We’ve made it. 2020 is finally coming to a close. You may be dealing with COVID for at least another six months, depending on the country you’re in. We can all look back at what has been a year of unmitigated disaster thanks to COVID, Brexit, Trump, and more. In video games, 2020 also saw an unmitigated disaster in CD Projekt RED’s actions, with the launch of Cyberpunk 2077. Still, the Strategy and Simulation genres have fared somewhat better.
2020 has even come as a surprise when looking at the genres. Microsoft has proven that they may even care about the PC and these forgotten genres with two fantastic releases and others that can’t be included. Only new and released titles can be included. This means no early access titles (sorry, Hardspace: Shipbreaker) and no inclusion of remasters like the excellent Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. Also, only games that we have played can be included, for obvious reasons.
So, how many games from my most anticipated strategy and simulation games list that I wrote at the start of the year have made it? Let’s find out Swaraz’s best strategy and simulation games of 2020. Also, no, Warcraft III: Reforged was never in the running. That’s a joke at your expense. You know who you are.
Also in Swaraz’s Best Games of 2020 lists: Action, Adventure, Horror
Microsoft Flight Simulator (10/10)
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC (coming to Xbox Series S & X).
Let’s start with arguably the best game of the year and only the second game I’ve ever given 10/10. Microsoft Flight Simulator is virtual tourism at its best, a technical marvel and a game that looks to cater to everybody, sim fans, and gamers alike. Exploring the earth looks marvelous from afar, and the detail is that great that you can fly using visual flight rules.
Now, I’m not going to say it’s the ultimate simulation. It isn’t. I’ve spoken to Keith about the game at length, and he, like many others, find it to lean too far towards the game and away from the sim. I can’t help but agree there. However, as somebody coming in and wanting something to enjoy, something approachable but still having the option for an exquisite amount of detail and the whole world to explore, there’s never been anything better than Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a game that offers a meditative experience like no other as well as a fantastic way to explore the world where the only better way is visiting in person. The sounds and feel of the plane, combined with the algorithm and tech, make the world give you a genuine feeling that you’re there. I could keep praising it, but with the exception of a few very minor niggles, this is as close to perfect as one could have hoped. If this game had a theme song, this would be it.
Total War Saga: Troy (9/10)
Genre: Strategy (grand strategy). Platform: PC.
Total War Saga: Troy was a surprise. Expectations for the second of the Total War Saga titles were undoubtedly marred by Thrones of Britannia, which was decent but not to the core Total War series standards. Offering a more focused approach than general Total War titles, this borrowed elements from the outstanding Total War: Three Kingdoms and advancing the elements they tried to bring in with Thrones of Britannia, giving the game a more story-like approach.
This is what really helps Troy stand apart. The number of factions may be limited, but they each feel unique in their own special way, particularly thanks to the features unique to each faction. Furthermore, everything is in perfect fitting to the setting of the game, with a great design that helps to transport you into Homer’s works.
Total War Saga: Troy is a complete Total War title. Not only that, but it’s also in great shape at launch, continuing the recent trend set by Creative Assembly after the issues found with Rome II. While it may not be the most expansive in terms of factions, it more than makes up for it by each of these factions feeling unique, having unique gameplay mechanics and also making the shared mechanics varying enough that no game will ever feel the same.
Desperados III (9/10)
Genre: Strategy (turn-based tactics). Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.
Mimimi Productions, going it alone in their next project, was able to prove yet again that a new master of turn-based tactics is on the scene. After Shadow Tactics, Desperados III shows even more progression from the company. The game itself is a great example of getting a tactical game right.
The cast of characters, and their abilities, are perfectly balanced. While dull to look at due to the setting, the environments are perfect for the game and offer a good amount of freedom and variety. The game itself has a good amount of replay value, and any time you completed a mission, particularly the later ones, you felt like you’ve actually achieved something.
Following on from Shadow Tactics, Mimimi Productions have continued their excellent form with Desperados. While the maps can be a little dull and the game arguably slow, the level of tactical nuance and environmental storytelling, as you progress through engaging and challenging missions, is second to none. Desperados III is an undeniably great game, the best in the series and arguably one of the best in the genre.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (9.4/10)
Genre: Simulation. Platform: Nintendo Switch.
Animal Crossing was the perfect game for 2020. It’s a social game with a massive amount of replay value. It offers a level of social connection that the pandemic has taken away from people. Everybody has fallen in love with it, which is why the Nintendo Switch offered a preview of the console shortages to come in this new generation.
There isn’t much for me to say that hasn’t been said, for some reason, in our adventure games list. Since that’s the case, I’ll let Rosh speak for the phenomenon that is Animal Crossing: New Horizon.
There isn’t much to do in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Or more accurately, there isn’t much that the game tells you to do. Arriving at a new island that you can explore in a matter of minutes, Animal Crossing is instead about building your island into something personal. It is a game that encourages you to play every day, but only for a few minutes, clearing out each task and finding a new one.
