The Video Game Characters that are Most Important to Me

Characters are the basis of just about any form of fiction. The characters are how you see the world, what drives events forward, and create the tense emotional stakes of just about any story. Video games have an interesting take on character because not only are they how you see the world, they’re how you interact with it. They’re quite literally the conduit that allows the player to affect and change the virtual world they find themselves in.

Naturally, with the huge amount of video games I’ve played, there will be some characters that stand out to me above the rest. There will be those characters that I connected with on a level that is so meaningful to me, I had to talk about it here. They could be anyone, a playable character, a companion, a rival, as long as they mean something important to me, then they made the list.

SPOILER WARNING

I don’t do these very often because I assume you already know there’s going to be spoilers on a list like this. However, this is one of those cases where I really want to emphasise that if you haven’t played any of these games and want to, then you absolutely should do so before reading this list. The stories will still be incredible, but it’s just different when you go in blind. You have been warned.

13 – Wario – Super Mario Franchise

This list is going to get deep later on, so let’s start off with a fun one.

Wario is…Mario but better and more fun. Where Mario is upbeat and always doing what’s right, Wario isn’t afraid to reach his goals by any means necessary. He’s presented as being evil quite a lot of the time, but really, he just lets his greed get the better of him. When we get to spend time alone with Wario, we see he’s more mischievous than evil, and the poor guy can never seem to catch a break.

I realise those are many of the same reasons as to why people love Wario’s counterpart, Waluigi, but I’ve always preferred Wario. This is partly because I think he has a more fun personality, but also for nostalgia-based reasons. The original Game Boy was the first gaming device I ever owned, and two of the games I played to death on that console were Wario Land & Wario Blast, so I’ve always loved Wario.

This one really isn’t that deep; I just think he’s a lot of fun.

12 – Shulk – Xenoblade Chronicles

Yes, I get it; he’s the one that everyone always jokes “who?” on the Smash Bros roster, but y’all just need to play one of the best JRPGs ever made.

Protagonists are always an easy choice for lists like this. They’re the character that you’ll likely be spending tens, if not hundreds of hours with as you play through a game. It’s almost impossible to spend that long with a character and not bond with them. So you’re going to be seeing a lot of protagonists on this list.

Shulk is an interesting choice because, as a whole, he’s a pretty straight-up hero. There are no complicated wrinkles about his morality or some dark secret he has to hide. He’s a good person who does good things for good reasons. Normally, I can’t stand that kind of hero because I’m a bastard. I like my characters to have layers, but there’s something about Shulk that is so incredibly genuine that I just can’t help but love the guy.

He’s just kind to people and will stand up for what he believes in. What more do you really need from a hero? He’s loyal to his friends and is entirely unashamed about how he always strives to do the right thing. It’s not super overbearing like he’s laying it on thick; his kindness feels highly authentic. He hits the nail on the head in terms of the philosophy of a good person. He just does what he does because it’s the right thing to do. Without witness, without reward – to borrow a quote from Doctor Who.

11 – Tressa – Octopath Traveler

Not the only Octopath Traveler character to appear on this list, Tressa represents the kind of people I love to have in my life.

There’s something about Tressa which is so unabashedly hopeful. This can lead her into trouble at times, and she is a little headstrong. However, her optimism and the joyful eyes through which she sees the world is the kind of traits that I’m always looking to have more of in my life; either through myself or those around me. Her desire to trust people and bond with them is something I’ve tried to emulate within myself in recent years, and it’s made me grow to love Tressa as a result.

On top of that, she’s deceptively clever. Her abilities as a merchant are second to none, being able to judge not just the monetary value of items, but their sentimental value too, as seen by the fact she picks the diary of all things when faced with countless valuable treasures. She’s surprisingly quick-witted in a pinch, too, being able to devise clever plans to outwit her opponents and being quite successful with such tactics.

Her youth, innocence and optimistic outlook draw me to her and fill me those same emotions, while her intelligence and wit make her an extremely strong person to aspire to be like.

10 – Claude – Fire Emblem: Three Houses

(From my Fire Emblem: Three Houses Characters Ranked list)

Claude is just pure and good and everything that’s right with the world.

I alluded to it in the previous entry, but here I can say that the Golden Deer route was absolutely my favourite and that’s largely thanks to Claude. Unlike the other two house leaders, whom I grew to like once getting to know them better, I instantly took a liking to Claude. Not only does his attitude stand in stark contrast to the formalities and nobility of the other two, but it was clear from the start he had an extremely keen mind; plus he uses a bow, which makes him cooler by default.

What really makes me love Claude so much is his drive to always do good by as many people as he can, but he doesn’t do it because “it’s a noble’s duty” or “for the good of the world” he does it because he believes that it is truly the right thing to do and he will stand by his convictions to the death. Despite having the tactical genius to wipe out armies with barely any effort, he instead focuses his tactics on extinguishing as few lives as possible. On top of that, I align with his idealistic goal of tearing down the borders and unifying the world more than I do any of the other leader’s goals.

His attitude is always upbeat and cheery, but he also doesn’t let anything get by him and while he may seem like he trusts easily, it becomes clear that it isn’t the case the more time you spend with him. He clocks onto the fact that The Church of Seiros is hiding something a lot quicker than anyone else and is even able to deduce Flayn & Seteth’s true identity, something that no-one else is able to figure out.

When he’s not fighting a war, Claude is an absolute joy to be around, doing everything in his power to keep spirits up, but when it’s time for business, his tactical ability and dedication to his cause is unmatched, making him – in my view at least – the most capable leader in the whole game and one truely deserving of achieving his ideals.

9 – The Fool – Sayonara Wild Hearts

While I’ve gone through a couple of rough break-ups in my life so far, I don’t think I’ve ever suffered through true heartbreak. At least, not the kind of heartbreak that is so often depicted in fiction. What I didn’t expect, however, is for a game about travelling through a magical realm doing all sorts of mad shit while synched up to music to be a really good way of telling a story about heartbreak and the acceptance of it.

It’s hard to talk about this one in any concrete way because some parts of their story are left open to interpretation, so I may see this in a different way to another who played Sayonara Wild Hearts. Regardless, what that character went through and how they came to accept the depression and negative emotions they went to was an incredibly moving experience to me. I’m wildly inconsistent with how I deal with conflict and inner struggles in my life, but the way The Fool processes it made me more willing to take a back step in those situations and process what’s going on before deciding how to deal with it.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say it changed who I am, but it definitely gave me a slightly altered perspective on how I deal with things, and I think it helped me understand one or two of my flaws and helped me change them. You could argue this is more about the game at large than The Fool specifically, but I think the way Sayonara Wild Heart’s story is told through them made me connect with them on that meaningful level that is important for this list.

8 – Companion Pokemon – Super Mystery Dungeon

I could’ve chosen almost any of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games for this spot, but I think the way the companion character grows and how their story concludes on Super Mystery Dungeon hit me the hardest.

The Mystery Dungeon games have always had far more enjoyable stories than the main series Pokemon games. I’ve not played the non-Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, but I’d imagine the studio there have an excellent narrative team because I think they knocked it out the park with every game in the series. Where this is clearest is the companion Pokemon. The fact that it can be any of the available Pokemon you choose is nice because it ensures it’ll be a Pokemon you connect with. From there is a masterclass in making you connect with a character.

They start off as your guide to the world as you’re thrown into a world you don’t really understand, but eventually, you become a strong force to be reckoned with. In Super Mystery Dungeon especially, they feel like a character that isn’t just tied to you as the protagonist. They have their own hopes, dreams and relationships with people. They grow as a person pretty much at the same pace as you do in the story, and by the end of the game, we were an inseparable force.

…then, the game separates us.

So, I’d played the Mystery Dungeon games before in the series. So I knew that these narratives normally climaxed with an emotional goodbye as your character has to return to the human world. I was ready for that. It was building to it really nicely with this game, with the mystery surrounding Mew, and it seemed like the direction was clear. Then it threw me completely through a loop when it made the companion Pokemon the special one that I had to say goodbye to.

It was a wonderful bait-and-switch that caught me completely off-guard, and the tears were flowing. It provided a fantastic drive for the post-game story where you seek to be reunited with them, and it’s the kind of emotion that very few games can get out of me.

7 – The Boys – Final Fantasy XV

This is the only time I’m picking multiple characters in one entry, I promise. I feel justified in doing it here, though, because the whole thing that makes these characters great is their relationship with each other. Picking just one of this band of boys would be doing them a disservice.

