In gaming circles, “GOTY” is a well-recognized acronym. It’s the crown jewel of gaming accomplishments, the proclamation that something is the Game of the Year. Most people who play video games use it as a shorthand to identify our favorite titles. And I usually lose countless hours sweating out my pick at the end of each year.
This year, I refuse.
The world is in a golden age of gaming. True, the past few years have been slow in terms of massive, AAA titles (thanks, Covid!), but the plethora of indie titles and smaller games from major studios has more than made up for the shortfall in more traditional games. The result is a cornucopia of excellent offerings so varied, so different from each other that trying to call any single one of them Game of the Year seems futile.
This realization came to me as I wrung my hands for my GOTY pick and came up with two: Horizon Forbidden West and Pentiment. Both are from major studios, but other than that the only thing they have in common is that they’re incredibly good.
Horizon Forbidden West is a gorgeous, lush adventure set in a post-apocalyptic future. It’s got top-notch voice talent, a sprawling open world that you can spend dozens—if not hundreds—of hours exploring, killer robots, and precise, well-engineered combat. The story is intense and exciting, the characters are memorable, and the setting is breathtaking.
On the opposite end of the spectrum lies Pentiment. Set in the 16th century at an abbey outside a small town in Bavaria, the title contains exactly zero combat and no voice acting. The story is fairly linear, though you can choose to explore the town, forest, and abbey, making decisions along the way that influence the story’s outcome. No struggles to save humanity from invasive aliens, no epic quest for treasures, just an artist (you) conversing in dialog bubbles for hours while trying to uncover secrets about the mysteries and murder that surround you.
Forced to pick one game of the year, how in the world would I choose between these two? To be clear, this isn’t one of those nobody-wants-to-pick-their-favorite-child scenarios. Instead, it’s a matter of pitting a massive open world action-adventure game against a story about monks going at it in the library at night. They’re nowhere near the same experience, and trying to compare them is like bringing a feather quill to an archery battle.
Speaking with WIRED’s Will Bedingfield recently, Pentiment director Josh Sawyer noted that his game would likely never have seen the light of day a few years ago. Before subscription services like Xbox’s Game Pass, publishers had to focus on surefire blockbusters that would move a lot of units. Nothing about Pentiment fits that description. But it found an audience, proving it has the juice to go up against big, expensive games. Still, GOTY conversations tend to skew toward a certain type of game and gamer, and the titles with the costly marketing campaigns will always dominate the conversation. It does those quieter games a disservice, and I’m all for dispensing with that entirely.
Indie games aren’t the only ones affected, either. I maintain that the Horizon series is one of the best out there, yet both games have been overshadowed upon release. Horizon Zero Dawn came out within weeks of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while its sequel was somewhat lost in the furor over Elden Ring. I’m not necessarily saying Zero Dawn was better than BOTW (put down your pitchforks, everyone!). What I am saying is that they were both my GOTYs for different reasons, and choosing between them sucks.
On Thursday, the entire GOTY discourse will (probably, hopefully) peak with The Game Awards, the industry’s Oscars. No matter what titles win, no one will be happy. Everyone’s favorite game of 2022 stands to lose something. Pentiment isn’t even nominated for Game of the Year. But you know what? I don’t care. This isn’t Highlander and I don’t have to pick just one.