Welcome, one and all, to the 2022 Goonhammer Video Game of the Year, the celebrated GHVGOTY! Where other, lesser, websites may carefully consider the year’s releases and determine which is the greatest and most worthy of praise, or at the very least come up with some vague sort of ranking system, we here at Goonhammer Dot Com have taken the liberty of locking our team in a room with Gregbot’s gaming rig and forcibly loading them with gamer fuel and Cheetohs like the vomit cannons they’ve always been. Was this a productive use of their time? No. Will this produce a list of some of the best games of 2022 and our thoughts on them? Maybe. Let’s find out!
So without further ado, enjoy a selection of Game of the Year picks from the Goonhammer authors.
GOTY: Chained Echoes, by Matthias Linda (December 2022)
Jonathan Bernhardt: Speaking about the righteousness of a singular obsessive, this game was essentially made by one Matthias Linda — and he’s played every single Square Enix RPG from the NES era through the late Playstation 2 era at the very least. The game opens with a Chrono Trigger homage, then an FF8 homage, then a Xenogears homage, then — we’re not outside of the first prologue, mind you. The boys hit the toys and we snap to a princess and her snarly manservant, and the game just runs out from there. Chained Echoes is a name that actually makes sense once you get 10 hours into its run time but until then you’re playing a title that sounds like Kingdom Hearts DLC and, instead of being that, is serving you the best stuff front to finish from every game you played — here, you are currently 35 years old — when you were gaining your sealeags with Japanese RPGs. Everything about this title is the way JRPGs should be. The battle schema is tight, with an Overdrive system that forces you to play inside of its parameters, and the advancement systems are pulled from the greatest games in this tradition, from Final Fantasy 12 to Final Fantasy 9 to Chrono Cross to the three titles mentioned before. Especially Xenogears. You know that thing about how you’d pilot your mech in combat in Xenogears? You will be piloting your ‘Sky Armor’ in combat.
The thing that’s so great about it is less the mechanics and more the vibe. That’s not a great selling point, I know. Vibes are purely personal and, when it comes to nostalgic JRPGs, they kind of depend on time served. I dunno man. Do you get a big smile on your face when you walk into the battlefield, boutiquely rendered, and there’s an enemy attacking you called a Boxfly, and he’s a cartoon fly with big frowny eyebrows, two noodle arms hanging below him, and those arms end in boxing gloves? Do you go “I knew it!” when you walk into his aggro radius and those noodle arms come up and those boxing gloves, bigger than the cartoon fly’s body, start punching you for 2 damage, ten times? Are these the jokes you like? Do you want to hang out with a smart princess, a stupid valet, an untrustworthy revolutionary, a sultry thief, and a bard that’s secretly Gandalf? Do you want to get angry about how badly all of them are treated by the way the world works? Get in on Chained Echoes.
GOTY: Tunic, by Finji (March 2022)
Magos Sockbert: Some people would tell you that to truly lose yourself in a game, you have to play the game yourself. These people? They are liars. Tunic is a game that I experienced almost entirely by watching my partner play it, with a hefty dose of being the minion reading the game wiki so we could figure out what to do next. That isn’t a criticism – Tunic pushes so many boundaries, it’s inevitable some dumb fuck like myself would get confused by it. Starting off as what looks like a cutesy top-down Zelda clone, in Tunic you play as a tiny fox person in a game where the controls are actively hidden from you until you can find pages in the game world – pages of the game manual. The manual of the game that you’re playing. Hidden in the game. Hrm. So off you go, unlocking puzzles and defeating enemies until the world, which seemed so bright before, becomes progressively darker as you uncover its secrets. It’s a hard game to talk about in these kind of articles – so much of the joy I experienced came from experiencing the world, and I truly believe you’ll lose out by learning too much beforehand.
Suffice it to say that Tunic is a game which has no right to be this deep. So much of the both the game and the world is hidden from you and must be uncovered, so there’s this constant stream of “reveals” throughout, which is satisfying (some might say addictive), and keeps you hooked, always wondering what the next revelation might be. There were multiple “oh” moments when playing, and a fair few “oh no” moments in there as well. I think I might have even exclaimed.
