The 25 Best Video Games of 2020

When reality plunged us into chaos this year, so many of the best interactive experiences offered us respite.

The 25 Best Games of 2020
Photo: Naphtali Faulkner

When reality plunged us into chaos this year, so many of the best interactive experiences offered us respite, a feeling of power at a time when it felt as if it had been taken from us. The online community in Animal Crossing: New Horizons allowed us to fill a gaping absence in our daily lives across little islands that fueled the imagination. Persona 5 Royal gave us the catharsis of banding together with friends to take on abusers of power. We stood up against and brought down an empire in Star Wars Squadrons.

Last year, the modus operandi of games was one of disruption, but this year it was one of restoration. At a time when New York City was still largely shuttered, Spider-Man: Miles Morales let us see its streets, and save its people from the forces of systemic oppression. Among Us, a tiny two-year-old multiplayer mobile game of teamwork and sabotage, became a global sensation thanks to YouTube stars, TikTok influencers, and streamers. And while many of us initially took to the new Final Fantasy VII as an occasion to revel in our nostalgia, we were dazzled along the way by how it challenged us through gameplay to expect more from the familiar.

Even with shiny new console hardware out in the wild, the work that impressed us owed less to ray tracing or solid state drives than it did to the willingness to completely shatter conventions. In 2020, so many of the doors in our world closed to us this year, video games opened so many new ones. Justin Clark

Signs of the Sojourner

25. Signs of the Sojourner

The mad genius of Signs of the Sojourner is that, as a deck-building game centered around making connections through dialogue, the game is often intentionally deeply rewarding and utterly frustrating. Through its colorful worldbuilding, cartoonish designs, compelling characters, and catchy soundtrack, it gets you invested in the potential friendships your trader protagonist can strike up while on the road. But the rigid gameplay forces you to then break many of those connections, putting you into no-win situations where you choose between filling a deck with creative cards capable of conversing with members of an artistic commune, brusque cards that can speak to northern industrialists, or logical cards that will be understood by robotic farmhands. It’s a whimsical life simulator, which, in just a few hours, powerfully demonstrates the importance of empathy. Aaron Riccio

If Found...

24. If Found…

DREAMFEEL’s interactive novel If Found… is mostly told through the early-1990s diary entries of a young Irish trans woman, Kasio, who returns home to Achill Island in Ireland’s west coast from college in Dublin. Scrawled with her memories and feelings, the diary’s pages tend to be unassuming and use color sparingly, with just a few shades dominating the sketches of people and environments. At times those images will be scribbled out or written over, which is when the player breaks out the eraser. The framing device for purging Kasio’s diary isn’t totally clear until the very end of the game, leaving you to ruminate on the action itself rather than the context. If Found… never relies on a last-act twist, instead finding its power through the empathy and truth with which it traces the divergent trajectories of so many relationships. And if the sci-fi elements don’t totally land, the strength of its characters and the specificity of its Irish setting most certainly do. Steven Scaife

Lair of the Clockwork God

23. Lair of the Clockwork God

“Why play only one genre of game when you could be playing two slightly different ones at the same time?” That’s a somewhat misleading tagline for Lair of the Clockwork God, as you never simultaneously control the game’s self-aware protagonists, Dan and Ben. Rather, you swap between them, as well as control schemes. Dan is a platformer enthusiast who refuses to interact with objects, while Ben is a stubborn LucasArts point-and-click adventure junkie who doesn’t care to jump. Figuring out how to use the skills we associate with their favorite genres of game to navigate through a Peruvian jungle, apocalyptic London, and an alien spaceship results in a game that’s fresher and more innovative than yet another standalone platformer or adventure game would be. Lair of the Clockwork God is an exciting way for creators Dan Marshall and Ben Ward to not only set it apart from their prior Dan and Ben titles (Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentlemen, Please), but to successfully extend their lovingly parodic style to a much broader range of genres. Riccio


22. Wildfire

The riveting chaos of Wildfire upends the mannered layouts of its brief, two-dimensional levels. The zoomed-out view of each level gives off a faint sense of omniscience, letting you freely scroll to see the careful patrols and designated hiding spots. But rather than allowing the player to grow comfortable and complacent by honing the same approach over time, the game constantly introduces new mechanics as the forest gives way to dark caves and snowy mountaintops. Sometimes you get new powers entirely, such as being able to use plants to generate climbable vines or bushes to hide in. Water can generate an ice column, freeze enemies, or form a large bubble to carry you upward. Wildfire mostly maintains a thrilling unpredictability for the way it’s permeated by accidents both happy and otherwise, like the flaming guard who flees into a sulfur deposit or the wooden bridge that breaks beneath your falling momentum. It fulfills that all-important requirement of a great stealth game: that there’s considerable joy to experimenting with new approaches and poking at the edges of its ingenious interlocking systems to see what happens. Scaife

