You’re going to hear a lot of people say that 2022 was a strange year for video games. It’s hard to disagree. At the very least, this was the year where delays, hardware shortages, and other logistical issues (many of which were caused or accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic) caught up with the industry. As such, we ended up with fewer major releases in 2022 than we’re used to enjoying, and many of the year’s major releases fell short of expectations.
Yet, I prefer to think of 2022 as the year in which we all hopefully realized that many of the best games of the last several years haven’t come from the biggest studios. Even the best major release of the year came from a studio that was once seen as something of an outsider. It’s not easy for people to find the time to play every great game released in a year, and we all know it’s not easy for most people to find the money to do the same. Hopefully, 2022 shows that the time and money we do have to spend on gaming sometimes deserves to go to something just a little different rather than our favorite franchises.
Besides, it should be easy to identify the best games in a “slow” year, but this was undoubtedly one of the most difficult best of lists we’ve ever had the pleasure of assembling. According to our readers and contributors, though, these were the best games of 2022.
20. Weird West
Boil Weird West down to its simplest form, and you might call it something like Fallout in the Old West. What the simplest form of that admittedly appealing mashup overlooks, though, is both the depth of this experience and the way it blends those concepts into something wonderfully new.
Weird West presents a world in which Dark Fantasy tropes and Old West traditions have joined forces so completly that you’ll start to wonder how one ever got along without the other. While you’re in that world, you’ll have the chance to participate in a rare kind of RPG experience where your journey is both a masterpiece of pre-organized creative concepts and entirely what you make of it. At a time when so many games want to be “RPG-like,” Weird West shows us the power of the genre in its purest form. – Matthew Byrd
19. Kirby and the Forgotten Land
Even though the Kirby franchise adopted 3D graphics a long time ago, the series’ gameplay has never made the same bold leap into the third dimension. However, Kirby and the Forgotten Land demonstrates the pink puffball classic style is at home in any dimension.
For the most part, Kirby and the Forgotten Land plays like every prior Kirby title. Gamers control Kirby as he explores different levels, sucks up enemies to gain their powers, and collects cute collectibles. The main game loop is unaltered and remains as fun as ever, but Kirby and the Forgotten Land also weaves in some fun new additions (such as the ability to upgrade enemy powers and unlock new attack and utility skills).
While Kirby and the Forgotten Land utilizes a new camera perspective for the series, the result is as enjoyable and family-friendly as ever. – Aaron Greenbaum
18. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Let’s face facts: Pokémon Scarlet and Violet didn’t live up to the hype. The games play it too safe and are buggier than a MissingNo. Then again, some of our expectations for those titles may have been warped by Pokémon Legends: Arceus setting the bar so high.
Even though Pokémon Legends: Arceus isn’t a proper open-world title, developer Game Freak nailed the adventurous feel of one. Each of the game’s sizable regions begs to be explored, and while players still need to catch as many Pokémon as possible, the game provides a novel quality-of-life improvement in the form of a stealth system. Chucking Poké Balls from the safety of a blindspot (or smokescreen) is as fun as it is satisfying.
Overall, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a breath of fresh air that deserves to serve as the blueprint for future entries. – AG
17. Neon White
Neon White shouldn’t work. The very idea of a parkour-driven, card-based action game is too wild to quickly summarize or sell, the gameplay is often intimidatingly tough, and the writing sometimes feels intentionally bad. Break this game down into enough pieces, and you’ll have a hard time putting them back together again in a way that makes sense.
Yet, developer Angel Matrix miraculously found the exact way to put those pieces together in order to form one of the best pure action titles in recent memory. Neon White‘s core gameplay will get your adrenaline flowing, but it’s the countless little stylistic flourishes and creative concepts that will continue to astound you and fuel that ever-present desire to go for one more run. This is a truly bold action game that rewards equally bold players. – MB
16. LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
LEGO games are like bags of potato chips: They come in many flavors and mostly provide the same experience, but you can’t help but enjoy them. The same is true of LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.
