2018 Game of the Year

2018 has been a weird year for me, personally. It’s been a year full of transitions and stress, both good and bad. Video games then slotted themselves into my life in a very specific way; stress relief. You know how certain games aim for a specific response from the player? Some aim for excitement, horror, thrills, challenge, and whatnot. I needed to zone out with my games this year. My top 10 best reflects the games that allowed for stress reduction in a year full of stress.

But first, some arbitrary awards because I also played these games.

Best Game I’d Probably Play A Bunch in a Less Stress-Filled Year

Hitman 2

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I really enjoyed the first Hitman. Well, the first of this new series. Which was the first Hitman I ever played. It was fun playing in a gigantic puzzle box and deciding how I wanted to solve each minor puzzle on the way to the biggest puzzle of all, the assassination. Hitman 2, of the first two levels I’ve played, is more of that. Which is fine. I suppose there’s something to be said for wanting a greater change to the structure of the first game rather than the refinement that Hitman 2 seems to be. But also, this is only the second of this structure, and the refinements are good, so I guess it’s easier to look past the similarities. The problem being it was 2018 when the game came out and I didn’t have the mental capacity to attack these puzzles the ways that I wanted to. I really enjoyed what I played. It’s just that I couldn’t give this game the energy or attention it would need to give it a fair shake. So, it’s been put on hold until my brain feels up to it.

Best Game That Allowed Me to Use a Silly Piece of New Hardware

Skies of Arcadia: Legends

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Skies of Arcadia: Legends might be one of my all-time favorite games. I’m a sucker for light-hearted and colorful JRPGs and SoA is one of the best versions of that concept. The game has more systems to it then you might imagine at first blush. Exploration is encouraged so that you can make discoveries for cash rewards, bounties liter the overworld, there are quite a few side quests, and the mainline quest has a lot of variety, considering the genre. The new, completely unnecessary hardware I bought was a component to HDMI upscaler. Essentially, it takes a component signal and converts it to your choice of a 720p, 1080i, 1080p, or 4K/30 signal via HDMI. So, I played this Gamecube game through my Wii, using the Wii’s component cables to a converter, and upscaled to a 1080p signal. It looked good and was mostly lag-free! It isn’t as good as using an emulator, I imagine, but the signal was crisp, mostly noise free, and honestly I didn’t discern any lag. It was also all the way unnecessary and probably a waste of money. But, oh well. It was a nice way to replay this great game.

Best Forever Game

Nioh

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I bought the Nioh Complete Edition when it was on sale some amount of time after it was released. I don’t even remember anymore. What the game has turned into is the game I play when I have a backlog of podcasts and I need to relax. It’s maybe a bit bizarre but these Souls-like games are great for relaxation for me. They are certainly hard, but I know the loop so well, and the flow of combat, that I’m not even all that bothered by the difficulty. I just do runs repeatedly. Plus, Nioh is a great game that really stands out in the Souls-ish genre. The combat feels so good. It has the speed of something like Bloodborne but the variety in combat of something like Dark Souls, but even more so. All the weapon types feel so distinct. Also, the game seems to go on forever. Which I’m all for. I think I’ll probably keep playing this game until the new consoles come out.

10: Shadow of the Tomb Raider

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So, I just recently bought this game when it was on sale for the PS4. I really liked the first reboot game in this series but found Rise to be a bit bland. I enjoyed it while I played it but all memory of it left my mind after I beat it. Shadow is quite different. The structure, on the surface, is very similar to the two other games. It’s a Metroid-style action adventure game, as were the first two. But the tone and pacing of Shadow lends it a different feel. It’s a slower and quieter game (until it isn’t but more on that later). I enjoyed feeling placed in the world they created, especially when Lara was in the middle of a jungle or cave. It all just felt more grounded and alive than the first two games. The improvements in stealth were also welcome but the game really de-emphasizes the role of combat, which I appreciated. I enjoyed exploring in this game and didn’t really want to fight. Which meant that when fighting happened, especially when it got over the top and almost roller-coaster like in pace (and linearity) I enjoyed the game less. There are more problems to be sure. I didn’t care for the story, though Lara’s voice actress did an amazing job. I appreciated what they were trying to accomplish by emphasizing culture within the towns and locations Lara visited but also it felt too surface-level and superficial to feel like much more than set-dressing, which I’m not so sure it’s good to emphasize culture if you ultimately give it short shrift. All that said, I enjoyed my time with the game despite its flaws.

9: Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze (Switch)

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I never owned a Wii U so this was my chance to play this game. Plus, it’s basically a new game, right? I really enjoyed this game. I had played the first Retro Donkey Kong on the Wii, which I also enjoyed, and this game is more of the same. It’s a hard platformer, so considering the stress mentioned above, I played it in small chunks. But the controls are tight, the level design is fun, and it’s really thrilling when you pull a huge and difficult platforming segment off.

8: Octopath Traveler

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So, as I mentioned with Skies of Arcadia, I’m a sucker for JRPGs. Especially a classic styled JRPG. Octopath Traveler then should be right up my alley and for the most part it is. The combat system is really, really good. The art design is standard for the genre, but the effects laid over the top of it is quite the trick and a sight to behold the first time you experience it. Some of the stories are also quite good, especially Primrose’s. But the disjointed nature of the stories and the lack of a through-line made it a bit difficult for me to stay with it to the end. That said, it’s a great JRPG that I’m happy I played.

