It sometimes feels as though Xbox gamers are like fans of a mid-table sports team. There’s always a promising new signing, or major investment to sow the seeds for a promising future, but in the here and now? Well, there’s individual wins to rouse spirits, but not enough to make a real tilt at a title.
Perhaps that’s about to change with the Xbox Series X, the bold cut-price Xbox Series S, the broader roll out of Xbox Game Pass with game streaming, and the pending acquisition of Zenimax and all the games that will (eventually) bring with it.
Still, let’s not diminish what the Xbox One has actually played host to in its twilight years. Sure, it’s not been as show-stopping as Sony’s first party line up, but games like Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 are likely the best those series have ever been.
Building on foundations of the sublime Ori and the Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps is undeniably beautiful, with artwork that drips with the talent of Moon Studios’ artists, but simply looking good wouldn’t be enough to win it ,any accolades. Perhaps it’s the incredibly moving soundtrack from Gareth Coker? As one of the brightest lights in video game composition, his work creates the atmosphere and moves along the storytelling as well as anything else you’ll find here.
Maybe we should look to the gameplay, and its tightly-wound platforming action that manages to make Ori feel like a balletic spirit sword striking their way through an array of different biomes, while your fingers somehow manage the necessary manoeuvres to make that happen. Then again, it’s probably the bitter sweet storytelling, with the climax liable to stay with you for a long time after you’ve set the controller down. In truth, it’s all these things coming together to create something that’s familiar, but thoroughly refreshed.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is, without a doubt, utterly deserving of its place as the Best Xbox Game of 2020.
– Dom L
Runner Up – Tell Me Why
Dontnod found a new sponsor for their graphic adventure games in the form of Microsoft, creating a new world, new characters and another mature and nuanced story to navigate through in Tell Me Why.
The game can draw plaudits for the way it features a transgender man as one of the two lead characters, and doing so without it feeling like a token gesture. As Tyler is reunited with his twin sister Alyson after he gets out of juvie for the death of their mother, the two have a lot of soul searching to do and memories to revisit (via their slightly supernatural sibling link) as the come to terms with the truth of the events that occurred a decade ago.
Released in three weekly episodes, it neatly dodged the pacing and production problems that episodic games often face, allowing you to take in the events of each episode a week at a time, or to string them all together just a few weeks after the first had arrived. Either way, the mature story and its exploration of family trauma and relationships shined through.
Runner Up – Gears Tactics
As spin-offs go, Gears Tactics and a shift to turn-based tactical battles makes perfect sense for the gritty cover-based shooter series. While the game originally released on PC back in April, where the genre has its traditional home, the eventual console release alongside the Xbox Series X|S made an almost effortless jump to gamepad controls.
While not the most inventive example of a turn-based game, the action feels slick and well-paced, evocative of the battles against the Locusts that you find in the mainline series, and with abilities and weaponry that capture the same feel of their third person shooter counterparts. It’s well worth playing, whether your a TBT or Gears fan first, and absolutely if you’re someone who loves them both!
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Deep Rock Galactic
- Grounded (Game Preview)
To catch up on the Game of the Year awards we’ve handed out so far, here’s a handy list!
- Best Nintendo Switch Game
- Best VR Game
- Best PC Game
- Best Single Player Game
- Best Narrative
- Best Gameplay
- Best Independent Game
- Best Visual Design
- Best Original Soundtrack
- Best Multiplayer Game
- Best Ongoing Game
- Best Remaster/Remake
We’re getting to the pointy end of awards season now. We’ll see you tomorrow for the Best PlayStation Game awards.