A number of highly anticipated games released in 2018, and most of them did not disappoint. While I did not fall in love with Red Dead Redemption 2 like many others did, Vampyr and God of War surprised me as fantastic games I previously had no interest in. Monster Hunter World released with a more streamlined approach, and as someone who has been playing the series since 2004, I can confidently say it’s now my favorite entry in the series. Dragonball Fighterz reinvigorated fighting games after Marvel vs Capcom Infinite’s blunder, and SoulCalibur VI closed off the year well. Overall, it has been a pretty strong year for games in a number of genres.
Favorite Game Released Before 2018, Played in 2018: Hollow Knight
Metroidvania games have never been my thing, but there’s something about Hollow Knight that I find particularly charming. It has a fantastic art style, and the animation work sells every action effectively. The controls are precise and the world is well-realized. It makes effective use of its characters, which are often simplistically presented, but with an element of tragedy to them. Simply put, Hollow Knight is a game that does everything it needs to on a technical level, but much of its appeal is in its art design and the way it tells its story through gameplay.
2018 Honorable Mentions
Dragonball Fighterz, Read Dead Redemption 2, Valkyria Chronicles 4
Top 5 Games of 2018
Easily the jankiest game on the list, Vampyr makes up for its technical flaws with an intriguing premise. On the surface, Vampyr is just a run-of-the-mill third-person action game, but its focus on character interaction is what really sells it. As a vampire, you have the choice of feeding on NPCs, but it carries more weight than most games that allow you to do no kill runs.
These characters start out with low blood quality (EXP), which improves as you learn more about them and progress their stories. As a result of this system, you may find a seemingly pleasant person to be deserving of death after getting the full story. In contrast, you may choose to spare someone you like, even though they may offer more EXP.
Of course, some people may not become attached to the characters and just try to do whatever is optimal. To counteract this push to feed, the NPCs are limited and valuable within the areas they inhabit. Should many of them, or “pillars of the community” go missing, previously safe locations can become a hotbed for enemies, and you’ll miss out on potential material rewards.
The combat is serviceable and there are a few interesting abilities, but you’ll largely be engaging in it simply to get to the next area where you can speak with more people. At its core, Vampyr presents an interesting world, and dynamically balances how you interact with it. If that’s your thing, and you can deal with long loading times and technical jank, it’s well worth picking up.
4. Yakuza Kiwami 2
I think Yakuza 0 is a masterpiece, and while Kiwami 2 doesn’t quite reach that level, it’s very close to it. Using the same engine as Yakuza 6, Kiwami 2 delivers fantastic combat with all the absurdity expected from the series. Heat moves are as visceral as ever, and the core combat has enough variety to keep things fresh, even in the absence of multiple fighting styles. There’s really not much I can say that’s new information: Yakuza games are really, really fun.
With that said, I feel the need to clarify the tone of the Yakuza series, since I believe it’s often misunderstood. Yes, there are hundreds of utterly ridiculous moments in these games, but the stories are basically soap operas. The way Yakuza games balance this serious tone with ridiculous events is what makes them so charming, and Kiwami 2 does this part very well. In fact, I’d say it has the most compelling story since Yakuza 0. It does reach a bit too far in the end, but the journey itself is enjoyable from the outset. Kiwami 2 more than makes up for the disappointment of Kiwami 1.
3. Marvel’s Spider-Man
I had a lot of reservations about Marvel’s Spider-man. Every new trailer or piece of information looked great on the surface, but I couldn’t help but feel that some element of its gameplay would be mishandled. I’ve never been happier to be wrong.
Before any Spider-man game gets released, a simple question needs to be answered: Is it fun to swing around the city for hours? That answer must be yes. For Marvel’s Spider-man, luckily, it is. There are simple yet effective mechanics to the web swinging, such as canned animations for moving through more cumbersome objects like fire escapes or water towers. Single button presses allow precise jumps and rounding corners. All of this serves to retain the fluidity necessary in a Spider-man game, while still giving the player agency in how they traverse. Aside from the occasional hiccup when targeting, it’s essentially perfect.
Combat follows the Batman-esque formula — which always felt more appropriate for a guy with Spidey sense anyway. It works well and suit powers give a touch of variety.
What is perhaps most surprising is that the story is handled well. Just when I thought the game was over, it picked back up again, introducing new characters and plot points. This game is an excellent example of how to stuff in as many ideas as possible, while still delivering a cohesive narrative. Any Spider-man fan should pick this up.
2. Monster Hunter World
After its reveal, Monster Hunter World had some longtime fans concerned due to its departure from the standard formula. Some felt it was created to sell the series to a casual audience with simplified features. If it was, I’m glad for it. Monster Hunter has always been obtuse, but World is the only game in the series I’ve been able to get my friends into — and I’ve been trying for 14 years.
World continues the trend of satisfying gameplay and an addictive hook to keep hunting for more materials. Combat is weighty and the game retains the steep learning curve, particularly for some of the later DLC additions, like Extreme Behemoth. World also added an actual story, but let’s not discuss that. While there has been a huge graphical update in this entry, many of the older monster animations are unchanged. World has succeeded in making the experience feel different and familiar at the same time.
Some of the new monsters are handled well, while others feel like inferior versions of those who had come before them. Still, there are a good variety of monsters to hunt, and the addition of free DLC monsters and seasonal events give you a lot to do once you’ve exhausted the majority of content. With the implementation of G-rank next year, there’s plenty to look forward to.
1. God of War
As a teenager, I loved God of War 1 and 2, but began to drift away from the series as I got older. While they were legitimately good games, my younger self enjoyed them simply for how excessive they were. For those that appreciated the gameplay above all else, it will be disappointing that the style has changed to a more standard AAA game formula. The series no longer fits in the character action genre. It has instead shifted to a third person action game with a tight camera and less combo variety. Yes, God of War is largely an amalgamation of existing high budget video game ideas, but in its defense, it executes them very well.
God of War’s combat is definitely limited compared to past titles, but I’d be lying if I said I ever got bored of throwing the Leviathan Axe and recalling it back to my hand. There’s something about having a boomerang that is so satisfying. Coupled with the slow motion special moves and team up attacks, the game still retains some of the spectacle from the original series.
But that’s not really why I love this game. It’s the story and characters that won me over. I hate kids, so any time a game makes a kid character I like, it stands out. God of War focuses heavily on Kratos’ regrets from the previous games, and whether or not he’s passing on his flaws to his son. The back-and-forth between the two is really great, and the secondary characters do a good job of fleshing out Kratos as a character, and appropriately calling him out when necessary. Kratos was not devoid of character in the previous games, but the juxtaposition of his actions alongside his enclosed character moments always felt insincere to me. In this game, I feel his growth is more cohesive with the events. There’s an element of restraint here, both in gameplay design and character.
There’s really only one story moment I feel was paced poorly, but the rest is brilliant. I understand why some people scoff at the Last of Us trend of story writing these days, but when it’s done well, I’ve got to give credit where it’s due. God of War, much to my surprise, is my game of the year.