2018 was a strange year for video games. While it was a very solid year I would say that it is continuing the trend of no real monumental games being released. We are five years now into the eighth console generation and three plus years removed from seminal titles like The Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid V, etc. 2016-2018 had some blockbuster titles (Uncharted 4, Breath of the Wild, Read Dead Redemption 2) but they weren't really surprising because they were iterating on what came before. With the next console generation quickly approaching (possibly fall 2019 but 2020 at the maximum) it will be interesting to see which developers are trying to put out their magnum opuses and which are looking to the future. Cyberpunk 2077 looks absolutely amazing but I don't think we are going to see anything like it on the current console generation.
All of that being said, I am genuinely surprised at how many games I really enjoyed this year. Usually I have a good mix between the ones I liked and the ones I hated or that disappointed me. But this year the vast majority of the games I played were well worth the time I put into them. Maybe I am getting better at weeding out the bad ones before purchase or maybe developers really are hitting their stride and it is hard to make a truly bad game nowadays. 🤷🏻♂️
Also hopefully this goes without saying but I did not play every video game that was released so this list is a completely biased ranking of the games I, Reid Main, played and enjoyed in 2018.
1. Monster Hunter: World
Back in January I wrote that Monster Hunter: World "will undoubtedly be my game of the year" and low and behold I was right. It may have been the first game of 2018 I played but it is easily the best one.
I am not sure what else I can write about Monster Hunter: World that I didn't already cover in my January 2018 retrospective. If you're looking for nitty-gritty details go check that out. All I want to say here is that Monster Hunter: World is easily the most accessible game in the franchise while still maintaining the core gameplay that makes it great.
If you are interested in a third-person action game where your skill, not your stats, drives how fast and far you progress then you'll probably like this game. If you're looking for a co-op experience where how well you communicate with your teammates truly makes a difference then you'll probably like this game. If you like the idea of hunting massive creatures so you can kill them and take their carcasses to forge awesome looking weapons and armor to defeat bigger and badder monsters then you'll probably like this game.
Honestly I could probably rattle off a dozen more of these one liners if I wanted to but the point is that Monster Hunter: World has something for everyone now. Maybe you're not going to love the game and want to play it for hundreds of hours like I did but I think this is finally the iteration of the franchise where everyone has to at least try it to be sure. Gone are so many of the rough edges that got in the way of your enjoyment in the past. Everything is boiled down to just get you into fighting large monsters as soon as possible.
Also Capcom is releasing an expansion called Icebourne in autumn of 2019 so if you pick the game up now you can be all geared up and ready to go when that drops.
2. Into the Breach
Not only did I call my #1 game of 2018 but it looks like I also called #2 as well. Back in February I wrote "I am having a hard time seeing how anything else this year is going to take runner up away from Into the Breach" and I nothing else could. When I wrote that I had only played the game for two and a half hours but I eventually put a total of 17 into it and every minute was an absolute joy. A turn-based strategy game that pits mechs against Kaiju. What's not to love?
There are incredibly few strategy games that are as simple to understand as Into the Breach, but have mechanics which are deceptively complex and deep. When you combine that with battles that take only a few minutes to play and entire playthroughs of the game which take less than an hour you reach that promised land of the "just one more turn" mentality that all great strategy games strive for. I know that right now if I went and turned it on I could probably play for 3-4 hours before I realized what was happening.
There is really only one "negative" about Into the Breach that comes to light when you compare it to Subset Games' first title, FTL: Faster Than Light. While the goal of FTL is to defeat the Rebel Flagship the real goal is to outfit your ship with better equipment so you can survive. Every step you take is in service of gaining more resources to get better equipment. Into the Breach is the exact opposite because your mechs are so well equipped that you could beat the entire game without changing anything. Winning battles is more important than getting new equipment. In FTL if you got dealt a bad hand you could play for 15-30 minutes with really no hope of victory. In Into the Breach when you pick a squad and jump into a game you know you will live or die based on your decisions.
I list this as "negative" only because it feels like it pushes Into the Breach closer to the territory of a solved game. There is some randomness in enemy placement but once you have mastered how your mechs abilities work with one another you end up doing the same tactics over and over again. In FTL you really couldn't plan for much because you didn't know what was upcoming. You started to learn how equipment worked so that if you lucked out and got a good piece you could lean on a tactic but you couldn't rely on it. I think this means that FTL will have a much longer shelf life than Into the Breach.
But really you should probably just ignore those last two paragraphs and play Into the Breach. It is one of the best strategy games I have ever played and I recommend that everyone check it out.
3. Detroit: Become Human
I am a sucker for David Cage and Quantic Dream games so it should be no surprise that I loved Detroit: Become Human. It is not as good as Heavy Rain (I still think whodunits are the perfect story type for these games) but it is much better than Beyond: Two Souls.
What makes Detroit: Become Human so great is that it isn't trying to be some crazy, fantastical, epic tale. It is a very human story about Androids who just want to be free. While the backdrop of the game is some technologically advanced future were Androids are commonplace that is just window dressing. The game doesn't beat you over the head with how this technology works or how Androids are able to be self-aware. It tells very emotional tales about the pain and fear these Androids are experiencing and makes you empathize with them thanks to the stellar acting. Looking back at it now it is amazing how little I cared about the "how" of the world and was focused more on the "why".
Please don't get me wrong and think I am saying this game is worthy of a Pulitzer or an Academy Award. It is incredibly tropey at times but Quantic Dreams is undoubtedly moving the industry forward with games like this. I hope that they do not stop and cannot wait to see what they try out next.
