The Hype-train for the new gaming consoles is fully loaded and on a collision course with its release date, November 10th for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 on November 12th, so it’s only natural that we take a look back on this “current-gen” before it becomes the “last-gen”.

There were some huge (or small) games that probably surprised a lot of fans with how good they ended up being. To be honest this probably happens a lot more than you think. A game that seemed to either come out of nowhere or a game that seemed like it might be mediocre and ended up being brilliant!

We wanted to get an idea from some of your favorite staffers here at GAW of what they thought so we asked them, “What game during this generation gave you the biggest surprise?”

Here’s what they had to say:

John D.
Chief Operating Officer – Currently trying his hardest to get through his backlog

Choice: The Messenger

Surprise, eh? I don’t know how much of a surprise it was for me at the start, but it definitely became even better as I played. However, anyone that ended up playing The Messenger probably didn’t realize how amazing it was going to be at first. I found myself staying up late trying to make my way a little further in this throwback 2D action-platformer that pays an amazing tribute to Ninja Gaiden series and Metroidvanias in general. Its creators stuffed the crunchy, pixelated world with small, smart creative choices. A shopkeeper with a winning personality; secret, bad bosses with good intentions; environmental puzzles that bend your preconceived notions of pixel games, and so much more.

Many critics, including myself, celebrated The Messenger’s second-act twist, which shifts the structure of the game in a fun and unexpected way. It’s a total blast! The characters, who both get a complete story and feel primed for a sequel stick out. They are cleverly written, have great stories, and better jokes. The game is artfully done with some incredible backgrounds and baddies. Hopefully, the next-gen will give us a sequel.

Allen S.
Editorials/Reviews Manager- Your Favorite Mirage Main

The biggest surprise for me this generation was Apex Legends. It came out during a time when people were already tired of battle royale games and it for a while reinvigorated the genre. Its focus on teamwork as well as world-building through its’ characters is unmatched. They managed to build such a great cast all of which are interesting and fleshed out characters that build to not only the Apex Legends lore but Titanfall as well. The gameplay loop is arguably one of the most satisfying. Even when I am getting stomped into the ground by preds (high tier players) I always look forward to the next match.

It’s special for me because it’s the first time I was seen as skilled enough to compete in. I had the chance to play in the first two ALGS tournaments. It was amazing and I hope it leads to even more in the future. I am so eager for this team to get back to an actual studio environment when it is safer to do so in the future. With more and more companies investing in tournaments as well as the future of the game, I can not wait to see what happens.

Marc W.
Jr. Staff Writer – Space Pirate Extraordinaire 

Choice: No Man’s Sky

We’ve all seen the jokes. I’m pretty sure I wrote more than my fair share in articles or on social media. “A shadow of what was promised” I believe I said once regarding No Man’s Sky shortly after it launched in 2016. Turns out we all just needed to be patient with Hello Games. You can’t blame us, the gamers burned so often by half-baked releases that are shunned and forgotten (Anthem…). We are so accustomed to developers just washing their hands of a bad IP and moving on.

But NMS didn’t fade away. The galactic Minecraft-esque space simulator went from the bare-bones, friendless, empty planets with no solid directions of the original Foundation, to the VR-rich experience of Beyond, to the latest update Origins gifting us with new, colorful, dynamic worlds and an insane amount of detail. NMS has finally moved into the lofty heights Hello Games originally promised us and crushed those previous expectations, and every time you pick it up a new kind of adventure awaits.

In 2016, you would have been easily forgiven for giving it a shot, logging a few hours, and leaving disappointed. These days, it is a shining beacon to the industry that the right combination of listening to feedback as well as believing in your vision can make a truly remarkable game. Is it perfect? No, and it likely never will be, but the fact that someone in the industry didn’t give up on us for once is truly the biggest surprise of all, and we have an entire digital galaxy to play in because of it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to raid alien settlements in my giant mech armor, then fly to a beautiful binary volcano planet system and do it again.

Amanda G.
Community Development Team –  Still Salty About Visceral Games

Choice: Erica

Erica, from Flavourworks, was first announced in 2017 at Paris Games Week, and it was hardly seen after that until 2019 at Gamescom’s Opening Night Live. (And it dropped that same day on the PlayStation4.) It’s an FMV-based interactive mystery/thriller, and it was one of my favorite games of 2019.

Holly Earl anchors the game as Erica Mason, and the story revolves around a particularly gruesome moment from her childhood that comes back to haunt her as an adult. Make no mistake, she’s the star of the show here. From the start, she was able to weave Erica between innocent, distressed, and questioning without missing a beat, no matter the choices I made. As the game goes on, we learn more about Erica’s childhood and how it was spent, but it’s made clear that the occult has played a large role in her life. The game’s branching dialogs lead to some pretty interesting moments with events and characters, leading to a potentially fiery conclusion that most certainly made me want to replay it right away.

