Every January I shake some of the dust off of this little blog of mine, assess another year of gaming, and rush around trying to finish up some shamefully missed titles from the year. January 2019 hasn’t been any different, and as such, I’m giving myself a little extra time to complete my 2018 top 10 list. Last year it was closer to a top 20, but this year I think I can safely commit to a proper top 10.
I like to write a handful of pieces each year, so in lieu of last year’s double-sized list, I’ll be offering up the following collection of random thoughts about the year. In addition, I’ve got a top 10 movie list, and finally, the top 10 games list on the way. Let’s get to the takes!
There were too many long games in 2018
This is a pretty common sentiment, but I’d like to reinforce it. The quest to launch the ultimate games-as-service title has produced games designed not just to take up more of your gaming time, but all of your gaming time. Even single player games like Assassin’s Creed have adopted the kind of quest design you’d expect in an MMO — hundreds of missions of wildly varying quality with seemingly one goal in mind — making sure the microtransaction shop is always in view.
This, combined with several lengthy single-player games, made keeping up with even just the high-profile games incredibly difficult. For most people there’s no longer time for that obscure indie game that may speak to them. For myself, it also meant almost no time to revisit titles out of my retro game collection. I fully intended to use the SNES Classic, but I never really got around to it.
There are games that absolutely justified their length. God of War, for example, was a game I didn’t want to end even 60 hours in with the Platinum trophy unlocked. But when so many games are so long — especially if this trend continues in 2019 — I worry that the patience for certain types of games will fall off. After all, how can you justify replaying a difficult section or backtracking a robust world when there are twenty other great games offering fresh content around the corner?
Episodic & early access are making these GOTY things weird
I don’t know that this is a problem so much as a general observation, but with games evolving across multiple years, it can make these end-of-year assessments strange.
For example, I had an incredible time with the Life is Strange series this year, but with episodes from entirely different Life is Strange series staggered across 2017, 2018, and 2019, there hasn’t been one solid entry in the series to recognize in this year. That said, year-end celebration or not, Life is Strange in all its incarnations is very much worth your time.
This Tomb Raider trilogy was never what I wanted
As I crawled through the tenth horrific bone-filled hell-tunnel in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I had to stop and ask myself — did I ever ask for this?
The grim-dark Lara Croft origin trilogy has a lot of good qualities, including out-Nathan Drake-ing Nathan Drake (at least until Uncharted 4), but ultimately this series never captured any of the more timeless qualities of the original Tomb Raider.
Over and over we asked for more actual tomb raiding, and I don’t think this trilogy ever delivered what fans had in mind — dense, vast, complex, dangerous-but-brightly-lit structures that stoked our imaginations. Hell, Assassin’s Creed Origins did a far better job of creating this sensation than anything from the modern Tomb Raider games.
Ownership feels more nebulous than ever
It doesn’t matter whether you own a game physically or digitally anymore. With day-one patches, not to mention games being unceremoniously yanked off of digital stores regularly, there is no longer a secure way to keep a game you love. A physical disc is often as meaningless as a digital license, meanwhile common nostalgia is the only thing keeping preservation efforts alive, with more obscure titles lost outside of piracy. In 2017, Microsoft did a lot to keep old games relevant through Original Xbox backwards compatibility, but they lost the momentum in 2018.
With streaming and subscription services becoming more and more practical, we are entrusting our nostalgia to businesses that have proven time-and-time again that they don’t care. This is something to be worried about going into 2019 and beyond.
B-Games are still the shit
I’ll take a flawed mid-tier game that goes for it over a safe, polished, triple-A game any day of the week. As triple-A became more like quadruple-A and the indie boom offered a completely different angle, the bottom seemed to fall out on these middle-ground games. But this year felt like a return-to-form for the B-game.
They always overpromise and underdeliver, but it’s that risk and ambition that ensures some of the coolest ideas originate from B-games.
The Council, an episodic Telltale-style game that introduced an RPG-lite perk system to conversation choices, utterly failed to tell a compelling story around the concept. That said, the idea is there now, and I can’t wait to see what a more capable writing team could do with this style of gameplay.
Other games like A Way Out, Mutant Year Zero, and Call of Cthulhu offered cheesy, hilarious moments while often going all-in in the best ways possible. Mutant Year Zero in particular feels like the groundwork for an absolutely incredible second game.
But all of those pale in comparison to this year’s ultimate b-game, the force of nature known as Vampyr. Sure, the combat is repetitive, the controls are stiff, and it can be tough to find your way around, but Vampyr killed it in every other respect. This game was drenched in atmosphere, told a gothic tale reminiscent of the great Soul Reaver, and populated a well-realized city with dozens of compelling characters. If there’s anything you take away from this article I hope it’s that you play Vampyr. You’ll be hearing more about that game for sure when I post my top 10 games.