As more of the gameplay is revealed, and as the story progresses, there was this slow dawning feeling of dread, which was not expected of a game that appears so light on the surface. There is a particular section where this feeling was suddenly turned up by thousands of degrees as more information about the world you are interacting with is revealed. Something terrible has happened, is happening, and this sharply contrasted by the façade of the game. I won’t drop any spoilers, but suffice it to say that it’s a very special game that can make light sources this messed up. That being said, an awful lot of the questions you want to ask of the game just aren’t ever answered. On the one fox-paw, this can be a bit frustrating – I love world building and discovering every pointless lore tidbit in these kind of games brings me joy. On the other, this kind of theme of ignorance and discovery fits the game to a T – we aren’t here to solve all of these mysteries, have all of the answers, or fix all the many problems this game shows us. For all that the hints we receive of the past and present of this landscape are fascinating and deep, the overall premise of the game is simple and the gameplay sticks to that. Nothing is revealed that doesn’t need to be.
There is something very nostalgic about this game. Not in the obvious way that part of the mystery is tied up in the game manual, but something about its simplicity, the levels, the graphics and the movements – for all that they are updated for modern audiences, screens, and devices – which reminded me of playing on my Gameboy as a child. What was the last game you played where you had a game booklet, and it mattered? No internet, no help line, just you, the game, and losing yourself in a digital world.
Runner up for my GOTY has to be Stray, by Annapurna Interactive. Fuck yeah, kitty cat.
GOTY: Elden Ring, by FromSoftware (February 2022)
Dan “Swiftblade” Richardson: Well, normally in any Game of the Year discussion I would boldly say Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, but even though I didn’t complete it’s main story until this year it technically released in 2021. Plus, as much as I truly love that game and it’s story, I would be lying to myself if I didn’t say Elden Ring by From Software was my hands down favorite game this year.
Honestly, Elden Ring has gotten so much praise this year that heaping even more praise onto the game is starting to feel like a cop-out answer to the “Game of the Year” question. Yet here I am, gleefully signing the praises of this game once again along with so many other people who played this game this year, because Elden Ring really feels like a game that shouldn’t exist.
Open world games are not anything new. They’ve been a game design zeitgeist for a few years now: games with big maps you can explore however you feel like doing. If you look closely enough, there’s a open world game for almost every genre of video game there is. You could put up a pretty good argument that Elden Ring isn’t even the first “Souls-like” open world game, you could make a pretty good case that Dark Souls was the first open world souls-like action RPG. All of this is to say that the fact that Elden Ring has an open world is not what sets it apart, it’s how incredible that world was.
When I walk around the tundra’s of Skyrim, or the streets of Night City in Cyberpunk 2077, I find cool stuff to do and bad guys to fight. The worlds are huge, but they get so huge that they don’t feel hand-crafted anymore. The details start to mush together, the surprises come farther and farther apart, and the worlds start to get less dense. It makes these worlds start to feel very artificial after I’ve explored them enough, and its the problem most open world games face. The bigger the game, the harder it is to make that game’s world detailed and interesting.
Which is why Elden Ring feels like an impossible game: the magic of exploring never goes away. The map is brimming with details and surprises. Every yard feels hand crafted. I would jump down a canyon and see a stone ball with weird mouths and crystal eyes and run away, to think it was the weirdest and wildest thing I’d ever seen, to find myself finding a dragon covered in deadly disease just down the way. I would wander into a church thinking the game was out of surprises only to be ambushed by a blood assassin or find the turtle pope. I spent dozens of hours thinking this game had no illusory walls like its spiritual predecessors had, only to not only find one of these fake walls by complete accident but also to find illusory floors that had never been in the series before.
