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DualShockers’ Favorite Games of 2020 (So Far)

July 31, 2020 1:00 PM EST

Now that we’re halfway through 2020, the DualShockers staff shares the games that have been the highlights of the year so far.

As we’ve already seen so far, 2020 has been a very unusual year for video games. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused numerous delays and cancelled most of the events that we’d traditionally see during the year for the games industry, this year has still brought us a ton of gaming experiences worth celebrating and sharing. Given that the next-gen consoles are on the horizon later this year, the first half of 2020 has already had some generation-defining games worth playing, and we still have several months to go for 2020.

Now that the first half of the year is behind us, the DualShockers staff has gathered together to share some of our favorite games of 2020 so far. While we’ve already discussed a lot of the games that we’re considering for our Game of the Year awards for this year, this time around we’re focusing on each staff member’s highlights for games that have been released in the first half of 2020. From some of the most acclaimed games of the year to hidden gems that are worth a look, here are the games that DualShockers‘ staff have made 2020 an exciting year for video games.

Nick Blain, Video Editor

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

New Horizons was the first Animal Crossing game that I’ve committed to since the original back on the GameCube, and I adore it. It really makes no sense why I like it. The tasks are menial and there’s no central objective to accomplish. Yet, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the most I’ve ever been invested in the series yet. I find myself getting lost in the charm of its harmonious world. There’s just something about the mainline Animal Crossing games’ design that is always so cozy. For a brief couple of hours I can forget the outside world and be lost in its brilliance. Animal Crossing makes things feel normal.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

I have a weird confession to make: while I love Final Fantasy as series, I never found Final Fantasy VII to be all that compelling. Even replaying the original before the remake came out, I found it to be a chore at some parts, so my expectations for the remake weren’t extremely high. Playing through it, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The little things that Final Fantasy VII Remake does to flesh out the characters and overall world help give so much more context to even the original Final Fantasy VII. At times, it feels like it’s not only paying homage to what came before it, but also feels like an FFVII sequel unto itself. Much like the RE2 remake that came out last year, Final Fantasy VII Remake proves that a remake can be more than just a glossy new coat of paint; it can also be a re-evaluation of what came before.

The Last of Us Part II

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this amazing game? The Last of Us Part II is just as grueling of a tale as what came before. Never has a game actually made me feel bad for fulfilling a QTE. Although, underneath that rough exterior is a beautiful inspection of love, pain, and sacrifice. At the end of The Last of Us, I felt that I had seen the end of the story and was absolutely fine with it. However, Naughty Dog proved that there was a significantly more meaningful story to delve into with Joel and Ellie. If they felt that they have more story to tell I’m here for it; but again, I don’t think that there has to be.

What I admire about Naughty Dog is that if there’s nothing left to say: that’s it. Chapter over, book closed. You can just tell the passion that was behind the team at Naughty Dog when they were developing this game. Naughty Dog is really proving that video games can be more than they set out to be initially. I can’t wait for more.

Kris Cornelisse, Staff Writer

Deep Rock Galactic

“Dwarves in Space.” Anything you can think of that would fit that phrase, Deep Rock Galactic embodies. It’s a four player co-op game where you pick a class and go on an alien mining expedition. You’ll navigate (or dig) procedurally-generated tunnels, find the resources or objectives you seek, defend yourself against angry alien bugs, and then get out. Extracting gets you a cut of the rewards, with which you can level up your classes, upgrade equipment, and customise your appearance further. Then you have a drink with your mates on the space station before doing it all again.

It might not sound like much on paper, but in practice? Deep Rock Galactic is something else. The passion and creativity of the devs is on full display, as they’ve filled the game with a ton of nuance and little details for you to find. Its graphics and sound design are well presented and stylised to suit, and the different environments are extremely well realised and fun to explore or dig through. Even with a strong core gameplay loop, there’s a decent chunk of variety in objectives. There’s also public games and solo options for those not interested in the co-op aspect, so if any of this looks or sounds interesting to you? Check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Rock and Stone, brothers!

