We've talked about our favorite new releases of 2020, but with so much free time while stuck at home, it wasn't just the latest titles we were playing. Many of us poured more hours into old favorites, or finally got around to ticking a few games off our backlog. In the year where we relied on video games more than ever for entertainment, staying social, or even just staying sane, here's the games that helped us survive 2020.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley

 

I've been playing Stardew Valley pretty much since it came out, but never have I needed it more than in 2020. When I became overwhelmed by everything else going on in the world, I could always retreat into the simple life of tending to my brightly colored farm. The regularity of daily tasks, the friendliness of the Valley's residents, and the sanctuary of the house I built and furnished were comforting to me in these difficult times. I added several more hours to my playtime, and even started a whole new playthrough from scratch when I needed something to focus on which offered concrete, achievable goals. - Kate

Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII has aged like fine wine. An authoritarian mega-corporation destroying the planet for profit? Massive income inequality? Morality becoming an afterthought in the pursuit of military advancements? How the game dives into Cloud's mental health, Aerith's kindness for kindness sake, both contrasted with Sephiroth's almost meaningless cruelty make it an incredibly cathartic experience while the world is on fire around us. Its a deconstruction of the character architypes from previous games, and an ugly - but equally optimistic - reflection of our real world. And an overall message that no matter what, kindness can always win, is something we really needed to hear in 2020. That ending scene - with Midgar overgrown, and children laughing - really got to me. I think after a global pandemic, it's nice to hope that a simple life is possible again. - Rhiannon

Final Fantasy VII Remake

As a fan of Final Fantasy basically since it hit US shores, and as a long term fan of Final Fantasy VII, getting to jump back into Midgar in a new take on a game from my childhood gave me a lot of joy. It also helped me reconnect with some long time friends as we had a lot to talk about in the remake and what it meant for the bigger narrative of Final Fantasy VII. Tim

Death Stranding

Death Stranding's PC edition has been pushed back until July 14, from its original date June 2.

Death Stranding could not have appeared to the world at a more pertinent time. While the game released on PS4 on November 8, 2019 (just days before the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in China), the PC port hit in July and I was finally able to see what all the fuss was about. I do not throw this around lightly - Death Stranding is a perfect game. And because of its impossibly prophetic theming and setting, it could not have come at a better time. Hideo Kojima built this game around one thought, and one thought only - we are stronger together and weaker apart. Everything from the world to the story to the gameplay is built to showcase that thought, to nourish it in an environment in which it will thrive. Everything was engineered from the ground up to bring out the very best in you, the player. You will find the kindest version of yourself through Death Stranding. You will find that this post-apocalyptic world of isolation, quarantine and broken relationships. You will choose to suffer to lessen the suffering of others, real humans and NPCs alike. It is in that suffering in the pursuit of happiness for others that you will find peace. It is in the building of bridges between disconnected people that you will find our reason to exist at all. - Nirav

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight gave me something to focus on and take my mind off how COVID has been affecting my life in drastic ways. Originally I wanted to try this game out after hearing it’s just as hard as the Dark Souls trilogy, it was one of the free PlayStation Plus games this year and I wanted something to occupy myself with until Cyberpunk 2077 was released. Funny enough, I’m still playing this game, which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, after giving up with Cyberpunk 2077 after its awful release despite being made by a multimillion dollar company. What I love most about Hollow Knight is the amount of secrets to uncover. Much like the earlier Resident Evil games, you’ll constantly encounter rooms you cannot enter, so you mark it on your map until you come across the key to open these rooms. Then you’ll back track and find out what’s behind them. This also offers plenty of opportunities to explore another area if you’re stuck on a certain boss and need the extra charms and masks to take them on. This is so satisfying when you’re a completionist such as myself who needs to see a complete map before I consider the game finished. Hollow Knight is such a beautiful game with its gorgeous visuals and mesmerizing soundtrack. With a game as difficult and frustrating as this, at least it can look nice as I consistently die. Though, sometimes the cute illustrations of some of the enemies can be deceiving after they brutally set fire to you or start slashing at you with knives. - Jess

Borderlands 3

I spent a heck of a lot of time playing Borderlands 3. While far from a flawless game, the gameplay loop and the fun individual moments made Borderlands 3 a comfort food to turn on and just play, either for a few minutes or a few hours. It definitely peaked at Love and Tentacles, though. - Tim

The Last of Us Part II

The Last Of Us 2 Delayed Indefinitely To COVID-19.

