The best year for video games?

I nearly didn’t make a game of the year list for 2018. As a whole 2018 felt a touch underwhelming when compared to 2017, which had major releases such as Breath of the Wild, Nier Automata, Persona 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, Yakuza 0, and Super Mario Odyssey. Regardless of my own feelings for those games, they did at least inspire passionate end of year debates among gamers and critics. Everyone had a game or two they wanted to go to bat for and gave a little cheer when it picked up an award. I didn’t feel the same level of excitement around 2018. God of War certainly has its fans, however you never had to look far to find criticism of it either.

Red Dead Redemption 2 had an incredibly brief honeymoon period. Usually it takes a good six months before the general consensus around over-hyped games becomes a little more calm and calculated, however six days had barely passed before people thought that maybe incredibly restrictive level design and needing to individually pick up items in shops was not worth whatever extra immersion it might offer. Taking a glance back over the big releases of 2018 makes the year look disappointing. There was no Triple A game that I desperately wanted to win loads of awards and I nearly concluded that 2018 was a bad year for games.

However, that negativity doesn’t line up with my experience in 2018. I played a lot of truly great games this year. Games that I continued to play long after completion and that I am still playing in 2019.

These games weren’t big, but they were great. 2018 was not a landmark year for Triple A games but it was one of the best years ever for indies. Small developers put out some phenomenal games and, while I don’t want to get carried away, there are one or two that may end up on my top 10 games of all time list, let alone just 2018.

Before getting stuck into the list, I want to mention that I don’t have my own footage of all the games, so some gameplay footage is from other channels, with full credit given of course. To get my own footage I would need to download over 250 gigs of games, which is a quarter of my monthly download allowance. This seems a bit excessive given the casual nature of this video. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on these games then check the channel because there are often video reviews available or a written review on my website. Without any further delay, let’s get stuck into number 10 on the list: Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales.

Thronebreaker is one of three games on my list that has being drastically overlooked. In the case of Thronebreaker, that’s probably because it’s a confusing game to advertise. Thronebreaker is a single player campaign centered around the card game gwent that first featured in The Witcher 3, however it’s not the same version of gwent. Instead, it’s the modified version as seen in the free to play game Gwent that you can download through GOG. Except, it’s not really a card game at all, at least not a traditional one.

First and foremost, Thronebreaker tells an incredible story with writing on the same level as that in The Witcher 3 and there’s a whole bunch of awesome characters to spend time with. The acting is all top notch and a narrator reads out all the unspoken dialogue. You play as Meve, Queen of Lyria and Rivia, during the second Northern War before the events of the first Witcher game. Meve sets out to rescue her son Villem after he is kidnapped by the invading Nilfgaardians. You move Meve around four different overworld maps, collecting resources, solving problems for the local villagers, and slowly building up your army until you’re ready to take the fight to the Nilfgaardians. When you do sit down at the card table, more often than not you’re solving a puzzle rather than playing gwent.

Sure, you use many of the same cards, but the puzzles have specific rules you must follow to win, such as destroying a wagon before it can escape or killing a mad cow. Yes, you’re playing with cards, but the puzzles don’t feel anything like playing a collectible card game and that’s why I’m so keen for people to play Thronebreaker even if the genre appears off putting. You only play the full three round games of gwent during major story moments and when you do the battles are relatively easy. Probably too easy. Gwent has changed a bit from The Witcher 3, mainly to simplify it a touch with just two rows instead of three, and row choice doesn’t make a lot of difference now thanks to the removal of conditions such as weather effects.

I suspect these changes were made with the main Gwent game in mind, not Thronebreaker, but either way, there is a disappointing lack of challenge on offer here. I have very little experience with collectible card games and yet I still cruised through on the normal difficulty and didn’t find hard all that tough either. This was without messing around with my deck all that often or coming up with optimal strategies. The puzzles can be incredibly difficult but the mandatory encounters are not. Still, I played Thronebreaker for the story and it paid off. There are unexpected twists and cool characters, but best of all, Thronebreaker offers an excuse to spend 30 hours in the world of the Witcher.

Thronebreaker is the reason I’ve committed to playing Witcher 1 and 2 in 2019. Should probably make some videos on those as well, I guess. Number nine on my list is God of War (2018).

