Dec 31, 2022
Scott Ellison II’s Top 10 Games of 2022
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In all the years of doing these end of year lists, I follow a certain set of rules that only apply to me: All games had to be released in 2022 in order to be considered for the list, and the game has to be fully released (it can’t be in Early Access). These are in place mainly due to the fact that I play a lot of games, mostly ones to review that often results in a growing backlog. This year alone, I reviewed over 50 games, which made the selection process incredibly tricky. And trimming this list to a “Top 10” is always hard, though this year has been the hardest it’s ever been, though I think there’s a solid mix of expected placements to hidden gems here.
You might have noticed that we didn’t publish any “Top Games of 2021” lists last year. This is in part due to some burn out I experienced, and had nothing to do with the games or anything like that. There was just a lot going on, and I just couldn’t write anymore words that year, and had to take a break for all of us. In place of an “Honorable Mentions” section this time, let’s entertain what would’ve been my number one game from last year… 🥁:
Outer Wilds and The Forgotten City are shining examples of great timeloop games. The goal of them is to stop the loop by repeatedly exploring and learning how to do so, and to try until you get a perfect run. For some that might not be fun, but the excitement of discovery is what propels me further. DEATHLOOP ensnared me and didn’t let me go until it was all over with and the credits started to roll. Arkane made both a complex and accessible game that held your hand throughout the experience, but that hand was invisible. The eight visionaries you track, study, and ultimately kill were all unique, and is disgustingly fascinating to dismantle. I enjoy making notes for games to help track information, but there’s something smart about how DEATHLOOP captured the important bits, and categorized them for you. Then there’s the great dynamic between Colt and Julianna, with some excellent voice acting on both parts. The game drip-fed you information as you progressed, and I just couldn’t get enough to continue to unravel this mystery. Utilizing Psychedelic and Conceptual Art from the 1960s is an inspired choice and really added to the overall flavor of the game. The weapons and slabs (powers) you would get your disposal were reminiscent of Arkane’s earlier work, but worked in its own way. Then you have the PVP element of the game where you can pose as Julianna and invade other people’s games and hopefully take down Colt. DEATHLOOP doubles as a wonderfully executed timeloop game while also being an immersive sim. With it releasing onto Xbox earlier this year, DEATHLOOP remains a must-play today, but this was easily my favorite game in all of 2021.
I played FAR: Lone Sails just before diving into FAR: Changing Tide, and I’m so glad I did. These games are intertwined for reasons I don’t want to give away, but they both should be played, in any order. They’re games of desolation, in a post-apocalypse of some kind as the game doesn’t tell you the current or prior state of things. Developer Okomotive lets the visuals do the talking as there’s an absence of text and spoken word. The games aren’t very long on their own, and each can be completed in a single sitting if you so choose. FAR: Changing Tide was slightly longer, and was just such a fantastic experience all around. Depth is both figurative and literal here as your ship can turn into a submersible, giving the gameplay more to offer. The loneliness of solving these environmental puzzles were so satisfying and intuitive. FAR: Changing Tide was a adventure that always kept you moving in one way or another, and complimentary relationship of both games makes them so worth it.
WolfEye Studios, formed from many key people at Arkane is sure to raise some eyebrows. Weird West was in development for several years, and the result at the time of release was a top-down action RPG with a smattering of immersive sim. In the months to follow, the team would tweak, update, and introduce modding into the game. Now you can play the game in first-person if you really want, or you can increase tool durability. I found the game to be totally engrossing and immersive even in the third-person perspective across the five different playable characters. How WolfEye managed that was in part of being able to approach situations with multiple means to resolve them either through conflict or avoiding it altogether via stealth. There’s an obscene number of weapons to collect, each with their own level and attributes. Sadly the actual varying classes of weapons is limited, but are still fun to use for the era that this resides. The perks and traits that you can invest into yourself is entirely up to you, allowing you to mold them to your playstyle. Quests were memorable for the things that took place, or the time limits placed on them, making navigating the world requiring a more careful approach. Weird West’s improvements over the years shows that WolfEye Studios cares, and is now the perfect time to jump in to it.
