Arthur Morgan riding Buttercup through the fog.

Last year, when I wrote of my top 10 games of 2017, I didn’t think that 2018 was going to be able to live up to the quality of the previous two years. With the likes of The Witness, Nioh and Firewatch releasing within the last couple years, among manner other amazing titles, it was difficult for me to look at the upcoming releases, at the time, and expect another banner year.

Not only did 2018 live up to the standard of those two years, it maybe even surpassed them. Heading into the year, I was looking forward to a couple of games, but none of the big releases were giving me much to look forward to.

Nintendo didn’t have the first party titles it had in 2017. Sony weren’t inspiring me to believe their upcoming releases would live up to the famous standard set in previous years, and it seemed like all the big publishers were either in a down year or simply getting out of the way of Red Dead Redemption 2 — a game that I didn’t particularly care about, having never gotten around to playing the first.

In the end, whittling down a list of ten games was more difficult in 2018 than in 2016 & 2017. While last year there were a couple games that missed the list, such as the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Gang Beasts, the difficulty came more from not being able to play more of — or even enjoy enough of — Horizon Zero Dawn, Pyre or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

This year’s list of releases I’d played was stacked, which meant shaving off a couple of games that just didn’t quite live up to the standard set by these ten amazing experiences. So shout-out to Onrush, F1 2018 and Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within.

With that all said, let the games begin!

10. Return of the Obra Dinn

It had been 5 years since Lucas Pope’s first game, Paper’s Please, had surprised many and captivated players with its seemingly dull premise. But if playing as an immigration inspector at the border of a politically tense nation wasn’t exciting enough for you, Pope was back with a brand new game with an equally dull sounding premise.

This time, Pope has captivated players by putting them in the shoes of an insurance adjuster, who needs to confirm the cause of death for all 60 passengers on the ship the Obra Dinn, which has returned with no-one on board alive.

I probably didn’t end up enjoying this game as much as I wish I had. So much of it comes together in a cohesive style that is both bold and ambitious. The 1-bit graphics, put together with an incredible soundtrack and audio design made for an amazing experience.

Unfortunately, it was, at times, a bit too obtuse and difficult to really tell what was going on. The story ends up less intriguing as more is revealed, and ultimately it was too annoying to go from one scene to another from two different parts of the book the player is given to interact with the puzzles.

Obra Dinn makes a wonderful first impression and kept me hooked, despite its flaws, due its wonderfully cohesive style, but in the end I was left slightly underwhelmed, considering how much I enjoyed Paper’s Please.

Maybe I should go back to that game at some point…

9. H1Z1 Battle Royale

To be completely honest, H1Z1 is a game that has released in many forms and is something I’ve always done a terrible job of keeping up with. Frankly, its past as a mod for Arma 3 and various ‘beta’ releases were always keeping me at arms length from ever touching this game. But its fresh release, as a free game, in ‘beta,’ on PlayStation 4 in the early Summer led to me finally downloading it and seeing what the hell this game is all about.

I ended up having a blast of a time. As a, primarily, PS4 player, I had yet to experience the battle royale genre that exploded into fame in 2017 — though I did play a couple of games of Fortnite, it was not my cup of tea. Turns out, it can be quite fun! I even ended up winning a few solo games, as well as a number of duos games.

Its extreme focus on vehicles set it apart from rival PUBG — as well as its availability on PS4 — and added a layer of enjoyment I had with the game. That early scramble upon landing was not only about finding weapons and armour, but also figuring out where the nearest vehicle was. However, while I was still playing this game, there were issues with the final few circles becoming a battle of who can stay in their car longer which led to a few underwhelming match conclusions.

Though, having not played it since August and there having been multiple big updates since then, maybe that issue is no longer the case.

I should probably play more of this game in 2019…

8. Donut County

What a wonderfully strange game Donut County is. The basic premise of controlling a hole in the ground that gets bigger the more things you put in it is simple, yet incredibly effective. This is, in large part, due to the fantastic writing.

While the journey BK and Mina go on, along with all the residents of Donut County, only takes roughly two hours to complete, it never overstays its welcome and even leaves you wanting more. The puzzle design does remain pretty basic for a large majority of the game, but there are still some interesting concepts that could be fleshed out in a later release.

While the game can be a little too easy, the strength of this game is in the characters, the writing and the humour. Oh, and who could forget the music?

Donut County is a small game, with a big heart. And an even bigger quadcopter.

