2018 Year In Review - My Top 10 Games of 2018

Whenever we reach the end of a calendar year, nothing makes me more excited than articles detailing the year that was. Whether it’s for TV, Movies or Games, it’s always fun to look back at what came back and seeing how things did stack up against one another. What was the best thing that came out in the year? What were the things you liked but barely made it to your best things of the year? What were the things that disappointed you? This time of the year always brings fun debate to those questions. For today, I want to focus on the final part of the year that was in videogames.

After the first two entries, it is time now for the real deal: My Top 10 Games of 2018, the games I enjoyed the most this year.


10. Monster Hunter World

Over the years, I would hear just how freaking massive the "Monster Hunter" series was in Japan. Ever since the PSP days, there was always so much word on how this was the series that rivaled Pokemon in Japan with how many people could be seen with a handheld playing it. From its PSP editions to their 3DS editions, I always kept hearing about it, but trying the 3DS version of "Monster Hunter 4", I found a game of almost impenetrable depth, I just dropped it and never went back. I always respected the series’ impact, but never could get into it. But it all changed with "Monster Hunter World".

I don’t know if it’s just my preference to experience something on a Big TV, but "Monster Hunter World" on PlayStation 4 clicked with me in a way the handheld versions didn’t. I don’t know if it’s because it got streamlined (hardcore fans of the series say it wasn’t, so I don’t know), or I had more of a willingness to dive in more now that it was on console, or the gorgeous visuals, etc. Whatever it was, "Monster Hunter World" got its hooks deep on me at the beginning of the year, and I had a blast finally experiencing a Monster Hunter game in more than a cursory way. Now that the deluge of Fall releases has stopped for the time being, this is a game I’m looking forward to go back into.

9. Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far

I don’t think I’ve ever done as big a 180 on a game franchise like I did with "Kingdom Hearts". This was another franchise like "Monster Hunter" that I always knew was huge but didn’t try them out until later. So without any nostalgia lens, the PS4 collections were going to be my attempt for once.

Playing through that first game, I was ready to rage quit at how badly designed the introductory sections felt and write an article about how vastly overrated the franchise was.

But then I met Donald and Goofy, and then I started traveling to different Disney Worlds, and things started changing. Visiting these worlds reminded me of my deep affinity to Disney growing up, and I was fascinated at how this was becoming the Disney game I always wanted but never got. The world designs remained obtuse for the most part, but I tolerated them the more I played.

Then I reached Hollow Bastion, and everything changed.

Suddenly, the world romp took on a more serious and more epic feel. The way the game starts building to its crescendo started hitting me in the feels. The cheesy, overly dramatic story started to become very endearing. Its sense of optimism enveloped me in a way the more ridiculous plot points didn’t seem as repulsive as I had thought they would be. The final boss rush stumped me hard, but instead of rage quitting I pressed on, reaching 100% on old areas so I could level up and be ready for that final battle with Ansem. And as I saw the glimpse of Mickey Mouse in the epic final moments, I knew I had become a believer.

Immediately I plowed through the other games of the collection. In the span of the entire month of August this year, "Kingdom Hearts" is all I played. I finished "Chains of Memories", "Kingdom Hearts 2" and "Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep". Other than the weird card-based system of "Chains of Memories", I was pleased to see the games evolve in their systems and become something I was genuinely enjoying. Finishing the first collection, I had such a "Kingdom Hearts" hunger I dove immediately to the 2.8 collection. I watched the “movies” included in both collections. Afterwards, I watched every "Kingdom Hearts 3" trailer released, finally understanding the game’s seemingly impenetrable lore (which I actually found understandable once you play the games to some extent). Having experienced all of this has made "Kingdom Hearts 3" rise all the way to the top of my most anticipated games of 2019, and thank God is comes out on January.

Yes, the series is not perfect and some odd design decisions due to their age keeps it low on this Top 10. But considering how I went from someone who knew of the series, scoffed at it early in that first game to now being a believer, I couldn’t imagine not putting this in a top 10. I’m glad I get why people still swear by the series as they’ve waited 13 years for a mainline sequel.

