Ghosthouse's 2018 Top
10 11 Games of the Year!
This was a pretty good year for games! There was a good variety of small stuff and big stuff and both brought some heavy hitters to the table. There are a bunch of likely deserving games I haven't gotten around to or spent enough time with yet (Celeste, Into the Breach, Tetris Effect, Return of the Obra Dinn). But from what I did play this year, I laughed, I cried, and I became a cowboy. And my #1 game(s) might surprise you...
11. Destiny 2: Forsaken
I feel very conflicted placing Destiny 2 on a list like this. A lot of the changes that Forsaken made are hard to even pick out, because so much of it was stuff that should have been there all along. It was a lot about them living up to their promises and bizarrely, catching up to fixes that were already in place in Destiny 1 after we went through the exact same mistakes already. So obviously I’m apprehensive to say that Bungie “figured it out” this time. But Forsaken puts the franchise into a good place, whether its temporary or not. The story lives finally up to the game’s fantastic lore. The lore is finally in the game. Randomization on armor and weapons is back, though just lacking enough depth for my taste -- same goes for the subclass abilities. I have a lot of issues with the way it doles out its loot and the reward system in general but it is undoubtedly the best it has been amongst their first dozen attempts across the past few years. And some of my favorite moments in gaming this year took place within Forsaken. Conquering the secret mini-raid, seeing how the Dreaming City unfolded each week, figuring out Gambit, the list goes on. I hope that Forsaken is the beginning of Destiny finally living up to its potential. It could be something really special and this felt like a strong step forward. Hopefully in the future, Bungie can avoid taking two steps back.
10. Dead Cells
Dead Cells finally came out of early-access this year! I’m pretty sure it was actually the first early-access game I bought into. I also think I put more hours into it while it was in early access, but it would be a crime not to include it this year. What’s funny though, is that I think I actually prefer an earlier version of it when it had different progression systems. Not that it turned out bad, its just in some ways a different product than the one I initially purchased. Even though I don’t love every change that was made over the course of its early-access period, it was a relatively short turn around into a final product and the amount of content they consistently added is commendable. Also, I want to present it with the award for best game feel of the year. Several years maybe. The controls are so, so tight. More than anything else, it was that feel that kept me coming back over and over for one more run. It can be extremely challenging too, but rarely frustrating, because those controls are just so good. And when you do die and start over from the beginning, you always feel like you made a little bit of progress because of the way you can permanently progress your items and character. It's not necessarily new to the rogue-like genre, but the way its done is really smart. Dead Cells probably the most old school fun I had in a video game this year.
9. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I didn’t expect to spend more than a couple hours with this game, as is usually the case for me when it comes to fighting games. But the single player content in Ultimate is so good! The World of Light campaign is a silly trip down a Nintendo-themed memory lane, squaring you up against “close-enough” analogues to obscure characters throughout their history. It's addicting, fast-paced and the small strategy element that comes from the hundreds of different equip-able spirits is a great addition. I likely will only ever play this game with friends a few times in my life, but I can see myself coming back for the story and classic modes for years to come. On top of all that, the game feels great and the amount of content that comes from the huge list of characters, stages and music is staggering. It really is the ultimate version of the Super Smash Brothers franchise and I’m looking forward to playing a lot more in 2019.
8. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
I had been following this game fairly closely during its development, ever since the initial kickstarter announcement a few years ago. The relatively small team behind it did an incredible job crafting such a believable medieval world. It helps too, that it was based on real places and events that existed during that time period. Seeing some comparisons of the in-game cities and landscapes to their real-world counterparts was jaw dropping. I think this is also the closest any other studio has come to making an Elder Scrolls-like game. The world feels so alive. After the first hour of the game, (which has one of the best story openings in recent memory) I knew it was something special. It takes its time getting started, but is done so with purpose, focusing on gently dipping you into its world and mechanics through excellent writing and believable, immersive moments. Its a game just as much about picking flowers and taking a date for a walk through the countryside, as it is about the harsh brutality of warfare. Neither the story nor the mechanics pull their punches and it shows that this was a game made with a huge amount of passion for the subject matter. As for the gameplay, unlike the Elder Scrolls games, the melee aspect of the combat is refreshingly unique and deep, even if I never quite figured it out or got good at it. The survival mechanics are not overbearing and I felt more concerned about keeping my armor presentably shiny than I ever did about my hunger. The writing is also great, along with the voice acting and motion capture. Coming from such a small team with a crowdfunded budget, I was blown away with the production values. It can still be rough around the edges, but with a few minor mods and tweaks all of those were rounded off for me. Its another one I'm looking forward to going back to next year.
