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10 BEST GAME IN 2020

Last year we looked back on several games that had changed over time. We posited that games can’t be given just one review, what with DLC and content updates. It’s even more true this year when the changing circumstances of society and the isolation of a global pandemic has caused some games to skyrocket in popularity. Heck, this is the year that Among Us went from double-digit player counts to tens of thousands of concurrent players! It’s always worth it to look at some games twice, and these are the games we thought we should revisit this year.

1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Original score – 8.0

When Animal Crossing: New Horizons first came out, we criticized it for making some strange design decisions that really impacted multiplayer play. Nintendo hasn’t really addressed any of these problems but, HEY, the world has changed, we are all stuck indoors, and switching from single to local multiplayer to online multiplayer just hasn’t been much of an issue anymore.

We also criticized it for its pacing compared to other Animal Crossings in the past, but that too has been made up for through a constant stream of new seasonal content. In fact, some of this content drastically changes how the game is played, like the ability to swim. The replay value is higher than we first thought and if we zoom out and look at the game as more of a living experience, the pacing is a bit better too. You just have to admit to yourself that this isn’t a game you can play in spurts or even a game you can cheat and time-travel for. Its best experiences when played over a long period of time, watching your island evolve along the way.

Overall, it’s probably better to pick up Animal Crossing: New Horizons now than it was when it first came out. It’s a delightful social experience that has kept us sane through the crushing isolation of 2020.

Captured on Animal Crossing: New Horizons

New score – 9.0

2. Borderlands 3

Original score – 7.0

We called Borderlands 3 “more Borderlands and not much else.” It felt a whole lot like Borderlands 2, which was disappointing considering there was a whole generation between the two games. It suffered most in gameplay and stability, lacking real choice in character builds and frequently crashing and glitching out. It also had a weak story, one that paled in comparison to Borderlands 2.

Gearbox has done quite a bit of work on the game. First of all, it’s nowhere near as unstable. Having played again on the same rig it was reviewed on, the game plays smoothly, looks better, and rarely glitches out. That was just a matter of time, it was just disappointing that these needed fixes weren’t ready for launch.

The plot… well the main game’s plot hasn’t gotten any better. However, numerous DLC packs have come out and they are genuinely funnier and more enthralling than the main campaign plot. They also have a bit more variety in their missions. Add to this a number of seasonal events and it’s clear that Gearbox meant for this to be something of a “living” game, even though that was not at all clear at the game’s original release.

Gameplay-wise, a few major changes are coming. For example, every character is getting a fourth skill tree, which will open up character builds quite a bit. Not to mention guns and mechanics have been balanced and rebalanced several times since the game came out. It’s just more fun to play, in general.

Captured on Borderlands 3

Is it perfect? No. Is it worth a look though? Definitely. Especially if you can manage to pick it up on sale. It also helps that it’s not an Epic Games Store exclusive anymore. If you already picked it up when it first came out there’s not a whole lot worth coming back for, but if you missed it the first time you’ll have a much better time now than you would have had at launch.

New score – 8.0

3. Death Stranding

Original score – 8.25

Death Stranding is a game about a world where everyone locks themselves inside and only specific essential workers brave the wilderness to deliver much-needed packages to population centers. Our hypothesis, in 2020 this would be a very poignant commentary on life in the time of quarantine.

The reality… Death Stranding just doesn’t hold up all that well. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still got the good old Hideo Kojima crazy factor holding it up. After all, this is still a game that lets you throw your own poop at ghosts. But Death Stranding was, at its base, a game about making connections and right now there aren’t a whole lot of people to make connections to.

By that I mean there aren’t a whole lot of people playing the game anymore. Updates to your game world simply don’t come at the clip that they did when the game first came out, and when they do it kind of feels like there’s a smoke and mirrors trick going on. You can see how many people are playing concurrently on the PC version, for example, and sometimes your world gets populated in ways that just don’t make sense for the number of players interacting with the game. Remember, this is a game that Sony claimed had three million players playing at one point, and according to Steam Charts, now the game averages about 1,500 at best.

All said, this makes Death Stranding feel more isolating than it did before, and that kind of subverts its central premise of connections being the most important thing, even in an apocalypse. It cheapens the already thin connections the game asks you to make. Instead, all that is left is a barren landscape that you get to walk your way through…

Always walking…

Captured on Death Stranding

New score – 7.0

4. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Original score – 9.0

Followup score – 7.5

I’m always going to come back to this one. DBFZ just keeps updating and reinventing itself. It got a lot of points off when we first revisited it because the meta had become completely stale. But, oh how things have changed.

