As someone who mostly plays their games on PC and someone who has been spending more and more of my money on board games, 2018 has been kinda weirdly disappointing.
I don’t own a Playstation 4 - so I haven’t played many of this year’s massive AAA releases like Spider-Man, God of War and Red Dead Redemption. Add to that the fact that most of my personal most anticipated titles going into this year - Darksiders 3, Phantom Doctrine, We Happy Few, Vampyr, Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Mutant Year Zero: The Road To Eden - wound up being disappointing in one way or another and I ended up in a place where writing this list felt like more of a struggle than it has in previous years.
Still, I played a fair amount of video and board games in 2018. Here are my top ten favorites for the year.
Honorable Mentions: Frostpunk, Donut County, Holedown, Paratopic, The Blackout Club, Battletech, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, Scythe, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, The Banner Saga 3, No Man’s Sky: NEXT, Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII
10 - Dead Cells
For whatever reason, the tenth spot on my yearly GOTY list is always the hardest to lock in. And the reason I ended up with Dead Cells over the other options is that there’s no caveats and no catches.
Unlike some of the things listed above under honorable mentions, Dead Cells is just plain great. It looks great, sounds great and plays great. Motion Twin have spliced together the rogue-like, Souls-like and Metroidvania subgenres to incredible effect here. Sure, you can take apart all the individual components that make this game fun and find them elsewhere - but the ability of Dead Cells to bring those elements together and make them into something beyond the sum of their parts is a big part of what makes it so special.
The other thing that stuck with me about Dead Cells is the way it works to cultivates your skill as a player. I’d be completely stumped by a boss fight one day, only to conquer it the next. The game didn’t become easier, I became better. The thrill of that dynamic is a big part of what makes Dead Cells a game that’s so easy to lose hours to.
Dead Cells is that rare game comes out, inspires widespread hype and actually ends up being exactly as fantastic as everyone says it is.
9 - Life is Strange 2
Life is Strange 2 is the sequel that takes all the right risks. It move things forward without losing sight of what’s important.
Even if the change in scenery and the cast do take some getting used to, the first episode of Life is Strange 2 shows that Dontnod get what made that original game so special - or at least some of what made Max and Chloe’s adventures special. Those little human touches.
In a year where I expected to be thrilled by Vampyr and disappointed by Life is Strange 2, the reverse ended up happening. And, on the strengths of that first episode, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again in 2019 with Twin Mirrors. Time will tell if Dontnod can stick the landing but I’m definitely going to tune in to find out when they do.
8 - Dragon Ball FighterZ
There are few things in gaming more satisfying than feeling out and gradually mastering the mechanics of a fighting game - and Dragon Ball FighterZ captured my affection for the genre in a way that I haven’t encountered since Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Mortal Kombat 9.
As someone who grew up watching Dragon Ball Z and has played plenty of games based on the franchise, Dragon Ball FighterZ does an incredible job of not just evoking my nostalgia for the series but turning that into compelling, chaotic and kinetic gameplay. It doesn’t just look like the source material, it nails the feel as well. Dragon Ball FighterZ feels like a throwdown classic in the making.
7 - Florence
As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown more fond of games that are about the quality of the experience over quantity. Stuff like Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch, Tacoma, etc. And while the gameplay in Florence is quite different to the above, I get the sense the underlying approach isn’t.
Developed by Melbourne’s own Mountains, Florence tackles the minitua, ups and downs of modern relationships. The visual storytelling here is top-notch and the wider presentation elements around the game have this striking, almost-boutique, hand-crafted feel to them. Florence is only a couple of dollars but it’s absolutely worth playing.
6 - Kingdom Death: Monsters
There are board games and then there’s Kingdom Death: Monsters.
Described as a boutique horror RPG, Kingdom Death: Monsters is Dungeons & Dragons meets Dark Souls meets Monster Hunter.
You and three friends create characters and are dropped into a garish wasteland where the floor is made of skulls and the only way to survive is to hunt the increasingly-difficult and grotesque monsters roaming the wilderness around your settlement.
Like any tabletop gaming experience, your mileage is going to vary based on who you’re playing with and there is quite a learning curve attached to the plethora of mechanics in the game. All the same, the setting and systems of Kingdom Death: Monsters proved themselves compelling enough that I don’t want to start any new tabletop ventures until I’ve seen this one through to the end, and that’s an endeavor that’s absorbed many of my weekends throughout 2018.
5 - Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
As someone who grew up playing older CRPG fare like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights, the original Pillars of Eternity served as both a fresh introduction to an intriguing fantasy setting and a throwback to an older style of game that the rest of the genre has kinda moved past.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire builds on that premise in so many ways. It's a sequel filled with so many smart evolutions that don’t just make the ideas and concepts of the first game more interesting but also gets much closer to the underlying ideas that the first game was trying to execute on.
