The ROG staff picks our best games of 2020

Articles: Gaming
Jan 02, 2021 Written by:ROG Article

When it came to PC gaming, 2020 had it all. We enjoyed remakes of beloved classics and sequels to some of gaming’s most famous franchises. We had top-tier AAA releases and outstanding indie contributions. The wealth of gaming riches wasn’t limited to one genre, either. We had excellent new cooperative games, esports contenders, rich open-world RPGs, fine-tuned platformers, and action-RPGs. Whatever else we’ll remember 2020 for, we’ll remember it as a great year for gaming.

With 2020 in the rear view mirror, it’s a good time to look back and think about the year’s best games. We asked the ROG team to vote for their favorites. Out of all the games we played in 2020, we’re ready to declare these the best of the best.

Half-Life: Alyx takes VR gaming to a whole new level

When we polled folks around the ROG office, one game came up on more people’s lists than any other: Half-Life: Alyx. It’s not the long-awaited Half-Life 3, but it is the most complete virtual reality game that we’ve seen yet.

Talk to just about anyone who’s played it, and they’ll tell you that it’s not just a great VR game, it’s a great game, period. Jake Kulinski, who hosts our weekly gaming shows and streams, sums it up like this: “It’s been a while since we got a new story-driven game from Valve, and I was definitely worried when they announced Alyx. But man, did they deliver. Alyx is a game that innovates the VR experience, delivers an amazing story, and provides the single most immersive gameplay I have ever experienced.”

Chris Barr, from our social team, was also champing at the bit to praise the virtues of Alyx. Half-Life: Alyx was easily my most-anticipated title for 2020,” he said. “Not only have I been eagerly awaiting a continuation of the Half-Life story for years, but it promised that break-out AAA VR experience that I’d been searching for. At the end of the year, I can confidently say that it met or exceeded nearly all of my expectations.”

Chris was particularly stunned by the game’s unique control scheme. “Valve absolutely nailed the controls and movement options. By the end of the game, I was pulling objects towards me with one hand and taking out enemies with the other like it was second-nature,” he explained.  “My only real disappointment with the game was that it had to end, but that only inspired me to go back in for a second playthrough.”

Dan Esparza, from our video team, also praised the unique gameplay experiences afforded by Alyx’s controls: “Half of my time in the game I spend shooting headcrab zombies, dodging barnacles, and battling Combine soldiers. The other half of my time is spent picking up things and throwing them about or just soaking in the scenery.” A surprising number of team members described how much fun they had just hanging out in Alyx’s game world. “There are plenty of objects to interact with and stories to find. Walking through the streets of City 17, you find empty bottles from the night before and wonder what people were talking about; were they toasting to the Resistance or lamenting the state of the world? It’s a little weird, but it’s really relaxing just to hang out in City 17,” Dan related.

Dan did warn that this game is not for the faint of heart. “Bringing Half Life to VR really changes the game in exciting ways. In previous games, headcrabs were startling at best. In VR, they are absolutely terrifying. My first encounter with one had me crawling around a dark basement trying to anticipate where it would jump from. Barnacles were nuisances at best before, but they feel like a different kind of adversary when you’re lifted towards their jaws while fumbling with your pistol in an attempt to reload. The VR aspect doesn’t feel like a gimmick. It enhances the classic Half Life experiences and makes the 22 year old gameplay mechanics feel brand new.”

Doom Eternal offers ultraviolent action at breakneck speeds

Doom Eternal didn’t garner quite as many votes as Half-Life: Alyx, but it has certainly been a hot topic for conversation among the ROG staff ever since its launch last spring. Brian May, one of our social team members, enthused about how this game captured his attention right away. “This is the first game this year that I spent from morning till night grinding,” he told us. The gunfights, movement through the game world, and engine design just had him hooked.

Character holding a heavy weapon, aiming at a floating demon in Doom Eternal.
Image courtesy Gamesplanet

Over on the content marketing side, our writer Eric Born also found himself obsessed with Doom Eternal. “This game not only caught my attention, but held it all the way through its thrilling finale,” he said. “Some of its best levels are in its final act. The two Nekravol levels take you to an awful region of Hell where damned souls are processed and tormented to create Argent energy. The architecture deftly balances nostalgic callbacks to the classic ‘90s Doom adventures with modern level design.”

