Video games have been an integral part of my life for more than three decades, but I can’t remember the last time they were as escapist or comforting as this hell year. I played so many games this year – from mediocre, to great, to profound – but of them all, five stood out the most to me for a variety of reasons. Not all of them were released this year, but they are the games that made 2020 special in ways other titles did not, and they deserve recognition, at least from me. So here are my Top 5 Games of Hell Year 2020.

Among Us | Promotional Image

Among Us

No, Among Us didn’t release in 2020. No, I don’t care. Like so many others, I discovered this little gem only recently, but it has been a blast to play. Simple to pick up and understand, but with the added element of dealing with other people, Among Us is a quick, addictive bite of gameplay that I can jump into whenever I want and leave just as quickly. It’s been great for long stretches of boredom, or for connecting with family and friends from a distance (and murdering them). And honestly, seeing how my son lights up when he survives is absolutely worth the price of admission. Among Us is a fantastic story of perseverance, as well, and Innsersloth deserve all the accolades for creating and sticking with their vision. I wish them all the success in the world.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity | Revali attacks from the sky

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

This was definitely the kind of year where I just wanted to kill things, and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity provided in spades. As I noted in my review, the original Breath of the Wild was one of my favorite Zelda experiences of late, so having a hack-and-slash draped in the trappings of that world was delightful. I loved spending time with these characters, I loved the music, I loved the feeling of overwhelming strength as I mowed down hordes of enemies in my path. In a year when I had little control over what was happening around me, being able to just let loose and overcome any obstacle in my path was cathartic. Being able to do so as my favorite princess was a bonus.

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIV since its 1.0 beta, so honestly it’s almost default that it goes on my Best Games of XXXX lists at this point, but Shadowbringers has been a particularly great addition. The recent 5.x series patches have been jam packed, full of compelling narrative and fun side-content, not the least being the NieR:Automata crossover. This is my de facto comfort game. It’s what I play when I have down time; it’s where I connect with friends; it’s a literal escape to another world where I’m the hero and I can make everything right for others. But what really cements its place on this list is the story. Wanting to find your place in the world – or wanting to recreate a world you can never get back – is a strong feeling, and the emotional core of this expansion. It’s hard not to find that sort of story compelling, doubly so when it comes with moral weight for both antagonists and protagonists. I crave stories in which there are no clear answers, and Shadowbringers has come the closest to providing that experience in a fun, engaging way. It’s my home away from home, and it deserves its place on this list.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons | My Villager

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Talk about distilled comfort, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the epitome of warm and inviting. Its low stakes, laid-back gameplay and charming characters make it a delight to revisit over and over again, and the personalization of my character and island imbue the game with a ton of emotionality. There’s no grand sweeping narratives of good or bad; there’s no intense combat; there’s no trickery or manipulation. It’s just… fun. Old-fashioned, lighthearted fun, and it got me through some hard times this year. (Though judging by its sales, I suspect it got a lot of people through some hard times.) Nintendo has been a staple of my life since I was 6, but this is my first Animal Crossing title and, as an introduction to the series, I don’t think it could have been better.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon | Ichiban's Party

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Without a doubt, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the best game of 2020. There are no contenders. Like I said in my review, this is the game I needed this year. Ichiban Kasuga was the best possible protagonist I could have asked for, and his story of family, friends, loss, and redemption was the perfect salve for an otherwise awful year. It’s hard to put into words how much I loved this game (though by God, I tried). Just thinking about it sends me on a roller coaster of emotion. I related so much to Ichiban and his struggles – to his desire to just live his best life. I’ve loved all the Yakuza games, and I love Kazuma Kiryu as much as the next person, but Ichiban brought a sense of joy and life to the franchise that cannot be understated. I love him. I love his game. I want to be able to face adversity and heartbreak with the fortitude and grace that he does, and that indelible mark upon both his franchise and me is why Yakuza: Like a Dragon is my Game of the Year 2020.

This year has been a bit of a downer, but I can at least say that gaming itself wasn’t. There were a lot of titles this year that really showed off what the medium can accomplish, and that personally helped keep me sane. While I don’t ever want a repeat of 2020, I hope we can take the good that came of it, especially in gaming, and see more stellar titles going forward.

Leah McDonald
Leah's been playing video games since her brother first bought an Atari back in the 1980s and has no plans to stop playing anytime soon. She enjoys almost every genre of game, with some of her favourites being Final Fantasy Tactics, Shadow of the Colossus, Suikoden II and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Leah lives on the East Coast with her husband and son. You can follow Leah over on Twitter @GamingBricaBrac