The group dynamic is at the core of FFXV’s storytelling, and it takes every opportunity to make you care about their friendship. Every character has their own personal touches. Noctis is the protagonist, so he goes through a bit of a learning curve but still has a strong will and personality that shines through. Ignis is full of flair and cooks meals like no one else, along with being an excellent guide for the group. Gladiolus’ intense but caring teaching Noctis is hugely endearing, and his strength is a clear pillar of the journey. Then there’s Procto, who is an excitable and loveable best friend, and the pictures he takes each day are an absolute highlight of the game for me.

I think it’s one of the most realistic group dynamics I’ve seen in a game. They’re mates looking to have some fun and joke around with each other, but they understand their mission and support each other to achieve it. Everyone has their sillier and their more serious moments, and they all feel so perfectly in character because they feel like realistic friends. I laughed along with the good times, and when tensions ran high, those emotions seeped into me. The section where they’re having a major argument and the tension is at its highest genuinely got me to quite an angry place, but that’s precisely what the game wanted to pull out of me, and it was only possible because the dynamic established made me feel like part of the group.

FFXV’s story is full of epic battles with Gods and insane twists and abilities, but it’s the friendship between these four boys that put it up there as one of my favourites.

6 – Cynthia – Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum

I’d love to say there’s some deep & complex reason behind this one, but I just think she’s really bloody cool.

Platinum was the first Pokemon game I played, so nostalgia plays a bit of a part in this, but I think she’s by far the best champion any of the Pokemon games have ever had. From a gameplay perspective, her team was top-notch and could prove to be quite the challenge if you didn’t adequately prepare. On top of that, she looks super cool, she’s got an awesome battle theme, and that’s good enough for me.

Whenever a game gives me control over my character, I will play as a woman, and I will do my best o make them look as cool as possible; and Cynthia’s stylings are a huge influence on that. She was my first real exposure to a cool female character (which is pretty bloody sad when you think about it) and how her design and attitudes influenced the characters I’m drawn to in fiction significantly, and you can see that at several points in this list.

Like I said, not exactly a deep one, but I think it’s significant.

5 – Madeline – Celeste

What makes Celeste so incredible is that despite being the best platforming game I’ve ever played, what I ended up remembering most of it was the heartwarming story centred around Madeline.

I’ve had some small experiences with anxiety, but nothing too major. However, several of my friends have been a lot less fortunate, so I understand that odd, almost indescribable cocktail of emotions it conjures inside of you and how hard it can be to communicate to someone else what you’re feeling.

What amazes me with Madeline is how incredibly real it feels. Even when a writer is someone who suffers from anxiety when they try to portray that in fiction, it can come across as a little bit disingenuous. Many of the symptoms have to get overplayed because producers are worried the audience won’t “get it” if a character isn’t breathing into a paper bag. How Madeline portrayed is so amazingly realistic, though. That scene where Madeline is having a panic attack in the lift with Theo, I’ve literally had that conversation with people; it was such a powerful moment because of that.

On top of that, you have her interactions with Badaline. Here the metaphor became a bit more ham-fisted, but it was done in such a heartfelt way that I don’t mind at all. The slow acceptance Madeline has to come to, that her anxiety and depression isn’t something she needs to forcibly eject from her life. Instead, it’s something to listen to and understand so she can make it better. That journey is the emotional core of Celeste, and it works so well because of how genuine Madeline is in her emotions.

Outside of those themes, she feels like someone full of life; she’s got the sass, she’s got the determination, and she’s got the heart. But it’s that down-to-Earth, realistic feeling of her as a person that makes me remember her so fondly.

4 – Bernadetta – Fire Emblem: Three Houses

(From my Fire Emblem: Three Houses Characters Ranked list)

Look, sometimes you fall in love with the weirdo, that’s just how it goes.

Sure, Bernadetta doesn’t have some big sweeping story arc or any major role to play in Fodlan, but when it comes to “ticking all my boxes”, no-one comes as close as this timid, nerdy recluse. She’s not nerdy in the modern sense, but she spends so much of her time by herself writing stories and doing drawings for those stories along with many other activities of that nature; which are the kind of things that I imagine would constitute “nerdiness” in that kind of world.

While her extremely timid nature invokes the instinct to protect and nurture, it becomes clear pretty quickly that’s actually not the case and she’s absolutely capable of protecting herself both on and off the battlefield. That said, I still find it totally adorable when she goes off on one about the joys of solitude and how she’d love to just stay in her room all the time (or slightly less adorable, her love for carnivorous plants). Her creative spark is something inspires me and I find it difficult to contain myself when she grows the confidence to let that creativity shine in front of people like Seteth and Linhardt because it’s so clear how much she cares about her creations and is overjoyed that – despite her expectations – people love them. I think you’re starting to see why I relate to her so much now, aren’t you?

It’s not all cuteness and hugs though and she just wouldn’t be a Three Houses character without a whole heap of tragedy in her past. I’ve talked a bit before about how emotional some of the other character’s backstories made me, but the only one that ever actually got a tear rolling down my cheek was when Bernie opened up and talked about her abusive father, which it lends all the more heartbreak to the moments where she clearly wants to be different, but can’t make herself do it.

Bernadetta just has a bit of everything that I like, her sensitive personality, her overwhelming joy (on the occasions she allows it to flourish), her major creative streak and even the fact she has purple hair all drew me in instantly, to the point where I just couldn’t help but fall for her as a character, because she embodies the best of what Fire Emblem: Three Houses has to offer.

3 – Thomas – Thomas Was Alone

I’ve chosen Thomas as the representative here, but really it could’ve been all the characters from that game.

At its core, Thomas Was Alone is a story about learning. Learning about the world, learning how it works and learning how to make friends. The vague context you get about the characters being AIs that became too advanced is almost immediately pushed aside for the real emotion that you end up pouring into these characters. They’re literally all just coloured rectangles. There’s nothing more to their visual design than that. However, it’s precisely that which draws attention to the masterful storytelling and character-building that Bithell exemplifies in Thomas Was Alone.

“Thomas was alone. Wow. A weird first thought to have”

From the first line of narration, I was endeared to Thomas because such a simple line of writing has tonnes of character poured into it. Immediately, there’s the whole “alone” thing that will always make me want to hug a character. Then, there’s the acknowledgement that not only is that a weird thing to start on, but it’s his VERY FIRST conscious thought. In the next few rooms, he’d go on to observe things, but it’s so endearing to me that this AI was created, looked around, and the first thought they had was that they didn’t have any friends around.

All of the characters in Thomas Was Alone have some sort of endearing traits like this. What’s genius is that, rather than actually hear them talking to each other, we get the narration of how they’re thinking about each other instead. That makes their relationships feel so much more genuine because their thoughts can’t be in any way falsified. We know it’s what they believe. It makes the group’s friendship so wonderful to experience and so heartbreaking when…well, I’ll leave it there.

2 – H’aanit – Octopath Traveler

(From my Octopath Traveler Protagonists Ranked list)

Thy may speakest liken a twat, but goddamnest I loven everything abouted thou.

I did consider writing like that for the whole thing, but that one sentence took 5 minutes so sod it.

H’aanit was the first traveler I picked when starting up the game, so I don’t think it’s that surprising that I like her as much as I do, since across my two full playthroughs there’s literally never been a time when she wasn’t in my party and that’s the kind of thing that tends to endear you to a character.

I know most people hate how she speaks, but I find it pretty cute. It’s so unnecessary that I can’t help but wonder how such a speaking pattern evolved in S’warkii. Did one guy just start doing it one day and everyone caught on? Did they just never move on from a time where it was commonplace? Either way, I think it helps exemplify who H’aanit is a character, someone who doesn’t quite fit in with the world around her.

She’s a respected village member in S’warkii of course, but I always got the impression that she didn’t have a close connection with anyone there other than Z’aanta. Immediately the story takes away the only person she had a real connection with in the world and it makes it so interesting to watch her try to fit in with all of the other characters in the world because you can tell she feels a bit out of her depth, yet soldiers on anyway.

Even things like the travel banter with the other travelers shows us that she doesn’t understand a great deal about the world outside her village, constantly asking questions to understand why many of the other travelers do what they do in their stories. Even when she starts to understand, she can’t help but draw parallels to hunting, because that’s all she really knows, it’s the only context she has with which to understand the world and I can’t help but find a character like that extremely endearing.

The changes in her at the end of her story are subtle, but when you think about them, they’ll make a huge impact on her life. In her early chapters, it often feels like she’s feigning confidence in unfamiliar situations and towns and there’s always that small sense of nervous energy to her, but by the final chapter that’s gone; it’s not fake confidence anymore, it’s the real deal. H’aanit was forced to experience the world without the one person she could rely on to teach her and it’s made her an infinitely better-rounded person. Saying she “becomes the master” is a bit of a stretch, but I definitely get the feeling that she’s got a new outlook on both the world and herself by the time her story comes to an end. It’s so subtle and yet so powerful.

