Top 7 Games of 2018
These are the games I played when I was too tired to do anything else
2018, unfortunately, turned out to be a worse year for me than I had hoped for. As such, I didn’t even manage to get to 10 games that I would recommend playing! Seven isn’t so bad though, so here they are!
7) Return of the Obra Dinn
I have not finished Obra Dinn yet, but I have had a lot of fun unraveling its mysteries so far. Like Torment: Tides of Numenara last year, I find that I have to take breaks in playing this game. You play as a insurance agent who is taking account of all the people who died on the ship Obra Dinn. You do so with a magical pocket watch, and with that watch you can visit each crew at the time of their death. In doing so you can begin to deduce things such as how a person died, who that person is or who or what killed them.
All of this information is kept together in a ledger, which is unfortunately pretty unwieldy. The game does not do a great job of enabling you to organize information efficiently. A way to go through every scene that a character appears in would have been very helpful. You’ll often know what to do next, but not remember which scene to go to, and that is not a fun experience.
All that being said, Obra Dinn is a game you should play if you like mysteries. The atmosphere is fantastic. The high contrast art is striking, and the music is wonderfully percussive and piratey. Solving the mysteries aboard this ship is very satisfying to. I hope to finish it soon!
6) Yakuza Kiwami 2
If they keep making these, I’ll keep playing them. Kiwami 2 marks the point in the series where the creators started to go crazy. You fight tigers, take a yakuza boss to a baby fetish club and play Virtua Fighter. This is all done in the new Dragon engine, which was used for Yakuza 6. All of the aforementioned activities look great, but I’ll never get into shogi as much as these games want me to.
The story is very strong. Ryuji Goda, a son of the leader of the Omi Alliance, is making a play for Tojo Clan turf, with Kiryu Kazama as his main target. The main plot is not cliched necessarily, as there are plenty of surprises. But if you are paying attention it’s not hard to see what’s coming. The character performances were fantastic, and they elevated the script. Ryuji Goda’s actor in particular commanded any scene he was in and made a great antagonist.
There really isn’t much to dislike in Kiwami 2, especially if you are already a Yakuza Fan.
And seriously, the cabaret club remains the best part of these games.
5) God of War
I’ve been a big fan of Norse mythology since I was a kid. It all seemed violent and cool and weird to my young malleable mind. They were stories where gods not only could but WOULD die, often due to their own actions. There was lots of infanticide, patricide, and gianticide. These themes come up in God of War, and while they definitely gritted up the characters, the story remains something unique to the God of War series while still remaining true to stories that the game is drawing from.
The most interesting thing that God of War does with its story is to play with time in a mythical setting. This edition of the game is definitely mythical: you buy your items from dwarves, not townsfolk. You explore fire realms instead of helping a farmer with their wolf problem. With no mortals in sight, God of War can treat time as it is in Norse mythology: a cyclical force which pushes itself towards oblivion only to be renewed to start the process gain.
Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle that the gods and giants are destined to wage against one another, was front of my mind when I began the game. Would the game center around Ragnarok? How would the main actors be depicted?
How would Kratos fit into all of this?
As these questions were answered, I found myself fascinated with the world that was created around these (literally) timeless characters. In one instance the featured gods were all knowing, but in the next it was clear that they were making things up as they went along. Ragnarok was more of a suggestion than an imminent threat, and I think that is a really interesting approach to what I imagined as an instantaneous event.
God of War plays very well. The axe feels great, and calling it back feels even better. It was never something I wanted to master, but it was definitely enjoyable throughout. Repetitive monster encounters and puzzle designs dragged the gameplay down for me a bit, but overall I’m excited to see where Kratos ends up next.
I’ve always wondered how mental illness can be depicted in a game, and Celeste does a great job of taking a stab at it. There’s a particular scene in the middle of the game that depicts the main character, Madeline, using a breathing exercise to get her through a panic attack on a stranded gondola:
Picking apart obstacles that face you is the great part of Celeste’s gameplay. It’s also a sound strategy for dealing with panic attacks, which is a topic that comes up several times for Madeline throughout the game. Celeste makes Madeline’s mental struggles unique to her, which I appreciated. Too many games treat fear (and panic in particular) as if it affects everyone in the same way. Celeste bucks this trend, and I really appreciated that!
As I said before, the strategies Madeline uses to face her fears are how you overcome the puzzles in Celeste. I can’t count the number of times I thought I had reached my limit, only to solve a puzzle that seemed impossible minutes before. Celeste accomplishes this by only giving you a boost jump to work with as Madeline’s only power. A lot of sidescrollers these days involve finding power ups to unlock a door or blow up a wall. In Celeste, the surroundings constantly change and present new obstacles, and you only have your past experience to help you. The tenacity that you learn as a player in overcoming Celeste’s levels mirrors the tenacity that Madeline develops herself. This game felt like a wonderful collaboration, where both Madeline and I learned something in beating the game.
3) Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
Obsidian Entertainment is dead, long live Obsidian Entertainment. While I’m glad that Obsidian looks to have a better funded future after its acquisition by Microsoft, there’s a pluckiness to the Pillars of Eternity games that I’ll likely miss from their new titles. Pillars of Eternity 2 retains the feeling of being a kickstarted game. Most everything is polished, but by the end of the game you can tell that the story was constrained by the budget. Only a handful of the possible companions that you get have full fledged interactions and stories, and the pacing of the main story in PoE2 can be a little weird. The story hits far more than it misses, however, and Obsidian should be commended for coming up with what they did.
Unlike the last game, there is a lot more freedom of movement around the world. You get your own pirate ship, and can explore the Deadfire any way you want. This is further complicated by Obsidian’s trademark faction system. Playing the factions off of each other is fun, although the endings to them aren’t always very distinct. I won’t be getting into the story here. I’ll just say that outcomes can change for many surprising reasons; Deadfire rewards roleplaying more than most RPG’s I’ve played.
What I most want to comment on is the setting of the Deadfire. Obsidian crated in its Renaissance-era fantasy setting one of the best explorations of colonialism and imperialism that I’ve ever seen. The topic isn’t a new one in games (virtually every Final Fantasy involves an evil empire of some kind) but your character, the Watcher, arrives at the ground level and has a hand in shaping the Deadfire’s future.
Deadfire is a remarkable game with great replay-ability. I’m not one for min-maxing character builds, but I had a good time playing through just the same.
2) Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter World was my first foray into the series, and I’d heard a lot about how complicated it could get. After I tried the beta, I felt like I at least had a grasp on the gameplay, but I still felt somewhat intimidated.
500 hours later, I am the goddamn king of the monsters.
I’ve slain every monster I’ve encountered with my sick hammer, and now I waltz around wearing their body parts for limit stat gains. I don’t regret any of it, because getting to that point felt SO GOOD.
Playing the Dark Souls games probably led to my enjoyment of Monster Hunter World. Encounters in Dark Souls are duels, whereas encounters in Monster Hunter are, well, hunts. There is very little scripted on a hunt, unless it’s a story mission. At any time, your quarry can bolt. It can become enraged and throw you across the map. Or, another monster can burst through the brush and complicate things.
I adore the approach to weapons in Monster Hunter World. The learning curve is steep as each weapon has distinct mechanics and moves on top of that. For example, with my main weapon the hammer I can: do a horizontal spin attack on the ground, do a Sonic the Hedgehog air spin, charge up an attack that hits two times and follows up with a colossal third spike or do a running uppercut that can knockout most any monster. And since hammers do blunt damage, they’re one of two weapons in the game that is best suited to striking a monsters head to knock it out, so I always feel like I’m contributing.
As deep as the weapons are, the monsters are the real star of this game. They are dynamic, vibrant and a blast to fight. Since you can’t see their HP, you have to work constantly to find openings and be as efficient as possible. Instead of slashing wildly and hoping a healthbar goes down, I found myself reading up on monster biology (found in the game) to strategize the best place for me to hit. With my hammer it was usually the head, but I digress.
These games are worth trying at least once if you like any sort of action game. Monster Hunter rewards all sorts approaches. Preparing extensively before a hunt is always in your favour. Gearing for utility rather than pure damage is a must in some fights and never a bad choice in general. I have loved my time with this game, and I can’t wait to bust more heads with the expansion next Fall.
- Into the Breach
I may have played Monster Hunter for several hundred hours longer, but the highs of Into the Breach are incomparable to anything else I played in 2018. I kept playing long after I had gotten all the achievements. ITB is a puzzle game presenting as an isometric, turn-based strategy game and is stronger for it.
The best part of ITB is that it is completely transparent with its information. There are no hit percentages like in XCOM. Your goal is to protect cities from the insectoid Vek with your sick mechs. The mechs have tons of different abilities, from shooting out electric smoke to judo throwing opponents behind them.
The brilliance of this game is that it’s about mitigating disaster rather than just destroying the enemy. You are constantly made to calculate risk; is it worth letting this Vek ram into a building, destroying it, so that it leaves itself open to attack from two sides? Can I afford to lose one pilot if it means saving the mission?
Some of the victories I have eked out in this game have left me feeling like genius, and some losses have made me feel like a rube. My only criticism about this game is that there isn’t more of it. Maybe someday!