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

21. Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is as comforting as it is challenging. Every inch of the game is suffused with calming details, from the soothing orchestral score to the painterly 2D environments, which use layering techniques to bring background elements to life, like the sun dappling gently through a copse of trees and the animals scurrying about. You’ll often die, but you won’t feel too discouraged at any point, as the frequent, automatic checkpoints ensure that you’ll never lose too much progress. The game begins with Ori attempting to help his new friend, Ku, an owlet, learn to fly. Ori, who has no wings, teaches by constantly finding ways to stay aloft, and by the end of the game, players will rarely touch the ground as they string together moves, such as a wall jump, into a bashing carom off an enemy projectile and, then, an air-dash toward a lantern that can be grappled. The fluidity of this ballistic and balletic gameplay helps to set Ori and the Will of the Wisps apart from other platformers. But those are just mechanics. It’s the love Ori shows for Ku, and vice versa, that distinguishes the game from almost every other one on the market. Riccio

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

20. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Any concerns you may have about Yakuza: Like a Dragon diluting the series’s oddball crime-sim gameplay with all matter of JRPG grind will vanish somewhere around the point where wild, hot-tempered himbo protagonist Ichiban starts smacking around triad gang members with a vibrator while dressed like a Dark Souls boss. The sheer absurdity of every wild moment in the game keeps it in the same rarified, delirious realm as its predecessors, but besides the new turn-based RPG elements, Like a Dragon still strikes a very different mood. Silly waters run deep here: The further the plot goes, the more it resembles The Irishman than Goodfellas, a tangled tale of long-standing regrets, and ignominious endings to violent lives, all under the veneer of trying to go legit. Somehow, with its gameplay even further separated from reality, Yakuza continues to pull off its most incredible magic trick: ensuring that its bald-faced silliness never clashes with—only enhances—the more pensive nature of its plot. Like a Dragon is several weird tastes that somehow go great together. Clark

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

19. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

An island escape in the time of a global pandemic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons fosters a sense of connectedness whose value can’t be overstated. Almost as soon as you land on your new island home, the game becomes our personal playground. Despite looking like a mere graphically upgraded next-gen iteration of the original Animal Crossing, the game evolves the series’s formula via a bounty of creative customization options. And while the villager interaction has been reined in and simplified, a New Horizons island still manages to feel like a living, breathing place. And that’s a result of all that’s simultaneously familiar and new about this Animal Crossing experience. As ever, the seasons change as they do in the real world (and are flipped depending on the hemisphere you’re in), bringing forth specially timed events and holidays, offering further options to personalize one’s home and islet. The world is your oyster in the game, whose robust online functionality paves the way for you to visit other people’s islands, affording a not-insignificant measure of comfort and community for gamers in a year where leaving your house was a risk. Ryan Aston

Sackboy: A Big Adventure

18. Sackboy: A Big Adventure

Across the LittleBigPlanet series, Sackboy’s appearances have constituted glorified tutorials for the robust LittleBigPlanet development toolkit: short, playable primers on how to build levels. But in the nostalgia-inspired platformer spinoff Sackboy: A Big Adventure, you no longer need to do that work, as you can jump straight into exploring the impeccably realized world of this game, making your little Knitted Knight jump, sling, swing, and grapple through dozens of uniquely crafted levels. When friendly frogs unfurl their papery tongue-paths as you stomp on them, or the auras of jellyfish prisms reveal hidden roads, the game evokes a joyous feeling of discovery and glee, akin to that of being set loose in a toy shop, albeit one in which everything has been assembled out of scraps of fabric and other cleverly deployed detritus. Sackboy: A Big Adventure doesn’t take place in the Imagisphere for nothing, and as cutesy cardboard cutouts of aliens and animals bop along to the beats of songs like “Toxic,” “Uptown Funk,” and “Material Girl,” it’s almost like wandering through some sort of Rube Goldberg machine of the pop-cultural imagination. Riccio

