I’m about two years into running my Eberron-themed D&D5e campaign which is finally nearing its conclusion, signifying not only the first long-term campaign I’ve ever run actually ending naturally as opposed to flaming out, but also represents the opportunity to start crafting our next adventure, or in my case the next several adventures.
I like crafting new worlds for every campaign that I run, preferably something that compliments and plays more of an active role in the storytelling rather than just operating as a backdrop. With Eberron, I was able to use the existing setting fairly well by having the players cross through into and explore the untamed arcane landscape known colloquially as The Mournlands. This area of the map is nebulous and not very well defined by design, allowing game masters to plug in whatever they like into that area, which I most definitely have.
I’d like to think I’ve been successful in cramming a somewhat compelling story to into the blanks that the book provides, but I’m still playing in someone else’s world and clashing with the rules therein. So I opt to build worlds of my own with histories and rules that I know because I’m making them up as I go along. If I don’t have an explicit answer for something that might come up while playing, I can confidently make something up without worrying too much if I’m contradicting some preestablished lore.
The problem is that I never seem to get too far in the construction of a world before getting distracted and moving onto something else. It’s resulted in at least a half-dozen derelict and malformed worlds that lack any real definition outside of one or two cities and some historical events. Sometimes there’s a map involved and sometimes there are even quests and characters, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten before I try to develop something in a completely different setting.
Most of the time I’m leaping from design to design based on some theme I’d like to play around in or some new mechanics I’ve found. Like when I finally received my copies of Orbital Blues and Death in Space, I was eager to craft a universe filled with planet-hopping adventures and rampant capitalism based oppression but flamed out on that when I realized that making an explorable universe is hard.
There was also the time where I replayed Red Dead Redemption 2 and was deeply inspired to create a wild west themed game, but I couldn’t find a set of mechanics I liked to match it, so that concept died on the vine and gave way to something else that I never finished. I think I also just wanted a game that allowed me to do a bunch of cowboy accents, which was a bigger part of my motivation than you’d think.
Cyber punk, solar punk, Victorian, high and low fantasy, modern day and so on and so forth, I’ve made and abandoned so many worlds and settings in favor of starting fresh with something else, all thanks to my ever wandering eye. I fully intend to finish at least one of these concepts if for no other reason than that I’ll eventually have to when it comes time to start something new, but until then these worlds can stay stagnant in the many, many Google Docs they’re spread across.
Have you ever seen a trailer for a game and immediately knew it wasn’t for you? This happens to me consistently, and all it usually takes is a trailer or screenshot for me to see the mechanics at play to know a game isn’t for me. While I try to keep an open mind about every game, it’s a challenge for me to look at certain mechanics or genres and still feel compelled to play it despite what the critical reception is.
There’s been a lot of great games that have already come out this year, but I honestly haven’t played most of them because of this inherent bias I have against certain mechanics. It isn’t a qualitative judgement about the game or the mechanic in question, it’s just something I know won’t jive with me.
I guess you could just chalk it up to personal taste and knowing that every game isn’t made with me in mind, but sometimes I feel like I’m doing myself a great disservice from not giving these games a fair shake. That’s why I wanted to do a deeper dive into the elements and genres that immediately rebuff me, and try to get to the bottom of why that might be the case.
STRATEGY & TACTICS
It’s weird to start this list off with something so broad and nebulous as “tactics,” but allow me to make my case. There are phenomenal tactics games out there that people have raved about for years that I’ll never play. Games like the X-Com series, Starcraft, and even the Divinity series all seem so interesting from a distance, but rebuff me the second I get a little too close. It’s hard to nail down exactly what it is about these games that’s kept me away, but honestly it’s less about an inner conflict with the mechanics themselves and more about me being incapable of properly strategizing a coherent plan of attack in these kinds of games.
Quite frankly, I’m miserable at these games to the point where they just feel overwhelming. Usually I end up walking away from these games feeling like an idiot because I’m just so bad at applying foresight to these combat encounters. There’s also the issue of learning the internal mechanics that make things work in these games. For instance, when I played Divinity: Original Sin II, not only was I having trouble figuring out a good plan of attack, but I was also trying to learn what spells and attacks were effective against the enemies and the environment. It felt like I was learning two games at the same time and failing at both.
I’m not great at strategizing in general, which is why real-time strategy games like Starcraft and Warcraft never appealed to me. My only tactic is to build my army as fast as I can and click on enemy troops and buildings in the hopes something happens that I like. There’s also a lot of plate spinning in these games, where I’ll have to contend with a multi-pronged attack plan, while managing the defenses at my base, while making sure troop and supply production lines are working and so on and so forth. It’s a lot for me to focus on at once, and I inevitably fail miserably at each of them whenever I try to play one of these games.
There is one glaring potential exception to this however. At some point in the next few weeks, Baldur’s Gate III is supposed to enter early access. Now, I’m incredibly excited for the game for numerous reasons, but the main one at this point is because I know the inner working mechanics it’s going to be using. It’s running off of the Dungeons & Dragons 5e rule set, something I’ve become very familiar with over the years. It’s led to me looking at Baldur’s Gate III as less of a strategy or tactics game, and more of a way to play D&D by myself. There’s a lot of mental gymnastics going on in my head to make me feel at peace with Baldur’s Gate III, and I completely acknowledge that.
Like most kids in the 90’s, I was a big fan of Pokemon and would consume everything it touched, from the show, the games, the toys, and of course the cards. The thing is, despite owning a ton of the cards and organizing them into a nice binder, I never actually did anything with them. I’ve never once actually played Pokemon as a card game before. I just wanted cool little pictures of them to collect.
That mentality has shifted as I’ve gotten older, but not in the direction of actually playing card collecting games (CCG) whatsoever. I’ve moved in the other direction, away from collecting cards and even further away from playing CCGs. There is something incredibly boring to me about building a deck of cards filled with spells, monsters and other stuff, and playing against other people with it. I’ve had people try to get me into Hearthstone and other games before, but I just don’t have the patience for any of them.