A lot is already known about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II already, it builds upon the 2019 game, but the campaign didn’t quite hold a candle to what came before it. Though the story still managed to be fun and inventive, introducing all kinds of mechanics and systems that only existed for one level or another that kept changing things up. While the audio isn’t ideal, the sound design is impactful and crunchy with heavy-sounding weapons. The Multiplayer is in killer shape, offering a deep and perhaps grindy weapon system where attachments and camos require a lot of effort to fully unlock. But as someone who’s reached the max level of 250, maxed all guns, and only unlocked half of the camos, I can’t complain. The game’s co-op offering was really intense for the small handful of missions it offered. And now there’s part one of a Raid that requires extreme cooperation with designated role assignments for everyone in order to complete it. Warzone 2.0 has arrived, and while considered a separate game, changes a lot from the 1.0 game in some divisive ways that makes it less unique but more of a traditional battle royale. Perhaps the most exciting thing, is the DMZ mode – DMZ is Call of Duty’s approach to Escape from Tarkov, with a lot of the meta progression elements non-existent. It is listed as a “Beta”, so it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves over time, but as it stands, is a very attractive and fun extraction shooter. The biggest issues the game has relates to unexplained crashes, while improved, still exists. And for a game mode like DMZ, is unacceptable to lose gear to things out of your control entirely. All that said, I’ve already put 130 hours into the game since it released, so clearly there’s a lot to like here.
Prodeus wrapped up its time in Early Access and released in full onto PC and console this year. And the folks at Bounding Box Software have made a gorgeous blend of retro and modern shooter in one. It doesn’t have the most exciting campaigns, but it was fun while it lasted for its seven or so hours. In truth, the fun is just seeing it motion with these pixels, sprites, and modern visuals coalescing in harmony. The weapons are standard finds like pistols, shotguns, SMGs, and the like. You’ll find parallels with weapons from DOOM such as chainguns and plasma rifles, but they fit in so well here. Every level was an excuse to coat it in the blood of your enemies, and is just one of those turn off your brain types of shooters. The game has a built-in editor, and there’s dozens if not hundreds of player-made levels that range from helping you get achievements to recreating Quake. I hope the team gets to making another official campaign or two, but the user-created levels are what will be keeping the game alive for years to come.
Retro shooters are in peak fashion, but what can be considered BLOOD’s moody spiritual successor is a stylistic and shooter masterpiece that’s only halfway done. Chapter One of this game was released, and the three hours to get through it feels not nearly enough time. Only the story feels unfinished, with Chapter Two promised in 2023, whereas the gameplay feels complete. Evoking horror movie vibes, you’re an investigator in the 1960s going off the books to bring a cult down. The efforts of solo developer Jasozz Games is rather impressive, with a visual style so pulpy you can taste it. The limited color palette, dithering, pixelation, and banding just works when it’s so well complimented by modern techniques like bloom. It’s a game that looks retro, but it doesn’t feel or play that way when you’ve got a small inventory to utilize, physics you can interact with, and have crouch sliding at the ready. If there was ever something to match the heights of Monolith’s BLOOD, then CULTIC comes very close to that. I can’t wait to see what Chapter Two has in store, but until then I’ll be listening to its immensely atmospheric soundtrack.
Total War: WARHAMMER III
In looking at my installed and played games on Steam, 2022 was the year I played more Warhammer games than any year prior. Total War: WARHAMMER III is a special kind of incredible, Creative Assembly have had two prior entries to build off of, and they pull it off impeccably. Not a whole lot has changed from the Total War formula of blending 4X and real-time strategy genres, but then when you add the massive lore of Warhammer into the mix, it deepens the experience. The prologue campaign is a solid tutorial for how to play, that helps prepare you starting a game proper with any race of your choice. Now you’ll have a legendary hero that you can transform into and customize with unique skill trees as your quest for power and conquest gets satiated. If that wasn’t enough, Update 2.0 introduced the massive “Immortal Empires” campaign, which combines all of the maps from all three campaigns into a mega-campaign map. Doing this requires owning all three games in order to play this mode, but it has major payoffs and benefits for doing so, and comes highly recommended. Considering there’s hundreds if not thousands of hours of playability in single-player, not to count being able to do all of this in multiplayer is astounding. This trilogy concludes with pure excellence as it’s easily Creative Assembly’s finest Total War game to-date, and the best Warhammer game to-date.
