Microsoft had a lot going on this year in the console space. The Xbox Series X/S ushered in the next generation of Xbox, while the Xbox One sought to close things out with a bang, and both generations were quite successful in what they set out to do. For the old guard, there was a number of solid releases – both first and third party – to fill out the console’s library, while the next generation was ushered in with a notable lack of exclusives, but plenty of excellent cross-gen games and, of course, the irresistible pull of Game Pass. Here, we’re going to recognize what we felt were the ten biggest highlights of Xbox in 2020, as we first present our nominees for this year’s best Xbox game, before crowning one of them as the winner.
TETRIS EFFECT: CONNECTED
Tetris Effect was one of the best games of its year when it first came out in 2018, and its expanded Xbox re-release is, once again, one of the best gaming experiences of 2020. The audio-visual splendour of the game clearly hasn’t lost its luster in the two years that have passed since its original release, and this goes without saying, but neither has the timeless addictiveness of the core Tetris formula. Add to that the addition of co-op and multiplayer, and Tetris Effect: Connected is the most complete Tetris game to date.
Gears of War is a series that has stuck to its third person cover-based shooting formula ever since its inception- some might say it’s done that almost to a fault. This year, The Coalition – in partnership with Splash Damage – took the series in an altogether new direction, with an experiment that paid dividends. Gears Tactics is Gears and XCOM rolled into a single package, and yes, it’s as good as it sounds. It succeeds as a strategy game, it succeeds as a story game, it tells a solid story with a likeable cast of characters, and it looks great. It doesn’t set the world on fire, but Gears Tactics is definitely still a must-play for fans of strategy games, and for fans of the series.
DRAGON BALL Z: KAKAROT
It’s impossible to keep track of how many times we’ve played Dragon Ball games that retell the story of the entire Z saga, so Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot’s primary selling point of being yet another game to do just that was by no means a unique one. But there’s a reason developers keep making these games- we can’t help but devour every single one of them. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot offers the promise of a full-fledged Dragon Ball role playing game in an open world setting with all the flash and over-the-top action you’d expect from this property- and that’s a pitch that’s hard to say no to, especially for fans of the series. Kakarot isn’t exceptional- but it’s exactly as good as it needs to be.
If you have the hankering to play a deep, layered choice-driven role playing game and feel burned by a certain recent release that failed to deliver on those expectations, we have great news for you- Wasteland 3 is exactly the game you’re looking for. It’s been overlooked by a lot of people, given the fact that it’s not the flashiest AAA production out there, but this here is a game that succeeds on the basis of its solid execution rather than its marketable ideas. A grisly world brought to life with rich lore and nuanced characterization, tough choices that consistently have a meaningful impact on the way the story progresses, oodles of customization and progression options, engaging combat mechanics- Wasteland 3 succeeds on every fundamental level that a role playing game should.
“Minecraft, but Diablo” wasn’t a phrase we ever thought we’d hear until not too long ago, but this is a property that has the potential (and the cache) to be literally anything that it wants to be. Minecraft Dungeons offers an accessible dungeon crawling loot-driven action RPG for players of all ages, and it delivers on its modest promises confidently. It’s not the deepest game of its kind, nor is it the most replayable, but it’s incredibly fun, brimming with charm, and benefits from solid execution of core mechanics in areas that matter the most. No, this won’t make the wait for Diablo 4 any easier- but then again, it was never meant to.
ASSASSIN’S CREED VALHALLA
Assassin’s Creed reinvented itself as an action role playing series a few years back, and with 2020’s Valhalla, it delivered the most confident execution of that new formula. What makes the newest Assassin’s Creed game so good, however, is the fact that it succeeds on multiple fronts. Thanks its steady progression, tons of customization options, and choice and consequence mechanics, it’s a solid role player, while with its story and characters, it successfully bridges the gap that’s been separating Assassin’s Creed’s two very distinct eras in recent years. It’s a game that simultaneously massive yet not bloated, streamlined yet expansive, and a wonderful marriage of new and old ideas. It is, as such, one of the best Assassin’s Creed games we’ve ever played.
WATCH DOGS: LEGION
When Ubisoft announced that players would be able to play as every single character occupying the open world of Watch Dogs: Legion, they grabbed the attention of the masses. Ensuring that they did justice to such an ambitious idea was a herculean task, and living up to expectations is something Watch Dogs has had trouble with in the past- but Legion definitely succeeded in what it set out to do. It’s completely free-form structure came at the cost of good storytelling and characters, sure, but being able to play as one of literally an infinite number of characters and archetypes opened up the Watch Dogs experience in excellent fashion. Thanks to the resulting strengths in emergent and systemic gameplay, navigating the open world cyberpunk setting of near-future London in Watch Dogs: Legion is an absolute delight.
STAR WARS: SQUADRONS
EA definitely took their sweet time to get their house in order as far as their handling of the Star Wars license was concerned, but they’ve finally managed to get things on track. After turning things around for Battlefront 2 and delivering a solid single player adventure in Fallen Order, this year, they decided to do something different. Star Wars: Squadrons is a smaller and blessedly no-nonsense production, confidently delivering on a very specific, singular vision, with no microtransactions or live service promises to get in the way. And it’s so much better for it. Every ship that you get into in Squadrons is lovingly crafted with intricate detail, every fighter controls like a dream, large-scale multiplayer dogfighting battles are exactly as thrilling as they should be, and the single player campaign provides a fun, pulpy Star Wars experience that might not be unmissable, but will surely appeal to longtime series fans. Squadrons might not be the most high profile Star Wars production we’ve seen in recent years, but it’s certainly one of the best.
ORI AND THE WILL OF THE WISPS
There’s really nothing that we can say about Ori and the Will of the Wisps that we haven’t said a thousand times before. Since the moment we first played it, we and many others have been singing the game’s praises, and as anyone who’s played it would tell you, it deserves every single one of them. Not many games can simultaneously have standout platforming, combat, level design, music, story, and visuals all at once, but Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of those rare cases where all of those elements come together in an absolutely unforgettable package. Whether you play it on PC, on Xbox One, on Xbox Series X/S, or even the Nintendo Switch, this is easily one of the best games you’ll experience all year.
YAKUZA: LIKE A DRAGON
Yakuza’s transition to turn based RPG could have gone disastrously bad. But RGG Studio knew what they were doing, and what we ended up getting is one of the best entries in the series yet, not to mention one of the best games of this year. Like A Dragon benefits from an entirely new cast taking up the mantle of this crime drama series, as well as an entirely new setting, both of which mesh together with the new gameplay style to deliver a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing game that’s also incredibly unique, both within its genre, and outside of it. Delivering the biggest (and longest) game in the series to date, Like A Dragon is a thorough triumph of execution on every level that closes the previous generation of RPGs while ushering in a whole new one with aplomb.
ORI AND THE WILL OF THE WISPS
After delivering one of the best modern metroidvania games we’ve played in Ori and the Blind Forest, the pressure was on for Moon Studios to deliver a sequel that could not only stand toe-to-toe with the first game, but even surpass it. That was not an enviable challenge by any means, but Ori and the Will of the Wisps was more than up to the task. Beautiful, engrossing, tightly made, and consistently moving, Will of the Wisps is a spectacular game in all the way that matter most. Single-handedly, this game has raised the bar for quality in a genre that has already been occupied by a number of all-time greats. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is good enough to be counted alongside the likes of Hollow Knight and Super Metroid as the best metroidvania games ever made, and that’s really the highest praise one can bestow upon a game. Hats off to Moon Studios for this stunning achievement.