The CCG genre is incredibly popular and beloved by so many people, and I’m not trying to take anyone’s enjoyment of these games away from them. Focusing on games like this are extremely difficult for me because of just how slow and methodical they inherently are. You’re supposed to take your time and strategize, but as we’ve discovered earlier, I’m bad at that.
You might ask, “why not learn to play them so you can get better?” A good question to be sure, but I’ve only got so much time on this planet, that I’d rather not try to force a square block in a round hole for more of it than I already have to. CCGs are great fun for the people who can focus and really wrap their minds around them. Hell, my Discord channel is currently filled with Magic: The Gathering Arena optimal deck links and people constantly playing it. While I’d love to be able to engage my friends on this topic, I know it just won’t happen and I’ll end up just grousing about how much I dislike everything about CCGs to them.
To be completely honest, I don’t know why people enjoy the horror genre in any aspect, whether it be games, movies, TV shows, or even going to haunted houses on Halloween. I don’t like any of it, and it’s because I don’t enjoy being scared. Nothing about the emotion of fear seems fun to me at all, and I don’t get how some people are so eager to get frightened.
I get that some people get a great adrenaline rush out of a scare, or can appreciate a nice haunted tone in a movie or game or whatever, but I’m not one of those people. To me, fear was something I wanted to avoid and steer clear of as best I could. I don’t enjoy feeling on edge, I don’t admire the artistic talent it took to evoke that spooky tone, I just don’t like any of it.
Call me a coward or whatever, but fear was just never something I actually wanted to experience. That’s why when people clamor about the latest Resident Evil game or talk about the masterpiece that P.T. was, I can’t even begin to have that conversation with them. They might be stellar games through and through, appealing to everything a horror fan wants, but to me they’re just an expensive way to feel uncomfortable and have nightmares.
Once again, you can enjoy and praise the horror genre all you want, but none of it is going to make me willingly pay money to be scared. We haven’t even talked about games that like to throw in a jump scare in it just to shake things up. Bioshock Infinite had one of those and I’m still angry at it for including it.
If I’m being honest here, JRPGs combine two things I’m really not that crazy about into one package that I don’t have any reverence for. As far as anime goes, I think I’ve enjoyed maybe one or two of them in my life, and they’re pretty mainstream if I’m being honest. I know that people really enjoy anime, and I’m not here to take that away from you because I truly believe that certain anime media can be really cool, particularly in the badass fight scenes that I’ve seen posted online. Anime can be cool is what I’m saying.
But the other half of that equation, the turn-based RPG part of it? That’s the part that I can’t handle as much. In my life, I’ve played part of one Final Fantasy game, and watched a childhood friend blast through large sections of Final Fantasy VII when it came out. Both of those experiences were pretty agonizing for me. And I know it’s unfair to target the Final Fantasy series here, but they’re one of the few touchstones I have in this genre of games. I never had the urge to play anything in this genre, so I’m well aware that there might be something that I might find interesting somewhere out there.
Similar to my issues with tactics and strategy games, I’m just a poor planner when it comes to gaming… and probably everything else in my life. So making sure I’ve got the right party members, items and buffs never really appealed to me in video games. I used to point to the fact that taking turns in combat made no sense to me, but that’s a pretty juvenile argument that I no longer use especially considering my recent reverence for D&D.
The reasons I won’t play those games today has changed significantly since I was younger, but they basically boil down to the fact that a lot of JRPGs are way too long and dense for me. Those games usually have so much going on in them that I can’t keep up. It’s the same way I feel about intense classic RPGs like the old Fallout games or last year’s Disco Elysium. They’re highly regarded games that I just don’t have the patience for.
There’s the concept of “plate spinning,” or the idea that you need to manage and keep tabs on a lot of moving parts at once. I notice this mostly in survival games where you need to worry about your food, thirst, stamina, temperature and so on. Both this and time limits feel like two sides of the same coin that I want to just throw into a storm drain.
Sometimes these mechanics are intrusive and steal the focus away from anything else in the game. When that happens, a switch flips in my head that instructs me to stop any forward progression and just hoard everything I can find for the next few hours. Maybe that’s how you’re supposed to play the game, but it just feels like paranoia-fueled busy work to me.
There are some exceptions to this rule however, and it only occurs when a game isn’t too intrusive about it. For instance, Minecraft has a hunger and stamina meter, but it’s such an afterthought that you really don’t need to do much aside from carry a few steaks on you at all times. The ‘survival’ portion of the survival mode in Minecraft mostly applies to you not dying in whatever monster-filled chasm you inevitably arrive at.
Even Red Dead Redemption II had some light survival mechanics that were easy to fulfill. If you find yourself in town, you might as well snag a hot meal and a bath and refill your dwindling meters. Both of those last for days as well, and you’re never really in danger of starving to death or passing out from exhaustion. It’s that kind of light touch approach that I can deal with when it comes to plate spinning, but games that are designed around your ability to multitask efficiently just stress me out.
Remember back in 2017 when we could go places and do stuff but ultimately decided to stay inside and play PLAYER UNKNOWN’S Battlegrounds instead? I do. In fact, I played a whole lot of PUBG, to the point where it started to get tiring which ultimately led to me falling off of it about a year later. It was a marginally better time.
But now if you asked me to play a battle royale game with you, I’d probably find any excuse I could to avoid doing so. I don’t necessarily have anything against the genre itself, but I have played enough of one of the most popular ones out there to have had my fill with the genre entirely.
This feeling was cemented when I tried to play Fortnite a few times, and bounced off of it almost immediately. From PUBG, to Fortnite, to Apex Legends, Ring of Elysium, Radical Heights and The Culling, I’ve played a lot of these games, and I think I’ve had my fill of the entire concept itself.
These games can still offer up a lot of entertainment and satisfaction, but they can also be sources of immense anxiety and stress. I’ll never forget the tension that would fill the air when you’d hear a gunshot ring out in the distance during a round of PUBG. Hell, everything in PUBG was incredibly tense when I think about it. The sound of a car, the sight of already opened doors, the literal ring of death that’s slowly closing in on you, it was all designed to be stress inducing.
