When it comes time to write these year-end lists, I usually slim them down to my top five favorite games I played because, despite what this job entails, I usually only have passionate feelings about a handful of games by the time we reach December.
But 2022 was a weird one for me, in that I feel like I played fewer games than ever. Not that any of that has anything to do with Kotaku, as I’ve only been here for about two weeks so far. But going through tumultuous times and a layoff at the last job doesn’t leave one much energy to invest time in a ton of games.
But I did experience a handful of games that really resonated with me, a few of which were old ones that got renewed in some way in 2022. So don’t yell at me when you see them on this list. It’s my list, and I’ll cry about Cyberpunk 2077 if I want to.
Honorable mention: Pokémon Scarlet and Violet
Getting two major Pokémon games in 2022 was a lot for some people, but being able to run around a Pokémon world with Raichu by my side is the only thing that keeps me going some days. So I was happy to indulge in an open-world Pokémon in the form of Pokémon Violet. However, I just have too many issues with this game to give it a proper spot on my list. It’s buggy, sure, but it’s also designed in such a way that it can’t keep up with its own “find your bliss” philosophy, which made entire sections of its main story annoying and disorienting to play through.
That being said, the stellar endgame has completely rewired my brain and I can’t think about Professor Turo without crying, and playing a Pokémon game in co-op with my friends is a childhood dream come true. It’s deeply flawed, but I keep looking back at screenshots of me and my friends hanging out in Paldea like an old photo album. It’s got so many great ideas, but it’s all built on top of a shaky foundation. I’m awaiting its DLC with bated breath.
Honorable mention: God of War Ragnarök
I really adore the 2018 God of War reboot as an examination on the series’ previous gleeful glamorizing of gratuitous gore, and when it was at its best, God of War Ragnarök felt like it was building beautifully upon Kratos’ and Atreus’ relationship as father and son. But, man, what a messy follow-up it was.
I like large swaths of Ragnarök, and I think, had it been broken up into two games and made a trilogy, rather than Sony Santa Monica attempting to introduce and wrap up two games’ worth of story in the course of an exhaustively long game, I would’ve loved it a lot more. Its action still feels weighty and fun and getting to play as Atreus was a lovely surprise, but it feels breathless and bloated in a way the 2018 reboot didn’t. I’m always going to wonder what the conclusion to God of War’s Norse story would’ve looked like as two games instead of one, as those are the ones that would’ve likely made it onto my list.
5. Cyberpunk 2077
I’m still very resistant to any narrative that Cyberpunk 2077 is “great” in 2022 after CD Projekt Red put in the work to elevate it from the technical disaster it was when it launched in 2020, but the game was still a central figure in my year, and has gone from something I played out of a work obligation two years ago to a game that’s become pretty special to me.
I played through and dissected Cyberpunk 2077 all year as part of Normandy FM, a retrospective podcast I co-host, and combing through that game in a relatively stable technical state unmasked that it’s a pretty unremarkable RPG. That being said, as a person who spent all of 2022 dealing with the realities of the capitalist gristmill that is America, both through job stuff and in the medical system, there was something freeing about existing in Night City, which felt like an oppressive, capitalist amalgamation of the cities I dreamed of living in while I was stranded in small-town Georgia.
When Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t being insufferably cynical about people, places, and things, it was a constant interrogation of what I was willing to live for, and why I wanted the things I wanted in life. It’s a product of the same capitalist hellscape it claims to satirize, but in the margins there are things worth fighting for, even if you have to go looking for them on your own terms. I don’t boot up open-world RPGs very often, but throughout 2022 I would turn on Cyberpunk 2077 just to drive around the city and imagine the possibilities it held for me. Thankfully, I live in a city now, and no longer have to dream. But Cyberpunk 2077 was a lifeline during a time when the home it proposed felt unattainable. For that, I’ll always keep the story of V and Night City in my heart, even if I don’t think it’s a great video game.
4. Gayven (Haven, but gay)
Haven completely slipped by me in 2020, but that changed this year when The Game Bakers added an update that let you play as same-sex pairings of its main characters Yu and Kay. As a person who has written a lot about queerness in the video game industry, I was immediately drawn to Haven as a case study in a developer putting in the time and effort to make a game queer-inclusive. Getting to experience Yu and Kay’s story from the perspective of two queer men was a wonderful way to first experience the game, and made its angsty science-fiction romance all the more affecting for me as a gay man who eats that shit up.
