I’ve been on a quest to purge my tabs, and this one has been open since last December. Part of my mistake was trying to do another 2019-style list instead of going for brevity like I did with the 2020 list. Ambition exacts its toll on me yet again. But whatever. It’s time to actually finish this, no matter what.
So here’s how this is going to work. I’m gonna list the games I played. I don’t necessarily have something to say about everything I played, so I’m not going to force myself to do so. I will however spend a minute talking about the one game that I blame for this list being as late as it is.
Hades / Supergiant Games / September 17, 2020
There’s so much unique dialogue in this game. I thought I had heard it all, but then it surprised me. After progressively bumping up the difficulty on my runs, I hit a losing streak. Suddenly characters were calling me over to offer me words of encouragement. Those consolation conversations had been in the game the whole time, just waiting for me to hit some kind of wall.
Hades remains within the pantheon of my favorites, and I don’t know if I played a better game last year.
Celeste / Extremely OK Games / January 25, 2018
Getting to 100% completion in this game is one of my more satisfying gaming achievements.
DOOM Eternal / id Software / March 20, 2020
I don’t know that I have ever 180’d on a game the way I did with DOOM Eternal. My initial impressions were deeply pessimistic, but they were also couched in my imperfect recollections of the game that came before it.
Once I had a handle on what this game was actually doing and what it was asking me to do, I beat it and then immediately started another playthrough on the highest difficulty. I think that alone should clarify how much I ended up liking this game compared to where I was with it the year before.
DOOM (2016) / id Software / May 13, 2016
Midway through this game, it becomes possible to beat every encounter by running around and double-tapping demons with the super shotgun. Back-to-back playthroughs left me feeling a lot more engaged and challenged by Eternal’s idea of what a combat encounter looks like.
I know a lot of people who prefer the 2016 game, and I have to wonder if it hews more closely to the classic DOOM games. I admit I haven’t really played the originals—I’m not a DOOM poser—so they don’t do a lot to inform my opinion here. If nothing else, these two games are in a fun conversation with one another, and I’ve enjoyed taking part in it.
Apex Legends / Respawn Entertainment / February 4, 2019
Dark Souls III / FromSoftware / March 24, 2016
My friends and I managed to finish this game with a month to spare before Elden Ring came out.
I like DSIII a lot, but at this point I’m not sure if I could bring myself to play it again. Maybe it’s just the nature of co-oping one of these games—wherein you’re essentially playing the game an additional time for each player in your group because progress is not shared—but I was just a little exhausted with it by the end. I bet I’ll come back to it at some point, but it will at least be a long, long while before then.
Destiny 2 / Bungie / Ongoing
Valheim / Iron Gate Studios / February 2, 2021 (Early Access)
It’s a lot like playing Lego, but with viking stuff.
I built a recreation of the Golden Hall atop Edoras.
And another cool house.
The wildest thing about this game is that it isn’t done. They’ve added a ton of stuff since my friends and I stopped playing. Looking forward to picking it up again down the road.
Titanfall 2 / Respawn Entertainment / October 28, 2016
“My analysis indicates a throw is our only option.”
Umurangi Generation / ORIGAME DIGITAL / May 19, 2020
It’s a photography game that won’t judge you for your shitty photography skills.
It’s also one of the angriest games I’ve ever played.
Go play it.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice / FromSoftware / March 22, 2019
Biped / NExT Studios / March 26, 2020
Mass Effect / BioWare / November 20, 2007
Mass Effect 2 / BioWare / January 26, 2010
Mass Effect 3 / BioWare / March 6, 2012
They remastered these games and released them in a collection last summer. It had been long enough since I played through them the first time that I wanted to give it another go. The third game is still my favorite—even more so now that I’ve played the excellent Citadel DLC, which I missed the first time.
The series isn’t without flaws (Paragon or Renegade, Shepard is a cop, and that can’t be changed), but I enjoyed taking it for another spin. Especially because I got to correct my mistake and successfully romanced Garrus this time through.
Risk of Rain 2 / Hopoo Games / March 28, 2019
This is another game I turned a corner on. Before, I wasn’t sure what would keep me playing it. Turns out “fun” is a pretty good answer.
Darkest Dungeon / Red Hook Studios / February 3, 2015
My first thought is that I should have played this game a lot sooner than I did because there are so many reasons I love it.
My followup thought is that I needed to realize how much I enjoy games where you learn by failing before I could love this one.
Dungeons and Dragons, 5th Edition / Wizards of the Coast / 2014
Here’s our culprit.
Last August, my core gaming group started our first D&D campaign. This wasn’t my first experience with D&D, but it’s the first time I’ve ever enjoyed playing it.
There had been some attempts to play when I was still in school that were aborted very quickly, but there were several factors working against me back then. On one hand, the technology wasn’t really there to easily run a game remotely. On the other, my outlook was itself an obstacle. I was approaching D&D like a video game, and it isn’t one.
Instead, D&D is an exercise in collaborative storytelling. It’s an opportunity to become completely immersed in a world that only imagination can take you to. And, if you give yourself permission to feel, it is a chance to share experiences that can’t be shared any other way.