Stress inducing as it was though, it was a lot of fun. But I just don’t think I need that in my life at this point. I like having stakes in games, I like tense moments, but battle royales seem to luxuriate and bask in these moments to the point of sensory overload for me.
A lot of what I’ve talked about here are just some personal examples of things that turn me off when looking into new games. They’re not value judgements or statements about the product itself or the people who actually enjoy them, they’re just my personal proclivities and nothing more.
Something also interesting to note is that just about everything I’ve listed here plays into my personal issues with anxiety and attention span. It’s weird how you can know all these various facts about yourself, but not be able to see how they’re all intertwined until you actually write them out and try to find a connective thread.
Ultimately I’d like to impress upon you that liking these things is totally valid and I want you to keep enjoying whatever it is you’re playing. If everyone felt the same way as I did, then these games wouldn’t be made anymore because people would stop buying them. The world is filled with different people with different tastes, and while some of these mechanics and genres aren’t for me, I celebrate the people who garner enjoyment from them in my place.
Man, 2019 has been a weird one for me. Normally by this point in the year, I have a pretty clear idea of what a top ten games list looks like, but not so much this time around. That isn’t to say it’s been a bad year for video games, in fact, I bet there’s people out there who were spoiled rotten by many of the releases.
The problem wasn’t a lack of quality games coming out, it was just an issue of those games managing to keep me engaged long enough to power through them. So with all of that pretext, here are the top 10 (11) games that I played this year.
HONORABLE MENTION: RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 PC
Before we dive into the list, I gotta pour one out for the PC release of Red Dead Redemption 2. Granted, it was an abysmal launch of a port in an age where PC ports have been pretty good, but returning to the old west that I fell in love with last year has been wonderful. Especially now that it isn’t running like utter garbage.
Technically it came out last year, so I can’t in good conscience put it on the list. Just know that it would probably be top 3 if it was.
10.) LATER ALLIGATOR
Later Alligator wasn’t a long experience, but it was a fun one. The hand animated, point and click adventure game that’s chock full of diverse mini-games really won me over this year. The writing was funny, the story and characters were all charming in their own ways, and the premise itself just oozed with ridiculousness.
9.) STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN ORDER
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a tough game to talk about because I feel so conflicted about it. On the one hand, it’s scratching that Star Wars itch so well for me, telling an interesting enough story in a world that I absolutely love. Yet on the other hand, it can kind of be a trial in tedium the further in you get.
That isn’t to say I didn’t have a good time with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, because I really did. It’s just unfortunate that as you progress further into the game, it starts to feel very repetitive and uninspired. It also suffered from a lot of performance issues which consistently made themselves apparent.
But even through all that, I managed to find joy in the world and story that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was doling out. The satisfaction of chaining together all of your force powers and light saber abilities is a delight, and gave me those rare moments of fulfilling a Jedi power fantasy.
8.) RING FIT ADVENTURE
I’ve never played a game that physically hurt me, but Ring Fit Adventure is a game that’s left me sore while rubbing in the fact that I haven’t actually done much. In case you aren’t aware, Ring Fit Adventure is the latest in Nintendo’s attempts to make you healthier. It comes with a Pilates ring that houses one Joy-Con controller, while the other goes on a strap around your thigh. You then do exercises to progress through levels, fight battles, and sweat profusely if you’re like me.
Even if we set aside the exercising aspect of Ring Fit Adventure for a moment, it’s a pretty fully featured game with various modes including a full on story mode, mini-games and custom routines. You also do things like upgrading your gear to make your workout attacks and defenses better, as well as crafting different smoothies which will give you certain buffs in battle.
Oh yeah, also you battle monsters in this pseudo turn based workout fight. Each enemy is color coded to match a type of workout that you can do. For example, a blue monster is weak to leg based workouts, so selecting squats or knee lifts will damage the enemy more.
It is wild that I’m describing the RPG mechanics of a workout game, but it’s actually a lot of fun and really effective at what it does. Ring Fit Adventure has been my go to for working out, not only because I can work up a sweat with it, but because it’s actually fun.
One of the first new games I played this year ended up being one of my favorites. Pikuniku was a delightful little game in which you stumble through a world besieged by an evil corporation that’s trying to take over everything. Through a light mix of puzzle solving and platforming you make your way across the land, solving all the problems you can in service of overthrowing said corporation.
It’s oozing with charm, it’s light and breezy, and it’s weird as hell.
Control is a weird one for me. Early in the game I was completely enthralled, exploring every nook and cranny, reading every note and memo, and watching every video log I came across. Control does world building better than any game I played this year. But as I got further and further into the game, I stopped doing a lot of the side quests and stopped reading every piece of paper that wafted past me. The tension and intrigue that drew me in from the beginning began to feel rote and tiresome, and none of it because of any inadequacies in the story or world.
No, the real issue I had with Control was the combat and how frequently you had to engage with it. Every encounter became a chore that ended with me having to hunt down the one last enemy who got trapped behind a corner, or buried under some rubble. More importantly, the boss battles were the thing that eventually broke my back with Control. The difficulty spikes that usually centered around the bosses eventually made me stop playing the game all together for a while.
Eventually I came back to it and powered through to the end. The story manages to hold up its end of the bargain, but the combat never gets any better, even when you get some of the late game powers. It’s a real shame considering when it came out, I was ready to place it at the top of my list. Still though, Control is a hell of a ride despite its failings.
That being said, there’s a sequence at the end of the game that is absolutely incredible. Look up the “Ashtray Maze” if you’re curious.
5.) MY FRIEND PEDRO
My Friend Pedro is one of the few games I felt compelled to actually review this year, mostly because it’s just so damn cool. In another example of style over substance, My Friend Pedro isn’t the most elegant game to play, but it provides such an awesome power fantasy that I still will occasionally pop into just to get my Matrix fix.
It’s a game that really only has the one, slow motion, bullet-time gimmick, but it does it really, really well. It’s because of how well it does that gimmick, that I find myself coming back to it every once in a while, just to get that action movie feeling again.
