I have learned nothing.
“I will write the intro and conclusion tomorrow,” I said, on New Year’s Eve.
Imbecile. Buffoon. Fool.
It’s been established that these posts don’t need intros. I had already finished the body, which is what matters. And the conclusion, I might have done without prior to recent events. Instead, my fresh takes have sat withering, rotting in an open tab.
The good news is that I found something to say about every game on the list. The bad news is that the paragraphs are molded over and riddled with maggots.
Slay the Spire / Mega Crit Games / November 14, 2017
I think my friend got me this game so that I would have a reference point for his ceaseless raving about it, which, yeah, I’ve been there. I get it. But after flirting with roguelike deck building mechanics in Inscryption last year, there’s a decent chance I would have found my way to Spire anyway. Spire is the game that launched a thousand imitators.
It’s a simple premise—pick a character, build a deck of cards, battle your way up to the top floor—that offers limitless potential. Every new card that you’re offered raises a new question. How much damage can my deck do, and how fast? Do I need more block cards? Does the value of adding this card to my deck offset the risk that I won’t draw a different card when I need it? Reaching the peak will also offer a new Ascension level, which makes subsequent runs more challenging in the same way that adding Heat to a run in Hades modulates the difficulty.
What I like about the game is that I feel like I learn something new on every attempt I make, even if sometimes the thing I learn is that I learned the wrong lesson on a previous run. Maybe I’m not consistently reaching the Heart, but it at least feels like I am failing better each time I play. With games like this, that satisfies me.
Halo 2 / Bungie / November 9, 2004
Just had to wrap this up after starting it at the end of 2021. My thoughts haven’t evolved past what I wrote in that post.
It Takes Two / Hazelight Studios / March 25, 2021
2021’s Game of the Year at the Game Awards, for some reason. As a co-op experience, it’s fun to play and has some memorable moments, like fighting a squirrel on top of a biplane, storming a cardboard castle, or escaping from an exploding grandfather clock.
However, the writing is appalling, bordering on irresponsible. Not sure what they intended, but you don’t win any points with me for beefing a divorce story this badly.
Dead Cells / Motion Twin / August 7, 2018
Another roguelike game that I had been meaning to play for a while, and it’s as good as I had been led to believe. They’ve added a ton of stuff to this game since release, including crossover content from some of my favorite games like Hollow Knight and Hyper Light Drifter.
Curiously, after succeeding on a run, I didn’t feel like playing more. It might be that other games came out.
They just announced that they’re going to be adding a Castlevania expansion, which is sort of like if Rian Johnson said that the next Knives Out movie was going to be an Agatha Christie adaptation. It’s not so often that a game by a small developer gets to pay direct tribute to the IP that inspired them. Maybe I’ll circle back to this when that comes out. (Editor’s note: It’s out, I haven’t yet, but that doesn’t mean never.)
Destiny 2: The Witch Queen / Bungie / February 22, 2022
It was another year of Destiny. If they stick to the plan, there’s only supposed to be two more years like this one. After Lightfall this year and The Final Shape next year, the franchise will enter unknown territory. So, maybe I will write up some closing thoughts on the first 10 years of this game when the time comes.
Until then, I want to see if I can play less Destiny this year. The game remains a mainstay for me, and it is still the best game to play when I want to hang out and chat with friends or listen to a podcast. But I think I can find a way to get more out of it while playing less.
Elden Ring / FromSoftware / February 25, 2022
This is it. This is the big one. We waited so long, and it feels wonderful to be rewarded for patience.
I can hardly begin to describe the way this game took hold of me for the first month after it came out. I don’t necessarily have to, either, because I wasn’t alone. Elden Ring caught fire in a way that none of From’s previous titles have. It was everywhere. There are people who when asked if they know what Elden Ring is, they can respond “Oh yes, that’s the game where you ride around on a horse until a skeleton comes out of nowhere and eviscerates you.”
And they would be right.
But it’s more than that, too.
Elden Ring is a game that you wouldn’t be wrong calling Big Dark Souls.
It’s a game where the map gaslights you, continually expanding as you push toward the borders of charted territory.
It’s a game where as above, so below.
It’s a game where the low overthrow the high (you are the low). Some of the high deserve it. Others just happen to be in your way.
It’s a game that lets you choose what kind of new age you want to usher in, whether you want to carry on the established order, show the courage necessary to keep walking through darkness, or curse the world to its core. You can even choose to burn it all down.
It’s a game where a giant man learns the secrets of gravitic magic so he can continue riding his scrawny horse.
