2018 was a weird year for me, gaming wise. Rather than play a wide swath of what the gaming scene had to offer – dipping my toes into the pool of whatever hot new thing seemed to be trending on any given day – I spent most of my time playing just a few select titles a lot. A whole lot. Choosing instead to dive headlong into the deep end of some adventures that really chewed up the hours. Hell, I’m not even sure if I have 10 games released this calendar year to give a fair shake to, in order to make this list; and am fairly sure that cheating will be involved.
If that wasn’t enough, being primarily a card carrying member of the PC Master Race; my experience will be decidedly different from most of the rest of the Fuchsia crew, and I think my choices will bear that out. I missed out on potential GOTY candidates such as Spider Boy, God of Boy, Red Boy Redemption, and even Super WaLuigi Bros Ultimate. Boy. I hope you like weird Japanese shit as much as seem to have.
Most Feels: Celeste
While there were a few solid options that this could have arguably gone to, Celeste takes it home by sheer fact that it was just so… unexpected. I picked this up early expecting a fun, albeit difficult platformer in the Super Meat Boy lineage. However in addition to that, I was also smacked across the face with a surprisingly poignant tale of dealing with mental health and overcoming inner demons. It definitely kept me invested to see the challenge through to the end credits.
Biggest Disappointment: Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Battle for Azeroth could have been the obvious choice here, and for good reasons. More on that later. In the end though, my Biggest Disappointment needs to go to Kingdom Come: Deliverance. It comes in with a high amount of praise in it’s attempt to deliver(ance) a hyper realistic simulation of medieval life. What turned me off however, were clunky controls, slow pacing, glitchy AI, and a terribly implemented save system. Adding to that the game was shadowed by controversy surrounding potential white-washing, as well as some headline grabbing views held by it’s lead developer in regards to GamerGate.
In it’s defense, improvements have been made to things since release, including an overhaul to the aforementioned save system. Perhaps one day I’ll give it another chance, but for now first impressions rule the day.
Funniest: Yakuza 0
The main story of Yakuza 0 is a gritty, hardcore, Japanese mafia drama full of violence and plot twists set across two different locales. In between all of the Yakuza intrigue however.. is just a whole bunch of sheer ridiculousness. One moment you’ll be banging out a tune in a karaoke mini-game, and the next you’ll randomly bump into someone asking you for your help to produce a music video for totally-not-really-we-swear Michael Jackson. It’s crazy, it’s inane, it’s quite often hysterical to see what situations our pair of (un)witting protagonists find themselves in.
It’s a game where all of the various sub stories could add up to be a stand alone title unto itself, and there’s never a dull moment.
Prettiest: Monster Hunter World
The first thing that struck me about Monster Hunter World – aside from the learning curve – was just how goddamn amazing it all looks. From the base of operations in Astera to the jagged edges of Elder’s Recess, everything is amazingly detailed. Each area is diverse and unique in their own right but also each one seems completely natural in it’s own setting. I often found myself walking around on expeditions; just exploring each zone with no set goal in mind other than to see what they all had to offer. In return I was treated to some amazing views and alien biomes that would put No Man’s Sky to shame. (I’m looking at you, Coral Highlands!) Just make sure while admiring the landscape that I keep alert for that equally good looking Nergigante that wants to make me it’s next meal.
Most Addicting: Monster Hunter World
This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s bothered to speak to me this year. After a slow start, I became absolutely hooked, and it’s core gameplay loop; despite being deceptively simply, continues to keep things interesting. Continued post-launch support from Capcom in the form of new and more difficult monsters as well rotating themed events and collaborations means there’s always plenty to come back to.
Best Early Access Game: Deep Rock Galactic
Who would have thought that a game that is basically just space mining would be so damn fun. Opening up in Steam Early Access back in February; Deep Rock Galactic has already seen vast changes as it creeps up on it’s first year anniversary. It’s a great multiplayer experience, and recent updates to your mining buddy Bosco, mean that solo play is also a viable option. DRG continues to evolve as developer Ghost Ship Games deserves credit for keeping the community engaged and informed with regular roadmap updates, and looking forward to the next year.
