My Top Five Games of the Mid-Year 2018

My top five games of the first half of 2018, and my most anticipated games of the second half.

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This year lacked the explosive start of Spring 2017, when Nintendo gave us Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch (and BioWare released Mass Effect: Andromeda, which made my top five but fell off real quick after that).

Comparing to my Most Anticipated Games of 2018 list, I’ve already fallen behind. As a Fig backer, I own Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, yet opted to replay the first game again, this time with The White March DLC. I’ll definitely get to Deadfire this year, but it’ll be awhile.

As for State of Decay 2, I find myself lacking a modern Xbox console, and not terribly keen on purchasing it through the Microsoft Store on PC. I may have to bite the bullet at some point because I do love that franchise, but I wish I could just play it on Steam.

This summer I’m back on getting through my backlog. I finally got a PlayStation 4 last year, and my wife (and I) went nuts getting me games last Christmas.

I spent a good chunk of the first half of the year finishing Horizon Zero Dawn. Now I’m currently making my way through the entire Uncharted series.

My Top Five Games of the Mid-Year 2018

5) Jurassic World Alive

jurassic world alive

It’s Pokémon GO with dinosaurs, of course I love it! It’s actually a better designed game as well. Instead of flinging PokéBalls, you send out a drone to hit the dinosaurs with tranq darts.

You don’t capture dinosaurs, you collect DNA. Reaching certain thresholds let you acquire them and level them up, letting you make progress every time you see one, instead of all-or-nothing.

The battles are a lot more fun as well. You don’t have to travel to a Gym to fight, you can queue up anywhere and engage in fun turn-based battles, with each dinosaur having a few abilities to choose from.

The Supply Drops are also more plentiful, making Jurassic World Alive a much easier game to play for folks who live outside of major cities. I don’t know if I’ll still be playing by the end of the year but so far it’s completely replaced Pokémon GO as my AR game of choice.

4) Frostpunk

frostpunk

Frostpunk didn’t enter my radar until I played a bit of it at PAX South earlier this year. It looked like a fun little city builder that attempted to tackle real social issues within a harrowing weather-apocalyptic scenario.

It does that and more. Frostpunk is easily the most emotional and dramatic sim builder I’ve ever played, with haunting violins, bleak art, and scenarios that force you to take extreme measures to keep your people fed, warm, and content. The balance of surviving each day is razor thin but incredibly satisfying, creating an overarching story rarely seen in the genre.

3) Jurassic World Evolution

jurassic world evolution

Every once in awhile I reach a halfway point in the game where I decide, yep I’m going to do it all. It happened earlier this year with Horizon Zero Dawn, and it’s currently happening with Jurassic World Evolution.

Jurassic World Evolution is Frontier’s spiritual successor to Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, one of my all-time favorite theme park sim games. Frontier did a phenomenal job with Planet Coaster in 2016, and JWE continues the trend.

As a console release, it’s not nearly as deep or moddable as the PC-only Planet Coaster, but the focus on dinosaur care and AI and the way the campaign is structured over multiple challenging islands has kept me engaged far longer than Planet Coaster did.

2) Into the Breach

We finally get to a game that will be on most game critics’ end of year lists. From the makers of FTL comes another equally compelling strategy rogue-like. Into the Breach sheds much of the randomized frustrations from FTL, instead offering a Chess-like experience that rewards strategic planning and a deep knowledge of the game’s units and systems.

Into the Breach is shockingly easy to beat (unlike FTL). The replay factor comes from unlocking different teams of mechs and earning the rich variety of achievements. I fell off after about 10 hours but of all the games on this list it’s the one I most plan on returning to.

1) Monster Hunter World

Even after playing the demos late last year I still wasn’t completely sold on Monster Hunter World. Then I received a surprise review code, played a few hours, and immediately convinced my friends to get it.

We had a freaking blast.

With Monster Hunter World I finally understand all those Dark Souls fans. MHW demands intricate knowledge of poorly explained mechanics, yet it’s incredibly rewarding to master a weapon and fell a new monster for the first time.

