Last year was absolutely rammed with good games for me. I mean, I played my fair share – and a few other people’s fair shares – of less enjoyable games but on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed 2018 in gaming. I reviewed 113 games, many of which I adored, but only 10 may stand in this. Welcome to my definitely not up-for-debate Game of the Year list. The list is pretty fluid, but if I write it down, then it is at least stable for a little bit. So, without any further ado, how about a top ten?
10. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth – Hacker’s Memory
I picked this up in a sale in late November because I thoroughly enjoyed the original Cyber Sleuth. I was hoping it would be just as enjoyable, just as grindy, and just as occasionally philosophical as the first. I was not disappointed.
Something about the incredibly convoluted Digivolution system just hooks me, I absolutely love spending hours fine-tuning a Digimon until it is absurdly over-powered and then just steamrolling the next boss. The story was good, the characters were interesting, and it was a lot of fun. It was also one of the few games I made time outside of reviewing things. Which is a compliment in and of itself.
9. Into the Breach
I love me some roguelite twists on established genres. Into the Breach is what happens when you weaponize chess. It is immensely gratifying to look at your opponents’ moves, then just trash their strategy by being in the way or throwing them into the sea. It is easy to pick up and play, but oh so very hard to master. A perfect Switch game if ever there was one (I’m going to use this phrase again and I’m sorry, I just really like the Switch).
Into the Breach does that wonderful thing where it makes you feel incredibly smart one moment, then the next reduces your intelligence to that of a dog chasing its tail. This is what makes every victory so sweet. Unlocking the new teams is great and trying to hit all the challenges adds so much to the game. It’s essential if you like strategy games. Plus, the soundtrack is absolutely killer.
8. Call of Duty Black Ops 4
This one is the biggest surprise for me personally. I’m not a huge COD fan, I find them a little dull most of the time. This year though, god damn, this year they got so much right. I haven’t even touched the normal multi-player mode, I feel no need to do so. Zombies is a huge amount of fun to play with friends. It remains one of the strangest modes in AAA gaming and is just pure dumb action movie fun.
Of course, the real star of the show is Blackout. It says a lot about a mode when I can get my rear end handed to me again and again but still enjoy it. Blackout is that mode for me. Playing with friends is infinitely better of course, but even solo the experience is great. Something about the survival of the fittest gameplay is just satisfying in a way that few games manage.
7. Divinity: Original Sin 2 – Definitive Edition
This game is so good that it has ruined every other CRPG for me. While the initial game was released last year, it deserves a spot on my list and it is getting it. I was a little worried about playing it on console at first, to be honest. Thankfully, Larian are basically wizards and managed to make it feel at home.
The sheer scale of the game is almost unreal. A new player will spend nearly 100 hours getting through the story. Just the first section will take you a good 20 hours, then you’ll be told that your journey is just beginning. The fact that you can play along with friends in co-op through the entire game makes it even better. Just… be prepared for everything to be constantly on fire.
6. Monster Hunter: World
Monster Hunter is a great series, but much like the Great Sword, it has always been incredibly unwieldy thanks to its insistence on being handheld. When this was announced I lost it. I have yet to find it again, that’s how you know it is truly lost.
Playing Monster Hunter on PS4 with beautiful graphics, no loading between zones, and actual real friends who would also get this game. Well damn, truly this is a golden age. I just wish I had enough time to still be playing it, I have no doubt it would be higher on my list if I did. Oh well, we’ll get Iceborne soon and I can jump back in.
Purely from a shallow perspective, this game deserves to be on my GOTY list. It is literally the prettiest game I have ever played, truly a painting in motion. The sound design compliments the visuals perfectly too. It isn’t often I get all artsy in my commentary on a game, but Gris inspired me.
The thing that really cements Gris as one of my favorites though is the story. I appreciate the devs have come out and said the game is about depression and meds. I really do appreciate that, but this is art, and art is open to interpretation. Gris – to me at least – is about a girl working through the loss of someone she loved. It is haunting, uplifting, and life-affirming.
4. Dead Cells
Dead Cells is perfect for the Switch (see, I said I’d use it again). It can be played for five minutes or five hours, either way, you’re probably going to die in the game. The undiluted action gameplay is almost unparalleled for me this year. I love roguelites anyway, so making one that was side-scrolling, then filling it with dark humor and charm, well it’s like it was made for me.
I actually got this one nearly a month before I had to review it. I knew I liked the game anyway based on my time with it in Early Access but had no idea how it would feel on Switch. It felt great, which isn’t all that surprising. I played this every day before the review – even beating the final boss before writing my thoughts down. I then proceeded to play it every day for another three months, it hooked me. I haven’t jumped in in a while, but I have no doubts it’ll reel me back in at some point soon.
3. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Assassin’s Creed: Origins didn’t go far enough into RPG territory for me, as such, I just couldn’t get on with it. Ancient Greece has always been fascinating to me, so getting to run around in it as a badass female spartan was brilliant. It doesn’t help that the whole thing is easy on the eyes, the game I mean, get your mind out of the gutter.
This game will always have a special place in my heart. You see, my daughter was born around the time this came out. The first two weeks of parenthood are absolutely exhausting. It turns out that you need to stay awake to look after a newborn, for me this meant being awake until 5am most days to make sure my wife could sleep. Odyssey was the perfect game for keeping me awake while my daughter slept on my chest. The endless nature of the side quests allowed me to keep playing until I didn’t need to anymore. So much so that I got the platinum trophy. It’s just a great game, I can’t wait to see where the series goes now.
2. Earth Defense Force 5
Earth Defense Force is what happens when you design over-the-top weapons, then try and build a game to house them. It feels like they designers worked backward from chaos, and just ended up with this weird series. It has always been about blowing up aliens and giant insects, but it hasn’t always run very well.
Earth Defense Force 5 runs well, it rarely stutters or slows down. It doesn’t lie to you either, if it says that you’re about to go into a giant battle with eight hefty mech suits, then you are. If you are told there will be hundreds of enemies, well then there will. EDF is what happens when a developer puts fun above all else. Plus, it is multi-player, and can easily last you a thousand hours. Don’t sleep on this utterly absurd game.
1. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I am, and probably always will be a Smash Bros. fan. I have played it since the first installment and loved it ever since then. I always assumed this game would be good, I just didn’t realize how good. The World of Light mode is nostalgia in game form, it is also so filled with love and affection for so many games that it is hard not to grin throughout.
I don’t know if it is just a case of a perfect storm, but Ultimate is head and shoulders above everything else for me this year. Loads of my friends have it, it came out just before a break, and it is huge. It just works brilliantly, the small changes they’ve made to it as a fighting game make it so much deeper than before. The new items and stage morphing make it better as a party game than it has ever been. It is one of the rare occasions that the word ultimate is accurate. This is the best Smash game ever, and my game of the year as a result.