The controls can be a little weird and cumbersome at times, but when it clicks, it just looks and feels so good to play.
4.) HEAVE HO
I’m pretty sure I pissed myself once while playing Heave Ho. It’s a game that’s so utterly absurd and preposterous, that you and the people you’re playing with can’t help but crack up.
Heave Ho is a physics based platformer, I guess? You and your buddies are these creatures with a face and two arms, each controlled using the triggers on the controller. You navigate levels using “teamwork” and your incredible climbing skills in an effort for everyone to make it to the goal.
It’s the kind of game that you need to play to really understand it, because describing it doesn’t do it justice. Do yourself a favor, get some friends and a copy of Heave Ho, and you won’t be disappointed.
3.) SUPER MARIO MAKER 2
Super Mario Maker 2 along with its predecessor, managed to tap into this primal horror that lurks inside of me – making people test their might in the crucible of my own design. I normally don’t engage with level creation based games, but with Super Mario Maker 2, I already knew the language of how everything interacts with each other from years of playing Mario games. I know what kind of blocks a shell with break and bounce off of, or what a super mushroom does, or that music blocks are evil. Knowing all of that just makes it so easy for me to dip into the creation suite and have a great time.
On the flip-side, I get to play near infinite amount of new levels, some of which are well designed, whenever I want. While the creation tools aren’t as easy to work with as they were on the Wii U, Super Mario Maker 2 has a permanent place on my Switch.
2.) THE OUTER WORLDS
It’s really odd that I enjoyed The Outer Worlds as much as I did considering my general apathy and dislike of the games it so clearly is building off of. Where The Outer Worlds succeeds as opposed to games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls is in its refinement and focus.
The Outer Worlds isn’t about the scale of the world as much as its about packing it with (mostly) meaningful and interesting things to do and see. From brilliant writing, excellent gameplay, interesting characters and a well thought out and engaging setting, The Outer Worlds is a complete experience that doesn’t waste your time.
I’ve heard some people grouse about how this game is too easy or too streamlined, striping away some of the deeper RPG elements they love, but they can huff my shorts because this is the first time a game in this style has ever won me over.
Honestly I’m shocked that The Outer Worlds is a game I enjoyed, let alone put this high up on my list. I would’ve never believed you if you told me this earlier in the year.
1.) UNTITLED GOOSE GAME
Okay, so hear me out. Untitled Goose Game isn’t the best game I’ve ever played, in fact, it isn’t even that good of a stealth game. But, what it did was bring me a ton of joy and made me laugh.
I’ve had more fond memories playing as a nasty goose than any other game this year. Untitled Goose Game constantly kept me smiling and laughing as I fought against the purposefully cumbersome controls in an effort to throw a rake in a lake.
The truth is that Untitled Goose Game is just pleasant. Even when you’re traumatizing a kid who clearly is terrified of geese, or stealing a mans crops, or getting a guy to break his neighbor’s vase, the game still manages to just be fun without being overly complicated.
I genuinely enjoyed my time being a nasty goose and come back to it pretty regularly to try and sweep up the additional challenges that unlock when you beat it. It may not be what you’d imagine a traditionally good game looks like, but this game made me happier than any other game I played this year.
It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s my game of the year for 2019.
So that’s it everyone, Game of the Year 2019 is in the books. I hope you enjoyed the articles that went up this week, because they were a lot of fun to write. This is the last post going up in 2019, so I just wanted to thank you for sticking with me throughout the year. You have no idea how much your support and readership has meant to me.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year everyone. See you in 2020.
Alright, it seems like everyone is doing one of these lists right now, so why shouldn’t I do the same? As we round the corner and leave this decade in the dust, I’d like to take a look back at just a handful of my favorite games from the past 10 years. These are in release order, and don’t indicate how much I enjoyed one over the other. Also, I didn’t want to write this article forever, so I limited it to 15. Don’t worry, I liked other games too, but these ones jumped out at me immediately when crafting this list.
MASS EFFECT 2 – (January 26, 2010)
When Mass Effect 2 arrived at the beginning of the decade, I was instantly taken with it. Having never really enjoyed the first one, thanks to its cumbersome mechanics, Mass Effect 2 provided a more streamlined an accessible approach to the action-RPG. With its tight combat and extremely well crafted story and world, there was very little to take umbrage with upon its release. It had its fair share of missteps to be fair, but those complaints drifted into the background pretty quickly. Mass Effect 2 is still a colossal experience to this day, and it also had some phenomenal pieces of downloadable content to provide new and interesting stories in this world I came to love so much.
ROCK BAND 3 – (October 26, 2010)
Rock Band 3 was the pinnacle of the plastic instrument craze that dominated the mid and late 2000’s, providing not only an amazing and diverse set list, but offering people the chance to live out their most rockin’ piano fantasies in the form of a plastic key-tar. It isn’t hard to see why the franchise and its competitors were so popular, but the Rock Band franchise is especially dear to me because without those games, I would’ve have never started playing the actual drums. While plastic guitars don’t really translate to real world musical talent, the fake drums actually taught me a lot about timing and limb independence. That and it had both At The Drive In and Metric on the base set list.
THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 1 – (October 31, 2010)
When the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead concluded, I was devastated. Through its highs and lows, it managed to tell a beautifully morose story that left me teary eyed. It also reinvigorated and reinvented the stagnate adventure game, making it not only a viable genre again, but proving that these kinds of games could tell amazing stories while not requiring you to solve obscure puzzles which had been a staple for so long.
PORTAL 2 – (April 18, 2011)
Do I really need to explain why Portal 2 is on this list? It’s one of the best puzzle games out there to this day, providing an excellent learning curve, intriguing story, and for being genuinely hilarious. For years people have been clamoring for Half-Life 3 and Left 4 Dead 3, but the correct answer is making Portal 3. I can safely say that I haven’t enjoyed a puzzle game as thoroughly as Portal 2 since its release.