7. Celeste

At the start of 2018 I played a lot of Super Meat Boy on the Nintendo Switch. It’s a game that I’d played bits of here and there over the years, but only once I had tried the Switch version was it that I really got into it and figured out what it was that made people really grow in love with it almost a decade ago.

So, when I first heard of Celeste, right before its release in late January, it was something I was quite looking forward to eventually playing. While it doesn’t quite match up to my enjoyment of Super Meat Boy, the follow-up from Matt Makes Games’ first game, Towerfall Ascension, is still a totally solid 2d platformer.

Where the game shines most is in its writing, with Madeline and Theo making for enjoyable protagonists. Madeline’s journey up the mountain makes for a heart-warming story of someone trying to find themselves, who they are and what they are doing in life. Madeline is an incredibly relatable lead character, who is really easy to root for. In any moment of our lives, we could be Madeline.

Where the game lets itself down can be in its level design. Each chapter has its unique mechanic that ties into the difficult platforming, unfortunately not all of these work and can, at times, feel gimmicky. The controls didn’t always feel as tight as they needed to, which led to too many frustrating moments.

Despite these flaws, Celeste is still an incredible game and definitely worth playing. It’s charming, it’s fun, it’s uplifting.

Between Celeste and Towerfall, whatever these developers make next is worth getting excited for.

6. Marvel’s Spider-Man

As a big fan of the Ratchet & Clank series, when I first heard that Insomniac Games were working on a new Spider-Man game — i.e. Marvel’s best hero, without question — it was pretty easy to get excited. The initial gameplay demo shown at E3 2017 made a good impression and for the most part, this game did exactly what was expected of it.

Never before has being Spider-Man looked and felt so good. This version of Peter Parker is set years after gaining his super powers, which proves to be a smart decision that pays off in leaps and bounds. Yuri Lowenthal’s performance, as well as the writing, combine for a great depiction of a Peter Parker whose only assurance in life is that he knows how to save lives.

Swinging around New York City turned out to be a great time-kill. I sometimes found myself spending twenty or thirty minutes just swinging around, looking at the incredible detail that went into creating such a famous city, and enjoying the way it felt to fly through the air using tall building to tall building.

However, the city never quite felt lived-in the way that is expected of open-world games now. NPCs were just kind of there, in an early Xbox 360/PS3-era type of way. The combat also got slightly repetitive after a number of hours, which made doing what little side-quests that were available feeling like even more of a slog.

This game is at its best during its main story missions. While some of the stealthier missions didn’t quite always land, they were few and far enough between regular missions that they never felt too cumbersome. As a Spider-Man story — and it was a big year for Spider-Man in that department — it is incredibly effective at dropping the player into what is the middle part of Parker’s journey as the titular character.

While the bigger story beats end up being somewhat predictable to anyone who knows anything about Spider-Man, the smaller moments are where the story really shines. Parker’s relationship with Aunt May, Mary-Jane and a few other main characters who shall remain nameless are fantastically crafted.

This first attempt from Insomniac at the famous web-slinger has been a success, but there is still plenty of room left from both a story and gameplay aspect to vastly improve upon and I look forward to seeing what they come up with in any potential follow-ups.

5. Hitman 2

God bless IO-Interactive.

I was never much of a Hitman player until the 2016 release of the first season in this re-boot of Agent 47. But, damn, that first game was just so good. I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed the first season, but more than anything I was just relieved that we even got this game in the first place.

In 2017, Square Enix severed ties with IO, leaving them and the Hitman franchise on shaky ground. Fortunately, Warner Brothers stepped in and helped IO release a Game of the Year Edition of the 2016 release and thus season 2 was announced.

Agent 47 is back again with 6 more locations ripe for assassination. While, at the time of writing, I’ve paced myself through only some of those new maps, it has been wonderful re-entering the world of Hitman. Miami, in particular, has been incredibly fun to run around and explore the various methods of murder. As a Formula 1 fan, it’s been very enjoyable to see Agent 47 in the motor-world.

I very much look forward to exploring the last couple of maps, as well as going back again and again to try and increase my mastery level in each map. Every location is brimming with opportunity and IO’s amazing level design leaves plenty of room for creativity and improvisation.

Between attempting runs where Agent 47 has to wear as many outfits as possible, or has to murder each target with a battle axe, or simply assassinate each one with a sniper rifle while remaining in his signature suit like a true Hitman would, what more could one need from a game all about assassination and murder?