At times, the more-polished presentation and volume of voice acting involved made playing Deadfire feel like I was playing a tabletop RPG.
4 - Thronebreaker - The Witcher Tales
Though I've been a massive fan of the first two Witcher games, I was late to the party when it came to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. At launch, I didn't have a powerful enough computer to run it nor did I own a console to play it on. Watching from the sidelines, I thought the internet’s brief-but-frantic obsession with Gwent was dumb and obnoxious. Surely, a minigame can't be that good.
Spoilers: turns out it was so good I now own two entire sets of physical Gwent cards. Fast-forward to 2018, and CD Projekt Red have gone and released a single player-focused RPG where the encounters are nothing but Gwent battles and I am 100% into here for it.
In a genre where it’s much more prominent for the focus to be on competitive multiplayer or sprawling sandbox ‘grand campaign’ modes, it’s super refreshing to see a strategy game where the focus is on the single-player side of things.
Thronebreaker takes its time unpacking and unravelling every little nuance of the rules and mechanics involved. It’s all very smartly put-together and paired with a surprisingly-solid story that’s got plenty of easter eggs and juicy details for fans of Andrzej Sapkowski’s original Witcher stories to pick up on.
Honestly, I think Thronebreaker might be one of the most polished and satisfying single-player strategy games I’ve played since Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. Now all they need to do is bring it to mobile and the Nintendo Switch.
3 - The Mind
There are times when I genuinely wonder if I might have actually played more board games than video games this year. I went through a fierce spree of crowdfunding various board games in 2016, and 2018 was the year most of them finally arrived at my doorstep. Nevertheless, a curious card game from Germany has probably ended up being the board game that I’ve spent the most time with.
For the unfamiliar, The Mind is a cooperative card game where each round players are dealt a hand of numbered cards and tasked with playing those cards in ascending numerical order without communicating. Just look into the eyes of another player and, when you feel the time is right, put your lowest card down on the table.
That’s the official version anyway. When I’m introducing the game to friends, we play things a little more casual. Banter is encouraged. Revealing your card is strictly prohibited. You can’t say what you have - but you can vaguely describe how you feel about it.
The Mind pretty much everything I want from a card game: inexpensive to get into, easy-to-pick up and hard to put down. It’s deceptively engaging and an all-around great time, particularly when there’s alcohol involved.
2 - Monster Hunter: World
For a long time, Monster Hunter was one of half a dozen or so Japanese game franchises that I’ve heard plenty of great things about but bounced off whenever I’ve tried to get into them myself. Until now. Monster Hunter: World was the first game in the series that managed to shake that trend.
Even after eighty hours with it, World feels like a game that I’m still only scratching the surface of. It holds up over time in a way that few other RPGs do. Each of the game’s environments are visually-striking in their own right and incredibly fun to explore and traverse, regardless of whether I was playing solo or with friends.
Other games have enemies, Monster Hunter: World has an ecology - and learning how to take down the fiercest megafauna in that ecosystem was a definite highlight of my year when it came to games.
1 - Overwatch
For as different as Overwatch is to Blizzard’s other games, it’s still got that evergreen that’s easy to find in any of the developer’s games. Over the years, I’ve fallen in and out of love with World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2, Diablo 3, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm dozens of times. Hell, I’d probably still take a copy ofWarcraft 3: Reign of Chaos with (or the upcoming remaster) if I had to be stuck on a desert island with any single game ever.
Blizzard games sometimes feel like the kind of games you could play forever, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been so deeply enthralled with a Blizzard game as I have been with Overwatch this year. For whatever reason, I always come back to it - which is why I don’t feel super-guilty about putting a game released in 2016 at the top of my 2018 GOTY list.
Throughout the year, I’ve been playing Overwatch almost every day of the week. Sometimes I play Overwatch with friends, sometimes I play without friends. Sometimes I just play a quick game or two. Sometimes I play one too many and regret it when I have to get up in the morning and face the day with a weary soul and a diminished SR.
And rather than burn out on it, my enthusiasm for Overwatch has only become more entrenched over time as new characters and maps have been introduced and as I’ve fallen down the rabbit-hole that is Overwatch esports. Catching up on Overwatch Contenders, Overwatch League and Overwatch World Cup matches has consumed both my morning and evening commutes for the better part of the year and I even ran a panel at this year’s PAX AUS that was pretty much just me and several others getting hype about the game.
For whatever reason, I can’t seem to stop playing Overwatch - or, at least, move on from playing it. I’m sure that eventually, like most other Blizzard games, I’ll probably fall out of it. Right now though? Overwatch is something I keep coming back to and it couldn’t be anything but the top game on this list.