I played many games in 2022 as it is one of my favorite ways to wind down at the end of the day, after I finish my work and before I go to sleep. I figured this out when I was writing horror—when you are working independently from home, it’s beneficial to do something to help you disengage from work before sleep.
I was lucky enough to get a steam deck when they released this year, and I also was lucky to get a PS5 (back in 2021 when they weren’t so readily available). Despite these shiny new toys, most of the games on this list weren’t for these systems; they weren’t new games at all. 2022 reinforced my belief that just because something is old doesn’t mean it is worse, even when the games industry runs on shiny, new graphics. Pretty pictures are still nice, but they don’t make a game good any more than expensive paint makes a portrait good. They can help, but it’s the skill of the artist that makes the art have an impact.
As is tradition, let’s go in reverse.
Castle Crashers. My friend Lee bought this for me for a holiday steam sale years ago, but I didn’t play it until this year because it was a deck-verified game, and my son liked the look of it. It’s a beat ‘em up style game with a basic leveling system that supports up to four players and is now available on modern platforms in a “remastered” package (I have the original). It’s not my favorite game, but I had lots of fun playing with my kids, and my son thought the pooping animals (yeah…) hilarious. Definitely worth a buy on a sale if you have someone to play with on the couch.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight. The now ancient MMO returned with what streamers thought was a “good expansion” (according to Asmongold) and a “return to form” (Bellular). Like most expansions, it’s fun when you first dive in, mostly because the instances and maps are new to you, but Dragonflight had the quickest drop from “fun” to “boring” I’ve experienced in WoW yet. It also has the worst writing in the history of the game and some of the worst writing I’ve experienced at all (I wrote a whole article on it). I quit once I’d done as much of the “content” I cared about and was looking at repeating that same content on increasing difficulty levels for the next n number of months. It turns out all the “borrowed power” mechanics and rng item levels existed to extend the playtime of the meager content. They still have those mechanics, by the way; they’ve just been shuttled into the obtuse crafting system.
I was able to get the game working on Steam Deck, and it ran well, but just getting the mods set up to enable controller-style play was like pulling teeth. It can be done, but honestly, I would look at other games if I wanted to play an MMO on a handheld.
Thief (2014). This “reboot” of the Thief franchise from the beginning of the PS4 era has a bad reputation and is considered by most fans to be inferior to the original two games (and probably the third). Though I still prefer the approach of the older titles, I found Thief 4 to be a very underrated experience overall. The stealth gameplay of is good within most levels, especially on higher difficulty, and the game just drips atmosphere. The aesthetics might be in a muted color palette (which was popular at the time), but they remain sharp and polished almost ten years later and work perfectly with the setting of the game. There is also a great deal of variety with the various missions, which, besides mere heists, also consist of exploration and avoidance scenarios in abandoned crypts full of monsters rather than guards.
The game is not perfect, however. The story is convoluted due to the way it is told. Rather than a standard plot structure where the protagonist pursues a goal and is stopped by obstacles, the devs opted for a mystery format where the player is drip-fed clues about what they were shown in the opening minutes of the game. This works for a long stretch of the game, but after many missions with little progress, it gets a bit tiring.
Still, I think it’s an underrated game that deserves a second look, particularly if you can get it at a discount. I played it primarily on the Steam Deck, and it runs flawlessly on the handheld. Great with headphones.
Now the real list:
10. Stray. This is a game where you play as a cat who interacts with robots. It’s a surprisingly fun game that focuses on exploration more than action and has a good sense of the contrast between modest tension and relaxing searches. It’s also dripping with atmosphere and has a great aesthetic and a back story that is released slowly and carefully. There are even controls for your cat to do cat things, like scratch the rug. There are other subtle, pleasing touches in the details of the evironments and the animation of the cat. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but it’s fun throughout and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I think it’s still free on the mid-tier of PS Plus.
9. Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III for SNES). I played this one on stream as part of my Final Fantasy series, and boy, did it bring back some memories. It had also been long enough since I had played it (at least a decade) that I had forgotten lots of details, and it provided a fresh experience. FFVI is S-Tier Final Fantasy, as far as I’m concerned. It is one of the most aesthetically pleasing games on the Super Famicom, and the beauty of the game holds up after all these years. It also has a great story with a twist that you won’t see most writers attempt: The heroes fail. They then have to quest to save what is left of the world, and what was can never be fully recovered or preserved. Kefka is one of the best antagonists in gaming history, a purely chaotic character of macabre humor.
But I still kicked his ass in the last fight.
I recommend you play the original SNES version, either on an emulator or original hardware (preferably on a crt, as it was designed to be viewed). The Pixel remaster is acceptable but I still prefer the look and sound of the original.
8. Trombone Champ. My wife hates this game. If you have a musician in your family that is sensitive to out-of-tune playing, this is a surefire way to cause her distress or possibly a psychotic break. Trombone Champ is a rhythm game where you slide your mouse in an attempt to hit notes both in time and IN TUNE, and it is extra challenging when playing on the Steam Deck (which, of course, my children prefer). That extra dimension of accuracy in the tuning made what is normally a fairly straightforward genre game into something that is both uniquely difficult and extremely hilarious, and will remind any parent of their ten year-old learning violin or trombone. The devs are releasing new songs, still, making this a solid value, even for a novelty title.
