We’re approaching the end of a long journey. It’s nearly the end of the year, and we’re all pretty tired.
Welcome to the final episode of my GOTY series! In this installment, I’ll finally announce my Top 5 games of 2022. Here’s the first part, which you can read by clicking on the link below:
It has been a unique challenge making a Top 10 list. 2022’s been a significantly stronger year for gaming than the previous year, despite all the pushbacks and continued consequences from the ongoing pandemic. With all the big announcements from the Game Awards and 2023’s scheduled releases, next year is shaping up to be even better. I considered writing a Top 20 list at one point but found it too long to work out. So like a boring guy, I decided to stick to a Top 10.
Without further delays, here are TheThousandScar’s top five favourite games of 2022.
Before I dig deeper into this excellent indie title, I want to stress how difficult ranking these games were. All five of these are breath-taking experiences; at one point, each was my GOTY. I’ve got the order correct, but I could mix these up in any order and still be satisfied with my choices.
ADACA is a true hidden gem, a mix of Half-Life and Stalker with Playmobil graphics. The work of a solo developer, I had the chance to play this at launch thanks to his generosity. You can check out my impressions review of ADACA by clicking on the link below.
ADACA packs an impressive amount of curated content into its wrappings. There are two main game modes: a chunky campaign exploring the breathing world of ADACA and a vast, non-linear hub world for the player to complete missions, explore and uncover secrets. Either one of these modes alone would make ADACA worth playing. However, having both in the game provides a diverse range of content.
What’s even more astounding is how tight the mechanics play out. A SciFi FPS, the story takes the player in the eyes of secret agent Jessy Thorn as he uncovers dark conspiracies and fights for survival. The campaign is an episodic model: with other episodes in future patches. With open levels, great environments, a wide variety of weapons and abilities, and a gravity gun to steal enemy weapons and launch big objects at foes, ADACA offers no shortage of player options. While the visuals are low-poly, they look fantastic. It reminds me a little of Valheim that way.
The sandbox hub world is called Zone Patrol, which is an entirely different game mode to explore. There are tons of content and missions to complete in this mode, a large, open-zoned region similar to the STALKER series. With its healthy doses of horror, dozens of things to unlock, and a world rich with lore and secrets, Zone Patrol is my favourite mode to explore.
ADACA does everything so well; it’s one of the most enjoyable shooters I’ve ever played. With different modes, modifiers, and customizable difficulty settings, there’s something for everyone.
4. Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga
The tactics genre has seen a resurgence in 2022, which is a welcome return. On the AAA spectrum, we’ve witnessed Tactics Ogre: Reborn, Chaos Gate: Demonhunters, Triangle Strategy, Marvel Snap, and Marvel: Midnight Suns, as well as promising indies such as Absolute Tactics: Daughters of Mercy, Lost Eidolons, Summoners Fate and Prime of Flames. While I’ve enjoyed all of these to some degree or another (Prime of Flames is the underdog in this category by far), there is one tactics strategy released this year that stabbed them in the throat, leaving their corpses bleeding out in the streets. Summoner’s Fate and Prime of Flames are fantastic, though. Give them a try.
My favourite strategy title of 2022 is Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga, easily cracking my Top 5 in the fourth place position. For months, I had Saga as my GOTY before some more promising candidates overtook it, but I’ve been blown away by Saga, and any strategy fan should play it.
Despite using the ancient RPG VX Ace software to make this, Symphony of War punches above its weight class boasting vibrant pixel art, breathing characters, and combat mechanics that are a delight to experience. In classic JRPG fashion, your main avatar has ridiculous anime character hair, so we know they’re going to be overpowered as crap.
The story won’t win any awards for originality, and I’ll admit, I preferred the narrative in the early portions of Symphony of War’s 40+ hour-long campaign. It kicks things off with a heavy dose of political warfare, civil conflict, and betrayal, and it was my favourite part of the story. However, around a third of the way through, the plot changes into a classic ‘Good vs. Evil, Chosen Ones vs. the Big Bad’ that brings things down a notch.
While I was genuinely surprised by some twists at that point, the story quickly returned to the good vs. evil tropes, with resurrections and mighty angels of light joining forces to fight the evil from within. Yeah, the story has its cliches. It’s not all bad, and I enjoyed the characters; each one felt different with their dreams and conversations. Even though there’s no voice acting apart from some quotes during combat, I still felt attached to the cast. I would have preferred the story to stick to politics.
The gameplay sets Symphony of War above its competition: it takes on the classic model from Fire Emblem, making tweaks to improve the experience. There’s so much customization to controlling an army, with squad-based combat, that it’s a delight to experience. With so many different units and upgrades, you can make them your own. Missions are always exciting, with some alternative objective and things to capture on the map; for instance, taking a side fort can provide your military machine with more gold, or entering a bazaar can offer powerful mercenaries or items for sale. It can be a severe challenge with more complex difficulties, but there are enough settings for everyone.
We’ve seen several significant patches to Symphony of War in recent months, with an extensive roadmap planned for the future. There’s already a large DLC in the works, and 2023 looks like more greatness for this excellent game. The story might not be unique, but the gameplay is so damn good that I wish there were more ways to exploit it. A full skirmish mode or replayable missions would make it perfect.