Half-Life Alyx

17. Half-Life: Alyx

Creating a sequel-slash-prequel to an iconic video-game series 13 years in cryosleep is just as an unenviable a task as launching a big-budget title using new technology that might evolve the entire medium, yet Valve delivers with Half-Life: Alyx. Returning fans to the sci-fi nightmare of City 17, a young Alyx Vance fights the omnipresent alien invasion alongside other members of Earth’s resistance, pulled into a plot to rescue a mysterious individual who disappeared some 20 years earlier. While Half-Life: Alyx’s core gameplay doesn’t deviate too far from that of other VR titles, Valve has refined the exploration, shooting, and physics puzzles that this series is known for into something that isn’t played as much as it is experienced. In Half-Life: Alyx, fighting the Combine is just as compelling as exploring the derelict buildings of City 17, and being able to lift and inspect and throw any object contributes greatly to the game’s feeling of immersion. Guns are reloaded by physically putting a new mag in and pulling the slide, marker pens draw on whiteboards, and liquid even sloshes around inside bottles. Boasting visuals that border on the photorealistic and intuitive 1:1 controls that feel entirely natural, Half-Life: Alyx pushes virtual-reality gaming to new heights. Aston

Superhot Mind Control Delete

16. Superhot Mind Control Delete

When Superhot was released in 2016, much praise was heaped on its novel “time moves when you move” gimmick, though some criticized the game for its brevity. Superhot: Mind Control Delete, initially planned as DLC but released as a standalone game that’s bigger than the original, is a brilliant rebuttal to that criticism. Whereas Superhot subversively riffed on the tenebrous nature of control, Mind Control Delete slyly questions the purpose of extra content and how long a game should or shouldn’t be. The game feels like the brainchild of students who were into debate club as much as programming. Each new layer of gameplay exists to both argue for and against its inclusion, right up until the final twist, which allows players to progress only by their being willing to give up some of their hard-won new abilities. Riccio

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

15. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Rare as it is to see a person of color as the protagonist of a Triple-A video game, a minority superhero fighting for his community is even rarer. Mercifully, the hero of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales doesn’t call himself “Spider-Cop,” and the conversations he has with New York City’s citizens via a community-serving app that allows them to contact him for help is marked by a striking benevolence. Here, Miles Morales becomes the true embodiment of the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” serving the citizens and battling the forces that cause people to turn to a life of crime. Community is key here, and for as well-written and fleshed out as Miles and his family are, Harlem itself is an even more pivotal character in the game, seen in different states as various parties and conglomerates seek to take advantage of and ruin the neighborhood for their own profits. The game’s themes aren’t forced, instead naturally integrated into the progressive narrative that includes such diverse characters as a deaf teenage artist (bilingual Miles is also fluent in ASL) and the Korean-American buddy who takes a Q-by-way-of-Oracle role in helping Miles protect the city. More than just an incredible technical powerhouse that demonstrates the advances of the new generation of consoles, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales deals with socially aware themes that resonate in our present moment. Aston

Alder’s Blood

14. Alder’s Blood

Alder’s Blood’s intimidating and intense sense of atmosphere, the need for precise decision-making, and even the term “Hunter” register as a strong nod to Bloodborne. But whereas Bloodborne was just another incarnation of the hack-and-slash, lock-on-and-dodge formula that was popularized by Dark Souls, this game shakes up the foundation of a long-standing genre, stretching the familiar into a realm of nightmarish wonder. Not even leveling up from consecutive victories dampens the bleakness of Alder’s Blood. Each Hunter creeps toward insanity, which forces the player to commit bloody human sacrifices in order to transfer experience points to new heroes. Here, success is more ephemeral than it ever has been in a turn-based tactics game, implying that a godless world should not be coveted. Jed Pressgrove

Paper Mario: The Origami King

13. Paper Mario: The Origami King

Though based on a decades-old formula, Paper Mario: The Origami King never feels like more of the same. A river-rapids minigame is followed by an in-depth trading quest within a Japanese-themed amusement park, Shogun Studios. A relaxing stay in the hot tubs of Shangri-Spa is first interrupted by a chase sequence involving a papier-mâché Chain Chomp and later by a Mario Party-like series of minigames on the game-show-within-a-game Shy Guys Finish Last. The Origami King does feature traditional dungeons, but even here, the puzzles and themes remain wholly distinct; the closest overlap is between two types of sliding block puzzles. And as for the game’s character work—well, let me just say that this reviewer didn’t expect to ever feel so much compassion for Bowser’s long-suffering magician, Kamek, nor to fall heartbreakingly in love with an amnesiac Bob-omb. While a lot of care has gone into refining the game’s combat, there’s no shortage of things to do outside of battles. The Origami King has so much exuberance and confidence in all of its designs that even if you’re not completely sold on the combat—and there are modifiers that allow you to get rescued Toads to help solve it for you—the game will still win over all but the most puzzle-phobic and pun-hating players. Riccio


