DualShockers’ Game of the Year 2018 Staff Lists — Steven’s Games of 2018 (and More)
Instead of a traditional "Top 10," here are the games that I enjoyed playing the most from this year and beyond, and a few that I had some issues with.
As 2018 comes to a close, DualShockers and our staff are reflecting on this year’s batch of games and what were their personal highlights within the last year. Unlike the official Game of the Year 2018 awards for DualShockers, there are little-to-no-rules on our individual Top 10 posts. For instance, any game — not just 2018 releases — can be considered.
[Editor’s Note: Some spoilers may be present in the games discussed below, so we might suggest coming back to this list after finishing the games mentioned.]
Game I Started in 2015 and Finally Completed (Twice) This Year
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This year was not a great game year for me personally. Playing the likes of Far Cry 5, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Red Dead Redemption 2 garnered no real emotion from me aside from an intense dislike of Far Cry 5 after wasting thirty-some-odd hours on that game. Apathy notwithstanding, I did manage to find some great games to play this year, including finally completing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt after three years of on-again/off-again play.
Unsurprisingly The Witcher 3 is really good, so good in fact that I’ve already read my way through the first three books upon which the video games are based on. CD Projekt Red did an excellent job capturing the spirit of Geralt and the general theme of choosing between the lesser of two evils. The Witcher 3 is not a happy game, as a large majority of the quests revolve around stories of tragedy, many of which made it onto my guide of essential quests to do in the game. That list is a good explanation for why this is my game of the year, with so many good little stories I’ll remember.
The main quest is also quite good, especially how the ending is determined by how you decide to act with Ciri, something I really thought upended the usual final decision being a binary choice made at the last minute. Upon wrapping credits on my first playthrough, I started a new game with the intent of taking the knowledge of that first playthrough to do a much more thorough look at everything that the game had to offer.
I succeeded in greying out every icon on the map, finishing every quest, and even earning the Platinum Trophy, despite the bulls*** crossbow headshot Trophy. I then went on to complete Hearts of Stone, an excellent expansion, and started Blood and Wine before finally being sidetracked by other releases.
Slaying monsters, counterattacking humans, watching the numbers go up, successfully creating the mastercrafted versions of every Witcher gear set, and solving moral quandaries are all excellent in The Witcher 3. While Skellige may have wasted my time with the huge number of treasure chests below the surface around the islands, I thoroughly enjoyed the 130 hours spent on my second save file and love the grumpy dad that is Geralt.
Old Game Catch Up
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
2018 was also the year I found the second good Zelda game after Breath of the Wild in Link’s Awakening. I played this on my childhood Game Boy Color that I dug up after attending the Portland Retro Game Show and purchasing it along with good old Tetris. Link’s Awakening has the same overall format as A Link to the Past with a major difference: the map is uncovered and as you clear areas, you are reminded of which areas might now be accessible when you retrieve a new item, Metroid-style. Link’s Awakening also has a more compelling anchor in Maron, whose simple island life nurtures a desire within her for something greater that is both relatable–as someone who always wants more–and tragic. The final revelation of the game is that she, as well as the entirety of the island and its inhabitants, don’t exist beyond Link’s sea-bogged dreams.
This was the year I realized that I love tragedy, as this, The Witcher 3, and an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Offspring”) taught me that I find tragedies more compelling than other types of fiction. Often compared to Twin Peaks, it was fitting that my playthrough of Link’s Awakening would come in the same year of my initial viewing of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s strange but endearing television show.
The smaller scale and more intimate nature of Link’s Awakening was a greater motivation to stick around than the shallow and world-ending stakes of Ocarina of Time, a game that never kept me in beyond the first few temples. It also helps that the direction and pacing of Link’s Awakening seems so much better than other Zelda titles, as the acquisition of new items/abilities came consistently enough that I always had a location I could now access in the forefront of my mind. Despite its age and the limitations of the platform, Link’s Awakening is still immensely charming and one of the best games I played this year.
