With 2021 literally on the horizon and all the official GOTY shows behind us, we at SQUAD sat down to chat about our personal picks. Here are SQUAD’s favorite games of 2020.
Welcome to our island
Kevin: For my top game of 2020 I’d have to go with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. During this time of inevitable isolation, New Horizons has given me a good sense of exploration and socialization. It also keeps me really calm – even when running around aimlessly or hunting something. Being able to run around your own island and hang out with adorable animals really helps your mood – who knew?
It’s been really nice forming a daily routine around visiting my villagers and making little improvements to my island. While I haven’t been the best with visiting consistently, I know my villagers are always there to see me. In a year as crazy as 2020, New Horizons has really helped to keep me grounded. I’ve also learned that I’m not that great at landscaping, but I’ll work on that.
Ophélie: My favorite game of 2020 is also Animal Crossing: New Horizons! I couldn’t stop running around, trying to catch a shark or build the biggest dino. It’s really peaceful, and there is plenty to do. The only downfall of Animal Crossing is the Nook family; I do have regular nightmares about Tom Nook asking me for money.
Will: I also have to put New Horizons up here. Being released at the beginning of the pandemic most definitely helped its sales numbers, but that’s obviously not the main reason the game succeeded. New Horizons is thoroughly enjoyable, and the constant updates keep it fun to play year round. It’s a Nintendo sequel that lives up to the standards set by fellow Nintendo sequels like Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey.
Roaming around open worlds
David: When it comes to deciding my game of the year, I looked back at everything I’d played. From Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Total War Saga: Troy to the recently released Cyberpunk 2077. Ultimately, in a year of staying at home, not seeing family, and being bombarded with bad news on the daily, it was more important than ever to me to find comfort in friends and loved ones, especially given most of our normal social bonds have been deconstructed.
Enter Shadowlands. Like an old friend who’s always there for you, it was exactly what my 2020 needed. Shadowlands was a way to connect to friends back in my home country, spend time with my fiancé, and form new friendships with my guild as we headed into the latest raid. Shadowlands is a breath of fresh air, and one of Blizzard’s best WoW expansions in a decade. It’s my game of the year for 2020.
Bárbara: I just have to add Albion Online to the podium. I mean sure, the game was released back in 2017, but it has new updates every now and then, and while nothing as monumental as Shadowlands has come out, we still got a lot of great new stuff this year.
Andrew: Immortals: Fenyx Rising is my favorite game of 2020. In an industry that often glorifies grittiness and violence, Immortals is a game that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. Fans of Breath of the Wild might write the game off as a clone, but that would be a huge disservice. Sure, there are plenty of similarities, but the world of Immortals is lovely and charming.
The game has top-notch humor, fantastic banter between Prometheus and Zeus, stellar combat, creative puzzles, and an experience that encourages exploration. Fans of Greek mythology will love the unique takes on the gods and goddesses we learned about growing up. Acquiring different powers adds variations to combat and helps create various methods to solve puzzles. Immortals also features a non-linear approach to missions: players can tackle the story in any way they see fit.
Those looking for a long journey will be happy to know that getting all of the achievements takes around 45 hours. As someone who isn’t too keen on Breath of the Wild, I’m glad I decided not to skip this mythological adventure, because it ended up exceededing all my expectations. I hope to see more of this IP in the future.
Malik: I entered Ghost of Tsushima with low expectations and was swept off my feet by the impact that minimalism can have in an open-world action RPG. Ghost of Tsushima is an experience that redefines what is possible in the next generation of storytelling. I had my doubts about the game at first, but the second I set foot on the island, it was impossible not to be captivated. The game draws you in through moments of respite amidst the chaos of a burning island. There are few games currently that can double as works of art and deep RPG experiences. Ghost of Tsushima stays true to the culture it represents, and the events of the invasion contrast the internal struggle of the protagonist Jin.
Ghost of Tsushima came out at a time when uncertainty surrounded our day to day lives, and is a reminder to find the beauty in the small moments. I have never played a game that was so relaxing yet so stressful. The game rewards you for going out of your way to explore, but hangs the looming Mongol threat over your head the entire time.
Ophélie: Ghost of Tsushima deserves the spotlight for its incredible aesthetics, too. The Kurosawa Mode blends the differences between video games and movies by adding a black and white, old Japanese movie filter to the game and cinematics. Ghost of Tsushima is worth playing for its unique artistic experience alone.
