Welcome to 2023! It’s a new year which is home to a host of new possibilities. I’m hopeful that the new year manages to be net positive even if I’m already thinking about all of the things that could go wrong. You can’t actually see it, but I’ve rewritten this silly paragraph 5 different times now to remove all the negative language. Perhaps I ought to take a page from Kim’s book, and adopt a more positive outlook going forward.
While my year was all over the place, gaming in 2022 seemed a lot more consistent. It didn’t matter what kind of titles you were into – 2022 had a little something for everyone. However, the year isn’t truly over, for me at least, until I’ve looked back at the past 12 months, and reflected on which games best encapsulate it. Traditionally, I’ve stuck to ordered lists, but this time I couldn’t be bothered. I will include a short bullet point list of the top 5 at the very bottom of the post for those of you that like your lists though. Hopefully that works as a compromise.
Without any further adieu, here are my favourite games from 2022.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Look, I’m also surprised.
I know in my retrospective, I slagged off Breath of the Wild a lot. However, there is an image I drew for that post, which I feel perfectly encapsulates why Zelda managed to snag one of the top spots:
The exploration in Breath of the Wild is so well executed that it completely drowns the game’s other numerous shortcomings. When I thought back to my time with the game, I only remembered the good: roaming through Akkala, scaling the snowy Hebra mountains, and running through the tropical jungles of Faron in my underwear. This is what Breath of the Wild was to me – not a collection of mediocre challenge dungeons, or a limp dick Korok hunt. It was a game about using a suite of abilities to explore as the player saw fit, and I really enjoyed my time with it.
I think the single biggest strength of Breath of the Wild was how hands-off it was. Nintendo really did not care how much, or how little of the game players actually engaged with. For instance, once I decided I had enough inventory space I entirely stopped dealing with Koroks. I also spent an unreasonable amount of time exploring areas that had little to no plot significance because I thought they were cool. More games ought to embrace that sort of player freedom. I’d probably despise the AAA offerings in the industry less if they did.
Speedrunning is a gaming niche that I’ve never been particularly attached to. Make no mistake – I still enjoy and respect speedruns, but they’re not something I regularly seek out as entertainment. That said, watching runners absolutely break a game to move through it at blistering speeds is truly something to behold. It’s a lot like watching someone perform card tricks: the movements are swift, but there is a finesse to the performance that makes it feel artful.
Despite how cool speedrunning is, there is one massive downside to it: time. It can take months to learn, and perfect all of the maneuvers that you need to complete a run. That’s simply not something I have the patience for. However, what if there was a game that let you feel the joys of speedrunning without the time commitment? Well then you’d have one of the best games of 2022: Neon White.
I cannot stress enough how much fun I had playing Neon White. The game is probably only 6 hours long, but I spent a whopping 21 hours with it. The goblin in my head was never satisfied with my first time through a level. I had to keep replaying each one over, and over for better a completion time. There’s nothing quite like the dopamine hit of seeing your name rise 12000 spots on the leaderboard after you discover how to shave half a second off your best time in a level. It’s so good.
What really makes Neon White so special though, is how it doesn’t ask for precision from the player. All of the abilities are straight forward, your jump is kind of floaty, and the hit detection on the guns is more of a suggestion than a rule. That’s all to say, Neon White is very forgiving, and cares more about players zipping through its levels than it does about them performing ultra precise inputs. This opens the door to a much wider net of players, so they too can experience the joys of speedrunning. Trust me, once Neon White gets its hooks in, you won’t want to stop playing.
Ship of Fools
I played a lot of games with Miranda this past year. As such, I wanted to capture one of the games we played together here. Of the lot, Ship of Fools was the one I found most enjoyable. It helped that it was one of the better new roguelikes I played, which is always worth a couple bonus points in my book.
Like all the best co-op games, Ship of Fools thrives when it forces both participants to work together as one. In our first few runs, Mir and I were quickly overwhelmed. However, once we hit our stride, working together in perfect harmony, we absolutely broke the game over our knees. There was a lot of collective laughter as the two of us completely destroyed the final boss on numerous occasions.
I don’t know that I would recommend Ship of Fools to every couple I know, but Mir and I certainly enjoyed it a lot. It might be worth a look if you also enjoy gaming with your significant other.
Dark Souls Remastered
Even after finishing Dark Souls on 3 separate occasions, I still feel like this game has a boat load of hidden shit I have yet to discover. Dark Souls is so obtuse at times, but that’s part of why I love it. I’m always wondering what else the game is hiding from me, and that just makes me want to play through it again. Very few games pull at me like that, and it has allowed Dark Souls to live in my head rent free for the entire year.
I’ve already talked to death about Dark Souls’ world design here, and here, and here, so can we talk about the online for a sec? It’s fantastic. I’m not big on the PVP – for me it’s the PVE that makes Dark Souls so special. One of the most emotionally affecting experiences I had all year was helping another player overcome the infamous Ornstein and Smough fight. We barely scrapped through. Once we finally toppled the second of the terrible twosome, the host began jumping for joy. I can’t quite put into words how good it felt to share that moment of victory. I’d never see this person again, but our success felt better than it did when I eventually finished the fight for myself.
