My Top Ten Games of 2018: #1

My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
#7 Frostpunk
#6 Jurassic World Evolution
#5 Into the Breach
#4 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
#3 Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
#2 Red Dead Redemption II

#1 Monster Hunter: World

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: PS4, XBO, PC

While there were some excellent surprises on my Game of the Year list, none reached the incredible dark horse status of Monster Hunter: World. This was a series that I’d never cared much about. I last dabbled in the series with Monster Hunter Tri on Wii a decade ago only to bounce off hard.

I never expected to like this game, let alone fall in love with it. After my first week of playing I feverishly told my friends they had to pick it up, and what followed was dozens of hours of both solo and cooperative greatness as we mastered our favorite weapons, familiarized ourselves with the colorful hunting grounds, and studied the deadly dance of each monster so we could craft better gear and do it all again.

With Monster Hunter: World I finally understand the appeal of the entire Dark Souls subgenre of action-RPGs: densely detailed game design that requires intimate knowledge of enemies, weapons, and attack animations. Over a dozen weapons provide different styles that completely change how we approach a fight. Every monster has predictable attack patterns and behavior, yet all still provide a dynamic and exciting challenge – especially when nearby monsters are thrown into the mix.

The crafting loop creates a constant and steady stream of rewarding progression while rarely feeling frustrating due to rare drops, at least until the very late game. The main campaign alone lasts over 50 hours, and then you can do it all again but with a fun remixed version of more powerful monsters in different locations. In total I logged over 100 hours into Monster Hunter: World, easily making it my most played game of the year, and much of that with cooperative multiplayer.

Sure the main story is threadbare. They didn’t exactly prioritize the cringey writing or voice acting. And that Zorah Magdaros campaign mission is probably the most laughably awful designed mission in an otherwise stellar experience. The primary appeal is choosing your randomized mission of varying risk and reward and jumping in to a dangerous zone of killer monsters and hazards, which satisfies all my online cooperative multiplayer in a way few modern games seem to be able to.

More than any other game on this list Monster Hunter: World created the most Oh Shit moments, such as fighting a T-Rex only to have a dragon swoop in and carry it off, or fighting a pair of dragons together only to knock them over a cliff by triggering an avalanche of water. It’s a game that cuts out all the middling parts of an action-RPG, leaving only the bombastic, imminently satisfying boss battles.

I hope to return to Monster Hunter: World again in the future but even if I’ve fully retired, it’s more than earned its place as my favorite game of 2018.

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My Top Ten Games of 2018: #2

My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
#7 Frostpunk
#6 Jurassic World Evolution
#5 Into the Breach
#4 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
#3 Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

#2 Red Dead Redemption II

Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platforms: PS4, XBO

If I had to choose one single game from the last console generation as my absolute favorite, there’s an excellent chance I would settle on Red Dead Redemption. Rockstar Game’s sequel is bigger and deeper than anyone could have imagined.

I’m normally not a big fan of prequels, yet Red Dead Redemption left an intriguing backstory: the fall of the Dutch Van Der Linde gang. Red Dead Redemption II is set ten years earlier, with John Marston one of a whole group of people who live outside the towns and outside the law, unified by unflinching loyalty and camaraderie, even as their world view, and leadership, come crashing down around them.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the Van Der Linde gang. The main story runs everyone through an emotional journey filled with terrifying depravity, exciting dangers, and delightfully quiet moments of celebration and joy. New protagonist Arthur Morgan is a likably sturdy compass, a pragmatic warrior-poet amid the unfolding chaos and eccentric characters around him.

Red Dead 2 isn’t just an open world playground nor a Western-themed GTA. It’s far more introspective and realistic, at least as realistic as a game that lets you pay your way out of mass murder can be. Everything is painstakingly detailed and boldly time-consuming, from brushing and feeding your horse to cooking meat over a campfire to browsing through old-timey catalogs to purchase provisions, clothes, and ammunition. More than anything Red Dead 2 is a true Western simulator while still keeping all the fun gameplay bits that Rockstar is known for.