8. Detroit: Become Human

People tend to always associate the now defunct Telltale Games with the reason story-based adventure games rose to prominence again in 2012 thanks to “The Walking Dead”. While that may be true to some extent (judging by how many Game of the Year awards that game got), the truth is that the genre started to become a thing again thanks to French developer Quantic Dream and its seminal 2010 release, “Heavy Rain”. It showed me the potential of a game whose design revolved entirely around story and choice-based decisions. Yes, the story was uneven, the performances spotty and the gameplay clunky, but the overall experience transcended those issues to become something unique in the gaming landscape back then, and it was also one of the better exclusives on the PlayStation 3.

Quantic Dream’s follow up game “Beyond: Two Souls” was a better made but more problematic game than “Heavy Rain”. The polarizing reception to the follow up made the studio fall a bit to the wayside, especially on the heels of a game like “Until Dawn” by developer Supermassive Games who took the template of “Heavy Rain” and made it more ambitious and better executed in the context of a horror game. Quantic Dream needed to prove they were not a one trick pony and they could make another great game in this mold, and they got it with “Detroit: Become Human”.

Detroit: Become Human” shows a level of ambition not seen with this kind of game before. Whereas other games of the type thrive on the “illusion of choice”, where your choices end up not mattering in the end, “Detroit: Become Human” really goes all in on the choice aspect, with the game offering you a staggering amount of choice that legit changes the outcome of the story. The game took a while to make because of that and it shows.

Like every Quantic Dream game, the game has problems. While the storytelling and writing have improved since the stilted days of “Heavy Rain”, it is still uneven, with the game playing on clich├ęs and overbearing themes and suffering some implausible plot turns that can get a little annoying. But the quality of the production, and the overall story of the three main characters, is such that the game ends up being endearing and sticks with you long after you finish it.

If you already have made your mind about Quantic Dream’s games, I don’t think this will change your mind. But overall, this is the best game they’ve made so far, and on a sea of games dominated by open world and “Games as a Service” games, it is a nice change of pace.

7. Guacamelee 2

Sometimes more of the same is just what you need, and that is what I got with "Guacamelee 2". This was the “Metroidvania” game that came out this year that I enjoyed the most all thanks to its pure simplicity. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind with this game, and since the last one came out in 2013, I’m glad to have played a game just as good (and at times better) than the first one. The game’s trademark style and sense of humor remained intact here, and the use of memes originated on the first one took on a more wild and funnier take on this one. This is one of the most purely fun games to come out in 2018, and I can’t wait to see what developer Drinkbox Studios does next.

6. Shadow of the Colossus

Whenever the question arises of “What was your favorite game on the PlayStation 2?”, my answer always immediately goes to “Shadow of the Colossus”. For a console that includes the original two "God of War" games, "Metal Gear Solid 2 & 3", the first 3D "Grand Theft Auto" trilogy and many other great games, I always default to that choice. This was a game so pure, so ambitious, so artistic, it has stood the test of time in my mind even when its mechanics haven’t aged as well. But the cheer experience and impact the initial PS2 release left on me is such, I have no trouble naming it one of my favorite games of all time. I was glad to experience it again with the remastered version on PS3 and now, the magnificent PS4 remake.

Simply put, the amount of detail and care that went to rebuild this game for PlayStation 4 and be an exact replica of the original game is staggering. This has all the bells and whistles of a new game, but its design is all rooted on the PS2 original, which goes to show how ahead of its time the original release was. Developer BluePoint Games deserves all the credit in the world for modernizing this masterpiece, because they’ve made bar none my favorite remake of an old game that I’ve ever seen, all while still capturing the magic and the majestic nature of the original game. Battling the 16 colossi remains one of the best experiences in gaming, and combined that with the remastering of one of the best soundtracks in gaming is icing of the cake. Being an old game keeps this where it is in my list, but credit must be given to the sheer beauty of what was done here.

5. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Talk about a late in the year surprise. Leading up into October, all I could think of was "Red Dead Redemption 2". The first game is one of my favorites from last generation, so that was the big one for me heading to the end of the year. But with the game coming out at the end of the month, I needed something to pass the time, and early in the month came "Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey".

As someone who’s been a fan of the franchise since the 2007 original, I was ready to like but not love "Assassin's Creed Odyssey". Last year’s “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” I thought was a nice update to the franchise after taking a year off of their relentless release schedule. However, I liked but didn’t love “Assassin’s Creed Origins”. I thought some of its new ideas needed refining and the RPG elements and grind were something I wasn’t accustomed to yet.

I don’t know what it was, but “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” clicked with me in a way the previous one didn’t. There was something about how this game embraced a sense of fun and power that kept me coming back to it even when "Red Dead Redemption 2" released. While it still had the same Ubisoft template and a smorgasbord of new systems on top of it, I never felt smothered by it. The Greek setting had me delighted from start to finish. My choice of player, Kassandra, helped this game become the “Wonder Woman” game I always wanted. The RPG systems felt better integrated, which kept me engaged with it even if there are better RPG games out there.

I sunk approximately 84 hours into the game, and I am still considering going back to it during winter break to get a Platinum Trophy out of it. This is the most fun I’ve had with an entry in this series since 2010’s “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood”, and with the series taking a well-deserved break in 2019 as this game adds its expansions, I’m really excited to see where they take things next.

4. Celeste

Talk about a game that left me speechless.

When I first heard of "Celeste", I didn't mind it much. Looking at screenshots of it, this just looked like a pixelated platforming game, and I was down to play something like this. What I was not expecting was finding a game with grueling platforming but where said platforming was also intrinsically tied to a narrative that dealt with serious themes like depression, mental illness, the desire to overcome life's obstacles & insecurities, and letting go of the ghosts of the past. Considering where I was at in my life earlier this year as I faced some unexpected life changes, this game resonated with me in such a way I still think about the experience even ‘til this day.

I’ve never seen a game be so grueling in its difficulty, but also being so encouraging in every step of the way. The game tells you that you can do it. It cheers you on. It’s a great analogy of how no matter how hard and mountainous life gets a times, we can still climb and overcome it. We can still thrive.

"Celeste" is a true achievement in simplicity, and I’ll forever be grateful that someone could do something so meaningful in something so simple.

3. Spider-Man

The game with probably the highest highs of any game I played this year. That is Insomniac Games’ “Spider-Man”.

For a better part of almost a decade, I’ve been wanting a developer to give superheroes the same level of treatment that developer Rocksteady Studios gave to the character of Batman with “Batman: Arkham Asylum”. That trilogy of games came and went, and in that time no one else attempted to give another superhero the same treatment until Insomniac Games came in to do that with Spider-Man. And it was glorious.

After so many bad Spider-Man games came out after the seminal “Spider-Man 2” on PS2, Insomniac Games’ take on the character took everything that was great about that PS2 game and enveloped it in love and care that even surpassed what Rocksteady did with the Batman games. The story Insomniac Games cooked up with the liberties and confidence it took to take the story places. The insane set pieces that you find in a game like Uncharted. The swelling music you hear every time you web swing. The joy of being the character. It all came together to be something that was perfectly Spider-Man. My 8-year-old self would have been delighted with this.

Had the game taken more chances with its open world formula, and had the game had a better difficulty balance during its earlier sections, this would have been even higher in my list.

2. Red Dead Redemption 2

Definitely my most anticipated game coming into 2018. And one that mostly delivered everything I wanted out of it. 

"Red Dead Redemption 2" is a remarkable achievement in open world design, graphical beauty and authenticity. Bar none, in the open world genre, I don’t think I’ve seen a game with the amount of thought that was put into this, where Rockstar Games manages to up the complexity of a living world and interweaves it with a very flexible narrative that is linear by nature but makes it feel like it’s your own.