There was one point where I was exploring a tower in the southern continent with some beastmen bandits, and I opened a chest at the top after I had battled my way through them when it spewed out a white mist. This mist was a teleport trap, and it sent me to an area of the map that I was many hours away from reaching yet. I stood at the top of a brilliant tower in a strange place, right next to the glowing giant tree that’s visible from most the map. I opened my map and my jaw hung open, stupified, at how zoomed out the map was now. The areas I had been exploring were tiny compared to what there was before, there was still so much of this game left after I had spent so much time being in wonder of it already. The best part, is I would later find that there was still more to explore past this golden city, too. And it was all just as memorable as the rest of it.
I have no idea how From Software pulled off making a game that is as amazing to explore as Elden Ring. They must’ve made some horrible deal with the devil to do it. It’s a high watermark in open-world design and a masterpiece of a game that we will be talking about for many years. When the DLC drops for this game in the future, I can’t wait to see what more surprises this game has in store for me.
I didn’t play too many other games this year, so my runner up would be Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker by Square Enix I guess? Guys the game is so good, and did you know there’s a free trial up to level 60 that includes the critically acclaimed Heavensward expansion…
GOTY: Pentiment, by Obsidian Entertainment (November 2022)
Jonathan Bernhardt: There is a righteousness to a game made by a singular obsessive, and calling Pentiment that kind of erases the work of everyone on it not named Josh Sawyer, so we’re not going to do that — the work of Hannah Kennedy (art director) and Cathy Nicholas (animation director) was crucial, as was music by Alkemie and Lingua Ignota. But there’s still a righteousness to a game so singularly conceived from the stuff one person is interested in, and Sawyer is really interested in what would become Germany in the middle ages. The Holy Roman Empire is a great grounds for a murder mystery, and the great twist on this game is that it isn’t just a murder mystery — it’s mostly a game about living with violence, and learning to live with yourself. If you want to inhabit a place and a time across the years a man can live, Pentiment is the game for it. It is one of the greatest games when it comes to creating situation. Whenever you’re there in a moment that you’re focused on, hit the button that lets you see the page. The page is the illuminated manuscript. It will have a cat on it with a strange cannon strapped to its back, or a weird rabbit that kind of looks like a rat. As you progress through the game, meeting people and making them a part of your Andreas’s life, you will see stranger things in the margins. The game is about the murder and the mystery, and the way that the township of Tassing adjusts to the things that happen above and beyond that focus.
You will feel that change. Time is a fact in Pentiment, and you will age. So will the world around you. Your choices matter! They also kind of don’t. That’s a strange way to to put it, but when you play the game, you’ll understand. It’s not about solving the murder. You have to understand that your life isn’t about solving the murder. You have to understand that the game is about the people you meet and how you meet them, and if that sounds silly, you haven’t yet played a game whose greatest mechanic is about sitting down to dinner.
GOTY: Destiny 2, by Bungie (All Year)
Lenoon: At some point in the last twelve months, I realised I’d been playing Destiny in one form or another for eight years. That alone might well be enough for me to give it my GOTY award, just for the no doubt thousands of hours of time I’ve put into it for the vast majority of the last decade. It’s still the same gunplay-par-excellence shooter it’s always been, it’s still grabbing me with well designed single and multiplayer experiences, and still getting me to play for just one, or two, or a dozen, more runs of a strike or crucible PvP games or a quick jaunt into the free roam areas of the Moon, Earth, Nessus or Europa. I still love playing with my long-term Destiny partner, throwing on headsets to crack out some dungeon content we couldn’t have done alone, even though our lives have turned very different to when we started playing Destiny 2 together all of five years ago.
But this year it gets my GOTY way above my other massive time-thief games of Chaos Gate, Civ 6 and Victoria 3 because it’s been a very very good year for Destiny. We’ve had Destiny 2 now since 2017, and from a (very) rocky beginning, the game has grown, pruned back, refined and experimented into the best possible version of itself (so far), and it’s a really great time to dig in. Over the last two years Bungie has trimmed out a lot of legacy content introduced in the first couple of expansions and shifted to a yearly expansion model on top of the seasonal content. As a result, the new stuff added with each season keeps getting better – more engaging plot, varied PvE content and really fantastic dungeons, usually dangling a weird new exotic gun in front of players to keep us running them week on week.