DOOM Eternal

I’m rarely the sort to replay games often, mainly because I just never have the time. Imagine my surprise when I found myself replaying DOOM Eternal the day after I finished it. Any flaws in the game’s platforming or level design fades away the second that the music amps up and an intense combat scenario begins. Then there is nothing except an intricately designed dance of death, in which I am encouraged to use every tool at my disposal to rip and tear. Always pressured and always right on the verge of death and defeat, yet still always feeling powerful and with the means to turn the tide and raze hell. DOOM Eternal’s combat is absolutely phenomenal, and just writing about it now makes me want to start it up yet again.

Despite the controversies surrounding Mick Gordon and Denuvo, DOOM Eternal remains a highlight for me this year. I’m even one of the people who thinks that DOOM 2016 is actually the better overall package, but the sheer intensity of the combat in Eternal is like a drug that makes it impossible to go back to its predecessor. Kar en Tuk! Until it is done!

Hades

Supergiant Games have yet to deliver a bad game; in fact, Hades puts them at four for four in making excellent games that stand tall in my personal pantheon of favourites. It’s an action/roguelike where you play as Zagreus, son of Hades, on his quest to escape the Underworld of Greek mythology. And it is awesome. The combat is fluid and has impact to it from the very start, and that only gets more intense as you gain more upgrades and unlocks. The story and characters are engaging, and the entire thing is packaged with the usual Supergiant art, music, voice and style, which is to say that it is superb.

The game is still in Early Access, but since the launch version is due out this year, Hades absolutely counts for my GOTY 2020 considerations. Even then, there was a ton of content and variety even in the first iterations, and every major patch has expanded that dramatically. So far, it leads the pack by a country mile as my favourite. Hades is the most playable, content dense game that Supergiant has ever put out. If Dead Cells is the benchmark for what roguelikes aim to be, Hades is already past that and pushing higher still. “Godlike” is the only fitting descriptor.

Ricky Frech, Senior Staff Writer

Desperados 3

I will continue to beat the drum for what is, thus far, the best game I’ve played in 2020. Desperados 3 is a stealth-focused tactics game with sublime level design. The care developer that Mimimi Games put into crafting each level is astounding. As you lead a gruff band of Wild West mercenaries, you’ll take part in some of the most memorable sequences I’ve seen in the tactics space.

Every level feels unique. This is largely done by how Mimimi mixes up your party. Your squad is made up of five diverse characters; however, you almost never get to bring them all into battle at once. Instead, each mission gives you a unique combination and forces you to constantly adapt your playstyle to your team’s abilities. It’s a beautiful design that kept a smile on my face throughout the entire campaign.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

I was very tempted to put Deadly Premonition 2 in my final slot. I love that game in spite of its many problems; however, it’s a tough one to recommend for several reasons. Another game that I heavily considered for this final slot is Murder by Numbers. It’s the best Picross game since Picross 3D, but it’s a niche genre that non-Picross fans are unlikely to check out.

Instead, let’s talk about a game that isn’t even technically out yet. I was lucky enough to play the beta for Mediatonic’s Fall Guys recently. It’s the most fun I’ve had playing a game since Gang Beasts, but takes it to a completely different level. As someone who grew up on Most Extreme Elimination and the vastly superior Japanese version of Ninja Warrior, Fall Guys’ brand of wacky game show antics really speaks to me. All it’s missing is Vic and Kenny’s hilarious commentary.

So, make sure to join me next week when it launches as part of August’s PS+ lineup (and also when it comes to PC). You won’t regret it.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Even in adding combat, Ori and the Will of the Wisps controls just as tightly as the original. Just moving through a level in this game is pure bliss. There are a handful of sections I didn’t love, but for the most part, developer Moon Studios absolutely nail gameplay.

However, that’s not why it makes my shortlist. Will of the Wisps is one of the more emotional stories I’ve played through in games. There aren’t many characters I’ve cared about more than that stupid bird. And I’m petrified of birds in real-life. Getting me to consider something with feathers as a friend is a big move. Plus, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s a must-play.

David Gill, Staff Writer

Ghost of Tsushima

Ever since its announcement in 2017, I was so excited to play Ghost of Tsushima. Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper and inFamous franchises are some of my favorite PlayStation exclusives, and I was interested to see what the developer would do next. From the moment I started rolling credits, I was so invested in Ghost of Tsushima and exploring Tsushima island even further.