This list is supposed to be about celebrating the great games of 2018, however with God of War, I probably need to make it clear why it’s not higher than ninth. It’s got nothing to do with the change in style from the original games to this reboot or whatever you want to call it. I enjoyed those games, but I was completely open for changes to the combat style, storytelling, and characters. I never liked Kratos as a character and couldn’t entirely get behind his desire to go around killing all the Gods after he was tricked into killing his wife and child, even though he knew full well he was killing innocent people. I enjoyed killing Gods but it was for the spectacle, not the story. God of War (2018) gave me a Kratos I could actually care about, something I didn’t think was possible.

Since the events of the original trilogy, Kratos has effectively moved from his twenties to his thirties: he’s moved house, settled down with a partner, and is a father. After his wife, Faye, dies, Kratos and Atreus set out to scatter her ashes at the top of the tallest mountain. It’s a modest premise compared to the previous games. You still have to fight the odd god, but only because they get in your way, not because you seek them out for revenge. God of War’s story is decent, but it was the character relationships and dialogue that stood out for me. There’s a small cast of characters, with most of the focus on Kratos, Atreus, Freya, Mimir, the Dwarves, and Baldur, however the narrow scope gives all the characters a chance to shine, with Mimir and the Dwarves typically serving as light comedic relief when things get a little too serious.

There are a few missteps though. Atreus’s little temper tantrum around half way through comes off as silly, even for a child, and I’m not convinced the writers ever decided whether he was in control of himself or not. Freya’s actions near the end also felt off and don’t bode well for the sequel. While the storytelling took major strides forward from the original trilogy, the combat shuffled back a touch.

It isn’t bad and occasionally you can put together some incredible combos, but far too often it’s slow and unresponsive, committed to letting long animations play out instead of looking flashy. Once I accepted the combat for what it was, I had a far better time although I’d rather not make those concessions. The close up camera gives real weight to your hits however it also means you need to constantly look at on-screen markers to know when an attack is approaching. Minor niggles include the loot system, which is as unnecessary as most loot systems in modern triple A games, and slow exploration that makes going back to previous zones for collectibles overly tedious. Given some fairly significant flaws, I can’t entirely get behind the 10 out of 10 ratings for God of War, but I do think it’s incredibly good and worth your time. Number eight is The Messenger, a throwback to 8-bit Ninja Gaiden and 16-bit Metroidvanias in one package.

You play as the titular messenger tasked with delivering, well, a message. The main gimmick is the ability to cloud-step, a second jump you can activate after striking an object or enemy in mid-air. It requires more skill than a traditional double jump and when combined with new moves like the glide, wall hook, and downward slash, provides for some fairly tricky platforming in the later levels. After a couple of hours progressing through faux kind of 8-bit but clearly not 8-bit levels, you travel to the future where the world is transformed into kind of 16 bits but clearly not 16 bits, with the visual and audio enhancements you might remember from the early nineties when you made the leap from Mario to Sonic. During the opening five to six hours, I found it hard to find any faults with The Messenger and if it could have kept this standard up it would be on the top half of this list instead of the bottom.

The writing was a bit much at times, with its constant attempts to break the fourth wall, but the platforming was superb, the bosses were entertaining and challenging, and the upgrades came at a steady rate to keep things fresh. However, another major change happens at the halfway point when The Messenger goes from being a straight up action platformer to a metroidvania for the remainder of its ten to twelve hour runtime. There are hardly any new upgrades of note from here on out, so you spend all your time backtracking through the previous levels to access areas that were previously out of bounds. Backtracking is a common trait of metroidvanias, but there’s a satisfaction in heading back to a previous wall you couldn’t destroy or a pool of water you couldn’t swim under and using a new ability to progress.

Accessing new areas in The Messenger isn’t all that exciting because they are typically unlocked by moving between the past and future which makes small changes to the environment such as removing walls. All this exploration ended up being a bit underwhelming after the thrill of the first half. Fortunately, once you’ve found a new area, The Messenger goes back to being the same excellent 2D platformer it was at the start.

It’s just a shame you have to waste time getting to these sections and the pacing is all over the place as a result. Despite a couple of significant drawbacks, I thoroughly enjoyed most of my time with The Messenger and recommend you give it a shot. There’s even free DLC coming out in early 2019 if you need a little extra nudge. Coming in at number seven is Into the Breach, a turn-based strategy game with one major selling point that helps it stand out from the crowd. In Into the Breach you travel back in time through breaches to try and stave off an invasion from aliens known as the Vek. The time travel mechanic is a convenient plot reason for Into the Breach to be run based, with a progression system that carries forward to future runs, each of which will likely last an hour or two.