It’s a game where one woman is the greatest warrior in history (until she isn’t).
It’s a game where you can vanquish your foes with a katana sheathed in dark moonlight. A flail made with the skulls of a man’s family. A whip woven from the braids of a giant’s beard. A greatsword forged from the Golden Order itself. To say nothing of the sorcery and incantations you can unleash on whoever challenges you.
It’s a game that tells you nothing and asks that you uncover as much or as little as you wish.
It’s a marvel, and I know I will be chasing the experience of playing this game for the first time for a long while.
Risk of Rain 2: Survivors of the Void / Hopoo Games / March 1, 2022
Expansions are always nice when you want more of a game, but I think the addition I appreciate most in this case is the new music. The game wouldn’t feel the same without Chris Christodolou’s proggy jams, and the new tracks find new heights.
The devs also added a giant crab as an optional final boss, and I haven’t beaten it yet, so I’m not done with this game.
Dungeons & Dragons: Rise of Tiamat / Wizards of the Coast / November 4, 2014
Admittedly, my Dungeon Master has modified the source material for this campaign so heavily that it is unrecognizable at parts. At least that’s what he tells us. Evidently it’s commonly held in the D&D community that the sourcebook for Tiamat has serious problems. But nominally it’s still the title for the campaign we started last May, and I wouldn’t know what those problems are based on my experience with it. I continue to reap the benefits of sitting at a table with a DM phenom.
Knotwords / Zach Gage, Jack Schlessinger / April 28, 2022
Zach Gage is the same guy who made Good Sudoku, which featured on a previous year’s list. After I broke my streak on Wordle and swore that off, I needed a new daily word puzzle game. This one fits the bill nicely.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt / CD Projekt RED / May 18, 2015
I actually have a second D&D campaign going on the side. Everyone at my main table got together with some people we play Destiny with and did a one-shot session that we enjoyed enough to keep playing. My character in that campaign is a Witcher with the serial numbers filed off, so once it was clear we were sticking with it, I decided to return to one of my favorite games from the past 10 years for inspiration.
The game holds up. It’s fun thinking about open world games that have come after it and realizing “Oh yeah, this game did that first.” I intended to continue on through the end to finally play the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions that I never got around to the first time. I mainlined the game over last summer and felt the need for a break after finishing the main story.
But then they went and released a next-gen update that was supposed to enhance the game for current consoles, and it apparently does that. But it also introduced some performance issues on PC. Hopefully they patch those up so I can get back on the path.
Stray / BlueTwelve Studio / July 19, 2022
Ah yes, the game I was obligated to play now that I am a cat person. It’s been a while since I played a true adventure game. Add in some platforming and that’s what Stray is, just with a cat in the middle of the screen. It was a fun way to spend a Saturday.
Unfortunately, Artemis did not show any interest in chitters and meows coming from my computer the way that other cats online did. 9/10.
Neon White / Angel Matrix / June 16, 2022
I love watching speedruns. It’s become a custom for me to finish a game and then go look up someone tearing it apart on their way to beating it in a fraction of the time it took me. And in a given year, two of my favorite weeks will be when Games Done Quick is putting on their 7-day speedrunning marathons.
I’ve never really tried my hand at it, though. Not until this game made me.
Neon White is dressed up in anime trappings with an electronic punk soundtrack courtesy of Machine Girl. It’s got Steve Blum voicing its main character and its story is about wayward souls cleaning demons out of heaven for a chance at redemption.
But at its heart, this is a game about getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. Every level gives you obstacles to cross, enemies to shoot, and medals to earn that grade your progress. You don’t need to earn a gold medal on every stage to progress the game, but at a certain point, if you aren’t fast enough, you’ll need to go back and start shaving off seconds.
And if you’re like me, you’ll do that anyway. I’d spend an extra 20 minutes on a single stage trying to clear it .5 seconds faster.
Part of that motivation is extrinsic. The game has leaderboards for each level, and if you have friends playing the game, their times are highlighted. While playing through Neon White, I had another friend doing the same. Any time he had a faster time than I did, I couldn’t move on. I had to stay until I beat it. Sometimes his time was slower than mine, or he hadn’t yet played the level I was on. I’d still put in an extra five minutes, trying to shore up my time and set a record that he couldn’t break. It became a friendly back and forth competition where I would return to previous chapters to reclaim times, prompting him to do the same.
But there’s also intrinsic motivation, the kind that pushes me to improve. Some stages, I want a faster time because I know I can get it. Sure, I got a platinum medal, but I know I made mistakes. I can cut that corner sharper. I can kill those demons faster if I swap weapons. I can shave off a hundredth of a second if I slice that enemy’s bullet with my sword.