Haven is a lovely meditation on long-term relationships, with its exploration and turn-based combat broken up by scenes of Yu and Kay just living together through the most mundane parts of being together. Where many video games thrive in the lead-up to a romantic relationship, Haven sits with what it means to already be well and established, and it leads to some of my favorite romance writing in a game. It’s full of big, oppressive science-fiction ideas, but its best moments are when two people sit together in their home and speak to each other not as spacefaring adventurers, but as two star-crossed lovers willing to find pockets of joy when they’re all they’ve got left.
3. We Are OFK
The music of We Are OFK, an episodic biopic about a group of young adults drifting through the L.A. game dev grind and into a musical act, nearly topped my Spotify Wrapped this year. The band was second under Coheed and Cambria, my favorite band that released a new album this year, which speaks volumes about how catchy and contemplative Team OFK’s indie pop stylings are. These songs are interwoven between We Are OFK’s depiction of the dramatic, interpersonal relationships between a group of queer creatives just trying to figure their shit out.
We Are OFK is contentious as a video game, as its interactive elements feel insubstantial beyond choosing text messages and playing through an interactive music video at the end of each episode. But as an unapologetically queer musical drama about finding yourself and those willing to put up with your bullshit, it’s deeply relatable. The game exists as a springboard for a larger virtual band experience, and as long as they keep producing bangers like “thanks,” and “Infuriata,” I’ll follow it in whatever form OFK exists.
2. Overwatch 2
Look, look, I know. I know Overwatch 2 is a mess of microtransactions and free-to-play grind, but Blizzard’s sequel/reboot of its hero shooter is still such a gold standard for team-based combat that I have sunk nearly 300 hours into it since its launch in October.
Right now, Overwatch 2 isn’t exactly what I was looking for when Blizzard announced it back in 2019, as its story content has been pushed into 2023. I (foolishly) came into Overwatch on the back of its characters and lore, so I’m still eagerly awaiting that side of the sequel. However, in its complete revamp of the original game’s format in favor of a 5v5 setup, its new modes, the heroes, and the great deal of attention given to its contextual banter writing, Overwatch feels more alive than it’s felt in years. This is damage of Blizzard’s own doing, as the company essentially put the first game on ice until Overwatch 2’s launch. But it’s comforting as a long-time player to finally see signs of life for the game after all this time, and to feel hope for its future for the first time in years.
1. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Pokémon Legends: Arceus was everything I’d been wanting out of a Pokémon story for over a decade. After years of watching the franchise add to its mythology and world, it never really felt like many of these games were living up to the promise of the universe Game Freak had built over 25 years. Pokémon Legends: Arceus was the first time since I was a child that this setting felt as large and unknowable as it did in my youth.
Much of that came from Legends: Arceus’ use of a historical setting, rather than the modern one seen in most other Pokémon games. Taking the player back to when the Sinnoh region was known as Hisui, being present for lore-defining conflicts, and watching the universe’s gods have it out was more impactful than hearing about them through historians and seeing cave paintings and statues. It felt like a second chance for Sinnoh to feel like the significant origin point of the universe it had been described as in Diamond and Pearl.
On top of just feeling more vast, Pokémon Legends: Arceus was also the most tangible the world felt to me as a player. This was thanks to Game Freak’s shift into action-oriented mechanics like actually being able to aim and throw a Pokéball at an unsuspecting wild Pokémon, stealthing around the wilderness to avoid giant Alpha Pokémon, and being able to fluidly traverse its open areas on the backs of friendly critters. Even when Pokémon Scarlet and Violet attempted their own versions of these systems, it never felt like they quite captured Legends: Arceus’ frictionless traversal, and that’s why they felt flimsy in comparison.
Legends: Arceus solidified to me what it is I want out of Pokémon games. Some people want to capture every Pokémon in the Pokedex, some want to compete and become a respected champion. But for me, existing in this world and discovering its secrets with Raichu by my side is why Pokémon still holds my attention decades later, and Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the most I’ve felt captivated by this universe, probably ever. I hope it’s a blueprint for the series’ future, because I feel like, otherwise, I’m going to be chasing the highs of its best moments for years to come.