Looking at the gameplay side of things, H’aanit is an absolute powerhouse if you build her correctly. Combining her abilities with that of the Warrior job makes for an extremely powerful physical attacker that can buff the rest of the party in the process; not to mention Leghold Trap is one of the most vital skills in the whole game. In the late game, giving her the Warmaster skill makes her pretty much unstoppable, easily being able to deal out over 50K damage per hit with Winnehilds Battle Cry. I don’t know where I’d be without her on my team.

H’aanit is a character that I feel like very few people like as much as I do and I can see why, but my personal experiences with the character have made me connect with her so much that I can’t help but draw myself towards her whenever I can.

Oh and also, she has a Snow Leopard that’s one of the most beautiful animals I’ve ever seen, so shove it.

1 – 2B – NieR: Automata

This one feels like a bit of an odd choice, considering she’s dead for half the game, but I think she’s the character that best represents the overall feelings I got from Nier: Automata.

I find the horrible and complicated relationship 2B has with 9S and her mission almost impossible to process. I’ve never been in a situation even close to what goes on there, and I think the emotions involved are so ludicrously complex that to even describe them breaks my brain a little bit. The immense tragedy at the heart of everything 2B experiences is so intense, and what’s even more heartbreaking is that you never get to understand it until you finish the game and everything is revealed.

Despite being dead, 2B remains the driving force for the main characters (‘protagonist’ is a subjective term here) in the second half of the game, and because of how that story is told, it almost feels like the player is seeing it through her eyes. As 9S slowly descends into madness, you can’t help but feel the ironic tragedy of how things could be different if he knew the truth.

I find almost everything about NieR: Automata hard to put into words, but 2B acts as the centre point for which the entire story revolves around in one way or another. While her closed-off demeanour that slowly fades is endearing the first time you play through the game, once you’ve finished it and experience the story a second time, knowing the truth of the story, she becomes this mix of tragedy and love and all kinds of other things that leave me feeling an incredible attachment to them.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what characters you love the most, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be doing some fantasy booking of WWE in 2020!

My Favourite “Old” Games That I Played for the First Time in 2020

I did this last year, and once again, I must explain that when I say “Old” games, I just mean games that didn’t come out in 2020, most of them only came out over the last few years, it’s just hard to phrase it succinctly in a title. My 2020 Game of the Year list will be coming out on New Year’s Eve, and if you missed it, last week I started summarising the wrestling world in 2020 with my AEW Match of the Year list.

In 2019, I said that I played more games than I’d ever played in a year before, and if I didn’t break that record this year, I certainly came close. For a reason that I’m sure you’re far too aware of, I’ve had a lot more free time on my hands this year, so games have naturally been one of the things to fill the gaps. As such, I played a good chunk of the games from previous years which passed me by. Sometimes it’s because I didn’t own the right console, or I didn’t gain any interest in it until long after the hype had died down, or sometimes it’s just because there were so many games coming out that I didn’t have the time (or money) to play them.

As I promised in the summer, I will be using these end of year lists to update my 100 Favourite Games series I released over the summer. So, if I think a game was good enough to make that list, I will state what position I would place it at the end of the entry for that game, meaning the list will always stay up to date.

Regardless of the reasons, here’s the list of some of the best “old” games that I played for the first time this year!

8 – Bastion

Release Date: 20th July 2011
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS

The world of Bastion is gripping. Visually it’s very odd but very interesting. The colours are vibrant and seem full of life, and yet the atmosphere and the tone is one of despair and isolation. It gives us a world that is utterly lifeless but uses a full colour-pallette to show us how recently it used to be full. What ties this strong feeling together is the narration. The downbeat and gravelly voice of the narrator gives a couple of weird feelings. Firstly, he feels hopeless, like you’re futility fighting against a world that is desperate to end, and yet, he tells the story like it’s already happened, which suddenly becomes a lot more meaningful if you picked the ‘ending’ that I did.

The gameplay isn’t anything special by modern standards, but it is a lot of fun. The melee combat feels meaty enough to keep pushing forward with it, mostly thanks to the brilliant sound design that arises when you hit things. The ranged combat has a surprisingly high skill ceiling if you really want to sink your teeth into it, but still functions perfectly well if you aren’t very good at it. Combine this with the rolling & dodging mechanics which are simple, but satisfying, and you’ve got a system that will easily keep you engaged for the 6-10 hours you spend in the game’s world.

The story is very sombre, and yet it has its hard-hitting moments. It didn’t blow me away like some of the best stories in games, but it definitely left me with something to think about, which is better than most others. Ultimately, I don’t think it left a massive impression on me, but thinking back, I’m definitely happy I played it.

7 – Dicey Dungeons

Release Date: 13th August 2019
Developer: Distractionware
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux

I’ve spoken here and there over the past couple of years that I’d lost interest in the roguelike/roguelite genre. However, between this list and my Game of the Year list (spoilers), I think it’s about time I retracted that statement because it’s pulled me back in this year with some real quality stuff. This is just one example.

In my Game of the Year 2019 list, I included Slay the Spire, talking about how the deck-building aspect completely revolutionised the roguelike gameplay style in my eyes. I still think deck-building is excellent for the genre, but Dicey Dungeons takes it one step further and becomes one of the most unique games I’ve ever seen in this genre. The idea of dice being your weapons is something that seems like it wouldn’t work on paper, but it was implemented so perfectly, that I’m amazed no-one had come up with it already.

Keeping the dice as your constants and allowing you to chop and change your equipment whenever you want was the perfect way to go because it helps remove large portions of the randomness that comes from using dice. The array of weapons and abilities works wonderfully with the randomised elements of rolling dice because there’s always something that will work no matter your luck. Yes, there’s still the general consensus that rolling higher is better, but as long as you’ve prepared your equipment properly, you should still be able to get by with bad rolls. It does what any good roguelike should do, where the randomised elements give you fun and challenging scenarios, rather than completely determining your fate.

Throw on top of that a cutesy art style, witty writing and quirky yet cute sound design, and you’ve got a game that I’ll keep coming back to for a game whenever I’m in the mood for a quick dungeon dive.

6 – My Friend Pedro

Release Date: 20th June 2019
Developer: DeadToast Entertainment, 22nd Century Toys LLC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows

This was the very first game I played in 2020, so I definitely got things off to a rip-roaring start.

My Friend Pedro is just a bunch of light-hearted fun…shooting a bunch of people…in quite brutal scenarios…while doing flips! The combat system is simplistic by design, you just point your gun and start shooting, but that allows the real star of the show, the movement system, to shine all the brighter. Taking the term ‘twin-stick shooter’ to its logical conclusion, the ability to control each arm independently adds all the complexity this game needs. It means you can think about two targets at once while staying on the move as much as possible.

The movement is very floaty, but I think that makes it feel very smooth. The game moves at quite a fast pace, and running around gives you just enough time to think about what you need to do before you get pummelled. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but the game is good at easing you into it, and once you get a better grip on it, the possibilities are endless. Getting through the campaign was fun enough, but the game rewards you heavily for making narrow movements and risky plays, the kind that are likely to get you killed but feel amazing to pull off correctly.

It’s a game that understands what makes it fun and just lets you run wild with it. If you want to shoot for perfection, it will facilitate that, but if you just want to have a blast mindlessly shooting stuff while flipping around the place like a badass, the game will let you do that too.

5 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Release Date: 3rd March 2017
Developer: Nintendo Entertainment
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU

Full honesty, I’d never played a Zelda game before this one. Well, not properly, anyway. I had A Link to the Past on Gameboy Advanced, but I never got very far with it because I was about 6. So I came into Breath of the Wild pretty fresh, and I now understand the unique feelings this franchise has compared to Nintendo’s other headline franchises.

What captures me about Breath of the Wild is how it can play with some very serious gameplay elements, while still feeling incredibly light-hearted in tone, and not have that weight down on the thing. The sound design is the most significant part of this to me. The combat music is light and bouncy with how the chords jaunt through the track. It’s not necessarily ‘happy’, but it does give me the feeling of the fight not being too severe or menacing, which is something I really like. The little touches in how a lot of the enemies around the world react you make them seem almost cute in a way, which helps make the whole world incredibly endearing.

Outside of that, it does the classic Nintendo thing of taking a well-established genre and putting a unique little twist on it. In this case, we have open-world games. It conforms to a lot of the tropes, with plenty of tasks and side quests to keep you occupied, but where Ubisoft directs you to these objectives very clearly, Breath of the Wild is more open-ended. Doing it this way put the exploration of the world as the top priority, which makes discovering things all the more rewarding, even when they’re the shrines which are relatively easy to find.

