My Top Ten Games of 2019

My ultimate year-end gaming post of lists and accolades.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – when game journalists come together to provide their hot takes on Game of the Year! I’ve been doing a personal top ten list for years, and enjoy comparing them to my Most Anticipated lists (from January) and Mid-Year lists (from June). I like lists.

Before we kick things off, let’s review my Most Anticipated Games of 2019 list, published January 2019. Keep in mind many games that released in 2019 weren’t even announced yet, while others were delayed into 2020.

  1. Pokémon Sword and Shield
  2. Age of Wonders: Planetfall
  3. Desperado 3
  4. The Outer Worlds
  5. Warcraft 3: Reforged
  6. Anthem
  7. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
  8. Wargroove
  9. Kingdom Hearts 3
  10. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

I also published a Top Five Games of Mid-2019 list in June, which is usually a pretty strong indicator for my final top ten list:

  1. Wargroove
  2. Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
  3. Slay the Spire
  4. Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest
  5. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark

Finally, here were my top five most anticipated games for the second half of 2019 (alphabetical) as of June 2019:

  • Age of Wonders: Planetfall
  • Borderlands 3
  • Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3
  • Monster Hunter World: Iceborne
  • Pokémon Sword and Shield

Now it’s time for my final end of year ranking. It was a heated battle for my favorite game of the year in 2019. For the first time ever I made it through the year without a clear #1, but in the end came away with a satisfying answer.

My Top Ten Games of 2019

10) Remnant: From the Ashes

Remnant: From the Ashes squeaked onto my top ten list at the last second, when my friends and I realized we hadn’t been playing any co-op games in awhile, and picked it up during the Steam Autumn Sale. Remnant is a game I have a yet to play single-player, and have no real desire to try, but I’ve had an excellent time playing cooperatively. It’s best described as Left 4 Dead meets Dark Souls; challenging, intricate third-person combat, with an important focus on watching your teammates’ backs. Some boss battles alone have taken us entire evenings to conquer, but we always have a good time doing it.

9) Planet Zoo

Even an impressive, well-polished zoo theme park game can’t quite compete to my love of dinosaurs with Frontier’s Jurassic Park Evolution (My #6 Game of 2018), but Planet Zoo is certainly good enough to warrant a spot on my Top Ten list. Planet Zoo combines the advanced animal AI from JPE with the advanced park management and customization from Planet Coaster, making it Frontier’s most impressive park sim to date. Planet Zoo‘s animal AI is as impressive as it is maddening, turning a theme park sim into part-time babysitting, but I can’t help but love the attention to detail, the emphasis on conservation and education, the gorgeous graphics, and multiple gameplay modes. 

8) SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech

I’ve enjoyed Image & Form’s previous SteamWorld games, and respected the hell out of the fact that they’re all different genres, from Metroidvania to 2D XCOM. SteamWorld Quest is yet another genre, combining satisfying deckbuilding and card battling within a brightly colored side-scrolling RPG. It’s well-balanced and perfectly paced at around 20 hours, leading to one of the rare card games that actually has a legit story and characters.

7) Slay the Spire

Of all the games on my Top Five Mid-Year list, Slay the Spire is the only one I’ve gone back to play since, and I a big reason is because it’s the perfect game to play on the Switch. The rogue-like deckbuilder is incredibly addicting and balanced to a razor’s edge for each of the three classes. I love playing through a run while cooking dinner and watching TV, testing out new strategies and card synergies, and seeing how far I get. I may not end up dumping dozens of hours into it, but I do plan on playing this one off and on throughout the next year. 

6) Pokémon Sword and Shield

It’s no secret that the first main-line Pokémon game on a home console has been divisive for fans. Hell I wrote up a list of all the things I love – and hate, about Pokémon Sword and Shield. But there’s no denying that I’ve enjoyed the hell out of my time with the game. The Wild Area alone is amazing, a tantalizing tease of a truly open-world Pokémon game that I’ve been dreaming about for years, spending hours just wandering around catching pokémon, and the new Gen 8 pokémon are some of the best we’ve had in several generations. If Sword and Shield are the start of a new era of Pokemon games, we have a lot to be excited about.

