Rather than just go with a top 10 format, I thought it would be more fun to separate indies and AAA into a top 5 of each this year. Mainly because I want to highlight more of the great indie titles that add so much value to the industry, and to rank them separate from the higher production value AAAs. As per usual with any of my top year lists, I’m very keen to see what games others enjoyed the most this year, so feel free to respond with yours. No need to copy my format if you don’t want to, but I’d love to see what other games really grabbed people in the otherwise pretty solid 2018 year.
So first I’m gonna countdown my top 5 indie picks of 2018:
While Warcraft 2 was the first thing to really get me into video games, the genre I explored right after were simulation games. Sim City was first, but Theme Hospital was the second, and I loved the personality + smaller scale of that experience. Two Point Hospital takes that general tone, but the way you play is so much more elegant and benefitting from modern technology. It so easy to just lay out a space, the campaign gives you good direction and challenge, while the general feeling of play is either peaceful or funny. Just throw on a some chillout or classical piano, and let the time fly away.
Another game that I like for relaxing, except weirdly it’s an RTS. What makes that work is the slower pace due to the management and 4X-style expansion elements thrown in. This is a much more accessible game vs. other RTSs that stress more actions per minute, yet you still need to think in order to win. Yes you build an army and expand through a map, but you also have to store enough resources for the winter months. This and They Are Billions give me hope RTSs can continue to thrive and innovate.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was a game I always respected, but never got into. Dead Cells I think just distilled down many of that game’s core elements into such a nice rogue-lite package. You get the permadeath with some saved progress, some procedural elements but there are fixed points to provide structure, and a nice array of items. The combat, traversal, controls, hit feedback, level design and art style are all on point to a polished sheen.
Missed out on this gem last year as it released in September, but I caught up early 2018. Already was a huge fan of Tom Francis’s previous game Gunpoint, and this one doesn’t disappoint on being an enjoyable systemic experience. The core loop of gun for hire, accepting missions at your star base, roaming out in your ship to somehow latch on to another, and becoming a top-down stealth game in that ship with a variety of increasingly creative tools to get the job done. It’s an easy game to lose hours to, while poking and prodding the game to see what it lets you do next.
It’s a weird year where an early access game is my favorite indie of the year, much less that the top 3 indie games this year for me all have rogue-like elements. This beautifully designed game decided to take a rogue-like structure, using card game mechanics. Each run lets you build a new deck adjusted to the random/chosen buffs you get along the way, making each run a bit different. The further you get, the more interesting your playstyle becomes, and the more creative the enemy design does to combat you. This is the 1st game I’m probably going to re-buy on Switch, just to have it with me on the go.
Alright, on to the big guys:
Ah, Forza Horizon 4. ever thought I could lose hours to a very sim-heavy racing game, but I guess this one has just enough arcadey fun vs. the more serious Motorsport entries. Without Game Pass I might not even have tried it, but I’m more than glad I did. Like other open-world games, the setting is the star, with beautiful picturesque British scenery, and enjoyable changing seasons. Getting in a truck to drift in winter is my personal favorite, and the variety of events mixed with fantastic track design is just addictive.
Thought this would rank higher, but it’s mostly brought down by the ho-hum side-mission design, and boring Mary Jane + Miles Morales walk stealth sections. However, in all other respects Insomniac have crafted a wonderful love-letter to the wall crawler. It feels incredible to web-sling to the bizarrely high-fidelity New York, the combat is Arkham-ish with far more agility, the story strikes the right lighthearted quippy tone, and the toolset you get is packed with options. Mainly though, they capture what it would feel like to be Spider-man, in a package that makes me look forward to more Marvel seal of approval video games.
I’ll be up front, I completely missed playing AC: Origins, but after Odyssey I picked it up. The reason being I’ve been bored of this series, annoyed even that for years it kept not improving the always weak core mechanics. You were an assassin with crap stealth systems + tools, combat that prioritized animation over depth, terribly dumb AI, and overly cinematic stories that gated you in missions. Except apparently Origins make the combat more Dark Souls, the stealth an entire talent tree of moves, mission design promoted player agency, and Odyssey layered in dialog choice + a Nemesis-like bounty system. So I actually like the play experience on top of the digital history tourism, and Kassandra is fun.
Welp, another series I was getting bored of, that decided to have a complete overhaul for the better. It was always going to get bonus points from me for going with a Norse setting over Greek, but I never expected to like the combat changes or the story tone shift. Each work like a charm though. Combat has the weight of Dark Souls, but with more avenue and necessity of crowd control. That axe is the best weapon of 2018 at least, with a very well performed father/son relationship, and a story that actually makes me want another sequel.
I’ve tried Monster Hunter multiple times, since college on the PSP doing that garbage claw grip to move the camera, to emulating it on PC to slightly better effect. Finally Capcom put some cash behind a modern $60 release, even hitting PC, and it’s all the better for it. Just playing the game at 4k/60fps using a camera that uses analog movement on a proper non-3DS nub is a massive jump. However, the team went further with an abundance of quality of life improvements, larger stages full of verticality that sell an ecosystem, superior animation and hit feedback all around. Monsters have more interesting behaviors, interact with the level more, monsters fight other monsters, environmental hazards are a thing, I get a grappling hook, playing online isn’t terrible, etc. I’ve dumped 133 hours in, still haven’t fought Behemoth, still haven’t played every weapon type, and I’ll be ready for the expansion day one.
So, what did you love playing the most this year?