Oh, and did I mention that if you already own the first season — which can be found on sale regularly, seriously go buy some Hitman content for the love of God — it is available, for free, alongside all the new seasons together in one massive package, with season one having been updated with season two’s new gameplay features and quality of life improvements.

An incredible touch, one greatly appreciated by this fan of the first season who desperately wanted a briefcase to take down the two targets in Sapienza.

Go play Hitman.

4. Into the Breach

From the makers of FTL: Faster Than Light, Into the Breach is an incredible puzzle-strategy game where the player controls three mechs who must stop the enemy Veks from invading four separate islands.

Each battle is short, yet rewarding, making for the perfect pick-up and play Switch game. Runs can last anywhere between ten minutes and a full hour, but it’s very easy to put it down and come back without skipping a beat.

The various mech capabilities that can be unlocked lead to some interesting combinations and the game lends itself very well to trying out something new without too much risk of losing a lot of progress if it doesn’t go well.

The difficulty is very accessible, with “easy” being a very good starting point for new players to jump in and learn the game quickly. Unlocks also carry over from “easy” to higher difficulty settings. This makes the decision to go from “easy” to “normal” a safe decision and allows the player to quickly judge their own progress through the game.

The loop of going into battle, completing the challenges to earn stars and protecting pods to upgrade my mechs is incredibly satisfying. The game is also generous in that it shows the player everything the Veks will do on their next turn, making planning out the next move very meticulous. It is also really rewarding to cause two enemies to hit each other, without the player taking any damage.

It is a tight experience, yet it is the kind of game that can definitely be gone back to time and again. There is so much variety and different strategies to try out, that I could easily see myself pouring many more hours into the game in 2019 and beyond.

And maybe I should go back and try out FTL as well…

3. Red Dead Redemption 2

Where to begin with this game?

I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Red Dead Redemption 2, mostly because I’d not played the first and knowing it was a prequel left me underwhelmed pre-release. I didn’t exactly pay close attention to any of the promotional materials either. In fact, I distinctly remember looking at one of the gameplay trailers and thinking this was not a game for me.

I was wrong.

This game features some of the best character writing in a game I’ve ever played. Arthur Morgan is one of my favourite protagonists ever. This finely crafted world doesn’t just feel lived-in the way I wish New York City did in Spider-Man, but it feels real. Dutch’s gang feels like a big family, camp feels like home.

There are definite criticisms to be made of Rockstar’s latest money-printing exercise, and the first few hours felt rough. I wasn’t sure I’d like this game at all, despite giving it a chance. But once the world opened up a little more, everything just clicked.

I wouldn’t normally care too much about cosmetics such as clothing or hair/facial hair, or even consuming food and drink for anything other than a health boost mid-mission. But I constantly found myself changing Arthur’s clothes, eating some canned tuna, setting up camp somewhere remote and crafting food from animals I’d hunted or even just petting my horses.

In Red Dead Redemption 2, I wasn’t playing as Arthur Morgan: I was Arthur Morgan.

Normally when playing video games, there is some semblance of detachment between the main character and the player. This is their story and the player is simply playing through it to see what happens next. However, this detachment was never there with Arthur Morgan. This was our story.

While the gameplay can be, at times, repetitive and the horse physics can be really frustrating as it bumps into random people unintentionally, these things were ultimately minor complaints that I eventually barely even noticed. The story and the characters kept me engaged enough that they were issues I was more than willing to live with.

The gun combat is something Rockstar has been criticised for many times, and while they haven’t particularly changed how it feels from GTA V, it was something that I still enjoyed. The dead-eye system was so satisfying to pop off a few head-shots with and Arthur’s strolling pace worked very effectively in making him seem like a total badass as he walked towards enemies, taking them down one head-shot at a time.

The way this system also plays into the story makes complete sense and adds to the satisfaction of taking down yet another set of oncoming enemy gang members.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is definitely the most thought-provoking game of 2018. It’s ended up an incredibly divisive release, one in which I never anticipated becoming an ‘apologist’ for. I could easily go on more about this game — it certainly would be a good place to use the over 150 screenshots of the game I took while playing it — but I will leave it at this:

Red Dead Redemption 2 is incredible. At its heart is a beautifully moving game of one man’s journey of self-reflection in a world that is passing him by.

And it is a game that I look forward to revisiting many more times in 2019.

2. God of War

Much like with Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War was a release I was pretty indifferent on at the beginning of 2018. I’d never played any of the previous games in the series — of which there are many, apparently — and it was never a franchise that seemed like something I would enjoy. I’d often heard the criticism of Kratos as a character, and it just made the entire series seem uninteresting.