Like other licensed LEGO games, The Skywalker Saga is a pretty simple game. The action never gets more complicated than “punch/shoot bad guys and build items to progress,” but that simplicity is its strength. The Skywalker Saga translates all nine Star Wars movies into approachable levels and open worlds that are fun for all ages, and since the game includes local couch co-op, the whole family can join in.
LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga has something for everyone, from quirky, kid-friendly humor to tons of collectibles that explore even the most remote corners of Star Wars lore. It may be the most ambitious LEGO game yet from a size and structure standpoint, but it’s the franchise’s simple pleasures that remain its biggest draw. – AG
15. A Plague Tale: Requiem
A Plague Tale: Innocence was a hauntingly beautiful coming-of-age story about two children having to grow up to survive Inquisitorial forces and a literal tidal wave of hungry rats. Nobody expected a sequel to a game like that, but boy are we glad one exists.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is essentially “A Plague Tale: Innocence 2.0” in the best ways. The game picks up where the original left off (give or take a few months) and provides an even richer narrative dripping with themes of survival and betrayal. Levels are not just larger in Requiem; they allow players to forge their own paths as they take in every beautiful (yet often horrifying) detail.
If you played A Plague Tale: Innocence, you owe it to yourself to play A Plague Tale: Requiem. And if you didn’t…well, you need to play both. – AG
14. Marvel Snap
It takes a lot to cut through the cynicism any right-minded person would bring to a Marvel mobile game. Almost as much as it takes to cut through the cynicism most people would bring to a mobile CCG. Remarkably, Marvel Snap manages to cut through all of it.
Marvel Snap’s territory-based CCG mechanics are an exceptional example of the genre in its best form. Yet, it’s the purity of the game that makes it stand apart. Almost entirely devoid of the more predatory practices we typically associate with the genre and mobile platform, Marvel Snap feels like a labor of love and the celebration of what is possible when you put great game design above all else. – MB
13. Xenoblade Chronicles 3
The first Xenoblade Chronicles title wowed fans with its imaginative world, memorable characters, and adrenaline-pumping music (all on the underpowered Wii, of all consoles). That game spawned a franchise of beloved RPGs, and the third main entry (fourth if you count Xenoblade Chronicles X) doesn’t deviate from what has worked so far.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is one of the most impressive games available on the Switch. The world’s scale and artistry push the Switch’s limits without sacrificing performance. The story is a beautiful tale about heroes on opposite sides of a conflict coming together to end a war that has been waged for so long it has become part of their cultures. Remarkably, the combat and class systems are in-depth without ever feeling daunting.
You don’t need to play the previous Xenoblade Chronicles games to understand the story or mechanics, but prior experience helps. Besides, why deny yourself any part of this incredible franchise? – AG
12. Vampire Survivors
Gun to my head and hand to my heart, I might tell you that there’s no 2022 game that I got more pure enjoyment out of than Vampire Survivors. I’ve had the privilege of writing about this game in the past, but the most remarkable thing about Vampire Survivors is how difficult it is to capture such a seemingly simple experience in words.
Vampire Survivors‘ rogue-like bullet hell gameplay reminds me of the first time I ever played an arcade game. The intense, visceral pleasures of the base experience pair well with the feeling that just beyond your current hurdle is this incredible thing that must be experienced and achieved. It’s a miraculous reminder that a great game can come from anywhere and take many forms. – MB
Several years ago, Sony and Annapurna Interactive teased an indie game called Stray, and gamers were immediately invested in the promise of playing as a cat. Stray was supposed to release in 2021 but was delayed until 2022. During that delay, some wondered if Stray had been just a little overhyped. However, the wait proved to be more than worthwhile.
True to the trailer’s premise, Stray lets players control a cat. The game even comes with a dedicated button for meowing. Given our obsession with cats, that would be enough to entertain audiences, but Stray backs up the feline-centric gameplay with a beautiful post-apocalyptic world and gripping story. How did the world become the way it did? Why did cats outlive humans? These questions and more drive gamers forward.
Despite Stray’s intentionally simple elevator pitch, the game proves to be a piece of art that is greater than the sum of its parts. – AG
It’s easy to overlook the value of a ritual. That seemingly simple thing we always turn to sure seems to feel a lot more significant when it’s no longer there. For a time at least, there was something kind of magical about everyone starting their day with a game of Wordle.
