The Heroes and Villains of 2018 (GOTY)

Blog version with pretty pictures and videos.

The past year was undoubtedly great for video games, so before we close ranks on the phalanx formation and prepare against the tidal wave of games coming early next year, let's sharpen our weapons and remember the heroes of 2018.

But first,

The Villains

Here are some games I played (and some I didn't) that didn't make the list, either because they were bad, or because they just weren't quite good enough.

Far Cry 5

Yeah, this thing came out in 2018. What a miserably bland experience from top to bottom, chock full of Ubisoft open world trappings and tired and meaningless side content.

Far Cry 5 didn't know what it wanted to be, at times striving for levity with monster trucks, drug trips and screaming eagles and at others trying to tell a serious story about a horrifying doomsday cult so cartoonishly evil that when they play the old "Who's the real monster" -card, you can't help but laugh and roll your eyes through the nuclear explosion.

Maybe Far Cry: New Dawn will make the existence of this game worth it, but between the two post-apocalyptic shooters coming in the first half of 2019 I'd rather put my money on Rage 2.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Calling Yakuza 6 a villain is unfair, it's a good game that just barely fell out of my top ten. If I hadn't played through four Yakuza games this year, it might've fared better, the visual improvements over it's predecessors are impressive, but the baby steps the franchise takes on the gameplay front are starting to wear on me.

I honestly can't say that the games have changed or improved much since at least Yakuza 4, so now that Kiryu's story has come to an end, it would be high time to give the series a complete makeover, but Judgment is already out in Japan and it seems that's not happening (yet).

GRIS

GRIS is one of those artsy puzzle platformers, you know the type, and like many others before it GRIS is undeniably beautiful but offers little else. In puzzles, platforming and storytelling GRIS is incredibly simple and straightforward and that's probably the intention, the player is supposed to move effortlessly through the pretty scenery and just enjoy the journey (*coughcough*), but in doing so the game forgoes any sense of discovery or moment of epiphany.

As the game progresses, you unlock such exciting new abilities as double jump and diving, but the more interesting mechanics are reserved solely for their specific areas and you'll only spend a couple of puzzles worth of time with them. The game does have collectibles, which are hidden just slightly off the beaten path behind simple platforming puzzles and getting them usually just requires a keen eye. I found that distracting, because instead of just enjoying the art I was now constantly scanning for collectibles, staring at the details rather than looking at the full splendor of the image before me.

GRIS isn't bad, but it's only three hours long and I don't know if I can recommend it at full price (17€/$ at the time of writing). If you really like what you see in promo material then maybe, but be warned: if you saw the launch trailer, you've already seen the best of what GRIS has to offer in terms of art and animation.

Games I Didn't Play

This year was somewhat of a tipping point for me. Instead of compulsively buying the biggest triple-A games out of FOMO and to be part of the conversation, I decided to skip the games that weren't particularly interesting to me, here's a few:

Detroit: Become Human
Every piece of promo material that came out of this was just so boring to me, to top it off it's a David Cagegame, so my expectations were low to begin with. I still ended up watching at least three let's plays of it, and I'm kinda glad I didn't buy this.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Oh Eidos Montreal... What happened? I guess Square Enix isn't known for making the best decisions these days, so it should be no surprise that when Deus Ex: Mankind Divided didn't set the world on fire they'd be sent off to the soulless sequel -mines to hammer out another chunk of bland. But I guess I didn't play this, so who am I to judge. Although it really did seem like everyone completely forgot about this game as soon as it released.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey
When details about Odyssey started to come out, I said that I wouldn't buy this without a hefty discount and I've stuck to my guns. Origins just barely made it to my top 10 last year and this just seemed like more of that, another Ubisoft everygame with icon barf and insane amounts of padding. I watched some people stream this and at least the side quests seemed better, so if I eventually end up playing this, maybe I'll actually enjoy it.