On top of that, the combat is satisfying and has a surprising amount of versatility once you sink your teeth into it. I know the breakage of weapons is a controversial inclusion, and I’m not entirely decided on it myself, but I can’t deny that it forced me to use strategies I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. The magic abilities are interesting too, as most of them function as a platforming/puzzle-solving tool and have use in combat. The balance between them is surprisingly well-refined and gives you so many options once you understand how to use them.

It’s one of the more unique feeling open-world games out there, and it pulled me into a franchise that I’d never really cared about before now.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 86

4 – Far Cry 5

Release Date: 27th March 2018
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Toronto
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Google Stadia

The Far Cry series and I have had a bit of a love/hate relationship up until now. For the longest time, Far Cry 3 was one of my favourite first-person shooters, and I thought it was brilliant. Then, Far Cry 4 came out, and I hated it, I thought it was boring and frustrated me in all sorts of ways, so, when Far Cry 5 came out, I still had the bitter taste in my mouth and decided I wasn’t going to bother with it. However, this summer, when Ubisoft announced Far Cry 6, they put Far Cry 5 on sale for just £7, so I thought I may as well go for it, and I’m glad I did because Far Cry 5 is the best Far Cry game.

Where previous Far Cry games had a weird way of restricting you, especially in missions, 5 does away with all of it and makes it completely open. Previously, things like the bases you had to take over were entirely optional, despite being the most fun part of the game, you could do the relatively boring story missions and barely touch them. 5 does it differently though, 5 realised that taking down the bases, hunting and doing random encounters was by far the most fun part of the game, so it made it the whole point. There are missions, but now those are the optional things, as it all boosts your progress towards the few critical missions that will lead you to finishing the story.

On top of that, if you actually decide to do a mission, they’re a hell of a lot more fun than they used to be. Whether you’re leading a tame bear around a forest, pulling off a helicopter heist, or defending a mansion from wave after waves of enemies while rock ‘n’ roll music backs you up, they’re an absolute blast. Even the mandatory missions are more bearable, as they focus more on telling you the story than getting you to gun down a corridor of enemies over and over.

Speaking of the story, while it’s still nothing world-class, it is surprisingly engaging. The Seed family are genuinely unsettling villains with a kind of muted charisma that is sure to put you on edge around them, they’re a realistic kind of psychopath with fantastical abilities, and that makes them terrifying. It doesn’t give you the most satisfying conclusion, but it knows the story it wants to tell and sticks to its guns. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but I’m still able to remember it 6 months later, which is better than most games.

Far Cry 5 finally understood what made 3 so much fun and it executed it as best it could, and it took me from not giving a shit about Far Cry 6, to probably picking it up on launch day next year.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 74 (replacing Far Cry 3)

3 – Sayonara Wild Hearts

Release Date: 19th September 2019
Developer: Simogo
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, iOS

I wanted to put this at number 1, I really did, but I played too many incredible games this year.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a weird hybrid of so many different kinds of media. It’s definitely a game, but you could also watch it as a movie, and perhaps even experience it as a play/concert. Regardless of how you feel about that, what is definitely true is that the beautiful journey it took me on is the kind I’ll never forget.

This is a game that gives you it’s basic premise pretty early and gives you only the most straightforward framework for the story it wants to tell, then it lets the game speak for itself, rather than actually telling you anything. The story forms naturally through the gameplay and the music. As well as through the progression of the difficulty and through the visual design of the world. It has mastery over its tone and knows precisely how to design every nook and cranny of the game to communicate this story to you, investing you deeper and deeper until you become absorbed in the narrative completely.

The music is the star of the show here, so I’ll talk about that first. It boils the pop genre down to its essential elements, removes all of the over commercialised stuff that litters the charts and creates a soundtrack that is the purest essence of the story being told. It doesn’t align with my taste in music at all, and yet, I have it on my Spotify playlist and listen to it regularly because it was perfect for the game. It distilled the tone of the world and narrative and conveyed it in pieces of music that took you all over the tonal spectrum, but were a perfect fit for the story at the moment it played. It’s an outstanding collaboration between game and sound design that I haven’t seen done this well in a game ever.

On top of that, the gameplay is top-notch. It’s relatively simplistic, and yet, the level design knows how to get just the right amount of challenge out of it. You won’t struggle too much in this game (because you’re not really supposed to) but it will have you thinking on your feet and pushing yourself to take risks to get a good score and complete challenges. The levels have a huge variety in their gameplay, both through obstacles you face and the method with which you traverse the level. It always keeps you on your toes and blows you away slightly from time to time.

Sayonara Wild Hearts gets in, gives you one of the most memorable experiences in gaming, tells you a genuinely touching and relatable story about recovering from heartbreak and gets out. It will stick in your mind for months, have you humming its songs and pull you back in to re-experience it time and time again.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 24

2 – Among Us

Release Date: 15th June 2018
Developer: Innersloth
Publisher: Innersloth
Platforms: Windows, iOS

I went back-and-forth in my head for weeks over which order to put the number 1 and 2 entries in this list, but when I came to write it, this is where Among Us landed.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected hits of the year, but one that was desperately needed given the circumstances. Among Us takes an already successful formula and expands upon it to make the most of what doing this in a virtual space can give us.

I’ve always loved this style of social deduction game, I don’t know what it is about me specifically that it appeals to, but I just get so much out of solving a mystery/avoiding detection while everyone around me is doing the same. The board game I’ve inarguably played the most of in my life is Secret Hitler, and I have plenty of fond memories playing it at various points in my life. That said, I never found much joy in the virtual versions of these games, I always thought a big part of the appeal was being in the same room and having that atmosphere, so I never clocked on much to a game like Town of Salem.

However, what Among Us does is quite interesting, because it ramps up some of the more “gamified” elements and limits the discussion to one section of the game. Yes, the discussion is still the driving factor of everything, but it’s no longer the only thing you do. The virtual environments and the tasks you have to complete as a crewmate add so much to the game, even if they are just some cheap little minigames. Additionally, things like the security systems and sabotages give you elements that only truly work in a virtual game.

The virtual space allows for much greater control over the flow of information, which is the crucial factor that decides who wins and loses in these games. The focus shifts away from things like analysing people’s facial expressions or reactions to stuff, and just about the information the game provides. Solving the mystery based on how well you know your friends is fun, but it often means it can be hard to get away with things once you’ve played with someone a lot. The lesser focus on those aspects in Among Us greatly increases the replayability of the game.

Outside of that, it is simply the best virtual substitute for a social deduction board game out there right now. It’s easy to understand, it’s affordable (and free on mobile), and the ease at which you can play it through software like Discord makes it the perfect game to play with a group of friends. I’m sure Among Us’ success will inspire plenty of other developers to give it a try now. As such, I’m really excited to see what innovative concepts come out of that, because I honestly think it’s a genre that hasn’t been expanded on to its full potential, even in the board game scene.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 15

1 – Xenoblade Chronicles

Release Date: 10th June 2010
Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU, Nintendo Wii, New Nintendo 3DS/2DS

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come to realise that I like JRPGs a lot more than I thought I did. Initially, I thought Pokemon was the only one I really liked, but then Octopath Traveler came out in 2018 and Fire Emblem: Three Houses came out in 2019, both of which ended up being my game of the year for those years. So this year, I decided to dive into more games in the genre to see what else is out there that I’ve missed. I played Dragon Quest XI, but after 20 hours of play, I just wasn’t clicking with it, and I have Persona 4 & 5 lined up to play next year, but the real standout game that I found this year, was Xenoblade Chronicles. To clarify, I played the Definitive Edition release on Switch, but from what I’ve been told by the community, it made no major changes to the original, so I’m counting it as the same thing.

What immediately stood out to me about Xenoblade is the combat system. Usually, I shy away from the ‘auto-attacking’ style of combat, which is why I never found much joy in games like Dragon Age. However, in Xenoblade, the ‘Combat Arts’ and various other systems mean that you’ve always got something to think about, and you’re never merely watching a battle. The game keeps you always thinking about your positioning, the positioning of your teammates, what type of attacks you should be using, and what’s currently on cooldown, ensuring that even in the most prolonged battles, you’re always an active participant.

The world design was also a thing of beauty. The idea of the entire map being on various body parts of this ancient dead colossus is quite the visual spectacle, and it blends with the design of each of the maps to near-perfection. I love the sensation of running around this wide-open plain, only to look up and see that it’s just a small part of this world. As much as it doesn’t make sense for it to have such wildly varying climates right next to one another, I’m ok with suspending my disbelief to allow for a great variety in environments with a lot of visually impressive areas.

