Hilariously late, my top ten games of 2018 also features some frustrating gaps. This is just the way of things, though. You can’t play everything, and that fact is becoming more true each year. Red Dead Redemption 2 has been cool so far, but it’s also an Everest-sized, slow-paced monstrosity that scares me away to more inviting games (like my #1 choice) more often than not. Celeste I have less excuses for, but it just didn’t happen. I’ll finish these games in 2019, but for now I can still look back and say I played a ton of games last year. Here are the ones that impacted me the most…
10 – Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
Mutant Year Zero is an unrefined game, with a blend of stealth and turn-based strategy that isn’t always cohesive. The story is told through motion comics and static characters. And on Xbox One X, the graphics are rough and the framerate is inexcusable. Despite these issues, I loved this game and its lovable cast of characters. I haven’t really touched the turn-based genre since Shining Force 3 or Advance Wars, and yet Mutant Year Zero grabbed me from beginning to end, reintroducing a genre I hope to explore further in 2019. Better yet, this is an incredible foundation for a sequel that blends stealth and strategy even further. I can’t wait to see what the developers can do with a follow-up.
9 – Life is Strange 2: Episode One
I was pretty hesitant to include Life is Strange 2: Episode One in this list. After all, the vast majority of Life is Strange 2 will be released in 2019. Who knows how the remaining episodes will turn out? I also considered rolling up my playthrough of Episode One, Before the Storm, and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit into one entry praising this series. Ultimately, though, I decided that Life is Strange 2: Episode One stands alone, making a powerful first impression and setting the stage for what will hopefully be an incredible season in 2019. In the current generation of games we’ve seen many attempts to tell modern, grounded stories, tackling social issues and current events. But they’re almost all awkward or tone deaf, including previous Life is Strange games. These first few hours of Life is Strange 2 have shown that games can be more than that, doubling down on the seriousness of the issues it tackles and refining the writing by a huge margin.
8 – Ashen
As much as Ashen feels like a copycat of the Dark Souls games (an achievement in itself for a small developer), it’s the ways this game sets itself apart and even improves on the Souls formula that makes it so interesting. Most importantly, Ashen is an easier game than From Software’s notorious series. Dark Souls can be a lot to endure, even for a seasoned fan, and Ashen is a great way to enjoy the loop of combat and exploration without getting bogged down in difficult boss fights. The game still has enough teeth to provide a sense of danger, but it may be the perfect game to recommend to those who were scared away from Souls titles in the past. The game focuses more on exploration than boss fights, adding to the fun with an actual good jump button. Lastly, the way Ashen builds up its central hub of NPCs over the course of the game is a brilliant idea that adds novelty to each visit.
7 – Forza Horizon 4
To me, the original Forza Horizon was the best racing game since Project Gotham Racing 2. Its sequels, though, failed to capture my interest. Skip to Forza Horizon 4 and I’m happy to say this one has found the magic again. From the goofy racer customization, to the vibrant race intro and outros, FH4 has an inviting charm that’s hard to deny. The races themselves are often harrowing, and the changing of the seasons each week ensures this online, live racing game stays fresh and fun. Story missions give only the slightest bit of context to some of the races, but even then, you can tell Playground Games had a ton of fun writing them. This is a game I know I’ll return to again and again throughout 2019.
6 – Tetris Effect
It’s hard to argue that Tetris isn’t the best game ever made. Now, it’s hard to argue that Tetris Effect isn’t the best iteration of Tetris yet. Combining the purity of tried-and-true puzzle gameplay with Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s emotional laser light show gives Tetris a power it never had before. At the end of the game’s Journey mode it pushed me to complete 90 lines in a run where the speed of the action was beyond anything I’d survived in previous Tetris games. It was the context, the music, and sense of purpose that pushed me to improve my Tetris game, rolling the credits and immediately diving into a series of brilliant score attack modes.
5 – Vampyr
Vampyr is soaked in gothic atmosphere rarely seen in games that aren’t called Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. You play as a doctor and a vampire. His duty is to save lives, and the great irony is that he must take them to survive. This creates a juggling act in which you must decide who among a cast of dozens deserves to die. The answers are rarely simple, and the consequences can be disastrous. The combat of Vampyr is a bit of a stiff chore, but its world and storytelling spoke to me on a deep, deep level. This is the reason why the middle ground between indie and triple-A games exists — so that big, ambitious, messy gems like Vampyr can get made.
4 – Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight fought me again and again, but it was that friction that made the love affair real. This dark world of warrior bugs is immediately charming, yet its Metroidvania design has no concern for you. I got lost again and again. I was stuck on seemingly ridiculous bosses just as often. I stepped away from the game for weeks at a time. And yet, I endured to the end of the journey. Hollow Knight is a beautiful game with precise controls. Every moment of hardship is ultimately fair. Every achievement is earned. When I finally reached the end I realized what an undeniable mark this world had left on me.
3 – Monster Hunter World
Stepping into the Monster Hunter series for the first time with Monster Hunter World felt like coming into a series that had just hit its stride. This most approachable entry in an impenetrable franchise is full of answers to difficult questions. As the layers of depth pile on it can be easy to get buried, and yet if you read each tutorial prompt carefully it all starts to make sense. The Monster Hunter series is great because it is rich with depth and complexity. Monster Hunter World is great because it packages up that complexity into something almost anyone can master.
2 – God of War
The God of War series has always played second fiddle to better character action games. Kratos sucks, Bayonetta rules. Simple as that. It’s for this reason that 2018’s God of War is such an incredible achievement. The team behind this game took a mature, critical eye to Kratos, his story, and the gameplay surrounding it. The story of Kratos and his son’s journey to spread his wife’s ashes atop a mountain is powerful and poignant. The gameplay and exploration is reinvigorated thanks to a new over-the-shoulder perspective. God of War is a huge, deep game, and yet I never wanted it to end.
1 – Destiny 2: Forsaken
To you, this probably looks like my most controversial entry. To me, nothing makes more sense. At the beginning of 2018, Destiny as a series had hit its lowest point. A casual endgame, weak expansions, and a whole bunch of damage control ensured that a lot of people will never come back. That’s a shame, though, because while 2018 contained the worst of Destiny, it also contained the very best. Destiny 2: Forsaken was not only a return to form, but it toppled everything before it, including The Taken King expansion from Destiny 1. The story of Cayde-6’s death and your revenge provides some first week fun, but it’s Forsaken’s endgame that offers the long-term enjoyment and surprise. Finally, leveling up and getting new gear feels properly rewarding. Meanwhile, a series of big surprises make this expansion feel massive and generous. Secret story missions and giant dungeons aside, it’s the introduction of Gambit mode that really solidifies Forsaken as this year’s best game. This hybrid of PvE and PvP feels like the mode that Destiny should have always had. Everything about Destiny’s sandbox of weaponry and superpowers sings in Gambit.
I adore the first nine games in this list, but if I’m being completely honest, most of them just got in the way of me and more time with Destiny 2: Forsaken. Now, I just need to convince more of my lapsed Destiny friends to play it with me.