The One That Got Away: God of
Yes, I made the same joke twice. Deal with it.
Without a PS4 I missed out on a handful of games this year that seem to have dominated GOTY discussions. The one that I’m truly disappointed about missing out on however, was God of War. If this ever makes it’s way to the PC I’ll be sure to scoop it up.
Of Course I’ll Rebuy That!: Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition
The Xbox One release made my 2017 GOTY list; but it’s almost not funny how much of a better experience the Windows Edition ends up being. Keeping this short as there will be more on this later (spoiler alert!), but I was happy to play through this coming of age story all over again. Nothing beats the action, the drama, and the product placement. Cup Noodles.
Shame: World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth
History may show that 2018 became that the year that the Blizzard side of Activision Blizzard finally succumbed to it’s profit chasing other half. There was the end of year announcement about the end of HGC; and virtual dooming of Heroes of the Storm to die a slow trickle-down death. We saw Blizzard literally get booed off the stage during the flagship presentation of their own conference. But before that, was the release of Battle of Azeroth, the latest expansion in the long running World of Warcraft game.
After coming back for the end of Legion – possibly the best expansion since Lich King – I had high hopes for BFA to be equally enjoyable. Instead, the player base has been treated to an admittedly rushed release that has been plagued by bugs, repetitive gameplay, and questionable design choices. In the face of discontent and declining subscriber numbers it’s forced Blizzard to be reactive, rather than proactive in the first major patch of the expansion -but the question is whether or not the damage has already been done.
For myself, I gave BFA fair shake, dropping way more time into it than I’d like to admit before finally letting my account lapse again. At least it’s not another WWE game?
That Beat Tho’: Red Strings Club
Red Strings Club was something I randomly fell into by accident and was instantly drawn in by it’s aesthetic. Holding aside the interesting story for the moment, what stood out most to me was actually the soundtrack. It starts off slow and somber, giving it a distinctive noir feel. But it quickly ramps up into a frenetic pace; synth vibes playing perfectly into the game’s cyberpunk landscape. Composed completely by fingerspit, I highly recommend a listen to everyone over a good drink.
Best Multitask Game: BATLETECH
While I really enjoy the gameplay of BATTLETECH, man does it take it’s sweet time with things. There is a lot that can be said for watching 60 tons of ‘mech lumber it’s way across a battlefield to get into position to unleash an Alpha Strike. At the same time, it can be infuriating waiting for a Missile carrier fire an SRM salvo at it’s target, when all you want to do is get to the next turn. Even after the tweaks added since launch to speed up the game flow, this one still sits solidly in “Push end turn and go make a sammich” territory.
The Future is Bright: Monster Hunter World: Iceborne
More Monster Hunter!
Iceborne, a MHW expansion was announced in December and is currently scheduled for release in fall of 2019. While full details are currently sparse, it’s already been announced that it will include a brand new area, new monsters, new gear and the long expected G-Rank.
Considering that Capcom is still pumping out free content for the base game, hopefully I can finish it all up by the time Iceborne finally shows it’s tracks.
10. Yakuza 0
Do you like mini-games? Do you like ALL the mini games? Yakuza 0 might be the game for you. Batting cages, poker, karaoke, slot car Racing!?! You could legitimately spend more time indulging in all of the things that Kamurocho and Sotenbori have to offer than the working through the main story.
Counterpoint: Do you like cut-scenes? How about ALL of the cut-scenes?
Yakuza 0 may also be the game for you.
When you’re not off trying to score a date at the telephone club, Yakuza 0 will smack you in the face with story. So much so that my controller would time out from inaction during some sequences.
A Prequel to the successful Yakuza series, this latest entry was released in Japan in 2015, was finally localized and brought to North American markets (on console) in 2017. In 2018, the long awaited PC port made it’s debut.
A gritty look into the 1980’s Japanese underworld, it’s deadly serious while also being wildly irreverent in equal amounts. Combat is fun and fluid loaded with moves that would not look out of place inside a WWE ring. More than once I’d use a heat action, and found myself shouting out to the screen “holy shit, that was great”.