One of the main things I love about this game is exploring the world and everything in it. There would be days where I didn’t do any story missions and just focused on side quests, raiding Mongol territory, and looking for collectibles. The game’s story went in directions I didn’t expect and I was always curious to see where it went. Sucker Punch also added cool mechanics such as the wind guiding you in the direction of your objective, which makes the game even more unique from others out there. You also can’t talk about the game without mentioning its gorgeous visuals that are just made for photo mode. After finishing Ghost of Tsushima, all I want to do is explore more, upgrade my skills, and get the platinum trophy. It’s up there with The Last of Us Part II as one of the best PlayStation exclusives and an amazing way to close out the current console generation.

The Last of Us Part II

With 2013’s The Last of Us being my favorite game of all time, my anticipation for The Last of Us Part II was high. I tried keeping an open mind and not letting my expectations getting the best of me. After finishing it four days after its release, The Last of Us Part II impacted me in ways I didn’t see coming.

The game took so many risks in telling its story, and I commend Naughty Dog for that. There were moments where I felt disconnected from the narrative but it ultimately succeeded in telling a story that’s multilayered and could be looked at through several different perspectives. On top of that, the game’s graphics are gorgeous, and in scope it is larger than any Naughty Dog game before. There are so many collectibles and environmental storytelling moments going on, and I couldn’t help but explore every area. Additionally, the game’s combat is better than ever and throws challenges at the player with almost every encounter. While The Last of Us Part II may not be for everyone, it’s one of very few games this year that I couldn’t stop thinking about days after I finished it.

Persona 5 Royal

Over the past few years, Persona 5 has been one of the games I’ve been meaning to play. It wasn’t until Persona 5 Royal released in March where I decided to finally play it. After reaching the credits in 80 hours, Persona 5 Royal is currently my favorite game of 2020, if not one of my favorite games of all time.

From its amazing story and characters to its incredible sense of style, Persona 5 Royal has so many things going for it. On top of that, there are so many side activities to do which make time go by so quickly. The game also has its amazing Confidant system that ties together your relationships with other characters and your main character’s progression. The game also features great writing and music you can’t help but jam to at times. While Persona 5 Royal’s length may turn some people off, it puts you on a journey you won’t regret taking.

Cameron Hawkins, Staff Writer

Final Fantasy VII Remake

The original Final Fantasy VII is one of my favorite games of all time, and Final Fantasy VII Remake has been one my most anticipated titles since its announcement back in 2015. Leading up to its release, Square Enix seemed shaky to say the least when it came to the development cycle of other previous big titles like Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III, with Remake showing similar signs. Thankfully though, Remake was not in the same boat.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is arguably the best JRPG of this generation, and it may be my favorite game in general this generation once the new consoles hit shelves later this year. Square Enix was able to recreate a game that is so special to so many hearts that they easily could have messed up, but they didn’t. The characters are stunning, Midgar is beautiful even during the most dreadful times, and the combat system blends the best parts of Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts‘ gameplay into one. Despite some minuscule setbacks, being able to reestablish such a beloved title that will give both new and old players different things to be compelled by is an incredible achievement that we haven’t seen in gaming before. It deserves all the praise it has been getting and more.

The Last of Us Part II

I’m not a big fan of The Last of Us. I think the original game is overrated and a lot of things that it gets praised for other games did beforehand and better, but I enjoyed my time with The Last of Us Part II. It was different and took some interesting narrative risks that worked in its favor in some areas and hurt it in others. I have issues with the level design and how Naughty Dog wanted you to explore around Seattle, but the main reason I picked up The Last of Us Part II is for the story.

This sequel feels like a worthy (and better) follow-up to its predecessor. In the original, I had issues regarding certain character choices that most of who I talk to normally don’t agree with. But in The Last of Us Part II, I felt validated that my issues were an important part of the narrative throughout. At the end of the day, I found the story to be memorable with a lot to unpack. I just wish I didn’t have so many general issues with the game at ground level, or else I would have placed it on a higher pedestal.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore

I never thought I would see the day where my favorite Wii U title would get a second chance at life. Even with being a remastered port, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is currently my favorite Nintendo Switch title. For some, the direction of teenage Japanese idols may turn you off, but that is just the face of a wonderfully fun and engaging JRPG. Being originally made by Atlus for the Wii U, it doesn’t meet the standards that people know from Persona 5, but there are aspects of Tokyo Mirage Sessions that I like over Persona. The combat system is diverse and addictive at times, the puzzles can give you a real challenge, and of course it oozes that Atlus charm.