The story is…a bit convoluted, and a lot of the twists were pretty obvious, but it was interesting enough to make me want to push forward, and that’s all I need. The climactic moments were absolutely crazy, and they made a lot of the bigger fights really satisfying to complete. The characters are far from the best I’ve ever seen in a JRPG, but they were all charming in their own ways, so I had a lot of fun watching them all interact.

Xenoblade Chronicles is a game incredibly densely packed with things to do, both in its world and in its mechanics and that kind of game will always want to make me push forward and see as much of it as possible. Despite completing the game over the summer, I made the decision to wait a while to play the sequel (which released in 2017), but I’m definitely going to be booting it up soon because this is a world I definitely want to see more of.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 14

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what “old” games you got to experience for the first time this year, either in the comment below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure you come back here this time next weekend where I’ll be beginning my coverage of WWE TLC!

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (20-11)

Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! Top 20 time! This is where the games hit that upper rung of being genuinely incredible, I hope you enjoy entries 20 through 11!

If you haven’t read the previous instalment in this series, please do so here, and here’s the first entry if you want to start from the entry 100.

SPOILER WARNING!

Just a heads up that there will be full SPOILERS for every game I’m going to talk about in this series, so be careful if I talk about something you don’t want spoiled.

Let’s not waste any more time!

20 – Super Mario Odyssey

Release Date: 27th October 2017
Developer: Nintendo Entertainment Planning & Development
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Metacritic Average: 97%

It’s a game about throwing your hat and possessing creatures to complete platforming challenges.

As you’ve probably guessed by this point on the list, I didn’t grow up playing the Mario games. I had one on the Gameboy, but I didn’t really get much out of it at the time, much preferring Wario Land instead. So when people would talk about games like Mario 64 being the greatest of all time, I never quite got it. I could understand the appeal, but I didn’t see what put in the upper-echelon of gaming. Then, Super Mario Odyssey was released, and I decided this was finally the time I’d sit down with a Mario game and see what makes them so great.

Literally everything. That’s what makes them so great.

Nintendo’s design philosophy is one that I wish we would see more of the gaming industry today. Every time Nintendo start to make a new game for one of there core franchises, they sit down and work out amongst themselves what they can do that’s new and interesting. They don’t see the point in making another game that’s like Mario 64, because they’ve already done it…what would be the point in doing it again? I love that way of thinking because that’s almost exactly what I strive for in my creative endeavours. Naturally, it doesn’t always work, there are always going to be some stumbling blocks (looking at you, WiiU), but it also means that we get absolutely incredible unique titles like this one.

If you want a more in-depth look into Cappy’s mechanics in SMO, then I highly recommend checking out Mark Brown’s video on the subject, but I’ll just say that it made platforming in that game completely different some any other 3D platformer I’ve ever played, in the best possible way. I usually prefer my platformers to be 2D, because I’m not very good at 3D platforming. However, every mechanic in SMO is designed in such a way that it makes the platforming easier, while still being fun and interesting.

Combine that with some of the most creative mechanic, world and creature design I’ve ever seen, and you’ve got yourself an adventure that never stops being fun and is always ready to throw something new your way to keep you hooked. It’s got so much death and quite literally several hundred different challenges for you to try your hand at. As far as I’m concerned, this is the game that exemplifies what makes Nintendo the world’s best game developer.

19 – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Release Date: 29th October 2019
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Milan, Ubisoft Kiev
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU, Windows
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about pirates.

(From my Every Main Series Assassin’s Creed Game Ranked article)

Remember that one time, when Ubisoft just thought “fuck it” and made a pirate game for no reason? Good times.

Counting Black Flag in a list of best Assassin’s Creed games almost feels like cheating, because let’s face it, it’s an Assassin’s Creed game in name alone; that doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant though.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that my favourite part of Assassin’s Creed III was the sea battles. The team at Ubisoft clearly thought the same because the next game, Black Flag, was entirely about the sea battles. They stumbled upon an entertaining style of gameplay, and to their credit, they leaned all the way into it, to make an absolutely fantastic game.

Every battle you got into with the boats felt like an all-out war. The scale of it all combined, with the vibrant colours of the Caribbean, and the extremely well-designed soundscape made every single encounter feel like a chaotic and epic fight. Pile on top of that, extreme weather conditions, a wide variety of weapons at your disposal, and the ability to board your opponent’s ships – which causes a massive battle in quite a confined space – and you’ve got yourself a formula that never ceases to be fun to play.

The world was also exceptionally well designed, with the towns being bright and colourful, but not so big as to feel too big and also having enough variety in the environment, so all of them felt distinct. The random islands and plantations were also great additions, with things continually sidetracking you (in a good way) when you’re poncing about on the open seas.

Black Flag, has a relatively big open world, but by no means too big, and the game is very carefully designed for touring you through it at a very steady pace. As such, you never feel overwhelmed at the amount of stuff there is available to you. Speaking of stuff, unlike most of the other open worlds in this franchise, Black Flag’s world is very densely packed with a great variety of stuff to do. Be that hunting down collectables, hunting animals for crafting, playing board games, throwing harpoons at sharks or firing on every British ship you see. There’s never a dull moment when traversing the world; and even if you do get bored, you can make your crew sing sea shanties to keep you entertained.

Once again, the story was perfectly fine. It doesn’t stand out to me as any kind of exceptional storytelling, but it also never did anything to piss me off or turn me against the characters which, in a game like the Assassin’s Creed series, is all I really want.

In a way, I’m quite glad this ended up being a one-off for the franchise because I honestly don’t see many ways in which this formula could’ve been improved, as the boat-based mechanics in subsequent games in the franchise have proven. Black Flag was a rare instance of a game I can honestly describe as unique in its gameplay, and at the end of the day, it’s just an absolute blast to play.

18 – Celeste

Release Date: 25th January 2018
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Publisher: Matt Makes Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 94%

It’s a game about climbing a mountain while dealing with anxiety.

(From my Favourite Old Games I Played for the First Time in 2019 article)

Celeste is an absolute master of controlling the difficulty. It’s undeniably a hard game, and that’s part of what initially put me off. However, it’s when you push through that difficulty and carry on in spite of everything that the game is throwing at you that you come to see Celeste for what it is: The most perfectly paced game in history.

Every room in Celeste is designed so that you can almost see the extensive amount of play-testing and tweaking that went into every jump. Every challenge feels so carefully crafted to give you the exact right amount of hope and despair as you throw yourself into it over and over again and their own, every single room is a masterclass in level design. However, the real magic of Celeste comes from stepping back and looking at how the game is threaded together.

Every single room prepares you with the skills you need for the next, it’ll teach you a technique or idea, and you’ll spend multiple attempts getting through it. Then, when you come to the room immediately after, the game asks you to take what you just learned and re-learn it slightly differently to solve a new challenge. This persists chapter to chapter as well, with each chapter giving you a new mechanic to play about with and understand as you go.

The way each level is designed forces you into the mentality of pushing forward despite hardship, which is so incredibly clever when you consider the themes and ideas behind the game’s narrative. The way this tale is told of living with and overcoming, anxiety is so beautifully and thoughtfully done, because it’s so low-key and yet feels entirely heartfelt, while insightfully addressing a severe mental health condition.

When you combine the overarching themes with the incredibly colourful and engrossing visual style and the absolutely mindblowing soundtrack, the game can take control of your mental state and align it with exactly how Madaline feels in the story using its level design as the primary tool.

Not only is Celeste one of the most mechanically sounds and fun games I’ve ever played, but it goes above and beyond to say something meaningful using those mechanics, something which has stuck with me ever since I finished it.

17 – Descenders

Release Date: 7th May 2019
Developer: RageSquid
Publisher: No More Robots
Platforms: Xbox One, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 78%

It’s a game about riding a bike downhill very fast before wrapping yourself around a tree.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

First available on Steam Early Access in February 2018 and I picked it up a couple of months later, and since then it’s become my 2nd most played game on Steam at 604 hours, beaten out by only Skyrim and the weird thing is, I’m not even entirely sure why I play it so much. I certainly wouldn’t describe it as an addictive game, but what I think is it’s a straightforward game to play.

By “easy to play” I don’t mean the difficulty of the game itself, I mean it’s a game that I’m never “not in the mood” to play. In the way that I play it (very casually), I don’t really have to put much thought into it, so it’s become what I play when I don’t want to play anything. I’m someone who finds it very hard to just sit and watch something for example, so what I will often do is put on something I want to watch on my 2nd screen and then play Descenders, almost in the background, while I watch it.

