Maybe not what you’re expecting, but in a good way.
What with everything falling apart, I wasted most of last year on some not-so productive avenues. But in between all the tumultuousness I did manage to set aside some time for what’s really important: video games. Specifically, old video games I had always been meaning to catch up on. But I do want to highlight a couple of the newest releases that managed to captivate me and talk a lil bit about the best game I played last year.
The Game of the Year: Genshin Impact
After years of making fun of the addictive construction of the gacha genre, I have finally found myself with a game that has me looking forward to completing daily tasks and acquiring the currency to get more characters. Far from being a treadmill of addiction, however, Genshin Impact seduced me with a fun and creative combat system and a colossal open world with a plethora of flavourful, beautiful locales that allow the elemental combat to play off the environment.
The world of Genshin Impact is already one of my favourite depictions of the traditional Chinese vistas I have been enamoured with since I was young, and seeing aspects of the mythology and culture inform the storytelling makes it all the more unique. The characters, while a little archetypical, all have strong personalities and charming dialogue. Most of them currently sit at Act 1 of their respective stories, yet they have already begun to take on some nuance and develop dynamics to set them apart from the casts of other gacha titles. Not to mention the guys are very good looking.
It’s been over a decade since I found myself so pulled into a game. One that struck a great combination between a huge list of activities to do, fun ways to tackle them, and charismatic characters to do them with. Right as I was about to begin feeling some burnout, I hit the point where it was viable to raise a whole new party and I was essentially playing a completely new game again.
In some ways, I even feel the gacha conventions of endless gauges and everflowing pipelines of upgrade materials plays very well with an open world game. While I can see how those systems would be monotonous for some, it forced me to get acquainted with the geography and patterns of every major location in the game in a way I hadn’t been since the original Red Dead Redemption. I believe the kids these days call it “immersion,” but it is quite the remarkable feeling to know virtual landmarks and streets as well as you do real ones. Perhaps more so nowadays, considering how cooped up I’ve been all year.
I have never been one for ongoing games, and whilst it remains to be seen whether Genshin Impact will be capable of developing its story into something more than an excuse to travel a colourful world and make good use of its ever-expanding ensemble of characters, for the moment I am excited to see it through to the end.
The Most Interesting Game: Granblue Fantasy Versus
I used to be good at fighting games.
Welcome back, I appreciate you coming back to read after your laughing fit. It is as unbelievable to me these days as it is to anyone who has jumped into one with me in the last decade. The last time I had the time and the friends to actually improve at them was at the tail end of BlazBlue Continuum Shift’s lifespan, leading into Chronophantasma. By the time that dropped I was too busy with a job and creative projects and the friend I used to train with was too busy as well. I continued liking fighting games well after, but it would never go much further than having two or three sessions of play, before dropping it to a dead online ecosystem filled with people so much better than me that improvement seemed impossible.
Granblue Fantasy Versus changed that, in the brief period where it was a living and populated game: alas, the Arcsys Online Curse has claimed another. But it served as a perfect reintroduction for someone like me, who had forgotten practically everything but the bare essentials. It retaught me how to learn a new character, what things to look out for when familiarising yourself with a roster, and that the barriers of execution are rarely the thing that actually make these games difficult to get into. After all, only in fighting games is the basic act of taking 2 steps back to make your opponent miss an attack, a crucial strategic decision involving layers upon layers of mutually learnt psychology and habits.
When my current school semester is over, and I finally have the time and disposition to give fighting game proficiency another chance, I will be applying the lessons I learn specifically in this game. And if the great gods up above in Cygames ever deign us worthy of a rollback update I’ll be picking my Lancelot back up quick as you like.
The Real Game of the Year: Gothic
Gothic 1 is a game that takes the diametrically opposite philosophy of open world compared to Genshin Impact. Set in a small canyon, where the most valuable loot is a couple hundred units of currency, the only walls in your path are basic enemies who stay the same level for the entire game peppered throughout key routes, and the most fantastical power you’ll wield is tossing a fireball near the endgame.
While it more than shows its age, specifically in the writing department, Gothic is a completely magical title and one that I’m ashamed of having slept on for so long. It’s tough but fair: that old chestnut which I feel is often quite misapplied to another game series, is the most apposite descriptor of the experience. Master the combat, the main routes, and the many ways to attain experience, and you could very well wipe the entire map clean of enemies before even completing your first quest if you’re crafty enough. Of course, this won’t be the case for most people, who will instead find themselves dying against every new enemy they encounter at least once.
Gothic serves as living proof that with enough planning and care it is possible to retain strong directorial control over most players’ experience, even in a sprawling open world. And that a well-paced and significant progression system is often much more valuable than being showered with hundreds of experience points and perks that grant 12% more delicious potatoes when crafting a stew of the ancients.
Come the final boss of the game (an ancient demon who had seduced an entire encampment of people into awakening him and his evil priests), I could scarcely believe I was still playing the same game and as the same character who was scared of getting mugged by a single guy with a crossbow. Yet every single step of how I got there had been so clear and organic I could hardly object to any of it. It is one of the best, and most extreme, examples of the hero’s journey I have ever played.