The roster is even bigger than it was before, central mechanics have been rebalanced, new mechanics like Limit Break have been added, every character can now choose between three assists making them much more viable, the tier list has shrunken quite a bit, and it just feels balanced and fun to play. On top of that, there are now even more tutorials, from character-specific tutorials to introductions to new patch mechanics, and yet more ways to play the game from new multiplayer battles and raids to massive online events.

So I’d love to give this an even better score than it had when it first came out… but…

Once again, we are all stuck inside, and being stuck inside means that we can only play fighting games with each other online. Well, DBFZ’s netcode is trash. It’s trash garbage. In fact, it’s so trash garbage that a pro player, Chris G, dropped out of an invitational because he couldn’t deal with the lag. Whether or not you think that was a respectable move, the fact that the netcode for one of the most popular fighting games on the market can be this much of an issue is a disgrace. We have SOLVED THIS PROBLEM. All sorts of games from the AAA (Mortal Kombat 11) to the indie (Thems Fightin Herds) have implemented rollback netcode. Why can’t DBFZ?

Captured on Dragon Ball FighterZ

So DBFZ is the best fighting game you can’t play right now… great. Still, it’s better than it was when we last took a look, so that’s worth some point.

New score – 8.5

5. Dreams

Original score – 9.0

Dreams is a game where you can do anything, make anything, play anything. It was the new LittleBigPlanet but so much bigger, a creation suite where you can build anything from a classic JRPG to a new MOBA to tons and tons and tons of Sonic the Hedgehog clones.

Dreams would live or die based on its community. As long as it still had people making new creations it would have a long and happy life.

… so why hasn’t anyone been talking about it?

Well, there’s something to be said about the paralysis of choice. When allowed to make anything most people will make… well… nothing.

It was bizarre to sign on to Dreams again and see some of the same high voted dreams that graced the community when the game first released. Diving into Dreams again we thought we would see all new and innovative game styles that devoted creators came up with. Nope… just more platformers and puzzle platformers. Asset showcases still made the top of the Dreams list even though they had no gameplay. Weird and cringey tech demos are everywhere and everything feels like a strange rag-doll physics fest.

Captured on Dreams

Frankly, nothing could keep us interested. In the end, being able to create games in the Dreams editor was just a novelty, because even though it says it’s extremely powerful, it’s never going to be as powerful as some of the actual game creation suites out there that let aspiring developers create real games. At best, Dreams can provide you a few neat distractions, and nothing more.

New score – 6.5

6. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Original score – 8.5

Fall Guys was one of the breakout indie hits of this year. For about a month it took the internet by storm. A platformer battle royale? Why didn’t anyone think of this before!?

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Well, a couple of months have passed and it appears as if people have moved on from the cute bean people of Fall Guys to the cute bean people of Among Us. It’s had its fair share of trials and tribulations. It had major hacking problems, for one. The PC version of the game still doesn’t let you use your username. Not to mention matchmaking was kind of spotty right after release, with servers going offline for huge periods of time.

Things have calmed down and reached a bit of equilibrium now as Fall Guys enters its second season. Not much has changed and people certainly aren’t flooding the servers anymore, but there are still a lot of dedicated platformer streamers out there playing on a daily basis. There are still major Twitch sponsored tournaments where people can win some real money and prizes. There are promotions that let you get costumes like a Sonic costume or Godzilla costume. It’s still a fun time.

In short, this is still a great game, but we hesitate to call it the genius breakout hit it was back when it first came out. It’s fun, it’s worth playing, but you’ll find another flavor of the week. Still, it’s something we love coming back to any time some new content comes around.

New score – 8.0

7. Granblue Fantasy Versus

Original score – 9.5

We loved Granblue Fantasy Versus when it first came out. We called it “everything a fighting game should be.” We played it obsessively through its first season.

And then… hooo boy.

Arc System Works created a huge new balance patch before season 2, and in the interest of keeping the game fair, they nerfed everyone. EVERYONE! And these weren’t tiny nerfs. They removed major functionality from several characters. Really basic two-hit combos didn’t connect anymore. Characters just weren’t fun to play. Sure, the game was more balanced, but at what cost.

Logo of Granblue Fantasy Versus

Sure, new characters came out and they were a little interesting. The walking ball of innuendo that is Belial was at least amusing, but even these new characters simply don’t feel as fun as the old un-nerfed characters do. This was a game that was enjoyable by newbies and pros alike, and now pros don’t have the same intricate gameplans they used to have and newbies are now punished even harder for using the shortcut button. Everybody loses.

Add to this its poor netcode and abysmal matchmaking for its now modest 150-ish player base (according to Steamcharts) which has only fallen since the patch, and it’s just a recipe for disaster all around. Arcsys, why couldn’t you leave well enough alone?

