Based on the list I have below, 2018 was a year almost evenly balanced (yeah 60/40 close enough) between big budget $60 titles and smaller, more unique indie games. I’m not sure if that says something about the mediocre quality of many of the big budget games or the ever impressive quality of smaller titles and their ability to do brave and interesting things but I found it an interesting observation while crafting my personal Top 10 this year. Now before I get into all of that, here are some honorable mentions:
Call of Duty Black Ops 4 – In a year that Call of Duty looked to be floundering by nixing the single player campaign, we somehow got the best Battle Royale game out there and solid Call of Duty multiplayer that I really enjoyed more than any other COD game for the last couple of years.
Super Mario Party – I’ve always been a big Mario Party fan and this one is probably the best since the N64 days. I have played countless hours of this game with my family and, much to my surprise, have really enjoyed the various modes that were added this time around, especially the 2v2 mode that turns the idea of Mario Party into something different all together.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – I hated Super Smash Bros. on Wii U. It felt slow and boring and I just never got the feel for it. I don’t know why but Ultimate really hit all the right buttons for me this year. Like many of my favorite Switch games it has become regular addition to our family gaming and I have enjoyed the time I’ve spent with the single player as well.
10. Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee!
I am a Pokémon fan from way back to the original Game Boy and Pokémon Blue (not Red, sorry). I faithfully played the Pokémon games for years and dreamed of one day playing a full-fledged Pokémon game on my Nintendo 64…then GameCube…then Wii…then I stopped hoping for a home console release. Now I know Let’s Go Eevee is basically cheating by remaking Pokémon Yellow (a favorite of mine), it’s still amazing to finally see the original 151 on a big screen in high definition.
On top of that Let’s Go Eevee makes the first meaningful mechanic change in a Pokémon game by abandoning the idea of battling wild Pokémon in favor of the Pokémon Go mechanics. At first, I thought this was a terrible idea and would dumb down the game too much, but it turned out to be just the streamlining that I needed to get me back into Pokémon. Let’s Go Eevee is a game that is designed with someone like me in mind in that it calls back to the great stuff I enjoyed about Pokémon as a child while also taking brave steps forward to change up the game. Here’s hoping that the full, brand new Pokémon game can take it even further and become something even more special.
9. Hitman 2
Every bit of Hitman 2 is an improvement on the original episodic game in 2016. The environments are grander, the options for assassination broader and the opportunity for brilliance is greater. The only reason that Hitman 2 is this low on my list is that it is a victim of its own success. I played the original to death, searching out every secret in every map and getting max mastery along the way. Hitman 2 is just more of that amazing Hitman goodness but, unfortunately, it’s not as fresh or unique as every other game listed below. That said I have loved every bit of Hitman 2 I’ve played and almost all of the new maps are just so much more interesting than the original Hitman maps that diving into them and discovering their secrets will be an even more rewarding time.
For a brutal platformer that sees you dying hundreds of times to complete, Celeste is somehow one of the most positive games I have ever played. The story, an unsurprisingly metaphorical tale about a girl climbing a mountain, is one about self-discovery, self-acceptance and dealing with anxiety that I think will speak to basically any person. The game offers a very challenging set of chapters, each getting more and more complex, with great platforming mechanics that will certainly test you to the max. Then in between each section are positive messages about how making mistakes just means you’re learning and to not stress about skipping the hard to reach collectibles strewn throughout the game.
Celeste even goes as far as offer options to customize your experience to make the game easier, without any penalty or judgement imposed by the game. When you do surpass the challenge of the game, you are right there alongside Madeline as she completes her own personal journey to the top of the mountain and can share in the same elation and feeling of accomplishment as her.
7. Dead Cells
I have been playing Dead Cells since early access and even at that point you could see that there was something special here. I have enjoyed several Rogue-lite games in past years, but none have played quite like Dead Cells. The combat is just so much fun and rewarding thanks to responsive controls, a great dodge move and tons of weapons to employ. Each playthrough feels more substantial than most Rogue-lite games do. You level up, find loot, explore new areas, fight bosses and then eventually die, all in the course of 15-20 minutes. When you do finally hit that magical run where everything lines up and you get just the right weapons and items and beat the final boss, it’s a pretty fantastic moment that sticks with you. Then you bump the difficulty up a notch and go back at it again. It’s a game I will no doubt continue playing throughout 2019.