Pokémon, card games, and Pokémon card games
Will: For me, no game even comes close to Pokemon Sword and Shield this year. The 8th generation of Pokemon games generated a lot of mixed feelings even before they was released, and they continued after fans got their hands on them. However, despite the misgivings, there is one area where Sword and Shield outshine their predecessors – competitive play.
There were several smaller things that contributed to this, like the nerfs to Intimidate and changes to how speed affects turn order. The biggest one, of course, was the inclusion of Dynamaxing. For me, this mechanic proved superior to the instant kill buttons of Z moves and the powerful buffs of Mega evolutions. Unlike these other mechanics, Dynamaxing provides depth during the battle instead of just in team building. Finding the right time and the right Pokemon to Dynamax is vital.
While Sword and Shield undoubtedly came with several disappointments, I have not had a Pokemon game hold my interest this long since I was running around the Hoenn region on my Gameboy Advance nearly two decades ago.
Paul: When I was first introduced to Legends of Runeterra, I thought, OK cool, a new card game. The visuals are nice and it’s cross platform, maybe I’ll give it a try. I was hooked for six months straight.
LoR gave us the closest thing to a truly free-to-play card game. Unlike other digital card games, LoR didn’t push me to buy packs or forced me to sink days into the game to build a viable deck. Instead, Riot created a generous progression and wildcard system that allowed me to craft any deck I desired for little to no cost. I’m serious. I invested a few hours every day completing daily quests and owned enough shards and wildcards by the end of the week to create a top-tier deck.
Speaking of which, the deck diversity in LoR is shocking. Sure, some decks will be slightly better than others. However, the power disparity between the top decks and meme-decks are minimal.
Rahul: I myself returned to Pokemon TCG Online after a gap of almost three years, and catching up with the meta was a pretty fun experience! We now have three-in-one Pokemon cards, and the Dynamax feature from the main games has been introduced as well. The Sword and Shield expansions have given it some great decks, and Eternatus VMAX (with Poison tech) has been my favorite deck from Darkness Ablaze.
Hanging out, together or apart
Rahul: In a year spent mostly indoors, community games have been one of the most fun group activities to participate in. This year, we had Jackbox Party Packs 7 releasing a few months into quarantine, and I’ve had a blast playing with friends and strangers online. Champ’d Up – with its smooth drawing interface – and Blather ‘Round – which has quickly become my favorite version of charades – have been my favorite games from this pack.
Titus: I would have thought that picking a favorite game would be simple in a year like 2020. Surprisingly though, it is not. If I had to choose, it would probably have to be Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics. I’m sure no one would expect that to be anyone’s favorite game in a year that brought us Animal Crossing and Ghosts of Tsushima. Those games are great, but Clubhouse Games allowed me to play classic board games with anyone I wanted during a time where we were all separated.
Nintendo crafted the game so well, too. Each game legitimately looks ripped right out of someone’s living room. The game pieces look so realistic and tangible, and the interface for playing each game is very intuitive. 51 different options to play is nothing to sneeze at either. Besides classics like Chess, Checkers, and Poker, there are also games from around the world like Mancala, Shogi, and Hanafuda. Personally I just don’t think anything else this year could compete with the joy I felt winning a game of generic Yahtzee against my cousin under a country-wide quarantine.
Ophélie: One of the games I liked the most this year is Among Us. This game came out at the perfect time, as most of us couldn’t see each other. Among Us turned a seemingly simple concept into a fun, addictive game. For me, this game delivers the same adrenaline rush I get from FPS and horror games, minus the stress. Being alone with someone never felt so reassuring, yet so scary.
Heidi: My favorite game this year was There is no game: Wrong Dimension. It’s indie, it’s simple, it’s small, and not many people know about it. The premise is that you load up the game and the narrator tries to convince you that there is no game, but you can go around clicking and making a mess.
It’s a fairly basic concept, but it put such a great spin on puzzle games that it quickly became one of my favorite games, not just for this year but in general. It provided me with many hours of fun, and the only reason you don’t see a review of it on here is because I couldn’t word a post that wasn’t an uninterrupted string of praises.
Bárbara: If I absolutely had to pick one, I’d say my favorite game this year was The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope. I am a sucker for interactive horror video games and this one just hit everything right. The graphics are breathtaking, the plot is so thrilling, and the fact that your decisions change the entire outcome of the story is simply amazing. I was completely hooked right from the start.
Asen: Ring of Pain, hands down, was the game that surprised me the most in 2020, and held my limited attention the longest. It’s a punishing turn-based roguelite, set in a dingy and intentionally vague world that is half fairy tale, half psychosis. There are frogs, but you won’t be kissing them. There are dogs, but you’ll be lucky if you get to pet them. Mostly, there are traps, hard choices, and nightmarish, painfully contorted monsters everywhere.
