Although it didn’t quite hit as many high notes as 2017, this year’s standouts were as awesome as they come. Maybe it was just the luck of the draw, but so many of the smaller/indie games I reviewed this past year were disappointingly derivative. Some exceptions: Wandersong, Iconoclasts, Octopath Traveller. There were quite a few mid-level games from established developers that impressed me, including Pathfinder: Kingmaker, Celeste, and Iris.Fall.
Favorite Game Released Before 2018, Played in 2018: Alien: Isolation
I don’t remember what brought me back to Alien: Isolation, a game which had moldered with neglect in my Steam library since 2014. Maybe it was playing survival horror games like The Forest. I still don’t think that the Alien franchise has produced a truly great game, but Isolation had better action and atmosphere than I remembered.
2018 Honorable Mentions
Spider-Man, Thronebreaker, Forza Horizon 4, Far Cry 5, Dark Souls (Switch)
Top 5 Games of 2018
5. Dragon Quest XI
I was not prepared to be so thoroughly charmed as I was by the delightful characters and story of Dragon Quest XI. Some have claimed that XI is not the strongest entry in the franchise but I was captivated by its quirky cast and excellent voice acting, not to mention its accessible but reasonably deep turn-based combat. Dragon Quest XI sticks rather doggedly to old-school JRPG conventions and over dozens of hours it can be frustratingly repetitive, but I enjoyed even the annoying members of the cast and was delighted by the story and its many surprises and twists.
4. God of War
I’ve played all the God of War games and this reboot of the franchise left me in awe. I assumed —correctly—that the action and combat would be superlative, but was not prepared for Kratos’ believable emotional journey and the poignant family drama that unfolded alongside the over-the-top set pieces. Fantastic music and voice acting helped to deliver a story that was as hard to put down as the best novel or movie. Other games pushed God of War temporarily out of the way, but I will return.
3. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Although my all-time favorite AC game is the sometimes forgotten Syndicate (because I am an Anglophile and loved the setting and twin protagonists), Odyssey is a close second. Protagonist Kassandra immediately became one of my favorite game characters (she reminded me of last year’s Aloy) and Odyssey’s ancient Greece was always interesting to explore. Story and gameplay inconsistencies aside, Kassandra was fun to control in combat and traversal and outshone Lara Croft in the “tomb raiding” sections of the game.
2. Monster Hunter World
Here’s how much I loved Monster Hunter World: I bought it on console and PC and played both pretty obsessively. While its systems might be initially somewhat obtuse, the hunting-crafting loop is incredibly strong and has one of the most enjoyable and rewarding cooperative fighting systems of any game. The brief story was disappointingly thin but the thrill of the hunt — and the incredible creature and environmental design — never got old.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
I think that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece, and anyone who complains about its interface or slow pace or sometimes cowboy-cliche characters is willfully focused on a few trees instead of the vast forest of incredible storytelling, dialog and characterization, not to mention a world so detailed and appealing that several times I’ve tried to wish myself into that landscape. That may be hyperbole, but not by much. I will admit to being primed to loving this game, as fond as I was of the original, but of course nothing in this hobby is a sure thing (right, Fallout 76?). RDR2 is profound in the same way a great novel is—thematically consistent and populated by characters with interesting stories to tell. My single disappointment is that so many missions end with an inevitable (and sometimes, tedious) gunfight, undermining the freedom and moral agency of the player character. We’ll see where RDROnline ends up. It’s promising but feels irrelevant to an experience which is still engrossing, hours after the story ends.