We’re now onto the big triarchy: three incredible, narrative-heavy games that blew my mind. Sorting these top three titles in any rank was incredibly challenging, but I’ve got it correct.
Taking 2022’s number three spot is the spectacular interactive novel, Roadwarden. I was astonished at how much this game packs into its contents, combining the best parts of visual stories, world interaction, and choice-driven gameplay into a delicious meal.
Vagrus: The Riven Realms made my Top 10 list last year; a brutally challenging management sim set in a dark, rich fantasy world. Taking Oregon Trail and pumping it full of drugs that broke the soul, it’s a punishing and enthralling experience. Unfortunately, while I was impressed with Vagrus’s lore and worldbuilding, the combat system left much to be desired. With combat taking a significant priority in the game’s experience, I couldn’t enjoy Vagrus as much as I wanted.
Roadwarden feels like someone looked at what Vagrus accomplished, condensed it into a visual novel experience, stripped out all the bullshit, and made their own world. This is everything I want from an interactive novel, and it ticks every box I can think of. The developer dug for gold and ended up with a goldmine. Here’s my interview with him down below:
As soon as I started playing Roadwarden, I knew it was an automatic entry into my Top 10 list. It only continued to impress me. Sure, a lot of reading is required, but if someone likes reading only a few words, this is probably something they shouldn’t buy in the first place. Roadwarden is full of great accessibility options, including a complete glossary, tutorial, and codex explaining everything, as well as a dialogue account. It does a great job of introducing itself to every kind of player.
What I loved most about Roadwarden was how real everything felt. In a Roman/barbarian-Esque fantasy world, the player becomes a new roadwarden. It’s up to the player to uncover knowledge about the region, discover mysteries, and discover what happened to the previous roadwarden. It’s challenging, a delight to play, and above all else, it’s your story. There’s a ton of freedom in exploration, decisions, and resources to manage. Keeping complete and healthy is crucial for anyone.
Roadwarden also offers several difficulty modes to experience: the base story mode is forty days, but there’s a more difficult survival mode of thirty days (and resources are more brutal), as well as a casual mode to play indefinitely. It’s great when there are options for everybody, though I’d recommend people start with the standard forty-day limit first. It’s how Roadwarden was initially designed, and with many choices and paths to take, playing everything in one go might not be the optimal route with a single character.
Anyone who has even a passing curiosity should check this game out. There’s a considerable amount of things to do, with locations that feel lived in and characters that made me care for them, despite playing a sociopath prick of a roadwarden. It has just the right balance of reading a novel and an RPG, with fundamental choices to make, with a stunning ambient soundtrack to get involved with while playing. There’s a sizable demo available for anyone who wants to try it, and it’s only ten dollars. Seriously? The developer should charge more for what Roadwarden offers.
What a masterpiece. And Roadwarden is only number three on my list this year!
2. I Was A Teenage Exocolonist
Holy shit on a Holy Hand Grenade, this game is incredible.
I wanted to include my review of Exocolonist before December, but I spent so much time loving my experience with it that I wanted to introduce it properly. This is why I’m covering it now. Even before the game was released in August, I expected it to be great. I rarely buy games at launch, and I never preorder. So I picked up Exocolonist a couple of weeks after its launch.
It exceeded all my expectations and then some. It’s a delicious, powerful sundae containing all my favourite flavors in gaming. Boasting excellent story writing, calm and relaxing gameplay, a gripping narrative, and a mountain of choices and consequences that are impossible to find in one playthrough, this game has it all. Only three games hit me on an emotional level close to Exocolonist: Spiritfarer, Cyberpunk 2077, and Outer Wilds.
Exocolonist begins in a new world: escaping Earth to begin life on a brand new planet; the player’s character is part of a tight-knit family community in a cybernetic world. Every character in this game is beautifully realized, with their own story, personalities, and backgrounds to discover. There’s so much freedom in building your own character, allowing for unlimited ways to grow during the ten-year voyage Exocolonist provides. Perhaps the adorable Tammy will be your best friend or the sporty Anemone. Every childhood character is incredible, and amongst the best-written children I’ve seen in any fiction, game or book included. With beautiful representation and accessibility options, they’ve thought of everything.
Exocolonist’s design is straightforward. Ten years of character growth, thirteen months on the alien world per year. Each month allows one activity, allowing chances for skill increases, relationship improvements, and narrative, using a card-game mechanic to complete challenges. This isn’t a true deck builder: it’s a visual novel RPG with deck-building elements, but it gets the job done. This deckbuilding game could have been better, but it compliments the rest of Exocolonist. It could use more complex features.
The amount of things your character can do grows as the game advances: all sorts of jobs like helping parents with gardening and food growth, exploring the outside, and learning how to fight. With twenty-five different jobs, hundreds of world and story events, and twenty-five different endings, this game encourages repeated playthroughs. Even better, your avatar remembers past lives, unlocking even more options.
