2020 was a crappy year, but at least we had a ton of games to play and revel in.
And the best part? 2020’s video games had a ton of awesome plot reveals, story bits, and gameplay moments that made you glad you experienced it from start to finish. We are going to talk about them right now.
Fair warning: there will be a TON of spoilers from here on out. So tread lightly…
The Last of Us Part 2 – When Abby & Ellie Meet
Say what you will about TLOU 2. I had a lot to say about how droll its gameplay and pacing was on a podcast, but I definitely cannot fault its story and narrative chops. You get to see Ellie and Abby’s side of the story, with the big reveal being that Abby’s dad was killed by Joel in the first game’s final few scenes. Both women meet and obviously want to settle their own brand of justice any way they see fit.
This all culminates in a showdown in California where Ellie finally forgives Abby, but at the cost of everything else and it was too little, too late. Ellie lost the idyllic life she had with Dinah. It’s sad, but such is the way of vengeance; there are no happy endings leading up to it.
Honourable mention: Joel & Ellie’s day at the museum.
Astro’s Playroom – The Controller Screen
Yep, this screen.
Essentially when you start the Astro’s Playroom for the first time on your PS5, you need to do a DualSense controller check. And it is awesome.
Not only do you get to get a hands-on feel of the controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, but you get to torture a number of tiny robots crammed in your controller. Who knew that something as simple as a button check screen can hype up your Astro platforming adventures?
Doom Eternal – Doom Slayer Penetrates Mars
Our demon-killing hero, Doom Slayer, fires himself through Mars to shut off the portal, killing off all the demons there, using a city-sized space cannon. You cannot fault this man for being this dedicated to his job.
Ghost of Tsushima – Duelling Your Uncle
All of Ghost of Tsushima’s themes on honour and winning at any cost comes to a head with a duel between protagonist Jin and his uncle/surrogate dad Lord Shimura. And the final mission leading to the duel starts off peaceful and involves some haiku work at the Sakai family estate. The fact that it comes with one of the best tracks in the game adds a lot of gravitas and drama to the climax of this Sucker Punch open-world game.
Streets of Rage 4 – The Elevator Music Kicking In
“Rising Up” is the quintessential theme of Streets of Rage’s revival. At least the latter half, when it plays while you’re going up Y Tower on the elevator fighting wave after wave of bad guys.
Ori & The Will of the Wisps – Fighting Mora
You want a 2D Dark Souls-style battle with platforming hijinxes and killer orchestral music? You’ve got it!
Battletoads (2020) – When You Get Out Of Stage 1
Yes, after years of being a TMNT rip-off, it’s nice to see the plot of the new Battletoads shape them up to be losers stuck in a VR machine, and then having to come to terms with getting jobs. That bit is short-lived, as their main quest is trying to get back their former glory by finding the Dark Queen and possibly thwarting the Utopians.
You can talk about how unfair some of the game’s minigames can get, but the entire Battletoads narrative is definitely a chuckle-and-a-half, and made the blossoming friendship between former enemies all the more noteworthy.
Destiny 2: Beyond Light – The Space Walk
When Bungie delivers a late-game experience post-DLC release, they REALLY go all out. The company made quite an experience with Deep Stone Crypt.
Not only did hardcore players experience arguably one of the best Destiny raids since Last Wish and King’s Fall, Destiny fans from day 1 also get to check out the birthplace of the Exos, as well as open up more lore about that and Clovis Bray. That’s a friggin’ huge deal since it details the origin of folks like the late-and-great Cayde-6, Banshee-44, RASPUTIN, SIVA, and The Stranger.
The gameplay mechanics are awesome too; they’ll fresh, challenging, and requires a f***ton of teamwork. Players need to not only pass on buffs like Operator and Scanner, but also do a lot of creative legwork involving shooting their teammates up to space to get rid of the first Raid boss. Also, an old “friend” from the first Destiny pops up and acts as the final boss in its Abomination form, and defeating him also leaves a lasting impact on Destiny 2’s Europa section.
Let’s also not forget the highlight of the Raid: after defeating Atraks-1 in a gruelling fight of wits and endurance, you have to cross over to your next destination in space. The music, Clovis Bray dishing out more backstory about the Exos, the fact that you’re crossing in one of Destiny’s most sought-out locations since the game’s inception in 2014. It’s truly magical.
Well done, Bungie! You made people care more about Destiny again.
