The Arbitraries (Create Your Own Year-End Award) 2021

It’s that time of year: the Arbitraries! Where kids rule…no, that’s not it. Where Everything Might Happen? Hmm…the happiest awards on earth! No, that’s not it either. It’s the awards where the categories are made up, and the points don’t matter.

Recognize games with a singular accomplishment, or custom-build an award just so you can recognize your favorite game that isn’t quite a GoTY. As the most powerful name in awards, you report, you also decide.

The only rule is: if you disagree with another poster, please share that in the form of an award.

Game I’m Enjoying the Most Despite All of Its Obvious Issues: Battlefield 2042
Yikes! What a terrible launch, even for Battlefield vets! DICE has since patched things up serviceably, but the game still has a myriad of items that need fixing along with some dicey (get it?) design decisions that hobble smooth play. Additionally, the earliest anyone can expect any real “live service” updates like new maps, weapons, or specialists is the end of February, so the game is bleeding players like crazy. Somehow, despite all of that, I’m still enjoying it.

Game That Surprised Me the Most Based on the Developer’s Past Efforts: Halo Infinite
I don’t think I’ve really liked any of the post-Bungie Halo games that have come from 343 Studios. They’ve been solid efforts, but something about them all have missed the mark. Based on that, and some really wacky preview stumbles, I was expecting Halo Infinite to be another also-ran at best and maybe even a dumpster fire of feature creep and design-by-committee. But lo! Halo Infinite is actually really good. Great, even.

Game That Finally Tipped the Review Scales on the Franchise’s Iterative Design: Far Cry 6
Somehow Far Cry 4 and 5 (and to a lesser extent Primal, Blood Dragon, and New Dawn) skated by on Ubisoft’s copy-paste formula since 3, but Far Cry 6 was apparently the final straw for reviewers. Almost every outlet collectively had enough of the franchise and decided to call it out. A disabled wiener dog companion and a gun that shoots Macarena CDs wasn’t enough to fend off criticisms that this was essentially the same game that people had played for almost a decade.

Game That Made Me Think About Game Design in New and Exciting Ways: Old World
I’ll just repeat what I put in the thread for that game:

It may not be the one I clocked the most hours in, but it’s definitely the game I thought about the most. There are so many incredibly smart decisions in Old World’s design that it’s hard to discuss without going into full-blown armchair dev mode and critiquing the whole 4x genre.

Game That Made Me Agree With @Telefrog about Game Design But Also Made Me Punch Myself in the Junk the Most: Old World. What a great game design! What a terrible game design! So much! Too much! Awesomeness! Painfulness! Woo this is cool! F! it - I quit! That is Old World for me. My biggest Love and biggest Hate, in game terms this year, is the same game.

Why can’t more first person shooters have moment-to-moment gameplay this satisfying Award: Halo Infinite.

Seriously. It’s been 20 years since the first Halo came out and we had so many copy cats, and yet this type of satisfying gameplay loop is still so rare. It must be really hard to design.

The Award for Mainstreaming That One Previously Niche Kink: Resident Evil: Village.

The Award for Best Proof We’re Living in a Simulation: The GTA “Definitive Editions,” which are obvious satires of corporate greed and laziness embedded in the main simulation we call “life” as a mini-game.

The Chernobyl Award for Game Best Able to Induce Real-World Existential Dread: Amazon’s New World. Just think about this at three o’clock in the morning: the same company that OK’d the network and systems architecture for this game also OK’d the architecture of systems on which countless companies and individuals depend for their day-to-day livelihood.

The Award for Best Exemplifying the Difference Between Intent and Achievement: Normally this would go to some game that aimed high but fell miserably short. But this year it goes to Valheim.

Why? Because Valheim took the funnest parts of Minecraft and Terraria, polished them a bit, and gave them a new coat of slightly-less pixelated paint to make a fun, satisfying game.

Doing that may seem simple and straightforward. Except that the entire game industry had been trying to do it for a decade. But none of the would-be clones or refinements came anywhere near to being as fun or satisfying as their models. All of those clone developers, from the humblest indy devs in garages to vast corporations with unlimited cash, wanted to make something as good as Valheim. But only the Valheim devs actually did (for which they were quite justly rewarded.)