There are only a handful of zones but they’re all very large, varied, and fun to explore. Hunting the same monsters with the same weapons rarely becomes repetitive thanks to the rich monster AI, interactive zones, and weapon attacks. I’ll never forget the first time the T-Rex I was fighting fled to a different area – only to run straight into a dragon. The ensuing chaos was the moment I fell in love with the game.

I spent over 100 hours with Monster Hunter World. While the post-game continues nearly indefinitely, I put the controller down after defeating Xeno’jiva with my buddies. I’d more than gotten my fill. Now I have an all new appreciation for that series, as well as any series that get its arcane, maddening, yet intriguing hooks into you.

 

My Top Five Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2018

Bard’s Tale IV

Release: 2018

Despite being a sequel to one of the oldest RPGs in video games, Bard’s Tale IV looks like on of the most unique RPGs I’ve ever seen. The combat system alone looks delightfully old school: first-person yet turn-based and tactical. Right up my alley, which is why I backed it several years ago.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Release: 2018

I still need to play the 8-bit teaser game that Castlevania creator Koji Igarashi recently released, but I’m super excited for this Kickstarter spiritual successor. Fans have definitely been burned on these kinds of projects before (see Mighty Number 9) but everything I’ve seen of Bloodstained looks like they’r eon the right track to making an all new, yet classic 2D Castlevania.

Fallout 76

Release: November 14

Multiplayer Fallout? Seems pretty weird, particularly from one of the most prominent single-player AAA developers in the industry. I wasn’t terribly keen on the building aspects of Fallout 4, but the RPG-shooter mechanics were still solid. Exploring a limited population server with friends could be a lot of fun.

Red Dead Redemption II

Release: October 26

My #1 Most Anticipated Game of 2018 is still, well, highly anticipated. So much so that many of the new E3 release date announcements were for early 2019. Nobody wants to compete with a Rockstar release. The original RDR was one of those holy grail games that I loved for both single player and multiplayer, and I can’t wait to dig into both this fall.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

smash bros.

Release: December 7

I’ve never not owned a Nintendo console, but I also don’t get them on release. Traditionally it’s been the release of a Super Smash Bros. game that spurs me into the purchase, and it’s looking like that’ll be the case here. In other words: I’ll definitely be getting a Nintendo Switch this year!

My Top Five Games of the Mid-Year 2017

My top five games of the first half of 2017 and my most anticipated games for the second half.

It’s that most wonderful time of the year – when it’s hot as hell and video game releases have all but slowed to a trickle.

The first half of the year saw some really monstrously huge releases, such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Horizon Zero Dawn (I really need to get a PS4). Spring has evolved from leftover Holiday titles into a legitimately exciting time for new games.

Meanwhile Summer is still a great time for getting through the backlog, or with this year still working on Zelda! It’s also time for my third annual Top Five Mid-Year list, where I rank my top games of the year thus far, as well as the five I’m not excited about for the second half.

My Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of the Year 2017

My Top Five Games of the Mid-Year 2017

5) Mass Effect: Andromeda

There’s a very solid chance that Mass Effect: Andromeda will end up as my Most Disappointing Game of the Year, despite being in my top five here. Glancing at my Most Anticipated list I wrote in January, I had extremely high hopes for the next game in the Mass Effect series. How do you continue on without Shepard?

Not easily it turns out. Andromeda does a lot of cool things and combat has never felt better nor been more fun (jet packs!). But the animations are laughably bad and the story, writing, and world are mediocre at best. Still, I’m enjoying my time with it. Even a sub-par Mass Effect game is still more than worth my gaming time.

4) Fire Emblem Heroes

I love that Fire Emblem has gone from fairly niche and obscure series to almost mainstream in just a few years. Awakening and Fates have graced my lists in previous years. This year saw yet another release – a remake in Fire Emblem Echoes. But Echoes was not the best Fire Emblem game – that goes to free-to-play mobile game Fire Emblem Heroes.