7. Forza Horizon 4
The Forza Horizon series continues to be a beacon of joy in these dark times of 2018. When the right song comes on the radio while you’re barreling across the English countryside in your favorite car (unless its Toyota) it all ties together into an almost meditative experience. Every part of it is gorgeous, from the cars to the world, even the UI. The rotating seasons in Horizon 4 add an extra depth to the world too, where each week you can come back to a different season to take on different challenges and events. Some of the most fun I had was the multiplayer events. Almost like a public event or a world boss, these events would spawn every hour or so and everyone driving around in the world would gather together to take on a series of challenges. With everyone showing off their custom paint jobs and car horns and then driving off into the sunset together to complete a challenge, I felt more of a sense of community in this game than any other this year. In a year full of long games, Horizon 4 lasts as long as you want it to, but I felt compelled to keep playing just because it feels great to drive around in.
6. Hitman 2
What a game. Without a doubt, Hitman 2 contains one of the best packages of individual levels in a game, ever. And then you combine them with all of Hitman 1’s excellent levels, it's just an amazing collection. 2016’s Hitman took a while to grow on me. I am a huge fan of Hitman: Blood Money and I stood my ground thinking that no future Hitman could ever top it. Eventually I relented, once all of the seasonal mission releases were released and I could stand back and see just how great of a job they did capturing the spirit of the old Hitman games. IOI did an amazing job filling out those levels and refined their ideas into what made the Hitman series fun in the first place; which was replaying levels over and over with different strategies. Hitman 2 doubles down on that ideology with its “Mission Stories”, which are renamed and expanded upon from the “Opportunities” of the previous entry. Every. Single. One. Of Hitman 2’s mission stories that I have played are fantastic. All of them are so creative and hilarious and satisfying. Enough so, that I feel compelled to see all of them through eventually.
5. Monster Hunter World
I want every game to be like Monster Hunter World. Okay, maybe without the terrible multiplayer system. Or the terrible story. Or the labored preparation you have to do before every mission. But man, if more RPG’s had the crafting and progression and scale of this game I would be so happy. The sense of power and growth you feel when going back to quickly dice up a monster for materials that used to take you an hour and all your healing items is so, so good. It sounds so edgy but the game is somehow extremely goofy and lighthearted. The way the character animates, and the chef cats and the over the top armor; it doesn’t take itself seriously at all, in a really fun way. I’m so happy that Capcom finally figured out how to bring this franchise over here in a palatable way, and I can't wait to see how this take on the monster hunting evolves into the future.
4. Red Dead Redemption 2
The most impressive video game ever made. In a lot of ways, this is the game I always wanted. But maybe that meant it wasn’t always going to be a great game? As in, it doesn't always find the fun. But that might be okay, because ultimately it went for something much closer to a simulation of the wild west, rather than a video game version of it. And I doubt the wild west was ever much fun for those who lived it. If only they went all the way with those ideas though, because unfortunately the mission design feels so antithesis to the rest of its design philosophies. Squeezing the story out of those though, presents a narrative that is for the most part, a remarkable achievement for storytelling in games -- save for pointless detour that was chapter 5. Thankfully the game’s two fantastic epilogues made up for that sudden downturn, though. And Arthur Morgan as a character, wasn’t just impressively complex for a Rockstar character, but for a character in fiction in general. I spent a month of my life coming home from work and stepping into the wild west for a few hours as a different person. Nothing else in the medium has come close to immersing me so convincingly to the point where I became that character, I became a part of that world.
3. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
It is so bizarre to me that Ubisoft made this years best RPG. I was lukewarm on Origins so I didn’t expect much from its follow up, but put simply, Odyssey improves on it in every single way. I was blown away. The dialogue choices add so much to the formula. It also helps that Kassandra is the best videogame character I’ve seen in years, and her voice actress just happened to carry the best writing the series has ever had. They were clearly aiming for a Witcher 3-like experience and in my opinion they nailed it and surpassed it. Every side-quest is bespoke and well written and many of those effect the main story in seriously meaningful ways. Some of the impacts your choices make on the story and world are the most dramatic I have ever seen in a game. I am sixty hours in at this point and will probably end up putting in double that before I’m done. What's amazing though, is that it continues to surprise and impress. Forty-ish hours in it threw a story curveball at me that added an entirely new layer to the story and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
2. God of War
God of War is the one of the most perfectly paced games I have ever played. After reaching a certain point in the story where things start to open up, it just goes. Nothing could stop the Kratos train. The set pieces and story moments are woven together so tightly with its “wide-linear” world design that the whole package just seemed so effortless and seamless, despite its length. It amazes me that a game with its scale remained so focused and cohesive. The gameplay and combat flow are sublime and throwing that axe will never get old. And the story is my favorite from this year too, and that's coming from somebody with no real nostalgia for the series. God of War is an experience. I can’t remember finishing a game and being so immediately excited for the inevitable sequel.