You’re given the freedom to rob trains, search for buried treasure, track down bounties, clean out a poker table, hunt and track dozens of wild animals, take a bath, fish with friends, and enjoy the countless emergent events and stories that pop up while you travel. And there will be travel – Red Dead 2‘s map is ridiculously huge, and even fits in almost the entirety of the original Red Dead’s map on top of it.

Red Dead 2 easily features some of the best writing, voice acting, and production values of any game this year. Some of my favorite moments in the game didn’t involve a single gun shot, such as the surreal, Guy Ritchie-esque drunken revelry with Lenny in Valentine, or the several camp celebrations where the group comes together to sing, dance, and share stories. It truly makes you feel like you are  part of a living, breathing world that’s a joy to spend time in, no matter what you’re doing.

Rockstar is a unique company that only releases one or two games each generation, and those games often make a very big splash. Despite the anticipation, Red Dead Redemption 2 went well beyond my expectations for my dream Western game.

My Top Ten Games of 2018: #3

My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
#7 Frostpunk
#6 Jurassic World Evolution
#5 Into the Breach
#4 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

#3 Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC, PS4

I’m not an old school Dragon Quest fan but I’m also not quite a newcomer. I fell in love with Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies back in 2009 on the Nintendo DS, then recently dabbled in the 3DS remakes of Dragon Quest 7 and 8.

The series defiantly sticks to its very traditional JRPG roots, and Dragon Quest 11 is no different. It’a tale as old as time, or at least the mid-80s. You play as the chosen one, an orphan from a small village, where you set off to gather a group of diverse friends and travel across a pristine fantasy land full of monsters and dungeons.

Yet within that seemingly stale plot the world comes alive thanks to Akira Toryiama’s colorful art style and some of the best writing and voice acting I’ve ever seen in a Japanese RPG. Yes there’s a big bad villain out there but it’s really more about the engaging microstories of each town, like the mermaid who fell in love with a sailor, or the kidnappings around a fighting arena. When the main story does pick up it definitely delivers with several legitimately shocking twists, including a stunning moment that gave me fond flashbacks of one of my all-time favorite games, Final Fantasy 6.

The party members are all amazing, memorable characters with their own emotional hangups and narrative arcs. It’s easily my favorite cast since the last good Mass Effect or Dragon Age. All their perceived archetypes defied my expectations. On the surface Sylvando looks like a hyper-homosexual joke, but his bravery, quick wit, and endless optimism makes him my favorite character of the year.

Many RPGs live and die by their combat system and Dragon Quest‘s traditional turn-based battles is simple yet effective. Seeing enemies on the world map gives me the agency to choose when to fight, and not once in my 60 plus hours did I ever feel the need to grind. Each party member has their own skill tree to develop, giving them far more distinct roles and personalities than previous Dragon Quest games of mixing and matching classes, and discovering new combos and synergy remained satisfying throughout the lengthy campaign.

Dragon Quest 11 also includes lots of helpful modern game design features that really makes everything go down smoothly, like the ability to swap out party members in the midst of combat, frequent campsites between towns to rest and heal, and a surprisingly enjoyable and rewarding crafting minigame.

If you’ve ever sighed wistfully and declared that they don’t make them like they used to in regards to traditional RPGs, Dragon Quest 11 is here to grab you by the arm and usher you into a gloriously sincere world of monsters and charm.

My Top Ten Games of 2018: #4

My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
#7 Frostpunk
#6 Jurassic World Evolution
#5 Into the Breach

#4 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

smash bros.

Developer: Bandai Namco Studios, Sora Ltd
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch

The Super Smash Bros. series has been among my favorite games of every Nintendo console generation since the Nintendo 64. I’m not even a big fighting game fan, but Smash Bros. deftly weaves an intuitive, easy to pick-up arena brawler where everyone’s simply trying to knock each other off the stage amid a total chaos of Nintendo fan service. It’s a winning formula that’s served the series well for over two decades.

It may be too early to tell if Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the best of the series, but it’s certainly one of the best games of the year. With over 70 fighters, 100 stages and hundreds and hundreds of music tracks it’s well-deserving of its ‘Ultimate’ designation.