JOURNEY – (March 13, 2012)
The way Journey handled not only its story and world, but its multiplayer component, was a revelation to me at the time. There was this constant feeling of isolation that would encompass everything around you, until a mysterious figure would show up in the distance, beckoning you to come over. They had no name, they couldn’t speak, but they were another player, and they were waiting for me. And it was an incredible feeling to know that while we once thought we were both alone, we were both wrong. Without saying a word, you and your buddy would trek through the entire game together where Journey would finally reveal the name of the player or players that you spent a few hours with. Journey was a beautiful game on all fronts, and everyone should play it.
SLEEPING DOGS – (August 14, 2012)
It’s a shame that Sleeping Dogs never saw a sequel, because it’s a fantastic game. It’s like if Grand Theft Auto had a better story and didn’t rely on shooting everything in sight to progress. It combined all of the fun aspects of GTA, the open world, the vehicles, and the side activities, and paired them with a really good hand to hand combat system in the vein of Batman Arkham Asylum. It was a joy to play, with the least interesting parts of it ironically being the bits where you had to shoot things. Also, Emma Stone was in it and I don’t understand why.
MARK OF THE NINJA – (September 7, 2012)
Okay, so here’s a reference that maybe like 7 people will get, but does anyone remember those old Splinter Cell games that they put out on flip phones like the Motorolla RAZR? They were these 2D stealth games that were way better than they had any right to be. Why did I bring that up? Because Mark of the Ninja scratched that itch for me in the best way possible. It was this 2D stealth action game where you were unsurprisingly, a ninja, who would sneak around and slice fools up. Not only did it play great, but it looked phenomenal. I wholeheartedly recommend Mark of the Ninja to anyone that wants to play a stealth game that isn’t overly complex.
THE LAST OF US – (June 14, 2013)
There’s like 5 or six moments in The Last of Us that still stick with me to this day, and I’m willing to bet anyone who’s played the game can guess what they are. From a gut-wrenching story to tense combat and stealth situations, The Last of Us was a triumph of a game. Ironically enough, my least favorite part about it were the zombies, but I still really loved this game despite their presence. Also, The Last of Us had a really amazing multiplayer aspect to it that I feel was under appreciated.
SUPER MARIO MAKER – (September 10, 2015)
I’ve never been a huge fan of level building games or modes, but Super Mario Maker was so brilliant in its design, using the language of Mario games that I understood so well to empower me to stretch my level building muscles. It was so cleverly designed in a way that made logical sense through the lens of Mario games. If I wanted a large goomba, I’d feed him a mushroom. Want a flying Bowser? Slap some wings on that fool. It took the pieces of Mario we all understand, and made them work in the context of a level editor.
FIREWATCH – (February 9, 2016)
There aren’t too many games that I could say “made me feel things,” but Firewatch was definitely one of them. From the jump you’re thrown into a tragic situation that’s the impotence for the rest of the game. It’s this constant, nagging feeling in the back of your head that reminds you that you shouldn’t be here. “Here” of course being in the middle of the woods working as a forest ranger in a fire watch station. You spend all of your time exploring the wilderness and talking to the voice of another fire watcher who is guiding and directing you while asking you increasingly more personal questions. You’re not only learning about each other, but you’re learning about a mystery lurking in the very woods you’re wandering through. It’s amazing and I can’t say enough good things about it. Play Firewatch.
TITANFALL 2 – (October 28, 2016)
It’s such a shame that when Titanfall 2 was released, it was wedged between a Call of Duty and a Battlefield game, essentially killing any moment it could gather before it had a chance. Like I said, it’s a real shame considering that Titanfall 2 is one of the best first person shooters of the last decade. From toe to tip, everything in Titanfall 2 is crafted with care and attention to detail. The campaign, while not the most interesting story, is incredible from a design standpoint, with each level boasting a new mechanic or idea that dramatically changed how you played. The multiplayer was no slouch either, building upon the chaotic fun that the original Titanfall introduced back in 2014. Titanfall 2 is still worth your time even if you don’t plan on engaging with the multiplayer aspect of it. In fact, I might even recommend just getting it for the campaign at this point.
NIGHT IN THE WOODS – (January 10, 2017)
Night in the Woods is hands down my favorite game of the decade. I wrote a review that goes into my feelings on it in detail, but I’ll quickly summarize what I can here.
Night in the Woods struck a real chord with me and even managed to make me genuinely reconsider things in my own life. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the themes, the interactions, the setting, everything about it just rang so true and hit me hard. It’s a hard game to recommend because when I start out by saying, “you play as an anthropomorphic cat,” people tend to tune out immediately afterwards. But for such a visually adorable game, it gets really dark and intense. Adventure games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I really can’t say enough good things about Night in the Woods.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD – (March 3, 2017)
I’ve never been the biggest fan of The Legend of Zelda series, enjoying some of them but never really feeling any affinity or passion for the series, but holy hell did Breath of the Wild change all of that. You’re plopped onto this massive and sprawling land mass, given all the abilities you’d need to conquer any and all obstacles along the way. Breath of the Wild isn’t a game about getting stronger, it’s a game about getting smarter by using your skills and the tools you find along the way. By incorporating a system that rewards exploration and puzzle solving in order to maximize your HP or stamina, you were always encouraged to explore the world as opposed to just charging towards the finish line. The only thing that I absolutely hated about Breath of the Wild was its system of weapon degradation. I felt like it didn’t add anything to the game itself, and made me hoard more things that I normally would in games. But that’s barely an issue when stacked up to every other triumph in Breath of the Wild.
MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN – (September 7, 2018)
Let’s get this out of the way, Marvel’s Spider-Man is repetitive in spots and doesn’t offer a tremendous amount of variety in what you actually do in it. That being said, I’ve never had more fun with a superhero game than this one, and coincidentally it stars my favorite one. Marvel’s Spider-Man, by my own admission, is just a good game. It isn’t great and probably doesn’t stack up to several other games on this list, but it was easily one of my favorite and most memorable experiences with a game in recent memory. It’s one of the only games I’ve felt the need to 100%, despite the repetitive chores I had to complete to accomplish that. Marvel’s Spider-Man just feels good to play, providing a satisfying swinging mechanic mixed with some great (yet repetitive) combat. It’s rough around the edges in spots, but I still love it so dearly.
RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 – (October 26, 2018)
I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of the posts on this site are about Red Dead Redemption 2 in some way. That’s with good reason though. You can read my review, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is such a triumph of a game in terms of story, atmosphere and world building, that I can’t even fathom a game that’s done it better.
Every piece of Red Dead Redemption 2 is crafted in a way to reinforce the Wild West setting, while still providing interesting and engaging story beats. Like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of theWild, it does a great job at encouraging exploration. Almost every cottage, structure or cave you stumble upon has something there for you experience or find. The amount of random events in the world that crop up do a great job of breaking up what would be the tedium of riding your horse from mission to mission, while also being pretty interesting for the most part.
I could go on forever about how much I like Red Dead Redemption 2, but I have a review to do that for me. And if you haven’t played it yet, my one bit of advice is that the game is slow. You have to be okay with going at its pace or else you’ll have a miserable time.
The 2010’s have been really great for video games as a product. Less so for the business end of things… more specifically the “being an employee at a game company” part of it. I know we’re going to get some great games in the coming decade, but we need to see real change in the way game companies are run. Here’s hoping for some progress in 2020.
For the past year or so that I’ve been running The Bonus World, I’ve tried to provide coverage on all of the games I’m playing to the best of my abilities and shed some insight on the latest games. Lately, that’s proven to be pretty overwhelming.
It’s not that I don’t want to write about games anymore or anything like that, quite the opposite actually. I love writing this stuff and would continue to do so even if nobody was reading it. I just enjoy this whole process too much to give it up.
But it’s been hard trying to cover all of these games with my limited amount of time and money. Along with that, there are games that I want to play more of that I end up feeling guilty about when I do.
For instance, Red Dead Redemption 2 recently dropped on PC, and while it’s functionally busted, I’d rather spend more time with that than any of the other new releases this year. I’ve played that game to death on console when it released last year, but I just want to experience it again.
Alternatively, I’ve got Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order installed, and while I’ve dabbled in it and put a few hours in, it hasn’t grabbed me in a way that’s made me eager to hop back in. It almost feels like I’m playing with the hopes that I’ll have something to say about it for an article.
And that’s kind of the issue. I fell into this trap years ago when I did more video work and had a YouTube channel. I would always try to find games that would translate into good videos, and rarely play the things that I really wanted to. I don’t want to do that again.
So I’m reevaluating some things about how I run The Bonus World, and might try to narrow the scope of what I’m doing. I can’t say there’s going to be a hard cutoff point, or some massive difference in content, but I have to think about myself and what makes me happy too.
But none of this means the blog stops, or features like reviews and The Master of Disaster stop either. It just means that there might be other things on this site that are easier for me to write instead of me trying to scoop up every game I can in order to write small features on.
Regardless, thanks for hanging with us for as long as you have. Or if you’re new to the site, thanks for dropping in, I hope that no matter how you got here, I can keep providing you with reasons to come back.
A lot of PC players tend to get pretty uppity about the fact that companies are trying to maximize their profits and keep closer control over their games by requiring the use of an exclusive launcher. For the most part, I don’t mind having to open a different executable to play my games, but some recent developments have made me shift my stance a little.
Looking at my desktop I have six different launchers for my various games. Steam, Origin, Uplay, Epic, Xbox, and the latest addition, Rockstar. But that isn’t even half of the available ways to buy and launch my games. It seems like it would be a lot to manage, but it really never presented itself as much of an issue to me. That is, until Red Dead Redemption 2 launched and required authentication through their launcher.
I’ll click the desktop shortcut, only to be met with a fatal error because I had the audacity to try and use said shortcut. I’ll then open up the Rockstar Launcher and log in because it never remembers my credentials. I’ll click the big, “Play on Epic” button that appears, because I bought Red Dead Redemption 2 through the Epic Games Store. The focus shifts to Epic for a moment, then back to Rockstar, then a windows notification asking me if I’m truly certain I want to play the game.
Finally the game will launch, I’ll play for 5 minutes before the frame rate hitching becomes enough of a burden, and quit.
It’s like a 5 minute wind up to play a game that doesn’t work. These are two separate issues admittedly, but its enough to make me rethink this whole “everyone has a launcher business”.
I’m also not saying that Steam should be the de facto launcher and be the only player in town. Every publisher wants control over their product, and wants the biggest slice of profits they can get. Sure Epic is doing an 88/12 split on revenue, but if I bought a game available on the Epic store on the publisher’s storefront, that’s 100% of the take right there. The business behind launchers makes sense.
There are two main categories of launcher in my eyes. The first is the publisher specific ones like Uplay or Origin. Then the second are the storefronts like Steam and Epic. I know those last two make their own games, but the volume of third party games on them warrants the separation. So I decided it would be fun to list off every launcher I can think of, just to give you a visual idea of how many of these damn things there are.
Xbox Game Pass (Microsoft)
There’s definitely more of these that I can’t think of at the moment.
Epic Games Store (Epic)
GOG Galaxy (GOG)
Windows Store (Microsoft)
Once again, there are more that I can’t think of at this moment.
But take a moment to consider the fact that there are now several different launchers for organizing your various games spread out across different launchers. Seriously, check out this list.
I’m not complaining about having to use different launchers to play different games. It usually requires me to click a different icon and nothing more. But in the case of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Rockstar, all it seems to have done is add more points of failure to the experience, and that’s my biggest fear with this stuff.
If I buy a game on Steam that needs to authorize through Uplay, but Uplay’s authentication servers are down, that’s a hassle. That’s my biggest issue with all of this. I just want to play my games as obstacle free as I can, but with this endless fragmentation of storefronts and publishers, I think we’re just going to have to get used to these hurdles for a while.
A few weeks back I was pretty high on the concept of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 on my PC, and for the most part that desire hasn’t waned. But upon its release, it was clear that I’d have to wait a little longer to actually enjoy it again.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is woefully broken on PC at the moment with issues ranging from poor performance, regular freezing, infinite load screens, and much more. While I’ve encountered all of these in my 30 minutes of game time, my particular favorite among the glitches has to the be mouse cursor that refuses to stay off the screen, reemerging every time you open a menu, change your weapon, or see a cut-scene. Regardless of if you’re using the mouse or a controller, that cursor is going to show up and remind you of its existence at every opportunity.