The overall goal is to clear all four islands of Vek before a final encounter to eliminate the threat once and for all. Your mechs and pilots are replaceable, however if the Vek destroy enough of the power supply then your run is over and you’ll have to start from scratch. The turn-based battles take place on eight by eight grids and last for five turns. In addition to protecting the power supply, there are often additional mission objectives such as protecting important facilities like a coal plant or a train or collecting time pods or killing certain important Vex.

Completing these assignments earns you upgrade points or potentially replaces any power that may have lost. Into the Breach’s most interesting twist is that it tells you not only exactly what will happen as a result of each of your moves, with no RNG, it also tells you what the enemies are going to do on their next turn. This distinction is why Into the Breach is more of a puzzle game than a traditional strategy one. There’s an ideal solution to each turn.

You can’t blame mistakes on bad luck. My mistakes were down to me not taking the time to process all the information on offer, initially because I wasn’t used to being presented with so many of the answers upfront. The fixed outcomes meant I was happy to spend five or even ten minutes calculating my next move. In most strategy games, where the outcome is based partly on chance, you have to work with probabilities and decide what level of risk you’re prepared to take in each situation. You can spend fifteen minutes just debating the risk reward of each scenario. With Into the Breach, you spend your time looking for the answer.

The only unknowns are what enemies will do on future turns or which new ones will appear. With the enemies’ actions being fixed in advance, you have some interesting options at your disposal, such as moving Vek out of position so they miss all their shots or even hit other Vek. As with God of War, I feel partly obliged to explain why Into the Breach isn’t higher on my list because it doesn’t do much wrong and I find it difficult to put my finger on why I don’t enjoy it slightly more.

First of all, I’ve only spent around 10 hours with Into the Breach so far which was enough time for a couple of completed runs, but nowhere near enough for a full review. It’s possible Into the Breach will jump up my list after more hours but that said, the main reason I haven’t played more is that I never feel a strong desire to start another run. Once I’ve started, I’ll see the run through to the end, but I won’t start a second in quick succession and once I’ve put the game down, it can be a while until I pick it up again. This is almost certainly an issue of personal tastes as opposed to a flaw with the game, but I do believe there’s an issue with the progression system. During each run, you work towards achievements which earn you points to spend between runs to open up new mechs. These achievements could have driven me to keep playing, but I most of them were fairly dull and they didn’t fit in well with my gameplay style.

For example, there’s an achievement for completing the first two islands in thirty minutes, but I personally don’t want to rush through the puzzles. I’d rather up the difficulty and take my time, than lower the difficulty and power through. Or there’s the achievement for chaining an attack through ten enemies. I might end up getting this one day through sheer luck, but again, I’d rather focus on completing the main mission with the difficulty turned up than messing around lining up enemies for an achievement point. Very few of the achievements are tied to difficulty so there’s always the temptation to lower the difficulty to grab them.

A better system might have been one where you collect achievement points or another currency during runs and then spend them afterwards to unlock rewards. Of course, if you enjoy the puzzles of Into the Breach enough then you won’t care about a progression system. Not every game needs to dish out regular adrenaline hits to keep you playing. I like doing picross puzzles on my Switch and I don’t need rewards to keep playing. However, as with Into the Breach, I can put those picross puzzles down and not play them for days, weeks, or even months at a time. It’s not a fault with the puzzles themselves, it’s just that, as you’ll see from the rest of this list, my personal tastes lean elsewhere.

Number six is the absolutely excellent Hitman 2, which is yet another game that doesn’t play like the genre it most closely resembles. Thronebreaker is much more than just a card game. Into the Breach is more a puzzle game than a strategy game.

Hitman 2 is kind of a comedy sandbox puzzle game I guess. I don’t really know what it is, I just know what it isn’t: Hitman 2 is not a stealth game. You can play it like one if you really want. You can wear a suit, sneak around levels, shimmy up pipes, climb through windows, kill your targets with a silenced pistol and then disappear sight unseen. That’s not a terrible way to play, but personally I’d much rather disguise myself as a muffin salesman, poison a muffin to make a real estate agent throw up, knock him out while he’s vomiting, disguise myself as the real estate agent, meet up with the target and give him a tour of the house, show him the vault, and then turn on the security system while he’s inside, blowing him up when he inevitably trips the lasers. You can kill each target in multiple insane ways.

I won’t go through many more because I consider this kind of stuff to be akin to spoilers. There are only five main maps this time, but you absolutely need to play them multiple times and it will take ten plus hours before you uncover everything there is to see and do on any given map. The first time I play a new map, I take my time, picking up loads of information and potential ways to kill targets but you can’t do them all in one go, no matter how much you’ll want to. One second I’m trying to find my way into the mechanic’s garage when I see a mascot dressed as a pink flamingo who needs help getting his keys. I either change my plans or make a mental note to check it out next time, along with about five other things.