5) Wargroove

My favorite game of the mid-year fell a few places to the more flashier AAA games of the latter half, but Wargroove is still a phenomenal strategy game. It completely rips off Advance Wars in all the right ways, from its pixelated art style to its hard counter units, but with an original story and fantasy world filled with fun characters and factions. The campaign is astonishingly huge, and that’s on top of skirmish modes, puzzle modes, and a level editor, for all the pixelated warfare you could ask for.

4) Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

I didn’t know what to expect from the Switch-exclusive third game in a series that hadn’t seen a release in ten years. I loved the co-op beat ’em up Marvel Ultimate Alliance games and X-Men Legends games from the GameCube and PS2 era. I’m more than pleased to reveal my undying love for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order.

MUA 3 captures exactly what I loved about the older games – a customizable team of dozens of Marvel superheroes battling waves of bad guys, with just enough RPG elements, powers, and challenges to keep me locked in. MUA 3 dropped the ball a bit with its horrendous camera when playing couch co-op, otherwise this could have easily been my #1 game of the year.

3) Age of Wonders: Planetfall

As soon as Triumph Studios announced their next Age of Wonders game, it rocketed near the top of my Most Anticipated list. Age of Wonders 3 (2014) was a fantastic turn-based strategy game that revitalized the series, and Age of Wonders: Planetfall did not disappoint. The sci-fi strategy game keeps the solid 4x strategy while streamlining colonization with sectors and expanding the tactical depth of combat, along with a meaty campaign mode. Also, the factions include undead cyborgs and amazons riding laser-mounted alien dinosaurs – hell yes.

2) The Outer Worlds

When Fallout: New Vegas released in 2010, we knew Obsidian Entertainment was capable of crafting an excellent Fallout RPG off of Bethesda’s first-person open-world style. The Outer Worlds is proof that they can make their own first-person RPG, and it’s a damn good one.

The Outer Worlds brilliantly combines the best parts of Mass Effect (memorable party members; zipping around to different planets) and Fallout (snarky world poking fun at capitalism; rewarding exploration and slow-mo combat) to create a game that’s the opposite of innovative, but a very enjoyable AAA experience.  All of this works because it has legitimately great writing, with party members I actually cared about, and a shockingly down to earth story that doesn’t rely on big bad killer robots or genocidal aliens. Best of all, it distills all the good parts of those big RPGs down to a very well-paced 20-30 hour game.

1) Borderlands 3

Borderlands 3 is an amazing game and a worthy sequel to one of the best games of the previous generation. The writing isn’t quite up to the high standards set by Borderlands 2 (and its equally excellent DLC), but the new characters are solid, and the gameplay offers tons of welcome improvements, such as multiple (and customizable) abilities per character, separate loot tables for parties, and alt firing modes on top of the ridiculous amount of guns. The threequel smartly doesn’t try to fix what sure as hell wasn’t broken: fantastic co-op looter-shooter gameplay.

The Borderlands series means a lot to my wife and me, and we actually played through all of Borderlands 2 again before Borderlands 3 came out. I’ve played BL3 for 50 hours so far, and 40 of those hours have been with split-screen co-op, and have enjoyed every minute of it. Borderlands 3 is my #1 game of the year.

2019 End of Year Awards

Most Played: Fire Emblem: Three Houses (68 hours)

Best Multiplayer: Apex Legends

Best Cooperative Game: Remnant: From the Ashes

Biggest Surprise: Remnant: From the Ashes

Most Disappointing: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Best Early Access/Beta Game: Gloomhaven

Best Original Music: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Best Art Design: SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech

Best World Building/Atmosphere: Borderlands 3

Best Writing: The Outer Worlds

Best Game Nobody Else Played: Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest

Most Improved Sequel: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Favorite New Game Mechanic: The Wild Area (Pokémon Sword and Shield)

Most Innovative: Slay the Spire

Best New Character: Parvati (The Outer Worlds)

Favorite Moment: Helping Parvati with the perfect date (The Outer Worlds)

Best Industry Trend: Multiple Big Nintendo Switch game releases in the Summer!

Worst Industry Trend: BioWare, are you okay?

Didn’t Have Time to Play: Phoenix Point

Too Long; Didn’t Finish: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Favorite 2018 Game of 2019: The Bard’s Tale 4: Director’s Cut

Backlogged Games and Let’s Plays Finished in 2019

  1. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
  2. The Bard’s Tale IV: Director’s Cut
  3. The Stanley Parable
  4. Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation
  5. Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements
  6. The Banner Saga 3
  7. The Banner Saga 2
  8. Rise of the Tomb Raider
  9. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

Have a wonderful holiday and I’ll see you next year with my most anticipated games list of 2019!