In this day and age of Michael Bay-sized AAA games, having a game like Erica come out was such a refreshing breath of fresh air. It’s nice to remember that even the $10 games from small teams can engage your mind and leave a mark on your memory.

Nic S.
Senior Staff Writer – My Current Thirst Trap Is Hades

Choice: Battle Royale

I struggled with this choice. I really really did. I wanted to give it to Indie Games as a whole, or to perpetual banger publisher Devolver Digital. But I can’t deny it. Battle Royales changed the game. From the first BR mod for DayZ (which in itself is a mod for Arma; modception!), then H1Z1 King of the Kill and others like it. Finally, there was a little game called PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds that became the first true breakout of the genre. View counts on Twitch and YouTube skyrocketed, making celebrities of internet personalities seemingly overnight. I attended my first TwitchCon in 2017, and there were two BRs featured. H1Z1 KotK had a full stadium like setup and PUBG had another with full-on bleachers. The year was absolutely W I L D for BRs.

Tucked in a small booth, somewhat near the center of the showroom floor, was a sleeping giant. Fortnite had long languished in development hell as a base-building zombie horde mechanic driven hodgepodge of ideas. I have trouble qualifying everything it was trying to be. But then Battle Royales took off. And Fortnite developers got addicted to PUBG. They began to think. And Fortnite Battle Royale came out into beta shortly before that TwitchCon 2017. No one knew what it was of yet, PUBG was still huge, but once Fortnite hit the console market, the game changed. Fortnite became free-to-play and introduced one of the most copied mechanics in gaming today: The Battle Pass.

The Battle Pass system further cemented Fortnite‘s legacy as it continued to explode in popularity. Much like how PUBG made celebrities so too did Fortnite, with (at the time) Twitch streamer Ninja getting ridiculous concurrent viewership, thanks in part to a stream in which he played with Drake and a couple of professional American Football players. Along with the Battle Pass, came near-constant innovation into how to keep players engaged. The idea of seasons and large scale in-game public events that only happened once had only really been done in MMOs before, but now was happening to audiences of millions.

Battle Royale got Call of Duty to innovate for crying out loud. That just does not happen. I didn’t see a game mode being so ultra-popular and profitable the entire gaming industry took notice and, with varying degrees of success, implemented ideas from it. That’s incredible and my biggest surprise. Now go play Outer Wilds.

 

Christopher T.
Staff Writer – I hate Fallout…there I said it

Choice: The Outer Worlds

When The Outer Worlds was announced, I was less than excited. As someone who hates the Fallout series (except Fallout 2), The Outer Worlds which is in the spirit of Fallout New Vegas by the original developers seemed like a game not suited to myself. Despite not being on my radar when The Outer Worlds released friends and colleagues showered the game in praise, which piqued my interest slightly but sixty dollars is expensive for a game that I’m not sure I will enjoy. Luckily for me, the game was released via Xbox Game Pass for PC, so I figured I would see if The Outer Worlds lives up to the hype.

After installing The Outer Worlds and tweaking some settings to achieve 60fps, I was hooked. The writing, pacing, characters, world design, and overall comedy had me eager to see things through to the end. The Outer Worlds had me so enthralled, I actually played through it three times back to back. Weapon and Enemy design were fun and unique however the space ship and armor sets leave much to be desired. I’m not the biggest fan of the steam-punk aesthetic of The Outer Worlds as I prefer the more stylized futuristic look of Mass Effect. Overall The Outer Worlds is a fun game that I recommend to players especially since it is still available via Game Pass for PC and Console!

Robin G.
Sr. Editorial Writer – Flying through the stars (and I love Fallout *glares at Christopher*)

Choice: No Man’s Sky

With every generation of games, we get to experience a host of truly special games. Last generation games like Fallout 3, Mass Effect, and Red Dead Redemption gave us incredible worlds, visuals, and things to do. But since then we’ve had many wonderful, but similar games with similar scopes: the hub world, the open world, linear worlds, etc. All my life I’ve been a huge science-fiction nerd and the Mass Effect series was the closest game that gave me that feeling of adventuring through the unknown…except it was known. The developers purposefully created these wonderful worlds, so they weren’t really worlds I discovered. I craved the unknown.