Another game I came late to, Hitman (2016) is excellent. The year 2016 for me was dominated by DOOM, so I was a bit surprised when Giant Bomb ended up giving Best Game to Hitman, but, now having played it, I see why. Hitman is a game about solving puzzles, with the solution being your target’s death. Each map is a giant complex bundle of systems, NPC pathways, triggers, tools, and mechanics to help you find a solution. Maps begin nice and pristine at first, and in jumps Agent 47 to disrupt the entire proceeding. Your purpose is chaos: the degree to which you determine. You can kill your target without anyone noticing or cause an entire lighting fixture to fall on top of them and those around them.
Hitman is a game about a “World of Assassination” but you aren’t supposed to feel bad about your targets, as they are all terrible people. The game even penalizes you for killing those who are non-targets, emphasizing that although Agent 47 is a killer for hire, he’s a “good guy” who is rewarded only for taking out the awful pieces of shit that make the world a worse place. The game takes you through an assortment of these missions to take out terrible people, whether this is someone who trades information in order to sell it to terrorists, or an affluent banker cheating an entire country out of millions, or a rock star who probably killed his girlfriend. You are sent to kill these people and enjoy it. Many of the opportunities that the game presents are comical, whether it be the many impersonations you can make, or just the comedy of an exploding golf ball being set off and sending your target into the air and onto a small crater.
Challenges present questions and it’s up to the player to work their way to the answer whether by blind luck or by accurate predictions of how the puzzle will react to your actions. It’s so much fun to figure out how to achieve a certain kill and a joy to set up perfectly-executed scenarios. Failures will happen, but it never takes too long to load into a previous save and despite my worry, the opportunities proceed at a quicker-than-expected pace. Hitman is an excellent game about working out the many ways in which someone can die while feeling great about accomplishing it.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
2018 was partially a year of catching up on games I didn’t make time for previously, with Assassin’s Creed Origins catching my eye last year as maybe a finally “good” entry in a dead-to-me franchise. And boy is it actually good, with a protagonist who isn’t a piece of s*** and someone genuinely interested in helping his people. Bayek is the best protagonist in recent memory whose motivation is cliche (the death of a family member, this time a child), but he doesn’t let that get in the way of his duty to help those around him. While his one goal is to kill those responsible for the death of his son, he still takes time to talk to random people in the street who have problems only he can solve.
Taking cues from The Witcher 3, many of these stories, both in side quests and as part of the open world’s many points of interest, are centered on tragedy. Whether it be the loss of parents, accidental deaths, or the oppression of the occupying forces, Origins has lots of tragic tales to tell you. It also has a large open world that equips the player with the tools to adequately explore it in a bearable amount of time. Your mount can automatically follow roads to your waypoint or objective, allowing you to move the camera freely to take in the sights or check your phone for texts. The eagle lets you locate a location’s objectives and you can even ping the surrounding area for lootable objects, breaking down time that would have been spent pixel hunting for the last trigger to check off the current world map icon.
The open world still reads like a traditional (and boring) Ubisoft checklist, but it gives you a compelling playable character, the tools to find what you need to move on to the next thing, and a world with some worthwhile stories to tell.
Actual 2018 Games
Being basic, I too liked the everloving s*** out of Spider-Man 2 on the PlayStation 2 as both an early open world and a super-hero game centered on a character I loved. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies are endearing to me, even Tobey Maguire’s deadpan tone for most of his dialogue. Despite the highs of Spider-Man 2 the lightning was gone, never to be captured again in the many, many Spider-Man games to come after.
And yet, Insomniac Games took it upon themselves to make a Spider-Man game in the Year of our Lord 2018 and the people responded universally: “the swinging is good.” And the swinging was good, as was the open world and combat; but still, the lightning was gone.
