This is my review in progress of 2020: the Video Game. As this game is an MMORPG this is my experience of the game over the past 9 months or so so far with a complete review due once I have completed all the DLC and extra content. Mild spoiler warnings ahead.
10 months ago I started a new game that had a lot of hype and marketing in the build up to it’s release on January 1st. It was the first game of the decade and it held such promise and I will be honest, while playing it’s prequel, 2019, I was excited for it. To give you an idea, 2019 set up a lot of the groundwork for what was to happen in 2020 but my god I don’t think anyone was expecting what was to come in this behemoth of an instalment. Previous iterations have been tough but this is one of the toughest in the series, at least since I started playing properly. As an MMORPG with a branching narrative and consequences to your choices, please remember that the experiences I have had in my playthrough and that I am recounting here are personal to me as I know that people have found this game has been varied in difficulty and have had significantly different experiences to mine.
As you can see, my character is currently pretty average, with a mixed bag of stats. ‘Strength‘ and ‘dexterity‘ have never been his strong point but the current situation of the game by chapter 10 has afforded more free time to focus more on the stat development mechanics. You can also see that the ‘mental‘ stat has taken a bit of a hit which is partly by design of this game however more on that later.
A restricted storyline with a new threat
I am not going to detail this chapter by chapter however I do believe it is important that I keep a framework of the chronology to make sure the plots, DLC etc are all accounted for as we go. These games started as they always do; a lot of fanfare and celebration with a lot of expectation and development for the coming game. The end of 2019 had seen me travel to distant lands in the finale (Germany) and celebrate a positive and subdued closing chapter which I had hoped marked a smooth and uneventful 2020 with the chapters and levels being as you would expect. And the beginning of the game functions as you would expect; getting settled in to the new controls and environment which is much the same but from the get go its clear that there is something ominous building in the background. As with all of these games, your character and stats carry over and as much as we have all been crying out for a ‘character reset‘ at the start of each game it seems like there are no plans to add one. My character was in a good place although his ‘fitness’ and ‘mental’ stats were ebbing a little bit entering into the new game, plus some decisions at the end of the 2019 instalment meant that his ‘strength‘ skills certainly needed some attention. That said, my character was fortunate enough to have carried over a decent inventory which would benefit as the 2020 game unfolded.
Its around Chapter 3 and 4 that shit starts to really hits the fan. A lot of what I had known, at least through previous playthroughs, was upended, with the gameplay being drastically switched to a familiar but significantly smaller location. This meant that there was a lot of base management needed as well as a surprising addition of daily quests being added, based around a young fledgling party member who you needed to tutor and raise on a daily basis. These quests varied from simple mathematic puzzles to written exercises which, at my level, weren’t challenging however as these were timed quests that sat alongside my main 2020 storyline, I often found myself having to balance both questlines at once. That said, it was an incredibly rewarding quest and although one that was an unexpected twist to the traditional formula, I was glad I was able to do it. These quests are all dependent upon the party that you start the game with as well as the relationship levels you have developed in previous games remember, so some of you may not have had a party member like this and some of you may have had several, which I can imagine makes things even harder. It does seem that although these quests were partially optional, I found myself feeling guilty leaving these uncompleted. It is also worth noting that speaking to other players of the game, some of the players on these questlines struggled more than others; a fact I fully sympathise with as these were a particularly tough addition to the early gameplay.
The rest of the story follows a similar formula to previous games and games like Animal Crossing and the Sims; earn currency, keep a check on all required needs, manage the base building, develop party friendships etc although 2020 decided to put us all to the test by throwing in a Global De-buff over the game world that introduced a deadly virus that ravaged the maps and therefore causing the various worlds to impose restrictions to reduce the player to player interactions and therefore limit the impact of the virus. For me, like many, I was restricted to my base that I had built with the fledgling party member and my partner party member.
A familiar but smaller map
On the location, although it was initially expected to be a temporary tool for the early part of the game, this location does overstay its welcome and even by Chapter 10, the focus of the story is largely restricted to this one area and several surrounding locations. As the chapters carry on, the restrictions are lifted, although compared to previous games these areas aren’t as populated with NPCs and are much more limited in terms of what you can do. For example, you need to be wearing particular headgear which can reduce the stat boosts and overall character aesthetic that was afforded in previous games. I also found that these restrictions in general had a drain over time on the ‘mental’ stat in particular and the situation itself caused my character to be less effective in general in the way that he functioned, from completing quests with ease to other more basic functions such as controller and input responses, although more on this later. On the headgear, it serves an important purpose in slowing the de-buff so it is 100% worth wearing it but much to my surprise, a lot of people did not appreciate having their characters faces covered whenever they were around other players which blows my mind.