Red Dead Redemption 2
Here's the big one. When the fervor was at it's peak, I almost broke and bought this, even though I've had a miserable time with Red Dead Redemption and most other Rockstar games I've played. Since then I've seen the narrative change, especially around these parts of the internet, and it sounds like RDR2 has a lot of the same problems that made me hate the previous game. I'll play it eventually, maybe when it comes out on PC or is on sale.

So there's the dirty laundry, triple-A still mostly dominated my top 10, but there's a couple of slightly smaller budget games that made the cut. Here we go:

The Heroes

List items

  • You. can't. beat. 450. hours. played.

    Monster Hunter: World is the first Monster Hunter game I've played and I almost skipped on this one too, the beta didn't convince me, the game felt very restrictive and fighting all the cool monsters was like trying to chop down a tree with a baguette. But nothing else was out at the end of January so I decided to go for it. And go for it I did! For a moment in February I ate, slept and breathed Monster Hunter. I had 250 hours played two and a half weeks after release. My hands were sore, SORE I SAY!

    Since I don't have prior experience with the franchise, I can't really talk about the accessibility improvements the game has over it's predecessors, but I can say that I didn't really experience any weird menu shenanigans and the game felt pretty streamlined, so there's that. I should probably also mention that I didn't play multiplayer with friends, in fact I didn't play a second of multiplayer in general until I was about 400 hours in, because I needed to for some trophies.

    To those that somehow don't know what Monster Hunter is about, it's a game where you hunt monsters and make hats out of their body parts, that's it. The game has a number of different weapons you can use and they all have varying degrees of depth to them.

    I started off with the Insect Glaive, since it looked the coolest, and ended up playing through the entirety of the story with just that weapon. After the story I used Bow to grind Hunter Rank and then Longsword for the remainder of my trophy hunting and a lot of the gem grind. I think the Insect Glaive is my favourite out of those three, it has that added level of depth with the Kinsect mechanics and the maneuverability makes it very fun to use. The Bow and Longsword were good too, but you kinda just get tired of doing the same combos over and over again.

    Monster Hunter has been polished over the course of numerous games, and as a result the gameplay is truly phenomenal. You can probably guess why I like Monster Hunter: World so much. That's right! The numbers, they go up! That's all this game is and it's very successful in chaining you from armor piece to armor piece and weapon to weapon. There's always something to do and work towards, always a way to make your build better.

    Aside the nonexisting story, the only knock I have against Monster Hunter: World is the time limited events. I don't like it when games force a schedule on me, I want to play the content on my own terms and without having to worry about an event overlapping another release (happened with Kulve Taroth and God of War).

    I actually haven't play MHW since July, that's when I got the platinum and haven't really felt compelled to go back yet. I'll go back for the Iceborne expansion no doubt, and between now and then I might even pick the game up on PC and play through it again.

  • I have a confession, I don't like the old God of War games very much, don't really care for Kratos either, crazy right? But this? This here's the shit.

    I think it's the Norse setting that does it, it's so much more interesting to me than ancient Greece. Must be because I'm Finnish or something, gotta love evergreen trees and old cabins in the middle of nowhere. I really hope they don't turn this great start into a dumbass Kratos World Tour, keep it close to Norse, please.

    Why didn't Jeremy Davies get nominated at the Game Awards? I mean, Christopher Judge was good, but come ooon, Davies was amazing. When his character first appeared I didn't know whether to be intimidated or laugh at his scrawny ass and Jack Sparrow-esque demeanor. It was pretty haunting, really.

    By now you've probably noticed that previous paragraph was just random things that came to my mind while thinking about what to say about this game. Thinking back to God of War I find it hard to collect my thoughts about it. Everything about it is so good but there's a little bit of bad in most aspects as well. The cinematic storytelling is very impressive but the no-camera-cuts thing is in parts also a bit of a detriment on account of the very obviously hidden loading screens. The gameplay is fantastic but has minor issues with the camera, long animations and lack of i-frames while parrying. The world is visually very well designed and is good-to-look-at but some of the dungeons are a bit dull to navigate.