Spiritfarer – Sending Alice To The Everdoor
One of the spirits you have to take care of is an anthropomorphic hedgehog named Alice. She is “the grandmother everyone wishes they had”, but she eventually succumbs to her Alzheimer’s. It was so bad that you had to dress up in the same clothes as her granddaughter Annie just to get her to move around and eventually send her to the Everdoor.
We’ve all had an elder person in our lives who had to suffer through dementia and memory losses. So to have a game portray this in a subtle way is amazing and emotional at the same time.
Half-Life: Alyx – Half-Life 3 Confirmed
The ending to the VR-exclusive Half-Life: Alyx basically changes the ending of Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Alyx’s dad Eli survives the ambush, and the Combine Advisor is killed, but now Alyx is replacing Gordon Freeman’s position as G-Man’s tool. Thus she is trapped in stasis.
However, Half-Life: Alyx sequel-baits us: you now are in the shoes of Gordon Freeman post-credit, now awake. Eli, alive and well, hands you the trademark crowbar to carry out vengeance in a probable sequel which hopefully is cheaper than Half-Life: Alyx’s barrier of entry.
Borderlands 3’s Story Closure Between Krieg and Maya
The story writers of Borderlands 3 may have done Siren Maya dirty in the main plot, but at least they made it up with the 2020 DLC Psycho Krieg and the Fantastic Fustercluck. See, Maya’s essence is now in Krieg’s psyche, and since that’s a physical manifestation the Vault Hunters can visit, she now resides there alongside the main man after a series of missions to unlock Vaulthalla. It’s a sweet ending and a way to get a fan favourite around the whole “killed by Siren posers” bit.
Hades – Talking To Your Mom 10 Times
To get the true ending to Supergiant’s best isometric action roguelike game so far, you’ll need to escape from Tartarus and reach past the gates of Styx to fight your dad Hades. After many hours of dying and powering up your character Zagreus and his weapon/aspects, as well as figuring out the best Boons to use for your escape (protip: Zeus and Dionysus Attack boons + Artemis’ Support Fire), you finally get to meet the sole reason for your escape: to see your long-lost mother Persephone with your own eyes.
However, no one born in Hades’ domain can truly escape, which means Zagreus had to return the hard way after an emotional reunion. To really get closure for this game, you need to talk to Persephone about 9 more times, which also means escaping and fighting Hades 9 more times. Each escape attempt will take you 30 minutes or less from now on anyway, so that’s about 5 hours or so.
The “final” fight with Hades isn’t so much a battle as it is your dad coming to terms about being wrong about everything, and just laid down his weapon to let you meet your mom. Persephone then decides to return home to Hades’ domain since both Hades and she are still in love despite the exile. Hades makes amends with Zagreus, and Zagreus gets the official job of doing escape runs to point out flaws in the domain’s route to preserve its “inescapable” reputation.
Good ending, in other words, accompanied with a lovely end credits song that’s on-par with Supergiant’s past song efforts. Of course, you can always play the game further to unlock additional epilogue content, and even fight an “Extremer Measures” of Hades which is pretty goddamn tough.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon – Fighting The Old Guard
Near the end of the game, you need to fight Yakuza series Goro Majima and Saejima Taega to get to your ex-boss Masumi Arakawa. And yeah, the fight is as tough as it sounds since Majima can make clones of himself to eff up your plan.
However, it’s not as epic as facing Yakuza’s Dragon of Dojima himself Kiryu Kazuma. Storywise, he wants to help you but you need to prove your resolve by attempting to dent his constitution. He’s basically resistant to most of your attacks, but has a set pattern and does not hit women directly.
It’s still a tough fight that will test your endurance and party management though. And his remixed theme song plays to accentuate how f***ed Ichiban and his party are, because it’s Kiryu dammit!
The other kicker? Ichiban and co. didn’t win the fight even though you get a victory screen. But Kiryu is one of the good guys, and just gives you the info you need anyway because he’s just that kinda fellow.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales – The Science Museum Flashback
Late in the game, Miles Morales has to chase down the Tinkerer/Phin Mason, who happens to be his then-close friend before revenge turned her into a supervillain that’s way better than the comic version.
During a bit in the abandoned Oscorp Science Museum, Miles Morales remembers a time when things were a little less heated. There’s a puzzle to be solved, as well as the very first time Miles meets Peter and a then-friendly Otto Octavius. Sometimes, it’s the non-superhero moments that flesh out a character further.
