The PC games that helped us survive 2020

These PC games helped us explore the world, hang out with friends, and generally stay sane in an isolated year.

Credit: Brad Chacos/IDG

Gaming never went out of style, but in 2020, it evolved from a fun hobby into an essential lifeline. Staying sane isn’t easy when you’re stuck in isolation for months on end. You can only watch so much Netflix before your brain starts dripping out of your ears. Games provide more active experiences that can help you forget that you’ve been staring at the same walls for weeks, letting you explore far-away virtual worlds or hang out with friends in multiplayer lobbies. In 2020, gaming became vital.

So rather than wrap up the year with our traditional list of the best PC games, we instead asked PCWorld’s staff to share the essential games that carried them through 2020. It’s a diverse list—some of us preferred light, airy games, while others preferred virtual tourism. Several of us leaned into the comfort of ongoing “live service” games that we’ve been playing for years.

For a more traditional “best of” list, check out our mid-year roundup of the best PC games of 2020. (Hayden Dingman’s picks below were cribbed from that article.) We’ve also compiled a massive guide to the best PC games of this generation now that the next-gen consoles have arrived. But without further ado, here are the games that got us through 2020.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 – Mark Hachman

I’m not sure what niche Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 fits into as a game: one of the best simulators, sure. But for a year that’s felt as long as a century, Flight Simulator was something more: a meditation, maybe, as you soared at 30,000 feet across Middle America or through a stormy sky. Or maybe a tour guide, exploring cities (Jakarta! Cairo! Cape Town!) that chances are I’ll never visit in my lifetime. All I know is that, once I pushed past the punishing installation sequence, I rediscovered the beauty of a world that I could only visit virtually. Oh, and it was a helluva stress test for PCs, too.

Half-Life: Alyx – Hayden Dingman

This is the year we finally got a new Half-Life, in case you forgot—and it was made for virtual reality. I still can hardly believe it.

What did it mean though? I still don’t think we’re far enough away to say definitively. Was Half-Life: Alyx the watershed moment? Did it convince people to take VR seriously? I don’t know. It certainly sold a lot of headsets to a lot of people. Maybe that’s enough, even if it didn’t break much new ground. Again, I just don’t know.

I suspect it’ll take years for the dust to settle. That said, Alyx is an excellent new chapter for Half-Life, and deserving of a spot on this list even if it didn’t reinvent the entire games industry. And hell, maybe now that Valve’s broken free from the weight of expectations, it won’t feel so hemmed in developing the next chapter.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout – Brad Chacos

I yearned for simpler, more lighthearted gaming experiences in 2020. I sank hundreds of hours into Animal Crossing on my Nintendo Switch, and bounced hard off the dark post-apocalyptic vibe of Wasteland 3 even though it was better on all fronts than Wasteland 2—my favorite game the year it came out. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout scratched that itch perfectly.

Fall Guys is like Mario Party, a battle royale, and the TV show “Wipeout” all mixed into one. It casts you as a cute, hooting, highly customizable jellybean competing against 60 other contestants in a variety of fast-paced obstacle courses. In the end, only one victor can claim the Crown in a final battle.

Each Fall Guys round lasts mere minutes, with a wide array of available courses that keep the game feeling free. Sometimes, you’ll be hoarding eggs as part of a team; other times, it’s every jellybean for itself in a mad dash through false doors or whirling fans. It’s one of those rare games where losing is just as fun as winning, and you can hop into a new match in mere seconds. Win or lose, every match earns you experience you can put toward customization options that help you make your bean your bean. The developers embraced a seasonal approach that adds new outfits and courses every few months. (The winter-themed Season 3 just started!)

I can’t spend all night bingeing on Fall Guys like I can with, say, Fallout. But it’s perfect for picking up for a few rounds day in and day out. It’s a blast passing the controller around with my kids after work. (Local splitscreen when?) That brief, cheery distraction is exactly what I need in 2020, and I look forward to playing much more Fall Guys into the new year.  

Ori and the Will of the Wisps – Alaina Yee

Few games captivate me, much less spark deep emotion. But this year’s Ori and the Will of the Wisps put me in tears no less than three times—and all the while, I praised it nonstop to friends and family alike.