That’s not all Descenders is good for, because it hits that sweet spot that PopCap games were always brilliant for, where you can play it casually and do reasonably well, but also you can spend time honing your skills and mastering the game to pull off some incredible feats of skill that I could never even dream of. The procedurally generated nature of the levels means I’m never just “going through the motions” when I play. I can’t just rely on muscle memory to get me through each level I have to learn to adapt to the terrain that’s currently in front of me, so I don’t wrap my body around several trees at several hundred kilometres per hour.

It’s a game that has complete mastery over its movement, the bikes feel light and nippy while manoeuvring it in the air and on the ground feels forceful and satisfying. The way you glide down the hillsides, doing jumps and flips and spins the whole gives this incredible feeling of flow that gives you such a rush as your performance in the environments becomes more fluid and streamlined.

Descenders is a game that came together in a way I honestly never would’ve expected to make it a game that I’m going to be playing on-and-off for a very long time.

16 – Terraria

Release Date: 16th May 2011
Developer: Re-Logic
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU, Nintendo 3DS, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Metacritic Average: 85%

It’s a game about adventuring and building.

It’s hard to accurately define precisely what Terraria is in a single sentence. It’s a bit sandbox, it’s a bit builder, it’s a bit RPG, and it’s a bit adventure. On the surface, if someone were to describe a game to me like that, I’d expect it to be a bit of a mess, but somehow Terraria manages to mash all of its ideas together really cleanly. I originally wasn’t all that interested in it. I think it had to contend a lot with the perception from many critics that it was just ‘Minecraft but 2D’. However, over the years, through several major content updates, Terraria has proved itself to be something entirely different from that and something rather unique when you look at any of the genres it fits into.

Unlike most sandbox games, Terraria has a distinct sense of progression as you play in your world and you won’t even realise it at first. I had the wonderful privilege of going into the game almost completely blind, so the feeling of accomplishment throughout every milestone was so great. Every time I thought that I’d reached the limit of what the game had to offer, I’d find out that I’d barely scratched the surface. Oh, you defeated the Eye of Cthulu? Congratulations on completing step one of 300. Ah, so now you’ve gone to hell and defeated the Wall of Flesh? That’s nice, but you’re not even halfway, mate, come back when you’ve killed the horrific being that is literally the God of the Moon.

I was always exploring and discovering new things, and all of it was paced in such a way that there were never any dull points that had me just grinding away at resources in the hope that I’d uncover something new. While I never quite got into the building mechanics like I did with Minecraft, I still can’t deny the complexity and variety that is on offer for those that want to go down that route; I’ve seen some gorgeous creations in the community.

15 – Thomas Was Alone

Release Date: 30th June 2012
Developer: Mike Bithell
Publisher: Mike Bithell
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo WiiU, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about friendship and jumping…and also a little bit about the nature of self-aware AI.

Told you I’d be talking about Mike Bithell again.

Although the story told in this game isn’t as complex as in either of the “Circular” games, there’s a whole bunch of other factors that put Thomas Was Alone above its descendants. Namely how every single mechanic is designed to feed right back into the nature of the story.

First up is the fact that this game isn’t just a load of text boxes that you click your way through, there are real game-mechanics here, and they’re executed suberbly. None of the game’s puzzles are particularly difficult, but I don’t think they’re supposed to be. Instead, they’re a tool for seeing these characters relying on each other’s abilities to feel their bonds growing as they help each other to reach the end of each level. Even the designs of the characters are so perfect, they’re literally just coloured rectangles, and yet it’s able to perfectly capture the personality of all of them.

Personalities that are fleshed out through some genuinely fantastic narration that happens throughout every level. Read by the wonderful Danny Wallace, the whole story has this warm feeling to it, like you’re being told a sweet bedtime story. Even when the story is touching on some more tragic or serious elements, it’s told in such a way that you never have any reason to question your protagonists and their bonds change and grow.

Thomas Was Alone is what I would argue to be the second-greatest story ever told in a video game (more on the best in the finale). It has total control over the tone of the plot, the characters and the player’s emotions at every moment, and I always take joy in revisiting it.

14 – Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

Release Date: 16th November 2010
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about stealthy stabbing.

(From my Every Main Series Assassin’s Creed Game Ranked article)

It’s got a little bit of everything without having too much of anything.

I’ve talked a lot throughout this article about the “formula” of Assassin’s Creed, which is the general: Viewpoints, 5 different types of collectables and about 100 of each one, way too many weapons and vague stealth mechanics, (this would later become almost every Ubisoft game as well, but that’s a discussion for another day). I generally view this formula as a bad thing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. While too much can be a bore, the right amount of small tasks dotted all over the open world can make for an extremely compelling game for a habitual completionist like me, and Brotherhood is the closest thing I’ve found to a perfect version of that formula.

The open world is big enough to have plenty of variety to it, but not so expansive that it feels bloated and pointless. Traversal of the world feels fun and fluid, with parkour mechanics that Assassin’s Creed have always been good at, but it mainly feels like the world was handcrafted to make running around Rome’s rooftops extra fun. Even when you wandered out into the outskirts of the city, the vast plains felt like a breath of fresh air and galloping about the place on horseback was just as fun.

There was a considerable mission variety, not just in the main story, but with side missions too. Each of the three guilds had different styles of missions, which were solid enough to flesh out the relevant characters while staying pretty brief and not overstay their welcome. Leonardo’s missions are also great fun, playing with all the weird toys, including a tank, so I don’t have anything bad to say about that. However, best were the Lairs of Romulus which were a series of levels almost entirely based around fun parkouring challenges, with impressive scenery and a great variety in the mini-stories surrounding them, they’re my favourite set of side quests in the whole franchise.

The visual design is excellent, with every section of the colour palette being used in one place or another in the game. Ezio’s red and white outfit from Brotherhood is far and away from my favourite protagonist outfit, and every other character had colours and styles that seemed to perfectly match their personality. Speaking of characters and story, it’s still nothing overly special, but it’s definitely the best the franchise has done. Cesare is the best villain from this series as far as I’m concerned, and Ezio is also the best protagonist because he’s the only one I don’t hate at least a little bit.

Brotherhood is simply where all of the features and styles that make the Assassin’s Creed formula what it is come together in just the right way. I firmly believe that if you took all that was good about Assassin’s Creed and refine it to a point, you’d end up with something that looked pretty similar to Brotherhood. It’s the game that I will always go to when I need reminding of why I actually love this franchise deep down.

13 – Moonlighter

Release Date: 29th May 2018
Developer: Digital Sun
Publisher: 11 bit Studios
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, MacLinux
Metacritic Average: 84%

It’s a game about murdering monsters by night and then selling their loot by day.

Have you ever wondered how, in RPGs and the like, the shopkeepers around the world are able to get ahold of incredibly rare and powerful loot that you, the adventurer, often struggle to find? Well, as it turns out, they’re just as bad-ass at cave-diving as you are, and Moonlighter proves it.

As I’ve said previously in this series, for me to take an interest in a roguelike/roguelite, it has to do something special, and I’d argue none are more special than Moonlighter. On the one side, there are the dungeon-crawling elements of the game, which are excellently done. The combat feels weighty while remaining very fluid and every dungeon has its own host of unique and interesting looking enemies that make me want to press on just to see what new things are around the next corner. Although, what I’m really interested in is the stuff they leave behind when I slice them up because that is the stuff I can use for the other side of the game, the shopkeeping.

This is where I went from enjoying Moonlighter, to loving it. When you’re running your shop, it isn’t as simple as setting out your goods and waiting for people to come and throw money at you. Instead, you have to use your knowledge of various other items in the game to assign an appropriate value to each item. You then must watch for your customer’s reactions to your prices, to determine if they’re too low/high and adjust accordingly. Each day in the shop doesn’t last all that long, so it doesn’t drag on, but you’ll be constantly occupied as you split your attention between making sure your shelves are always stocked and watching your customer’s faces to find the perfect prices for your goods.

On top of this, Moonlighter avoids the trap that puts me off so many other roguelikes, which is that it doesn’t overwhelm you with an infinite amount of content. There are four dungeons (each unlocked by beating the previous one), and each dungeon had three floors before a boss fight. On top of that, your end goal is staring you in the face the whole time, the final dungeon holding some ancient secret, which will only be unlocked after beating the four other dungeons. Moonlighter sets you up right away so that you know why you’re doing everything which keeps me motivated to push forwards, instead of getting bored of the ‘infinite’ nature of things, something I wish more games in the genre would strive for.

12 – Pokemon Sword & Shield

Release Date: 15th November 2019
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Metacritic Average: 80%

It’s a game about becoming the world champion of rural England.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

Firstly, when it comes to the towns and routes in the game, I thought they were absolutely beautiful and captured a lot of different feelings from phases in British culture. There’s Motostoke, the industrial, victorian town; Wyndon the modern-day metropolis that we all know and (kind of) love today and then there were towns like Ballonlea that felt like something out of an old fairy tale. The visuals in this game were bright, colourful, and an absolute joy to behold.