7: Yakuza 6

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Like many of you, I’d imagine, my first experience with Yakuza was through GB’s playthrough of Yakuza 0. I went straight from that to Kiwami, which I really liked, and from that game to Yakuza 6. The improvements to the engine and systems in Yakuza 6 make for a much more realized and complete feeling world. The mostly seamless movement throughout the game’s locations adds a lot to the games sense of place. The combat is also a nice, simplified improvement that continues to feel brutal. I enjoyed the story well enough, though it didn’t quite grab me like 0 and Kiwami 1 did. But the game’s style, atmosphere, and mechanics are great to experience.

6: Valkyria Chronicles 4

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I played through VC 1 on the PS3 originally, really enjoyed it, and did nothing with that series until this game came out. I had no idea what to expect. It turns out the 4th game is much like the 1st game but refined. Which is fine for me because that first game is still a pretty singular experience in video games. Plus, the refinements, like new classes and improvements to the upgrade system, are welcomed and solid. The story is, well, not great. It tries for something grand and emotional which I can appreciate. But, yeah, it didn’t work for me. But, whatever. The gameplay is a ton of fun.

5: Spyro: Reignited Trilogy

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I never played this game when I was younger, so this was my first real experience with the game. I had bought the Crash remakes, which I had played those games when I was younger, but found the gameplay design now that I'm older (breaking all the boxes and getting to the end of the level) not the most satisfying anymore. So, I was a bit worried about picking up this game. However, hearing all the praise I thought I’d give it a shot. Spyro is an exploration-based platformer and that model lends itself much better to modern gaming sensibilities (or at least mine). It’s a light and breezy game for sure. There is challenge, but it’s relegated to 100% the game. But I didn’t really need challenge from the game. I needed a good-looking game that was fun to explore and Spyro has both in spades.

4: Red Dead Redemption 2

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I love Arthur. He’s my favorite video game protagonist currently. He is such a well realized and layered character that is both likeable and, in many ways, laudable but also monstrous. That sort of complexity is not what I was expecting from this game. I keep trying to like Rockstar games because I really liked GTA 4 at the time. But, RDR 1 and GTA 5 didn’t give me that same experience. In fact, I sort of hated GTA 5 despite beating it. I disliked the writing so much, found the mission design so dull, that no amount of world building could have saved it for me. But RDR 2, for the most part (because some old Rockstar-ness still had to creep in), is very well written, well realized, and fully featured story, world, and design that is amazing to behold. The systems are absurd in their complexity, both in good and bad ways. They are too complicated for the controller which can lead to a messy experience but also, it’s pretty nuts they went as deep down this systems rabbit hole as they did. That’s RDR 2 in a nutshell; the good that makes this game stand out is also part of its downfall. It’s too complex, impacting the gameplay, but also, it’s cool that it’s so complex. The writing is extremely good but also when it isn’t good it stands out that much more. The world is extremely well realized but when it breaks my God does it break. But I really appreciate what they went for and mostly succeeded in. The game’s biggest problem of all, for me, is its mission design. It’s too repetitive and too much like their other open world games. How many shoot outs can a game have? RDR 2 aims to find out. But, for its many faults, RDR 2 was also one of the most memorable games I’ve played all year.

3: Batman: Season 2

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Remember Telltale guys? It’s kind of weird to think that this game was their last, complete product. But they went out with a very good game. The first season of Batman was good because it did such a good job letting the player take on both roles of Wayne and Batman, allowing each to be viable options. The world was also well realized, and their story set-up allowed for unpredictability, despite Batman’s stories being so well known. What the second season adds, aside from better performance and improvements to the game’s engine, is an interesting take on the Joker and his relationship with Batman/Wayne. It was fascinating to see the pair interact, the development of the Joker, and the similarities between the two characters. I really hope the Telltale writers get a chance to add their talents to another studio and are put in the position to really contribute because the writing at that studio, for the most part, was stellar.

2: Destiny 2

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Yep. Destiny 2. Not just Forsaken. The whole damn thing. So, I didn’t play Destiny 2 when it originally came out because I was disappointed by Destiny 1. I don’t like multiplayer and, especially now, can’t dedicate the time to it. But when Destiny 2 came out on PS+ I figured I’d give it a shot and, well, go all in with all the expansions because if you’re going to do a thing may as well do it all the way, right? What Destiny 2 brought to the franchise for me personally, that Destiny 1’s base game lacked, was a viable single player. I really enjoyed going through the single player for the base game, and all the expansions. The shooting is still great, the loot was good enough to keep me invested, and the presentation was remarkable. It was a nice, pleasant surprise for me during a time when I needed something pleasant to soak myself in when I got home.

1: God of War

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God of War is probably the most complete and solid game I played all year. It looks amazing, sounds amazing, plays very well, has a well realized world and mostly realized characters, lots of content that is mostly of a very high quality, and was long enough without over staying its welcome but had solid post-game content if I ever came back to it. The only real complaint I have about it was that I found the plot dull but the implications of the plot for the series is fascinating and has a lot of potential. Plus, the interactions between Kratos and Atreus, though a bit forced at times, was mostly well done and made up for a lot of the plot’s shortcomings. It’s my GOTY because it’s the best overall game I’ve played. If I’m honest, I’m not passionate about it. But it really is a great game and was the best new game I’ve played all year.

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