It is worth noting that although this restriction does sound very negative considering the freedoms afforded in other games, it does allow freedom in other areas. Firstly, it allowed for much more of a focus on the base management side of things, from growing plants to managing and maintaining the site itself. You are also afforded much more time in the day as you are no longer limited by loading screens between the huge areas initially visited. As my character was often focused between the Capital City of my region, London, and the outlying towns there was often a lot of time spent in these loading screens. The move to a much more focused and smaller location means less time in loading screens and more times in side quests and mini-games as well as developing skills which is something that my character had been slacking on in the last few iterations. This also allowed more time for the party management side of the game in particular, although these interactions are often more digital in the way that you are no longer required to find and visit the party member, instead this can all be done via various devices.
On the point of locations, at the end of the prequel, it was clear that the seasonal end of 2020 was going to in fact take place in a completely different, unexplored continent – Australia. This would have introduced a whole new open world map, new characters, new activities and frankly a new story from what had come before. As exciting and promising as this prospect sounded, it was clear that the developers of the game decided to in fact keep this very much up in the air for the first 8 chapters and only by chapter 9/10 is it clear that they have taken a different direction for the endgame. As a player, this was very disappointing as it would have been an incredible opportunity, one that I hope is rolled over into one of the sequels.
The Global Debuff & the impact on character stats
I wanted to take a moment t look a bit more on the negative stats and the de-buff that is experienced in the game as well as this is a core mechanic, albeit a surprising one, of the 2020 edition. This de-buff impacts each character separately, sometimes with devastating consequences, so it is not something to take lightly. I have seen people’s games be devastated by this de-buff and my heart goes out to everyone who has been effected by this. For me, at least at this point in the game, my character and my party have been fortunate enough to avoid the worst of it although the passive impact has hugely impacted my characters ‘mental‘ stat. Consequently, the secondary impact of the location change and the global de-buff was that my character was often inflicted with status conditions such as ‘low motivation‘. ‘self doubt‘ and ‘low confidence‘. I was able to take my character through various side quests that alleviated these issues where NPCs & players who specialised in these status conditions provided my character the tools to cure some of these, but it also requires a continuous daily grind to rectify this issue. Unfortunately, up to now in my current playthrough, this decline in my ‘mental’ stat has become a defining part of the game and an aspect that certainly contributes to making this game a pretty weak instalment. Although there are steps to be taken, there were times where the ‘mental‘ stat got incredibly low and had an impact on a lot of the other activities; from the work main quest to social side quests. The stat has recovered in recent chapters however certain story beats and the overall de-buff is certainly a drain on my characters stats in general.
The story arc of the de-buff peaks around Chapter 7 and although the initial arc is finished, it does seem to rear its head with a vengeance in Chapter 9 and 10 which makes me think that this will be a key influence in the endgame and seasonal content and will potentially see the sequel, 2021, heavily centred around the fallout and recovery of this de-buff. It has to be said that this de-buff is driven largely by the players of this MMO and we, as players, have the ability to contain and fight the drain it has on the game world. It will require a lot more sacrifice and much more diligent action to get through this, meaning it is important that we come together as a community to play our part. For me, I am hoping that steps taken on rejigging the character stats in the post game will help mitigate some of the challenges I can see on the horizon. The ‘mental‘ stat will be a tough one to fix as there are a lot of drains at play on this, however the work I have been doing on the ‘strength‘ and ‘dexterity‘ skills is working to counteract some of these issues. As the de-buff doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, it is long overdue that my character gets a new build, including new talents, traits and in the long run, a new focus.
Making money, losing money
Another consequence of the de-buff was that it resulted in my character losing his primary source of income in Chapter 10 as the Guild he was in was unable to maintain everyone due to the lack of work. Consequently, the game seems intent on making sure the difficulty of the game remains challenging even up to the final chapter with unforgiving twists and turns along the way. As twists go, for my character, this was not a surprise as this had been theorised in earlier chapters but it doesn’t make that pill any easier to swallow as I was particularly fond of that Guild. My character leaving his guild is not an isolated case either. Guilds, big and small, have be struggling within this game, the entire in game economy being shook up and changed due to changing player habits, restrictions and decisions being made by the influential players. The location change has hit the Guilds hard, with many requiring their members to complete their quests from their bases, much as my character did, but sometimes this hasn’t seemed sustainable. There a specialist Guilds that have been hit hard too; the taverns for example have really struggled as no-one has been allowed to attend these for a while, and when they do, it is a completely different experience. Effectively, the Guild system in 2020 and into its sequels will no doubt look different than it has before and this will certainly be the case for my character.