The Award for Game that Would Be Better If You Cut Half of It. Solasta: Crown of the Magister had a great, polished turn-based combat system with well-thought out battles. It also had a full story, a whole bunch of NPCs, a city, etc. These were … less-polished. I for one would have been happier to eliminate most of that and instead have an X-Com-like series of dungeons or tactical set-piece battles that concentrated on the good stuff and were connected with nothing more than some menus and text. Agile development is great and all, but sometimes it’s better to cut features entirely rather than shipping the minimal shippable version. Less can be more and all that. Speaking of which …

The Salt and Jelly Award. Unlike Solasta, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous had the full cRPG package, with polished NPCs, cities, storytelling, etc. In addition to all that, it also had the Crusade system. This aimed to add an entire Heroes of Might And Magic-style grand strategy game on top of the Baldur’s Gate-style cRPG.

Two great tastes that taste great together right? Yes in theory, no in practice. The Crusade system was hard to get into it, as you kept disappearing in the the cRPG layer for long sections of time (sometimes dozens of hours, e.g. Alushinyrra); when you came back to the strategic layer, you had forgotten what was going on and how things work. The strategic layer seemed unpolished - understandably, as the devs had a full cRPG to polish at the same time. And the strategic layer also never felt strategic - the enemy AI basically just seemed to materialize armies out of the air and throw them at you at random, while you just levelled up a stack of doom until it was so powerful it could crush everything.

The kicker is that the Crusade layer used super-abstract HOMM style battles. These battles were fine for HOMM, which aimed to condense a sprawling magical world war into something light and fluffy that took a handful of hours to play start to finish. But in addition to these super-abstract battles, in the cRPG layer Wrath also had massively detailed set-piece battles that took hours to resolve in turn-based mode. These set pieces more than adequately captured the feeling of of a large war taking place. The Crusade battles, by contrast, felt very abstract and small.

Bottom line: if you’re making a cRPG on the same sprawling scale as Baldur’s Gate, there’s really no reason to weld a whole other game on top of it.

Best System for Answering Questions about What the Heck I Played and When the Heck it Came Out: GOG Galaxy.

A meta layer that is useful and works. I commend it to the house.

The fox.ferro Is A Sadist award:

A lot of today’s shooters are sanitised with that triple-bland mass market special sauce that allows them to market their gun fantasies to youngsters. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I still appreciate it when we get more than just a hint of the red stuff alongside the ol’ ultraviolence. Turning people to slurry at close range with a shotgun or plinking off a head with a rifle always feels immensely satisfying here. Crunchy and squelchy sound fx coupled with plenty of dismemberment, and while I dearly wish the claret was a mite less transient, a great vintage nonetheless.

The fox.ferro Is A Masochist award:

You’d think by now I’d be able to resist the whole ‘collect 10,000 feathers’ bullshit that developers ram in to turn 4 hours of content into 40. Apparently not. This one’s so obnoxious I ended up using some third party map to keep track of things. Another lowlight was constantly having to alt-tab during the missions to watch youtube vids etc. so I didn’t miss anything since said missions aren’t repeatable without replaying through the entire campaign again. What a way to ruin the flow of something that was otherwise quite elegant.

Would’ve been a contender for my goat otherwise. A fair trade for a Warthog.

The fox.ferro Sucks At Playing Games award:

I’m getting better at it, I guess. Maybe in '22 I will risk attempting a ‘Challenging’ mission for the first time.

The fox.ferro Sucks At Buying Games award:

“Never again!” I swore a year ago, after consigning Cyberpunk 2077 to my ‘Early Access’ category on Steam. I knew this was bug soup. I bought it anyway.

I can’t drive transport vehicles because left/right arrow keys are hardcoded and rotate my view around 90° (at nauseatingly high speed) when all I want to do is turn. 60% of the time I get out of any vehicle something fucks up; can’t aim down sights, can’t switch weapon, can’t look up/down. Consequently I’ve spent almost my entire playtime on foot.

At least I sometimes get to hang out around elevators with a riot shield, though. You can practically taste the salt and panic in the air as you saunter into a crowded one and slowly pummel the inhabitants to death one by one.

They’ll patch it though, I’m sure.

The fox.ferro Totally Played This For The Storyline And Nothing Else award:

HuniePop 2 Double Date
(Can’t preview this one on discord, for some weird reason which has nothing to do with age gates I’m sure).

Written by Jane Austen, or something.

Insane purchase of the year:

A geforce 3080ti. At the massively inflated price the performance gain is… pretty dumb. But at least my VR goggles get the frames they need and well fuck it.

Superb game I hardly played at all:

Ah shit, where do I begin. But to me MS Flight Sim takes the cake. Such a wonderful thing, with such endless possibilities and I saw only the loading bar mostly.