The Big News this year was the release of the Witch Queen expansion – breaking one of the big rules of Destiny, that the bad guys are bad guys and we, the representatives of Humanity and our Quasi-Religion The Light are the good guys. This year we’ve been brought to care for and embrace some of the various alien species using the Solar System as a final refuge from the oncoming darkness, seen our powers appropriated by our worst (and most fun to fight) enemy, the Hive and explored new frontiers of the alien mind on Mars. All that has come with a boatload of new content that’s among some of the best Destiny has ever produced including a fun pirate themed season, a deeply emotional what if all our characters were actual people with lives and history season and – best of all – finally giving us the incredibly sweet payoff to a long standing romance. For the players, we’re inundated with stuff to do, guns to shoot, a complete revamp of all of our special powers and simplified systems to make sure we’re all spending our time doing that rather than fucking about with some of the more tedious aspects of your typical MMO.
Dive in, shoot some stuff, learn about the Witness, play some of the best FPS content you’ll ever do in the new Raids, then hit your super powers and laugh as you hit a group of enemies like a lightning charged missile. New expansion in the new year too. Well worth it.
Total War: Warhammer III
Keewa: The final game in the Total Warhammer (which is what it should be called) trilogy is a strange beast. In fact, as a standalone product it is very difficult to recommend, being an incredibly poor successor to the phenomenal TW:WH2. A main campaign that is neither entertaining nor interesting, being absolutely lousy with frustrating little quirks that make finishing it an almighty grinding chore. You’re just humming along with your campaign as normal, upgrading buildings, raising armies, smelling the flowers and then WHAM! One of the game events kicks off, a bunch of chaos portals open and out pour various demons who increase in strength as the turn counter goes up, ok, that’s not particularly inspired but if you prepare for it, it’s manageable, but oh no dear player, that is not the whole of it, to progress you must send an army into that portal and battle some more chaos gribblies (and any other armies that entered a portal). During this time, that army is essentially non-existent in the game world (although you must continue to pay for it), which leaves you incredibly vulnerable to the immense ragequitting frustration of simply getting rolled over by your AI neighbours.
Horrible, horrible campaign design.
Then there’s the monetisation, the monetisation! God damn it’s hard to think of more gouging maniacs than the people at Creative Assembly, wringing every single drop of blood out of the player in an endless chain of padlocked DLCs carved out from the launch title, almost all of which are rated very badly on Steam because people resent paying €12 for Ogre Kingdoms that should have been in the base game, god damnit! Hard to imagine a more wretched tactic than advertising a faction with the game’s teaser trailers and then, at quarter to midnight, saying “Uh uh, not until you pay up, sir. Or, if you like, you can pre-order the game and get the Ogres for free, save yourself that money, eh?” Bottom-feeders, pirates, extortionists. I’ve no doubt that Tilea, Estalia, and Araby are waiting in the wings to wring the customer of their remaining cents.
So then, after two paragraphs trashing the game, why do I say that it’s my Game of the Year (alongside the incredible Pentiment, which has already been covered by my colleague)?
Two words, two beautiful, hallowed words: Immortal Empires.
The final stroke in the Total Warhammer saga so far rewards the poor saps who bought all three games, those paid through the nose for those precious DLCs (Of course I will give you money to let me play as Alarielle the Everqueen, yes yes sir, of course sir), with a map mode of such incredible breadth, such absurd, dazzling complexity that even Paradox players would weep to see it. From Naggarond and the jungles of Lustria in the west to Grand Cathay in the east, from the Frigid Wastes of the north to the.. other Frigid Wastes in the south, almost the whole of the Warhammer world is represented here. You want to play as Greasus Goldtooth and rule the Mountains of Mourn with an iron fist and a hungry belly? You can do it! You want to play as Karl Franz and unite the Empire before one of the several apocalypse scenarios kicks off? You can do it! Play as Tyrion and unite the provinces of Ulthuan, or Alith Anar and hunt Dark Elves in the wastes of Naggarond, and dozens more options besides. The sheer scope of it is dizzying, and it’s still in beta! As a singular achievement, it’s hard to match Immortal Empires as the ultimate crowning expression of what Warhammer Fantasy was all about.