My Top Ten Games of 2018: Full List and Awards

My ultimate year-end gaming post of lists and accolades.

Every year is a great year for gaming, but 2018 in particular was full of big payoffs for blockbuster games like Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Red Dead Redemption II.

Despite working as a freelance writer who covers games, I definitely didn’t play all the games I wanted to this year. But I still came away with a list of 10 fantastic games that I absolutely loved.

This was the year I finally acquired a Switch, though not until November. As everyone already knows it’s a great system and the gaming world feels better with Nintendo succeeding. You definitely saw some Switch games on my Top Ten list!

On the flip side, the Nintendo 3DS has been all but retired, and this is the first time in years at least one 3DS game isn’t on my game of the year list.

This year I hit 1,000 subscribers on my YouTube channel and started a Patreon to help expand my video content. It’s been a blast and I want to personally thank all my Patreons for allowing me to spend more time doing DMs Guild Reviews, Let’s Play live streams, and of course our star attraction: the weekly live play D&D campaign.

As of December 2018 my channel has now grown to 1,300 subscribers, and for the first time this year, I did my Top Ten Games of 2018 countdown list via videos.

To recap, I’ve compiled my complete list of top ten games of 2018 below.

My Top Ten Games of 2018

10) Dead Cells

Metroidvanias and roguelikes are two of the most overused genres, and buzzwords, in indie gaming, but it’s still a genre I tend to love. Dead Cells is anything but a tiresome retread, pulling the best elements of both genres into an instantly likable neon art style of colorful death.

9) Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

I’m an easy target for any game that features tactical, XCOM-like turn-based combat. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden had the dubious potential to become a budget XCOM – which I probably still would have enjoyed. But by combining solid tactical gameplay with rewarding stealth mechanics and shockingly good voice acting Road to Eden carves its own space in the genre.

8) Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!

Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! are charming and delightful recreations of the original Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow games. Adventuring through a fully 3D Kanto is a delicious nostalgia fest but it’s the little improvements that really kept me hooked, like being able to swap your party out on field, drop-in co-op, and not having to teach the critical Hidden Machine skills just to get around.

7) Frostpunk

frostpunk

Thanks to its incredibly immersive atmosphere, haunting string soundtrack and compelling writing. Frostpunk is more than just a thematic city builder. It’s one of the best games of the year.

6) Jurassic World Evolution

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.

5) Into the Breach

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.

4) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

smash bros.

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.

3) Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

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.

2) Red Dead Redemption II

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.

1) Monster Hunter: World

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.

 

Every year in January I publish my top ten most anticipated games of the year. Now it’s payoff time as we get to remark on how close – or embarrassingly far off, my predictions were!

Here’s a quick rundown of Most Anticipated Games of 2018, published last January.

  1. Red Dead Redemption II
  2. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
  3. State of Decay 2
  4. Jurassic Wold Evolution
  5. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
  6. Spelunky 2
  7. Into the Breach
  8. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
  9. The Bard’s Tale IV
  10. Griftlands

Four out of ten made my Game of the Year list – same as last year! Three of these games didn’t come out this year: Bloodstained, Spelunky, and Griftlands.

That leaves us with three games: Pillars of Eternity 2, State of Decay 2, and The Bard’s Tale 4.

Out of those three I only played one of them. Despite the first Pillars of Eternity being my #1 Game of the Year in 2015, the sequel shockingly failed to grab me in a meaningful way. I actually replayed part of Pillars 1, along with The White March DLC (part 1 anyway) to prep for the sequel.

But when I finally got around to playing Pillars 2, I just didn’t get sucked in like I was expecting, and the whole pirate/ship theme is a bit jarring. Thus, Pillars 2 wins the rather dubious honor of being my most disappointing game of the year. It’s not a bad game, but I was expecting it to be one my favorites of the year.

As for the other two, I didn’t play them. I read mixed things about State of Decay 2, a game that has been on my most anticipated lists for years (I LOVED the first one). But I also don’t have a modern Xbox console and I’m not super keen to use the Windows 10 store.

As for Bard’s Tale 4, I just didn’t have time for you (winning another dubious award). So many games, so little time! I’m still very interested in how this one plays and really want to try it next year.