It is a beautiful homage to the Fire Emblem franchise, telling a Fire Emblem story in a completely new way while still having the Atlus vision behind it. If you love Persona, play Tokyo Mirage Sessions. If you love Fire Emblem, play Tokyo Mirage Sessions. Unless you don’t like JRPGs, you should play Tokyo Mirage Sessions.

Allisa James, Senior Staff Writer

Final Fantasy VII Remake

This game has absolutely captured me from the first moment I played it. Expanding on the entirety of the Midgar section from the original Final Fantasy VII, FFVII Remake offers a crazy deep dive that fleshes out every last component. The expansions made to the plot managed to create more intrigue and better convey the inner workings of Shinra and the various villains. In turn, the heroes have more chances to shine as they spend more time cooperating with each other while expanding their team and character dynamics. The Avalanche members Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge are fleshed out themselves and actually feel like real people, making their (most likely) tragic fates even more poignant. The setting has never felt more alive with tons of shops, NPCs constantly scurrying around and chatting about their daily lives and current events, and side quests that give the residents agency and personality. And all of this is rounded out by some stellar voice work.

This isn’t even mentioning the action/turn-based blended combat system that requires strategy to prevail (and will crush you for button spamming). The revamped combat system in FFVII Remake features tons of combo creation that relies on both an intimate knowledge of each attacks’ timing and on quick reflexes to build those chains in the first place. There’s also an incredible amount of weapon and Materia build customization options for players, depending on the roles you want each character to take on.

Persona 5 Royal

Pushing past the dense pacing before Okumura’s Palace, Royal offers everything you could ever ask for in an updated re-release. It introduced sorely needed gameplay balances, brand new mechanics that liven up and condense otherwise boring dungeon layouts, revamped boss battles, and added tons of new minigames. That’s aside from the fact that there is a new prefecture to explore, it introduced two new characters and added more Confidants, completely overhauled a pre-existing Confidant, added brand new events, added a new school semester and an new dungeon coupled with two new endings, more voice work, and more. The sheer amount of new content in Persona 5 Royal is staggering and shows how much work Atlus put into this title to make an already amazing game even better.

Pokemon Sword and Shield: Isle of Armor

The first of two DLC packs releasing this year for the brand new main entries in the Pokemon franchise, the Isle of Armor expansion features tons of new content as well. More Pokemon are introduced in the National Dex, there’s a fun introductory plot that also brings in your (self-proclaimed) rival and gym leader hopeful, a huge island filled with secrets and hidden areas to explore, item fusion, and new Gigantamax forms.

The best part of Isle of Armor is getting to train up an adorable Pokemon named Kubfu. This Pokemon will let you take part in the Towers of Two Fists challenges and completing one of them — the Tower of Darkness or Tower of Waters — will evolve your Kubfu into Urshifu. The Tower you choose will determine Urshifu’s fighting style, with each style having its own moveset and strengths. For Pokemon fans, the first DLC expansion is guaranteed to keep you entertained for hours while making you wish for the upcoming Crown Tundra pack even more.

Mehrdad Khayyat, Staff Writer

F1 2020

I’m not a big fan of Formula 1 tournaments in the real world, as I know very little about the sport’s leading teams and basic rules. But when I got the chance to play F1 2020 this year, it started to turn me into a Formula 1 professional fan. It even got to the point that I began reading about the history of the sport, dig up its current teams, and follow the live real-world races of Formula 1.

Of course, if you put a lot of time on a certain game, you would become a veteran fan of it sooner or later, but the progress that I made in F1 2020 was significant enough that all I can do is to praise its gameplay design. F1 2020 is a game that will adapt itself to the level of your driving skills without losing its highly stressful realistic experience. It’s impossible to describe all the amazing features of the game in a few paragraphs, but F1 2020 is my favorite racing title of this year, as I enjoy it more and more by winning every lap of a race over the opponent drivers. Simply, it’s like my Dark Souls in the racing genre.

Minecraft Dungeons

As the one of the first branches of the Minecraft series set in a totally different genre from that of the original game, Minecraft Dungeons is a gameplay-focused entertaining experience that I would be playing for months if there were more chapters to jump in.