New score – 7.0

8. Legends Of Runeterra

Original score – 8.75

Legends of Runeterra was going up against some massive behemoths of the TCG world, like Hearthstone when it first came out. It had a strong following, but that following slowly petered off as it worked out its bugs and balance issues.

And we are here to tell you that it shouldn’t have. Sticking with Legend of Runeterra we can say that it is one of the most addicting and enjoyable TCGs we have played in ages. Every new expansion comes with great new mechanics that change up the meta. They’ve introduced the “lab” which gives you neat house rules to play around within your matches. There are now constructed gauntlets to run through. Special events offer limited-time rewards and greatly change the way the game is played. New boards and guardians and emotes and a much more user-friendly UI. They even finally released their game on mobile platforms.

Captured on Legends Of Runeterra

But the one reason that we absolutely have to recommend Legends of Runeterra is that it is the freest to play a friendly game on the internet: period. To give you a little background, we started playing Runeterra when it was in beta. We spent no money on the game. We never went infinite via draft runs. Never climbed the ladder. Never did anything but play casual games and do our quests every couple of days.

And we have every single card in the game. Every one. Every time a new expansion comes out we can automatically make every single new deck that uses the expansion. Just by doing our quests. Just by leveling up our regions at a casual pace, we have a full collection of every card in every expansion in the game.

That is humongous. It makes you feel like you can constantly play at a competitive level. You are never, EVER squeezed for money, even if you are just a casual player. Or at least, we never felt that way.

So that’s it. It’s an enjoyable AAA produced TCG that you can actually play for free. What more do you want?

New score – 9.5

9. Pokémon Sword And Shield

Original score – 8.0

Pokémon Sword and Shield was… well it was fine. It didn’t have a great story, it didn’t have fantastic mechanics, and it didn’t have new Pokémon that were all that compelling. It was just more of the same, which is fine if that’s what you were looking for, but Nintendo didn’t do a whole lot to make it feel like a breakout Pokémon hit.

Then the DLC came out and everything changed. One of our biggest complaints was that the Wild Area, where you can interact with other players, ride your bike, camp out, and generally partake in all the new mechanics Sword and Shield had to offer was restricted to one area out of the entire game, which you pass through early on.

Captured on Pokémon Sword And Shield

Well, these new DLC areas are ALL Wild Areas. You see other players in every single nook and cranny of them, catching Pokémon and participating in raid battles. We said that there were no meaningful ways to interact with other players but that’s changed too. Now there are new multiplayer game modes like the Dynamax Adventure which has four players connect up online to make their way through a branching dungeon with rental Pokémon. There are new moves to teach your mons, new methods of training, new cosmetic options, and much more! There are even new events you can partake in that deal out legendary Pokémon like Dialga and Rayquaza like they are breath mints!

And yes, the game was expanded so that your favorite Pokémon has probably made its way into the roster now. It might even have a Gigantamax form now!

Simply put, Pokémon Sword and Shield with the DLC is much better than Pokémon Sword and Shield without the DLC. It gives you a ton of extra stuff to do during the game, and even more, stuff to do in the post-game. It’s just a more complete and more fun Pokémon package, and you can even still find people to battle and trade with to this day. So check it out if you missed the train the first time around.

New score – 9.5

10. Tell Me Why

Original score – 8.5

Tell Me Why was an episodic adventure game that centered around a trans man, his cis sister, and the supernatural events that made up their childhood. We found it to be a very important game, one that everyone should play simply because it tackles difficult topics that face the LGBTQ+ community.

… and we couldn’t finish it.

We finished the first episode. We finished the second episode. The third episode, however… it beat us down through some pretty bad design.

Look, the story here is great. It’s compelling. It’s socially important. It’s incredibly artistic. More games need to be gutsy like this.

But Dontnod’s idea of puzzles are… well let me tell you EXACTLY where we stopped playing the game.

In chapter three, right after some crazy stuff happens to you, like real life-changing supernatural stuff, you wake up in your house and you just sort of have to go about your day. Your goal… get keys, get wallet, drink coffee… OK. Now we could understand if this was meant to set up normality for the scenes to come, but these mundane items you have to find were scattered all-around your house. You had to pixel hunt for them, and not because some weird supernatural being scattered them. Apparently, you are just in the habit of putting your ID in the laundry room but your wallet in the kitchen and your keys in your bedroom. It was just padding to get us to walk back and forth and back and forth.

And the game crashed in the middle of this quest… twice…

Captured on Game Tell me why

We kept trying to go back but every time we did we lost more and more interest. We wanted to be chasing down the strange supernatural secrets that plagued these characters. We didn’t want to play “key finder 5000.” They were specifically keeping us from the story that we loved so much with busywork.

Nobody wants to do busywork Dontnod. Nobody.

New score – 7.0

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