I know Dark Souls will always be known as the hard game, but to me it’s so much more than that. It’s a game that allows people to share in one another’s struggles, and successes. They can allow you to share an emotional moment with complete strangers in a way that only video games can. That’s pretty cool if you ask me.
Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye
Yes – I know. This is a DLC expansion, but it’s an expansion to the best open world game I’ve ever played. Also, this is my list, so I put whatever I want on it.
That said, I’m unsure that I have more to say beyond what I already mentioned in my mid-year checkpoint. Echoes of the Eye provides a fantastic sense of mystery as you explore the ruins of the owl people who’s in-game name I forgot, and unravel their past. Their entire history is recorded in a language you can’t translate, so the bulk of the story-telling is done through the environment design, and players interpreting the pictures that accompany the illegible text. This gave me a much better sense that I was digging through some forgotten history than even the base game could provide.
There’s also some absolutely bonkers puzzles, but I can’t talk about those here because that’d spoil a large chunk of the expansion. Just know that Echoes of the Eye goes places, and you’ll feel a genius when you finally get there yourself.
The Forgotten City
I know. What a surprise. Look – The Forgotten City is fire, and you should all play it. It’s one of the smartest designed detective games that I’ve ever played. Just about every clue will point players in 2 different directions. This means that they will always have something to fall back on if they’re stumped on the current quest they’re pursuing. Hell, in some cases, taking your investigation in a different direction might actually be the key to pressing forward wherever you’re stuck. This helps to maintain the player’s momentum, keeping them focused on all the best bits of The Forgotten City.
It’s not just how The Forgotten City provides information that makes it so good – it’s how it addresses repetition. As I covered in an article last year, The Forgotten City provides a quick, and easy way for players to repeat actions they’ve already done whenever they reset the loop. You can send the village farmer to do your dirty work for you, which cuts out a lot of the repetition that would otherwise bury The Forgotten City in a sea of monotony.
It’s no Return of the Obra Dinn, but The Forgotten City is damn close to hitting that same bar.
I’m, once again, at a loss for words when it comes to Citizen Sleeper. I think I have such a hard time pinning down why I liked this game so much because I’m a big, dumb gorilla. I lack the critical faculties to sufficiently dig into this title’s narrative themes. That’s a big part of what makes Citizen Sleeper so damn compelling though – it’s a game about building up a new identity from nothing, while existing in a world where your body and time have both been commodified. Maybe it’s just 2020s nihilism, but I’m increasingly finding myself drawn in by stories that vilify capitalist institutions, and systems.
It’s not just Citizen Sleeper’s writing that helps it shine so well though: it’s also its light RPG mechanics. Every day you have a set amount of actions, and resources. Players need to balance this around keeping themselves alive with food, and a drug they require to keep their automaton body functional. This is all while being recruited to help a variety of very compelling side characters. The added tension of having to balance your decision making between side stories, and survival gives the whole of Citizen Sleeper a much more compelling through line than most role-playing games.
Guilty Gear Strive
2022 was really the year of Guilty Gear Strive. This game dominated my gaming time throughout the year, and for good reason. I spent a lot of time going goblin mode with May. I periodically dabbled with other characters like Baiken, but all that did was lead me back to May with a renewed appreciation for what she brought to the table. This came to a head in April when I finally secured my first celestial challenge, and made it into the upper echelon of players. It was a nice milestone to finally tuck under my belt, even if it only reinforced how much room I still had for improvement.
In the months since, I’ve continued to play Strive religiously, but with different goals in mind. I’ve spent a significant amount of time trying to improve my understanding of fundamental concepts. My hope was that I could play Strive in a less volatile way, and for the most part that has been the case. Increasingly, I feel like I’m able to challenge players who are better than me, and actually pose some kind of a challenge in return. There’s still a lot of room to continue improving, but if there wasn’t I don’t think I’d love Strive, or fighting games as much as I do.
I know I don’t normally allow repeat entries in my annual summary, but for Strive I had to make an exception. It was one of the defining video game forces I played throughout the year. It can’t be understated how much this game influenced my 2022, and how much fun I had playing it. I don’t know if some of the folks who I regularly play against will read this, but if you do know that you helped make this game such a definitive force for positivity throughout the year for me. You rock.
That feels like a good place to end. There are a couple other things I wanted to capture, but I wrote about them in my mid-year checkpoint, and don’t have anything new to add. In general, I had a great year with gaming, and hope to have another great year in 2023.
Before I sign-off, here’s the promised ordered shortlist:
If you made it this far – thank you for reading. I tried to keep this under 2000 words, but appear to have failed. At least I managed to trim about 300 words, while I was editing this on Sunday. Anyway, here’s hoping we both have a safe, and successful 2023. Thank you, and stay safe out there.