It’s a real shame. I lovedRed Dead Redemption 2 when it released last year, and even awarded it my Game of the Year in 2018. But in its current state, it’s completely unplayable. Rockstar support has been inundated with support tickets as evidenced by their Twitter account responding to every tweet with “Please create a support ticket so we can investigate this matter. http://rsg.ms/support.”
Rumors of emergency patches are being hurled around on Reddit, which while I’d love to play the game I paid for (again), I don’t want to see a repeat of the crunch that happened leading up to Red Dead Redemption 2‘s initial release.
In summation, it sucks that Red Dead Redemption 2 is so busted on PC, but I know they’ll get it to where it needs to be as soon as possible. Rockstar would love to have another endless money maker on PC like they have with Grand Theft Auto V, of that I’m sure.
Since starting The Bonus World, I’ve always tried to get some sort of end of the year wrap up article together for game of the year season. Usually by this time in the year I can start constructing some loose amalgamation of a top ten list. 2019 happens to be the first year in a while where I’m having a tough time building that list.
That isn’t to say that the games I’ve played in 2019 have been disappointing or bad, I just found that a lot of what came out this year didn’t really resonate with me. Things like Kingdom Hearts III and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice were received positively, but once again, not my kind of games. Then we also had some real clunkers like Crackdown 3 and Anthem release early in the year and fade away into obscurity.
I think a lot of it has to do with developers gearing up for the next round of consoles along with the fact that early next year we’re going to be blitzed with some big titles like Doom Eternal, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Dying Light 2 and Cyberpunk 2077 to name a few. 2019 just feels like the gap year between the bombastic 2018 we had with Marvel’s Spider-Man and Red Dead Redemption II to cherry pick some of my favorites, and the swan-song, end of the generation year of 2020.
Like I said, I don’t think it was a bad year for video games, but when compared to last year and what’s coming up next year, it’s definitely lacking something. But hey, the year isn’t over yet, so I could eat my words on this. We’ve got The Outer Worlds and Call of Duty Modern Warfare dropping this Friday (10/26), and games like Luigi’s Mansion 3, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Pokemon, Death Stranding and of course, Shenmue III in the very near future, and any of those games could be great.
But let’s be real here, I’m probably just gonna play Red Dead Redemption II on the PC obsessively and let the other games just slide into the background.
You know what’s fucked up? The fact that Red Dead Redemption 2 was recently given the PC release date of November 12th, and somehow it has once again become my most anticipated game of the year.
I played the absolute hell out of Red Dead Redemption 2 on my PS4, uncovering everything I could, doing every side quest I could find and just lounging around in that world for as long as I possibly could. I spent dozens and dozens of hours just yeehawing and giddyup-ing, and now I’m gonna do it all again.
It’s even worse knowing that a few days after Red Dead Redemption 2 drops on PC, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order comes out. This game, my game of the year for 2018, is coming back to monopolize my time for the second year in a row, and I’m going to embrace it like a chump.
This might be a different conversation if I was more excited about some of the upcoming games for the remainder of the year, but I’ve found that I haven’t really been wowed by too many games this year. But I suppose I’ll get into that in a different blog.
Part of me thinks, “fuck it, I can enjoy what I want to enjoy,” whereas the other half is saying, “you can literally see your copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 on the shelf next to you, you idiot.”
Now, Rockstar has successfully reached into my wallet several times before with the various releases of Grand Theft Auto V, a game that I own 3 times, so you’d think I wouldn’t fall for this shit again. But here I am, like a putz, getting my credit card out and buying a game I own, once more.
I look forward to Red Dead Redemption 2 on the PC, and I can’t wait for the eventual third release of it in 2020 when the new consoles hit store shelves. That’s when responsible and restrained Ari is going to show up and wag his finger disapprovingly I bet.
But man, it’s gonna look so good on PC you guys, those horse balls are really gonna be a floppin’ around.
I don’t know how 2018 managed to do it, but it simultaneously felt like the longest and shortest year of my life. It was tumultuous to say the least, but we made it through and there’s no way things could get any worse, right? But throughout it all we were graced with some pretty phenomenal games to play. Here are what I consider to be the best of the year.
#10 – House Flipper
This is a weird one to kick off the list with, but hell, I played so much of this damn game that I’d be lying if I didn’t put it somewhere on this list. I wrote about the function of games like House Flipper in my life earlier this year, and this was the one that spurred it on. Oddly enough, the reason why I enjoyed House Flipper so much was because of my ability to disengage with it and just play it in the background. Despite it being janky, and a little crashy at times, I really enjoyed the loop of restoring, decorating and selling homes.
There’s something oddly therapeutic about House Flipper and games of its ilk, and that’s mostly why it now is immortalized in my list.
#9 – God of War
So look, I really enjoyed God of War this year, but definitely not as much as a lot of people out there did. Don’t get me wrong, it was a joy to play given the rewarding combat and engaging story, but that was about it for me. I didn’t get hooked by any of the side missions or additional challenges, and I felt a little underwhelmed by some of the enemy encounters. I really got sick of fighting that ogre with the rock, over and over again. But still, God of War is a tremendous game that I enjoyed from start to finish, even if I did just power through the story to get to the very satisfying ending.
#8 – Celeste
For the first few levels of Celeste, I was pretty lukewarm on it. I didn’t hate it or anything, it was just fine. But a few levels in and Celeste started to show a little more of its hand, and hint at what the game was really about. Celeste isn’t just a game about climbing a mountain, it’s about coping and acceptance. The game, very literally, reveals that it is about the main character accepting herself for who she is and utilizing every aspect of herself to continue pushing forward.
That’s when I was on the hook and and really started to feel compelled to press on. Celeste is one of those games that’s so good that any quibbles you might have with it are overshadowed.
