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Chris Grant's Top 10 Games of 2018

The producer, speedrunner, and eSports Expert weighs in on another year in gaming.

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Chris Grant has appeared at numerous GDQs and gaming websites to promote speedruns and show off Cool Stuff. You can often find him tweeting on Twitter.

Hey y’all, I’m Chris “Not the Editor-In-Chief of Polygon” Grant. I work as a video game producer and also speedrun as a hobby (and used to help put on Games Done Quick events). I feel like every year I write “Well I didn’t have enough time to play games and speedrun this year, so I didn’t really hit what I wanted to,” and I think this paragraph is me realizing that I won’t have enough time for games unless I change my hobbies or stop working. Unfortunately capitalism is still a thing (for now), and speedrunning rules, so my list is optimized for being able to pick up games somewhat quickly, get overly invested, then never play again. I think this is also the second time I’ve called out capitalism in my intro paragraph, and I will continue to call it out for sucking ass.

10. Pillars of Eternity

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I loved Baldur’s Gate 2, but I never really kept up with the many D&D styled western RPGs that followed it. Settling into Pillars of Eternity was familiar, but unique. My wizards continue to have limited spells per rest, but it’s a totally different arcane arsenal. My rogue was still useful at single target damage, but sneak attacks were significantly easier to achieve. For some reason druids just immediately kicked my ass. That one was new. The characters were charming, the quests were interesting, and while the combat felt somewhat repetitive towards the endgame (I felt like there were just more enemies rather than tough enemies), I didn’t really burn out on the game.

I should probably play Pillars of Eternity 2, especially since it’s supposed to be really good, but I’m not sure where I’ll find another 40 (or more) hours.

9. Resident Evil HD Remaster

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I realize this isn’t even close to a 2018 release (and neither is Pillars of Eternity), but I finally picked this out of a Humble Bundle that’d been sitting around, and Resident Evil is awesome. My only previous series experience was Resident Evil 4, and it was incredibly strange to return to a style of gameplay where, quite frankly, the playable characters suck. Jill was awful at moving and shooting, inventory management was a hassle, and even the fancy new non-tank movement totally buckled with weird dutch angles and the static camera.

But the stricter control and gameplay made the game more fun. There was a level of intensity that I don’t feel in later Resident Evil games because everyone’s become a zombie-murdering martial arts god. The first playthrough I started, I immediately almost died trying to knife the very first zombie, then opened the front door and hit a Game Over. This was my experience for the rest of the game, where I was never scared, but always worried.

8. Hunt: Showdown

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Hunt isn’t a game that I would say is fun. I enjoy it. I recommend it. But it’s not fun. However, there is something engaging about spending 30 minutes silently wading through a swamp to pop a 19th-century prospector-looking mother fucker in the head--and then killing a Satan.

But that’s okay, because the rush that comes from the 30-minute stallfests justifies everything. The clunky weaponry leads to long-drawn out battles where everyone is struggling for a good position or a solid headshot. Each second of a fight just adds more tension, and the hostile world can interject at anytime. Hunters are constantly darting in and out of brush and behind cover, but this lets even weak zombies pose a threat when they sneak up on a focused Hunter. I’ve been chased halfway across the map, only to finish a 50-minute round in a quick shootout next to a steamboat escape because our opponents were ambushed by zombies.

I also want to point out how well-made the sound design in Hunt: Showdown is. The ambient noise of disembodied zombies searching for something. Crows off in the distance. A zombie just gasped--was it noticing a player or was it general zombie babble? The game sounds are legitimately unnerving, and it just adds to the uneasy atmosphere.

7. Orwell and Orwell: Ignorance is Strength

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These were my “I have no idea what to play at my parent’s place for Thanksgiving” games. I didn’t really have strong expectations, but was surprised at the game having some interesting characters and much more than the pulp I expected. The memory chunk system was a little clunky, but it was pretty fun to learn how to use it and actually get different results.

Ignorance is Strength is where I took the lessons for the first game and began to heavily apply them. I had to decide how to best stall for time or create the proper narrative to get the ending that I actually wanted, and I think I did a pretty decent job ruining a few lives and getting only one person murdered. I’m not really big on visual novels, but I think that simple hook of “move words to create action” was just enough to get me roped.

6. Artifact

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Artifact hasn’t been out that long, but I think I love this game. There are a ridiculous amount of actions to remember, a mire of numbers to memorize, and a lot of the game effects aren’t quite as cool as what happens in Magic: The Gathering (like Arclight Phoenixes). Despite all this, I’ve had more close matches than I’ve had playing any other card game in a much shorter period of time. Additionally, I rarely felt like I was getting a curve that couldn’t be salvaged, or anything close to an unlucky MTG mana draw.

The monetization is a bit strange, but I’m not actively spending money on the game. I’m comfortable with the free, but prizeless, Phantom Draft, a draft mode where players don’t keep drafted cards. I feel like I’m decent enough to be able to fund the pay to play Expert Drafts with my initial Artifact pay-in and any winnings I receive from playing Expert Draft. I really want to keep playing and see how Valve continues to support the game before Artifact crawls up my list. It’s good, but it’s going to take some time before it’s fully fleshed out with progression features I’d normally expect in a game like this.