7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. From publisher Dotemo (who did Streets of Rage 4), Shredder’s Revenge is a retro sequel in the vein of the classic Turtle beat ‘em ups of yore, particularly Turtles in Time. It has multiple difficulty levels, which made it accessible to play with my kids, and it provided a good trip down memory lane with its sharp pixel-art aesthetics and references to the games from the 80s and 90s. I appreciated the character designs, in particular, which lean on the old animated series and the live-action movies. The environments are also made to look straight out of the early 90s and capture the feel of things like malls of the time. Gameplay was good to boot, but a modern player might feel it’s a bit light on content.
6. Hatsune Miku games. Rhythm games aren’t dead, at least in Japan. The Hatsune Miku series continues to find ongoing success by offering its classic button timing formula with an eclectic mix of new songs in each entry, all performed by vocaloids (virtual singers). The popularity of Miku (the titular character) is such in Japan that she has (for more than a decade) performed concerts—a bizarre inversion of the western pop concert where the singer is computer generated, but the backing band is made up of live musicians.
I just put “Hatsune Miku games” on the list because I played several of them this year, and they all work similarly. All of them I played on the now venerable and aged Playstation Vita. The platform and the games fit well into my life, where it takes seconds to open up a game, and a single play session can be three or four minutes. The vita also has the advantage of having little to no lag, a problem when playing rhythm games with Bluetooth controllers on modern displays.
The difficulty level of most Hatsune Miku games goes down far enough a novice can play and high enough that playing becomes its own performative experience. I also enjoyed the music, which gave me an opportunity to listen to things well outside my usual taste.
If you have a Vita, any of the games (Project Diva f, f 2nd, and Project Diva X) are worth picking up from the PSN store. Otherwise, check out Project Diva X for the PS4/5 platform.
5. Final Fantasy Origins: Stranger of Paradise. This was one of the oddest games I played last year, but it was incredibly fun. It’s like something straight out of 2007 (gaming ground zero), but with modern graphics. It feels retro-modern in more than just its straightforward design and creative aesthetics. Even the character designs look like well-rendered versions of people from 2007. They walk through the world of the original Final Fantasy game, with its castles and pirates, listening to nu-metal on ipods (or zunes, maybe) and sporting buzz cuts, spitting out hammy 2000s-edge without a hint of irony. The presentation is just so honest that it works, and I found myself liking the throwback protagonists as much as the Souls-inspired action gameplay and the massive dungeons. It also has a bit of a Diablo-like loot system, which kept character progression interesting even while it made the inventory cluttered.
I played it on the PS5, but it’s available on other platforms as well. I strongly recommend it for fans of Souls-like action games. It’s more fun than it has any right to be.
4. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I got this one at a steep discount, as apparently everyone else did. It turns out it’s the best Star Wars game in a long time, which is surprising given that it was published by EA, who, at this point, is better at destroying studios and ruining good franchises than publishing games. Jedi: Fallen Order takes the action approach to Souls-like games and adapts it to Star Wars. The result is a very satisfying and fun combat experience, fulfilling the lightsaber fantasy while still delivering plenty of challenges. The graphics are sharp, and the game runs as well at 4k on my PC as it does at 720p on the Steam Deck, staying easily at a steady 60 fps.
The story is also interesting and well-told, which is doubly surprising since not only is it an EA game, but it is also thoroughly steeped in the aesthetics, attitudes, and story tropes of the post-Lucas Disney Wars fanfiction world. I’d say it’s the best Disney Wars media to date (not a hard mark to hit, really), and all it took was for Disney to have the most hated game company in the world make Star Wars for them.
My main gripe is the amount of backtracking and revisiting I had to do in the game. It really felt like an artificial extension of playtime in places.
It’s currently available for free on PS Plus (not for much longer) and routinely goes on sale for 15 dollars US or less, and at that price, it’s hard not to heartily recommend it.
3. Final Fantasy XIV. There’s not much to say about this game that hasn’t already been said by bigger critics. It’s a fun game. It’s a thoroughly modern MMORPG, which means it has the standard features that, in my opinion, hold the genre back, like auto-grouping dungeons and loot focused on item level rather than being unique. I was, however, surprised to find that the social experience in Final Fantasy was so much better than in World of Warcraft, despite the two games sharing such similar sets of features. Maybe it just attracts a more sane audience. Either way, I had much more fun with this game again in 2022 than I had expected.
The graphics remain sharp. The focus on the main story is not misplaced, as the team knows how to create a good story full of likable characters. Most importantly, the gameplay is solid, feeling more like the group play of yore than the hectic button-spamming of WoW and other modern multiplayer RPGs. Each class has its own “feel,” and iconic look, and each role has its own challenges in pve content..
