It’s hard to dispute it:. The year saw a string of big releases throughout fall and winter, but the first chunk of 2022 is basically Elden Ring territory. At a time when gamers had little new to play, FromSoftware dropped a colossus of a game, one you could sink 100 hours into and only scratch the surface of.
So yes, Elden Ring is amazing. Plenty of publications have or will be awarding it Game of the Year, which it’s surely deserving of. But it’s not the only game of 2022 worth your time, money and praise. Here are CNET’s favorite games of the year, ones we think are worth checking out if you haven’t already.
Return to Monkey Island
2022 was a year where I bought more video games than I actually played.
Elden Ring sucked the air (and free time) out of every room and once it was done I just… withdrew from video games almost entirely. I skipped games that would normally be no-brainers for me. Titles like Neon White, The Quarry and Pertinent fell by the wayside as I binged watched TV in a post-pandemic stupor.
But I couldn’t ignore Return to Monkey Island. Like many my age (41), the original Monkey Island games hit at a very formative period. I was obsessed with the series as a preteen and Return to Monkey — designed as something of a direct sequel to first two games, directed by series’ creator Ron Gilbert — was a nostalgia fest I couldn’t resist.
And Return to Monkey Island didn’t disappoint. If anything it exceeded my expectations. I expected comfort food but got a video game that not only did justice to a legendary video game series, but reinvigorated an entire genre. After Return to Monkey Island I am extremely ready to play more old school graphic adventure games. More of this please! – Mark Serrels, editorial director
The Last of Us Part 1
I took a break from Elden Ring to dive into The Last of Us Part 1, since my memory of the 2013 original was so faded. I was so glad I did, because this masterpiece demands a second playthrough.
Yeah, it’s cool to see Joel, Ellie and the horrible post-apocalyptic world they live in brought up to the PS5 visual standards. But the real joy is retaking this journey after playing the 2020 sequel and seeing the subtle character development that led to all their deadly decisions — this series features the best writing I’ve seen in the medium.
Barreling through this tightly designed linear experience is also refreshing after the open-world gaming onslaught of recent years. Bigger isn’t always better, and I reckon The Last of Us is a better game than its sequel. If you haven’t already, play it. – Sean Keane, senior writer
Marvel’s Midnight Suns
Just when you think the year is a bit of a bust for gaming, a last-minute drop-in from Ghost Rider and pals saves the day. I kinda liked the idea of this game in theory, but didn’t have especially high hopes. Perhaps because of my (and seemingly everyone else’s) muted expectations, Midnight Suns comes across as very, very good.
I really shouldn’t be surprised. I like tabletop-style card games, I like XCOM-like strategy games and I like turn-based RPGs like Solasta or Divinity: Original Sin 2 (still a strong contender for best game/worst name combo). Midnight Suns combines the tactical maps of XCOM with the chatty intra-party relationship-building of Baldur’s Gate 3 for an end product that punches way above its weight.
There are enough nods to comic history, without being overly slavish to it, and frankly there’s even a little too much MCU-style flavor with some of the character designs and how every Iron Man voice actor now needs to do a bad RDJ impression. If I have one main complaint, it’s that the social/exploration and fighting sections of the game are so siloed, it feels like two completely separate games at times.
I’ve also got some honorable mentions: Plague Tale: Requiem really pushes the envelope graphically and has great voice acting and scripting. Both Pentiment and Immortality try new and unique things, and are at least refreshingly different. Finally, before Midnight Suns, my favorite game of the year was probably Strange Horticulture, a Lovecraftian plant shop game that manages to feel creepy and action-packed despite taking place almost entirely in a plant shop. – Dan Ackerman, editorial director
Neon White is a love letter to fast, twitch-based platformers. As White, you awake in Hell and must make your way through over 100 stages as quickly as possible in order to redeem yourself. Many characters you encounter will challenge you to bonus levels that introduce fun twists on the standard platforming you’ll have to master.
Every set of 10 stages will introduce you to a new traversal mechanic that you input by playing cards. These cards will represent different weapons that White can use. For example, the starting pistol will shoot a single shot but also propel White up in the air like a jump. Combining these cards’ attacks and their various momentum based abilities are key to clearing each stage of enemies and getting to the finish line in time. If arriving at the goal isn’t enough, every stage offers four different times to try and outrun to further climb the global leaderboards.
The gameplay is so fast and tightly designed that you’ll be itching to dive back in for a better run. It easily makes up for the story’s lackluster plot and tedious dialogue. – Sean Booker, video producer
God of War: Ragnarok
For as long as I’ve been writing about games, there’s always been talk about what title is the Citizen Kane or Godfather of games. God of War: Ragnarok is neither but comes off to me as the Godfather II of gaming. Like that movie, it expands on so many themes, which is something sequels don’t necessarily do. We learn more about Kratos’ past, about Atreus’ possible future, their relationship as father and son and how the other Norse gods contend with their own disfunctional relationships with each other. While it’s a shame Ragnarok will still be in the shadow of its predecessor, it’s still as compelling if not more while also having Kratos still being a badass dad. – Oscar Gonzalez, staff writer
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe
I never played the original Stanley Parable, which arrived back in 2013. I knew it was supposed to be really fascinating. I’m not much of a PC/Steam gamer. When the updated Ultra Deluxe arrived for the Switch, I knew it was my time. But I didn’t expect it would pull my kids in too.
To be clear: this isn’t a kid’s game at all. But the absurd, unsettling maze of choices that Stanley Parable presents unfold, at times, like a very watchable TV show. My kids (14, and almost 10) were as blown away by the chaos and confusion as I was. After years of genre-bending, multiversal entertainment like WandaVision, Loki, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and Severance, there doesn’t feel like a better time to experience Stanley’s story. This update nests what amounts to a whole sequel within its tangled narrative, but I can’t compare against the first version. This was my One and Only Version, and its repetitive, neverending, ever-so-slightly-changing and often brilliantly game-industry-satirizing experience is one that’s lingered in my head more than any other game I’ve played in 2022.
As much as I wish for a second season of Severance to arrive, The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe stepped right in for me as a spiritual successor — or rather, initial inspiration, perhaps. The cultural impact of games has never felt more real. – Scott Stein, editor at large
Pokemon Legends: Arceus
Not only is Pokemon Legends: Arceus not the best game of 2022, it may not even be the best Pokemon game of 2022. But to people like me who’ve been trying to catch ’em all since Red and Blue, Pokemon Legends: Arceus was truly a thrill. In a franchise known for taking small steps, Pokemon Legends: Arceus was a big leap.
Pokemon games have always been iterative: Add some new Pokemon here, make some presentational improvements there, wash rinse and repeat. That’s OK, because the foundation of catching and battling is so strong. But Arceus deviated from the RPG game, introducing greater senses of action and adventure. The ways you traverse the world almost like a 3D platformer and encounter Pokemon wondering around the world like they’re animals in their natural habitat help realize the Pokemon dream evoked by the 8-bit adventures that made the franchise famous. – Daniel Van Boom, senior writer