Replaying content usually comes with diminishing returns and replayability in general is often a bit of a copy out to defend games that are shorter than they should be, however Hitman 2 gets better the more you play, a bit like how the multiplayer for an FPS becomes more enjoyable once you know the map. Knowing your targets routine doesn’t cheapen the experience, it improves it because you can play with their scripting in increasingly insane ways. Even when missions go wrong, you can still have a great time. During an elusive target mission, I was plotting a dastardly plan involving an explosive pen when I got spotted, panicked, and killed the target by throwing the surprisingly sharp pen at his head, before casually leaving the map via a bus. Each map has plenty of challenges to complete which earn you unlocks such as new weapons, gear, or outfits to take into the maps. You’ll likely unlock something each time you play a map, so there’s a constant drip of new toys to play with such as an explosive duck or a sniper rifle.

Hitman 2’s story is more engaging than that of its predecessor, focusing on the personal histories of Agent 47 and his handler Diana Burnwood. Unfortunately, the budget for the story has taken a hit, so most of it is presented through static animations instead of full cutscenes. I do have one major reservation when it comes to recommending Hitman 2 and that is the ridiculous online requirement. You can play offline but you won’t earn any unlocks which takes away a huge part of the experience. There’s absolutely no need for the main missions of Hitman 2 to be played online.

None at all. It’s absurd. On a more positive note, IO Interactive has made a consumer friendly decision by letting players who own Hitman 2016 play those levels in Hitman 2 with new gameplay tweaks such as hiding in crowds and tall grass and a slightly improved UI. You can get the Hitman 1 levels incredibly cheap and given that Hitman 2 is already on sale, you can easily pick up the bundle for the bargain price of around $60 or less. If you are interested in Hitman 2, I recommend buying it as soon as possible because there is timed content that you’ll miss if you buy it later.

I hate that this content disappears because some of it is a lot of fun. There’s an entire mission with Sean Bean that has now disappeared and by the time this video goes up, you won’t be able to play the Christmas mission that lets you kill Father Christmas with a circumcision knife. I shouldn’t have to caveat Hitman 2 at all, because it’s such a fun game and it’s a shame that between IO Interactive and Warner Bros they managed to botch the implementation with some consumer unfriendly decisions.

Hitman 2 is the second of three games in my top 10 that is underappreciated. It’s not gone under-the-radar as such, most people know it exists, but it does seem to have performed poorly at retail. Please help me get a Hitman 3. I love these games. At number five I have Shadow of the Colossus, the remake of the 2005 PS2 classic.

I considered leaving this one off my list because it’s an old game with new coat of paint, however I never played the original so this was a new experience for me, and besides, that paint job is a bloody masterpiece. Completely new experiences in video games are becoming increasingly rare. It’s not that games aren’t getting better, it’s that I generally know what to expect going in. Some open world games are better than others, but they all feel much the same. I played a lot of metroidvanias this year and some of them were excellent, but it’s fair to say they are perfecting existing formulas rather than doing something completely original.

I’ve never played a game like Shadow of the Colossus. The world is largely empty and yet incredibly beautiful. There’s little in the way of dialogue, but the story is haunting. It’s a boss rush mode made into a full game, but one where you don’t really want to kill the bosses.

The colossi are majestic and don’t deserve to die, but die they must. Each boss is at heart a puzzle encounter, requiring you to find a way to a weak spot which you plunge your sword into a couple of times to end the harmless creature’s life. The colossi are awe-inspiring, as you grab hold of their thick fur or even beards and desperately clamber your way to the top. There are two or three weak encounters out of the sixteen, including the final boss which requires more precision than the game’s ragdoll physics otherwise allow for, however the other battles are easily memorable enough to make up for the weaker moments. My two favorite moments both involved flying colossi.

On the 5th colossus, I was standing on a small rock in the middle of a lake, desperately trying to come up with a strategy as a pterodactyl looking creature flew towards me. In a panic I jumped straight up as it was about to hit me and managed to grab hold of the fur on its wings. The colossi soared into the air, with me clinging on for dear life until it was horizontal enough for me to clamber across its wings. It was exhilarating. Similarly, on the 13th colossus, I rode my horse towards the colossi as it came low and jumped onto its side. I climbed up and walked the length of its huge body, stopping only to damage weak spots or seek protection from the wind.