Steadily unlocking fighters from the original roster of eight grants a constant drip feed of progression and excitement, whether it’s with standard local Smash, battling through each character-specific Classic mode gauntlet, or trying fun new modes like Smashdown and Tag Team.

The new Spirit Battles and World of Light adventure mode provide dozens of hours of single player entertainment as I level up and equip lots of fun easter eggs from countless video game series in order to battle fun and challenging new twists, like electrified floors, or hordes of Warios who only use their motorcyle attacks, or a gigantic giga Bowser boss fight. The World of Light map is huge and fun to explore, and unlocking new fighters and spirits is yet another rewarding progression system that keeps me hooked.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate falters when it comes to its barebones online options, but it’s a testament to how damn good the game is that it only fell to #4 on my Game of the Year list. Hopefully Nintendo can improve and expand its online gameplay modes, as I plan on playing this game for a long time.

My Top Ten Games of 2018: #5

My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
#7 Frostpunk
#6 Jurassic World Evolution

#5 Into the Breach

Developer: Subset Games
Publisher: Subset Games
Platforms: PC, Switch

Chess is one of my favorite games growing up, and still is to this day. It’s also a big reason why I frequently fall in love with tactical, turn-based RPGs and strategy games.

Into the Breach is basically Chess but with time-traveling mechs battling Godzilla-sized insects in a pixelated art style. Every battle is a tiny square made up of grids, and you’re given all the information immediately, including enemy movement, turn order, and attack abilities.

Each turn is filled with agonizing yet wonderful decisions about saving the people versus minimizing the damage to your mechs. Every round is a critical choreography of damage as I have to carefully anticipate which squares will be hit, and how best to eliminate or move enemies around. Nothing is more satisfying than moving an enemy so it attacks its own allies.

Each campaign cleverly lets you choose the length by letting me decide when I want to tackle the final assault, and the action scales accordingly. Individual missions and tasks vary from saving a train to avoiding acid baths, while much of the replayability comes from unlocking and using new mech teams with fun themes and synergy.

Out of all the games on this list Into the Breach is the one I plan on returning to the most.  Its delicate tactical balance splashed with just the right amount of RPG elements make it more than a worthy follow-up to Subset Games’ previous hit, FTL.

Let’s Play – Darkest Dungeon Episode 18: The Shuffling Horror

I reach the end of my patience with Darkest Dungeon, and head into the titular final dungeon – or at least my first attempt at it. Things go predictably badly.

Weekly video game adventures. Streamed live twice a week.

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My Top Ten Games of 2018: #6

My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
#7 Frostpunk

#6 Jurassic World Evolution

jurassic world evolution

Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher:Frontier Developments
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO

I have fond memories playing Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis back in the early 2000s. It was basically a dino-themed Sim Theme Park but with excellent use of the official license and a truly impressive dinosaur AI. Fast-forward a decade and a half later and we finally get the spiritual successor we deserve.

Frontier Developments streamlined much of their also excellent Planet Coaster to make a more console-friendly theme park game, but thankfully they kept the intricate dinosaur AI that makes managing, caring for, and dealing with dinosaurs so rewarding and fascinating.

The campaign is broken up into multiple islands, each with their own specific challenges and objectives, like extremely limited building spaces, or tropical storms that knock out your power grid and soon cause running and screaming. DNA progress and unlocked research carry over between islands, letting you hop back and forth and essentially play multiple games at once.

Figuring out how the most efficient and effective ways to manage the dinosaurs is a satisfying puzzle, as each species has specific requirements towards foliage, social herds, and enclosure size. It’s even a viable strategy to feed herbivores to carnivores and let dinos duke it out, increasing their star rating and boosting sales, turning everyone into the callous, nature-strangling overlords that Dr. Ian Malcom warned us about.

I admit that 2016’s Planet Coaster is ostensibly a better, and more robust theme park game, but I’m a huge sucker for dinosaurs and Jurassic World Evolution is the closest thing to a Jurassic Park dream game I’ve been waiting over a decade for.