The game counts on the player to do this, too. There are secret red medals above the platinum tier for each level, which represent records set during the game’s development by the people who made it. As soon as I got the first one of those, I wondered how many others I could get.
I’m not sure how I would do speedrunning without the structure offered by Neon White. But if I wanted to figure it out and find a game to grind, I know I could. I’d keep pushing toward the top.
Overwatch 2 / Blizzard Entertainment / October 4, 2022
This is not a game I thought would be on this list.
Readers of previous posts will know I have fond memories of Overwatch, but all has not been well in the halls of Activision Blizzard. I won’t get into all the stuff happening at the corporate level, but the demands of business have taken a toll on this beloved hero shooter.
The game that came out in October is supposedly in “early access,” which is a term that actually means something with other titles. For this one, it just means the part of the game that was meant to justify adding a “2” to the name isn’t ready yet, and it also gives them a flag to wave whenever people complain about how the game is monetized now.*
That’s because Overwatch 2 is free-to-play, which is part of the effort to make it more like every other hero shooter that followed Overwatch’s release. And yet it’s only because the game is free-to-play that I’m even talking about it. This way, Activision doesn’t get to see a dime from me.
So what about the game? It’s still Overwatch, which means I have fun playing it with my friends. It’s 5v5 now, and there was some much needed rebalancing of the roster at release (which subsequent updates have left in a questionable state).
They also expect you to pay for new heroes now if you want to play them when they come out. I legit had a kind of existential crisis a few weeks back because they were releasing a new tank hero that I badly wanted to play. But I would need to pay for that or spend about two weeks grinding levels on the Battle Pass to unlock him. Well what if I only bought access just this once? It’s just because it’s a tank, and I like playing tank, that I want to play him. And I know for a fact one of my friends will buy the Battle Pass, so what am I gonna do about the bad brain chemicals when I see him playing the hero and I can’t? It’s ten bucks spent on a game that I’ve already sunk enough time into to justify that cost, but what about my principles?
Reason won out in the end. I didn’t spend any money and was able to unlock the character with about 3 weeks of normal play time. But I don’t like that they’re counting on that kind of FOMO to generate revenue. It’s tainted the game in a way that I never worried about that much in its original form.
Also, it’s not very fun to play Zarya right now, so they need to do something about that.
*Editor’s note: So it turns out ‘the part of the game that was meant to justify adding a “2” to the name’ not only isn’t ready but never will be. They recently announced that PvE development has been gutted and they’ll instead be adding story missions on a seasonal basis. I don’t know that I really want to get into what this means here, but it should be said that this game might have a solid claim for the title of Most Mismanaged Game.
On one hand, it’s nice to know I’ll be able to do anything else with the time I might have spent playing the PvE mode. On the other hand, I think it’s a shame that I will never know what story the devs wanted to tell in this game that has been out for 6 years.
Hades / Supergiant Games / September 17, 2020
Oh my gods oh my gods oh my gods they announced Hades 2 and I’m so excited I could die.
Just look at that. Give it to me now Stephen Colbert dot gif.
Anyway, I played Hades more this year. I beat a run on 32 heat! With the spear, of all things. I want to try and do it with every weapon.
Love this game.
Marvel Snap / Second Dinner / October 18, 2022
Another mobile game, look at me branching out.
I like to screencap my wins in this game sometime, but because I don’t know a single other person who plays it, I don’t share them because I don’t think anyone would care.
It’s ok. Some things can just be for me.
Editor’s note: It’s been 5 months since I wrote this, so I can say that some of my friends have played this game now. Woo!
Slay the Spire: The Board Game / Contention Games / November 2, 2022
I guess this year was the right time to get into this game because they’re turning it into a board game. The physical edition is coming next year after being successfully funded on Kickstarter, but as part of that campaign, they developed a mod for Tabletop Simulator, which is a way to play board games in a virtual space on PC.
The neat thing about Spire as a board game is that it’s multiplayer, so I’ve played it a couple of times with the buddy who got me into it initially. Turns out it works very well and is pretty fun. I’m not sure if I would want the actual box because it’s something like 730 cards plus a bunch of other stuff and that just sounds like a burden to own and not have anyone nearby to play with. But otherwise this is a pleasant surprise.
Tunic / TUNIC Team / March 16, 2022
Earlier, I talked about how I would be chasing the feeling of playing Elden Ring for the first time for a while, and there are a couple of games that’s true for.