12. Haven

Traversing Source, the seemingly uninhabited planet where Haven’s star-crossed lovers have crash-landed, is nothing short of exhilarating. Kay and Yu possess anti-gravity boots that allow them to glide angelically over the landscape, as well as ride the blue floating ethereal energy rails made of biofuel called Flow. They can ride these rails over otherwise untouchable terrain, even high into the air like an invisible roller coaster. The game exudes carefree vibes, from its lo-fi synth-wave soundtrack to the defiantly naturalistic way that it handles encounters with alien life. Haven is a sci-fi exploration game where you share space with others but don’t own it. Which is to say that the joy of exploring Source is less about the world than the company. And when conflicts arise, they all feel incredibly organic, an honest take on the “better and for worse” part of a union that so many treacly romances tend to gloss over. And there’s no conflict so devastating that we’re not still reminded that we love these people and wish for their happiness in their new home. Along with being one of the most gentle and soothing games of the year, Haven is also gaming at its most compassionate. Clark

A Monster’s Expedition

11. A Monster’s Expedition

A Monster’s Expedition is an exceedingly gentle game, despite being about a monster who knocks over trees to bridge the gaps of an archipelago. Sprinkled with spare music that plays according to your actions, the latest from developers Draknek & Friends is an open map of deceptively simple tree trunk-pushing puzzles. If you get stuck going one direction, you can usually try another. The island is actually an open-air museum displaying the remnants of human society for the education of monsterkind, with objects mounted on pedestals while larger exhibits like a mountain of loose change rise out of the sea. Backpack in tow, your monster is there to see the sights, and this concept’s small sense of discovery is mirrored through the very act of the playing the game. The developers gradually complicate the lightly interconnected puzzles, nudging you toward figuring out mechanics that have been there all along with a truly masterful subtlety. Scaife

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension

10. There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension

At first glance, There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension appears to be a spoof of itself, what with the super hammy voice acting and the exaggeratedly elaborate ways in which an A.I. tries to “prevent” you from starting the game, the brainchild of French developer Draw Me A Pixel. The game’s creativity is only lightly on display in this opening, which has you using normally innocuous items, like developer logos or a language-selection flag, to breach the A.I.’s absurd defenses. Each successive chapter further subverts expectations, whether it’s allowing you to look behind the scenes of a traditional two-dimensional point-and-click game or the way in which it uses a classic Legend of Zelda-like framework to skewer the odious mechanics of freemium games that are bloated with ads, energy meters, and cash shops. No element of game design is safe from simultaneous homage and parody, whether that’s using the goofy physics of a brick-breaker to dismantle an in-the-way title screen or manipulating an old handheld Game-and-Watch by damaging the environment surrounding it. Even the credits house a deviously clever puzzle, and a spot-on and decidedly unexpected James Bond title-sequence parody. But that, too, is a trick, because while you’ve been appreciating such novelties, the narrative itself has transformed into a real fourth-wall-breaking meditation on why we create and play games at all. Riccio

Paradise Killer

9. Paradise Killer

Paradise Killer emerges like a demon from out of space, summoned via some occult vaporwave ritual involving a Dreamcast and the blood of Suda51. From the bright interface to the tremendous soundtrack that loops through your open-world murder investigation, the debut from Kaizen Game Works projects a confident sense of self through its wildly original setting: a series of attempted afterlives built to appease eldritch overlords through literal human sacrifice. As investigator Lady Love Dies, you roam the island setting, building a case through detective work that’s perfectly pitched between a conscious structure and a freer sense of interpretation. You piece together plot threads while reaching your own conclusions and then perhaps rethinking your preconceptions, ultimately choosing which evidence to present in a final courtroom showdown. But all is not well in paradise, because beneath the bright, bouncy aesthetic is a moral horror, a universe governed by an unjust authority too enormous for Lady Love Dies to ever fully confront. As you uncover more clues, Paradise Killer becomes about working within an overpowering system and hating its guts, looking for ways to subvert it while finding distressingly few. Scaife