Eric particularly praised the game’s final level. As he tells it, “you follow the titanic Icon of Sin through the tops of ruined skyscrapers on your way to a cataclysmic showdown with evil. The level features stomach-churning platforming sequences high above the city streets, tense close-corridor encounters with the denizens of Hell, and stunning arena-style combat sequences that call on all of your hard-earned combat skills. The level pushes you forward relentlessly as demons spawn in wave after deadly wave. I just about wore out my keyboard and mouse in frantic combat with a Cyberdemon on the city rooftops.”

Our content editor Jeff Kampman also spent plenty of time in Doom Eternal and fell in love with its relentless, harrowing combat. “There’s no shooter I’ve played in recent memory that is this fast or this punishing in its action. At higher difficulties, you absolutely have to use every resource at your disposal and try to remember where every demon in a room might be in order to even survive. It might be a frustrating experience to get there, but when you successfully nail the right chain of actions and strategy to clear a particularly challenging area, Doom Eternal rewards you with a sense of triumph that’s uniquely satisfying.”

Space combat returns to a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars Squadrons

Ask PC gamers about their favorite games from the classic MS-DOS era, and they’ll almost certainly mention the classic X-Wing and TIE Fighter adventures. As beloved as those games were, it took a long time for them to get a proper sequel. According to the ROG staff, though, Star Wars Squadrons was worth the wait.

View of an X-Wing dodging laser fire from an Imperial TIE Flighter, over a planet.
Image courtesy Gamesplanet

Dan called the game “a fantastic return to form for the franchise.” For him, the game captured the feel and action of the originals but with contemporary graphics and exciting new gameplay modes. “You get classic ships and gameplay but with modern polish,” he said. “Drifting my custom modded TIE/IN Interceptor behind an asteroid to dodge a missile barrage while delivering a volley of laser fire at an enemy Y-Wing is as cool as it sounds.

All of us around the ROG office who tried Squadrons praised the immersive feel of getting behind the cockpit of one of the game’s many ships. “I love when developers get creative with hiding the player’s HUD,” Dan noted. “Having most of my ship’s information on the actual dashboard is a real treat. Managing your systems is a fun and immersive experience that adds the right amount of tension to a dogfight. Sometimes I put my ship's system controls on my Elgato Stream Deck so I have to take a hand off the controller to use them, just like how the pilot in the game does.”

In fact, Squadrons may accommodate the widest range of controls of any dogfighting game we’ve seen of late. Jeff was able to get into the swing of Squadrons with a controller alone, but Chris and Jake deployed entire hands-on-throttle-and-stick control setups to fully immerse themselves in the action. Jake even went so far as to try out a dual-stick configuration with the game for even greater precision. No matter how our staffers wanted to play it, Squadrons let them mold its experience to their liking. It’s a testament to the openness and flexibility of the PC platform.

Experience the living, breathing Night City in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 was one of the most hotly anticipated games in recent memory, and more than a few of us joined the throng of gamers who snatched up a copy of this ambitious open-world RPG. Our verdict? It’s a fantastic experience on PC.

“I’ve only had this game in my hands for a couple weeks, but I can already tell that this is a game that I’ll be playing for a long time to come,” Chris said. “It sets a new standard for open world RPGs. Night City is an immersive visual spectacle that has to be experienced to be believed. It’s the perfect showcase for all the cutting-edge graphics technologies that today’s GPUs bring to the table. The sprawling city is both massive and intimate, a playground full of endless possibilities and adventure.”

Eric also gushed over the sci-fi landscape of Night City. “In this fantastic setting of lurid neon lights, towering skyscrapers, and crowds of cybernetically enhanced humans, Cyberpunk 2077 serves up a gripping sci-fi adventure. Having cut my teeth on great novels by Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson, among others, I was thrilled for the opportunity to experience a cyberpunk universe firsthand.” He also praised the game’s characters and storyline. “Keanu Reeves’ performance as an AI construct is every bit as compelling as advertised, and the twists and turns of my adventures thus far as the mercenary V have kept me engrossed.”