I also publish a Mid-Year list in June, celebrating my top five games, as well as my five most anticipated games for the latter half.

My Top Five Games of the Mid-Year:

  1. Monster Hunter: World
  2. Into the Breach
  3. Jurassic World Evolution
  4. Frostpunk
  5. Jurassic World Alive

The mobile game Jurassic World Alive fell off for me as I actually got back into Pokémon GO thanks to Pokémon: Let’s Go. The rest remained strong going into the finals, with no game able to dethrone the greatness of Monster Hunter: World.

Here were my top five most anticipated games for the second half of 2018 (alphabetical):

  • The Bard’s Tale IV
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
  • Fallout 76
  • Red Dead Redemption II
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Red Dead and Smash are obvious inclusions. Bard’s Tale and Bloodstained  were Kickstarter games I’d been looking forward to, and both I already mentioned above.

As for Fallout, well, I’m a big Fallout fan but Fallout 76 appears to have some major issues as Bethesda stumbles a bit with its first multiplayer game. Given all the very excellent multiplayer games and modes that released this year, I’m okay with skipping it.

2018 End of Year Awards

Most Played: Monster Hunter: World (102 hrs)

Best Multiplayer: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Best Cooperative Game: Monster Hunter: World

Biggest Surprise: Monster Hunter: World

Most Disappointing: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Best Early Access/Beta Game: N/A this year!

Best Original Music: Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

Best Soundtrack: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Best Art Design: Dead Cells

Best World Building/Atmosphere: Red Dead Redemption II

Best Writing: Red Dead Redemption II

Best Game Nobody Else Played: Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

Most Improved Sequel: Monster Hunter: World

Favorite New Game Mechanic: Swapping out Pokémon on the fly in Pokémon: Let’s Go

Most Innovative: Into the Breach

Best New Character: Sylvando (Dragon Quest 11)

Favorite Moment: Drinking with Lenny in Valentine (Red Dead Redemption 2)

Best Industry Trend: Fantastic AAA single player games

Worst Industry Trend: Nintendo’s disappointing online functionality

Didn’t Have Time to Play: The Bard’s Tale IV

Too Long; Didn’t Finish: Red Dead Redemption II

Favorite 2017 Game of 2018: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Backlogged Games Finished in 2018

A new section I’m adding to my already lengthy year end post – the backlogged games I played (and hopefully finished) this year. I never have enough time to play through my backlog, but this year I made a better effort than the last few years.

My biggest accomplishment was playing through every single Uncharted game, having never before played a single game in the series. Hit the link for my Final Thoughts on each game.

Have a wonderful holiday and I’ll see you next year with my most anticipated games list of 2019!

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.

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: #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.

My Top Ten Games of 2018: #9

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

Developer: The Bearded Ladies
Publisher: Funcom
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO

I’m an easy target for any game that features tactical, XCOM-like turn-based combat. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden had the dubious potential to become a budget XCOM – which I probably still would have enjoyed. But by combining solid tactical gameplay with rewarding stealth mechanics and shockingly good voice acting Road to Eden carves its own space in the genre.

Road to Eden is based on the old Mutant Swedish tabletop RPG from the 80s, recently reborn as Mutant: Year Zero. Shameless plug alert: I wrote an article diving into the adaptation from tabletop RPG to tactical video game for PC Gamer earlier this month.

Unlike XCOM, Road to Eden features RPG-like characters with their own skill trees and personalities. They’re a bit one-dimensional but the banter and commentary is delightful, particularly the hilarious dialogue heard from enemy zone ghouls on the battlefield.

Stealth is a huge part of the gameplay. While XCOM 2 lets you enter a map in stealth mode to set up an advantageous opening salvo, Road to Eden lets you enter and exit turn-based combat mode as you please. The trick is to isolate and eliminate targets with silenced weapons, just as any stealth game, letting you drop back into stealth mode and continue to turn the tide in your favor.

The post-apocalyptic world is made up of smaller zones where you can find scrap for upgrades as well as new guns and armor. The zones are just big enough to allow some tactical wiggle room without getting lost in – and unlike XCOM the campaign won’t take you 40 or 50+ hours to finish.

It’s a bit rough around the edges and definitely feels like it left a lot on the cutting room floor but as a big fan of the tactics genre Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden provides a unique blend of real time stealth and turn-based tactics.