The sleeper sensation of 2022 is really nothing more than a game of “guess the five-letter word.” It was, and remains, satisfying, but the true joy of the thing was the feeling of sharing our results, successes, and failures with friends and those we didn’t even know. At a time when the idea of anything that brings people together to share a simple pleasure seems optimistic to the point of foolishness, the power of something like Wordle shouldn’t be discounted. – MB
9. Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course
In 2018, Cuphead’s developers, StudioMDHR, teased a DLC pack titled The Delicious Last Course. The team wanted to release the expansion in 2019 but had to delay it until 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic naturally impacted those plans (as it impacted so many others), and fans were left to wonder if they’d ever get to play more Cuphead. After four years of waiting, The Delicious Last Course is finally here, and it’s everything Cuphead fans wanted.
Like the vanilla Cuphead experience, The Delicious Last Course is a feast for the eyes and ears, channeling the same classic animation style that helped the base game become a sensation. Though the DLC adds new weapons and a new playable character, Ms. Chalice, The Delicious Last Course focuses on the same nail-biting boss rush action that made the original a classic. Just as before, though, it’s the effort that went into every single frame of the game that makes it feel like a design miracle.
The Delicious Last Course might be a short packet of indie DLC, but it outshines most of this year’s AAA releases. – AG
8. Tiny Tina’s Wonderland
Borderlands 2 is arguably the best entry in the Borderlands franchise, partially because of the memorable Assault on Dragonkeep DLC. What’s better than porting an arsenal of sci-fi guns into a Dungeons & Dragons campaign hosted by Tiny Tina? How about a game based on that premise?
For the most part, Tiny Tina’s Wonderland is your standard Borderlands adventure in the best way possible. Quirky humor? Check. More guns than you can shake a shillelagh at? Check? Addictive action? Roll for Persuasion check. But Tiny Tina’s Wonderland isn’t just a rehash; it drives the series forward with expanded RPG concepts like a bonafide character creation system, complete with class skills players can mix and match.
While the stakes aren’t high in Tiny Tina’s Wonderland, the game mechanically lays the groundwork for future, better adventures in the Borderlands universe. – AG
I spent most of 2001 playing Max Payne, Devil May Cry, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, and it never once occurred to me that all of those games could be fused together to produce something truly wonderful. Thankfully, developer Roll7 recognized that possibility and fully realized its potential with the incredible Rollerdrome.
Rollerdrome’s almost magical gameplay asks you to blend combo-based extreme sports tricks and combo-based kills together in ways that feel surprisingly organic. That blend of gameplay concepts would have been compelling enough to carry much of this game’s weight, but Roll7 went a step further by wrapping the whole thing around a shockingly compelling bloodsport-based dystopian narrative. This is a dream come true for those who love the games that clearly inspired this title. Even those who didn’t may find themselves hopelessly lost in this angelic choir of concepts. – MB
Recut Immortality in the right way, and you’ll have one of the finest films of the year. Fortunately, Immortality is so much more than that. It’s an exploration of how interactivity can completely change the way we experience art.
Immortality’s story of a missing actress and her lost films is as compelling as any narrative you’ll have the pleasure of experiencing in any medium this year. What elevates it, though, is your ability to experience that story via brief pieces of footage you must roughly edit together using a vague series of clues. There are countless ways to experience every little moment in Immortality, but the fact that the bigger picture looks so incredible regardless of how you put the pieces together is what makes it a truly special example of video game storytelling. – MB
5. Horizon Forbidden West
Guerilla Games didn’t have the best of luck with its first PlayStation-exclusive franchise, Killzone, so nobody knew quite what to expect from their big PS-exclusive follow-up: 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn. The answer was brilliance, and the same holds true for its sequel.
Forbidden West‘s world is alive with hidden treasures that encourage exploration and giant mechanical monstrosities that test player skill and planning. All the while, a memorable story and legendary heroine drive the game forward. For as massive as Horizon Forbidden West is, it’s truly impressive that every piece of the experience feels hand-crafted with love and purpose.