Stupid exploitative trash game I played far too much:

Motherfucking World of Warships. No matter how much I kjow I should kick it to the curb with its loot boxes and bullshit carriers, I keep coming back when feeling too tired and dumb for anything requiring thought and attention. Which is often.

Game of the year

For me, same as last year, and the year before that ;) DCS. With it’s new clouds and a viper that finally started to come into its own, it’s been ever sweet.

Person of the year

All of you!! :hug:

Feed the backlog award : Me

Steam games added in 2021 : 336
EGS games added in 2021 : 74
Amazon Prime games added in 2021 : 72
GoG games added in 2021 : 18

Games I had time to play : maybe 30.
I am not good at math, but I think I am catching up!

Game I pre-ordered and so far I only ran the benchmark for : Chernobylite

Game that disappointed me more than the previous release: BF 2042.

Game that shows Valve’s magic touch is needed because the developer is bad at finding their lost mojo: Back4Blood.

Backlog most likely to eat the Earth: Lordkosc’s!

The Lordkosc is From the Future, Or Maybe the Past, Award

I’ve been typing 2142 since they announced it. My brain refuses to put the zero there on first attempt. :P

Award for Easily Fixable Bug Found in Many 2021 Games That Will Also Be Found in Many 2022 Games: Vital game control keys that cannot be remapped. This is something that takes like ten minutes to address if you do it at the start of the project and yet has been found in countless games, regardless of budget, for the last (checks notes) 25 years.

(Why yes, I am left-handed, why do you ask?)

Gaming Item purchased that I actually enjoy more than I thought I would: Quest 2

Tower Defense Game that has more grinding than I thought possible but keep playing: Infinitode 2

Best Free Game Ever: Remnants of the Precursors

Best Fighting Turn Based Game: Fights in Tight Places

Surprise Party/Boardgame and best thematic art that I want to play again: Night of the Ninja

QT3 Thread that I enjoy reading through - this one!

Games with a hardcoded ‘Enter’ key (generally bound to ‘open chat’) are the bane of my gaming experience. Games that appear to let you rebind it but still retain the hardcoded behaviour regardless are the worst. Praise the Omnissiah for AutoHotkey.

Award for Game I’m psyched to get into but can never actually push the Start button:
Gloomhaven (Digital or Physical). I tried the tutorial once then waited for the big update that just happened. Still…I can’t make myself dive in. It feels so daunting.

Award for Game Stopping Puzzle:
Pathfinder:WotR. I’ve always found puzzles pretty much stupid in any RPG (pnp or computer/console). And even though I was enjoying my playthru I hit an obvious puzzle. I saved and haven’t been back for months. Fuck RPG puzzles.

Award for Quickest Unistall of Game I Loved only 10 Minutes Ago
New World. No sub, decent gameplay, varied gameplay, different design style than other MMOs, enjoying the hell out of it, suddenly realize about 3 hours in that I had zero desire to log back in. Uninstall

You Remember That’s the Definition of Insanity, Right? Award: Early this year, when they were in short supply, I sold my like-new Honeycomb Alpha/Bravo yoke/throttle combo to an online friend for just a little less than I paid for it, since he couldn’t find one and mine was mostly gathering dust because of the time it took to set it up. I was using it maybe once or twice a month.

Then I bought the excellent and a bit cheaper Turtle Beach Velocity One yoke/throttle combo, because it promised to be much quicker and easier to set up/remove for a flight, and it has an interesting mix of advantages/disadvantages compared to the Honeycomb

I really like it. And I’m using it… maybe once or twice a month.

Is see that the original Huniepop is currently on sale for $1.29 on GOG. I think I had better check it out just to ensure the integrity of the award process.

Best Stand-Alone Feature in a Game from 2021
Calling your mom and dad to get hints in Chicory.

Your gentle and supportive mother gives you general hints, and then if you want more specific guidance, you can ask to talk to your intense, hyperkinetic raccoon father.

Best game to hang with your friends “in person” during a pandemic:

Minigolf? Really? Yes. You hang out with up to 4 of your friends with open mic chat, see people taking their turns, and it really feels like hanging out in person. It’s been wonderful for my mental health. Also, it’s an amazing minigolf game with a ton of content. There are 7 courses with an easy/hard mode each, a hidden ball to find and add to your available balls to use on every hole, and a scavenger hunt on each course as well to earn more putters. No microtransactions - and they just started putting up new courses as $3 DLC from this point forward. I can’t recommend this game enough if you have a VR rig. It also works great on the Quest 2 and has crossplay with Steam. GOTY for me.