As for the Pokemon, while I certainly wouldn’t rank it among the best new roster we’ve received for a generation, It’s most certainly nowhere near the worst. I’ve already talked about the Pokemon I loved the most, but there were a whole host of other new Pokemon added in this game that I really love the look and feel of.

While the story itself was nothing special by Pokemon standards, it was paced quite nicely, and I thought the climax was quite a cool sequence, not Ultra Necrozma levels of cool, but cool nonetheless. I enjoyed my interactions with any character not named Hop or Leon. I also thought the difficulty was rather nicely done, I didn’t exactly struggle at any point, but there were several points in the big battles that I felt were a bit touch-and-go, and I was forced to think about what I was doing a bit harder than I usually have to in Pokemon games.

I’m undoubtedly biased towards Pokemon as a franchise, but that doesn’t change the fact that I had loads of fun with this addition to the series. It was a Pokemon game that ticked all the boxes in terms what I need to have fun from a Pokemon game and in terms of visual spectacle, I think it’s the best we’ve seen so far. If the lack of a national dex was the only thing keeping you away then implore you to reconsider because this is still just as brilliant of an experience as Pokemon always has been.

Pokemon Sword & Shield have certainly become more controversial entries into the franchise than most, especially amongst the online fanbase, however, I think it’s a perfect encapsulation of everything I love from the modern era of Pokemon games. While Sun & Mon was a lot more visually interesting, I think the pace of the gameplay and the sheer force of personality and character on display in Sword & Shield is exactly what I adore from the franchise in the modern-day.

11 – Black and White 2

Release Date: 4th October 2005
Developer: Lionhead Studios, Robosoft Technologies
Publisher: EA, Feral Interactive
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 75%

It’s a game where you play as God and throw bunnies around with your giant God-hand.

All aboard the nostalgia train! Black & White 2 is the first game that I remember truly loving. I’m sure my parents will attest to the fact that when I was younger, I would play it non-stop. There was a short period where we didn’t have it installed on our family computer because it was playing up and I wouldn’t stop bugging my parents about getting it back on there so I could play it again. Even to this day, I make sure that I play through it at least once a year, and I have so much fun doing so.

I don’t usually like city-building games very much, and I’m not the biggest fan of real-time strategy, yet this game is a mix of those two things. If I had to guess, I think it’s the free-form nature of the game. There are minimal restrictions as to how you build up your cities or what tactics you want to use to conquer your enemies. There’s something about the freedom of playing as the literal hand of God and planning out these grand cities full of a variety of buildings that all have a unique charm to them that I just can’t get enough of. Also squishing tiny men with rocks and feeding their corpses to my giant pet cow is pretty fun.

That’s the thing with this game, it’s got so much charm and character that fills me with warm feelings of happiness. The way your people react to every action you make, or the personality that’s poured into every animation of your creature. Pour on top of that the overwhelming waves of nostalgia I get from playing it, and we’ve got a game that I’ll never get tired of, no matter how many times I play it.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post, just ten games left to go! Please, let me know what you think of these games, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this weekend, where I’ll be covering WWE Summerslam!

Games I’m Looking Forward to In Q4 of 2019

As we move into the 4th quarter of the year, the season comes around where we get all of the big releases in the space of about a week, which is either very exciting or very inconvenient depending on your perspective. Unfortunately, this year’s line up seems a little more underwhelming, with many of the big AAA releases like Watchdogs Legion and Cyberpunk 2077 opting to go with a spring 2020 release date instead.

That said, there a still a bunch of potentially great games still to come as we look to end of 2019 and I thought it’d be a nice idea to highlight the host of games that are set to release before the year is out, to help remind people to not look ahead to next spring too soon.

8th October – Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince

Developer: Frozenbyte
Publisher: Modus Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Linux

I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about the Trine series in this blog yet, but it’s one of the few series I think could be fairly described as ‘underrated’ in the eyes of the general gaming populous.

If I had to describe the Trine games in a single word, that word would be “vibrant”. The fairytale-style seeps into every pour of the game, making it ooze this charm that I just can’t look away from. The colour pallet is absolutely beautiful, with vibrant blues, greens and purples creating this incredibly serene atmosphere, although it’s not afraid to effectively use reds, oranges and even browns effectively when it wants to change that atmosphere.

The puzzle-platforming mechanics are a little basic, but that’s overshadowed by the surprisingly fun nature of the combat. It’s not a million miles a minute like much 2D sidescrolling combat, but instead, everything in the world interacts with each other in unexpected ways to create some hilarious outcomes when you spawn a box in a space where it looks like you shouldn’t be able to.

Trine 3 took the series into the realm of 3D and while it wasn’t as fun as the first two games in the franchise, it still captured that sense of charm that drew me into the series in the first place. Form what we’ve seen so far Trine 4 seems to have mostly gone back to the 2D style of game and it’s looked to have expanded its puzzle-platforming mechanics to open up a load of new opportunities for fun to be had, so if you’re a fan of the genre, or even just uniquely pretty games, this will be one for you.

11th October – Tracks: The Train Set Game

Developer: Whoop Group
Publisher: Excalibur Publishing
Platforms: Windows

So here’s a game specifically made for me and people like me.

The concept of the game is very simple: You remember the wooden Brio train sets that you’d have loads of as a kid if you liked trains? And you remember how you always wanted to build massive crazy tracks but never could? Well, this game lets you do exactly that to your heart’s content.

I played this in Early Access early last year and it’s amazing. This game will let you build any track you could possibly imagine with all the different types of pieces that used to be available (and a couple that weren’t). You can build these track on a blank canvas, or you can use a living room or bedroom to weave your tracks through.

I haven’t played it in a while as I want to be surprised by the new stuff that’s been added at launch, but when I last played there was a whole host of scenery that you could add all around the tracks, so you could build a little town for your train to go around. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! The pièce de résistance is the fact that you can actually get in the train and drive your train around the tracks you’ve made…I KNOW RIGHT?!

I’m well aware many of you are reading this thinking I’m weird, but the three people who had the same childhood I did are over the moon right now.

22nd October – WWE 2K20

Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows

For many years I was the kind of person that never understood why people bought a new sports game every year when they all seemed exactly the same from the perspective of an outside observer. However, having been a WWE fan for a good number of years now and buying the new game every single year, I totally understand the appeal.

Of course, I didn’t see the point in buying a new FIFA every year, I don’t like football. I do however like wrestling and as someone who plays the WWE games for at least 150 hours every year (usually more), the value is absolutely there for me to put down $60 every time a new one comes out.

That said, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned about this year’s game.

For those who are unaware, for the 6 WWE games released under the 2K umbrella so far, Yukes has been a part of the development team and this year they weren’t, leaving Visual Concepts to develop the game on their own and that fact combined with how marketing has been behaving in the build-up to launch has me concerned. By this time last year, we had a full roster reveal and multiple press events where tonnes of gameplay was shown, but right now we’ve got absolutely none of that.

Don’t get me wrong as long as the game isn’t totally broken I’ll still buy it because I’m a sucker for the series and I don’t care who knows it, but I’m definitely going to wait for reviews to be sure until I put my money down on it.

25th October – The Outer Worlds

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Private Division
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows

So far the games I’ve talked about are ones that I’m confident that I’m going to enjoy, either because they’re part of a franchise I love, or I’ve already played some of it prior to launch. The Outer Worlds, however, is slightly different because I really want to play it, but I’m not yet sure if I’ll enjoy it.

While I’m sure I’ll get lectures from people about this statement, but the game looks to be fairly similar to Fallout in terms of its main mechanics. This is to be expected as Obsidian’s biggest release before now was Fallout: New Vegas, so stick with what you know, so it’s a game I really want to try, but it’s not guaranteed to be a hit with me. I feel this way because of my relationship with Fallout 4 (the only one in the franchise I’ve played (I KNOW, shut up)) because when I played it at launch I didn’t enjoy it at all and over a number of years I would try over and over again to get into this and it wasn’t until early this summer that I finally cracked it and started enjoying it.

My hopes with this one is that it’s like Fallout, but not TOO much like Fallout, the gameplay that’s been shown up until now looks solid, but I always find it hard to gauge whether the feel of a game fits me by watching someone else playing it, so I’ll be very interested to see what I think of this one when it releases.

