance to spend time with friends, create safe spaces, push for change and otherwise do things that proved to be difficult (or impossible) in the real world this year. Love it or hate it, no other game came close to achieving the same level of cultural domination as Animal Crossing: New Horizons in 2020. — SP
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