#7 – Hitman 2
Hitman 2 is more Hitman 2016 and there isn’t a damn thing wrong with that. I love the new Hitman games and everything they’re bringing to the table. Blending into crowds and bushes are welcome additions to the formula, but overall this is just more of a good thing. I can’t say for certain, but in terms of objectives, map design and just what options are available to you, it feels like the developers are leaning into Hitman being less of a serious game, and more of a comedy sandbox. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
#6 – The Messenger
Holy moly The Messenger caught me off guard this year. When I heard people raving and ranting about this game, I was fully expecting it to be mostly hyperbole. It looked like a pretty neat homage to Ninja Gaiden and the like, but the more I played of it, the more The Messenger made it clear that first impressions are deceiving and that there was something truly special here. The Messenger was a blast to play and honestly, it’s really well written too. There’s also a pretty insane twist in the middle of the game that fundamentally changes everything, and while the change itself isn’t groundbreaking, it was definitely surprising.
In a year of phenomenal platformers and action games, The Messenger is definitely one of the best.
#5 – Dead Cells
Speaking of killer platformer and action games, how about we talk about Dead Cells? Boy howdy is Dead Cells a good game. If there was an award for “Best Feeling Game to Play,” Dead Cells would win it. It’s one of those games that whenever things go bad for you, you’re immediate thought isn’t to blame the game, but rather yourself. Dead Cells will punish you and try to break your spirit, but will leave you feeling so accomplished when you clear a level or beat a boss. Aside from that it’s also got a real good look to it that I appreciate.
My only real gripe is that I’m not a big fan of rogue-like games, and Dead Cells is most certainly one of those. While it wasn’t ever difficult to make it through the first few stages, I did start to feel burnt out on them and just wished for some sort of level skip feature or something. Despite that though, I love the hell out of Dead Cells.
#4 – Yoku’s Island Express
I’ve had a passing interest in pinball at best throughout most of my life, so the concept of a pinball based platformer wasn’t something that I had pictured I’d enjoy as much as I did. But here we are, talking about a game that in addition to having a really unique take on the Metroidvania style of game, is also immensely charming. Within moments of booting up Yoku’s Island Express it managed to win me over.
It’s also an immensely chill game to play. There aren’t really any enemies or fail states, and there never is any real pressure put on you. But what I really appreciated was that the game is tight experience that didn’t take more than a few hours to complete. It never overstayed its welcome, and left me satisfied at the end.
#3 – Dragon Ball Fighter Z
I did not expect to enjoy a fighting game as much as I did, let alone a Dragon Ball Z themed one, but here we are. Dragon Ball Fighter Z was a constant for me throughout the year, being one of my go-to games whenever I was looking to pass some time. I think what I really appreciate is how accessible the game is, and how whether it’s through some visual cue or mechanical one, it always makes you feel as if you’re playing well. The auto combo system is generous and allows new players to feel competitive early on, while also rewarding players for learning actual combinations and moves.
Dragon Ball Fighter Z can be a little hectic though. Sometimes I’ll lose myself in the action and lose track of what’s happening or where I’ve gone, but I think that’s just me admitting that I’m getting old.
#2 – Marvel’s Spider-Man
I really loved Marvel’s Spider-Man this year. Sure it had some problems, like bad stealth sections and bland side activities, but it was still overwhelmingly fun to play. Like a lot of people out there, it was one of the only games in a while I achieved 100% completion in. Normally I don’t try to achievement hunt in games, but I was looking for any reason to play more of the game that I could find.
I fear I’ll sound like a cliche here, but it felt so damn good to swing around as Spider-Man and just make my way through the city. What helped even more was the music that would swell every time you’d pick up momentum. Even the combat, despite being repetitive, felt so good. Something about just launching dudes off buildings and watching their bodies automatically web to the nearest surface was just so satisfying.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is not a perfect game, but I had a hell of a lot of fun with playing it. Also, turning J. Jonah Jameson into an Alex Jones-esque podcast host may have been the best decision ever.
#1 – Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily my favorite game of the year. It’s also ironic that the parts I least enjoyed about it were the parts where you actually played it. It felt like the game had an identity crisis at some point, wavering between being a survival game and an action game, but ultimately being extremely mediocre at both.
But it was everything around the periphery of the core mechanics that really won me over. Aside from a very enjoyable story with some really gut-wrenching moments, the random encounters and side missions were such a pleasure to track down and complete that it was worth fumbling around with the muddy controls to get to.
It’s one of the few game worlds that I enjoy taking my time in and exploring. It’s one of the few games that I just like to boot up and waste time in. Rockstar did something more impressive than make a good game, they made a world worth visiting. A place that is so rich and diverse, that rewards me whenever I decide to spend time in it.
Red Dead Redemption II isn’t a perfect game, in fact, I’d hazard a guess that it’s actually an incredibly polarizing game. But for me, coming into Red Dead Redemption II expecting a rewarding action game isn’t going to get you very far. I found that it was better experienced as a sort of cowboy themed life simulator, where you can just experience life in old west as an incredibly deadly man who also likes to pet dogs and get into bar fights.
The Gardens Between
The Garden’s Between is a short puzzle game about two children reliving their memories one last time before one of them moves away. The hook is that you control time, and not the children. You’ll solve puzzles by manipulating the flow of time in ways like changing the order in which they punch in numbers on a giant calculator, or rewinding debris that’s floating in a river to provide a bridge for both of the children who are walking at different paces.
It’s all extremely stylized and has a soothing ambient soundtrack which I was very much a fan of.
What I liked about Florence the most was how it reveled in the mundanities of daily life, in and out of a relationship. You play as Florence, a girl who is increasingly dissatisfied with her life. She meets a nice young gentlemen and eventually falls in love with him. Through this, you explore their relationship by doing things such as moving some of your stuff off of the shelves to make room for his things. It’s simple yet effective in the message it sends and how it sends it.
The story went some places, and maybe I got a little choked up, but there’s no way of knowing for sure. Regardless, Florence is a delightful little experience that you can play on your phone and finish in about 20 to 30 minutes.