    Though I don't think I need to convince anyone of the quality of product that God of War is, it's fucking good, let's leave it at that.

  • When I was a kid, I used to play Spider-Man 2 on the GameCube and just aimlessly swing around New York for hours. Nowadays (and maybe even back then) when playing games I get instantly bored if I don't have a goal to work towards or the numbers aren't going up, but Insomniac's Spider-Man brought back a little bit of that carefree joy of gaming. I was having so much fun just swinging and parkouring around the city that sometimes I'd find myself on one end of the map, having blown past the objective marker ages ago.

    Traversal in Sony's Spider-Man is so fucking good, it works smooth as butter, you swing from actual buildings, the sense of momentum when swinging out of a dive is great and there's a bazillion different animations, hell, I can think of like three different ways Spidey can vault through a fire escape.

    The combat is Arkham-like, but more fast-paced and you can be more mobile. It plays well, I can't really call it better or worse than the Arkham games, though I've found Spider-Man to definitely be more challenging, especially on the harder difficulties.

    The story of John Kodera's Spider-Man is pretty much standard fare superhero material, but I'm glad they were able to subvert my expectations a little bit towards the end of the game, even though some of the "twists" were incredibly obvious. They also set up some exciting stuff for the inevitable sequel. Like many others, I didn't particurarly care about the playable sections as Mary Jane and Miles, it was cool to be able to play as these characters, but I would've preferred just pure character development and story instead of stealth sections.

    The dialogue was well written, the conversations feel natural, the quips are funny and there's some good banter going on. Yuri Lowenthal is probably my favourite voice actor, so it was really fun to hear him as Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Some people have said that he doesn't really fit the role of Peter or that the character in general isn't what they're used to since he's no longer working at the Daily Bugle and isn't as young. But the last time I read the comics he was working as a science teacher and the character was pretty close to this (slightly) more composed version of Peter we see in the game, so it all clicked for me from the get-go... Aaaand now I've googled which volume that was and found out it's been nearly 20 years and oh god.

    The moral of the story is this: don't listen to Dan Ryckert. The quips are good and Yuri Lowenthal's Spider-Man is fantastic.

  • The last time I played Tetris was over ten years ago. Kid me played it a couple of times, deemed it boring and moved on, and I didn't really give Tetris a moment of thought since then. Until Tetris Effect.

    So naturally I was garbage at Tetris, and still am, but I gritted my teeth and struggled through the "campaign" on the lowest difficulty. Luckily Tetris Effect isn't just about cold blooded performance, but mostly it's about enjoying the audiovisual splendor of particle effects and beautiful music coming together to form a relaxing and, at times, a heart pounding experience few might've thought was possible with Tetris.

    Eventually I got better, being able to complete the Journey mode on Normal difficulty and even making glances at Expert. The game has time limited time weekend events that let you unlock special Avatars, visible to other players as spectral creatures floating around a globe in the Effect mode menu. I commend them for trying to include meaningful player progression to Tetris, but player avatars don't do much for me. At level 50 you do unlock an old school Tetris level and that was pretty fun.

    There isn't much more that I can really say about Tetris Effect, because part of it is "just" Tetris and the other part you'd have to see and hear yourself.

  • I wasn't the biggest fan of Hitman (2016). After watching so much Giant Bomb #content of it, every time I played it I felt like I wasn't getting much out of it. The duders got up to all kinds of hijinks, but I've never been one to laugh at ragdoll physics or big explosions or fun, fun's not my kinda thing. I decided to give Hitman 2 a go anyway, this time playing with the seriousness a straight-faced murder simulator like this deserves, NO FUN ALLOWED IN MY HITMAN, DAMMIT!

    And what I found was pretty fun. It's a well-crafted clockwork of NPC routines that tickles my stealth sensibilities and perfectionism.

    When compared to the previous game, Hitman 2 doesn't really improve or change much, but that's okay! Even though Hitman 2 is more like a map pack and less like a full-blown sequel, that's really all they needed for now.