It’s tempting to say that I regret not playing Shadow of the Colossus 13 years ago, but I don’t. I’m glad my first experience with this phenomenal game was the 2018 remake with its vastly enhanced graphics and improved frame rate. This game is stunning and the fact that it’s a remake doesn’t detract from the incredible time I had with it. Number four is Dead Cells. I’m amazed Dead Cells isn’t in my top three. After first playing back in early August, I thought it would end up as my game of the year.

The drop from one to four is partly because of other new games coming in strong, but also because upon revisiting it for this video, I did find that the appeal was starting to wane a touch. Not many games reach the highs you get from a great run in Dead Cells, but it can be a bit exhausting when you’re breezing through a run only to get caught between a couple of enemies, killed in seconds, and respawned back at the start with little to show for it once progression slows down. But that’s after 30 hours.

I don’t want to detract from the incredible experience I had before then. Dead Cells is a rogue-lite 2D platformer which feels vastly different from run to run thanks to a huge variety of weapons, mods, and mutations at your disposal. You can equip two weapons at any time, or a weapon and a shield, plus two grenades or gadgets. It’s simple enough at first. You’ll probably start with a sword for close range combat and a bow for mid to long range, before progressing to assassin daggers and fireballs, or a hammer and ice blast. The real fun comes when you start to combine weapon attributes to absolutely destroy enemies.

A sword that does extra damage to frozen enemies is a lot more useful if you have a freeze grenade and freeze arrows on hand. You can switch up mods between levels so you don’t need to entirely rely on RNG to get a decent load out. Mutations can give you extra health or more damage for your grenades. You’ll gravitate towards certain playstyles, but when given an exotic pair of sandals you might want to consider dropping that level 1 sword. Being a rogue-lite, you will have to start back at the beginning when you die.

Any cells collected can be spent between levels to improve the quality of weapon drops or your health flask, but any on you when you die are lost. Starting from scratch isn’t a huge deal because Dead Cells encourages speedrunning. Burning through levels means you’ll miss some upgrades but certain gear is hidden behind gates that lock if you’re too slow.

I tended to alternate between a slow and cautious run and a fast run, with neither being definitely better or worse. I’m not a huge fan of rogue-lites. I’ve gotten hooked on a few of them in the past, but it’s felt more like an addiction than something I play for fun. Dead Cells is fun to play regardless of how well you do. Yes, it can be a little disappointing when you play for 45 minutes and then die due to just one silly mistake, but the moment to moment action is so fun that it can be entertaining even when you’re playing badly. Dead Cells isn’t my game of the year anymore, but it deserves its place in the top five.

Into the top 3, we have Guacamelee 2. I knew I was going to enjoy Guacamelee 2. I loved the first one and the sequel looked like more of the same. Unless Drinkbox Studios made a huge mess of things Guacamelee 2 was always going to be good. However, I didn’t expect it to be this great.

Gaming has changed since Guacamelee came out in 2013. In particular, there’s a lot more competition in the 2D metroidvania space. It’s not enough to rehash a five year old game and hope it will stand out from the crowd.

Guacamelee 2 does look a lot like the original at first glance. A closer look shows that it’s much prettier however it’s impossible to ignore that the style is similar to the previous entry. However, Guacamelee 2 is the original game refined to near perfection and is the third and final game on my list that I believe needs much more recognition. It got great reviews, but I never hear anyone talking about it, either gaming critics or the wider player base.

This is a great shame. After a slow thirty minutes to half an hour, you quickly get back all your previous powers and a bunch more like rooster uppercut, dash punch, and headbutt. You can once again transform into a chicken who has his own skill tree this time and is almost deserving of a full game in his own right.

Guacamelee 2 flows beautifully from one section to the next and there’s always something new to test your skills on every screen. Initially you just need to master each skill independently, such as getting the hang of eagle shotting or changing dimensions. Then you’ll need to master eagle-shotting while changing dimensions or eagle shotting between wall jumps. Just when you have that down, you’ll need to eagle shot while changing dimensions and wall jumping, before using a flurry of dash punches and uppercuts to reach the final platform. Every screen either increases the challenge or adds a new layer of complexity, making Guacamelee 2 almost impossible to put down.

I always wanted to play one more screen and would have played through the entire game in one sitting if I could. Guacamelee 2 is around 50% longer than its predecessor both in terms of playing through the main story and completing it to 100%, however it doesn’t feel it. Many developers need a lesson in pacing. Drinkbox Studios could teach the course. The first Guacamelee had some fairly cheesy humor and yes, Guacamelee 2 lays the memes on thick and fast but it actually makes jokes this time around as opposed to just referencing pop culture and leaving it at that. There are also some excellent moments where Guacamelee 2 pays homage to gaming history, including classics like Pac-Man and Street Fighter, with the references ranging from funny to touching.