It is strange that Spider-Man is so high on this list. Not because it is a bad game (far from it) but mostly because there isn't one thing about it that I really loved. It is a prime example of a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, Insomniac Games also made Sunset Overdrive which shares a lot of similar elements to Spider-Man but was completely overlooked. But when you take that game, add a bit more Ubisoft open world tropes to it and a coat of Spider-Man paint, suddenly you have a critical darling that everyone can't stop talking about.
This Reddit thread does a great job highlighting a lot of the bad things in Spider-Man that if it was any other game we would probably have crucified it for but because it is Spider-Man we're more forgiving. Oh also fuck those instant fail stealth missions when you are not playing as Spider-Man. Those need to die in a fire.
Jesus this is supposed to be about my favourite games of the year and I have been nothing but negative about Spider-Man so far. Let's try to turn that around. Basically everything in this game was pretty good until it wasn't. Generally I liked the combat but sometimes I'd attack an enemy I didn't mean to. The web slinging was amazing except for those random times where you'd swing the completely opposite direction you wanted to. The collectibles were fun until they weren't. The side missions were very hit and miss. The story was Spider-Man as fuck with all of the fan service you'd expect to a cringeworthy degree at some point. All of these things were usually a lot of fun but every once in a while you'd have a bad experience and think "really?" before immediately going back to having more fun.
I really liked this game and think everyone should play it. To me it is a lot like Assassin's Creed 1. A solid template that has a lot of shortcomings but is perfectly set up for a sequel that will hopefully be mind boggling.
5. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
I am going to try to keep this short and sweet because I think this is one of those games where you either love or hate the genre and nothing I can say will change that. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a quintessential JRPG. The combat mechanics, the open world design, the characters, the epic world traveling story, they are all there. If you want that slow burn where you are a chosen hero who realizes their power and eventually is fighting to save the entire world then Dragon Quest XI has got you covered.
I would put the combat mechanics near the middle of the spectrum of JRPGs but the characters and the overall story are near the top. I can't remember any slow parts of the story where I wanted things to end and move onto something else. The game was very well paced and always dangled enough of a carrot in front of me to keep me going. Also grinding is conspicuously absent from this game or at least I don't ever really remember grinding. I think the auto combat system really helped alleviate a lot of that tedium.
It took almost 73 hours to beat Dragon Quest XI and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it. The way the game was split it three acts worked really well and got me incredibly engaged with the story. If you are a JRPG fan you will not go wrong with DQ11.
6. God of War (2018)
When God of War was announced I was really down on it because I am a huge fan of the combat from the old games. The over the shoulder, slow paced combat with an axe immediately left a poor taste in my mouth. But when the game started getting such stellar reviews I figured I owed it to myself to check it out.
Unfortunately all my fears were immediately realized. Having beat God of War I can unequivocally say that I am a fan of more fast paced, frenetic combat systems like the original God of War, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, etc. But what made the new God of War even worse is that your skill is no longer the defining factor if you are successful. It is the stats of your equipment. If you don't have high enough level equipment then some of the most mundane monsters will be able to defeat you if they are above a certain threshold. In my opinion this is an inexcusable aspect of a hack and slash game but I guess God of War is trying to move away from that. I am really not a fan of the growing mentality of adding RPG elements to every game and if you are not the correct level you can't move forward. What happened to just relying on player skill?
As much as I hate the combat I have to give props where it is due. The visuals, world and level design, story, acting, are all top notch. I honestly could sit down and just watch all of the cutscenes in this game because they are that engaging. Christopher Judge killed it as Kratos and I think Alastair Duncan stole the show as Mimir.
I would recommend God of War to nearly everybody because by all definitions it is a very good game. It is just not my cup of tea knowing where its roots came from. I don't think the gameplay is going to age very well and it is not worth all of the Game of the Year accolades it is getting. I am happy with the direction they are taking Kratos' character and am looking forward to seeing where it goes but I am just not sure I will play any sequels if the combat in-between those amazing cutscenes does not improve.
7. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Look it is a Super Smash Bros. game what else do you want me to write? If you liked the previous games you'll love Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. If you didn't care for the other games you won't care about this one. There is nothing revolutionary here. They continue to polish and refine the game and deserve mad respect for being able to bring back every single playable character from the previous entries.
8. Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!
In my first impressions of Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! I wrote "this is a near perfect Pokémon game" and I would really like to step back from that hyperbole.
I do think Pokémon: Let's Go is a very fun game but what I liked for the first three gyms quickly became boring and repetitive. I thought the new capture mechanics and downplaying combat was better than the old system but I now realize I was just smitten with something that was different. It was refreshing for a while but became very rote. Also your unique Pokémon is overpowered and you get given the starting three Pokémon from this generation which are also overpowered so essentially 4/6 of your team is set from the start. You could change them but because combat is downplayed much more in this game it is just easier to use the same team throughout and level up by catching Pokémon. Swapping out for other random underpowered Pokémon makes the game even less fun.
I still very much enjoyed my stroll down memory lane and this game is 100% the entry point for anyone who has never played a Pokémon game for sure. But all Pokémon: Let's Go did was make me want to see Game Freak take a step back from where the mainline Pokémon games are going and simplify it a bit before taking a risk and adding some new mechanics. Pokémon: Let's Go was a bit too simple for my liking but it has better bones of what I want the Pokémon franchise to be when you compare to it Pokémon Sun and Moon.#GamesOfTheYear