Despite its short campaign, Minecraft Dungeons is a highly replayable game where you are encouraged to challenge yourself more and more with higher difficulty levels and better gear for fighting enemies. Dungeons features a very simple combat design that some may find as a negative point, but if it’s enjoyable enough, then why bother ourselves with more complicated stuff?

Stela

Despite being a brief gaming experience, Stela is surely the most beautiful game that I’ve played so far in 2020. The game nails perfection in art and sound design, featuring various gorgeous locations accompanied by strong and impressive song pieces that I couldn’t stop listening to even days after finishing the game.

Of course, Stela has its own downsides in the case of gameplay, but it doesn’t mean you can put it aside easily. If you ask me, Stela is a must-play title for those who are looking for a relaxing puzzle-adventure to take a break from the routine mature video game experiences, at least for a few hours.

Ryan Meitzler, Features Editor

Half-Life: Alyx

I’m not a huge connoisseur of VR games; I have an Oculus Rift headset but, for the most part, I prefer keeping my gaming to traditional experiences on console and PC. That said, Half-Life: Alyx changed that for me earlier this year and, in a lot of ways, it showed what I’ve been missing out on in VR. More importantly, Alyx feels like not just a tremendous VR game, but a huge step forward for the medium as a whole and an incredible example of immersive storytelling in a VR experience.

As a long-time fan of the Half-Life series, seeing the familiar sights of City 17 once again was a thrill in and of itself. However, the experience of witnessing it all again in Half-Life: Alyx was only enhanced by playing in VR, as Combine structures loomed in the distance and Striders towered over with their shambling legs. Everything I love about the Half-Life series is distilled perfectly into Alyx and fueled by its technical innovations in VR. Though I know a lot people most likely haven’t played it due to not owning a VR headset, trust me; when you do, this is the game that is worth having it for.

The Last of Us Part II

Even well after finishing The Last of Us Part II last month, it’s still a game that I haven’t been able to get out of my head after playing it. As much as I went into Part II unsure of whether Naughty Dog would be able to deliver an experience that could hold up to the original The Last of Us, by the end of Part II I had no doubt that the studio managed to pull it off and then some.

Though some might consider The Last of Us Part II the most “controversial” game of 2020 so far as a result of internet discourse around the game’s story and ending, to me, the game’s strengths lie in its willingness to take risks and ask questions with no easy answers. The moral complexities at the heart of Ellie and Abby’s stories in The Last of Us Part II are ones that I myself haven’t fully come to terms with yet even after finishing the game, and speak to its engrossing and unrelenting story. Though The Last of Us Part II was messaged as a game about “hate,” by the story’s end, you’ll see that it compasses much more than that, and is easily one of the most memorable (if gut-wrenching) experiences that I’ve had so far this year.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore

While normally I wouldn’t usually consider a remastered version of a game on my year-end lists, I have to give a bit of the spotlight this time around to Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore. Having missed out on the game when it first released on the Wii U and in the past several years becoming infatuated with the Persona series, those two events led to the perfect confluence of finally getting to play Tokyo Mirage Sessions this year and loving it.

Taking the elements of the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem series and mixing them together, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore by today’s standards isn’t a JRPG of the caliber of Persona 5, but is still an incredibly fun and refreshing experience in its own right. With its J-pop infused theme and music, an eclectic and memorable cast of characters, and an engaging combat system, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is an excellent way to experience an underrated JRPG, regardless of whether you’re an SMT/Fire Emblem fan or otherwise.

Logan Moore, Managing Editor

DOOM Eternal

DOOM Eternal rules. In my own estimation, Eternal is a drastic improvement in nearly every way over the original game. The combat is more visceral, the soundtrack is heavier, and traversal around each environment is more enticing. It’s not just what I believe to be the best game of the year, it’s very well the best shooter released in this entire console generation. Play it.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

I did not expect to like Ori and the Will of the Wisps like I did. Blind Forest never clicked with me when I played it a few years back like it did for many others, so my expectations for Will of the Wisps were pretty reserved. The final game ended up being far more engrossing, especially from a storytelling standpoint, than I thought it would be.Will of the Wisps is likely the best Metroidvania game I have played in the past few years and is deserving of endless attention. Make sure you give it a shot if you have an Xbox or PC.