I know, it’s crazy! There’s no reason a free-to-play Fire Emblem game should work. The phone-sized battlefields perfectly recreate bite-size versions of classic Fire Emblem turn-based strategy, and it works beautifully. Acquiring heroes is fun thanks to the huge roster and leveling everyone up is a satisfying time sink.

3) Thimbleweed Park

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: veteran game designer wants to return to their roots and – oh, you’ve heard that pitch before? Ron Gilbert doesn’t care and made an amazing nostalgic-laced retro LucasArts adventure in Thimbleweed Park.

Most of my adventure gaming nostalgia lies with Sierra’s more whimsical tales, but Thimbleweed Park is so well-designed and written that it stands on its own as a compelling 2D adventure game filled with clever puzzles, solid voice acting, and a mysterious, delightfully surreal story. Dare I say it’s the game Broken Age should’ve been.

2) Cosmic Star Heroine

Cosmic Star Heroine has graced my Most Anticipated lists for the last three years. This tells you two things: I’ve been waiting a long time for this game and time has not diminished my excitement. With its inclusion here I’m happy to announce that it was well worth the wait.

Zeboyd Games infused all their best technical and mechanical skills into crafting a Chrono Trigger-like 16-bit RPG. It’s a love letter to the golden age of JRPGs. The story falls a bit short but the large, diverse cast of party members makes up for it.

1) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

In the past couple of years I’ve been delightfully surprised by indie games vaunting up to my #1 spot. This year it’s hard not to go with the flow. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is indeed that damn good.

I’ve been an on/off Zelda fan for years. I loved Ocarina of Time, hated Majora’s Mask. In recent years I have enjoyed the handheld top-down Zeldas more than the 3D adventures.

But Breath of the Wild transcends and redefines the entire open world genre. That sounds like a phony marketing bullet point but holy shit. Just the simple fact that you can climb any mountain or cliff or tree opens up a world of possibilities. Disarm enemies. Roll boulders down a hill. Surf on your shield. Tame and ride horses. Take selfies. Breath of the Wild is both intuitive and challenging and will rightfully make its way to the top of most peoples’ lists at the end of the year.

 

My Top Five Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2017

Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Release: October 3

I still don’t know all that much about this game I backed on Kickstarter years ago. But it’s crafted from the developers of Darksiders, based on a comic series, and features some JRPG-style turn-based combat. My body is ready for Battle Chasers: Nightwar.

Divinity: Original Sin 2

Release: September 14

Larian Studios’ first Kickstarted Divinity: Original Sin rocketed up to the #1 slot of my 2014 list. The sequel looks better in every way, with expanded cooperative play and an intriguing Game Master mode that lets you essentially create a Neverwinter Nights DM mode. Gimme!

Metroid: Samus Returns

metroid

Release: September 15

“Give us a 2D Metroid you bastards,” we cried. “Fine,” said Nintendo, “Here’s a remake of Metroid 2.” Oh, okay! It’s note exactly a new 2D Metroid but Metroid fans will take anything these days. Metroid Prime 4 is still a long ways off and I never did play the 1991 Game Boy game. A 3DS remake in Metroid: Samus Returns sounds superb.

Pyre

Release: July 25

It’s Supergiant Games, ’nuff said. Okay I’ll say a little more. Bastion and Transistor were amazing games, easily cracking my top tens of their respective years. I adore their entire packages – the music, the writing, the immersive worlds, the art, the Logan Cunningham. Pyre is their first dip into party-based gameplay and I’m excited to see it in action.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Release: October 17

South Park: The Fractured But Whole has been delayed several times now but I’m confident it’ll finally see its release this fall. Despite not really watching the show much anymore, I had a hell of a lot of fun with The Stick of Truth. It’ll be interesting to see Ubisoft taking over for Obsidian and if this sequel can create another compelling and hilarious adventure within Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s satirically irreverent world.