Since Cyberpunk 2077 only launched in December, many of us haven’t seen the game through to completion just yet. We’ve played enough to get completely infatuated, though. “It’s too early to say where this game will end up on my list of all-time favorite open-world RPGs, but it’s not too early to declare it one of the most ambitious and exciting games of 2020,” Eric said. “I’ve been eagerly anticipating Cyberpunk 2077 since it was first announced, but now that the game is in my hands, I have to say that it was worth the wait.”

Hades offers a unique take on the roguelike genre

The ROG staff loves a good underdog story, so when a smaller studio releases a game to broad critical acclaim, we’re quick to pick up a copy and try it ourselves. Jake found himself playing Hades this fall and has been eagerly convincing the rest of us to give it a try. ”As someone who has rarely dabbled with roguelikes, Hades wasn’t on my radar even a little bit,” he admitted. “But after some incredibly positive reviews from some friends I picked up the game and immediately was pulled in.”

Jake plays a lot of games for the weekly ROG shows and livestream, but Hades stands out from the crowd for him. “Hades has some of the best voice acting out there. Not only is the quality high but the sheer quantity of voice lines and variety is unheard of. Every time you start over after a run, you get lots of fun interactions, storytelling, and even a fun snippet about the enemy that happened to kill you.”

Jeff also got on the Hades train and was immediately drawn in by its layered, thought-provoking gameplay. “I’ve never played a roguelike before Hades,” Jeff admitted, “but I’ve rarely seen any game so flawlessly blend its premise and mechanics. If you’ve played Magic: The Gathering or any deck-building game, you’ll absolutely fall in love with how Hades requires you to think strategically all the way through a run. You’ll also immediately know when you’ve gotten your character build wrong or just don’t stand a chance. Since death isn’t a big deal in this game, you can quickly bail out of a hopeless run and start right over with what you’ve learned. It’s easy to sit down and lose three hours or more to this game, and I enjoy every minute.”

The action is on point, too. “The gameplay is extremely satisfying with a great deal of diversity available,” Jake explained. “There are many different weapons to choose from and different combat styles for each weapon of choice. There just isn’t anything lacking with Hades. Beautiful visuals, awesome music, and a fantastic take on the Greek gods that feels unique and oh so right.”

Brave the supernatural world in Phasmophobia

Several of us look for a good horror game every October, and this year, Dan got scared to death by the haunted-house phenomenon Phasmophobia. “It’s the most terrifying and immersive game experience of 2020,” he declared. In the game, you work with a small team of players to investigate a house that’s plagued with some kind of paranormal activity. To expel it, you’ll need to use ghost hunting equipment to gather evidence. “Each ghost you track down feels unique from the last, so there is plenty of replayability even after many hours,” Dan explained. “That diverse AI makes completing the objective of identifying the ghost a fun challenge. Many times my friends and I have to gather one more piece of evidence, but at that point, we’re all too afraid to go back inside the house.”

Phasmophobia keeps the action fresh with unique mechanics. “The integration of the player’s microphone is my favorite feature. Having to talk to the ghost to elicit reactions and clues has a wonderful effect of making the ghost feel more real,” Dan said. “Phasmophobia is also one of the few games where I actually use in-game voice chat. The Global Chat is a radio signal that is interrupted by the ghost during hunts, so there’s the added tension of not knowing where your friends are or if they are even alive as the ghost prowls about looking for murder.”

Explore medieval Europe in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

A few of us on the team have a soft spot for Viking lore, so we eagerly anticipated the launch of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Chris is a newcomer to the series, but he was a quick convert. “I’m more than a decade behind in getting into the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but the vast open-world Viking setting and the delayed arrival of Cyberpunk 2077 provided the perfect opportunity to jump in. While some may find a Viking to be an odd choice for an assassin, I can assure you that if you get caught, you’ll appreciate your character’s brute strength.”

