Some of the most popular games today exist as evolving platforms. Using the games-as-a-service model, developers can update, expand upon, and improve experiences over time. The “live service” nature of such games allow them to fit the mold of a “lifestyle” game, with regular updates and new features helping to keep things fresh.
GameSpot’s Best Lifestyle/Live Service category celebrates five games that experienced dramatic and meaningful changes in 2020. In this end-of-year roundup we’ll discuss and highlight what made these great experiences even better than before.
Our criteria was based on what made these games stand out and how they went above and beyond throughout the calendar year, not necessarily when they released. As you’ll see immediately below, only two of our five selections for 2020 actually released this year.
If you’re curious about what else we’ve highlighted as the best games in other categories, be sure to check out all our end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2020 hub. You can also check out our top 10 games of 2020. Over the next few days, we will offer further insight into why we picked them as the best of 2020, with a standalone article going live on-site in order of the games’ release dates. Then, on December 17, we will reveal which of them gets to take home the coveted title of GameSpot’s Best Game of 2020.
Otherwise, in no particular order, here are the five best lifestyle games of 2020!
Released in March for the Nintendo Switch, Animal Crossing: New Horizons very quickly became a bonafide sensation and a commercial juggernaut. By Nintendo’s latest count, the game has sold a jaw-dropping 26 million copies, which is a remarkable achievement in its own right, but it’s especially impressive considering it is a platform exclusive.
Part of what has made Animal Crossing: New Horizons so popular is Nintendo’s commitment to updating and supporting it with new content on a regular basis. All throughout the year, Nintendo added new features (like swimming and art-collecting) and seasonal content, the most recent of which included items and a makeover for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the winter holidays. In essence, there was basically always a good reason to come back to Animal Crossing: New Horizons in 2020 thanks to Nintendo’s commitment to growing and evolving the game.
Many Animal Crossing fans also remarked that the mild-natured, happy, and colorful world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons was just what they needed to help get through a challenging and tumultuous year filled with upheaval and stress.
Additionally, Animal Crossing: New Horizons got a jolt of mainstream popularity and appeal when politicians and celebrities flocked to the game. Joe Biden created an island of his own to help meet voters where they were before the US Presidential Election, and US Congresswoman Alexadria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) started playing the game and visiting her followers to even further endear herself to the voterbase. Outside of politics, celebrities like Brie Larson and Chrissy Tiegen shared videos of their islands and generally geeked out about the Switch game, propelling the title even further into the mainstream.
Like Fortnite, Warzone, and others, Apex Legends is known to keep things fresh with new seasons that launch about every four months, and this continued in 2020 with great results. The Meltdown, Assimilation, Fortune’s Favor, and Boosted seasons all ran their course throughout 2020, delivering new Legends, updated map features, and more. The latest season, Ascension, introduces a Legend named Horizon, and a new map called Olympus.
Throughout these seasons, Apex Legends also delivered a series of exciting limited-time events that brought special modes to the game and other unique twists. For example, the Halloween update added a game mode variant called “Shadow Royale,” where fallen players become “shadows” who have special abilities and hunt down living players.
Another big development for Apex Legends in 2020 was the announcement that the game would continue to expand to new platforms, specifically Steam and Nintendo Switch. The Steam edition launched in November, opening the game up to a whole new group of players, while the version for Nintendo’s hybrid console was delayed to 2021. Cross-play was also introduced to allow players on different platforms to join in together.
With the arrival of the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, Apex Legends is now playable on even more powerful consoles, and players on the new machines can expect an increase in resolution up to 1440p. Developer Respawn has promised that more “formal enhancements” are planned for 2021.
Final Fantasy XIV
Square Enix’s long-running Final Fantasy MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV continued its impressive commitment to growth and evolution in 2020, even after last year’s spectacular expansion Shadowbringers.
Following on from Shadowbringers’ launch in July 2019, Square Enix kept the train running with a series of patches and updates that continued the main story in impactful ways that build toward an exciting future for the game. Namely, FFXIV’s 5.3 patch that launched in August of this year wrapped up the entire Shadowbringers story arc with a stunning conclusion that put its most fascinating characters at the center. New music, dungeons, and boss fights made for a top-tier gameplay experience, but it was the narrative revelations that sealed 5.3 as one of the best updates to FFXIV in its history. While patch 5.2 in February brought a new chapter in the Eden raid series, 5.3 delivered the second part of the Nier: Automata crossover raid series–both of which have their own compelling side stories.
However, FFXIV’s updates in 2020 weren’t just about players who reached the end of the latest expansion. While these are the big examples of what was new and interesting about Final Fantasy XIV in 2020, the game is in such a good place that GameSpot’s Michael Higham recently made the case that there has never been a better time than now to get into the game.