6. Red Dead Redemption 2
At the beginning of 2018 I would have predicted that Red Dead Redemption 2 would easily be my game of the year, especially considering I often hold up the original as the best game of the previous generation. Yet here we are down at number six, sitting in a situation where I love almost every aspect of the game yet there’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on that hasn’t drawn me into this game like many others on my list. Where many games on this list I completely devoured, Red Dead Redemption 2 I have been slowly chipping away at since it first released, to the point that I still haven’t finished yet.
No doubt Red Dead Redemption 2 is a massive accomplishment for video games as a medium. With it, Rockstar has created what is possibly the best, most realistic open world ever. I know for sure that part of my original problem completing the game came from my proclivity to distract myself with the myriad of side activities and just wanting to live in the world. I’ve spent hours hunting deer, playing poker, doing chores, getting drunk, etc. that often kept me from making any real progress while still being incredibly entertained.
It’s a shame because the story of Arthur, Dutch and their band of outlaws is captivating and interesting. Each of the characters is fleshed out and interesting, although sometimes there are too many to really let you get invested in them fully. Best of all the game doesn’t hold back when it comes to characters dying, save for the few that you know must survive. The game is broken up into chapters, with each one serving as a self-contained story of the family of outlaws ending up in worse and worse situations and being ripped apart as time goes on. It’s a great ride that I am eagerly looking forward to completing in the coming weeks.
5. Into the Breach
I tried a couple of times, but I could never really get into FTL. I appreciated the game from afar, but it just clearly wasn’t my type of game. Then along comes Into the Breach, which had a similar run-based design but completely different gameplay. Into the Breach is simple yet brilliant. It looks like a strategy game, but I have often described it more as a puzzle game. Due to the game’s time travel plot device, you every enemy move beforehand, how much damage they will do, where they will attack, etc.
It makes you feel like an absolute genius when everything works out, especially when you manage to just barely to eek out a victory in what looks like a no-win situation. Other times you are playing for the end game, knowing that you will have to accept certain losses or even sacrifice a unit to find success. The rest of the time you’ll just flat out lose, which still manages to be enjoyable, which is rare for a game for sure. Into the Breach succeeds in having brilliant gameplay but also offering tons of variation on how to play with countless combinations of mechs, multiple difficulties and achievements to chase that have actual gameplay ramifications.
4. Marvel’s Spider-Man
I really like Spider-Man the character and I’ve liked most of the games, including some of the ones that are generally considered “bad.” This new Spider-Man is easily the best of those games and it becomes so not on the merits of its gameplay or collection of side activities, but by focusing on characters and story and by spending plenty of time with “Peter Parker” instead of just Spider-Man. That isn’t to say the gameplay is bad; the combat pulls from the Arkham Asylum model but adapts it to make sense for the more agile and web-shooter equipped Spider-Man and feels great. Yes, there is also a big open New York to explore with a ton of side activities to encounter and swinging around the city feels great.
However, this Spider-Man is about the story of Peter Parker, an already accomplished superhero, living the life of Spider-Man while also juggling friends and family. Naturally there’s a big bad guy, which starts out as Mr. Negative before switching focus to a more familiar face by the end. There are surprises, deaths, drama and purely heroic moments littered throughout the game. More importantly the game succeeds in making this “comic booky” world feel real. Yes, it’s an over the top story about psychopaths with designs to destroy the city and get revenge but the game always comes back to the personal nature of everything, whether it’s through Miles Morales, Mary Jane, Aunt May or Peter Parker himself. It’s the best story from 2018 and one of the best video game stories ever.
I would never have guessed that a city-builder game set in a post-apocalyptic frozen world would be a game that appears in my top 10, let alone top 3. Yet I find Frostpunk to be a fantastic experience. Right off the bat you get to see what this game is setting you up for as you experience the anguish and dread of this world. It’s a game that forces you to make ugly decisions, often between something that is morally questionable but beneficial and something that is more acceptable but will provide no help or create further burden. This happens all in the name of keeping people alive. Do you enact child labor so you can collect resources faster or let the children stay home, where they are safer but aren’t helping the city?
