During this extraordinary year, some incredible adventures have helped get us through unprecedented times. The art of making games is a craft on display through engaging storytelling, enjoyable mechanics, and experiences that fans can treasure long after the credits roll. We’ve already talked about some of our favorite games of 2020, but how about the wonderful teams who make games like those possible? We’re celebrating the people who make up some of our favorite studios, so without further ado: Here are our top 10 developers that helped make 2020 a little brighter through a shared creativity that birthed amazing stories.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla took players on an emotional and turbulent journey through the age of Vikings, crafting a tale that embedded its way into the hearts of gamers. Valhalla transformed us, both newcomers to the franchise and veterans alike, into Eivor and gave us a journey that was rife with adventure, difficult decisions, and the trials and tribulations of life hovering on the edge of duty and honor.
With combat that feels true to the franchise’s ambitions and the return of key brotherhood features like the Hidden Blade, Valhalla blends the best of what we love about the series and what we hope it can evolve into.
Final Fantasy VII is one of the most beloved entries in this franchise. Square Enix took the story of Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, and the gang to all-new heights by reimagining Midgar with the help of modern-day graphics. While some aspects of the remake were word-for-word replications of the original, the team also included a freshness to the narrative that helped make this feel like a new experience for all without losing that sense of “coming home” that remakes often inspire.
While this was only the first part of several bringing a fan-favorite into this generation, the conclusion of part one has us excited to see what else this studio has in store.
It’s not always guaranteed that a sequel can surpass the original when it comes to gaming, but Ori and the Will of the Wisps did just that earlier this year. Moon Studios took a story that was drenched in juxtaposition, flirting with the edge of life and death, and made it even more impactful through a beautifully penned story and breathtaking artwork.
Will of the Wisps features gameplay that is surprisingly tense in many ways, demanding the player be thoughtful in their approach and patient with how they progress through the story. In a lot of ways, this sequel expands on the original and makes the story more detailed in its direction and explosive in its narrative design.
Mediatonic hit the nail on the head with its playful spin on the popular battle royale genre. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a game where the sole objective is to just have as much fun as possible, and it’s refreshing how it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. Playing as gigantic (and kind of scary, if you think about it) jelly beans, Fall Guys offers a Mario Party-esque spin on an online genre that has dominated the gaming space over the past two years.
Competing against other players through various obstacle courses is a massive adrenaline rush made better by the playful nature of the skins and the levels themselves. Plus, how could hate a game that has something literally called “Big Yeetus”? You just can’t.
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Yakuza is a longstanding franchise that has always featured Kazuma Kiryu front and center, but Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio decided to take an entirely different approach to the future of the franchise with a new hero. While Yakuza: Like a Dragon absolutely stays true to the heart of the series, balancing heavy themes and hilarious comedic relief, the studio also wasn’t afraid to try out a few new things either.
The new protagonist is Ichiban Kasuga and he’s a man that is so pure in many ways, so sweet that it hurts. With a genuine nature and kindness at his center, Ichiban earned his right to call himself a hero (even if he can’t stop talking about Dragon Quest).
Changing the hero isn’t the only major alteration RGG Studio made with Like a Dragon. It also implemented a new turn-based battle system, but these risks paid off big to create a fun game full of feel-good moments.
Valve has been clear in the past that it wouldn’t continue the Half-Life franchise unless the team was sure they could impact gaming in a meaningful way like they did in the past with the first two entries. That drive is also a reason why Alyx is a VR experience. This isn’t the standard VR game that looks like it could have easily been a title from 10 years ago; Alyx is fully polished, stunning graphically and mechanically, and brings the terror of this universe to life in startling detail. While limited because of the price of entry into the world of VR, the way this game was crafted was immensely boosted by this platform of choice.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is only the latest in a long line of Animal Crossing experiences, but the latest iteration of the game came at a time when the gaming community needed it the most. New Horizons released right as COVID-19 quarantines began, and not only did this title offer a much-needed escape from reality, it also became a hub of limitless experiences for those craving social interaction. Players have used this game to host in-game weddings, birthday parties — even work meetings!
With its constant rotation of events and the influx of returning characters, the team at Nintendo has made Animal Crossing: New Horizons a wonderful bright spot in an otherwise gloomy year.
Sucker Punch knocked it out of the park with Ghost of Tsushima, a haunting tale of a samurai that will do anything he can to bring honor to the order even if it means betraying the very thing he seeks to protect. Jin’s journey was exquisite, combining stealth mechanics with a beautiful open world to explore. Oftentimes, this felt like a samurai movie of old, harkening back to what it means to be a samurai even when it feels like the whole world is against you.
The studio made an already great game even better by adding multiplayer experiences with missions and raids, a touch that added to the value of the game without stripping what made it so beautiful. The multiplayer addition added aspects that respected the lore and felt organic to the game, which is no easy feat.
The Last of Us Part II made some divisive narrative moves, but that didn’t stop this grim sequel from finding success and acclaim. The latest step in Ellie’s journey is immensely dark, at times making her almost unrecognizable in her hatred and rage following the death of someone close to her.
Naughty Dog wove expert artistic techniques when crafting the sequel, alternating between the present-day narrative and more pleasant memories of the past. The studio also makes other bold and unforgettable storytelling decisions that blur the lines between who is the “bad guy” and who is just trying to get by.
The journey may be uncomfortable at times, and but Naughty Dog didn’t shy away from making controversial choices to prove just how little control people actually have in a world built like this.
From Bastion to Transistor to Pyre, Supergiant has consistently proven itself as one of gaming’s premier developers, but things finally reached a crescendo with the release of Hades. After spending two years fine-tuning the game in early access, Supergiant succeeds in taking the repetitive nature of the roguelike genre and uses it to Hades’ narrative advantage. With a focus on relationships and characters behind all of the action, Hades is truly unique.
In fact, Hades is a roguelike that players who don’t even like roguelikes can enjoy. Supergiant Games is never afraid to go where it hasn’t gone before, experimenting with different formats while still retaining a signature focus on telling fascinating stories, and Hades cements Supergiant’s place at the top of the mountain in 2020. It is a crowning achievement for the team, and it also speaks volumes of their talent.
Want to read more about the best games that 2020 had to offer? We’re counting down our Top 10 for the year, so navigate to another entry using the links below!