2022 wasn’t just the year that I started here at Kotaku, or the year that I accidentally went viral for daring to ask rich guys to dress nice at awards shows—it was also the year that I forced myself to stretch outside of my comfort zone.
I am a video game jock, always searching for the high of a win earned in buzzer-beater plays through solid communication amongst teammates. I spend most of my spare time playing competitive shooters in an attempt to mimic the feeling I get when I PR at the gym, or beat our rival co-ed footy team after an especially physical match. Much like how I am as an athlete or just a regular ol’ civilian, I’m not a fan of trying new things that I could potentially be bad at. It’s why I quit guitar lessons after a month, why I doggedly refuse to go bowling, why I can only do karaoke if I am absolutely pickled drunk.
But this year, I tried some new stuff—and not all of it was technically new. I took competitive breaks from Overwatch 2 with round after round of Marvel Snap. I sunk hours into Elden Ring after swearing off Soulslikes. I gave Cyberpunk 2077 an actual effort, rather than just ragging on it to anyone who would listen. I wouldn’t say this is the most well-rounded GOTY list you’ll find here at Kotaku, but it’s indicative of my growth as a gamer.
I can try new things, and I can like them. Just don’t fucking take me bowling.
Its battle pass isn’t great, its cosmetics are too expensive (people want loot boxes back, for fuck’s sake), and as a healer main I’m still tired of getting my ass beat in 5v5 combat, but Overwatch 2 has consumed me ever since its launch. It’s the only game I play consistently with people I also hang out with in real life; we send each other daily texts as the workday nears its close that just read “ow?” Then, we spend the night ignoring our respective partners and screaming bizarre Overwatch slang into our headsets.
With Overwatch 1 dead and gone, Overwatch 2 is the only way to scratch my hero shooter itch. And even though there are aspects of it that bring me great pain (the move towards a more generic, shooter-y shooter being the main issue), I still get so much satisfaction from a hard-fought comp win. I’m an Overwatch-er for life, sadly. I wish I knew how to quit you.
Not long into my Cult of the Lamb playthrough, one of my cultists (a cow my partner named Cunty), tells me that he wants to eat shit. Literally. He has always wanted to try and eat poop. So, I go and collect some shit produced by a fellow cultist of his, cook it up into a meal, and serve it to him. He’s happy. He’s more of a believer. I’m assuming this is what Scientology is like.
Cult of the Lamb is pretty much this all the way through: dumb fun that looks really good. I find I enjoy the village cultivation more than I enjoy the roguelike elements, but the latter is so simple and solid that it’s easy to zone out and spend a few hours hacking away at enemies. Then, when you return to your village, there’s always something stupid waiting for you, whether it’s a dissenter talking shit or a loyal follower eating it.
When I first joined Kotaku, everyone was deep in the throes of Marvel Snap. I felt a little left out and wanted to make myself likable as quickly as possible, so I downloaded the mobile card battler on my first day in office. The rest, my little goblin friends, is history—Snap consumed my every waking moment whether I was on the subway, walking to the subway, waiting for the subway, in-between rounds of Overwatch 2 comp, or on the toilet (the latter of which I’m sure my gastroenterologist will be very upset with me about).
For a while, I stuck with a build that another Kotaku staffer had helped me out with, but then, as my Snap senses improved, I started building decks to purposefully fuck with other players. Now, I am the Snap devil. I’ve only been here a few weeks and I am insufferable. I’ve been told by loved ones that the horrific, evil giggle that escapes me when I hit an enemy player with Elektra one turn, then Killmonger the next, then Shang-Chi after that is concerning, and I would have to agree.
Bungie’s best bit is coming around once a year to remind you that it still makes some of the best campaigns of all time. The Destiny 2 conversation so often gets bogged down in sunsetting content, skill-based matchmaking drama, and the value (or lack thereof) of the grind, but when an expansion like The Witch Queen drops it’s all anyone can talk about—and for good reason.
The story of Savathûn managed to fill gaps in Destiny lore, establish her as the best villain the game has ever seen, and lay out a path for the ideological struggles that will continue into the franchise’s future. It was a legible hunk of narrative meat (a rarity for Destiny, which needs video explainers to explain its video explainers) that cashed in on plot threads Bungie has been spinning for years. Plus the Witch Queen gave us a sick raid and new Void abilities for players to go gaga over. Destiny good.
