Game of the Year 2020

Shea Hates Everything Game of the Year 2020

Best Story

Not every game has a traditional narrative or even makes the actual plot its focus. But the games on this list either set out to do something unique with their stories or created an emotional impact for me. Some even did both. You’ll see some carry-over from the Best Characters list, because great characters help tell an engrossing story.

Honorable Mentions

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
I have to shout this game out for really surprising me with the risks that it’s willing to take from a story perspective. If you liked the first Black Ops, this one might surprise you too.

As I mentioned in Best Characters, this is a much smaller story than other games are telling,. But the way the relationship between Yu and Kay evolves is super compelling.

The Last Campfire
This was a small little game by the developers of No Man’s Sky that really surprised me with the depth and emotion of its minimalist story – particularly how it ends.

5. DOOM Eternal

DOOM Eternal - Best Story 2020

Back in 2016, I called DOOM one of my favorite stories of the year because of how over the top and insane it was – not to mention all the great little flavor text in the codex that capitalist- and corporate-ized the demon invasion. I don’t intend this as a slight to DOOM Eternal, because the story is good, but this one mostly makes the list because this year wasn’t as strong as some other years in the story department.

DOOM Eternal’s story is less memorable than DOOM’s because it takes itself more seriously, but the bombast is still there and the Doom Slayer not caring about the ins and outs of the plot is still there. I enjoyed the lore building that takes place in Eternal but it also borders on generic high fantasy at times.

4. Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Spider-Man: Miles Morales - Best Story 2020

My biggest criticism of Spider-Man: Miles Morales’ story is that the big twist betrayal is unbelievably choreographed pretty much from the jump. I rolled my eyes when it happened and Miles acted all shocked. It was pretty lame. I also have to say that the villain is extremely one-note and uninteresting, both in his motivations as well as his machinations.

But the wrappings around the plot points – the character development, the justification of character decisions, and the evolution of character relationships – are where Miles Morales really wins. That’s what moves this game from having a lackluster plot to have a compelling story.

3. Ghost of Tsushima

Ghost of Tsushima - Best Story 2020

I was fully invested in Ghost of Tsushima’s story because I really cared about Jin and Yuna and the ragtag team of co-conspirators I had amassed along the way. The actual plot is fairly standard if you’ve seen any Japanese cinema taking place at this period of history. However, I was super into Jin’s growth and morphing into The Ghost, despite his uncle’s (and often his own) wishes.

If it sounds like I’m not as excited about the story in Ghost of Tsushima as its ranking would suggest, that’s only because this game briefly stood at the top of this list and it trickled down the more I thought about it. Honestly, I think the most affecting storylines in the game are the serialized side missions with your squad members. Lady Masako and Norio had the best overall stories, in my opinion, but Kenji brought a ton of light-heartedness to an otherwise bleak game.

2. Spiritfarer

Spiritfarer - Best Story 2020

I toyed with Spiritfarer at the top spot for quite a while but when it comes down to it, the things I’m going to remember about this game are its characters, not its story. That isn’t to say that the plot development isn’t interesting, and there are plenty of affecting reveals (the final one where you say goodbye was probably the most emotional I’ve felt all year). It’s just that when I consider the scope of ambition between Spiritfarer and my top game in terms of story, it really isn’t a fair fight.

I will forever look back fondly on my time with Spiritfarer for the journey of self-discovery and fun and sadness and the friends I made along the way. But the twists and turns of my top game’s story will stick with me for completely different reasons. 

1. Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 - Best Story 2020

Cyberpunk 2077 seriously makes me angry because of how good the story is in comparison to the technical execution of the launch and the missed promises on gameplay features. Seriously, this game’s story goes down as one of the most compelling, unique, weird RPG stories I’ve ever played. I was glued to my TV at all the big plot moments and found tons of value in the little side stories and flavor conversations between characters. CD Projekt deserves infinite derision for how they handled launching this game, but there isn’t much shade to be thrown at their storytelling prowess.

The biggest thing I’d laud is the actual, really truly multiple endings there are. I still haven’t recovered from Mass Effect 3’s “multiple endings” fiasco, but Cyberpunk actually makes good on that marketing buzzword! Spoilers for the story, but I originally chose to side with Hanako in order to save Panam and her crew from danger, only to end up living out the rest of my days trapped on a spaceship repeating increasingly torturous tests. Justifiably horrified with that ending, I reloaded and chose to ride into battle with Panam. Much of the same revelations happen but in the end, I left Night City in search of a cure (or at least some fun in my final days). Those are pretty different endings!

Either way, finding out that V’s illness was incurable was a huge gut punch, only to be followed by another one in sacrificing Johnny Silverhand (for me, at least). Even with some hope built into the Panam ending, it’s still a pretty dark story. That’s awesome! It’s rare in games today to get an ending that doesn’t feel happy, and I’m really glad that’s the route CD Projekt took.

Continue reading for the premiere of my new Game of the Year category, Best Gameplay!

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