Persona 5 Royal

I never got around to playing the original Persona 5. It has basically been my white whale for years and was a game that I knew I’d love if I just fully committed to actually playing it from front to back. When I found that Persona 5 was finally set to be re-released in its new Royal iteration, I knew this had to be the point where I rectified my mistake from the first time around. Fortunately, that turned out to be the best gaming-related decision that I have made so far in 2020.

Persona 5 Royal, despite having not yet finished it, has already become one of my favorite games of all-time. In a year that has been rife with stress, anxiety, and a multitude of other hardships for me personally, Persona 5 Royal has been a consistent joy to ease into regularly at the end of some very long days. I can’t wait to (hopefully) finish it up in the next few weeks.

Laddie Simco, Associate Staff Writer

Dreams

Dreams is a tough one to put a label on. I remember when Media Molecule first announced the ambitious project, I was immediately intrigued but couldn’t fully wrap my mind around exactly what it was trying to achieve. It’s a constantly evolving set of tools that is somewhat overwhelming at first, but Media Molecule takes you by the hand and guides you through the scary stuff. If creation isn’t your thing, Dreams gives you instant access to every type of game or multimedia experience you could ever imagine created by other dreamers. You become part of the “Dreamiverse,” which is the built-in community and social network where you can meet other dreamers or check out their works. So far that includes everything from all original games to re-creations of things like the PT demo or the opening section of Metal Gear Solid. Admittedly, I’ve still not created anything I’m proud enough to publish for the Dreamiverse to see, but I’ve had tons of fun trying it out. My favorite thing is tinkering with the music tools.

Dreams includes a campaign known as “Art’s Dream,” which acts as an advanced tutorial to show what the game can do. It was created entirely within the game and using the same tools that are available to anyone with a PS4 and a copy of Dreams. It’s a bit on the short side, clocking in around two hours, but not a minute is wasted. It features a cast of likable characters and incorporates many genres including platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and even throws in a few unforgettable musical numbers for good measure. I’d love to see more of “Art’s Dream,” perhaps even a new adventure starring Frances and Foxy. If you don’t finish “Art’s Dream” with a smile on your face, you are either a monster or you’re dead inside.

Ghost of Tsushima

These three games not only represent my best of 2020 so far; in many ways they also represent the best of an era as we prepare to say goodbye to the console generation that gave birth to the PS4 and the Xbox One. While initially one of my three picks went to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Ghost of Tsushima came in at the last minute and knocked it out of the list. The game is an absolute joy to play. It features stunning visuals and environments, spicy combat, and an engaging story complete with well-written characters. It’s a massive open-world game that I’m still happily exploring without feeling that fatigue I get from so many other open-world games. This has a lot to do with the side missions not feeling like they were an afterthought; some are just as enjoyable as the main missions.

Throughout the game you play as Jin, who is one of the last samurai during the first Mongol invasions of Japan. However, there are a series of side missions that feature a story arc centering around Jin’s allies and friends. I found this to be a cool feature that lets you get to know the supporting characters better, and could even set up the possibility of spin-offs or sequels. Aside from being an expert with the katana, Jin is equipped with a small arsenal of other weapons and equipment that noticeably gets more deadly as you progress to the top of the skill tree. There are a few quirks with button responsiveness and erratic movement at times, but honestly, there’s so much to love about Ghost of Tsushima that after a while, you won’t even notice.

The Last of Us Part II

Naughty Dog made a few bold choices with the direction that The Last of Us Part II took. Not everyone was happy with the outcome, but for me it not only lived up to my high expectations, it at times surpassed them. It’s brutal and violent in a way that often makes you uncomfortable, and yet, it didn’t feel gratuitous. I’m sure playing it amidst a real-life pandemic heightened my experience and made it even more poignant. While playing my emotions ran the gamut of everything I’ve ever felt. Just like in the first game, it’s hard to tell who (or if anyone) is the protagonist. You can love or hate a character in this game for exactly the same reasons. I have to say, without blatant spoilers, the way that Naughty Dog dropped you in new character Abby’s playable shoes without a formal introduction was shocking and brilliant.