Admittedly, Zero Dawn shares much of that praise, but Forbidden West improves upon its predecessor in ways that feel impossible given just how great that game was. Just in case there was any doubt, Forbidden West shows that the Horizon franchise is truly one of gaming’s greatest. – AG
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
As Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge climbed higher and higher up this list, the question of whether or not it “deserved it” became that much more pressing. In a year filled with brilliant, revolutionary games, what should we make of a game that ultimately revives a pretty old concept?
Yet, I stand by what I said when I called TMNT the feel-good game of the year. The love that went into this game is obvious during every second of the irreplaceable few hours that you’ll have the pleasure of spending with it. From the animations to the environments, every little piece of Shredder’s Revenge was not only clearly made with passion but will likely remind many of you of the passion that got you into gaming however many years ago.
Besides, if this style of game was so easy to replicate, countless other studios would have replicated it by now. You can’t fake this kind of game, and the joy of experiencing developer Tribute Games’ considerable efforts proves that point better than any argument for this game’s credentials I can (or would ever need to) make. – MB
3. Cult of the Lamb
I apologize for invoking such a tired cliche, but I kept thinking of the saying “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” when I played Cult of the Lamb. That’s partially because of the journey of a thousand miles this game takes you on, but honestly, it’s got a lot more to do with that single step.
Cult of the Lamb is a roguelike colony simulator that puts you in charge of an ever-growing cult of upsettingly cute characters. You gather resources, you build structures, you defeat enemies, and you further your own causes on your journey to becoming a god. If that sounds a little daunting…well, it certainly is from a thematic standpoint, but the thing that makes Cult of the Lamb magical is that every single step of the process feels fulfilling.
At a time when titles such as this often put so much weight into getting there eventually, Cult of the Lamb stands apart by virtue of its ability to add personality and purpose to nearly every part of the experience. You’ll immediately be so swept up by this game’s potent combination of charm and depth that you won’t even stop to wonder if that’s how actual cult members end up finding their messiahs in the first place. – MB
2. God of War: Ragnarök
When 2018’s God of War soft reboot ended, fans everywhere knew the game would receive a sequel. Of course, an inevitable sequel isn’t always a great sequel. God of War: Ragnarök was burdened by expectations before it was even revealed. Well, the final game is not only a masterclass of a sequel, it’s a masterclass of a game.
Ragnarök dials everything that made 2018’s God of War so great up to 11. The combat is fast and ferocious, the environmental puzzles will leave some players scratching their heads, and the story is yet another well-told tale about destiny, family, and the lengths some will go to defy the former and preserve the latter. Oh, and the graphics are a sight to behold, even on the PS4.
Ragnarök is that rare kind of Triple-A gaming experience that not only delivers exceptional storytelling and gameplay but blends both together in a way that makes the experience worthy of the “epic” tag that is so easy to casually toss toward lesser games. It’s tough to say how another sequel will ever top this, but we can’t wait to find out. – AG
1. Elden Ring (READERS’ CHOICE)
I always use the first time I crossed Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time as a kind of shorthand reference point for gaming greatness. While that’s partially because it’s an expertly orchestrated moment, it’s also because it’s the kind of moment that captures a time, place, and feeling that we gradually accept will never be replicated. Yes, all games should try to pursue such feelings, but we will obviously never be able to recreate that exact feeling.
Well, there are numerous moments in Elden Ring that not only recreated that feeling but surpassed it. After years of increasingly complacent open-world games, Elden Ring reminds us that the promise of that genre was always supposed to be the sensation that we were embarking upon a true adventure. Each turn around every corner of this game’s world feels like it could reveal some previously unimaginable possibility, and the game often delivers upon those sensations with moments that prove that there are times when the reality of a thing can be even greater than what we dared dream.
For years, FromSoftware fans across the world talked about how that studio’s games were about so much more than the difficulty that some reduced them to. Elden Ring is the clearest proof yet the joy of those notoriously difficult titles was never really about the times they beat us down; they were about the thrill of rising up in ways that only games allow us to do. – MB