As it turned out, Chris found himself right at home in the game’s open world. For him, the game compares favorably with some of the best role-playing games around. “When I play an RPG like Skyrim, I inevitably end up with a stealth archer build, which I think is a big part of why Valhalla’s playstyle suited me so well.” The excellent melee combat has him hooked. “Stealth takedowns are a big part of the game, but I’m not necessarily bothered when my cover is broken. After all, I’m a Viking with a large hammer in one hand and an axe in the other, I live for melee combat. The story is rich and engaging, and even the sidequests add a sense of flavor to the land beyond their XP and loot.”

Quest, battle, loot, repeat in Minecraft Dungeons

Those of us with kids are always on the lookout for a great adventure to enjoy as a family. Eric was quick to snatch up a copy of Minecraft Dungeons this spring, and he hasn’t regretted the purchase. “I place a high premium on cooperative games, especially ones that I can enjoy with my kids,” he said. “That’s why I was thrilled when Minecraft Dungeons launched earlier this year. It’s a cooperative action RPG with characters and settings pulled from the Minecraft universe that my kids already know and love. We’ve had an absolute blast playing through levels together, hunting for new loot and trying out new builds.”

View of a Minecraft character fighting hordes of enemies in a library.

Some action RPGs are a little overwhelming to the uninitiated, requiring them to make a series of choices about their characters before they’ve even had a chance to play. Minecraft Dungeons, on the other hand, is easy to jump into. “The experience is fine-tuned to meet the needs of young or inexperienced gamers. I’ve rarely played a game that’s so easy to pick up and play, yet so rewarding over the long term,” Eric said.

Some early reviewers asked for more content, and Mojang has more than delivered on that front in the months since its debut. “The game only launched last spring, yet it’s already received three low-cost DLCs that add exciting new levels, weapons, and features,” Eric pointed out. “This one game has brought me and my family countless hours of fun in 2020, so I can’t help but give the nod as one of my favorite games of the year.”

A few honorable mentions

2020 was such a rich year for gaming that everyone on our team had trouble whittling down their lists to just a few. Here are some of the games that we wholeheartedly recommend, but didn’t quite make the final cut.

Jake just wouldn’t let us publish this list without mentioning Final Fantasy VII: Remastered. “I’m currently playing through FF7:R and this game makes the list for the nostalgia factor alone,” he declared. Certainly, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the original in gaming history, and it’s exciting that a new generation of gamers have a chance to experience the story with greatly updated graphics and combat. Jake also noted that “Final Fantasy definitely has its fair share of awkward dialogue and corny cut scenes, but the combat is a perfect modern adaptation and the world really feels alive. I still have plenty of more to play through, but I can tell this extended remake series is going to be well worth the wait.”

Brian urged us to include a shoutout for the wildly popular online shooter Call of Duty: Warzone. With its new map and crossovers with Black Ops, this game has drawn back throngs of fans to join in the online mayhem. Brian started playing Warzone looking for frantic combat and high-quality gunplay, but was surprised to find the experience comforting and relaxing. “While 2020 has been a turbulent year, I’ve found peace and comfort retreating to my PC. Warzone reunited me with plenty of old friends that I have lost contact with in the past. I’d like to think that Warzone in particular helped me cope during the early months of COVID, as it allowed me to strategically distract myself from world events and digitally bond with old and new friends.”

A great year for PC gaming

Many of us turned to gaming in 2020 as a way to relax and connect with friends and family during an atypical year. Thankfully, it was a great year to be a gamer. Whether you play on console or PC, there were fantastic releases from a wide range of genres.

Games like Half-Life: Alyx and Cyberpunk 2077 are best experienced with a powerful gaming PC, so if your computer isn’t quite ready to immerse you in these gaming worlds, it might be time for an upgrade. With hot new CPUs and GPUs out on the market, it’s a great time to build a PC or purchase a powerful new gaming laptop or desktop. ROG systems and components stand ready to give you a great experience in the best games out there, so don’t wait to get started with your own PC.