The gameplay of The Last of Us Part II is much improved over the first game, but it still retains many of the same core mechanics. As far as graphics go, it’s Naughty Dog, so of course the game looks amazing. We are introduced to a few new variations of the infected, some improved and new weapons, and an entirely new playground which largely takes place in Seattle. The voice acting is top-notch with Ashley Johnson once again reprising the role of Ellie. The campaign is lengthy and depending upon how you play and if you are a treasure seeker, it can take up to 40 hours to complete. Despite having many “giraffe” moments, The Last of Us Part II isn’t the “feel-good” game of the year. It shows us a harsh reality and some of the subjects explored are not for the squeamish, which was obviously going to divide the audience. Weeks after finishing The Last of Us Part II, it still haunts me. Despite its critics, The Last of Us Part II will be remembered as one of the greatest games ever made, and I think it deserves every bit of that praise.

Nick Tricome, Staff Writer

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Part of me is still in awe that this even exists (the part of me that watched that PS3 tech demo on loop all those years ago), and another part is trying to comprehend something I never could’ve expected upon completing the game: Final Fantasy VII is brand new again.

Let’s face it: the ending of this game and the new story elements it introduced along the way are pretty divisive, and scary for some even (hell, even the characters themselves were uneasy stepping into a quite literal unknown). The development team behind this game, composed of veterans from the original and new blood that grew up playing it, knew exactly what they were making here and how important FFVII is to so many people. And it’s obvious how far they went to be faithful not just to the original game, but everything about its world and characters that came after.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is only the first part of the story, but is such a grand celebration of everything the original game has become over the past 23 years. And then it sets itself up for the story to play out differently. It’s gutsy for sure, and to me, incredible. For the next part of Remake–be it “Part 2,” “Reunion,” or whatever Square wants to call it–I legitimately don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s all really exciting to me.

Kingdom Hearts III: ReMIND

Kingdom Hearts III was hit or miss with fans, and the ReMIND DLC fell into pretty much the same boat. For me, they were both hits. The last third of Kingdom Hearts III is still one constant exposition dump, and ReMIND didn’t reinvent that. Instead, it just added to it with more story content, some extra, more challenging boss fights, and finally giving Kairi something to do. Combine that with the merciless boss battles, the Final Fantasy fan service that was noticeably missing from the core game, and that massive cliffhanger of a secret ending that came with the “Limit Cut” episode, and ReMIND is pretty much a small encapsulation of why I enjoy the series at the end of the day. It’s an ultimately nonsensical story that’s presented so sincerely that I can’t help but love it, with gameplay that can make me question my sanity but feel so incredibly satisfying and smooth when it all finally clicks, and has an ending teaser that’ll keep me theorizing for however long it takes to get the next game.

Plus, ReMIND reaffirms that Donald Duck is the most powerful being in existence.

The Wonderful 101: Remastered

By and large, this is more of a current-gen port than a straight up remaster (granted, that term has a pretty wide definition), but that’s perfectly fine. The Wonderful 101 was a commercial bomb when it released as a Wii U exclusive seven years ago, but it was also one of the most unique and highly creative action games I’ve ever played. So just having a modern, widely accessible version of the game, I think, is a huge win both for returning fans and players who’ve heard about it but never had the means to play it for themselves.

You don’t play as one character in The Wonderful 101, you play as an entire team of Super Sentai/Power Rangers-inspired heroes all at once, all colorful both aesthetically and in their personality. You draw basic shapes to summon weapons and fight alien invaders, being able to start out with a giant fist, then switching on the fly to a sword, a whip, or a gun to keep combos going. You play through a simple but earnestly put together story, one with plenty of wit and humor, that consistently escalates towards massive scale boss battles with some of the greatest quick-time events I’ve ever seen. However, then it will throw you into a gameplay section that’s just one big tribute to another game entirely, because why not?

The Wonderful 101: Remastered is excellent, but won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. That said, the game’s first mission captures everything it’s about, so if you’re curious but still on the fence, go check it out. It should be more than enough for you to make a decision.

Scott White, Associate Staff Writer

Dungeons & Dragons

So, the world is in a pretty crappy spot right now. I miss being able to have board game and Magic nights with my friends, but one game I’ve been able to continue to enjoy is Dungeons & Dragons. And boy-o-boy has the bug bitten me bad during this quarantine. My normal Tuesday night crew made the transition to Roll20 to continue our adventures, and this social interaction grew to become one of the highlights of my week. We still play mostly online, but we’ve been able to recently play our first in-person game recently and it was a magical celebration.