Receiver 2

8. Receiver 2

Receiver 2 exists at some bizarre intersection of the hyperreal and the abstract, its obsessively detailed guns and their accompanying physics contrasting with an apartment dreamspace choked by autonomous drones and turrets all on the lookout for your silhouette. Initiated into a skewed self-help gun cult, you find and listen to the tapes that the organization has prepared for what they call the coming “Mindkill,” while you deal with the meticulous operation of firearms, clearing their jams or rolling with their misfires and bum chambers, attempting to remember how to holster them safely so you don’t shoot yourself in the process. Developer Wolfire Games generates an atmosphere of unparalleled tension and paranoia that will have you jumping at noises and purple lights that might signify the attention of a turret tucked out of sight. As levels go on, the building layouts grow more arcane, demanding more platforming detours and more dodging around the multiplying, mechanical tools of “The Threat.” The guns become even less forgiving, lacking safeties or swift reloads. You come to realize that perhaps the most dangerous thing about this world is not so much the turrets or the drones but the weapon in your hand, this mechanism of unreliable violence whose intricacies you must navigate under pressure while The Threat looms large. Scaife

Desperados III

7. Desperados III

This first installment in the Desperados series since the 2007 spinoff Helldorado is a prequel, and it opens with a flashback to protagonist John Cooper’s last adventure with his bounty hunter father, during which he learns to “think slow, act fast.” That’s basically the modus operandi of German-based Mimimi Games’s latest, because deliberate, stealthy gameplay is the player’s key to victory. For one, it’s more than satisfying to watch your minutes-long action planning, of furtive repositioning and queuing of unique skills, result in the swift and simultaneous sacking of guards at the hands of your five colorful posse members. While the plot and characters in Desperados III may be familiar, and the gameplay recalls that of other modern real-time tactics titles like Mimimi Games’s previous Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun, each scenario feels distinct. You’ll need different skills to burn down a riverboat than you do to blow up a bridge or defend a ranch. Even slight shifts in terrain and available party members (or their inventories) serve to shake up your tactics. Riccio

Final Fantasy VII Remake

6. Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake is directly in dialogue with the player about what a remake can and probably should be, about how much of a waste it might be to proceed past the endpoint of this particular story—essentially the moment in the original where you’re allowed to freely explore the world outside Midgar—and realize that the journey and the outcome has remained the same. You’re given the chance to choose a different path, to face a literal hideous embodiment of the hands of fate in the game’s climax. It’s a forceful, kinetic statement—that this remake should not be bound by what we already know. And as monstrous as it can be, the symbolism of that gesture is incredibly daring. The game flips the script on the very idea of nostalgia being the only guiding creative force behind a remake, making it another enemy to be slain. The final hours of this game constitute an extraordinary act of subversion, actively challenging us through gameplay to expect more. Clark

Tales from Off-Peak City Vol. 1

5. Tales from Off-Peak City Vol. 1

Cosmo D’s signature eccentricity has never felt as fully realized as it is in Tales from Off-Peak City Vol. 1. The game finds you making and delivering pizzas, albeit to illicit ends: Your employment is part of a roundabout plot to steal the valuable saxophone belonging to the pizza parlor owner, a famous musician turned pie purveyor. The handful of city streets are an abstract collage of disparate parts, from talking buildings to furtive energy drink labs, held together by a jazzy musical signature, in the pleasantly evocative soundtrack and especially in the varied instrument sounds that accompany dialogue text. Even the pizza-making is musical, with sprinklings of sauce and cheese and other toppings creating an aural symphony of satisfying creation on their way to the oven. A game so crammed with silly jokes and strange sights could have easily come off as remote or superficially weird in less assured hands, but Cosmo D weaves this reality with a blissful sense of life that makes the inclusion of a camera seem only natural. Where other games include camera modes in the expectation that we’ll be wowed by the technical wizardry that comes with chasing realism, Tales from Off-Peak City spurs you to document a community in the throes of slow erosion, its mad inspiration being transfigured into something else. Scaife