In between combat scenes – of which there are plenty – you’ll find all sorts to keep yourself occupied on and off the main story path. The voice acting is great – even though I don’t speak a lick of Japanese – and the translated subtitles are clearly well done.
The story as one might expect is full of twists and turns but never seems to go too far off the rails… even though it’s always totally off the rails. I enjoyed splitting the time between Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima; seeing how their two disparate tales were inexorably intertwined.
I would be inclined to rank this more highly; however seeing as it’s a port of an older game that would seem like cheating. Still, it’s a solid port at that, and well worthy of the attention.
9. Warhammer: Vermintide 2
Successor to the 2015 breakout, Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide, the sequel hits pretty much all of the same notes as the original, but better.
The core gameplay is largely kept intact, yet at the same time feels more fluid. The maps are sufficiently varied and diverse enough to keep things fresh (except when you quick play into the same one 4 times in a row). Most importantly, Vermintide 2 brought with it a massive and well needed overhaul to the loot system. Suddenly, better loot was (somewhat) less about pure RNG and gave the player some agency to work their way up to stronger options.
Unfortunately, Vermintide 2 is not without flaws. While varied, the map selection is not really extensive enough to avoid burnout. Early on it suffered from bugs and game-breaking AI glitches. The difficulty curve can be punishing and unforgiving – especially when playing with randoms – and had to be re-balanced multiple times.
Still, if you’re craving some Left 4 Dead style co-op action, it’s hard to go wrong with Vermintide 2.
8. Pit People
Pit People was my 2017 GOTY best Early Access title, and finally made the jump into 1.0 land in March 2018. What else can really be said here other than it’s still really really good.
The Behemoth team hasn’t rested on their laurels either, still providing bug fixes and a free content update since full release.
It’s good Co-op, good solo, just good. Play the thing.
7. Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition
It almost seems disingenuous to include a game this high up that first released for consoles in 2016. However. quite plainly, the Windows Edition of Final Fantasy XV isn’t the same game and the windows experience was simply superior in every way.
Playing, when it was first released on Xbox One was great, but it was clear that the experience was missing something. The Windows Edition does it’s best to rectify that. Baked into it is all of the post launch DLC; since released that are meant to tie up loose threads. Episodes Ignis, Gladious, and Prompto offer a chance to play as your companions as they come to terms with their own growth away from Noctis. Each can be completed in less than two hours and provides a window into events that weren’t covered in the main game.
There a fun non-story side quests and collaboration events, and additional modes of transit, such as modding the Regalia into a monster truck off-road vehicle. The latter of which has no impact on the story, but are still fun things to mess around with as a diversion.
Finally, to wrap up the improved story experience; added in is the alternative chapter 13, and the expanded Insomnia – a total rework of penultimate journey of Noctis returning home to meet his fate.
Also included are new optional mega bosses, a multiplayer component, and the cherry on top – full steam workshop mod support – which lets you do fun things like use FFVII stylized character models, or dress Noctis up as Gordon Freeman (complete with Crowbar!).
As for PC specific improvements: a free high-res texture pack makes everything looks just that much better, and I found that loading times were a fraction of what they were on the Xbox version. This allowed me to utilize fast travel much more efficiently, meaning more time playing and less time looking at loading screens.
In short, if you’ve not yet played FFXV and have been interested in checking out what it has to offer… the Windows Edition is hand down the version to try. If the first pass on consoles was the original theatrical release; this compilation is the directors cut, and how it was meant to be seen.
Only one more turn, I think to myself. Conman needs these C-Bills for a new pair of (mech)shoes.
Harebrained Schemes’ BATTLETECH is wonderful joining of turn-based tactical combat and giant fuck off mechs. in the tabletop game come to your PC screen. You play the leader of a mercenary company that finds itself involved in a wild political drama involving a surprising figure from your past.
While the story does an admirable job to be compelling, the star of things are clearly the Battlemechs, 40 to 100+ ton walking machines of death. These behemoths can be customized to bring whatever armaments may be needed for the mission at hand. Heading to a planet that’s full of hot spots? Better remember to pack extra heat sinks. Need to deal damage from long range? Make room for the LRMs.