I love rolling dice, I love coming up with solutions to problems, and I love when things inextricably go off the walls and things go to hell in this game. In my hunger for more dice-rolling goodness, I finally started Critical Role (started at the very beginning, “Vox Machina” episode 1, baby!), and it has only ignited an even larger desire to play. I have even started an additional bi-weekly game with another group of friends and I’m doing some Gen Con stuff too, just to try and take the roleplaying itch off.

Thank you Dungeons & Dragons for helping keep me sane during these crazy times. As sane as I can be, anyway.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Much like many people, I waited so very long for this game to finally release and the fact that it turned out so much better than we all expected was such an amazing surprise. Final Fantasy VII Remake finally nailed what Square has been attempting to create in a game since they released Advent Children, with flashy and stylish combat that retains much of the depth and strategy of a turn-based RPG. The gameplay, characters, and much of the story all snapped perfectly into place for me, and I fell in love with this world all over again. I’m hopeful that with much of the battle system figured out and a lot of the ground work now being laid, the time until the next entry of Final Fantasy VII Remake won’t be too long. Until then, I will eagerly daydream and speculate as to what many of the endgame moments mean, and hope that they add FFXII‘s Gambit system into the next game.

Persona 5 Royal

Persona 5 is one of the best RPGs of all time; fight me. I fell in love with the original release back in 2017, and while excited for Royal, I was curious how I would take to replaying such a long game again. 130 hours later, I came away loving the characters, story, and gameplay even more than I did the first time. From the gratuitous amount of style that oozes from every facet of this game, to the jazz-rock soundtrack that I never want to get out of my head, I can’t help but smile when I think about Persona 5 Royal.

Sam Woods, Staff Writer

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Speaking of a game releasing at the right time, Animal Crossing: New Horizons absolutely hit the sweet spot. I’ve been an Animal Crossing fan since the GameCube, so my excitement was palpable for the new release, but Nintendo did what Nintendo does best and knocked it out of the park, exceeding my already high expectations.

My girlfriend is far from a gamer. The extent of her gaming history is building houses in The Sims and playing Wii Sports or Mario Kart 8, but as we entered lockdown in the UK earlier this year, I decided to pick her up a Switch Lite and a copy of Animal Crossing, and it’s been a revelation. Since the game came out in March we’ve played together almost every day, sharing design ideas, planning out our towns, trading items and just hanging out. We’ve spent hundreds of happy hours playing this game together and it’s absolutely deserving of its spot in my top three games of this year so far.

The Last of Us Part II

While I managed to hold off from replaying Persona 5, I think I’m going to struggle to do the same with The Last of Us Part II. The gripping drama, fantastic world-building and interweaving story are calling me back. It’s a call that is getting harder to resist the more time that passes.

Although “the internet” might disagree, I felt The Last of Us Part II told a fantastic story in a really engaging way. I felt a huge range of emotions at every twist and turn, and at the end of the game I was left feeling hollow. Not hollow in a negative way, but in the way when you complete an awesome TV series and wonder what life was like before it. The Last of Us Part II is nothing short of incredible, and I implore the doubters to give it a shot.

Persona 5 Royal

Persona 5 was the first game in the Persona series that I’d checked out, and after completing it back in 2018, I was itching to play it again. During my time of hesitation Persona 5 Royal was promptly announced and I decided to wait it out, and boy am I glad I did.

The original game, to me at least, is an absolute masterpiece. The music is incredible, the art direction is stunning, and its gameplay loop is so addictive. While my expectations for Persona 5 Royal were high, the first game was so good that I wasn’t expecting anything groundbreaking. I was wrong. Atlus tightened up a lot of the smaller gameplay niggles from the original game, added a pair of fascinating new characters, and incorporated the pinnacle of all Palaces. Although I clocked in at close to 120 hours, it released at a perfect time where social interaction has been forced to a minimum. Persona 5 Royal allowed me to create meaningful bonds and make up for lost time all while playing through the game’s intricate story.

Now that you know what our favorite games have been from the first half of the year, what have your favorite games of 2020 (so far) been? What titles are you looking forward to for the rest of the year? Sound off and let us know in the comments down below!

July 31, 2020 1:00 PM EST

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