Though the city was rendered with realism, Insomniac decided to interpret some of the problems plaguing that metropolis as fictional as the PMC that occupies it in the late-game. The one-button combat was surprising with how often I utilized all of its permeations, as the combat challenges and hideout challenges forced me to repeatedly use different moves.
Peter Parker is solid, as is the rest of the cast, though the game’s main plot never had me super motivated. As an open world, it falls into the trope of a pressing narrative moment occurring but still allowing the player to do whatever open world activity they want in the meantime. Marvel’s Spider-Man is probably the best Spider-Man game, but it proves that childhood endearment is not something that can be repeated, even if there is an awesome easter egg in the form of the much-beloved pizza delivery song.
A short but super sweet game about an asshole raccoon ruining everyone else’s life for his own benefit turning around and helping restore order. The theme of Donut County is a bit of self-reflection on the developer Ben Esposito, whose original game Kachina took aspects from the Native American tribe Hopi before realizing that he was not capable of actually representing them. Instead, we have a nice game about a version of Los Angeles in which a donut delivery app spawns a hole that gobbles up whatever “trash” it can as it grows bigger and bigger so that raccoons can move in and enjoy all the trash humans create.
It has a great sense of humor, from the duck emoticon you can tap during text conversations, to the item descriptions, to the gameplay mechanic of two rabbits devoured by the hole getting busy and making the hole bigger by their copulation. As many have noted, the main disappointment is that the game ends maybe too soon and with too few puzzles to solve to make it completely satisfying. With every other AAA game lasting five to ten hours longer than necessary though, I’ll happily accept a nice two-hour experience over sixty hours of Arthur Morgan saying, “I don’t know Dutch.”
Check out the DualShockers review of Donut County.
Into the Breach
It has been a long time since I played chess regularly, and Into the Breach reminded me of the many times my father and I would face off. While some of the mechanics are very different, you know every move the enemy is going to take beforehand, and the importance of positioning is something I don’t think any other strategy games have accomplished quite like this one.
Every board is a puzzle to solve and all information is available to you, laying both success and failure at your feet. Resets for a turn are freely available once per board, the difficulties don’t restrict your unlocks, and each run lasts at most 45 minutes if all goes well. The scenario mixes time travel and kaiju killing together perfectly, with each failed run ending with a pilot being sent back in time to try again.
Games I Want to Talk About But Not in a “Best of” Category (Major Spoilers)
God of War (2018)
This year was so-so overall, as many games that people held up as great pieces of media had me unconvinced they were anything special. God of War is one many people feel strongly about one way or the other, and is a perfectly fine action-adventure game that goes on five hours too long. Kratos and Atreus’s relationship goes from rocky to both of them understanding each other better, which is nice but was never compelling. The only portion of God of War that interested me was when Atreus became a little shit upon learning that he was a god, as it was a change in their relationship I didn’t expect. At one point Kratos explains to his son that they have a responsibility as gods to be better than the others, but also shrugs off opportunities to help spirits find peace. Combat is too restrictive at the outset and takes awhile to get really good, though the callback for the axe always feels great. A late-game pivot towards world-ending stakes felt weird given the exceedingly empty world and small cast of characters and personal story, though makes sense in a post-Marvel world where things have to set up the next thing.
Having a one-take camera perspective was a waste, as it was never utilized outside of the dragon fight in an exciting way. Crafting and loot are worthless systems, and the game moves the goal post too often to artificially extend game time. God of War did make me want to read more about Norse mythology which is a pretty cool accomplishment.
The theme of children killing their parents is an interesting one, as Kratos is so against the cycle continuing that he kills Baldur despite Freya’s insistence on dying for her son. The reveal of Loki felt like a dumb end-game talking point at first, but then I realized it plays into the theme of Kratos attempting to disrupt cycles. However, that only led him to fulfill them, as Atreus still ended up in the Loki role of causing Baldur’s death and therefore the beginning of Ragnarok, albeit a bit early. Kratos was able to stop one cycle, but jump-started another one.