Cyberpunk 2077 – The Nomad Ending
There are way too many good story moments in Cyberpunk 2077, if we’re being honest.
Once you’re done with the main story missions, assuming the bugs didn’t discourage you, you’re left with many options. If you didn’t do any of the interesting sidequests (why?), you’re left with no choice but to get help from Hanako Arasaka. If you did some stuff with Johnny’s ex-lover Rogue, you get to team up with her and let Johnny take the wheel for one last Arasaka Tower raid.
If you bothered to spend time with one of 2020’s most charming NPC, Panam Palmer, you get to take down Arasaka Tower to get what you want. You also get a choice near the end of the stage where you either choose to let Johnny take over or you stay alive. Taking the latter will lead to the game’s arguably happier ending, but it’s not without that bittersweet taste. V still has a few months to live, but he/she is dying on their own terms. And at least he/she has friends to back him/her up through the end. That’s as happy an ending as you can get in Night City without resorting to a joytoy.
Honourable mention: the Tapeworm sessions, Sinnerman (ie: the mission where you nail a guy to the cross for a braindance)
Final Fantasy VII Remake – Flipping The Script
I did a whole video about it back in April. Long story short: FFVII Remake’s Whispers course-correct the world of FFVII so that the story stays the same like in the 1997 classic, but Sephiroth says “no” to that and fights fate, acting as the last boss for the whole remake. History is changed, some bits stay the same, and there’s a possibly different timeline happening in sync with the remake where Zack Fair is alive and not full of Shinra soldier bullet holes.
History is completely changed from this point onward, SHINRA is still the bad corporation who may still chase down Cloud and co., and the latter have sorta seen what the future (ie: the whole plot and reveals of FFVII) holds. Sephiroth seems to be offering aid to Cloud post-battle, but I’m guessing he’s doing it to save his own skin after the events of FFVII: Advent Children. It’s essentially a whole new ball game once Cloud and company head out in part 2 of this “remake”.
Tetsuya Nomura and the old guard who made Final Fantasy VII are going to create a new story pathway for the Final Fantasy VII Remake. There is that deep-seated fear that the plot may end up being Kingdom Hearts-complex, but I’m very confident the rest of the team will rein in Nomura’s wilder plans. I think.
13 Sentinels – Everything Comes Full Circle
I wasn’t joking when I said 13 Sentinels has quite a litany of a sci-fi tale that rivals the genre’s best.
After many red herrings, players finally figure out why there were only a few “time periods” to jump into, and why there were so many flash-forwards into the future. Turns out that the 13 pilots and two others are the only remaining humans alive after years of fuck-ups from humanity, and they’re only surviving because they’re in an ark and in a simulation. The time periods? They were programmed into the simulation. The flash-forwards? It was flashbacks: 13 Sentinels‘ story takes place in the far, far, far future where humanity f***ed themselves over because of corporate greed and bruised egos.
And the kaijus? They are actually machines created by Shikishima Industries; terraforming machines who were sent out to space and then returning back to earth to plunder it after being affected by a virus. And the virus that caused all of this mess? Ryoko Shinonome, in an understandable fit of depression and nihilism, just unleashed it upon a Sentinel and to the rest of the world under false pretences thanks to the long-ago-dead-but-still-an-AI Tetsuya Ida.
And the bad people who perpetrated all this mess? They were already dead eons ago. Our 15 human beings are the last vestige of humanity that’s going to be wiped out by a glitch in the system, so the fight for survival is pretty real.
After an epic last stand against an infinite amount of kaijus accompanied with a stellar battle track, you end up rebooting Universal Control. The 15 heroes can finally get out of their simulation and rebuild another Earth with the vast knowledge from the ark’s database & terraforming tools. And after 50+ years, the 15 heroes returned to the simulation to catch up with the many acquaintances and friends.
The protagonists who had friends in the simulation were in tears just reuniting with their loved ones in a feel-good moment. The whole plot thread from the 13 characters here prove that just because the people you meet in a simulation are just lines of code, doesn’t mean they’re not real. Powerful films like Ex Machina and Blade Runner touch upon these themes, and 13 Sentinels takes a few pages from these sci-fi stories and presents it in a more thorough manner.
That’s how powerful the storytelling and narrative is in 13 Sentinels: Vanillaware took a JRPG ending cliché from Xenoblade and Star Ocean 3, and somehow transformed it into a much better twist with a more impactful bookend.