Combat hasn’t changed much from the original game although I’d argue it didn’t need to. Combat was already varied and entertaining with some incredibly difficult optional challenges if you’re up for it. If I’m going to pick out negatives then I suppose the skill trees were a bit disappointing and were far too easy to complete.

I still haven’t 100% completed Guacamelee 2 but I’m having a lot of fun inching that completion percentage slowly upwards. Some of the optional content is bloody tough while also being so much fun. I absolutely love Guacamelee 2 and it’s disappointing to see that it’s not getting the attention it deserves. Yes, it’s a sequel that looks similar to the original, but there’s so much more to it than that. Please consider checking it out.

There’s a video review of the Switch version on the channel if you need more convincing. Coming in at number two, is Return of the Obra Dinn, the new game from Lucas Pope, developer of Papers, Please. You play as an insurance investigator in the early 1800s and if for some reason that doesn’t float your boat, excuse the pun, just think of it as one of the best detective games you’ll ever play. After being missing for years, the merchant ship The Obra Dinn mysteriously drifts back into port without any of the crew or passengers on board.

It’s your job to find out what happened to them so that your employer can pay out insurance to the families of the deceased. You’re given a journal with a crew log, a couple of pictures, and a glossary, plus a watch that lets you witness the last moments of someone’s life before they died. You need to figure out the fate of each crew member, which typically means you need to know their name, how they died, and who killed them, if appropriate. To uncover their fates, you must absorb a ridiculous amount of information from what initially look like simple freeze frames. You’ll rarely be 100% certain that you’ve got the right answer and you’re not supposed to be. You’re told up front that you will need to make reasonable assumptions so don’t expect to find everyone wearing a name tag.

Accents are important, as are people’s positions on board the ship. Who are crew members hanging out with? Where are they in the pictures? What are they wearing? Return of the Obra Dinn is tough and requires you to make the odd leap of logic, so thankfully there’s an excellent system in place for confirming when you’re on the right path. Once you have the fates of any three crew members correct, the scribbled text you made in the journal will become permanent typeset and you can stop doubting yourself.

This strikes an excellent balance between stopping you from brute forcing the answers through guesswork, mostly anyway, and letting your mistakes compound upon each other until you can’t move forward. Standing out from the crowd isn’t enough for a game to be great, but I can’t deny that such a different and refreshing experience is incredibly welcome in a year when we’re expected to spend more money and more time playing games that are barely indistinguishable from what came before. To nitpick a bit, the story tailed off after a promising introduction and there should have been an easier way to access flashbacks without having to hunt them down each time. Other than that, I can’t recommend Return of the Obra Dinn highly enough. It took me over ten hours to complete and will be an experience I remember for a long time. Maybe forever.

It’s something special. I am absolutely craving more games like Obra Dinn. Before revealing my game of the year, I want to talk about a few games that didn’t make the list, either because I didn’t play them or they just weren’t quite good enough. The most noticeable absence from this list is Red Dead Redemption 2. I chose not to play it because I was and still am disgusted by the ongoing labor exploitation at Rockstar.

That was an incredibly personal choice and not something I expect other people to do or agree with me doing. That said, I very much doubt Red Dead Redemption 2 would have made it into the top 5 or even the top ten. I’ve been playing games for thirty years now and generally have a fairly good idea what I will like and what I won’t. The gameplay looks far too restrictive for my tastes and I don’t enjoy games wasting my time which I’d argue this one does a lot.

I can’t say for sure, of course, so make of that what you will. I’ve done my best to play as many games as possible, but I can’t play them all. This video is already late and at some point I need to start playing 2019 games.

Ideally, I would have played Crosscode, which looks absolutely lovely and I’ve heard great things about it. I have a copy now and will definitely get around to it. As someone who grew up playing games like Doom and then Quake, Dusk looks absolutely brilliant although I’ve never had much luck with games that attempt to capture the fun I had with FPS games back in the early to mid nineties. I don’t play many mobile games, but I’ll be making an exception for Florence at some point.

And then there’s Tetris Effect. To me, Tetris has always been a handheld game, so I’d have played it already if it had come to the Switch. Sitting in front of my monitor and playing Tetris on a PS4 doesn’t feel quite right. VR looks like a new and transcendent experience, however, so I would definitely like to play it that way if I ever get VR. Finally, Dragon Ball Fighterz is great but I haven’t played it enough yet to give a solid opinion on it.