This is the fourth shooter I have on my list (and the last), though this one’s absolutely drenched in viscera, coins, and loot. I think it’s the longest retro shooter I’ve played, coming at twenty hours just to finish the campaign, only unlocking 94 of its 149 achievements. It blends retro first-person shooting, roguelite systems, and tops it off with looter shooter aspects; out of all the shooters this year, this was my favorite. Handling a serious topic like mental health with respect, while also delivering on a first-person shooter that rivaled everything else this year was no easy feat. There’s so many weapons from shotguns to assault rifles, but also spell books and staves to use. There’s something for everyone here, and you’ll likely find a favorite. Which is good, because the game lets you keep one gun from level to level, with opportunities to enhance it. And when you get something so devastating and imbued with multiple properties, it’ll be hard to put the game down. Having permanence like increasing stats to give you more health, regenerating ammo, and more only adds to the enjoyment of the game you don’t get from other shooters in the genre. Andrew Hulshult scores just about every retro shooter these days, but he absolutely slays on this one. I’ve played nothing else like it, and I hope that doesn’t stay true for long, as I want to play more like this. For those concerned on the time investment, a recent update adds a new “Redux” mode which reduces the game time to only one-third of the game’s original length. Nightmare Reaper is a special game, and there’s no better time than now.
If The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and FEZ were to have a baby, it would be TUNIC – though it’s so much more than that reductive comparative statement. The appropriately named TUNIC Team have crafted an homage and original creation that will be remembered fondly for years to come. That feeling you get when you pause to have the game reveal the manual to you is indescribable. Having this be your guide, map, and codex through the guise of an old color-printed NES manual is brilliant on so many levels. Over time it expands and becomes more helpful, becoming one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a game in recent memory. The game does not hold your hand, so the sense of discovery is fully in-tact as you explore every nook and cranny. Puzzles are intuitive, and left for you to solve on your own, even if that means some heavy note-taking. Combat has some Souls-like qualities to it, but it’s a system you can easily master even when facing the game’s numerous bosses. While TUNIC isn’t very long, it utilizes every second to the fullest as you discover its layered secrets of this wool onion. TUNIC should not be missed, for any reason, by any person, under any circumstance.
Roll7 released two banger games this year: one of them was OlliOlli World, but the other was Rollerdrome. I didn’t expect the pairing of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with Max Payne would work out so well, but here we are, and the game pulls it off with style and precise controls that are like no other. You play as Kara Hassan, a new contestant in a deadly game show where corporate greed is at an all-time high and you’re there to disrupt the system. You’re given four weapons to defend yourself, and your roller skates for mobility – it’s like a dangerous escalation of roller derby. What keeps you alive during a round is the fact that killing enemies makes them drop health, and performing tricks will replenish ammo. Completing levels is satisfying on its own, but that’s when the game reveals what the levels challenges are, and so you’ll likely head right back in to start ticking those boxes. Rollerdrome has awesome progression not only from a storytelling point of view, but also for you as the player as your skills grow throughout the course of the game. Though you’ll be quickly humbled once you start the “Out for Blood” remixed campaign._Rollerdrome_ is simply incredible and a sublime experience start to finish.
Alright, so sue me, I picked an “easy number one” game this year, but it’s very deserving of this placement. From the moment that the main menu music kicks in, you know you’re in for something epic. Now, I’ve played just about every FromSoftware game, but as ELDEN RING was nearing its release, I was adamant I was done with the “Soulsborne” games, and boy was I wrong in so many ways! ELDEN RING takes the Dark Souls-style gameplay and plops you in a grimdark open-world and just sets you loose upon it. Progression is largely up to you, though you’ll take on quests that will somewhat guide you, it still retains the “less is more” style that FromSoftware is known for. I stumbled upon a high-level area with easy-to-farm enemies I used to level up to make myself as powerful as can be until it had diminishing returns. I absolutely fell in love with the world that seamlessly blended one area into the next, and picking up map pieces became compulsive. Honestly there’s nothing about ELDEN RING that will change your mind about these types of games, but if you thought you were tired by them, this changes that. In fact, I’d argue this reinvigorates the genre, and will change the landscape of these for years to come. ELDEN RING is the perfection of the “Soulsborne” style of game, and is the only way I want to play them going forward.