Being a mercenary company means you get a stake to claim part of any salvage leftover from a mission as you slowly build up your stable of mechs. You’ll need to make sure you leave enough cash on hand at the end of the month to pay your bills as well, or else your pilots will suffer morale loses. This company management portion makes for a fun but also occasionally frustrating part of the experience. An unlucky crit could doom one of your units, leaving you without the funds to repair or replace it.
The main thing holding it back is how slow things can be, even for a turn based game. Watching units march around the landscape is fun at first, but can often become monotonous 50 hours later. Waiting for the enemy units to make their moves felt like a chore when there were many hostiles within range. The developer has added in options to attempt to improve the pacing, but unfortunately I’ve had mixed success getting them to work correctly.
Overall, if you can deal with the pacing, and you’re a fan of slow turn based combat and are willing to learn the nuances of mech on mech combat (there is a bit of a learning curve) it’s a fun and addicting experience that will keep you occupied for a long while. With a new (paid) expansion recently released and plans for more in the future; this game isn’t showing signs of overheating just yet.
Frostpunk can best be described as a misery simulator. Snowpierecer the video game.
In Frostpunk, the world is overtaken by another ice age; and you’ve been chosen to lead a rag-tag group of survivors who have left London to found one of the last surviving bastions of humanity – a giant coal powered generator off some where near the arctic.
At it’s core Frostpunk is a city management game where where you try to guide your people through the intense cold to survive. The heart of your city is the heat producing generator, which requires a constant supply of coal necessary to keep it running and to keep things warm enough for your populace. Let the stock of coal run out, and things will grind to a halt and the city will freeze. Bleak is the rule of the day as developer 11 bit studios did an excellent job setting the tone; from the frost on the UI to the melancholy violin of the soundtrack. Your people are in for a hard life and they want you to know it.
As things progress, you’ll be presented with a number of choices on how to guide things: Do you allow child labor? What should you do with those that break the rules? How do you want to treat the sick? Ultimately these choices have far reaching consequences – not only for the labor force, but the morale of the city as a whole. Should your people lose faith in you, they will revolt and the game will end.
Should you progress far enough, some choices become ideological. What kind of leader will you become – a malevolent tyrant, or benevolent dictator.
The number of choices to make, in addition to random events and decisions that pop up periodically keeps things fresh across multiple games. Frostpunk has managed to take a scenario about cold and misery and carve it into a delightfully enjoyable experience.
4. Red Strings Club
Like a a smokey single malt, Red Strings Club hits all of the right notes.
Set in a cyberpunk landscape which could be pulled straight from a William Gibson novel; Red Strings Club is a noir adventure which raises questions of what it means to be human.
It’s 16-bit graphics supply the facade a surprisingly deep text adventure, interspersed with breaks for bar-tending and pottery. (Yes you read that correctly)
Mixing cocktails is simple, yet effective; with each drink you pour moving your target closer to one of it’s imbibers “soul nodes”. Where on consuming, they can tap into and open up about their feelings about particular subjects. The options you choose to unlock set the stage for how the story plays out, and the knowledge you can tap into in the finale.
As one progresses they are introduced to a cast of unique characters; all of them over the top, yet still grounded in the framework of the world they inhabit.
The whole experience can be played start-to-finish in only 3-4 hours, making it delightfully compact.
As a science fiction fan – and cyberpunk in particular – this checked off all of the boxes for me, from the setting, to the previously mentioned sound track, culminating in a tale about the nature of humanity.
I like to describe Celeste as Super Meat Boy winter resort. And while if you’ve ever played SMB, you’ll feel right at home here; there is no doubt that Celeste has it’s own identity.
At it’s core, Celeste is a game about young Madeline’s climb up to the summit of Mount Celeste. A platformer -again in the mold of SMB – you progress through various levels, each with it’s own themes and obstacles. Devilishly difficult at times, but rarely ever frustrating to the point of quitting; I appreciated how I never re-spawned too far away, and each death was another chance to nail down the timing I needed for the next tricky jump.
Hiding beneath the smooth game play is story that took me unexpectedly by surprise. Overcoming one’s inner demons (quite literally) struck me as a superb metaphor for conquering a mountaintop.
