As we adapt and change our lives to stop the spread of COVID-19, our hobbies change, too. People found themselves trying new hobbies or dedicating more time to their existing passions. During lockdown in Toronto, I used some of my extra free time to try new games or revisit familiar ones.
When we exited the lockdown and entered stage 3 in Toronto, I played over a dozen games. Some games surprised me, while others snuck their way into my play sessions. Some of these games I would never play if not for a stay-at-home order across Ontario. I had time to burn while the province waited for positive cases to drop.
To evaluate each game, I want to categorize them in two different ways:
- Lockdown – Games I would only play during a global pandemic
- Recovery – Games I would play outside of lockdown or a global pandemic
I kept hearing great things about the Outer Wilds when it first released on Xbox Game Pass. In Outer Wilds, death is inevitable. Every 22 minutes, your space exploring adventure is cut short when a supernova destroys the universe. When your run ends, you are reborn and return the point just before launching your ship into outer space.
With each subsequent run, you build upon new discoveries to progress further when you return. Your discoveries then enter a log so you can track your progress and investigate unfounded mysteries. Each planet branches to smaller, related puzzles or historical explanations, but it all ties together to tell an overarching story.
The concept drew me back multiple times, but I eventually bounced off. On Xbox One, Outer Wilds chugs. It drops below 30 frames per second and the floaty controls makes space flight frustrating and disorienting. One misstep and you’ll plummet to your death, ending your run early. Sometimes you run out of oxygen or underestimate the length of a jump. Those deaths I can accept. I can’t accept ended runs because it takes dozens of micro adjustments to land my ship.
When you land on a planet, make discoveries and progress the story, the Outer Wilds builds momentum. The satisfaction of uncovering a mystery reels you back in to finish those incomplete visits. Then things slow down. Investigations stall, which chips away at your motivation, until you no longer want to continue.
Persona 5 Royal
Persona 5 Royal expands an enormous game which needed fine tuning and trimming rather than more content. When I spent 100 hours with Persona 5 in 2016, I finished the story burnt out, rather than satisfied. It’s a weird feeling to love a game, while also wishing they trimmed the weaker parts.
During the lockdown, I only bought Persona 5 Royal because of my abundance of free time. With restaurants closed, families isolating and sports suspended, a social JRPG seemed like a perfect distraction from a pandemic. It worked for a while, until the new content’s novelty wore off.
The new characters, Kasumi, a gymnastic red head, and Takuto, the school’s new counselor, feel bolted onto a bloated story. They expand an already large confidant pool. Atlus instead needed to trim some of the dialogue with existing characters. Repetitive and rambling monologue bogs down the pace of a game already bursting with content.
New areas, new characters and new personas doesn’t justify a return to Persona 5, even four years later. A large game like Persona 5 didn’t need more content, it needed better presentation of what already exists. New players won’t deny the extra additions to an older game, but I couldn’t push forward.
Halo Wars 2
Halo Wars 2 was my most disappointing game of 2017. The unstable network at launch and embarrassing unit balance forced me to quit playing within the first week. I returned months later when Creative Assembly fixed connection issues. I partied up with friends and plowed through our opponents match after match.
Then new content dropped and the game spiraled out of control again. New leaders introduced a slew of new issues, ranging from broken leader abilities or unfair unique units. It happened with every DLC release. New leaders combined with a new balance patch ruined game balance for about a month. Although frustrating, I returned often before finally falling off in favour of newer games.
But much like many multiplayer games during lockdown, a surge in the player population brought my friends and I back to Halo Wars 2. The game did not receive new content for months and Creative Assembly achieved a balanced game state. We spent months screaming at each other after losses and praising each other after victories. Although we returned during lockdown, we continued playing when COVID restrictions lifted.
Monster Hunter: Iceborne
I spent a lot of time with Monster Hunter World, so I thought I wouldn’t mind some extra time with the expansion, Iceborne. The new expansion brings players to a snowy area and introduces new weapons, monsters and armour. It gives more of what Monster Hunter fans want, while also adding new mechanics like the Slinger. But despite all of the amazing additions, I struggled to latch onto the new content.
Iceborne adds to an already enormous game few players see through to the end. I completed the story in World and started hunting Tempered rank monsters, but I lost motivation. I hunted and captured every monster in the game, so better gear and weapons didn’t drive me forward. Iceborne adds to an already fantastic game, but I realized I did not want more.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
One of the best Call of Duty games improves as new updates add maps, modes and weapons to the multiplayer. Cross-play was a major reason for why Modern Warfare secured the third spot on my Game of the Year list. It let me play with friends across all platforms, including the new, free mode, Warzone.
Infinity Wards stuffed Warzone, their new 150 player battle royale, with dozens of unique ideas. You can customize loadouts, respawn multiple times and purchase killstreaks. The ideas don’t all blend together well, but it at least makes their BR different. The result of a Call of Duty BR means a lot of people hiding in corners, but that’s why I eventually moved onto Apex Legends.
I couldn’t stand Apex Legends when it first released. Compared to the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 BR, Apex felt slow and gimmicky. Since then, Respawn Entertainment refined the game and expanded the character pool. It appeals to players in the BR crowd looking for a BR with shorter matches, smaller maps and vertical combat.
I attribute my newfound love for the game after I switched from mouse and keyboard to controller. On controller, movement felt fluid and gunplay felt natural. Although I played on PC, I never felt at a disadvantage playing on controller. Apex Legends will also soon introduce cross-play later this year, which Call of Duty’s Warzone does so well.
If not for my boredom in lockdown, I wouldn’t have played Apex Legends. And even as the COVID-19 situation improves, I still return for a few matches.
