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.

My Top Five Games of the Mid-Year 2016

I rank my top five games of the first half of 2016, and list my most anticipated games for the second half.

Why wait until the end of the year to rank my favorite games? I want to talk about great games now!

Last year I began doing a mid-year Game of the Year-style list. Since I’m ranking half of the year I only allow myself five games to choose from. All must have released in the first half of 2016. I also include my most anticipated games for the second half of the year.

Last year both my #1 and #2 picks of the mid-year went on to become my #1 and #2 in my final Game of the Year post. Two of the games dropped off to make room for exciting fall releases. It’ll be interesting to see where the games fall this year.

My Top Five Games of the Mid-Year 2015

My Most Anticipated Games of the Year 2016

My Top Five Games of the First Half of 2016

5) Stellaris

stellaris

I had dabbled with Crusader Kings II but found it overwhelming and borderline impenetrable. Paradox’s Grand Strategy titles always seemed intriguing, but the gameplay a bit too menu-driven and complex. Not to mention the themes a little too dry.

Enter Stellaris, which fixes all my complaints in one fell swoop, creating one of the most intriguing strategy games I’ve played in years. It’s got a great mix of exploration, diplomacy, side quests, and war. The emergent stories that creep up are fantastic, and I love the way all the random alien races are defined by an interesting combination of ethics and governing bodies. The sci-fi theme is fantastic and I’ve lost dozens of hours moving battling star fleets, creating outposts, subjugating uplifted races, and fleeing from ancient star-faring empires.

 

4) Fire Emblem Fates

Fire Emblem Fates

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I bought Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest when it first launched in February and I have yet to fully complete it.

I’m about 80% of the way through, but real life just caught up to me and it’s been tricky to find the time. That may be a mark of a disappointing game, but Fire Emblem Fates scratched all the right itches of its 2013 predecessor. The combat updates are a vast improvement, though the story is noticeably weaker. Even an okay Fire Emblem game is still one of the best games of the year!

 

3) Overwatch

top five 2016

Blizzard has been on fire in the last few years. Diablo 3, Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, Hearthstone, Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void, and Heroes of the Storm have all graced my Game of the Year lists in their respective years. 2016 is the year of Overwatch.

Overwatch is easily their most accessible game – and they’ve built their entire company over making certain genres popular and accessible. The team-based hero shooter is simple to play yet deep to master, with over 20 unique heroes that all combine and play off each other in interesting ways. This is my go-go online game to play with friends, and very well may climb the charts by my final Game of the Year list.

 

2) XCOM 2

top five 2016

XCOM 2 was one of my most anticipated games of the year with good reason. I had absolute fallen in love with the first game, spending well over 100 hours in nail-biting tactical playthroughs over the last few years. The sequel is a five star example of how to improve upon a winning formula, adding More Good Things.

I’ve only completed a single run so far, but I spent a total of 60 hours going the extra mile and racking up various achievements. I adore XCOM and XCOM 2 is better in every way. Hopefully I’ll find time to play some more in the latter half of the year.

 

1) Stardew Valley

top five 2016

Talk about coming out of nowhere. I had no idea this charming farming sim even existed until it launched earlier this Spring. Then it quickly took over my life (and my wife’s).

There’s a unique intangible quality to the pixelated adventure-RPG. It’s just so god damn delightful. The town is like your favorite quaint 16-bit RPG town. The farming mechanics are fun and enjoyable instead of tedious. You can explore a giant dungeon and fight monsters, cook meals, get married, fish, raise livestock, and brew ale.

I’ve spent over nearly 80 hours over the last few months, and my wife has spent even more – making this by far her most played single-player game. We are chomping at the bit for the eventual co-op mode! I don’t know if Stardew Valley will remain #1 at year’s end but so far it’s the game I love the most this year.

 

My Most Anticipated list has done a damn fine job with its predictions so far. All three games that have released so far on that list made this one.

The biggest shocker is obviously Stardew Valley coming out of nowhere. I love that the gaming industry can utterly surprise me with these fantastic indie titles that make me fall in love with gaming all over again.

