What I Loved in Video Games in 2020: Part 1

It’s my favorite time of year — and that means it’s time for my favorite blog post of the year, too. As some of you know, every year I write about my favorite video games from the previous 12 months. But instead of creating a simple Top 10 list, I enjoy reflecting on my favorite gaming moments and what made certain games special. Let’s face it — it’s hard to find a perfect game, but every one I play brings something unique to the table. And so, to end the year on a positive note, I’ll share some of my favorite things from the games I played this year.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic keeping me indoors more than usual, I’ve also been busier than usual with school and student teaching as I get my teaching credential. This means that I didn’t play as many games as usual! In fact, my husband and I both dove into reading as our escapism this year, rather than video games.

For this reason, I’m bringing in the perspective of my partner Rob, who played different games than I did. Together, we can cover more of the best games released in 2020 and what made them so memorable! This is only Part I, so be prepared for more to come

Ashley’s Games

  • Ghost of Tsushima
  • Tell Me Why
  • Fall Guys
  • Watch Dogs Legion
  • Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  • Cyberpunk 2077

Rob’s Games

  • Resident Evil 3
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Doom Eternal
  • The Last of Us Part 2
  • Fall Guys
  • Othercide
  • Watch Dogs Legion
  • Mortal Shell
  • Cyberpunk 2077

Most Immersive World: Tsushima Island in Ghost of Tsushima

Jin riding Nobu on a hillside with smoke in the background, Ghost of Tsushima

While I have played many immersive games this year, the most striking to me was Ghost of Tsushima‘s. In this open-world RPG, you play a samurai fighting the Mongols who are invading Tsushima Island. Whether on foot or on horseback, you have the opportunity to explore the island and discover a variety of landscapes and villages. There are hills to climb for hidden vistas, fields of gorgeous purple flowers, hot springs where you can stop and meditate, beaches and forests and caves. The weather can shift at any moment from sun to rain to fog, changing the mood and creating memorable moments I just had to capture in the game’s impressive Photo Mode.

Though I didn’t finish Ghost of Tsushima, I spent more than 20 hours exploring the island and am tempted to go back for more. I certainly left thinking Ghost has one of the most stunning and unique worlds I have ever encountered in a video game.

Most Adrenaline-Fueled Combat: Doom Eternal

Doom Eternal poster

Just watching my husband play Doom gets my adrenaline going! I tried to play the last Doom game but got motion-sickness. That’s a testament to how fast-paced and incredibly smooth the game is, and despite my own inability to play it, I’ve enjoyed watching my partner play for short bursts.

Several aspects of combat contribute to its atmosphere of pure mayhem. For one thing, every enemy in Doom Eternal is weak to a specific type of weapon, so you constantly swap between them. In addition, different types of kills — such as melee versus using your chainsaw — grant you different items, such as health or ammo. This means you have to keep an eye on what you need and kill accordingly.

With so many things to keep track of, things get frantic fast. But there’s no time to slow down! Doom is not a cover-based shooter; you have to keep moving all the time, jumping around multi-level environments while dodging and attacking enemies as they appear all around you. The result is combat that keeps your heart racing and adrenaline pumping the whole time. And the metal music only makes it feel more intense.

Most Innovative Mechanic: Recruiting NPCs in Watch Dogs Legion

My first recruit in Watch Dogs Legion, woman in pink mask and floral shirt on busy street in London

When I first heard about the mechanic in Watch Dogs Legion, which lets you recruit literally any non-playable character off the streets of London, I was floored. In fact, I was almost skeptical. The idea of the entire game being populated by millions of potential characters who might join your party seemed crazy. How would that kind of thing even be technologically possible?

But the idea drew me in, and I couldn’t wait to try it. It’s that mechanic that really makes the game worth playing. After choosing your first recruit from a short list in a menu, you are set loose on the streets of London to start conversations with anyone you like. Different characters have different skills and weapons; for example, I recruited a constructor worker who can board a drone to fly to rooftops, as well as an investor who extracts extra money from ATMs and a hacker who downloads intel super fast. After a while, I noticed the same dialogue and missions cropping up again and again, so the game clearly recycles things. Yet it’s still a fascinating and fun mechanic. I kept playing the game just so I could find cool new Londoners to recruit to my team — it was that addicting.

Most Interesting Combat Move: Harden in Mortal Shell

Screenshot from Mortal Shell, facing a Heavy Cultist enemy, sword in hand

After playing Dark Souls 3 this summer, my husband wanted another game of similar difficulty, and Mortal Shell hit the mark. Even the dark world and knight’s armor reminds us of Dark Souls. But what makes Mortal Shell unique is its “Harden” move, which makes combat much more forgiving than it is in Dark Souls.

With Harden, you can essentially brace yourself for impact, freezing in place mid-motion, and the next strike that hits you deals no damage. What makes it even better is that it doesn’t consume stamina, so it doesn’t interfere with your next moves. You can also activate Harden in the middle of an attack, such as mid-swing of the sword; as soon as the enemy hits you, it breaks your Harden and you reanimate, no damage felt, to automatically complete your attack.