The Last Of Us Part II was not only one the most anticipated games of 2020, but of the last few years. The 2013 original is inarguably one of the best video games ever produced, and likely the greatest I’ve ever played. It’s successor had very big shoes to fill. The Last Of Us Part II was a technical masterpiece, its visuals were ridiculously true to life, and Naughty Dog’s sequel immerses you in a rich, emotionally gut wrenching narrative that manages to entertain, humor, frighten and upset you. - Matt

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

When the news dropped that lockdown/quarantine orders were coming, my partner (fellow GameLuster writer Tim) and I decided that this was going to be the year we sat down and played through some of those imposingly long games which we'd always wanted to but never quite found the time for. First up on the list was Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a decision neither of us came to regret despite that game's truly daunting length. We spent hours and hours exploring the Continent, trying to choose which lovely lady to date, and playing a truly epic amount of Gwent. Like a good friend, or that grumpy foul-mouthed uncle you love but your parents don't, Geralt of Rivia was there for me in 2020 like nobody else was (I mean, except for my actual partner. Who was very much there. Love you, hon!) Also, "Toss a Coin to Your Witcher" from the Netflix show is my most listened-to song of the year! - Kate

Tetris Effect Connected

I’ve never been much for Tetris, to be honest; it’s not that I don’t like the game! I am just so unbearably bad at it. On Nintendo’s Tetris 99 I never once placed higher than 67th, if the helps you understand where I’m coming from. I genuinely couldn’t get into it, and I had decided that the game simply wasn’t for me. This year, coinciding with the launch of the Xbox Series X, Tetris Effect Connected came to PC Game Pass. I heard so many good things about it that I couldn’t help but be curious, and boy was my curiosity sated. Tetris Effect Connected is brilliant. It is pure vibes. For about two hours every night, I’d turn off the lights, open up the game (to beginner mode) and lose myself in the outstanding soundtrack and unmatchable visuals as I struggled to keep my blocks in a row. It turned out that in the end, as with most things, all I needed was practice. The pumping music and unique level designs kept me in the game, and made me want to be good at Tetris. Beating that final level was my biggest gaming accomplishment of the year, and I can’t sing enough praise to this game for letting me just zone out of the world and get better at something. - Nirav

Persona 5 Royal

Persona 5 Royal

Kate and I often play long RPGs together. Kate has already told you about our adventures in Witcher 3, so I'll tell you about Persona 5 Royal. We'd been planning on playing this one since Persona 5 came out, then put it off so long Royal came out. Persona 5 Royal's narrative of taking down a corrupt and unjust system, and also just sort of living a normal regular life were just the sort of things we needed to get us through the latter portions of 2020. The fact that it was out first full game together after getting married also meant a lot to both of us. - Tim

No Man's Sky

When you're stuck inside, trapped behind quarantine restrictions and pandemic conditions, it becomes important to find ways to open things up in some fashion. And how much more open can you get than an entire galaxy? No Man's Sky was the perfect antidote to being stuck in one place all the time. And with the cross-play options available, I was able to hang out with friends I hadn't been able to see, along with making new friends. I probably made more progress in the last six months or so than I had in the last two years. It had its own frustrations, to be sure, but the payoffs were worth it. One thing's for certain, I wasn't bored. - Axel

Monster Prom & Monster Camp

Monster Prom and its recently released sequel Monster Camp share a slot on this list, as the games which brought some much-needed humor to my life during a rough year like 2020. The characters, despite being monsters with over-the-top personalities, are extremely relatable, and building relationships with them as you try to get a prom/end-of-summer date always makes for a fun time. The writing in both of these games is top notch, and I'm discovering new hilarious moments with each and every play-through. It was also a game which helped me connect with friends in the era of social distancing, as I played a number of online rounds of this "competitive dating sim" with some of my best friends. - Kate

Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods

Hearing the line, "nothing can save us forever, but a lot of things can save us today" was the first time I felt any hope about my future in weeks. As I'm sure was the case for many of you, 2020 was simultaneously a year of massive change, and complete stagnation. Graduating from university without a graduation, friendships and relationships ending without any closure, and desperately trying to move forward with you life while stuck at home. Night in the Woods was already the perfect game to play during a formative time in your life, but was even more impactful this year. Mae Borowski's life isn't going the way it "should" do either. She's a college drop out, she's single, she's struggling with her mental health, and she's bumming it at home with broke parents. Night in the Woods is a rare example of a piece of media that can accurately contextualize a time periods while living through it. And this sort of reminder that we should be easy on ourselves, and grow at our own pace that was much needed this year. - Rhiannon

