Welcome, everyone! It’s been a productive few weeks here, and I’m nearly ready to announce my top five favourite games of the year. It’s been one of my most significant GOTY events yet, and I’m blown away by all the feedback I’ve received from my readers. It’s been my most successful year doing this, and I plan to keep it going into 2023 and beyond. I’ve already been working on a schedule for January and writing a new set of interview questions for game devs, so watch this space!
Before officially announcing my Top 5, I wanted to write something fruity. So I decided to use that as an excuse for some ‘Awards’ gibberish. A bit like the Game Awards but without all the obvious contenders. Some of these awards are legit and decently thought out, while others are silly. There are a couple more negative awards because I have no other place to discuss them!
Citizen Sleeper is perhaps the most painful of all the games I’ve played this year. Not because it’s a bad game, but because, in words, it’s incredible. I need to play it more to warrant putting it on my list. That’s why I have just written thoughts on it, though it’ll still be a while before I feel confident enough to review it.
The only reason Citizen Sleeper is missing from my top list is due to time. I’ve only got a few hours into it, and it’ll feel unfair to other games on my list if I include it. It’s a shame because I’ve loved almost everything about Citizen Sleeper. It’s a narrative-heavy, immersive experience set on a space station, with some of the best writing I’ve seen in years. Even if the gameplay itself isn’t remarkable, the stories and characters have some of the best writing in any game I’ve played. It won several awards in 2022, and I fully agree with them.
This likely won a GOTY for me in another world. I have it on the Steam Deck now, and I’m excited to play it more. There are several chunky story updates to the game, adding free content and characters. The developer has made a masterpiece in narrative design, and even if I haven’t played it enough this year, it deserves all the praise it’s received. Bravo.
One of the first games I played this year was Expeditions: Rome, an authentic CRPG set in the ancient world. The Kingdom of Pontus is one of Rome’s greatest enemies, and Expeditions Rome takes the player into that brutal period. I had modest expectations, but it was much better than I ever expected. Exceeding my expectations is always a pleasant surprise, and it’s a hidden gem. It might be the best game published by THQ Nordic this year. They’ve had some hits and misses, but I’m pleased by how Expeditions: Rome turned out.
The Expeditions series has had two games previously: Vikings and Conquistadors. Expeditions: Rome was a significant step forward in scope, design, and writing. Combining well-written characters, a surprisingly deep combat system, and plenty of content, it punches above its weight and might be one of the best RPG’s on the market right now.
What got me into Expeditions Rome was the characters and worldbuilding. I didn’t expect much from it, but I was pleasantly surprised by how solid everything was. The characters are believable with their backgrounds, opinions, and stories, and the setting is realistic and well-realized. One of the most challenging things about writing characters is to give everyone a different, living voice. It’s all well and good when the main characters get all the attention, but what about the rest? History may be written by the winners and the one percent, but living history makes up the rest. Every character should be the main character of their own story, and Expeditions Rome does a solid job pulling that off.
It’s a solid turn-based tactics game, too, with plenty of challenges to throw at players. I was always kept on my toes, and there were many things to unlock. Battles can take a long time, but I never felt overwhelmed, and it has several difficulty modes. Like Citizen Sleeper, I haven’t played enough of Expeditions Rome. If I played both games more this year, they would likely be in my Top 10.
I’m happy with my actual Top 10. It’s one of the strongest lineups I’ve seen in years!
This award title is awful but never mind. It’s my awards show.
This one could also be called the most disappointing sequel because I had higher hopes for this boy. 2017’s Elex 1 was controversial, but I’ve enjoyed it despite the problems with combat, overall jankiness, and a terrible early game. My critiques of Elex 2 aren’t to doom it entirely because I have primarily enjoyed my time with it. I’ve got 50 hours on it between Steam and GOG. That shows I’m willing to give things a chance, even if they’re deeply flawed.
Piranha Bytes fascinates me, you know. Twenty years of making the same game over and over, at least by design. We only need to look back at their history to see that. They’ve all got the basic formula; three main factions to join, chapter-based stories, jank in combat and movement, with a focus on world design. In that regard, I’ve called them ‘The Eurojank Ubisoft,’ but Piranha Bytes tend to make exciting game worlds with good quest design. They’ve gotten by okay, relying on a small but deeply passionate European fanbase.
It’s taken them five years to release the sequel to 2017’s Elex 1, and it’s more of the same. For all of Piranha Bytes’ talent and ambition, their games tend to share a major flaw: they have a strong beginning but rapidly lose steam throughout the story, ending with a poor late game. Elex 2 is no exception; the story is a clusterfuck from start to end, with most of the late-game content consisting of ‘kill this many enemies’ over and over. Honestly, they just ran out of ideas; something that baffles me. This is Piranha Bytes! They usually have ideas! I wonder what happened during development…
My biggest issue with Elex 2 was the writing and dialogue. These characters are mostly returning folks from the original. Whoever wrote the original Elex either got replaced or took a lot of drugs. What the hell happened here? The dialogue is as if the writing team were twelve-year-olds who discovered what curse words are and felt the need to insert them into every conversation to try and sound cool. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Almost every returning character in the sequel is a shadow of their former selves in terms of quality. You know, like in later seasons of Game of Thrones, when every character ended up being a parody of their original greatness? Like that. The first Elex’s writing wasn’t outstanding, but it was night and day compared to this.
Not that some moments didn’t make me laugh.
It’s not all bad, of course. There are genuine bright spots in playing Elex 2, and I appreciate the beginning being slightly more accessible. There were quests I loved, such as the Alb Agent mission. Unfortunately, I went in expecting a better sequel and found myself disappointed. Its rough performance and bugs at launch made for a frustrating technical experience, not even counting my gripes on the story and character assassination. Releasing Elex 2 between Elden Ring and Horizon did Piranha Bytes no favors. It’s strange design decisions that hurt this sequel most of all.