The sequel to 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest, this Metroidvania-style platformer picks up where the last game left off, both in environment and story. Its world remains full of the same lush art, beautiful music, quiet reflection, and finely tuned gameplay; its themes still explore core human experiences like sacrifice and belonging in a gentle, wholesome manner. All the pieces work together in near perfect harmony.

The Will of the Wisps’s only weakness is a bit too much similarity to the first game, which hinders it in areas Moon Studios tries to expand upon. While new skills are introduced, they remain very familiar. Ori’s new enemy also has the same general type of motivation as the antagonist in Blind Forest—but the story is a shade too thin to properly support this more complex villain, thus flattening the story’s impact.

But when adapting to Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ new skills and areas feels as natural as breathing, it leaves so much space for absorbing its message. The game has so much heart, and so I never once minded blubbering over it. In fact, I love it for that, despite my general dislike for crying.

Destiny 2: Beyond Light – Ben Patterson

Bungie’s three-year-old looter-shooter had a bumpy road this year (who didn’t?), what with a couple of lackluster seasons, an uproar over the sunsetting of large swaths of gear (which players had spent untold amounts of time and resources upgrading), and the “vaulting” of four planets, five raids, and more than a dozen of other activities, including the popular six-player “Menagerie” mode. (Vaulted planets and activities may return at a later date, but still, ugh).

But with Beyond Light, Destiny 2’s third major expansion, Bungie looks to be ending a rocky year on a high note. Beyond Light’s centerpiece, the frozen wastes of Europa, boasts dynamic snowstorms, legendary and “master” Lost Sectors (think mini-dungeons), Empire Hunts (multi-step quests leading up to an assault on a Europa boss), and Exo Challenges (fiendishly clever “simulation” missions that rotate each week). We also got a new raid, the return of the beloved Cosmodrome from the original Destiny, and graphical enhancements for the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S (120FPS FTW!). Best of all, Destiny 2 players on PC, console, and Stadia can look forward to crossplay starting next year.

Call of Duty Warzone – Adam Patrick Murray

I was surprised just how much Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Warzone multiplayer I played in 2020. It makes sense, though. I needed a place to connect with friends near and far in lieu of physical hangouts. I just wouldn’t have guessed it would be in Call of Duty.

That said, the character and weapon progression found in the base multiplayer felt as addictive as always, and winning a round of Plunder in Warzone always jolts you with an excited buzz. Funny enough, the newer Black Ops: Cold War hasn’t scratched that same itch. It’s missing features found in last year’s entry and some of the basic gun feel and movement is just a bit off—probably due to it being handled by a different developer. But for now, Warzone is still free and receiving frequent updates, so I’ll keep downloading all those huge patches to stay in the fight, friends by my virtual side.

Cyberpunk 2077 – Brad Chacos

Look, I know Cyberpunk 2077 is a flaming disaster on the mainstream consoles. But this is PCWorld, and on my high-end gaming rig, Cyberpunk 2077 is delightful. (You know, because it actually works.) Will it go down as an all-time great like Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red’s last game, after all the bugs get ironed out? Maybe. Maybe not. This game was hyped beyond all reasonable expectations. But I’m deeply enjoying my time with it nonetheless.

The dense, dramatically vertical Night City feels alive in ways no other virtual world has yet, cranking the superb world building evident in Witcher 3 up to 11. The storytelling and character building is even better, making you feel like you’re playing the lead in a surprisingly hopeful action movie. Driving is fun, gunplay feels great (though the enemy AI is simplistic at best), and the incredibly versatile character builds let you kit out your V however you see fit. Want to be a hacker that blows out the cybernetics implanted in your enemy’s head? A sneak that ghosts your way undetected through hostile locations? A brute that rips doors off the wall and pummels your foes? A sniper? A badass cyber ninja? A jack of all trades? The flexible perk system allows it all.

Better yet, Cyberpunk 2077 showcases why the PC is the place to play, even with the next-gen consoles arriving. Its exceptional real-time ray tracing effects are both punishing and glorious, truly changing the look and feel of the game, while a robust photo mode lets you capture those luscious visuals for posterity. I’ve spent almost as much time posing V throughout Night City’s locales and snapping pics of the streets as I have battling roving gangs. Maybe wait for a patch or two to iron out the most egregious bugs, but don’t let the console disaster turn you off how masterful this game is on PC. Our Cyberpunk 2077 performance optimizations guide can help you get it purring.

Next page: Our favorite games of 2020 continue

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