It’s just a shame that the price of entry is so high (~€150 at time of writing, just for all three base games with no DLC, and you need all three in your Steam library to be able to play Immortal Empires).
Forget buying TW:WH3 as a standalone, it’s rubbish. Get it so you can finally bask in the glory of Immortal Empires.
GOTY: Vampire Survivors, by poncle (2022)
Rocco Gest: I was watching the Game Awards with some friends in Discord, and I was very happy to see that Elden Ring won game of the year. I played over 100 hours of the game. It was a lot of fun, but watching that show I felt something was wrong. I thought Elden Ring was my Game of the Year, but I realized after some introspection that Elden Ring wasn’t the game of the year in my heart. Enter Vampire Survivors, a crazy, bullet hell, rogue-like by indie developers poncle (they stylize their name with a lowercase “p”). I had the most fun playing this game when I simply had nothing else to do. I only put 52 hours into the game, but it really feels like I’ve spent thousands of hours playing.This game scratched an itch I had no idea I had. Every time I played I fulfilled a power fantasy I didn’t know I needed. I love this game.
I was introduced to the game by fellow writer and hear Me Out guy, Chase “Gunum” Garber, in the Patron Discord chat one day. He was collecting all sorts of upgrades and shooting evil sprite baddies with all sorts of projectiles. It looked wonderful and it looked like dumb, mindless fun. When he told me the games price I immediately went into my steam account and purchased the game.
The game spent most of the year in early access on Steam, but unlike most early access games, Vampire Survivors received regular updates. Every month or so I would come back to the game to complete all of the new achievements and get all of the new unlockables, playing for several hours at a time. The main conceit of the game is that it’s a “reverse bullet hell” where you are shooting all of the bullets and the enemies are just flowing in from the edges of the screen trying to touch you to kill you. Every run lasts 30 minutes (there is a timer at the top of the screen), and to get through these 30 minutes the game gives you a variety of weapons that all shoot different projectiles or act in different ways. These weapons combo with passive items that you pick up in order to make stronger weapons when upgraded fully. After the weapon transforms into it’s stronger variety the game gets crazy. It goes from just a bunch of bullets firing from your character and some lightning bolts to a spinning ring of lasers and lightning explosions that zap the whole screen. The game puts so many objects on screen that it begins to slow itself down in every aspect. The timer slows down. I’ve had the last 5 minutes of a run last 15 minutes because I bastardized the screen with projectiles and lasers.
The game is absurd, I love absurdity. Vampire Survivors was nominated for Best Debut Game by an Indie Dev and was robbed of the award by Stray only because Stray was a game where you play as a cat or something.
Rimworld by Ludeon Studios
Summer Tao: Rimworld’s most recent expansion arrived this year and it refreshed a truly extraordinary game. For those who are unaware, Rimworld is one of the definitive colony sim games. Following on the likes of the vaunted Dwarf Fortress (which also got a wonderful Steam release this year), Rimworld involves herding misfits in the wilderness on a journey of survival, expansion and interpersonal drama. The base game is enjoyable and complete; lovingly crafted by a tiny team with an open-ended system of gameplay and storytelling. In the years since, the game has been avidly supported by excellent expansion packs. Sure, they’re called DLCs, but they’re expansion packs from the bygone 2000s when an expansion pack was a substantial, themed content addition that instantly breathed new life into a game. This isn’t the drip-fed, hyper-monetised DLC we’re accustomed to today. Rimworld is old school. It’s a ruthlessly challenging game with an unintuitive-yet-functional UI developed by passionate people.