1. The Myst Series
It wouldn’t make much sense for me to make a game of the year list in 2018 and not have the Myst series take the top spot. These games completely took over my life this past summer, driving me to fill up notebooks of mad scribblings and puzzle sketchings. As a teacher with nearly three months of summer vacation, I always find myself searching for a game to fill that empty void. I honestly expected to lose myself inside something enormous like an MMO, or something endlessly replayable like the incredible Rainbow Six: Siege. But sometime in early June when I was scrolling through my steam library looking for that something, I landed upon my untouched copy of RealMyst. I did so only out of a sudden sense of responsibility, as 2016’s The Witness had very quickly become my favorite video game of all time. I felt that I should probably go back and take a look at the place where it all started.
I’m not sure I could ever put a finger on just what hooked me so deeply; whether it was the atmosphere, the sense of mystery, the timeless puzzle design, the great soundtrack, or the charmingly complex story and lore of that world. But whatever it is, clearly these type of games just do something for me. Seriously, somebody please build a puzzle island that I can live on!
After blowing through the original Myst in just a few hours, I quickly grabbed up all the other games in the series, including the MMO (I know right? There was a Myst MMO published Ubisoft!) and I spent the next three months obsessively exploring Cyan’s wonderfully crafted Ages. Now, I will say that the quality does wain somewhat as the main series goes on, and full disclosure, I have not gotten around to Myst V yet. But what. a. summer.
Riven: The Sequel to Myst is the best of the bunch. Myst’s sequel (incase you were confused), perfected the formula early on. It deepens the story and lore, trusts the player with even larger hair-pullingly intricate puzzles and presents it all inside of a far stranger and more alien world than the original. Its art direction is some of the best I have ever seen. The pre-rendered backgrounds still look great today, if you can squint through their admittedly low resolution. It is courageously odd, sticking firmly to its world’s own bizarre rules, reminding me most of games like Morrowind or the Amanita games. That commitment pushes Riven beyond its dated click-to-move, slideshow presentation, and turns it into something truly immersive and timeless.
Myst 3 and 4 are great, but the puzzles and worlds don’t ever become quite as cohesive as the second entry. They also aim for a more cinematic style, with lots of FMV sequences with charmingly terrible acting. I’m actually surprised it never amounted to a television series or a movie, with the massive popularity of Myst at the time. Despite never playing the series back then, I couldn't help but feel hugged by delightfully warm nostalgia for their earnest cheesiness.
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst was Cyan’s tumultuous attempt at creating an MMO set within the Myst universe. From what I know, the series had previously gone through a number of rough patches, with game cancellations, publisher troubles and poor sequel sales. Uru’s development was burdened heavily by all of those factors. And honestly, the idea of a puzzle island MMO just sounded impossible to me.
Despite all of that...it's amazing. It brings all of the worlds together into a connected hub, full of loving detail, which strengthens everything's sense of place. I found myself reading one of the in-world books for hours one day, which is something I don’t even do in the Elder Scrolls games that I love. Each “Age” is more open than before, the puzzles are brilliant, and the the art style returns to the trademark weirdness of Riven. In the years since Uru’s release, its been made playable solo (which is how I experienced it) but I imagine playing with others would work similarly to today’s ARG’s, with a community all working collaboratively to find puzzle solutions. Cyan actually still supports a very small community of dedicated players that continue to live in that world. I’m looking forward to checking that version out someday, maybe after I finish Myst V and Obduction.
I love these games. I love the worlds, and the puzzles, and the stories, and the lore, and the music, and the terrible acting. The Myst series remains a cozy blanket for people that like these types of games. They are completely timeless (if you can get them to run on modern systems, but GOG recently did a great job of repackaging them for that) And if you never played the Myst games back then, like me, and love games like The Witness, Talos Principle, The Room, Antichamber or Fez I can’t recommend them enough.
And thats it! Looking forward to next year which already has some great stuff coming in the first few months that I am looking forward to, like Anthem and The Division 2. Shaping up to be the year of the looter-shooter?