Final Fantasy XIV also runs and plays well on consoles. I’ve played it on the PC, PS5, PS4, Steam Deck, and even the PS Vita and my phone via remote play. It’s a smooth experience on every platform. It takes some work to get set up on the Steam Deck, but once you get it working (FF14 launcher helps tremendously), it runs perfectly, and the built-in controller support makes it a joy to play on the go.
Controller play is something I’ve come to really love over time because of the different levels of intensity FF14 offers. Even at my PC, I sometimes like to just lean back and grab a controller and relax as I explore or fish. I even hooked up a keyboard and mouse to my PS5 at one point just to sit on the couch while healing more complex encounters.
That varying intensity is something I’ve also come to appreciate about the game. A player can easily find the experience they want for any play session, from very relaxed activities with no chance of death to hectic raids or pvp. It’s a game I expect to play much more of in 2023, as time allows.
2. Cyberpunk 2077. The drama surrounding the launch of this game overshadowed its good qualities, in my opinion, and CD Project Red has received an excessive amount of derision of the game itself to go with the much-deserved flak from its botched launch and poor performance on last-gen hardware.
The core gameplay is fun and engaging, a fallout-like experience giving the player many different ways to play and overcome challenges. The graphics are decidedly next-gen (it’s a wonder the thing ran on PS4 at all, to be frank), and I was able to run it at high detail on my PC with consistently high FPS. Aesthetically, I’m less of a fan, as I found Night City to be an ugly, overwhelming place, a true dystopia in contrast to the affection that some people had for it. As a world, I find that it occupies the same place as Fallout. It’s a place I don’t imagine I’d ever like to visit (whereas I would visit Tamriel), and I was frankly glad to say goodbye to it when I finished the game. The aesthetics were, however, quite striking and effective, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed the game or its ending as much without their intensity.
The not-so-hidden strength of Cyberpunk is its story. While being a mostly on-the-rails narrative rpg experience (with some exploration setting in-between missions and plot events), it tells its story with sincerity and it treats the themes of its subject in a more subtle and mature manner than I’m used to in the genre. This is specifically true in regard to the questions it explores about the soul and consciousness, old themes in the Cyberpunk genre, but 2077 takes them on in a decidedly un-modern way, subtly promoting a conclusion that is in opposition to transhumanism. Like most good stories, it’s also the characters who sell the story, and I found myself genuinely caring about a few of them.
Cyberpunk 2077 also get criticism for its “downer” endings, but I didn’t find them nihilistic or depressing, merely muted compared to a fairy tale. Like V, we live in a fallen and limited world, so the resolution to his story is one of limitations, of boundaries that are beyond his control, and finding meaning and happiness within those limits.
My main complaints are the loot and crafting system, which is locked into item-level growth, and the early execution of the plot, where the real conflict of the story isn’t set up for several hours of play. I also hated the “Sinnerman” mission, which gives the player no options for a story that desperately needed options, but that might deserve its own write-up.
The game also runs great on the Steam Deck. I give it a strong recommendation, especially if, like me, you can get it at a discount.
1. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Yes, the game I enjoyed the most in 2022 was 20 years old (though not the oldest game on the list). I didn’t expect to get sucked back into the world of Tamriel, but in the process of making a video for the game’s anniversary, I found I didn’t want to leave Vardenfell. Morrowind is, without a doubt, one of the best RPGs ever made. Its finest qualities have only gotten better with age. In fact, as modern design carried on with its own trajectory, the systems of Morrowind become all the sweeter by comparison.
What surprised me about my most recent playthrough was how much I enjoyed the visual experience of the game. Playing the game in 4k on a large monitor in HDR with a generous set of graphics overhaul mods was a more aesthetically pleasing experience than anything I’ve gotten from the “next generation” of games. The visual designs are more striking now, in high fidelity, than they were back at release when PCs could barely handle the polygon count. The environments breathe their own atmosphere. The architecture demands the eye’s attention. And all of it works perfectly with the deep lore of the world, discovered through (unvoiced) interaction with NPCs, books, and locations, rather than being the subject of lengthy expository cutscenes.
Few companies would have the stones to make a game like Morrowind today, which makes it all the more special in the current year.
I strongly recommend if you are playing the game today that you look into using OpenMW, a modern engine for Morrowind with many new features, and consider finding a curated modlist from a YouTuber rather than cobbling together a suite of them on your own. You should spend your time playing, exploring, reading… not fiddling with your mods (a major trap for Skyrim and Oblivion, too). OpenMW makes mod switching much easier than the old engine—another plus. There are even VR and android forks if you want to play in a new way! I also put the soundtracks to Oblivion and a portion of Skyrim into the Morrowind soundtrack folders for the ultimate experience, especially as Morrowind’s soundtrack is a bit on the short side.
For new players, I recommend watching a quick start guide (or my own video on efficient leveling) and pushing through the first few hours where your character is gimped. The game is certainly unforgiving initially, but once you get your mind around the systems, get acclimated to people, and get your bearings in the alien land, it will become one of the best open-world experiences available. It really gets better the more you play.
You can get Morrowind from GoG and steam, and OpenMW and mods work with either version.
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