The one honorable mention I want to make is Grim Dawn. I’m playing it right now as my backlog adventuring and it’s a pretty great Action-RPG. Very much a spiritual successor to Titan Quest (which I also loved). If I allowed myself a sixth game right now, it would be Grim Dawn.

 

 

My Top Five Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2016

(alphabetical order)

 

Civilization VI

top five 2016

Civilization VI was just announced about a month ago. Since Civilization: Beyond Earth has received only one expansion, I was pretty surprised. Yet it’s also been six years since Civilization V, one of my most played games of all time.

It’s Civ, it’s going to be great, and I’m going to play a lot of it. The new City expanding mechanic looks like it’ll do for cities what Civ V’s unstacking did for armies and warfare. This is a Day One Purchase, no question.

 

Cosmic Star Heroine

cosmic star heroine

It’s been on my Most Anticipated lists for last year and this year, so it would feel wrong to leave it out. This Chrono Trigger-like Kickstarter game Cosmic Star Heroine just recently received a trailer. It still doesn’t have a release date but the PlayStation blog has confirmed a Summer release. This is one of the longer Kickstarter games I’ve had to wait for, and I’m incredibly excited for it.

 

Dishonored 2

top five 2016

Dishonored was one of those sleeper games that everyone played later on after it went on sale, me included. We also all discovered a hidden gem, a first-person game that combined BioShock‘s excellent world-building with some Deus Ex stealth combat. The one element lacking was a strong story, and it looks like this sequel will provide that, starting with Emily as a playable character!

 

No Man’s Sky

no mans sky

What the hell is No Man’s Sky? Nobody seems entirely certain. Sort of a Minecraft/Starbound/spaceship sim? It looks insanely ambitious and may be a bit overhyped, but hell if I’m not incredibly curious. Exploring is one of my favorite things to do in video games, and No Man’s Sky looks like it’ll provide that in spades.

 

Pokémon Sun/Moon

top five 2016

The seventh generation of Pokémon titles were recently announced. We didn’t get a main Pokémon title at all last year, and the year before was a remake of Gen 3. Suffice to say I am very ready to jump back in with the true sequel to Pokémon X/Y, my first and still one of my favorite Nintendo 3DS games. I’ve been a fan of the series since the beginning. Though I’ve wafted in and out of the franchise, I’ve been firmly planted back in since Gen 5. My body is so ready for more Pokémon.

My Top Five Games of the Year (So Far)

I rank my top five games from the first half of 2015, and also list my five most anticipated games for the second half.

Why wait until the end of the year to rank my favorite games? I want to talk about great games now!

I’ve done a Top Ten list at the end of each year for the last four years, but this is my very first Top Five for the first half of a year. It’ll be a fun way to highlight some games that may be pushed out by year’s end, as well as reminding me of their greatness when it comes time for the final ranking. I’ll also list My Most Anticipated Games for the second half of 2015.

For reference, read my Most Anticipated Games of 2015 (written in January 2015).

 

My Top Five Games of the First Half of 2015

 

5) Evolve

evolve

I’ll admit that overall Evolve was a disappointment in total staying power, but for a good month when it came out it was all my friends and I played and talked about. Made by the Left 4 Dead developers, it was the closest game I’ve played that emulated that great co-op and survival aspect of those classic zombie games. Unfortunately the emphasis this time was on PvP, and the asymmetrical style and game modes made the experience grow a bit repetitive.

 

4) MASSIVE CHALICE

massive chalice wallpaper

I was a big fan (and backer) of MASSIVE CHALICE’s Kickstarter campaign, and absolutely loved how Brad Muir and Double Fine handled production. Bi-monthly live streams were fantastic and the Early Access beta was superb. Now I’m finally playing the final release and couldn’t be happier with this unique XCOM meets Rogue Legacy’s Traits. The breeding metagame is fun and challenging and the tactical combat scratches all the right itches. A real treat that perfectly delivered on its promise.

 

3) Splatoon

splatoon

Splatoon wasn’t even on my Most Anticipated list and really came out of nowhere for me. I’d only just recently aquired a Wii U and wasn’t sure about this quirky team shooter from Nintendo. Fear not, as Nintendo really struck gold with an amazingly simple but brilliant concept of covering arenas in paint. The short three minute matches ensure a steady stream of fun, and the post-game free additions and updates have been impressive. The only thing keeping this one from being nearer the top is the terrible local co-op mode, where it loses out big time to last year’s Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.