    So much of this game is about interactions with NPC's and the opportunities set up in each map. A lot of your playtime is spent just exploring and observing, learning the routes of NPC's and spotting the points of vulnerability you could exploit.... and then waiting... a lot of waiting... aaany minute now.... The NPC's stil take sooo long to get from place to place even though they've sped that up quite a bit.

    So that's how I went into this, full Silent Assassin Suit Only stupidity, and I had a much better time than with Hitman (2016), so much so that by now I've spent 150 hours with the game and gotten every achievement. There's something so satisfying when you nail the timings on your carefully laid plan and everything falls into place.

  • Praised be Vinny Caravella, the lord and savior of everything Witcher-related, please Quick Look this game because I don't think many people know about it kthxbai.

    For what feels like months I got emails from CD Projekt Red talking presumably about the impending release of Thronebreaker, but I paid no heed to them, assuming it's just a Hearthstone-like short singleplayer expansion released at the same time as a big update to Gwent. So when release day rolled around and I could finally be arsed to take a look at some gameplay I was in for a quite a shock I was! This here's a standalone 30-hour RPG, where conflicts just happen to be solved with Gwent.

    The story is about Meve, the Queen of Lyria and Rivia, who is driven into exile when her kingdom is taken fr-- Waaaait a minute! I've heard this song and dance before! Three games with a very similar plot in one year, and they're all on this list! That's a funny coincidence, huh? Anyway, yeah, Meve needs to get her kingdom back and she embarks on an adventure that takes her through numerous familiar locations from the world of the Witcher. Along your journey you meet colorful characters who might join your band if you play your ca-... Pick the correct dialogue choices and don't ignore Eyck because it really seemed like hewouldcomebackatsomepointandAAARGH. You can converse with these characters in the mess tent of your military encampent, but they're also represented by cards, cards that you can use in Gwent.

    The gameplay is part isometric RPG, part card game. A good chunk of your time you'll be walking around the world collecting resources and talking to villagers and other people you come across, some of whom might give you side quests. The remaining chunk you'll be completing these side quests by playing Gwent. But CDPR has done some thinking and come to the conclusion that having full sized Gwent matches might make this a game a bit boring and long, so to combat that, most proper matches are shortened to just one round. In addition there are a lot of puzzles, most of which are refreshingly inventive and barely have anything to do with Gwent.

    For example, in one part of the game a character needs to sneak in somewhere and so the board is filled with cards representing empty hallways, your character starts at the top of the screen and needs to avoid guards that patrol along these hallways while making their way to the bottom. You move the character with your hero power and every time you move the character the guards move one space to the left or right.

    There are also a number of puzzles that teach you useful mechanics and can help understand some of the synergies your cards have.

    Gwent is a known quantity at this point, I like it, but some don't, these puzzles however I thought were great and a much needed break from the regular game.

    In the RPG portion of the game you make choices in key points of the story, some of these choices can make characters leave your group and with them goes their card, so your choices have consequences on the gameplay as well. The choices themselves are very Witcher-esque, you're really choosing between two evils every time. The writing in general is stellar in a way we're used to with Witcher games.

    The soundtrack is also great.

    Boy howdy that's a lot of text about a Gwent RPG! It's good, play it.

  • Praised be Vinny Caravella, the lord and savior of everything mech-related, for Quick Looking this game and bringing it to my attention.

    BattleTech is a mech game with turn based combat where you assume the role of the commander of a ragtag mercenary company, the story is about helping some ousted leader get back their space empire or some such.

    Look, it doesn't matter alright? There's rich backstory here and an already existing universe filled with complex political workings and backstabbery, since BattleTech is quite a long running franchise, but I just wanna blow up some 'mechs.

    As the commander, the player's job is to ensure the company stays afloat financially, so turn-based combat isn't all there is. You accept contracts from people on all sides of every fence and get to negotiate the terms, you can favor money in order to meet the monthly upkeep cost of your company or salvage which you can use to upgrade your 'mechs. Designing and upgrading your 'mechs' loadouts is pretty in-depth and you have to balance the weight restrictions of a 'mech with weaponry and the amount of armor you slap on top. And don't forget the heat sinks! That's a cockpit, not a sauna!

