‘Tis the season to reflect on the past 11 months, including all of the games we’ve played along the way. With everything else going on in the world around us, it’s sometimes nice to focus on the things that bring us together through mutual enjoyment and appreciation. Since I’m not a stickler for rules, I’ll be extending this out to any games I’ve played this year, not just those released within the last four quarters. Keep in mind that these are purely based on my opinions and are limited to games I’ve personally played firsthand. Enjoy!
Best Fighting Game – Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
Runner’s Up: Tekken 7, Under Night In Birth Exe: Late [st], Smash Bros Ultimate, Fighting EX Layer, Fate Stay: Unlimited Codes, Battle High 2 A+
There is a reason why there are a lot less categories in my list this year than normal and that reason is Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid. Not only would it win Underdog of the Year, Best DLC of the Year, and Best Updates of the Year, but Battle for the Grid is also an amazing fighting game to boot! This little fighting game has had its fair share of ups and downs since its release, but the developers have proved that they’re willing to work on improving the game and providing amazing additional content as the community grows and the competitive landscape develops. If you’re a fan of versus-style fighting games, the Power Rangers franchise, or labbing combos in kusoge fighters, Power Rangers: BftG is well worth your time.
Best Multiplayer Game – Guild Wars 2
Runner’s Up: Apex Legends, AutoChess, World of Warcrat (Vanilla), Overcooked
Rarely does an MMORPG recapture my attention as swiftly and as totally as Guild Wars 2 did this year. I played the game upon its original release and a little bit after the release of Heart of Thorns, but a recent surge in players due to frequent updates drew a group of my friends and me in for another go. It’s hard to say how much of my experiences playing Guild Wars 2 were due to the game itself or instead due to the thrill of playing an MMO with a group of friends, but either way, it’s well deserving of the best multiplayer experience I’ve had this year.
Best Party Game – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Runner’s Up: Gubs, Fighting EX Layer, Overcooked, Wipeout Omega Collection
First thing’s first, Super Smash Bros. is, and has always been, a fighting game. It also happens to be a kick ass game to throw on during a party to beat the crap out of your friends. With Ultimate staying true to its name, the latest release in the franchise acts as a kitchen sink collection of classic video game IPs, a playable video game museum of sorts. Not only does this version have the largest roster and the most guest characters, but the gameplay stands out by improving on the gameplay formula and adding even more features than I thought was possible. To top it all off, the Switch allows for portable Smash Bros., making the game even more mobile and suited for bringing to your friends house to jam a few sets or play with all of your friends.
Best Board Game – Keyforge
Runner’s Up: Bloodborne: The Card Game, Splendor, Gubs, Diceforge, Dungeons & Dragons
As a game designer, I try to keep myself up-to-date on all of the latest releases, especially those developed by the legendary Richard Garfield. In an attempt to recreate some of the industry disruption brought about by the release of Magic: the Gathering, Mr. Garfield’s Keyforge provides a completely unique style of competitive card game limited format. Instead of buying booster packs and drafting a deck, Keyforge allows players to buy an entirely distinct deck of their own, randomly assembled by an algorithm to create one that is wholly unique. What may sound like a shallow gimmick at first only serves to complement what is an incredibly engaging and interesting strategic card game, similar in many ways to Magic: the Gathering without all of the superfluous crap weighing it down.
Best Game Narrative – What Remains of Edith Finch
Runner’s Up: Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Guild Wars 2, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
No spoilers. I’m a huge fan of the rise in popularity of walking simulators, given that I cut my teeth on Myst and Zork back in the day, but I’m not often as taken aback as I was with Editch Finch. What started out as a quirky, narrative driven game about a young girl (think Gone Home) ended up being a surprisingly cerebral, intimate, and even scary adventure. There are some scenes in Editch Finch that I can’t say I have ever seen or experienced in a video game before and that’s not something I’ll ever forget.
Best Art Direction – Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Runner’s Up: Final Fantasy XII: the Zodiac Age, Marvel’s Spiderman (2018), Katana Zero, Baba Is You, Tekken 7
I’ve never been a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series, especially given how many were released within the last decade, but my girlfriend is a fan and helped reintroduce me to the series by way of the Ezio Collection and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. While the RPG elements give me pause when backstabbing a higher leveled enemy results in them shrugging it off like a mosquito bite, the game stands out as one of the most gorgeous pieces of interactive artwork there is on the market. If there is a title that shows the power of a console generation, this game might be it for me and the PlayStation 4.
Game of the Year – World of Warcraft (Vanilla)
Runner’s Up: Guild Wars 2, Super Smash Bros: Ultimate, Tekken 7, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid, God of War
I’m going to cheat a little bit, given that I’ve never actually played World of Warcraft Classic. What I have played, however, is World of Warcraft prior to the release of The Burning Crusade, also known as Vanilla WoW. I’m reserving this top slot specifically for World of Warcraft Classic because, prior to this year, I would never have imagined that the re-release of a 15 year old MMORPG would not only warrant the attention of the gaming community at large, but also dominate the video game media landscape.
Obviously, this runs completely contrary to what Blizzard executives had told fans repeatedly as an excuse to not release vanilla servers in the past. It’s at least a little cathartic to be able to say that the smug developers who tried to gaslight their fans were dead wrong, not to mention that they were also missing a huge financial opportunity that they’re only now cashing in on to help save their franchise.
And save the franchise it did! Ever since its announcement, the MMORPG community has been buzzing about what precedent World of Warcraft Classic might set for other retro MMOs. I even took a dip back into the vanilla server scene to see whether it was worth investing in the final product. For a game that’s selling point is that it is an unchanged version of a game released in 2004, being able to once again control the community’s attention is an astounding feat. Being able to do so despite Blizzard having to be dragged kicking and screaming through the entire process only makes things even more impressive.
All in all, I hesitate to award the Game of the Year to a game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, who cowardly threw their players and community under the bus instead of standing up for democracy and the right to peaceful protest. In this case, however, I consider World of Warcraft Classic a win for the fan base, as much as it will continue to enrich a company I don’t think deserves anymore of my money. The fans of Vanilla WoW have been playing the game without Blizzard for years and will continue to do so without them. The difference is that this time they finally learned to trust their fans rather than trying to convince them that they know better.
(P.S. Stand with Hong Kong)