When Ten Isn't Enough: My Top Fifteen Games of 2018

This was one of those years I think will go down in history as one of the best years for video game releases. Looking back over the year, it was an embarrassment of riches. I personally had the good fortune of playing a lot of the great games that came out this year, but even still I feel like I missed out on some true gems like Celeste, Moss, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Return of the Obra Dinn. Then again, maybe that's a good thing for me because I can only imagine trying to put together a list of my favorite games of the year with even more great games added!

I do want to mention that although they didn't rank in my Top Fifteen, there are some games I enjoyed a lot and am glad I played. Those include Yakuza Kiwami 2, WarioWare Gold, Kirby: Star Allies, Octopath Traveler, Valkyria Chronicles 4, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, Mega Man 11, Picross S2, and Pianista. I even found myself enjoying Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, a franchise and game type I'm not usually into. I also want to mention that though I enjoyed Red Dead Redemption 2 and think it's exceptionally well made, it's just not that much fun for me, personally.

All that said, allow me to present my Top Fifteen Games of 2018!

List items

  • I've been hunting since Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, but I always felt there was a ton of esoteric, unreasonably complex systems in the games. I also have to admit that the 3DS was just never a satisfactory place for a game about hunting huge impressive monsters, in my opinion.

    Monster Hunter World solved essentially all of my issues with the past Monster Hunter games while opening the game up to a broader audience and popularizing a series worldwide that many people in the West had long dismissed. The game is so beautiful, the AI so impressive, and the gameplay still requires the skill and finesse the old games do but without a lot of the finicky parts.

    I sunk 160 hours into Monster Hunter World this year, easily making it one of my most played games of all time. Just thinking about it makes me wish I was playing it again right now. I am certainly interested in the expansion pack slated for a late 2019 release and including G-rank.

  • I purchased Dead Cells after seeing it played by the Giant Bomb crew and being interested in the aesthetics and quick run-based gameplay. I ended up getting it for Nintendo Switch and it quickly became an obsession.

    Dead Cells is probably the most fun I've had with a side-scrolling action game in a very long time. I'm not a huge roguelike fan, but Dead Cells offers variety through the randomized weapon loadouts that organically form in each run. Yes, the game is very difficult and while that's not usually something I find appealing, I think the fact that there's a progression system and the fact that I could feel myself getting better through practice helped keep me deeply interested for many, many hours.

  • I was never a fan of the past God of War games, so for 2018's God of War to grab me the way it did was quite an accomplishment. Of course, the game is far more focused on the narrative and role playing elements than the past God of War games, and that's certainly the type of game I tend to gravitate toward. However, I'm a long-time action game fan and God of War's Leviathan Axe (and later weapons) and combat systems really are deep and interesting enough to make every fight fun.

    I never thought I'd say this, but the combination of over-the-top action with an engrossing narrative and well developed characters kept me going through the entirety of God of War. Thinking about it, there are some endgame fights I didn't get around to that I still want to go back and finish, which is something I only tend to do with games I really like.

  • Hitman (2016) was easily one of my favorite games of the past ten years. Hitman 2 is literally more of the same with a couple of nice gameplay refinements, and that's a very good thing. The new maps are huge and impressive, visiting locations ranging from a busy Miami racetrack to small town America to a secret island party base filled with the world's "elite".

    I don't want to spoil the last mission past that except to say that Hitman 2's story goes places the previous one didn't, and somehow manages to make a story I have to admit I never cared about before interesting enough to make me want more. The return of Elusive Targets, Escalation Contracts, and Custom Contracts are all very welcome. I'm also excited to see what more they add as new DLC comes out over the coming months. The inclusion of all the Hitman (2016) content if you own it already is icing on the cake.

  • The West has been blessed with four Yakuza game releases on PS4 over the past two years. This started with the fantastic Yakuza 0 early last year and then Yakuza Kiwami (a remake of the first game) later in 2017. Yakuza 6, the final game in the series, released this year and represented the end of the now 7-game arc of Kiryu Kazuma. Yakuza 6 certainly was a Yakuza game through and through, but many of the systems seemed streamlined and refined from the past games to the game's benefit. The combat system was simplified from the complex system in Yakuza 0, and I think it's to the game's benefit. The story was heart-wrenching and, of course, the game included a lot of fun side stories and side content. Special mention goes out to the side content where you just go to a bar and drink with your buddies.

    I also think it's important to point out that I had a bit of a personal connection to Yakuza 6 in that I lived in Hiroshima for some time until very recently. The Yakuza games bounce between various locales (though they seem to always include Yakuza's version of Tokyo's Kabuki-cho called Kamuro-cho), and this was the first time it went to Hiroshima. I felt that Yakuza 6's rendition of Onomichi was so accurate and really carried the feel of being in Hiroshima, a city that's characterized by older folks, working class people, and a slower pace than I think many people imagine when they think of Japan.

    Yakuza 0 still holds a special place in my heart, but Yakuza 6 is a great game and one of my favorites of 2018.

  • First off, everyone is here. Second off, while I've always liked Smash Bros. games, I was never a superfan of the series. You know what, though? They really nailed it with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The sheer amount of things to do in this game is exceptional. I've yet to finish the World of Light after almost twenty hours in it, but I'm still having fun in the unique fights sprinkled throughout it. I've been going through Classic mode for each character as well, which is a completely custom campaign for every single character. This content has gotten me interested in actually learning the finer points of playing Smash so that I'm not just mashing buttons anymore--I'm actually improving. It's just tons of fun.