But upon reading the rave reviews, I figured it was as good a time as any to give Kratos a chance. After all, this was a soft-reboot of the Kratos story, with a new pantheon and a new gameplay style to boot.

While Kratos remains the least interesting character in this ‘new’ God of War franchise, this is because each character that is carefully crafted and adapted from Norse Mythology is amazing. In a game of such huge scope, it never loses sight of the truly small-scale story between a father and his son and their touching journey to fulfill their now deceased wife/mother’s final wish.

The game opens with a classic fight for the ages, but the initial first few hours of the game can be quite slow and laborious. The combat, at first, is pretty basic, but it does a good job of introducing Kratos’ new Leviathan Axe, as well as gameplay style, without overwhelming the player. Retrieving the Axe is also easily one of the most satisfying button presses in any video game. For the first few hours, and even in the later stages of the game, I’d throw the Axe just to feel the intense satisfaction of Kratos catching it like Thor’s hammer.

God of War also does a very good job of slowly introducing various aspects of Norse Mythology. Kratos works effectively as a ‘God out of water’ and a vice for the player to gain a good understanding of this version of the famous pantheon.

This world-building is not only effective for setting the scene for the player, but it also sets up the franchise for more journeys with Kratos and his son, Atreus. And I very much look forward to hearing Kratos yell “BOY!” many more times in the future.

While it took me a long time to really get into this game — I started it in May and finished it in September — by the time I got to around the mid-way point of the story, there was simply no putting it down. The voice acting is fantastic, Christopher Judge as Kratos especially, the world design is astonishingly beautiful and the chemistry between the lead characters is phenomenal. Simply put, God of War is an incredible achievement and a deserving winner of the many game of the year plaudits it has received.

But, in 2018, there was just one more game that I enjoyed that bit more…

1. Dead Cells

I first saw Dead Cells not long after it hit Steam Early Access in 2017 and was immediately intrigued by it. I had heard comparisons to 2013’s Rogue Legacy, which is a comparison that I always take seriously. Since then, I kept tabs on it every so often, hoping to hear word of a console release and a final 1.0 version of the game. In 2018, Dead Cells delivered.

Rogue Legacy is one of my all time favourite games, a thoroughly enjoyable, challenging and yet still a light-hearted experience. Any game to come close to its quality would have to be something pretty special. Dead Cells is pretty special.

While the other 9 games on this list provided some of the best moments I’ve experienced with a video game, Dead Cells was filled to the brim with these moments. Between when a new weapon first clicks and you realise the sudden weapon combinations increase tenfold, or finally getting to that next area after hours of struggle, or figuring out what the various runes now unlock and, of course, finally beating The Hand of the King.

After many hours of steady progress, I finally found myself at the feet of the very final enemy to be taken down. The moment I’d been preparing for this whole time. Despite coming close on my first attempt, the next few tries were pathetic and it was starting to look like a lost cause.

But then there was that one run. Once I defeated the Time Keeper — something that had started to become routine — I could just feel that I was untouchable. Ultimately The Hand of the King was triumphantly swatted away, like it hadn’t just ripped me apart five or six times beforehand, leaving me in a state of pure satisfaction and relief.

Not only is Dead Cells filled with this big, intense, satisfying moments, but the smaller details remain just as satisfying. The stomp downwards is not only an effective tool for quickly navigating through sections of the map, but can be just as effective when tied to the combat. Being able to cancel any attack by simply rolling out of the way is a useful tool to be used when caught in a sticky situation. Even the somewhat floaty platforming still feels just right and it would be interesting to see what more platform-heavy areas would look like.

A wide array of weapon variety gives the player an absurd amount of choice and possible combinations. Even if the starting weapons aren’t to your liking, new options are never too far away.

Dead Cells was not only the best, most enjoyable gaming experience I had in 2018, but I more than look forward to playing a lot of Dead Cells in 2019. Between big, new updates, potential expansions and even just finishing up getting all four boss cells there is more than enough reason for me to keep playing this instant classic. Rogue Legacy finally has its equal.

This was my Equipment after my first victory over The Hand of the King.

So, there it is: My Top 10 Games of 2018. Hope you enjoyed the list, or were potentially inspired to try out one of these fine games.

For 2019, I’m not particularly inspired by the current slate of releases, but if 2018 is anything to go by, maybe the next hugely enjoyable experience might be around sooner than I think…

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