Teardown

Teardown has given me a lot of fun. You can break just about anything in the game's multiple maps, and the satisfaction of crafting a perfect heist just brings the perfect buzz of satisfaction, even after you realize you just spent three hours trying to get everything Juuuust right. - Tim

Baldur's Gate

Have I finished it? Hell no. But the unapologetically nerdy world of Baldur's Gate made for the perfect escape when stuck at home this year. This is BioWare charm at its most potent, and even if it takes me years to sit down and do it, I'm enjoying my slow journey through Forgotten Realms. In real-life, this also filled the D&D shaped hole in my heart. I could never really get on with taking our campaign to Zoom, but chilling with some friends in the multiplayer absolutely made up for it - with the added bonus that none of us had to be DM. Just like in actual D&D, we would strategize as to who does what, who talks to what NPCs... before disregarding that and running off in separate directions, and then get picked off by assassins. Oh, and someone I started playing it with is now my boyfriend, so it will always hold a place in my heart for that (love you honey!) - Rhiannon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Yakuza Like a Dragon

 

In a year of dealing with the everlasting fear of catching COVID-19, the overwhelming feeling I felt every time I'd try to start my coursework, and the constant anger I feel every time I remember that our Editor-in-Chief doesn't think Double Dash is the best Mario Kart - Yakuza: Like a Dragon was the game I really needed. I try to make a habit of not getting excited for games to avoid the risk of disappointment, but I've been madly in love with the Yakuza franchise ever since I first played Yakuza Zero. Switching to turn-based combat, a completely new city and an entirely new protagonist replacing the legendary Dragon of Dojima meant that Yakuza: Like a Dragon had one hell of a battle ahead of it. Despite all of these hurdles, Like a Dragon is easily one of my favorite games of the year. The Yakuza franchise as a whole has always been famous for its absurd, cartoonish humor and it carries in to the latest entry perfectly. The turn-based combat is filled with plenty of slapstick violence that makes each fight fun. Smashing someone over the head with a cake, summoning a swarm of pigeons to attack, or reviving KO'd teammates with a homeless guy's bad breath is just the kind of madness I needed. Underneath all this insanity is still plenty of heart. The new hero, Ichiban Kasuga is such a delightful do-gooder that its hard to not fall in love with him. Accompanied by a wonderful band of outcasts, in a story exploring what family really is made for one of the most fun games of the year. - Luke

Kind Words

2020 was a year in which I actively tried to play more indie games, and while I didn't get to nearly as many as I wanted, there are still several that I could highlight here. However, the one that wins the "most important" title for me is Kind Words. Kind Words is a simple game where you write anonymous letters asking for advice, and people send anonymous responses back. You can also send general positive notes to other players in the form of paper airplanes which you can write on and then let fly. It's one of those games you can play for a few minutes per day and come away feeling heard, supported and with a new confidence to face the day. Anyone who needs a listening ear and a bit of connection in a lonely world, Kind Words is definitely the game for you. - Kate

Ghost of Tsushima

I've spent part of my time this year catching up on my reading. More than a few books have been fictional novels set in historical locales in Asia, from The Walled City by Ryan Graudin, to Sword of Honor by David Kirk. So when Ghost of Tsushima came out, I absolutely jumped on it, and I was not disappointed. It delivered historic fiction as engrossing as any novel, as well as action right up there with Kurosawa and Miike. It was a treat for all the senses, a wonderfully told story filled with well realized characters, a beautiful soundtrack, and a locale which has definitely been added to my eventual tour of Japan once all this pandemic silliness is over. I may not get a chance to pet any foxes or engage in duels with surly ronin on the real Tsushima. But I've got this game to come back to again. - Axel

My Time at Portia

My Time at Portia

While I spent a lot of time this year with my old favorite Stardew, 2020 was also the year I discovered a brand new daily life simulator to cheer me up when I was down: My Time at Portia. I found comfort and peace in the routine of completing building contracts, getting to know the citizens of Portia, and even finding love with one of the town's eligible bachelors. Portia is a beautiful game which blends exploration, crafting, farming and social elements. It's truly got a little bit of everything! Portia was also the source of my happiest and most memorable gaming moment of 2020, when I got the opportunity to have a video call with developer Pathea Games to get a sneak peek of upcoming sequel My Time at Sandrock. The developers were super enthusiastic about how much I loved their game and asked me a ton of questions about how I was enjoying it and what my play style was. This is a memory I will treasure forever. - Kate


Of course, this is a very personal subject - so what games have got you through 2020? Did you get through many of the titles in your backlog? Let us know in the comments - and have a happy and safe 2021!