It is interesting to see the job system back in full force again when it hasn’t been in play for a few instalments and it certainly helps build that level of urgency within the game. It has required me to reassess my characters build and begin focusing on areas that had been neglected, for example the ‘strength’ and ‘dexterity’ skills and areas that need development such as focusing on acquiring new skills and talents. As the Guilds are struggling, there aren’t many open positions that my character can fill yet, but he is fortunate enough to be able to work in a fellow player’s restaurant over the endgame to ensure that there is some money coming in to his account. What the long term picture looks like for his job/class remains to be seen as there are a lot of requirements that need to be met first before this can be decided. Although it is a particularly tough time to have a jobless character, it does also afford me the opportunity to move my character into a new experience or adventure, even one I hadn’t considered before.
My advice, if you are in this situation too, is to develop your party to be as robust as possible and make sure you work as a team – if this game has demonstrated anything it is that party management and building the right team is paramount to getting through this game.
I have touched upon the topic of the party through-out this review and, despite the restrictions in physically seeing most of the core party, they are in my opinion more important than ever in this game. One thing this game has done very well is showcase just how hard the game can be when a majority of your party members are taken away and you are instead forced to interact with them at a distance. The global community it seems has had a similar reaction, and a lot of the feedback is often how they have missed their fellow parties, guild members and related characters. And I completely get it. The social side of the game that we have grown so used to, has been stripped away and forced us, the players, to redefine what this interaction looks like. As a result, new Guilds and tools cropped up allowing remote party play and meetings which certainly helped with this lack of ‘face to face’ interaction.
The roster of party members is near infinite and it did allow my character to grow and diversify the party more than ever which consequently unlocked more side quests further down the line. One particular side quest for example, involved embarking on a mission to complete weekly tasks while analysing the in game economy and news to create a podcast for other players – something that has been a welcome addition for my character in particular. Also, as mentioned earlier, the stat drain that the location restriction and the negative de-buff applied to the game was often alleviated by the party member system so it is worth investing your time in this.
I was fortunate enough in this game, to level up and evolve one of the relationships closest to me by utilising the ‘Ring of Commitment‘, binding my character to another player who lives within the site that I am based. This has been building for five games now so it is amazing to see this payoff and it goes to show that there is a light within this, often depressing and dreary, game. My character is evidently very happy about this and although the ‘Commitment Ceremony‘ is looking to be a few games away yet, both my character and the other party member seems very excited at the prospect of this story arc and beyond. I would also be remiss to not mention the other close party members too who have been a rock through-out all the games since the beginning and have come into their own in this game. Obviously, given the nature of how the story has been progressing, they have faced their own challenges too and I know that often their quests have been harder than mine, but it has always been great to see them take their time for my character’s side quests as much as their own. This has been a huge positive in this game and one that I don’t want to be undermined by the many negatives that I have covered.
Conclusion (to be continued…)
As mentioned at the start, this is a review of the first 10 chapters of the 2020 Video Game and I know that I still have some of the more crucial chapters ahead, including the seasonal chapters and DLC although it is disappointing that the endgame has been amended last minute. If I had to score this instalment so far, I would give it a 4 out of 10 which is an incredibly generous score given a lot of the negativity out there currently. The difficulty hike through the addition of the global de-buff and the completely unexpected impact it has had on my character; both from a stats point of view and a class/questline point of view, has clearly been a defining feature of my playthrough so far and one that has touched everyone across this game world. It has led to drains on finances, Guilds and player communities with no real resolution in sight. For my character, he has lost his Guild, had a shake up of his stats and the storyline he is on at the moment seems completely open ended with no real security in it. That said, the game has had a few features that have allowed it to be given the generous 4 out of 10. The open ended story can also be seen as an opportunity to take my character on previously unseen adventures and the whole game has shone a light on just how important the party system is as well as the free time afforded to my character to develop both his party and himself.
That said, I would not recommend you buy 2020: The Video Game. Hopefully in after a few months of playing its sequel, 2021, I can recommend you simply jump from 2019 to 2021 and skip 2020 entirely.