The city management aspect is also brilliant. You center around the generator, your sole source of heat in this frozen tundra and everything is built out from there. You must be mindful of not only placement and location but proximity to heat. The resources are at the outer edges of the city so do you let workers freeze or expend more coal to create mini-generators out there? Then comes the mid-game turmoil of the Londoners, a group looking to leave and take as many people with them as they can. This opens even more ugly choices as you use the worst, darkest aspects of either religion or dictatorship to maintain control of the city.
Once you get past that hurdle, you have an even worse event to deal with in the Storm. This challenge sees temperatures drop below -100 degrees and will push your preparation and organizational ability to the limit. If you haven’t properly prepared you can easily see tons of your citizens die. In my initial playthrough we ran out of food with several days to go before the storm ended and just held on for dear life. That moment when the sun came up and temperatures went back to normal (but still cold) it was perhaps the most relieved and most accomplished I felt in any game all year. On top of that whole journey there are also additional scenarios that challenge other aspects of gameplay, such as a colony with only a few people and lots of robotic Automatons or a colony with continuous, massive influxes of people. Frostpunk provides all of that. It’s a simply fantastic game.
2. Monster Hunter World
By the time Monster Hunter World came around almost a year ago, I was fully ready for it to be a game that I enjoyed. I had always heard about the games before and they sounded interesting, but I was always put off by how obtuse everything was and the complications that went into enjoying them. This was the title that was supposed to streamline all those systems and finally bring Monster Hunter to a mass audience. I’m not entirely sure it made that full leap (although the game certainly sold amazing) but apparently the changes they made were enough to draw me in fully.
Monster Hunter World is a game that is all about mechanics, but man are those mechanics so much fun. The premise is simple and right there in the title: you hunt monsters. By defeating said monsters you earn materials to craft armor and weapons that make you stronger. Then you go out and hunt stronger monsters. The game has no leveling up your stats or choosing new abilities from a skill tree; nope you just hunt monsters and then make better and better gear. Unlike games like Destiny or Diablo, there’s no guesswork to making gear. You know exactly what monster you need to hunt to make what you want.
This doesn’t even touch on the weapons in the game, of which there are many. Some are more basic while others are complex enough to almost be compared to a fighting game. My weapon of choice was the insect glaive, which meant I was flying through the air, easily able to dodge while also constantly mounting monsters. The insect glaive also has the secondary ability of giving you a buff based on shooting your insect at different parts of the monster. These mechanics that are deep enough that they could support their own game as the sole weapon and that’s just one of the great weapons. Some would call the fights too long, but I loved them because they felt like a true battle against this giant creature. Monster Hunter World is addictive and played right into my enjoyment of loot-driven games.
1. God of War
I have always enjoyed the God of War games for what they were: over-the-top action games with fantastic boss fights and generic action sequences in between. My interest was certainly piqued when the new God of War looked to change the perspective of combat while also transitioning to an entirely different mythology. I never would have guessed just how good this new God of War game would be.
God of War is a triumph in basically every aspect of game design. It looks beautiful, both from a technical perspective but also from an artistic view. The combat, which in past games has been serviceable, is completely reworked into a deep system that I found rewarding the entire way through. However, what I least expected was just how good the story and characters would end up being. The story of Kratos and Atreus is a bit cliché at some moments but for the vast majority of the game it’s an interesting dynamic that explores regret, power, hate and so much more. The side characters are all excellent as well, the stand out being Mimir, the disembodied head that provides both levity and wisdom throughout the game. His stories are fantastic, and he gives the necessary back story and exposition required to understand such a lore-heavy world such as this.
The real reason that I choose God of War as my game of the year is that it is a game that I wanted to just extract every last little drop out of. I enjoyed it so much that I made the point to complete everything: the two lengthy optional worlds which provide unique gameplay mechanics, hunting down all the Valkries and the combat challenges they provided. Dammit I even shot down all of Odin’s Ravens. I wanted to stay in that world as long as possible and hope to revisit it again some point, either with a fresh playthrough or with the New Game+ mode that they added. God of War is just a wonder from start to finish.