“For almost two years, it’s been my go-to game, but it was thriving well before I started,” Higham said. “There’s so much to do and so much to see, a lot of which is now free and doesn’t require a subscription. With the entire base game, A Realm Reborn, and the highly regarded first expansion, Heavensward, available in the free trial, you owe it to yourself to give FFXIV a chance.” In addition, the base game’s somewhat protracted main questline was slimmed down as well to give new players a more streamlined experience.
Along with things like new story quests and a series of quality-of-life enhancements, Square Enix made other minor improvements like ditching the gender restrictions on wedding gear, so players could wear whatever they want for the big day. And in March, responding to concerns about COVID-19 and the impact it’s had on players, Square Enix put a temporary freeze on in-game housing evictions. The MMO also welcomed a crossover event with Final Fantasy 11.
Looking to the future, it appears Square Enix is not slowing down with Final Fantasy XIV. The company has set the date for an announcement event in February where we might finally hear about the next expansion. The most recent update with patch 5.4 update concludes the enticing Eden raid series and sows the seeds for what’s next in the story, too. Even in a year between expansions, FFXIV continued to prove itself as the premier MMORPG but also one of the truly great Final Fantasy games in the franchise’s history.
Rainbow Six Siege
Making it into our list for a third straight year is Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege, a team-based tactical shooter that just keeps getting better with age. A shining example of the games-as-a-service model, Siege is a game that is constantly enjoyable to return to time and time again. This trend continued in 2020 as Siege enjoyed numerous and significant updates in 2020 that were so strong that GameSpot published an updated review of the game this year and scored it a 10/10. “Siege has not only become Ubisoft’s crown jewel of multiplayer action but also one of the best first-person shooters ever made,” reviewer Mat Paget said.
In 2020, the developers took aim at toxic behavior by introducing new tools that improve the overall experience, one being chat filters that players can use to avoid some of the trash talk–and worse–that can come with the game. Ubisoft also added a friendly fire reversal system so players can decide if a specific instance of friendly fire was in fact intentional, and then take action from there.
Some of Siege’s maps have also received updates big and small, and we found it fun to return to a familiar location with some adjustments that make it feel fresh. Ubisoft also remained committed to buffing and nerfing Operators as need be, and while not everyone may agree with the changes, it’s encouraging to see Ubisoft attempt to keep things even. Even Lord Tachanka finally got some love.
Ubisoft’s efforts have paid off, it seems, as Rainbow Six Siege now counts more than 50 million registered players, and the game is still ramping up. On December 1, Ubisoft released updates for the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S to bring the game up to 4K/120FPS, providing yet another to return to or keep playing the shooter. Players can choose from Performance or Resolution mode, depending on their own preferences.
Call of Duty: Warzone
After a number of leaks and lots of speculation, Activision formally announced and released Call of Duty: Warzone in March 2020, and it’s been a huge success. By the publisher’s latest count, Warzone has 85 million players who have helped propel the Call of Duty franchise to new heights in 2020.
Warzone was not the first Call of Duty battle royale game, as Black Ops 4 had its Blackout mode that was appreciated by those who played it, but its place in history would be one of laying the groundwork for what was to come with Warzone.
Similar to Fortnite, Apex Legends, and others, Warzone drops players onto a huge map, Verdansk, where they must fight to be the last player or team standing. Warzone innovates on the likes of Fortnite and Apex Legends in a number of ways, one of which is through the unique respawning system. Players who are killed enter the Gulag (from Modern Warfare 2) where they take part in 1v1 battles against other fallen soldiers for a chance to parachute back into the map. It’s a smart and simple idea that separates Warzone from other battle royale games.
Also, Warzone overall feels like a love letter to the Call of Duty franchise. The sprawling map is made up of locations familiar to Call of Duty fans, and it’s a treat to see all of these disparate locations connected into one giant map to explore. Another standout feature of Warzone are its guns and gunplay, which has always been the bread and butter of Call of Duty. The gunplay in Warzone feels fantastic, and this keeps players coming back.
Activision’s commitment to supporting and evolving Warzone has been impressive. Infinity Ward and the co-developers regularly rotate in special limited-time modes, while the game also received an eerie and excellent Halloween overhaul that added a new gametype where fallen soldiers became zombies who then had to hunt down the living. Infinity Ward also regularly adds new content through the Battle Pass system in the form of additional Operators, new cosmetic bundles, and plenty of other fun ways to personalize the experience.
Warzone will grow in the most significant way yet with the Season 1 refresh on December 16, which will add content from Black Ops Cold War. We don’t know all the specifics yet, but it’s exciting to think about a whole host of new weapons, items, and gear, in addition to whatever map changes might be in the works, that are headed to Warzone. Activision has said players can expect Warzone to act as the throughline and connective tissue that ties together future Call of Duty games, so you can expect even more refreshes every year when new Call of Duty games release.