As you progress you will find a number of collectibles and hidden pick-ups as a reward for traveling off the main path. Grabbing these can unlock some additional areas; as well the full 8-bit version of the game that was created in only 4 days as the game’s prototype.
It’s a beautifully crafted adventure all the way from the top of the mountain to the base and while your thumbs may hate you, they will still appreciate the climb.
2. Into The Breach
Do you have anywhere from 10 minutes to 4 hours to kill? Come play Into The Breach.
Everything about ITB is executed to an exemplary degree and makes playing such a satisfying endeavor.
Seeing where your enemies will attack allows you the time to methodically plan out your strategy for optimal results. A chess game with aliens and time travelers. The progression aspect allows you to to unlock new units to play with, each with their own distinct play-style; and being able to carry over a pilot adds as sense of investment to each play.
The auto-save feature allowed me to drop off and pick things up again at a whim (and did a fine job of saving my progress when i suffered frequent crashes as launch).
If I had to offer up one bit of criticism, it would be that Into The Breach is not available on mobile devices. The turn based play-as-you-go style would be ideally suited laying in bed with a tablet or killing time on the train during the morning commute. Beyond that minor quibble, it should come as no surprised that the creators of the acclaimed FTL have stuck gold again.
1. Monster Hunter Poogie
Full disclosure: If you are like me, and have never played a Monster Hunter game before, World is going to have one hell of a learning curve.
Once I got over the hump(mostly anyway) and learned the basics, it’s been a hell of a ride, with no signs of slowing down.
The core game play loop of Monster Hunter World is deceptively straightforward: Hunt monsters, to collect their parts, to craft better weapons and armor, to go and hunt increasingly more difficult monsters. However there is enough variety within those few steps to keep things fresh for hours.. and hours and hours.
Going on actual hunts can be challenging, but also full of rewarding surprises and more than a few “holy shit that was awesome!” moments. For example: During one hunt I was tasked with bringing down a Rathian – a fire breathing, dragon like wyvern, lined with poison claws – and I’d chased back to it’s nest high in the tree tops. As the battle was on going we were beset by the appearance of a Rathalos – another dragon like wyvern – and the two monsters started a turf war, forgetting about me to attack each other! As they fought one of them slammed into a dam that was on the north end of the enclosure, causing it to fail; and the rush of released water caught my target in it, carrying it all the way to the bottom of the Forrest floor in a torrential waterfall. Once the deluge subsided, I rushed to the edge and leapt down after it… (yay for no fall damage!) charging up an attack in mid air I connected straight away and ended up on the creatures back, continuing my attack while mounted.
World is full of these types of moments, while also managing to not take itself too seriously. With plenty of collaboration events released since launch, you’re likely to run across other hunters dressed like Dante from Devil May Cry and Palicos (your feyline companions) looking like an 8-bit Megaman, complete with drinking out of an E tank instead of a health potion.
While it can be played solo, the real fun kicks in when you play with others. The game makes it easy for friends (or randoms!) to join up with you in order to tackle to strongest creatures.
World comes with 14 different weapon types, and each one plays vastly different from each other. Changing weapons necessitates new play styles and tactics and can result in old encounters feeling brand new.
That’s not to say that Monster Hunter World is not without flaws. It tries to do a good job of bread crumbing out systems and mechanics so not to overwhelm the player. However even then some of those system are not explained nearly as well as they could be, and the previously mentioned learning curve is real. Some things are intentionally obscured (such as a lack of monster HP bars) while others are just not explained well at. 160 hours in and there are still things I don’t fully understand and find myself needing to look online to reference.
There is also the matter of unskippable cutscenes, that are required to be viewed before progressing through the main story. While the the entire campaign can be played with friends – each cut scene needs to be viewed individually by each player before the game allows anyone to join together on the same mission. It seems like an arbitrary choice that can prove frustrating when trying to bring friends through the game proper.
Still though, the cut scenes become less of a problem in the end game; and a rotating cycle of (free!) events and seasonal quests have worked to keep things fresh.
Monster Hunter World is easily my top choice for game of the year and if you’re looking for a game that could keep you occupied for hundreds of hours, then come join the 5th Fleet.