I’m worried for their future, to be honest. They’ve always struggled to appeal to an audience outside their immediate environment, and even their biggest fans weren’t too keen on Elex 2’s design. However, piranha Bytes do games in trilogies, and given the cliffhanger at the climax of Elex 2’s story, we’ll see an Elex 3 providing they’re able to make one. The third games have always been the weakest, so they have a lot to redeem themselves. I’d stick with Gothic 1/2, Risen 1, and Elex 1.
I rarely get angry about video games these days. It’s just something I don’t waste energy on, but sometimes we’ll break our own rules. There have been some stinker releases this year, but that’s reality. It’s something that happens.
I don’t do ‘the worst games of the year or things like that anymore. I used to, but when I look back at some old articles from 2015/2016, I sounded like an angry walrus on booze. The world has enough negativity for me to add more to it, so I focus on the more positive aspects. That doesn’t mean I don’t point out flaws in games when I find them; it’s just about being transparent.
I have almost nothing nice to say about The Waylanders, unfortunately, and it’s my most disappointing game of 2022 by far. Originally an Early Access title in late 2020, it faced constant development problems. When I played it in Early Access, I found an ambitious, endearing but buggy product that lacked content. It had a lot of character and reminded me of the old Dragon Age games, with lovely visual design. However, it was early in development, so I was willing to wait, provided things finished.
If only that had happened. Waylanders officially left Early Access early this year, but calling it finished is an insult even to Early Access games because nothing has changed. The story needs to be more cohesive, and it failed, with missed cutscenes everywhere and still riddled with the same bugs. To make matters worse, it looks like it’s been completely abandoned. There’s been no word from the development team for months. It rushed to full release to try to salvage financial problems, and when it failed, the company folded.
It’s a shame because this game had potential, but it frustrates me. In a world of growing economic trouble leading to a cascade of video game prices increasing, it angers me when broken stuff is released and gets abandoned. Unfortunately, this is the kind of behavior that causes people to tar every Early Access release with the same brush.
No surprise. Valve’s Steam Deck took the world by storm in 2022, and now the supply chain issues have been fixed, you can order a Steam Deck through retail and receive it in a couple of weeks. It was a long wait for mine when I reserved my 256 GB model last summer, but I finally received my Steam Deck in June and have been playing it ever since.
It’s no surprise to anyone: I love gaming handhelds. My collection is approaching the stage where I possess too many, but there’s a great variety of consoles. I’ve bought four gaming handhelds this year:
1) The Nintendo Switch OLED model in February to replace my rapidly aging 2017 model. I recently sold my original switch to a friend, and the OLED was a beautiful purchase.
2) The Retroid Pocket 2+ in April. This was an impulse purchase of mine. I traded the handheld in October to a friend of mine instead.
3) The Steam Deck at the end of June. By far the most expensive of my handheld purchases, but there is nothing better for the price point. There’s no chance of buying even a laptop for the £460 I spent on my Steam Deck that can play what it can.
4) Finally, I bought an Ayn Odin Pro this October, one of the hottest Android gaming handhelds on the market. This was a costly expense at £310, including postage, but I wanted one for months, so I’m happy I got the chance to pick one up.
Out of all of these, the Steam Deck is my favourite tech pickup by far. If you told me even a couple years ago that I’d be able to play games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Elden Ring, Cyberpunk 2077, and Horizon Zero Dawn, all on a handheld PC for the £500 mark, I wouldn’t have believed you. Of course, it’s not a perfect device: the screen could be better, and battery life is always going to be a concern, but it’s an excellent device all-round, and in price to performance, nothing else in its price range beats it.
My final award this year: the best Early Access release. I’m cheating here, but both these games are fantastic, so I’m officially making this a tie. I’ve long been a defender of the Early Access model despite some problems with it. *Glares at the congealed toilet bowl where The Waylanders now lies*. As a result, I’ve featured dozens of Early Access titles on the website this year, so many that I had to make a new category just for this series.
Out of all the Early Access titles I’ve played, two stand at the top of the podium. The first one is Against the Storm, a brilliant rogue-like city-builder from Ermite Games. I got the chance to play this before releasing it, thanks to the publisher Hooded Horse, a great group of people I’ve worked with several times in 2022 reviewing their games. Thanks, guys.
I covered Against the Storm in my impressions review in November and Best of Early Access, so I won’t go into all the grisly details for the third time. While it took some time for me to love it, it’s become my favourite colony sim of 2022. With so many different modifiers and unlocks, every playthrough feels fresh. Despite the repetition of the gameplay loop, the right mix of challenge and fun keeps me coming back.
Joining Against the Storm as king is Deadeye Deepfake Siraclum, a fantastic immersive sim that took my breath away. With the insane amount of customization and ways of completing missions, combined with intelligent storytelling and all the interaction that makes those games great, it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year. It’s challenging, but with so many different tools available for the player, there’s endless experimentation. With the developer adding frequent patches and updates, and with side quests planned down the line, this unique experience excels at emergent gameplay.
“But Michael, having a tie is no fun! Pick a winner!”
Ugh, fine! Obviously, these are two very different games from each other. I’ve put more time into Against the Storm than Deadeye, and I’ve found both equally enjoyable. However, Deadeye has a more unique premise, and we have yet to see many great immersive sims in recent years.
If I had to pick an overall winner, I’d give the nod to Deadeye Deepfake, but I’m still making this a tie. Screw you, brain!
That’s it for my interlude! Next episode, we’ll be showing my Top five games of 2022.