    The game was pretty challenging in the early goings, but as I got more familiar with the mechanics and decided on what kind of a lance I wanted to use, it got easier and easier every mission. By the end of the story I was dropping with 385 tons of destruction, three 100-ton absolute units and an 85-ton missile boat. At that point any concept of difficulty was already out the window and I was laughing all the way between the bank and the battlefield and back.

    BattleTech is published by Paradox Interactive, so naturally we can expect a slew of expansions, the first of which is already out. Flashpoint introduces some more impactful decision making than what the base game has, you'll make some moral decision on the contracts you accept and naturally these decision will affect your pay and your reputation with many of the factions in the game. There're also three new mechs, but they suck so whatever.

    Flashpoint isn't a fantastic expansion and playing through it a week or so ago also reminded me of some of the issues the game has; these missions always follow the same pattern. There are only a handful of templates for missions ranging from escort to assassination to base defending and everything in between, before long you start to see the pattern and it gets pretty monotone from there. And after 134 hours it's really hard to act surprised when a mission that was supposed to be a milk run goes tits up for the umpteenth time. There are always reinforcments.

    I don't know if you've noticed by now, but I really like it when the numbers go up and the numbers definitely go up in this one.

  • Did you know that in laboratory conditions an average person blinks about 10 times per minute? So not blinking for 3-5 minutes at a time for about 10 hours a day is probably not good for your eyes, huh?

    Anyway, this is one of those Persona rhythm games, if you want deets on the gameplay you can watch the quick look of one of those other Persona rhythm games, I'm just gonna do my thing over here.

    Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight is kind of a stand-in for the three games that released at once (Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight and the PS4 version of Persona 4: Dancing All Night in addition to this). I picked P3D, because I liked this soundtrack more than P5D's... I think... Look, I don't know, maybe P3D's soundtrack was just fresher because I haven't listened to that OST very much. Both P3D and P5D have some pretty bad remixes and honestly the real catch here is P4D, that soundtrack rules and the game is better to boot.

    P3D probably shouldn't be on this list and it definitely shouldn't be this high. The writing was on the wall since before the Japanese release; P3D and P5D are kind of half-hearted cash grabs in what I'm sure is only the opening salvo of spin-offs aimed to milk every yen out of the growing popularity of the franchise. P4D is just a better game than either of these, there was more effort put into the choreography and the videos that play during songs, you buy your outfits with ingame currency you earn by playing (instead of just randomly unlocking them by having conversations with the characters), and there's a story mode. P4D's story mode isn't great, it's kinda boring and too long, but at least it's something. Meanwhile in P5D one of the songs is just a video of the end credits of Persona 5... for fucks sake.

    That being said! I did play all three of these games a lot and got pretty good at it, good enough to play on the hardest difficulty. And it's pretty amazing how you can improve a lot in a short span of time. All Night difficulty seemed impossible when starting off, but in about a week I could get full combos in most of the songs in P4D and was often amazed by the the things my fingers were doing, most of the time it really felt like muscle memory was taking the wheel and I was just a spectator.

    These are good games for fans of Persona and rhythm games, but I can't recommend them to anyone else.

  • A late arrival to my top 10, Mutant Year Zero wasn't on my radar at all but I saw someone stream this and was instantly infatuated by the world and atmosphere.

    Mutant Year Zero is set in a post-apocalyptic Sweden, humanity has been wiped out by disease and nuclear war and what remains of sentient life are mutants and ghouls. Sounds pretty typical and boring, but stick with me. Mutants have gathered into a settlement called the Ark and some go on supply runs gathering resources to keep the Ark going. Two such mutants are Dux, a sassy duck, and Bormin, an angry boar, so we already have a leg up on a lot of similar fiction, 'cause at least these characters look interesting.