Tunic recaptures the feeling of playing a bunch of different games. It wears its Zelda influences on its sleeve and does a fantastic job of recreating the feeling of exploration I got from playing Link’s Awakening when I was younger. At the same time, it manages to avoid some of the overbearing elements of some modern Zelda games.
FromSoftware is another clear influence, and the developer is on record saying the way that Bloodborne unfolds its world was a direct inspiration.
I also hearken back to playing 2016’s The Witness, which I think is the last time I had to break out pen and paper to work through a puzzle in a game. That, too, is a feat that Tunic managed, offering so many delightful “aha” moments.
There’s also a pitch perfect psychedelic soundtrack from Lifeformed and Janice Kwan that meshes so well with the dreamlike nature of the game. It’s not the kind of music you might expect when looking at a screenshot of Tunic, but the game wouldn’t be the same without it.
The feeling of a whole game being a puzzle that I had to put together also made me think back to one of my all-time favorites, and it made me realize that I had left something unfinished out beyond the stars.
Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye / Mobius Digital / September 28, 2021
On my way to playing the expansion to Outer Wilds, I replayed the whole of the base game. Everything I said in my entry from 2019’s list holds up, and reading it brings to mind things I wish I had said at the time.
I love how clunky this game feels. You have to hold the jump button to bend your knees and then release it for your feet to leave the ground. Your ship and jetpack can both feel slow to respond, but if you don’t know how to manage your throttle in the vacuum of space, you will absolutely send yourself careening past the planet or satellite you wanted to land on. There is nothing to stop the ship’s auto-pilot from steering you directly into the sun other than you paying attention.
I love the game’s restraint. You spend a lot of time reading the last words of your star system’s previous inhabitants, the Nomai. They were marooned here when their mothership crashed and had to make do to rebuild their lives, but none of them ever indulge in hysterics. They don’t lose hope. They remain convinced that they can solve their problems, even while attempting to make use of the kinds of technology that created those problems.
The expansion tells a story that is darker and sadder in some ways, but that restraint is still present in a narrative that nests neatly within the original. You uncover the remnants of another species who were called to this system by the same thing that led the Nomai to it—the Eye of the Universe. The truth they uncover and the way they reckon with it constitutes the new mystery that you have to unravel, still putting the pieces together across separate 22-minute loops.
Andrew Prahlow’s music, which defined Outer Wilds with its twangy, soulful space serenades, finds new characters in the expansion with theremin-esque synths and dirging guitars. At times, it reminded me of Robyn Miller’s Myst soundtrack, as I would step into a new area with a new puzzle and be greeted with ominous tones as portent.
Playing through the expansion adds a new twist to the ending of the base game, which managed to move me just as much if not more as it did the first time.
We can’t play games again for the first time, but given enough space, revisiting them can deepen your appreciation of what was always there, waiting to be felt anew.
In the time since I first failed to finish this post, the owners of Vice Media Group announced that it would be filing for bankruptcy. In the leadup to that announcement, they laid off the members of Waypoint, their gaming vertical, effectively shuttering the site.
I’ve been a reader of the site and listener of their podcast, Waypoint Radio, since 2018 or so. Waypoint was many things to many people, but to me it was a way to feel like I was part of a conversation.
I play a lot of games, and I play games a lot, and there are some that I don’t necessarily get to discuss in depth. Some of them, I might overlook an angle that’s worth considering. Others, I might enjoy but fail to find the words to express why. Or perhaps the opposite, maybe I wasn’t clicking with a game I thought I should enjoy and couldn’t figure out why.
Waypoint helped with all of that. The site helped me find games I might not have played otherwise, and it has let me glimpse insights about some of my favs that I might otherwise have missed.
The work that the site’s contributors did also convinced me that writing about games was worthwhile. That if a game makes me feel a certain way, if it makes me want to say something, then I should say it.
More often than not, I still haven’t done that, in large part because my relationship to media has been wholly centered on consumption. That’s something I’d like to change.
The closure of Waypoint heralds an end to a certain kind of game criticism. The kind that is made freely available and distributed via mass media channels. This follows the dissolution of Launcher, the Washington Post’s dedicated games vertical, earlier this year, the evisceration of Fanbyte’s editorial team last year, and the slow erosion of other sites and outlets throughout the ongoing murder of digital media at the hands of vulture capitalists. These places, these jobs, are unlikely to return. The lights have all gone out.
Or rather, they have left their offices and been stolen away, ferried across the dark to light new candles, to spark new fires around which people can gather and talk and share.
It’s up to us to carry the flame forward, no matter how long the night.
Fuck capitalism, go home.