Once again, I'm late as fuck to post this and now this list is worse than ever! 2018 was very busy/shitty/etc for me so I didn't even have the time and means to play through as much as I usually do, which might be a good thing but BAD FOR ALL OF YOU. Thus, the top 10 has been abbreviated to a top 8. Hope you enjoy this because I SURE DIDN'T.
8) SOUL CALIBUR 6 (PS4/XB1/PC)
I always try to add at least one fighting game to my list, though it pretty much happens organically anyway since I'm a big fan of fighting games in general. I was certain DBFighterZ would run away with this, but Soul Calibur's return had a bigger impact on me purely due to how the balance worked out. Less homogeneous in the tactical department, Soul Calibur just feels like a more mechanically unique offering; Dragon Ball's roster is hype as shit but still has like 4 Gokus and 3 Vegetas on the roster, and the overall experience with characters is pretty much the same across the board. Soul Calibur's wacky fighter creation suite alone puts it over the top, as does its continuously fun metagame of pokes and slashes. It's not rocket science, but Soul Calibur hasn't been in my hands for a very long time and I genuinely love how special it is in a sea of other 3D fighters that have come and gone.
7) MONSTER HUNTER WORLD (PS4/XB1/PC)
All of my prior experiences with the Monster Hunter series have been caked with frustration at the mechanics and distaste for the jagged, often handheld-bound graphics. I'm no stickler for graphics, but when it's a game that squishes everything onto a 3DS or Vita and downgrades the resolution into nightmare territory, I'm going to complain. The same goes for the controls and gameplay, which had a variety of quirks I was not ready to engage with fully. For years I'd try the newest demos before deleting the them hastily. Eventually, I accepted that this game series just wasn't for me. Then, Capcom refined the formula and brought it screaming to life on the big screen it was clearly meant for, in Monster Hunter World. Boasting not just a beautiful high-def experience but the most accessible, user-friendly gameplay yet, I'm happy to say that the global phenomenon has finally dug its Rathian claws into me and refused to let go.
6) OCTOPATH TRAVELER (Switch)
A JRPG revival project from the Square-Enix developers who gave us Bravely Default, Octopath is a modern marvel: a callback to the classic sprite-based RPGs of the 90's yet grounded with quality-of-life improvements in regards to combat, locomotion, and visuals. I've appreciated the 8 divergent stories going on, and none of them involve some kind of worldeater or destructive engine capable of planetary destruction; these are simple tales of discovery, vengeance, rescue, and self-reliance. In this way, Octopath has become a kind of comfort food for me: relaxing in the pace it offers, and bounteous in the ways you can approach the game.
Aesthetically, Octopath is an aural and visually magnificent game, and one that is bolstered by a series of moments--whether they come from the main stories of each character, or the brilliant subtlety of using your unique character actions to discover more about the world you inhabit. For example, while Tressa's bartering ability allows you to buy items from NPCs for a fair price, one elderly woman in particular would not let me purchase an expensive and very rare Spear. Using Therion the thief would allow me to attempt to steal the Spear (at a meager 5% success rate, mind you.) Curious about this artifact, I finally used the Scrutinize ability from resident scholar Cyrus, only to be granted access to this woman's small but important backstory: the spear belonged to her late seafaring husband, and was all she had to remember him by. Later on, I came across another old woman, who I was surprised to see was eligible for the "Provoke" command--a function that lets you battle other NPCs. However, I was stunned even further when I learned her strength level was off the charts; she was quite possibly the strongest NPC I'd ever seen. Further inspection into her backstory suggested she was an "ex-assassin," which makes too much sense and is frankly very amusing.
It may not have been the FF7-sized story of interwoven character purposes that people wanted, but I really enjoyed the time spent with Octopath and it provides a fantastic template for future successes on the Switch for this dev team.
5) SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE (Switch)
Worthy of the "ultimate" title, the latest and biggest entry in Masahiro Sakurai's grand circus is absolute the best. Boasting the largest and most balanced roster ever, SSB Ultimate pulls out all the stops with new modes, customizations, battle options, 100 stages, 800+ pieces of music, and a ridiculously large adventure alongside a revamped and creative Classic battle. Words fail me in describing how huge and bountiful this entry really is, and I doubt there's much I can add to the already plentiful takes on this game--but it truly is a cut above so many other games in terms of quality and detail, not to mention the craftsmanship in the attention paid to nostalgia and gaming history referenced throughout. It is the biggest love letter to Nintendo and perhaps game characters in general, and for that Nintendo has much to be proud of.
P.S. any publications that refuse to consider SSBU for their year-end lists because it "came out too late," shoot yourselves into the sun.