Although it was the game I argued for in DualShockers‘ Game of the Year podcast, it was only because the other choice was Red Dead Redemption 2. I don’t feel strongly for God of War, but just felt strongly against Rockstar taking home Game of the Year, which I’ll explain next.
Check out the DualShockers review of God of War.
Red Dead Redemption 2
No game was a bundle of conflicted emotions for me more than Red Dead Redemption 2. Arthur Morgan spouts about as many vain words as Dutch Van der Linde, and his devotion to a clearly compromised man makes the gang’s plight and eventual dissolution difficult to care for. Morgan claims to want to do good, but the terrible things he engages with throughout the campaign make that claim hard to believe. While his turn does eventually come, it’s only after he is confronted with death that it sets in fully, cheapening the act.
And yet, I liked the journal he kept, sketching pieces of the landscape and strange locations he comes across. I liked the way he talked to and comforted his horse, to the very end. Morgan can be charming, but I remain puzzled as to why Rockstar would give him a very clear narrative arc and yet include the capability to be dishonorable and even refute this arc in a final decision. Morgan is supposed to learn to be a good person, but can also choose to ditch John for money. The game is supposed to be about redemption (it’s in the title!), and yet you can throw it all away.
Leading this gang is Dutch, a piece of s*** from the outset, emotionally manipulating his followers with every complaint and a personal affront to both their shared love and trust for each other. Dutch is terrible and I was never sold on why these people would follow him as far as they do.
Dutch and the gang’s arc is supposed to be about their fall from grace, but we are only ever told about the part where they would rob the rich and give to the poor. At the beginning of the game, they are already on a downward spiral morally; I was never presented with the time they were all better people who helped others who weren’t capable of helping themselves. The game is far too long and repeats the same beats and dialogue until the very end. Then it went on even further with a two-part epilogue whose purpose I still question. John’s arc in the epilogue is a repeat of the first game, an outlaw who desires a simpler life but keeps getting dragged back into the past he tried to leave behind. The epilogue does at least gives some closure with the killing of the man responsible for Arthur’s death, but that didn’t require two chapters.
And yet despite these issues that I had with the game and Rockstar’s decisions, I still booted up a new save file, intentionally stalled out midway through Chapter 2, and started to cross off icons on a third party website whose map of Red Dead Redemption 2 guided me towards the interesting aspects of the open world. A UFO appearance, dead bodies bearing mysterious maps, a hermit’s shack, mysterious rock formations and obelisks: these are some of the best aspects of Red Dead Redemption 2‘s open world. Unfortunately the game does nothing to help you discover these locations on your own.
This was probably intentional, as are the complex controls, weighted movement, and animations, so that stumbling upon them is a Magical™ moment. However intentionality does not equate to quality, and other open worlds guide players towards their interesting aspects much better than this game does. A lack of direction would be fine if I had hundreds of hours to wander around the wilderness, but I don’t. And yet, I continued to ride through Red Dead Redemption 2 until the sheer weight of it all pushed me towards something else.
Check out the other DualShockers’ staff Top 10 lists and our official Game of the Year Awards:
December 17: DualShockers Game of the Year Awards 2018
December 18: Lou Contaldi, Editor in Chief // Logan Moore, Reviews Editor
December 19: Ryan Meitzler, Features Editor // Tomas Franzese, News Editor
December 20: Reinhold Hoffmann, Community Manager
December 21: Scott Meaney, Community Director // Ben Bayliss, Staff Writer
December 22: Ben Walker, Staff Writer // Chris Compendio, Staff Writer
December 23: Grant Huff, Staff Writer
December 26: Jordan Boyd, Staff Writer
December 27: Max Roberts, Staff Writer // Michael Ruiz, Staff Writer
December 28: Rachael Fiddis, Staff Writer
December 29: Steven Santana, Staff Writer // Tanner Pierce, Staff Writer
December 30: Iyane Agossah, Staff Writer // Travis Verbil, Staff Writer // Zack Potter, Staff Writer