I’ll give nothing away about Exocolonist’s story because you need to play it to feel it. It’s compelling, wholesome at times, and crushingly brutal at others. This is a story about self-discovery, the will to exist, and fighting for survival. The political situation is dangerous, and this new world has deadly blades hidden amongst the grass. I give the writers all the credit they deserve because this is some of the best writing I’ve seen in a video game. The last time I cried from playing a game was during Spiritfarer, and Exocolonist rivals the best of narrative games with emotional power alone.
Like Spiritfarer, Exocolonist playthroughs can overstay their welcome, especially on repeats. I wish the deckbuilding mechanics were more interesting. Despite these minor niggles, I was a Teenage Exocolonist is an astonishing and powerful piece of art with relaxing gameplay to back it up. Being fully playable on the Steam Deck doesn’t hurt it, either! Bravo.
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist was my Game of The Year in many ways. It ticked every box I had. However, there was one other game this year that managed it. That is…
1. Ctrl Alt Ego
I thought long and hard about what would be my 2022 Game of the Year. Any of my top five games in this episode could’ve won it. Not that I score games anymore, but the ranking points would be incredibly tight if I did. Symphony of War: Nephilim Saga held the top spot for the longest time.
While I still need to complete Ctrl Alt Ego, and I have completed Exocolonist, I had to give Ctrl Alt Ego the nod on the strength of gameplay alone. There’s nothing wrong with Exocolonist’s gameplay loop; there’s a good reason I’ve got 40 hours in it and counting, but Ctrl Alt Ego is more enjoyable to directly play.
I have what I call an ‘S-Class’ tier of indies. These are the pinnacle of gaming: addictive and enjoyable experiences with years of support, a treasure trove of content, and full of care.
Rimworld, Kenshi, Factorio, Dwarf Fortress, and Stardew Valley are all S-Class. Ctrl Alt Ego deserves a spot among them. What’s more bizarre is how little attention this game has received. Despite incredibly positive reviews on Steam and its growing cult following, gaming media hasn’t woken up to this title yet.
With luck, that’ll change. Ctrl Alt Ego is a masterpiece. I had already reviewed it at length in my impressions episode last month, so I won’t go into as much detail here. However, if you fancy a deeper dive, the link is down below:
The work of a two-person team, Ctrl Alt Ego, is unique and the art of game design. Immersive sims have come back this year, and Ctrl Alt Ego is one of the best. Combining all my favourite parts of gaming can be challenging. Enjoyable, addictive gameplay, a solid story, good characters, an exciting world, and plenty of choices for completing tasks. Ctrl Alt Ego doesn’t just do all of these. It does them well.
There’s no death penalty; it’s a playground of experimentation. Set on a dark, abandoned science station as a disembodied soul, the player must uncover the secrets of the space station and work out how everything went to shit. The dialogue from the AI narrator is well-written and hilarious; I laughed every few minutes.
I’m still astonished at how non-linear this game is. The levels are significant, with unlimited freedom to explore, with an energy system for abilities that’s fair on the player but not overpowered. Being able to hack into everything feels awesome; machines, doors, locks, terminals… there’s no shortage of things for our little disembodied mind to play with. While Ctrl Alt Ego makes life challenging, it never feels unfair. Every task has countless ways to achieve it, and there’s a goldmine of tools for the player to use if they feel like it.
You know? I could talk about this game for hours, but I’ve said enough. The best way to learn more about Ctrl Alt Ego is by picking it up and experiencing it yourself. This game tries so many things differently in a gaming world where AAA can feel stagnant. It has a grand world narrative and addictive gameplay. I love it, and it’s risen to my favourite game of 2022. The developers have achieved something magnificent with this one.
We’ve reached the end of my annual GOTY series! I’ve covered thirty-four games across seven episodes. Is this my most extensive end-of-year series yet? It certainly feels like it!
It’s been a long journey. 2022 has been a particularly rough year for many people, myself included. 2023 might be even more challenging, and it cannot be easy to see things positively. However, if nothing else, I can take pride in my progress this year.
This has been one of the most challenging years to make a top ten list. I’ve played nearly 90 games that launched this year, and that’s not counting all the cool games I’m catching up on from previous years. We’ve seen many games delayed into 2023, but come on. We’re still amid a global pandemic, and that cascade from 2020-21 is still crashing down on world markets. We’ll see more difficulties in the next few years for sure. Despite all that, I’ve found 2022 to be one of the most vital recent years in gaming.
Looking forward, 2023 looks like an exceptional one. Just off the top of my head, I’m excited about games like Starfield, Mahokenshi, Hogwarts Legacy, Deliver Us Mars, Storyteller, Jedi Survivor, and Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. And that’s only a vertical slice of what to expect!
Finally, thank everyone for their feedback and support. I’ve made major improvements this year. We’re a small outlet, but the last few months have been successful for traction and coverage; more developers are interested in interviews and having their games covered, and I plan to continue that next year. The next four Indie Corner episodes are already planned, and I can’t wait to reveal more of my plans for 2023.
This won’t be the last article of 2022, but it is the closing chapter of this year’s GOTY event.
Happy Holidays, all!