As for games that nearly made the list, I want to give a shoutout to Marvel’s Spider-Man which despite issues like being too full of open world nonsense and some tedious stealth sections, is an absolute blast to play and I had so much fun with it. Everyone has different tastes, but Spider-Man is the sort of game that few people will dislike, while also not being game of the year for many people either. It’s a solid four out of five. If you’ve been watching the channel for a while, or follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that I’m not generally a huge fan of Nintendo’s games. I tend to find them highly overrated, Zelda in particular, but Mario as well in the case of Odyssey.

I have no nostalgia for Nintendo at all. I typically enjoy Nintendo games for an hour or so and then start to wonder why the hell I spent $60 on it. Therefore, I can’t bring myself to get especially excited at the prospect of playing as some pokamon or about seven different purple haired dudes in a fighting game that’s not really a fighting game. And yet, I’m having a lot of fun with Smash Bros Ultimate. I’ve already played for around 25 hours and haven’t even gone online yet.

It’s a lot of fun. I’ve only ever played Brawl so can’t really compare it to the others. I just know I like it. As for other cool indie games, I highly recommend you check out Donut County, a short and simple puzzle game where you move a hole around to swallow objects and make the hole bigger. It’s also pretty funny and everything to do with BK the Trash Panda is amusing. Yoku’s Island Express is an adorable pinball metroidvania which helps it stand out in a year of excellent metroidvanias.

Traversing the world via pinball flippers is a lot of fun although the novelty wore off slightly near the end when I was searching for collectibles. Gris is a visually stunning 2D light puzzle platformer that I’ve reviewed on this channel if you’d like a little more info. Basically, if you liked Journey, you’ll probably like Gris. Another light puzzle game I enjoyed is The Gardens Between.

Playing as a young boy and girl, you must navigate them to the end of each circular level by moving time backwards and forwards and interacting with objects to change their direction and getting light into your lantern. The lantern clears obstacles in your path, but also removes bridges that you need to use to cross. The Gardens Between is a decent game, however it is short, only taking a couple of hours to complete.

While that was fine for GRIS, The Gardens Between is a set of individual puzzles and therefore the experience doesn’t feel as complete as the journey you undergo in a game like GRIS. This makes it tough to recommend for $20, however I recommend you keep an eye out for it in sales. Bloodstained Curse of the Moon might be better than Castlevania 3, the game it is clearly trying to imitate and bodes well for the main Bloodstained game that should be out any decade now. The most interesting game that didn’t quite make this list is Cultist Simulator, a game that takes place entirely at a card table but still manages to send you on plenty of weird and wonderful journeys.

It starts almost like a survival game as you try to earn enough money to buy food and fight off illness, while investigating a mysterious bequest in your spare time. Eventually, you form your own cult, have weird dreams, and perform rites, all the while trying to avoid the attention of inquisitive detectives. I described Spider-Man as a game that most people will enjoy while perhaps not thinking it’s the greatest game ever. Cultist Simulator will have people completely divided. I imagine some players will hate it and others might have it as their game of the year. It’s certainly worth looking into a bit more if you’re at all curious.

There’s an incredible satisfaction to having a tidy table full of cards and it nails that “just one more turn” vibe. Alright, that’s enough of the other stuff. It’s time to get to the game of the year.

And it’s not just the game of the year. It’s one of my favorite games of all time. It’s absolutely phenomenal and as close to perfect as a game can get. The number one game of 2018 is Celeste. Yes, it’s another indie 2D platformer and I know you might be fed up of seeing them at this point, but please consider playing this if you haven’t already.

Celeste is about Madeline’s journey up a mountain as she tackles her own inner demons. The depression and anxiety theme is not especially original and can be a bit on the nose at times, such as when you literally run from a negative part of yourself, however on the whole it handles the subject of depression well and the story complements your own battle to make it to the end. Gameplay is simple, with just a jump and dash option, plus the ability to grab hold of walls until you get tired.

Each level has a theme or gimmick, such as moving platforms, bubbles that throw you out in a given direction, and feathers that let you temporarily fly, There’s a light puzzle element in there as well because you need to work out how to reach the other side and then execute all the command. Celeste is a tough game, but it doesn’t need to be for masochists. There’s a level of challenge here for absolutely everyone. The main story provides a decent challenge, but if you need more then there are optional strawberries to collect and b-sides of each level to complete. Those are hard and if you finish all them there are the c-sides and it sounds like there will be d-sides on the way as well. You die a lot but restarts are instant and you usually only have to reach the next screen for a save point.