  • Marvel's Spider-Man was a much anticipated return of the webslinger to video games and the game delivered exactly what I was looking for. Namely: Fun web-swinging in a miniature New York City, wise-cracking from Peter Parker, and fun engagements with many of Spider-Man's classic enemies. What I did not expect was a combat and gadgets system that was deeply engaging, and that's really what elevated Marvel's Spider-Man above the average open world game. I still mean to go back and finish cleaning up the streets of Marvel's New York City. I just wish the DLC add-ons had been as good as the rest of the game, as I've heard they're just so-so.

  • In many ways, 2018 was a big return to the fighting game genre for me between Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and SOULCALIBUR VI. The original Soulcalibur on the Sega DreamCast was easily one of my favorite games of the past two decades, but since then I had largely fallen off fighting games. SOULCALIBUR VI brought me back by including all the things I loved about that old game and a lot of new elements that keep me coming back. I found myself interested in learning the mechanics of the new game and actually trying to improve, whereas my past playing fighting games was largely button mashing. SOULCALIBUR VI has so much personality, it would be hard to dislike it. Also, shout out to the still-awesome character creator that enabled me to create a hyperaccurate rendition of The Pest.

  • I was not a big mobile game player. I was not a big gacha game player. I had tried them in the past but they never really grabbed me. They often felt like they were just trying to drain money out of me instead of having an equitable rewards system. Dragalia Lost managed to straddle the line at exactly the right point, being rewarding without trying to suck money out of me, but remaining challenging to the point of compelling me to stick with it and actually buy into it (full disclosure: I've spent a whopping $17 total on it after 3 months of daily play). I admit that my initial interest was to see what this strange game Nintendo was releasing on phones was all about, but it probably shouldn't be a surprise that CyGames, the maker of Granblue Fantasy, would nail it with a gacha-style phone RPG.

    Dragalia Lost is a bite-size Diablo-style ARPG with a surprisingly strong narrative, attractive and fun characters, and a satisfying gameplay loop. The inclusion of a big campaign helped keep my interest, but they've also maintained an almost constant feed of events and new content since its launch that have kept me coming back. I'm not sure how long I'll be playing Dragalia Lost, but I don't see myself falling off any time soon.

  • This was the year I finally bought into VR, picking up the Skyrim PSVR bundle when it was cheap earlier in the year. While I've generally enjoyed all of the games I've played on PSVR, with the exception of Skyrim they all felt rather like novelties. Astro Bot Rescue Mission represents the first VR game I played that took a genre I know and love (3D platformers) and translated it to VR in a way that not only made it work, but improved upon it. Without VR, Astro Bot Rescue Mission would have been a good 3D platformer but not anything to really write home about. But being immersed in that world, having to look around with your head rather than just the right analog stick to find all the goodies, and being able to play in what looks like a gorgeous diorama really elevated it to becoming one of my favorite games of the year.

  • I've got over 85 hours in Assassin's Creed Odyssey at this point, putting it second only to Monster Hunter World for this year. It was the world of Ancient Greece and the character of Kassandra that kept me going through completing the story and many of the side quests and content. In a lot of ways it's just more of what we got in AC Origins last year, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, I greatly enjoyed that game. But it's also just got some really impressive moments. Not to mention at least one complete mindfuck and a lot of silly side quests. I would also add that there are some parts where it fell apart in the side quests, and that's why despite enjoying it, it's not higher on my list for this year. Regardless, I clearly liked it a lot.

  • Earlier this year, I put down Dragon Quest XI after about a dozen hours or less because I just found it boring. I thought maybe it was just that such a traditional JRPG was no longer able to hold my attention. Well, I went back to it recently and powered through that early part of the game and now I'm hooked. It really is a throw-back, but it's also polished and beautiful and has some great characters and moments. I'm still early in the game, but I'm confident it's one of my favorite games of 2018 even still. I can't wait to play more and see it through.

  • Tetris Effect accomplishes its stated goal of putting you into a particular mental state. I can use it to chill out, and I can use it to sweat. There are many releases of Tetris, and Tetris Effect is certainly one of the best ones. The music and visuals are second-to-none and it delivers a great experience in VR to boot.

  • The conceit of Donut County is very straightforward: you have a hole, you move that hole under things to drop them in, the hole grows, and you eventually suck everything in the area down into the abyss. While this concept is fun by itself, it's the level design, the aesthetics, and the personality around them that elevate Donut County from just a good idea to a great game. I think the comparisons to one of my favorite all-time games, Katamari Damacy, are astute. And one other thing--I appreciate that it's a few hours experience! Donut County will be a game I come back to over the years.

    Also, without a doubt, BK for best character of the year. Hurl me into a dumpster.

  • After a lot of thought, I decided to add one final game to my list to make it a full 15: BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle. Here are some truths: I was never into anime fighters. I was never into BlazBlue. I didn't even know what BlazBlue was (I thought it was a card game or something?). So here I was, watching some people play BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle and saying to myself, "I want to play this." It's as complex as you might expect, yet somehow BBTAG is still accessible. It has tutorials galore and I really did suffer through them, training how to play it. It's a lot of fun and I think it's my gateway into anime fighters. Like I said, this is the year I got back into fighters, and BBTAG is certainly a major reason why. Also, it doesn't hurt that it has best girls Chie and Yukiko in it.