Best Story: Tell Me Why

Tell Me Why poster, twins facing each other on either side

I began playing Dontnod’s episodic game Tell Me Why when it first launched in August, right around the time I was going back to school for the first time in a decade and starting student teaching. It was an exciting yet stressful time in my life, so I looked forward to Saturday mornings on the couch with Tell Me Why. With this game, Dontnod — the studio behind other incredible stories like Life is Strange — has created another series that transported me to another place for a while, with unforgettable characters to guide my journey.

The protagonists of the story are 21-year-old twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan, who live in a small town in Alaska. After their mother was murdered when they were still children, Tyler was found guilty of the crime and went away to Fireweed juvenile detention center for 10 years. Now, Tyler is being released, and the twins are reunited as young adults. Together, they clean up their old house to put it on the market, all the while trying to figure out whether their late mother had mental health problems when they were kids. As a player, you switch between the twins, having conversations with townspeople and investigating clues about their past. You can also rewind your memories. When the twins’ memories of the same event don’t quite align, it’s up to you to decide which twin to side with — and this affects their relationship.

What makes this game so profound is not only the mystery, but the fact that Tyler is, for me at least, the first transgender character I’ve seen in a game. The opening scene shows Tyler in his room at Fireweed, where you can explore items to learn more about him; this includes a calendar that marks when he receives his testosterone, for example. The game never hits you over the head with this representation, choosing a subtler and respectful route that I found really special. This is the sort of game I would like to show my high school students someday when we discuss identity and diversity. A beautiful story with realistic characters, I recommend Tell Me Why to anyone who enjoys narrative games.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this 2020 video games round-up! Some of the best games of the year came out in the past month or two. My husband and I both have a few more picks based on what we’ve been playing more recently, and I’m excited to share them. Let me know your favorite games and gaming moments below! =)


3 thoughts on “What I Loved in Video Games in 2020: Part 1”

  1. I just finished Tell Me Why a few weeks ago. I quite enjoyed it, though wow Dontnot has an uncanny knack for stories that hit uncomfortably close to home for me.

    As far as trans representation in games goes, though, you might be forgetting Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition. Actually for me the first trans video game character I encountered was Kaoru in The Secret World, who was patched in just a month or two before Inquisition launched and brought Krem to the world.

    That said, that is of course not to take away from the fact transgender representation in games is still quite small, and Tell Me Why’s handling of it seems pretty admirable, at least from my perspective as a cis guy.

    I think for me the two games that really stood out most for me this year were Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem and Iron Harvest 1920. Wolcen impressed me with its addictive combat and crazy flexible build system. As for Iron Harvest, I’m always up for a good RTS, and this is one of the fresher and more fun RTS games I’ve played in quite a while. Beyond that, I was really impressed by the story — especially how thoughtful and emotional it could be at times, which is an uncommon trait in an RTS story.

    1. Ah thanks for reminding me of Krem! It’s nice to hear you also enjoyed Tell Me Why. I agree with you that the studio has a talent for telling great stories, and I’ve related to a lot of the characters and emotions (particularly in Life is Strange, I’d say for me).

      Thanks for sharing the games that stood out to you most this year. I don’t play may RTS games, but it is cool to hear Iron Harvest had a good story as well.

      Do you do most of your gaming on PC? My husband recently installed Windows and Steam on a Mac that we have, while we consider splurging on (or maybe building) a gaming PC at some point… So in the meantime I can start playing Steam games again, which I’m excited about. Let me know if you have any recommendations! First on my list is Disco Elysium.

      1. Yeah, I’m a PC gamer exclusively. It’s a bit retro, but TBH I think my number one recommendation is No One Lives Forever. Easily one of the greatest games ever made, and it mostly still holds up even today. It’s a shooter that’s kind of a spoof of 60s spy movies. If you liked the humour in Portal, you’ll like this. Tip: During the tutorial if a door says “access prohibited,” don’t take no for an answer right away. It also has some of the most wildly creative level design ever — even most games today don’t compare, IMO.

        It fell into this weird legal limbo, so you can’t buy it anywhere anymore, but there’s a fan-made HD remaster you can download for free: I’ve played this version, and aside from some occasional visual bugs, it works well.

        Beyond that, well, you said you’re not big on RTS, so that cuts out a lot of my recommendations. If you haven’t tried SWTOR, that might be worth your time. They did a huge revamp a few years ago so it’s now less of a standard MMO quest grind and a lot more like BioWare’s single-player titles. The Imperial agent and Sith warrior stories are especially strong. I’m not a big Star Wars fan, but even I was impressed. I’d recommend subscribing for a month or two and then using the Cartel Coins from that to unlock whatever you need to make the free to play experience comfortable.

        Like I said above, Wolcen’s been fun, but IDK if that would be to your taste. We Happy Few is fantastic — that’s one I’d highly recommend. Draugen was cool. I’ve been playing Drake Hollow with a friend lately, and it’s very cute, wholesome, and relaxing.

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