5th November – Planet Zoo

Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Platforms: Windows

A few years ago Frontier Developments did something magical, they went to the farthest corners the Earth, searched through miles and miles of terrain until they found the withered and dying body of the theme park building genre and somehow breathed more life into it than it had ever had before. Planet Coaster is quite simply the best theme park building game ever made (no, that isn’t up for debate) and Planet Zoo looks to do exactly the same thing to the Zoo Tycoon genre that Planet Coaster was to theme park builders.

Of course, the focus is in a slightly different place with Planet Zoo as it’s all well and good making a zoo look pretty (which I absolutely will), but none of it matters if all of your animals are underfed. This game promises to put the focus in the caring and welfare of the animals you hold in your zoo, with some in depth-looking systems that mean you’ll have to adhere to all of the top-level standards that real zoos have to. Not that it’s going to stop me from throwing two of every animal into one pen and seeing who survives but that’s on me, not the game.

If the recent beta release that people have been able to get their hands on is any indication, Planet Zoo will live up to the hype that stands before it and I believe it will be a game that is just as beloved as Planet Coaster.

8th November – Death Stranding

Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: Playstation 4

I just want to know what it actually is.

I think I got the rough gist of what the “basic” premise is from the explanation we received at Gamescom earlier this year, but I’m still not entirely clear. It’s also really not obvious what the gameplay is like since so far we’ve seen our protagonist have several conversations, fall off a cliff and…mark his territory.

As such, I honestly can’t speculate on whether or not I think I’ll enjoy this. If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say I’ll think it’s fairly mediocre, but what do I know? This could be the greatest game ever made, it could be utter trash, I don’t think anyone anywhere in the world has any idea, including Hideo Kojima.

I’m anticipating this release more to see what the reaction is from the general gaming populous when it finally comes out, not so much to play it myself. It’s definitely a game I’m keeping an eye on, but I’m going to be waiting for the reviews to come out before I consider buying it for myself.

15th November: Pokemon Sword/Shield

Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo & The Pokemon Company
Platforms: Nintendo Switch

If I need to explain this one to you then you’re obviously not paying enough attention.

In short: I like Pokemon…a lot.

I tend to judge Pokemon games on their own scale where I compare them to each other because for me they exist above other franchises. A Pokemon game can be full of obvious flaws an annoyances, but I’ll still enjoy it because it’s Pokemon and honestly, I like it that way, I like being happy.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to tell where each game will fit on that scale before playing it. Case in point: Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, I honestly didn’t think I’d enjoy those games all that much, it didn’t look to me like they added much to the Alola region and they’d be quickly forgotten, but boy was I wrong about that and they are easily among my favourites in the franchise.

So far out of everything I’ve seen, I like most of it. I know the fact that the national dex won’t be in the game is a sticking point for many people, but I personally don’t mind too much as long as the game we get is good fun. The whole camping set up looks like it’ll have a lot more depth than Amie and Refresh did before it and I’m gonna dedicate my life to finding all the curry recipes if it kills me.

Out of the new Pokemon that have been revealed so far, I like the look of all but one and I’m overjoyed that we’re not only getting more regional variant but brand new evolutions for old Pokemon too; any game that gives Farfetch’d an evolution is good by me.

And that’s it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, please let me know what games you’re looking forward to the most either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo! Finally, make sure to come back on Saturday as my coverage for WWE’s Hell in a Cell begins!

Game of the Year 2018: 2nd & 3rd Place

As we move another day closer to 2019, it’s time to continue looking back on the year that was and talk about another two awesome games from 2018.

If you haven’t read my 4th and 5th place picks then make sure you check them out here before reading these ones!

As with yesterday, I’ve only played games on PC, HTC Vive and Nintendo Switch, so I haven’t played anything that wasn’t on those platforms, and I won’t be covering early access games since they’re not finished.

There’s no more time to waste, so let’s get to it.

3 – Omensight

With most of the games on this list, I end up talking a lot about one thing in particular that stood out to me and made it worthy of being on a Game of the Year list; this isn’t the case with Omensight. There isn’t one thing that stands out to me when I play Omensight, because it’s just all really well designed and so much fun.

The basics of the game are that the world has ended and you, the Harbinger – a deity like being whose job it is to stop the world from ending, have to relive the final day of the world over and over again to work out how to stop it. You can’t just do whatever you like however, you play through each day by following around one of four characters that are related to how the world ended.

Each character has very different personalities and for the most part are at each other’s throats the whole time. The game makes sure to not frame anyone as the bad guy at any point, but at the same time does point you towards a few assumptions early on, which get subverted later down the line. The writing forces you to see the complexities of the land from every angle, to the point that you find yourself naturally distrusting certain characters, which can affect your actions and decisions in the short-term, to both your advantage and detriment.

While the levels are mostly linear there are various points where you can branch off and explore, and the game encourages this, as pretty much everything in the world gives you further understanding of the story you’re caught up in.

The story also scales quite nicely, but with every new discovery, the threat of whatever is causing the apocalypse closes in more and more. While you’re never actually under any real-time pressure, the game does a good job of keeping you on edge towards the later half and you’re never truly safe, which is quite hard to achieve when you’re literally playing as an immortal ancient spirit.

That said you’re not immortal in battle, and for me this is what brings the game up from a great game, to one of the best of 2018. So much attention to detail went into the story, and in a game like this, I often go in expecting the gameplay to not be anything special in order to flesh out the story; but that’s not the case here.

A lot of time and attention was clearly put into making the combat and platforming mechanics of the game feel great. While the camera could be a bit more cooperative, every jump and swing of the blade feels important in this system. While most fights aren’t particularly challenging, you can’t just sit there and mash the attack button to progress.

The different abilities and attack types that you can unlock add just enough complexity to the hack-and-slash combat to stop it being boring, while not so much as to overwhelm you. I’m generally not massively into a hack-and-slash combat system, but here everything flows so well and feels impactful that I can’t help but have tonnes of fun playing it. Whether I’m hacking through waves of enemies or a single boss, there was never a boring fight.

Omensight is an extremely well-rounded game, with a compelling and popular story with a unique style of telling it, gameplay that matches up with that story perfectly and it never stops being fun to play at any point. I look forward to going back to this one at some point next year to experience it all again.

2 – Pokemon Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee

What? A Pokemon Game on my game of the year list? No way.

To the surprise of precisely no-one, I really enjoyed this year’s addition to the Pokemon franchise. I’d never played a game set in the Kanto region before, so this was also a brand new Pokemon experience for me and I was very happy with it indeed.

I’m not going to sit here and review the core Pokemon mechanics, because I’m sure you know whether or not you like them by now, so let’s just look at what’s new.

First of all, I think this was a great insight as to what the Nintendo Switch can do for the Pokemon franchise. Pokemon games always seem to be the ones that push the hardware to their limits and you can tell Sun and Moon were desperate to break free of the shackles the 3DS had them in. While it wasn’t the huge leap that we got from DS to 3DS, you can see that the developers were getting used to using this new hardware and this will have certainly given them the experience they need to make next year’s games look stunning.

I loved having Pokemon run around in the overworld in order to encounter them. It adds so much liveliness to the world, that the older games now look sparse in comparison. The new catching mechanics are something that seem to have split most people right down the middle, and I don’t really know which camp I fall into if I’m honest. I had a lot of fun with the new level of interactivity that this system provides, however being unable to battle a Pokemon, and thus having very little control over the catch rate, was rather frustrating. Moving forward I’d like to see some sort of hybrid of the two systems, or at least the option to choose.

The integration with Pokemon GO seems to be a fairly welcome feature as a whole, and as someone who didn’t use it at all during my main play through, it isn’t something that will hinder you should you choose to ignore it. Similarly the Pokeball Plus is a nice little peripheral that is a cool add-on for any big Pokemon fans, but I found the regular Switch joycons to be just as good to play the game with.

The game was also filled with lots of little easter eggs and subtle nods to earlier games in the franchise, this kind of stuff was really nice to see as a fairly long-term fan of the franchise, and seeing Jesse and James in an actual game for the first time in forever was a fun little thing to see.

Aside from the new stuff, this game is still filled to the brim with all the Pokemon flavoured goodness that has been in the franchise forever. I felt that just enough was shaken up to justify these remakes, but not so much as to completely suck the identity of the franchise out of them.

As a whole, the Let’s Go! games were a very faithful recreation of Kanto, which makes use of all of the lessons we’ve learnt in game design since the originals launched. I feel like this was another great outing for the Pokemon franchise, and seeing how the developers have been able to use the hardware has got me extremely excited for when Generation 8 is launched in 2019.

So there’s 2nd and 3rd place! Share this around on social media if you enjoyed it, thanks to @magiclollyl on Twitter and make sure to follow me on Twitter @10ryawoo where it’ll be really obvious what game I’m going to talk about tomorrow for my Number 1 pick and favourite game of 2018! I’ll see you there.