Rimworld didn’t even come out this year, but I included it because it’s most recent expansion was this year, and one act on the developers’ part cemented its reputation in my eyes. Shortly after this expansion (Biotech) dropped, Steam’s automatic regional pricing set absurdly high prices for lower-income countries. After the complaints started coming in about unfair pricing, the developers issued a statement adjusted their pricing for the game while keeping it below Valve’s recommended pricing. A frankly respectable act of turning down piles of money to ensure fairness for the players.
The developers are strong listeners and modest people, and their love for this game filters to the playerbase. I’ve seldom met a friendlier group of people who gleefully conduct genocide and relaxed ranching in equal measure. The fanbase is unparalleled in its love for the game and they show it through raw productivity. Rimworld has mod support. Vanilla Rimworld is a carefully curated sci-fi game in the developers’ vision, and the players have joyously ruined/enhanced it. The base game is about colony building, survival and storytelling. There’s low-tech Firefly-esque frontier living and an inkling of the hypertech bionically augmented future in the stars beyond that trickles down to you in the form of gametically-enhanced superhumans and power armour. But the modders? They’ve added oil drilling and refining. Nuclear power plants. Furniture packs. Hostile aliens. Toilets. Themed expansion packs. An entire spacecraft expansion probably larger than the original game. Rimworld’s modding community is the type that launches entire game studios who got their start making mods for it.
I could keep gushing about how wonderful the game is, but I think it’s better to try and illustrate it through the story of one of my colonies from over a year ago.
I started the game with five tribal people who fled their lands. By the time they arrived at their new home, they were malnourished and exhausted. They established a wooden shelter, made a fire, and delegated work before resting to face the coming days. Days became seasons. Hunter-gathering became agriculture. Improvised defences became permanent fortifications. They rebuilt their community from recruited prisoners and new faces alike. This tiny collection of Kenshi-themed weirdos developed a society in the image of their ancestral home.
In-game years passed.
By the time I retired this colony because my CPU just wouldn’t have it anymore, it had chartered a meteoric ascent beyond any people on the planet. They were unrecognisable save for the founders still alive as bionically and genetically augmented super-humans in power armour. Their new home began as a collection of wooden shelters and ended as a mountain fortress with powered by two nuclear power plants. It was protected by railguns and laser towers. In some dark corner of the base, there was even a nuclear weapons programme.
Guests were welcomed into this bastion by air and land, but they always arrived in a luxurious indoor garden. This exotic garden (with its floating tea house) was connected to a palace that rivalled entire communities in size. Amenities in this nuclear-powered mountain fortress included a sushi restaurant, indoor hot spring, movie theatre, pub, and Altered Carbon-esque resleeving facility. The entire abomination was self-sustaining and could lock down for years to evade toxic fallout without sacrificing a single luxury.
I won’t even go into the space programme and orbiting battlecruiser we built.
Anyway, that’s Rimworld with mods. I’ve got over 1200 hours in Rimworld and my girlfriend has over 2000 hours in it. Between a continuous stream of new expansions and insane mod content, it’s a game that won’t die anytime soon. It’s small and lightweight enough to run on a work laptop, but will crunch a high-end machine to dust if pushed. I’ve played (and lost) colonies of space pirates, space marine-expats, Mass Effect rim colonists, cannibal cowboys, ice hermits, and robot tamers. And I look forward to doing it all over again.
GoTY 2014-Forever: The Elder Scrolls Online
Greg: Sorry everyone, but the king stays the king. I technically played this game in 2k22, inasmuch as I got an Xbox for Christmas and saw ESO on the Game Pass Cloud Gaming thing so I immediately loaded it up. The gameplay experience was that I looked at a picture of a rocketship for five minutes while Microsoft sorted their shit out – in their defense, it did say “beta” on the rocketship, so one has to grade on a curve here – and then proceeded to forget how to log in to my ESO account. So I guess I didn’t exactly play the game, nor did I buy it, or even download it, but it is accessible via my Xbox in some form or fashion. That counts! As long as Elder Scrolls Online exists it will remain my choice for GoTY.
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