 

2) Heroes of the Storm

heroes of the storm

Another game that sprung onto my radar. I’ve hated MOBAs for as long as they existed. Even when my friends were super into DOTA 2 I just couldn’t get into it. Leave it to Blizzard to draw me in with their streamlined gameplay, much shorter match lengths, and awesomely familiar characters. I’m super addicted to HotS and my friends and I practically play every evening. I easily see it as becoming this year’s Hearthstone (which I sunk over 140 hours into last year).

 

1) Pillars of Eternity

pillars of eternity

It took me 70 hours and two and a half months but I finally completed Obsidian’s latest Mangum Opus. I’ve always been a huge fan of computer RPGs but only just played and finished the highly revered Baldur’s Gate II last Summer. Pillars of Eternity is both a lovely spiritual successor to the golden age of cRPGS (late 90’s/Early 2000’s) and a great game with tons of wonderful innovations in its own right.

The intricate yet accessible combat system is wonderful, and the writing is absolutely top notch. For someone that went back to back to back with 70+ hour RPGs (Divinity: Original Sin, Dragon Age: Inquisition), Pillars still managed to completely enthrall me. Another title I was super proud and satisfied to have backed on Kickstarter, and a tough one to dethrone in the second half of the year.

 

Both Batman: Arkham Knight and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt were on My Most Anticipated List, but I still haven’t played them. Neither was probably going to be a Day One purchase; my gaming plate is consistently full and I have the luxury of waiting for most games to be deeply discounted before jumping in (and patches/updates to fix the game).

I definitely see myself playing both games before the end of the year when I have a bit more time. I’ve heard great things about both games. I’ve also recently acquired a few indie darlings in the last Steam Summer Sale, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer and Ori and the Blind Forest that I still need to play.

 

My Top Five Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2015

(alphabetical order)

 

Cosmic Star Heroine

cosmic star heroine

The only game on here without a definite release date, Cosmic Star Heroine is another Kickstarter game being made by a developer I love (Zeboyd). Zeboyd understands old school JRPGs like no one else, and crafting a game in that SNES-era style using their subversive and funny writing and innovative mechanics sounds just peachy. Everything I’ve read and watched looks like it’s shaping up wonderfully and I hope we get a chance to play it this year.

 

Fallout 4

fallout 4 dog

Fallout 2 is one of my all time favorite games, and the franchise in general is one of my most beloved in gaming. Fallout 4 was an inevitability but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. I already know I’m going to love it and drop dozens (hundreds?) of hours into exploring another post-apocalyptic wasteland.

 

Just Cause 3

just cause 3

Just Cause 2 was an amazingly fun open world action game that eschewed any real characters or story-telling for pure mayhem and freedom of destruction. I especially loved the fun ways Rico could traverse the world, using his infinite grappling hooks and parachutes. If JC3 is just JC2 but more, I’m totally on board with that.

 

Super Mario Maker

super mario maker

This one has kept me attention for a while but it wasn’t until E3 and the Nintendo World Championship that I really set up and said, “Whoa.” My wife said we had to get this game and I swiftly agreed. The ability to make your own Mario levels sounds simple on the surface, but the incredible amount of tools and freedom to manipulate each object looks astonishing. I trust Nintendo to make it incredibly user-friendly and fun. As long as the online and sharing components are up to snuff, this could be a huge hit.

 

XCOM 2

xcom2 announcement

Despite being a big fan of tactical strategy games, I was late to the party with XCOM. I jumped on with Firaxis’ excellent remake back in 2012 (my #4 game of that year). Since then I’ve put 150 hours into XCOM over several playthroughs. I adore XCOM: its brutality, its emergent story-telling, its trend-setting UI and turn-based combat. My wife even bought me the XCOM board game for an anniversary present. To say I’m super excited for XCOM 2 would be a pretty big understatement. GIVE ME MORE XCOM!

 

There you have it! Can’t wait to revisit this list when it’s time to make my final top ten list at the end of the year. Will my anticipated predictions hold up? Will these Top Five make it to the final round? Stay tuned!