Mechanically, Ring of Pain is one long, uninterrupted string of risk-reward choices. Every good decision gets you one step closer to a powerful, synergistic build, and the ultimate confrontation at the top of the tower. Every bad decision can potentially send you to the title screen, defeated and triple-coated in poison and acid. It’s great.
Phillip: I may be a little biased towards Doom Eternal because the game kept me company while my hometown was on full COVID-19 lockdown, but Eternal has been an undeniably important part of my 2020 gaming experience. The action it delivered was so well refined, so perfectly executed that it can stand on its own, and not rely on its franchise name to carry it.
Yes, it was difficult (and the Ancient Gods expansion even more so), but the game design was so well done that it was a fair difficulty. Doom Eternal was just plain fun to play, even if I did get slaughtered over and over again. It really made me understand the appeal of challenging games such as the Souls franchise, especially now that we all have more time on our hands thanks to the quarantine. It’s a damn good game, and I can’t believe it didn’t get any wins at the Game Awards.
Rahul: Fortnite: Battle Royale got some of its best seasons this year – 4 and 5 – and Epic Games seems to be doing everything right with it. We had Marvel skins, in-game superpowers, cars, and now Tilted Towers is back! I couldn’t have asked for a better third year for this game.
Derrick: My favorite release of 2020 was Star Wars: Squadrons. It was very nostalgic, reminding me of the simpler times when I would play Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II on the GameCube. I definitely feel like Squadrons got the love and attention it needed.
I also played a bunch of Destiny 2 throughout the whole year. Beyond Light has been a solid expansion so, far and the Deep Stone Crypt is the best raid in Destiny 2 now. The ability to wield the Darkness and freeze people is also a great addition, and adds a lot more build diversity.
Another game that I spent a large amount of time playing was Call of Duty: Warzone. I’m not a big battle royale fan, but Warzone just felt great, cheaters and bugs aside.
Matt’s games that didn’t fit anywhere else
Matt: It is hard to pick just one game this year, especially since I played so many games in 2020 that I didn’t get to finish. Two that have stood out from this year’s releases are F1 2020 and Destroy all Humans!
F1 2020 became my favorite F1 game very quickly. It controls so well, the tracks look stunning, and MyTeam was a very welcome addition to the franchise for me and many in the community. All we need for next year is the addition of the tracks that came into the real-life calendar this year. Istanbul Park, mostly.
Destroy all Humans! was a childhood favorite of mine, and when the remaster was announced I was more than a bit excited. The game kept a lot of the original alive, but expanded with better upgrades for fan-favorite weapons. It also preserved a lot of the original dialogue which honestly was the best part of those games for me. One note, though: if you use a keyboard and mouse, good luck controlling the saucer. It is very temperamental.
The last one from us, Part 2020
Aja: Picking a GOTY was a difficult choice since 2020 was pure chaos. Weird hits like Fall Guys, Among Us, and Phasmophobia were popping up left and right. While those are a blast, The Last of Us Part II is the game of the year whether you like it or not. Its double-headed story showed painfully well that the world isn’t black and white, and that every decision comes with consequences.
Steve: The Last of Us Part II is my game of the year too. It was something I never thought I needed, as the first game delivered such a captivating ending, I would have been fine to imagine how the lives of Ellie and Joel continued in my own head. However, the story and gameplay experience Neil Druckmann and his team created made me do a complete 180.
The Last of Us Part II tells an emotionally gripping story about revenge and consequences, and coats the entire cast of characters in a morally grey hue. It was easy to root for Ellie as she’s been seen as a protagonist. Though, as Naughty Dog introduced us to Abby, the supposed villain, the narrative unfolded in a way that made me side with her. This is something rarely seen in any form of media.
Aja: Hot take alert: Abby had a better storyline than Ellie. The Last of Us Part II somehow found a way to get reasonable players to sympathize with the apparent antagonist. Abby was a great inclusion into the franchise, showing strength, resolve, leadership, vulnerability, wrath, and love better than Ellie’s one-tone revenge story. Abby just had way more depth.
On top of that, the monsters and gangs were top-tier enemies. You never felt safe or comfortable playing The Last of Us Part II.
Steve: To be clear, it took a lot of deliberating for me to narrow down this pick. This year gave us so many phenomenal experiences. While I do believe The Last of Us Part II stands above the rest, I do want to applaud each developer out there that worked tirelessly to create remarkable games.