2022 was not a good year for me overall, but it was a great year in terms of playing some truly incredible games. I can solidly recommend any of these games to you, as they all have their merits. They all get the Skeleton Seal of Approval from me, so if you’ve never played one of these, I encourage you to give it a shot, especially if it’s the last one. Here’s hoping Dagoth Ur blesses us all with a fortunate 2023.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
For years I have tried to play Morrowind. Time and time again I would get through the introduction, only to drop off sharply soon after. The furthest I had ever progressed previously was making it to Balmora, speaking with Caius Cosades, and then strolling around looking for work. Having completed a full playthrough of the main story, I can confidently say Morrowind is one of my favorite games, and I understand why many have sung its praises in the decades following its release.
There is a true sense of accomplishment to be found in completing quests and making progress in Morrowind, since gold can be directly funneled into character skills and equipment. One thing I greatly appreciated was the lack of quest markers indicating where to go, which have dulled the exploration experience of many games. What is the point of building a huge open world for the player to explore, if you are just going to pinpoint exactly where they need to go, depriving them of the need for exploration, and provide for them convenient fast-travel points, so they can easily skip over large swathes of land? In Morrowind, you ask for directions and characters will give you realistic descriptions that actual people living in its world would give you, which your character jots down in their journal, and the game trusts you to be cognizant and observant as you make your way to your destination. It’s simply a more engaging way to go about building a huge world to explore, and I wish more games would rely less on markers and waypoints.
Morrowind is truly a masterpiece of a game, and I’m glad that there is still so much of it I have yet to uncover. On my playthrough, I essentially made Casca from Berserk, except having her favor all kinds of melee weapons instead of just swords; she joined the Fighters Guild, but left the other factions to their own devices. I had heard many tales about how broken the magic system in Morrowind can be, but I opted to barely use any magic outside of enchanted items, since I wanted a more straightforward experience. I’m pleased to report that even if you don’t interact with magic or potions or enchanting your own items, Morrowind is still a fantastic game to play, and I highly recommend giving it a shot.
Warframe has changed a lot since I started playing it back in 2019. While the core gameplay is largely the same fast-paced action I came to love, there’s a lot more to do and it’s a game I always enjoy coming back to when I’ve got that itch. Much of last quarter of 2022 left me preparing for my experience with its New War story, which completely blew me away with how fucking amazing it was.
I’m not normally a fan of set-piece segments in games (e.g. your driving sections, your forced stealth sections) since they tend to fall short when compared to the game’s core design (and especially when compared to games dedicated to those concepts, driving games, stealth games, etc.), but the New War has set-pieces that are built within its own core gameplay structures. It felt like playing a whole new game built inside of an existing one, to the point where I forgot that I was playing Warframe despite each set-piece literally using the same design conceits as the main game. This wasn’t like playing a unique game-mode inside of a game; it was like playing a sequel that doesn’t exist. I’ve heard of out-of-body experiences, but out-of-game experiences are a whole new ballpark of ludonarrative what-the-fuckery.
Of course, none of what the New War entailed would’ve impacted me as much if I was not fully invested in the story and setting that Digital Extremes has been building upon for nigh on a decade now. It’s truly remarkable what they’ve managed to build upon in just the years I’ve been playing; I can only imagine what the game must feel like for those who have played it since the beginning. My time playing Warframe in 2022 left quite the impression on me, and I’m looking forward to what the future of this silly space ninja game has in store.
I am not a horror enthusiast. In fact, it’s probably my least-favorite genre of fiction, especially when it comes to video games. But I couldn’t help but pick up Signalis and give it a shot, and what I found was an absolute master-class of aesthetic design. If Signalis wasn’t a horror game, it very well could’ve been my #1 pick this year (I also would’ve been able to actually finish it, too.) While its gameplay isn’t something for me, everything else about it is.
I thrive on slick UI design, and Signalis has that in spades. Not only does every button press, selection shift, and menu screen brim with detail and deliberate flair, it functions perfectly as a replica of the older survival-horror games it draws upon for inspiration. I love when games have GUIs that perfectly mesh with both the setting and gameplay, and even though that gameplay holds me back from fully enjoying Signalis, the sheer magnitude of how fucking cool it looks might be enough to push me through the scary bits and finish it. Maybe.
If you’ve played Signalis, you already know how good it is. For everyone else, know this: I’m putting it on my top games of 2022 list, and I haven’t even beaten the first boss yet. You might say “well how can it be in your top games if you’ve barely played it!” I’ll tell you how: because it’s cool as hell, and even though it’s in a genre that literally causes me physical discomfort to play, the art direction was impressive enough to make even those moments enjoyable. Go play Signalis, unless you’re like me and can’t deal with horror that well. In which case, get a friend to play it for you.
It’s funny how I went from not caring about Elden Ring for a long time, to playing it on release day and having it consume my entire life for a month or so. I wasn’t really on board the hype train for it, despite enjoying past works by From Software. While Elden Ring provided more of that solid action RPG gameplay we’ve come to expect from The Studio That Had A Guy Kick You Down A Pit Five Times, what really captured me was the setting of the Lands Between. One of the things I drew a lot as a kid were trees, and while I know the Dark Souls trilogy had a fair amount of tree symbolism, Elden Ring took the extra step of centering its entire world around one really big tree, and then running with it.
While I cannot say that Elden Ring has surpassed Bloodborne in my eyes, it’s certainly triumphed over the Dark Souls trilogy, even if I still have love for Dark Souls III. In games like this one, where there are multiple options for building out various characters, if I like the game enough I’ll make multiple characters and play through the whole game with them, going so far as to create a spreadsheet to plan everything out. Bloodborne was the only From Software game to get me to do this, but now I’ve made one for Elden Ring. I’ve already got two playthroughs under my belt, and I’ll be eager to revisit the Lands Between in the future to try all of the dumb builds my friends clamored about last year.
The House in Fata Morgana
You’d be forgiven for thinking my Game of the Year would be Elden Ring, especially after I did an Items Only playthrough of it, and it’s certainly a good one, but the experiences I had playing The House in Fata Morgana are on a completely different level. I’m not well-versed in visual novels, but The House in Fata Morgana is one I can easily, whole-heartedly recommend to anyone and everyone. There aren’t too many games out there that can put me in stitches and move me to tears repeatedly.
There is so much that can be said about The House in Fata Morgana. How it paints conversations and trains of thought with a believable, human quality to the writing that brings disparate characters to life, and how it acknowledges that aspect as a crucial cornerstone of its premise. How it fully utilizes the medium of a visual novel, playing with the script backlog at times to offer additional layers of mystique, and how it takes advantage of the multi-ending structure commonly found in visual novels to subtly prime the player for one of its most touching moments, so they can fully coalesce with the desires and emotions of one of the characters. How it can tell a story so gruesome and tragic and heart wrenching, and yet provide such a satisfying and overwhelming finale.
The House in Fata Morgana has many doors and many rooms. It took me several months to actually finish the game for various reasons, but each time I found myself within its walls, the beautiful backdrops, outstanding soundtrack, and truly moving script dissolved the world around me, leaving me to soak in the atmosphere of its world. If you are a big visual novel fan, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. And if you are like me; one who normally passes this genre by, in favor of games with fewer words and more buttons, I implore you: play The House in Fata Morgana. It is absolutely worth your time.