It is also a game about showing off, or at least presenting your best self to others. You can visit and invite other players to your island, interacting in the most adorable ways. It is an adventure into yourself and into the personalities of others. It is calm, colourful, and comforting. It is possibly the perfect game of 2020 and stands in peaceful opposition to everything the year has thrown at you.
Crusader Kings III (9/10)
Genre: Strategy (grand strategy). Platform: PC.
Crusader Kings has always been a series about storytelling. These are the stories formed by your actions and one of the best AI’s to have ever graced a videogame. All of this works to give the game a sense of character rarely felt in games, nevermind a strategy game. Indeed, Crusader Kings III feels more like a simulation of medieval leadership, treachery, and more.
From the inbreeding of these medieval dynasties, the conflicts that arose from the smallest of interpersonal slights, or the largest if you decided to sleep with another leader’s woman (eat your heart out, Paris of Troy). The new dynasties system, the added RPG elements, improvements from the older titles, everything combines to make a fantastically engrossing game.
Crusader Kings III pulls off a difficult dual victory, bringing a new level of depth, charm, and polish to the franchise, while also making it far more approachable than before. Some aspects of Crusader Kings III still aren’t as user-friendly as they could be, but overall, this is a worthy heir to the throne.
Beyond Blue (8.2/10)
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.
Beyond Blue is serenity in game form. It’s also an impressive educational tool. As somebody who will mourn the loss of Sir David Attenborough when this legendary man finally hangs up his vocal cords, games like Beyond Blue can truly help to fill that void. Indeed, this is a project Attenborough could have lent his voice to and felt right at home.
This is a story of the beauty of nature in the pacific ocean. This is a story of the abject horror of the effects that we, the human race, are causing to the pacific ocean and the flora and fauna within. Beyond Blue feels like a documentary. That’s a testament to the work that went into it and the small clips that come within the games’ video library. If you aren’t already in love with the ocean and everything within, then this is worth picking up and letting it show you the wonders within.
Beyond Blue was developed, inspired and made in partnership with BBC Studios and Blue Planet, and you can feel that same love of the ocean that the documentary series conveys. There are no action sequences or conspiracies to uncover here. You won’t be exploring ancient ruins, although you might spot human waste drifting in the deepest depths of the ocean. Beyond Blue isn’t an exciting game, and it’s almost a compliment and criticism at once to say that it feels like an interactive documentary. But in the end, after each session with Beyond Blue, I would open up the iPlayer and watch an episode of Blue Planet. This game makes you fall in love with the ocean, from its creatures to its landscapes, and I don’t think it wanted to do anything else.
Gears Tactics (8.5/10)
Genre: Strategy (turn-based tactics). Platform: PC, Xbox Series S/X.
Microsoft did it. The second release in the same month, both great games, both surprising just how good they were. The biggest surprise for me was Gears Tactics. I had expectations for Microsoft Flight Simulator; I didn’t have any expectations for Gears Tactics going into the game. I thought it was going to be a cash grab on the Gears name. It wasn’t.
The tactics here are great. The story is boring, but the characters can be quite engaging. It’s aesthetically appealing. The latter two are a huge surprise for a game in the interminably boring and brown Gears of War universe. If you’re already a fan of the Gears of War series, its story, then this will be even more interesting to you. To me, it’s the best game in the series. Here’s what I said in my review:
The complaints are truly minor in the grand scheme because Gears Tactics is a bloody good game. Well, that last sentence ruined this whole paragraph. This was meant to be my roundup of the review and I’ve just given it all away, like the lothario that I am. So yes, simply put, Gears Tactics is a bloody good game. I would argue, being the strategy aficionado that I am, that it’s the best game in the whole Gears series. While it may not have the base-building elements seen in games like XCOM or Phoenix Point, the gameplay, character and team-building more than make up for it.
Football Manager 2021 (9.5/10)
Genre: Simulation (Sports). Platform: PC (core game). Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, Mobile (other versions).
Just wait until I write the Sports and Racing games list which will give you the supporting text.
Strategy and Simulation Games of 2020 – A Year in Review
2010 to 2019 was a fantastic decade for both the strategy and simulation genres. That much is something I made clear when I wrote about the games of the decade at the end of last year. A new year and a new decade, a great start for both genres, as made clear just from the titles above. Of course, there were more than those titles, with a wide number of games worth mentioning. Since there are, that’s what I’ll do.
Of course, there’s always a chance of me having missed some games. I haven’t played Suzerain, which looks interesting, but time is – as always – limited. If there are any strategy or simulation games I’ve missed that deserve to be on the list, shout at me below. Until then, we’ll look at the most anticipated strategy and simulation games set to release in the pending hellscape of 2021.