5. Darwin Project

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Darwin Project was my favorite Battle Royale after slowly disembarking from the PUBG train. It features ten players, a smaller map, gadgets, and a huge survival aspect to supplement its bow and arrow combat. The different resource pools and obvious-to-see campfires help separate the game from other traditional battle royales. Do I burn my leather to speed myself up and find more kills? I saw no campfires nearby, should I just focus on farming? The game changes very quickly, and the different types of play styles kept me interested.

The unfortunate part of Darwin Project is that it seems to have hit that indie multiplayer game stagnation, at least on the PC. Player numbers are low, and last time I played I was matched into a six-person lobby rather than the full 10. Even when the game was a little more popular, I had to deal with a matchmaking system that couldn’t really support me. The odds of a top 100 player crushing me were fairly high, and I’d also get matched with new players that barely knew how to craft, let alone the intricacies of the game. I’m a little concerned Darwin Project might be on the verge of dying as the player base dwindles. Unfortunately, the lifecycle of an Indie F2P Mobile Game is incredibly unstable.

4. Iconoclasts

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So I guess I should put a foreword that Konjak is my Internet Friend and a very cool dude. If you’ve played Noitu Love 2 though, it’s pretty easy to understand why I’d enjoy Iconoclasts. The controls are refined, the art is all incredibly detailed and diverse, and there’s a huge variety of enemies and baddies to chunk into in this 2D action/adventure. There’s just a lot to do in a unique and interesting world. It’s also important to note that a lot of love was put into this game, and it really shows with how much attention-to-detail is in pretty much everything.

In addition to the massive world comes a rather lengthy and detailed plot. I’m not going to spoil anything in the plot, but I enjoyed it. There’s a lot to think about, some great visuals that support it, and I genuinely cared for the characters. Overall, Iconoclasts is a really pleasant experience from top to bottom, and I highly recommend a playthrough.

3. Dead Cells

I’m speedrunning this at Awesome Games Done Quick 2019, so uh, you should watch that.

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It should go without stating that I think it’s a pretty amazing speedrun. Repeatedly running through loop after loop looking for the perfect seed has been incredibly fun, which is not common in a roguelite. The game just throws shit at me, and there’s just enough resources to stay ahead and keep on the offensive. The more reliable way to beat Dead Cells is to try and nab earlier timed doors that award faster completion, but then totally clean down entire spaces to score as much loot as possible. The fun way is to just zoom on through and only murder what’s absolutely necessary.

I do think the initial learning curve is a bit too rough, and the game probably needs a rebalancing. Players that can’t overcome the first difficulty are unlikely to find enough progression to really keep them going, and if you can cleanly beat the first difficulty, the game doesn’t really get much more challenging until the very last playthrough.

2. Full Metal Furies

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Full Metal Furies might be remembered for the same reason Brigador originally gained steam: it was a massive financial loss that nobody played or seemed to care about. While a lot of this probably comes down to the name reading like “Full Metal Furries,” there’s a really solid backbone of a more advanced Castle Crashers type game. The Furies each have a ton of combat options, and balancing high damage swings for evasive play is crucial. Maximizing DPS feels great, and even more so when I’m chain dodging but still chunking down baddies.

And it’s funny. Not every joke is great, but there’s legitimately enjoyable writing in this game and decent visual gags to match. Topping everything off is its massive puzzle system. One that feels much more like a tough point and click adventure game rather than brawler. The lengths that the developers went to in peppering tiny clues throughout the game is incredible. Even when I had to cop out and look something up it was still cool as hell.

I really want to see more games like this, just with significantly better titles and marketing campaigns.

1. Magic: The Gathering: Arena

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I kinda hate Magic. I started playing paper Magic this year, and a number of games felt like they were over before they started. Sometimes I just had to scoop my cards despite not having a chance to do anything. That said, I still love those high moments, like nailing a ridiculous combo or bluffing into a win, and MTG has been a deeply engrossing game despite some annoying lows. Then comes Magic: The Gathering: Arena, which makes Magic approachable casually. A single game of MTGA is much faster than playing paper, and I can find someone to play while sitting alone in my apartment eating mac and cheese.

It’s also been incredibly interesting to watch how metas shifted from my old job’s Sealed League to a global format. Because MTGA has a much more accessible card pool and more anonymous player base, I’m more likely to play against the same good decks over and over. Compare this to the random games I’d play at work with junk cards, and the meta feels a bit more stagnant and repetitive online. Even if I play dumb bullshit, that doesn’t mean anyone else will. I’m okay with this though, because I’m playing a deck that would cost $300 on paper, and instead I’ve spent a whopping nothing. Like Artifact, I’m interested to see how the game develops over the next year or so. Will future card expansions be stupidly expensive like paper Magic? Or is this going to be my way of playing a card game and staying financially solvent.

I’m playing MTGA daily and I’m having a ton of fun doing it. I just also hate the game, but it’s still my favorite from 2018.