The Last of Us Part II

4. The Last of Us Part II

The consequences of Joel’s stunning decision at the conclusion of The Last of Us come home in the game’s sequel, which opens with a brutal execution as seen through Ellie’s eyes. Abandoning her relatively carefree life in a Jackson, Wyoming colony, Joel’s surrogate daughter and her romantic partner, Dina, travel to Seattle on a quest for revenge. A shift in perspective reveals the hollowness of Ellie’s vendetta, as she’s barely a blip on the radar of her supposed antagonists, who are consumed in a larger conflict brewing between two sets of “adults” playing war at the cost of countless lives. (If any of the character choices here seem foolish, glance outside at the real world and take in how well we’re doing as humans in our present-day.) While much has been made of this game’s grueling violence, its smaller moments of intimacy and empathy are what resonate most, with much of the lengthy campaign centered around your aiding of innocents caught in the aforementioned war’s crossfire. In the end, The Last of Us Part II is about moving on from complicated legacies, ones for whom forgiveness might never be possible. Aston

Umurangi Generation

3. Umurangi Generation

You and your friends haunt Umurangi Generation’s futuristic New Zealand like photogenic ghosts, bearing witness to the neon devastation and military occupation of Tauranga Aotearoa by capturing it on camera. Each level in this first-person photograph ‘em up has a loose set of objectives—a certain number of spray cans in one shot, a specific word, an object—but how you compose the shots that fulfill those objectives is ultimately up to you. Developer Naphtali “Veselekov” Faulkner has crafted a veritable photography sandbox, with scenes and images to discover and present through your choice of subjective lenses amid beautiful interplays of darkness and searing lights, tweaking the saturation and exposure as you go along. The rich photography suite is engrossing enough on its own, but the mechanics mingle beautifully with the game’s vibrant setting and palpable mood of disenfranchisement under a police state, of looking up at the signs, the rubble, and the graffiti and wondering who you are, what you can do, what purpose you’re serving. With an atmosphere of youth rebellion augmented by chill beats courtesy of Adolf Nomura, a.k.a. ThorHighHeels, the game becomes a sort of Maori-inflected Jet Set Radio by way of Neon Genesis Evangelion, offering a vivid cityscape of people grappling with a walled-in, nigh-apocalyptic new normal. Scaife

Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition

2. Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition

Kentucky Route Zero is a game often content to remain as mysterious as its namesake, an underground highway seemingly unbound by physical laws. Any fights, between unions and predatory companies, have already happened or doubtless will happen again. Instead, it explores the aftermath of cultural devastation, of how people survive in the ruins of the American experiment and how they build atop (or beneath) that wreckage, with the strange reality meant to represent what capitalism has done to the world. The magic is there, only contained and warped by the society that has grown around it. The characters’ paths narrow as the game continues, as the fist of an unfeeling system closes and people are overwhelmed by weaknesses; you drift from the role of driver to the person being driven to a simple observer of what’s to come. The people you encounter are refugees of greed and exploitation and obsolescence, and there’s a sliver of hope as they defiantly continue, finding pleasure in creation and companionship. They write, they compose, they perform, and they record, inspired by past struggles and a world content to forget its own history beyond facile preservation attempts in arbitrary little museums. After seven years, this visionary masterpiece concludes, an impressionist portrait of people doing what they can in a world that will never recover. Scaife


1. Hades

Death in the roguelike dungeon crawler Hades is neither failure nor punishment. It is, in fact, the only way to succeed—to further the story and learn about the world and its people. Death in Hades is a friend. Quite literally, since both the deity Thanatos and the Styx riverman Charon are helpful NPCs. And like everyone you meet here, you must meet Death gracefully. It helps that our hero, Zagreus, is the son of Hades, and already in the realm of perdition. He’s known nothing else, and when he fails in his attempts to climb out of the eternal pit, he simply goes home: an ornate, handsomely aestheticized labyrinth where he’s surrounded by famous figures from the Greek underworld, all unique personalities with rich (after)lives, wants, regrets, petty grievances, and deep moral standings that shift over the course of the game, and all written and voiced with razor sharpness. The fantastic dialogue and voice acting alone would be enough to make Hades stand out from the pack this year, but the implementation and delivery of that dialogue is where the game becomes transcendent. And the ways in which the writing seems to account for every change in load out, every inch of progress, changed relationship, and success and failure alike is staggering. Every run will take you through the same realms, but rarely the same conversations. Whether or not they make it to the surface, and the achingly beautiful paradise beyond, players will have changed the world, and they’ll do so dozens of times over before they’re done. Hades is a master class in substance over style, a game that loves and respects its players just as much as it loves and respects its characters. In every aspect a game can be, it’s perfect. Clark

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