I am NYC certified in Trap-Neuter-Return and cat colony management and I have three rescue cats (one of which I caught and socialized myself), so of course I love the cat game. It’s a game where you play as a cat and do cat things. There are cat sounds. My cats like the cat sounds and sometimes they watch me play—this is all very wholesome shit.
Stray isn’t going to break any boundaries but it is going to let you scratch up a couch like a cat would, and it does feature some of the prettiest level design of the year. I’m also a huge fan of how the robot NPCs react to your little cat: I will never forget when I jumped up on a surface and interrupted two of them playing a tabletop game, just to trot past them a few minutes later and see them still struggling to pick up all the pieces.
Neon White is crazy, sexy, cool. This game has it all: pop-art visuals, speedrunning mechanics, a soundtrack from Machine Girl, and a collection of attractive demons called Neons competing to purge heaven of their demonic ilk. It’s hard to define Neon White, as it feels almost like the anti-game-genre game—there are FPS elements, sure, but there’s also dating sim stuff, and a lot of platforming. There’s cards, but it’s not a deck builder. It’s got puzzles. You’ll speed through some of its levels in under 20 seconds, while larger, boss-y levels may take you a few minutes—but nothing in Neon White will eat up your time unless you let it. Trust me, you’ll let it.
Apex Legends is always there for me when I need it. It’ll lay dormant in my gaming pile for months, but whenever I return, it consistently gives me the tight, focused shooter gameplay I crave after some wonky Warzone 2.0 matches or a frustrating Overwatch loss. Apex Legends is one of the best live-service games out there right now thanks to a near-perfect mix of new content, necessary patches, and smart, measured updates. Respawn is always shaking up the maps and weapon pool just enough to keep the game fresh, but not too much that it upends its impressively precarious balance.
Catalyst, the game’s latest playable character, dropped just in time to obliterate an annoying meta that had been building up for months, and brought with her yet another reminder that Respawn is one of the few popular games unafraid to center trans and non-binary folk. That’s probably why I find members of the alphabet army in so many of my Apex Legends lobbies—and I live for it. Apex Legends is my safety net. It will always be on any GOTY list of mine.
Like many who participated in the two-year wait for Cyberpunk 2077 to become playable, I finally decided to try out CD Projekt Red’s latest RPG this year. From the moment I saw the character creator, I knew that it was going to be the kind of time-suck game that would threaten my relationships, gym sessions, and personal hygiene. I pored over every inch of my V, from her buzzed head to the smattering of freckles across her cheeks. I agonized over her body mods and tattoos. When I finally left the character creator and started playing the game, I’d pause and take screenshots anytime her shiny chrome nails were in view.
When I give myself the time to get lost in Night City, I get lost lost, and emerge blinking into the sunlight of the real world half a day later, crunchy thumpy techno music still ringing in my ears.
I previewed this top-down, twin-stick RPG from Raphael Colantonio last year and it was absolutely brutal. It’s still just as brutal today, but getting some proper time with it helps drive home that this is a rock-solid immersive sim set in a supremely cool world. Undead miners and sirens lurk everywhere in this alternate-universe Wild West, but along with an arsenal of weapons you’ve got ample opportunity to use the environment to keep yourself alive.
And the world of Weird West remembers. At one point, I hired a bodyguard to accompany me across the plains because I was sick of getting my ass kicked. Together, we successfully made it through a tough section, but as we emerged into the next area and got jumped by some zombies, I accidentally lit him on fire. I didn’t think much of it as he died in front of my eyes, but I did pause to rifle through his pockets for spare change. Hours later, when I returned to the town where we first met, an NPC sitting near the saloon was mourning their lost family member. “Oops,” I mumbled under my breath. Weird West doesn’t want you to think of its characters as disposable, asshole.
Until Elden Ring, I was a proud Soulslike hater. The games were the epitome of everything I despise: frustratingly difficult, punishingly cruel, and full of gamers with superiority complexes. I had tried and failed to play both Dark Souls Remastered and Bloodborne and wanted no part of Elden Ring—until it was revealed that you’d be able to freely roam through its world, avoiding annoying early-game bosses and honing your abilities so that you’d be strong enough to take that boss down with one flourish of your staff.
From the moment I rose as a Tarnished in the Lands Between, I knew that this was the kind of title that would be considered a benchmark in gaming history. For it to live up to and exceed the hype that surrounded it for years is something special, but what’s remarkable is how Elden Ring ushered in an entirely new player base thanks to its open-world opportunities. The flexibility of Elden Ring and its beautiful, bizarre world made me FromSoft-pilled, and now I’m ready to go through the studio’s entire portfolio.