    I won't go into details on how the gameplay works, you're better off watching the quick look, but it's an interesting mix of stealth and turn-based combat. And it works pretty well, in most areas you can pick off the majority of enemies in stealth to even the odds and then trigger combat to mow down the enemies that are grouped close together.

    I played on Hard because it was the middle difficulty, thinking that it would match what Normal is in most games... Nah, it was an uphill battle from the word go, and even though I tried my damndest to break the player progression curve, I just couldn't until about three quarters of the way through. And even then the game was still kinda difficult.

    Like some people have said, the game does play a lot like a puzzle, but a very malleable puzzle at that, at points I got the feeling that I was abusing mechanics in a way that wasn't intended. Typically you only get one turn to take an enemy out in stealth before they alert basically the entire map, but with some abilities and equipment you can whale on enemies to your heart's content. Mechanical enemies turned into a complete joke towards the end of the game because a variety of EMP equipment and abilities allow you to keep them stunned while you whittle them down. The epitome of this was when I encountered a level 70 boss type robot that Dux warned about fighting against... One EMP grenade and a barrage of crits later the thing was dead.

    In the world of the game the human race is referred to as "the Ancients" and you can find "artifacts" that we've left behind, like a fruit ripeness meter; it has a fruit logo on the back and a battery indicator on the front, oh and it might have a secondary function of playing music, but that's only a myth.

    The game has fun with storytelling and it's not always up it's own ass about the grimness of the post-apocalypse, there's some of that too (mostly in the form of Dux whining and wanting to go home) but Mutant Year Zero feels kinda fresh when compared to one shitshow with a similar setting that released recently.

    Also, big ups for having the game be set in the Nordics. Could've done better than Sweden, but I'll take it.

  • Let our nations be joined for the sake of the world... Let the banners of war ne'er again be unfurled... United we stand, as one single land!

    Ni no Kuni II is full of rhymes, puns and all around adorableness, which is by far it's greatest strength. You might think that if the quality of the localization and worldbuilding are the merits you walk away with, the game can't be very good, but that's where you're... wrong? Okay look, Yakuza 6 was originally in the number 10 slot for me, but after taking ten seconds to think really hard about it, I decided that Ni no Kuni II deserved it more.

    This game improves upon the series' previous installment in many different aspects, most importantly the combat. The last game, Wrath of the White Witch, had one of those abominable combinations of turn-based and real-time combat and I have to commend Level-5 for getting the hell away from that. The new combat system plays a lot more like a hack and slash, you have your two buttons for attack and one for dodge with a smattering of special abilities ranging from magic to gadgets, depending on which party member you're controlling.

    The story is about Evan, a young king exiled from his kingdom as a result of a coup, he's looking to start a whole new kingdom so to go along with that we now have a kingdom building minigame where you build different shops for citizens to run, the shops in turn unlock different benefits like weapon and armor upgrades and the whole thing works basically like an idle game. Citizens are unlocked through errand quests, which is probably my least favourite aspect of the game, but the numbers go up so you can't complain, right?

    There's also a bit more strategic combat mechanic where you command groups of soldiers in an overhead view and take over enemy bases. There's really not much to say about it, there's rock-paper-scissors system where you rotate troops to the one that's strong against the group of enemy you're facing, and you do this over and over again through the scenario.

    The story is pretty short and didn't leave much of an impression on me, but like I mentioned earlier, the localization and worldbuilding is where Ni no Kuni II shines. The overworld map has a really cool tilt-shift effect on it which makes everything look like a miniature and it works really well. In the same vain the whole game is very twee, it's filled with anthropomorphic animal characters and adorable creatures called higgledies that help you on your quest. Like Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, the puns and rhymes are in full swing here and I'll be damned if I wasn't repeating along or reading them out loud before long.

    Ni no Kuni II is a very feel-good game, it's not exceptional in any aspect except the localization, but good in most and more importantly it's a strong follow-up to a pretty bad previous installment.