Other games talk about a living breathing world, but "Red Dead Redemption 2" lives up to that claim. The interactions with the people around you, and the amount of complexities that happen around you, are such you can’t help but be in awe. Coupled that with Rockstar’s most believable script and some of the best protagonists to ever grace a video game, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is a presentational and design marvel.

So why is it not #1?

This is a weird case where there is a little bit of schism between the achievements of the presentational and design aspects of the game versus the game you are playing. At times, it all coalesces to make you feel like you’re playing the best game ever. Other times, the game’s strict design in its missions, where the freedom afforded by the rest of the game doesn’t translate to the game you’re actually playing can really put a damper on things and add more frustration than needed to such an immaculately made game. Finally, the game's gargantual length eventually gets the better of it, with a well intentioned but overextended 10-hour epilogue taking a little bit of the power of protagonist Arthur Morgan's perfect denouement. 

In the grand scheme of things, the achievements of the game are such that this is in a vacuum one of the best games I’ve played in years, and a worthy follow up to the original game. But the slight moments of frustration that creeped in just made this majestic game just miss the very, very top honor. Still, an experience I'll never forget from this console generation. 

1. God of War

It is hard to revive a franchise, especially when many people declared it dead. But that’s what Sony Santa Monica was able to achieve with their revival of "God of War".

After the series went through a rough reception with the 2013 prequel “God of War: Ascension”, it was a sign that Sony’s seminal franchise was done. Coupled that with a cancellation of what was going to be the studio’s next thing, Sony Santa Monica was in a tough spot. The studio that gave the PlayStation 2 its most recognizable franchise and also a title that sold a lot of PlayStation 3’s was about to go under.

They needed a hail mary, and they got one gloriously with this game.

It takes a lot of guts to ditch everything that worked about a franchise, but evolution is what is needed to keep an old franchise alive for years to come. The way Sony Santa Monica took what was a fixed camera button masher into a legit action adventure game with unparalleled depth is something I never expected from "God of War". You can look at the old games and look at this one, and it's staggering to think they belong in the same franchise. But what Sony Santa Monica did went beyond switching the series to a different style. They went above and beyond to not just evolve God of War as a series, but take to the next level what people can expect from a story-based third person action-adventure game.

Sony developer Naughty Dog has been for a while the gold standard for linear, story-based games, and they’ve carried that mantle with pride with the "Uncharted" series and "The Last of Us". But as highly regarded as those games have been, the one thing people can agree with is that everything that makes those games great surrounds the gameplay. The gameplay is good enough to experience those games, but it’s rarely the highlight. The excuse has always been that it was the price to pay for games as cinematic as those. "God of War" proves that excuse wrong.

"God of War" is the first game in what could be seen as the “Naughty Dog” mold where the gameplay is as big a highlight as everything else like story, sound, acting, etc. It’s a game with such depth in its combat that puts it in a league of its own. Considering the previous God of War games could be beaten using the same combo over and over (unless you dialed up the difficulty), the reimagining adds a sense of strategy to the combat and puts so much control to the player. It’s crazy to think this is in the same genre of cinematic games that usually take control away from you. Add to that how the game constantly keeps surprising you with how deep it is, where you think it's linear and then out of nowhere its wide enough to be explorable without sacrificing narrative drive, and there is no excuse for your story game to not play well or be deep after this one.

Rounding up this phenomenal game is probably my favorite story of a game in this style in years, which is crazy coming from a series with simple revenge stories like the "God of War" series. This was a franchise where the main character Kratos was a one note murder machine, a vehicle for the gameplay and spectacle. The reimagining recontextualizes the character’s previous behavior as he comes to terms with the man who was, who he wants to be and how that could shape the life of his son, Atreus. Through a story that never cuts from him and his son, with characters coming in and out of the story at the right times, the level of restraint in the storytelling reminds me a lot of a play. The restraint shown through much of the game worked for its benefit, as it allows the player to really get into the psyches and the tics from our pair of protagonists. 

"God of War" truly is the complete package. The game never seized to be fun. The game never seized to be impactful. The game just came together to not only reimagine what was a dead franchise, but deliver the most well rounded game of 2018, and my personal game of the year


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