Resident Evil 3 Remake
Resident Evil 3 Remake doesn’t match the impressive scale and depth of Resident Evil 2 Remake. Despite the name, the games play different and accomplish different goals. RE2 tries to scare the player as they explore a confined, detailed area. RE3 plays like an action game with an emphasis on pushing forward. As a follow up, RE3 doesn’t improve anything, but I still enjoyed my time taking down zombies.
Resident Evil 7
During the lockdown, I replayed Resident Evil 2 Remake, finished Resident Evil 3 Remake and wanted more from the franchise. With an unsatisfied urge to play an action adventure game, Resident Evil 7 made sense. It stays true to the older entries with shambling zombies, locked doors and medicinal herbs. And unlike the remakes, RE7 leans more into the horror aspects. I prefer the third person perspective and the story telling of the remakes, yet I was glad to finally play RE7.
Super Mega Baseball 2
Sports disappeared. I couldn’t play sports, watch sports or even read about sports until the lockdown lifted. The Toronto Raptors readied for their playoff run while the Toronto Blue Jays looked to play with a young, talent team. Both shutdown when COVID escalated.
Starved for sports, I resorted to Super Mega Baseball 2. Like Halo Wars 2, the re-population of online games due to COVID resuscitated dead communities. I spent a few weeks competing in ranked matches, but I wanted a newer, more refined Super Mega Baseball. Like making a birthday wish, Super Mega Baseball 3 was announced with a release date about a month away.
Super Mega Baseball 3
Metalhead Software answered my calls with Super Mega Baseball 3. A robust franchise mode lets players build and customize their team through multiple seasons. For a greater challenge, I spent most of my time playing Pennant Race online.
Pennant Race connected all four major platforms for online cross-play to compete in ranked matches. The refinements to pitching and fielding increased the skill gap between players. Now more than ever before, pitching duels reached the later innings. Poor defensive teams buckled in tight games, forcing teams to play to their strengths. Metalhead Software again proved why Super Mega Baseball 3 is the best sports game available.
I will at least try any large release on Game Pass. It lets me try games I would otherwise never play for no monetary commitment. Sometimes it works out, and other times I quit after an hour. When Gears Tactics released on PC Game Pass, it surprised me with familiar ideas. While not revolutionary, Gears Tactics establishes a sound foundation for future tactics games in the Gears of War universe.
Gears Tactics excels by bringing familiar ideas from the Gears franchise and injecting them into a tactics game. Executions and chainsaw kills grant an additional turn, while snipers can down enemies in a single shot. Simpler nuances like sliding into cover makes Gears Tactics feel authentic to its source material.
It tells a prequel story about a new locust threat named Ukkon. He parades through COG territory, taking over their laboratories for his own personal use. Although many years before the events of the first game, the team at Splash Damage tell a new story perfect for the franchise. It doesn’t feel out of place.
‘Familiar, but new’ encapsulates the Gears Tactics experience. You know what a Boomshot does before you pick it up. You know the beeping that follows a grenade toss. When you chainsaw an enemy, you enter a cinematic view identical to the mainline Gears games. You did all of these things before, just in an entirely different style game. I would never have played it if not for the lockdown or PC Game Pass.
The best surprise on my lockdown list of games – Moss. It proved to me the potential of virtual reality by creating a simple, side scrolling platformer with a unique twist. Moss follows Quill, a mouse, as she disobeys and follows her father into danger. But she doesn’t go alone – you’re there with her. She sees you.
You watch over her like a face in the sky. She will look up at you and reach out for high fives when you get through an obstacle together. You can also reach out and pet her, even though your hands are glowing orbs. You control her, but it feels as if you are working together to help find her father.
The simple idea of making the main character aware of the player turns Moss into the perfect game for virtual reality. In combat, you work together as she fights off enemies while you disable others with your glowing orb hands. You interact with the world through your hands, but also through Quill.
When I finished Moss, I wanted to show it to everyone. Despite all of the high fidelity, fast paced games in VR, I didn’t expect a simple platformer to stand out. The team at Polyarc made something special and I can’t wait for more Moss in the future.
DOOM Eternal plays more like a Quake game than the DOOM 2016 release. Combat sections unfold in a room with environmental obstacles and numerous demon waves. The puzzle solving and exploration still exists, but to a lesser degree. Instead of an adventure game with smart demons blocking your way, DOOM Eternal focuses on combat.
I would play DOOM Eternal outside a pandemic, but I didn’t love Eternal like DOOM 2016.
Ori and the Will of The Wisps
A week before March Break, I finalized and booked a trip to New York. Ori and the Will of The Wisps also released on Xbox and PC, and I told myself I’d get through it when I got back. It released after numerous delays and continuous trailers at Xbox game showcases. With the NBA postponing its season, my canceled trip to New York and impending lockdown, a lot happened during that week. Ori and the Will of The Wisps provided the perfect distraction from a global pandemic.
The improvement to combat stood out right away when I started playing. Instead of the floaty orbs you shoot at nearby enemies, Ori starts with a sword. The melee combat allows for immediate, precise control during fights, which establishes a solid foundation. From there, you add projectile weapons and special abilities to assist in all scenarios. Ori’s combat blows away other games in the genre; a game like Hollow Knight struggles the most in this area.
Hollow Knight became the new, default king of the Metroid-vania style of game. Item secrets and hidden stories fills its expansive world. It’s the prime example for effective world building. But for me, Hollow Knight struggles in the combat heavy sections. Unique bosses require patience, but you feel limited in your arsenal. Ori’s fluid movement and deep combat will satisfy players who seek a richer gameplay experience.
Moon Studios took their time releasing Ori and the Will of The Wisps, but its perfect release timing helped distract me from the morbid reality of a global pandemic.