I owe a lot to our Dungeon Master, without whom the game would have ended long ago. When we were first talking about playing, we didn’t spend a lot of time considering other options. It’s not that me or my other two friends couldn’t have made something work—it’s just that we knew Alex would be the best to get everything off the ground. He has the capacity for that kind of annihilating obsession that brings form to the formless, clarity to vagueness, and order to chaos (or chaos to order, if that is instead what’s needed).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tribute my fellow players, too. Our heroics are a team effort, and they deserve credit for letting me indulge in lengthy conversations with NPCs and rolling high on Perception when it matters, which I simply cannot do.
What started as a humble campaign last year has broadened into a sprawling second campaign started earlier this summer, a side campaign with some of our other friends, and occasional one-shots just for the hell of it.
It’s turning into the best kind of hobby because it’s not just a fun way to spend a Friday night, it’s also serving as a much-needed creative outlet. This is the part where I explain why this list was left to languish on a tab in my browser for 8 months.
You see, I’ve found one of the best ways for me to stay present in a moment is to take notes. So when we began our campaign, I started a Google doc. It’s a good idea to take notes during D&D anyway. You never know when you’ll need to reference something that happened six sessions ago, or maybe there are details of your character’s backstory that you want to have at your fingertips.
Pretty quickly, my notes became—in a word—extensive. And then I would go back and read through them and start touching up some of my bullet points, adding in the words I had shorthanded during the session. Then I started polishing, adding descriptions and details that hadn’t actually come up while we were playing. I was doing this between sessions, an hour or so each night, unless I procrastinated and had to tidy up all the notes from the previous session on Thursday night or Friday afternoon. Time that might otherwise have been spent writing an end-of-year blog post went instead to improving our collective chronicle.
In the end, the doc with my notes from our first campaign ended up being over 200 pages and almost 100,000 words. “That’s a book, dude,” said another friend I was telling about all this. And I can certainly see why she might think that, but it isn’t really a book. It’s missing a lot of things that books have.
What it is instead is a fairly complete summary of the events of our first adventure. And perhaps that would make for an interesting series of blog posts. Would it be as fun to read as it was to play? Probably not. But at least I could share the story that my friends and I have been telling each other. Such an undertaking doesn’t seem meritless.
No promises. We’ve seen what happens when I say I’m going to post here.
Kentucky Route Zero / Cardboard Computer / January 7, 2013
Few video games have ever made me weep. This is one of those games.
Deltarune Chapter 2 / Toby Fox / September 17, 2021
Toby’s still got it. That’s all I needed to see from this one.
Metroid Dread / MercurySteam / October 8, 2021
I had four beefs with this game:
- Regular Power Shot doors and Charge Shot doors do not have enough visual distinction.
- Some of the Shinespark puzzles are irritatingly tight and I had to look up how to do them, but they do feel good to pull off.
- The music is disappointing. Good ambience, but not memorable in the least.
- You can’t turn off the hint system.
Other than that, Samus still rules, and playing as Samus feels great.
Good video game. Hope we get another one sooner.
NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… / ToyLogic/Square Enix / April 23, 2021
Darkest Dungeon II / Red Hook Studios / October 26, 2021 (Early Access)
This game isn’t finished yet. I hope I’ll be more interested in playing it when it is.
Human: Fall Flat / No Brakes Games / July 22, 2016
Halo: Combat Evolved / Bungie / November 15, 2001
I was so desperate to play Halo 2 by the end of this game. The Maw is an all-time banger of a finale, though.
Halo Infinite (Multiplayer) / 343 Industries / November 15, 2021
For a second there, right when this game came out, it felt like stepping into a time machine.
Inscryption / Daniel Mullins Games / October 19, 2021
The best surprise of last year. One of those games I wish I could wipe from my memory and play all over again.
Halo 2 / Bungie / November 9, 2004
Something weird happened to me while I was playing this game.
See, I don’t usually have much of a dog in the discourse that pops up whenever a game gets remastered or remade. Preservation is something I understand, but if a game’s graphics get updated, I’m usually fine with it. Like, the Demon’s Souls remake drummed up a lot of discussion around the art style of the new versus the old, and I get where the people who prefer the original are coming from. I just couldn’t see how it would be a dealbreaker for anyone.
But then I was playing Halo 2, which had been remastered for the Master Chief Collection, and I had to stop mid-Warthog sequence in the third level. There’s a cool feature in the collection where you can press a button and seamlessly shift between the updated graphics and the original. Except in this case, the music was different, too.
There were a couple of other tracks from the anniversary soundtrack that threw me off in a similar way. They got Steve Vai back to redo “Reclaimer,” but he goes too hard. Also, they replaced all the sections where Incubus should be playing with djent, but that’s probably a licensing issue.
Anyway, the game itself is fine. This is just the first time I can remember thinking “They changed the thing I liked and I’m so aware of it.”
Maybe I don’t like when games make me feel old.
Death’s Door / Acid Nerve / July 20, 2021
More games should let you play as cute birds.
Cool, it’s done. Lesson learned, this can just be a list.
D&D summary posts could happen. They might not.
We’ll see how the dice land.