Best of 2022: Elden Ring, and James' other GOTY picks
My picks are vanilla ice cream, but it’s the posh stuff that has the little black bits of pod in. Haagen Dazs at the very least.
If my year in gaming was one of those Spotify Wrapped things that people like to crow about like music taste isn’t the most subjective thing in the world, my top artist would be Ed Sheeran with Taylor Swift in second, and I’d be in the 50th percentile of listeners.
But even if my picks are vanilla ice cream, it’s the posh stuff that has the little black bits of pod in; Haagen Dazs at the very least.
So while my choices for games of the year will win no plaudits for originality, they are extremely good all the same.
Why do you read video games coverage, anyway?
For searing insight that dissects the themes and mechanics of your favourite pastime? For curated discovery that clues you into the best experiences you’ve never heard of? Or just for the fun of it, hoping to chuckle – or at least breathe sharply out of your nose – at a good joke or two?
Sadly, I have none of those things to offer you today.
Maybe it’s a reflection of the release calendar, maybe it’s just how things fell or maybe having unfettered access to the infinite backlog of Xbox Game Pass has just given me too many cool old games to check out (it’s that one), so I’ve not played a whole lot of new 2022 games that really stand out for a mention - except the obvious few.
So while you’re more than likely very familiar with most of these games, a couple of them aren’t just the best games of 2022, but will probably make an appearance when we’re discussing the best games of the 2020s as a whole.
VG247 editor and notable Elden Ring hater, Tom “Project Gotham” Orry, made a (rare) good point to the rest of the team when the world was in the grip of Elden Ring fever, and the first batch of nerfs were being rolled out.
“Is Elden Ring really that good if the only way to have fun is to exploit overpowered stuff and cheese the bosses?”
Yes it is, Tom – because that’s kinda the point.
The trial and error of Elden Ring can sometimes feel a bit like a puzzle game, and the best puzzle games have one thing in common: they make you feel clever. I always use Portal 2 as the gold-standard example of this.
Particularly in the second half of Portal 2, the solutions to the puzzles feel like you’re breaking the environment, cheating the system, or getting one over the rules of the game.
In the brutal, punishing worlds that FromSoftware create, when you’re spamming the most powerful Ashes of War, grinding out levels at the best rune farm or clipping through the walls to skip bosses altogether, you’re sticking it to the man that’s stacked the odds relentlessly against you. Stealing whatever inches you can from the unfair situation you find yourself in is all part of the catharsis.
It perfectly suits the sense of mischief that’s also integral to FromSoftware games and is pertinently - if not wholly purposefully - emblematic of Elden Ring’s motifs of subverting fate and expectations, boundless exploration and overcoming adversity through any means.
God of War Ragnarok
There’s a part in God of War Ragnarok, about two thirds in, where the supercar of a franchise slips into 7th gear, puts pedal to the metal and doesn’t let up until the credits roll.
With one sublime set piece after another for hour upon hour, it’s one of the best climaxes we’ve seen for a very long time.
And while it does the loud stuff extremely well, some of the quiet stuff is just as effective, with another great performance from Christopher Judge as Kratos and a deep and twisting story that bends aspects of Norse mythology around its characters in exciting and unexpected ways.
Horizon Forbidden West
Not since 2021’s Returnal has there been a more PS5-y game than Horizon Forbidden West.
From the endlessly pleasing controller bleeps and bloops, to the sprawling, diverse ecology of the massive open world that shows off more cool tech than the inside of a mechanical triceratops, Forbidden West has everything you want from an early console flagship – despite being a cross-gen release.
It’s not all pretty pictures though. While it’s certainly aimed at the mainstream, it’s not scared to be tough. With complex Relic Ruin puzzles (link on relic ruin puzzles) and huge boss fights against super-powered mechs that wouldn’t look out of place in a line-up of Decepticons.
Marvel Midnight Sons
There’s something magical about taking the deep and storied lore of a beloved action franchise, slowing down the pace with tense, turn-based combat, and layering the constant and consistent fan-service of a collectible card game that references almost every character you can think of over a compelling original story.
I am of course talking about the 2005 PSP classic, Metal Gear Acid, where you collect booster packs during gameplay to build a deck of powerful cards based on the entire franchise from the 8-bit MSX 2 days onwards, including super-cool rare one-offs based on memorable bosses and mechs.
Marvel Midnight Sons is the Metal Gear Acid 3 that I will never get because Konami is too interested in pachinko machines to make it. But I guess Metal Gear is kind of a dead franchise post-Kojima Productions and Metal Gear Survive anyway (did you forget that game existed too?).
I was really surprised that Midnight Sons came out and was as good as it is. Heavily delayed games recently have more often than not limped out half-baked, less in need of polish than a whole suite of body work.
But with the dust settled on the mega-releases of God of War Ragnarok and Pokemon, this is just the kind of cosy, engrossing RPG to get you through the long nights and dark mornings with tree lights twinkling.
I would die for BURG-L, the burger-flipping robot who’s been reprogrammed to act as chief science officer in Grounded, and have done so on many occasions.
Part Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, part Obsidian RPG, part survival game where your pint-sized protagonist tries to make a life for themselves in a world of giant bugs, Grounded has kind of slipped under the radar for a lot of people, but it’s one of the best things you can play on Game Pass and PC right now.
While it’s technically been out in early access since 2020, Grounded finally dropped its 1.0 release in 2022, and now has quests, an intriguing storyline and a well-realised, but not overwhelming world to explore.
On paper, it’s a compelling concept. Moreish, plate-spinning survival gameplay with a hand-crafted RPG layer from Obsidian Entertainment, the studio responsible for Fallout New Vegas, The Outer Worlds and Pentiment.
But while there’s still a lot of the survival game esoterica that plagues the genre – some of the item recipes would be more at home in a LucasArts point-and-click, for example - what I like about Grounded is the exact opposite of what some people love about survival games: it doesn’t feel endless.
With an unobtrusive but present storyline to lead the experience, the through-thread of the story quests is a compelling base for imaginative exploration and base-building, and provides impetus where I’ve found games like Ark and Conan Exiles aimless and meandering.
With a unique late ‘80s/early ‘90s saturday morning aesthetic, tons of secrets and lore to uncover and a varied roster of activities and enemies to conquer, Grounded is a fresh take on the genre for obsessives and people who don’t normally like survival games alike.