4) INTO THE BREACH (PC, Switch)
Full disclosure: I greatly disliked FTL, and despite the positive reception it garnishes these days, I was very disappointed by how badly the RNG of the game tends to skew, and how little progress you seem to make in spite of your efforts. The next game from Subset Games, Into The Breach, assuaged all my fears with a game that is more dependent on skill, positioning, and playing a highly chaotic game of chess with mechs versus buglings. Utilizing a 3-unit team of big bots, you'll need to destroy the ensuing menace threatening to eradicate the last remaining cities of an apocalyptic earth while taking on bonus objectives for precious resources. Positioning is the name of the game here, as it's crucial to pull or push enemies along the map, preventing them from executing attacks which you have knowledge of in advance. The skirmishes are short, but the puzzle nature of each encounter leaves the game to many viable strategies and squads on each run. The persistent achievements gradually unlocked more mechs to playe with, and you can even mix and match squads between each team or just field a team of 3 identical punching mechs. Into The Breach quickly became one of my favorite games of the year due to how quick it works and how satisfying the experimentation with your mechs tends to be. It also helps enormously how the loadouts lend themselves to skill over an RNG feel, and every squad out of the gate is predisposed to a certain strategy--though those notions can be morphed with the right equipment and custom squad creation. If you love strategy games, then this one is a no-brainer and---wait for it!--is perfect for the Switch.
3) HITMAN 2 (PS4/XB1/PC)
Clawing free from a poorly-managed Square-Enix that would have seen them put on the same shelf as Deus Ex, the steadfast people at IO Interactive fought for their baby and decided to go independent, with WB Games handling the new publishing rights. Continuing Hitman was enough of a success to begin with, but the refinements added in Hitman 2 have improved what was already an incredibly fun and creative sandbox of assassination. Not only boasting six new original locations, Hitman 2 lets you import all the previous maps as well, letting you take full advantage of all the new toys and engine upgrades that IOI has put forth for this quasi-expansion. Although the pricepoint might be a bit steep for 6 maps, the ability to bring in legacy content as well as 2 full upcoming maps is well worth the ticket to ride this rollercoaster of explosive rubber ducks and stupid costumes. IOI is worth supporting if only for how wonderful Hitman is and how lucky they've been to escape a bad hand with their flagship IP intact. It's been a joy to revisit the old stages as well as pry apart the new ones, and the game runs and looks better than ever. I'm enthusiastic about the future of Hitman now that there are more possibilities for IOI, and so long as they make bank, bald will continue to be beautiful, bloody, and bombastic.
2) MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN (PS4)
A long-kept secret that had been rumored for years, I chose to believe in the whispers that Sony was bankrolling the return of Spider-Man to consoles mainly because I badly wanted to websling through the city of Manhattan once more. The previous installments from Beenox only seemed to get worse with time, and for years I thought all hope for a worthy successor to Spider-Man 2 was lost. What Insomniac has done for Spider-Man in their incredible take on the mythos exceeds all of my expectations in terms of thrilling crimefighting, wonderful webspinning, and an excellent narrative that stands with the best that games in general have to offer. From the moment you take control midjump as Peter Parker to the emotional end of his journey, I was enthralled by the quality of the story in conjunction with how fun it is to BE Spider-Man. And that's what kept people hoping for a new Spidey game: it's fucking awesome being Spider-Man, from the uncanny agility and acrobatics to the gadgetry to the relaxing and engaging act of simply slinging around a metropolis, it's just plain fun and always will be. There's something to be said about how locomotion really plays a factor in so many games, and grappling hooks have always been a key point for me when discussing how much fun a game is. Spider-Man basically has the best grappling hook mechanic of all, and definitely has the most organic and smooth implementation of the idea. The worst part of Spider-Man is that we're going to have to wait ages for more of it, because it's one game I could play forever if given much more to consume.
1) GOD OF WAR 2018 (PS4)
This is probably the first time in a long while that my Number One has been kind of an "obvious" title--the past two years were picks that were largely off-center from what mainstream choices were (DOOM/Yakuza 0). God Of War smashing expectations by way of shattering the brainless, outdated theatrics of the original series and molding it into something extraordinary is no easy feat, but Cory Barlog and Co. have reshaped Kratos into a quietly poignant warrior who longs for peace in a nightmarish Norseland. Boasting a grand storyline in a wondrous new landscape, God Of War delivers in every aesthetic category possible while granting you so much freedom with how to proceed. Not only a contender to Zelda in terms of discoveries to be made, GOW's combat system is one of the best I have ever experienced: frenetic and heavy, rife with fun movesets for each weapon and a variety of magicks to learn and upgrade. It's just plain fun and the challenge level is JUST right; not easy at all but not hardcore enough to make me want to die. It's simply a modern classic that not only promises a great time but confronts the ugly shadow of anger in a character that was previously a very one-note rageman. I can't think of a better way to redeem such a rock-dumb series than cast its reflection next to it, injecting a sophistication to not only the buttonmashing but also the personality of a previously vengeful agent. In a sea of games that more often than not tasks you with killing things or ripping them up, I found God Of War's fatigued, hawkish take on the past refreshing. We're still going to have a good time ripping monsters to pieces, but God Of War was one of the only games in recent memory that asked the difficult questions about the ruins left behind after a life of violence and revenge. That refinement and discipline bleeds through into how detailed and finely-spun this game is, and I suspect we'll be seeing it in many Best Of lists for years to come.
SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS: "THE SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS!"
None of us want to be Elfstar. We'd rather be DEBBIE. Similarly, every game wants their Debbie award but not all of them can achieve such lofty ambitions. Here are the miscellaneous awards for things like Best Hamburger Grafix or Biggest Healthbar.
Fuckup Of The Year: Fallout 76
I still have no idea how this surprised people. Bethesda's rickety engine plus MMO bullshit sounded like pure strained dogshit but in all honesty, this was worse than I ever imagined. A laughable series of mistakes and consumer fuckups later, Todd Howard's House of Ideas looks to be in big trouble. People used to give Fallout the excuse of "well, nobody else is making games like this," which is admittedly piss-poor--but with Cyberpunk 2077 and onetime Fallout darling Oblivion's The Outer Worlds primed to make an appearance soon, the jig might finally be up. It's adapt or die for the little open world company that could, and their tricks aren't fucking working anymore. I suspect that Bethesda is going to be quiet in 2019 as RAGE 2 and DOOM Eternal take the stage as the moneymakers for Zenimax. I'm not exactly optimistic about the future of Todd's studio and quite frankly, I'd rather see more from Shinji Mikami and Harvey Smith in the coming year.
Dogpark Award: Hitman 2
The original Dog Park recipient 2 years back, Hitman returns to reclaim its throne as the biggest asshole simulator of them all. Hitman 2 lets you put rakes down so joggers can smack into them like a cartoon character. You can throw endless explosive rubber ducks into a family barbecue. Do you want to derail an entire NASCAR race while dressed as a flamingo? Would you like to kill an island of Illuminati agents with a katana? Hitman has got you covered for all your stupid idiot dreams. Hitman 2 wins this award and it's honestly not even close.
Best Music: SSB Ultimate
It feels like cheating to award this to Smash Bros Ultimate over the sultry sounds of Octopath, but SSB Ultimate has 30 fucking Castlevania tracks to choose from and there's zero chance anything can compete with this.
Best New Character: H'aanit, from Octopath Traveler
LET MY ARROW FLYEN TRUE
COMEN, IF THOU DAREST
As per the usual, here's what I picked in 2017 for what my 2018 list would be like:
Red Dead Redemption 2
God Of War
Monster Hunter World
Far Cry 5
I already messed up by making a Top 8 this year instead but I suppose if I was going to make a Top 10, Yakuza 6 (I did not finish it) and DBFighterZ (I liked it) would be on there. I did not get to play Red Dead 2 due to life happening and the game being too fucking big to play. Octopath and SSB Ultimate fulfilled Nintendo Game 1+2, thankfully. Far Cry 5 doesn't really make the cut and Wargroove has been postponed to 2019. All in all, this list turned out surprisingly well; even if Far Cry 5 doesn't get the spot Hitman 2 claimed, it still was one of the only things I wrote about last year so that's kind of a victory. I'm gonna go ahead and say I was 9/10 for ths list.
Now, here's my prediction for 2019:
Resident Evil 2
Devil May Cry 5
Mortal Kombat 11
The Outer Worlds
Fire Emblem: 3 Houses
RE2make is already getting rave reviews and is by all means the definitive version of one of my favorite games ever so this was an easy pick, as was Devil May Cry 5. MK11 is the easiest layup ever for me, a dumbfuck who puts every NRS game on my year-end lists. RAGE 2 and DOOM Eternal look like they're a better Borderlands and DOOM 2016 But More, respectively. Wargroove gets a pick because it got shifted over from 2018 and I still love the idea of it. The Outer Worlds appears to be Fallout But Good from Oblivion, and we could all use more of them. Judgment might snap me out of the Yakuza fatigue I've felt since Yakuza 0's sequels continue to spurt out like hot cakes. Sekiro is a no-brainer ninja Bloodborne, and Fire Emblem's new Switch entry looks like a cool new take on a great strategy series that I adore.
I could easily see something like Indivisible, Pikuniku, My Friend Pedro, or a future Nintendo title jumping on here, but for now I'm gonna play it safe with the stuff I know I'm gonna like that's set for a 2019 appearance.
Hopefully, in 2019, I'll be able to get review material and other shit on here faster (RE2, Wargroove, and DMCV most likely) or at least put up other retrospectives.
I HOPE THIS YEAR IS PRODUCTIVE FOR EVERYONE. LET'S BE GOOD IN 2019.
Amazing and topical!