Celeste tests your ability to pull off a certain combination of moves rather than requiring lengthy periods of consistent play. If you’re finding things too tough, there is an excellent assist mode that lets you change a bunch of settings and sliders until you find the right balance for your own skill set. I would recommend starting with the default settings if you can but I love that the option is there to make life easier if you want. The closest I can get to any negatives is that some hidden paths are a little obtuse, requiring you to walk into fake walls which aren’t always well signposted. Strawberry hunting could also be a bit easier by making it clearer where in the chapter you are so you know if you’ve missed one. That’s about all I can come up with and if you’ve watched my videos, you’ll know I’m generally able to find a lot of nitpicks.

Celeste came out in January 2018 and I’m still playing it a year later. I still need a couple more strawberries and have two b-sides left, and I’ve not started the c-sides. It doesn’t help that I pick Celeste up randomly during short breaks and stop playing again just as I’ve gotten the hang of it again. This isn’t the best way to make progress in a challenging game.

Celeste might look like a stressful game, but it’s the most relaxing difficult game I’ve ever played. I can sit there on the sofa and play the same level for hours, dying hundreds of times in the process, and I just don’t care. It doesn’t stress me out at all.

I just try again until I succeed. Please play Celeste, even if indies aren’t usually your thing. It’s absolutely phenomenal and there’s a very real chance it will be my game of the decade. Celeste has been critically acclaimed and a commercial success, so I can’t claim that it went under the radar, but it’s still been a touch disappointing not to see it at the top of more game of the year lists. As I mentioned, before writing this script I was in the camp of those who thought 2018 was a touch because there weren’t any triple A games I fell in love with.

However, the top 7 games on this list in particular are incredible, and make 2018 a great year by themselves. Into the Breach, Hitman 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Dead Cells, Guacamelee 2, Return of the Obra Dinn, and Celeste are a fantastic collection of games, and most of them have a decent chunk of replay value. They may not have had huge budgets however, with the exception of Hitman 2, they also didn’t have paid DLC, season passes, and microtransactions.

For less than $60 you can get Guacamelee 2, Return of the Obra Dinn and Celeste. I’d much rather buy those than Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, or any of the other $60 releases that came out this year. After revisiting these games for this video, I’m convinced that not only is 2018 better than 2017, it’s one of the best years we’ve ever had for gaming. That might sound like hyperbole because when we look back at the classic years in gaming, we tend to remember the big budget titles, either sequels or games that would go on to have sequels. It’s easier to say that 2007 was a great year and then list off Portal, Bioshock, and Mario Galaxy, than it is to say 2018 was better because of Celeste, Return of the Obra Dinn, and Guacamelee 2.

I’m also aware of how much these choices say about me and my tastes as a gamer. The absence of triple A games is hardly a coincidence. I’m still perfectly capable of enjoying a big budget game, as with God of War, Spider-Man, and 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn. However, most of them are becoming increasingly tedious, with massive worlds, equally large checklists, five different editions, DLC, microtransactions, and the list goes on. I find it hard to wrap my head around people being excited for something like Anthem which just looks like a slightly improved version of the combat from Mass Effect Andromeda with even less story.

2018 proved that gaming doesn’t need triple A games to succeed. That said, I do hope a few major releases capture my attention in 2019. I’m optimistic for Metro Exodus, Dying Light 2, and Doom Eternal, but if 2018 was anything to go by, I haven’t even heard of the game that will end up topping 2019’s list.

That’s just as exciting as any over-hyped nonsense from EA or Activision, in my opinion. Alright, that’s it for my game of the year discussion. I need to move on and focus on new games like, uh, Icewind Dale which will probably be the next video. If you enjoyed this video, please hit like and consider subscribing to see my future videos.

I’d like to see how many of you put indie games in your game of the year lists, so feel free to dump your top 5 or top 10 games in the comments. I genuinely don’t blame anyone who’s gone with the likes of God of War, Red Dead, and Spider-Man. My love of indies could be generational or just due to my mood in 2018. Who knows.

2019 will see a lot more video reviews of current games but I will continue to release one long critique every month, such as the isometric CRPG series, the final piece of the Mass Effect series, and a few new projects. I have a Patreon now so if you’d like to support this content then please consider throwing a dollar my way to get your name in the credits alongside all these other beautiful people and a Patreon role in my discord server. That’s it from me. I know this video is going up in 2019, but I put the final touches to this script in 2018, so this is me signing off on the year. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Cheers.