In 2016 a tiny studio behind games like Joe Danger revealed and subsequently released No Mans Sky, a game that promised to give you a limitless, procedurally generated galaxy with billions of stars that even the developers didn’t know what was out there. Finally! A game that would let me live out those dreams. Unfortunately at launch, the game while being as wide as an ocean was as shallow as a puddle of urine in a parking lot at 2:00 AM.  After being critically panned, the subject of much scrutiny online, and an endless sea of memes, I too gave up on that dream of flying through an exotic universe.

Luckily for all of us, Hello Games did not follow suit. The developers in the past 4 years stuck their nose to the grindstone, keeping silent, and continued to expand and develop the game in ways no one could have predicted. Since 2016, they have released 12 unique, diverse expansions all for free, all for a die-hard audience that is once again growing: myself included. It all began with the foundation and pathfinder update which brought some life into the game and exploded with Atlas Rises which brought together true multiplayer, more variety, and more things to do and see. The Beyond update brought one of the best applications of virtual reality by bringing you directly into the universe, they gave us a reason to go to the depths of the oceans, to make music and make friends, and then this year they brought us Origins. The latest update literally feels like playing a sequel with how much variation the developers have added.

There was a moment about two weeks ago where I landed on a beautiful planet, on top of a mountain, and then just looked out into the horizon in VR seeing the sunset on an alien world. This is not an exaggeration, I actually teared up because I never in my lifetime thought I would experience something like this. This is why No Mans Sky is my surprise of the generation: it sure is a surprise when your dreams to sail through an endless sea of stars actually comes true.

The best part? Hello Games shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

 

Evan Westendorf

Host of The Nonsensory Podcast – Larping as a Ginger Jedi in Jedi: Fallen Order

Choice: Horizon: Zero Dawn and the emergence of Guerilla Games

Sony knew they had something special when they purchased Guerilla Games, a Dutch developer based out of Amsterdam, in 2005. Sony Head of Worldwide Studios, Phil Harrison, said at the time, “This acquisition strengthens our development portfolio to take full advantage of the exciting entertainment opportunities [afforded by PlayStation 3].”

Sony had lofty ambitions for Guerilla. Guerrilla was tasked with making a first-person shooter franchise that could stand toe to toe with Xbox’s Halo series. Those grandiose plans of making a “Halo Killer” never quite came to fruition, as Guerilla delivered three solid but ultimately just “okay” entries in the Killzone franchise on the PlayStation 3. They seemed forcasted to continue to spin the tires and deliver fairly enjoyable, but mostly unremarkable, first-person shooters.

Then came the launch of the PlayStation 4. Guerilla seemed intent on delivering on its potential, and after delivering the graphically stunning Killzone: Shadowfall as a major launch exclusive, they completely flipped the script on what people could expect from the studio with the arrival of Horizon: Zero Dawn in 2017. 

Horizon: Zero Dawn was a complete departure for the studio in both game design and narrative ambition. Gone were the drab, grim-dark, WWII inspired future wars of the long-trodden Killzone series – Guerilla attempted an open world role playing game, set in a vast post-apocalyptic world where humanity has been decimated by machines, and is forced to revert to their primal roots while combating massive robot dinosaurs.

The risk paid off in spades. 

Horizon was received well by both fans and critics, sold tremendously well, and transformed the image and importance of Guerilla in the eyes of fans, and even Sony themselves (former Guerilla co-founder Herman Hulst is now Head of Sony Worldwide Studios, for his trouble). 

Guerilla’s Decima Engine is one of the most gorgeous and flexible game engines in the industry, one that has powered not just the Horizon series, but fellow first-party exclusive Death Stranding two years later. 

When Sony wanted to entice potential customers with its first showing of software for it’s next-generation console, the PlayStation 5, Horizon: Forbidden West was the mic drop moment at the end. 

The future has never been brighter for Guerilla, and I hope that I love Horizon: Forbidden West as much as I love Horizon: Zero Dawn

 

That about does it here folks. What was your biggest surprise of this generation? We’d love to know! Tell us in the comment section below! Stay Tuned for more genertaion lists coming right here from GAW!

 

 

About The Author

John D
Chief Operating Officer

John Donadio a.k.a. SomeBeardy2Love is the COO here at GAW. He once had a show that he produced, wrote, and co-hosted called the Wide World of Games, you can probably find it on youtube. He is also a co-host on a podcast called Party Up! John is an Action-Adventurer, platformer, RPGer, and FPS kind of gamer. Quick to play any game that has magic, swordplay, and/or stealthy elements. If you can customize a character he is in it for the long haul or just give me your 2D platform and he's a happy camper. What else do you expect from a gamer with a beard and a bow tie tattoo? Seriously.