by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 31st December, 2018
Find out which games were great but were just short of landing on the top ten list of best video games of 2018!
The first part of our 2018 best games list is live and there you can discover games that were great but didn't find their way on the final list as well as the last ten titles that landed on spots from 30 to 21.
The second part of the list is reserved for the upper echelon of 2018's offering, games that were amazing but just below the level of awesomeness needed for landing on one of the top ten spots. Remember that placing is less important than the fact that a game found its place among 20 best of the year.
Every single title featured here is an easy recommendation to every gamer and the sole thing that may deter gamers from checking out games found below is if they really don't like specific game's genre, and that's completely understandable. But if you don't mind the genre, find them all, and play them all.
Sega has the knack for releasing games that are amazing but just below the threshold to be considered AAA titles, and that's great because we need more awesome AA games. Yakuza series, Warhammer games, Two-Point Hospital, these are all marvelous games that don't have huge budgets and don't create immense pre-release hype. Valkyria Chronicles is one of those series, a series made of games that don't have an immense budget but deliver more than most AAA titles. And the latest entry in the long-running series is probably the best to date.
Continuing the story of global conflict in the world that resembles ours, Valkyria Chronicles 4 tells a much more mature and emotionally captivating story set several years before the events of the first game. The massive offensive pulled off by the Federation in order to create dents in the massive wall that is the Empire is told through many personal stories and many of them can bring tears to your eyes but despite (some would say) too many emotional moments, the story is excellent.
And when it comes to gameplay, Valkyria Chronicles 4 simply shines. Battles are massive and sometimes last through multiple stages. The biggest battles in the game will ask for multiple gaming sessions to be completed and this is something we applaud.
The series' signature mix between turn-based RPG combat and a third-person shooter is back and is better than ever, mostly because of epic battles and the fact that not a single skirmish looks or feels the same, making every combat encounter a unique experience. A unique game that's even better among many open world titles that flooded the market this year.
David Cage has done it again. After gifting the world three excellent adventures he and his studio Quantic Dream made another cinematic story driven game that provokes many questions about humanity and the imminent rise of the artificial intelligence. The problem was discussed through many different mediums and across many different works of art but Detroit: Become Human is the best video game tackling this ever-present issue that gains more weight with each passing year.
What is being human? Can we create clear borders between natural and artificial intelligence? Are humans above all other intelligent creatures, and can we impose total control over our creation? These and many other questions are tried to be answered in this game and we like the way Quantic Dream tackled them.
And when it comes to the actual gameplay, Detroit: Become Human is ahead of Beyond: Two Souls and a massive improvement over Heavy Rain. This time controls are almost spot on and the feel when playing the game is more inclined towards actually thinking you're playing a cinematic video game instead of taking part in some sort of interactive, choose your adventure movie experience although many didn't like (to say the least) the control scheme.
We again lead a cast of diverse characters who will make many decisions with lasting consequences and the amount of different choices is staggering, as with any other Quantic Dream game. And again, characters can die and the story will simply move on without them, making every choice a potential pick between life and death with players never knowing when a character's life may end but also completely removing game over screen.
The story is amazing and well-written, filled with interesting scenes and questions that are gradually answered as you play the game and all this is packed into an advanced graphical engine that puts most other games to shame, no matter the platform they are available on. Quantic Dream made another marvelous adventure that is definitely worth playing and gave PS4 owners another excellent exclusive in an otherwise already impressive year when it comes to PS4 exclusives.
Wreckfest is a like a madman on four wheels armored by a shabby chassis. It is fitted with a disproportionate engine that creates way more power than needed and it is thrown on a dusty racing track filled with other insane personalities who are racing for a trophy but down below they all know the real battle is who will wreck other racers the most.
And here some events are actually wrecking the shit out of everyone else, and these are perfect for turning murderous a bit before starting a new racing championship where you have to, you know, race instead of trying to turn other cars into boxes of squashed metal.
Wreckfest features some of the best racing we saw this year where you can ram into other cars, take them down, and shove them out of the track with a huge grin on your face and still finish first because here, everyone is trying to ram into everyone else and no one really likes clean racing.
Nevertheless, we were impressed with the opponent AI because here every single racer knows to drive and everyone has a chance of ending with a podium finish. This creates a unique game where you don't have to end first in each race in order to win a championship because each race will be won by someone else. We earned a few gold trophies without even landing a podium finish in a single race, which is great because it allows players to have some fun and hit others and not simply trying to perfect each track.
Visuals are fine but not jaw-dropping, multiplayer is solid (but it can be pretty chaotic because everyone drives like they are on a demolition derby instead on a racing track) and single player campaign is beefy and brimming with both regular racing championships and standalone special events like demolition derbies and other crazy stunts created by geniuses at Bugbear. Our favorite is the one where you drive a school bus and race 20 Reliant Robins where you can simply destroy them all and be the sole vehicle reaching the finish line. Priceless!
It's a shame the Nintendo Switch won't get the full version of Final Fantasy XV because that game would feel like at home on the Nintendo's latest hybrid game system. All we got is the stripped down mobile edition of the game and that's simply not enough. Fortunately, Square Enix thought about millions Switch owners who craved for a quality JRPG game and gave them Octopath Traveler, the best JRPG game of 2018.
Octopath Traveler looks like it came from the golden age of Nintendo handhelds with its retro visuals and old-school turn-based combat that is just strategic enough to make you think about your every move but arcade enough to guarantee lots of fun based on finding enemies' weak spots and then mercilessly hitting them where it hurts.
The game is a huge endeavor set in a magical world filled with enemies who simply crave for your party to find them and then battle them in the game's simply marvelous turn-based combat (seriously, you can play the game for hundreds of hours without ever becoming bored with its combat).
Each of the eight main characters come with their own backstory and while they are somewhat rehashed from the same mold and a bit too tedious to finish, it's okay because the game rewards exploration and doesn't force players to follow the main story all the time. In fact, the best part of the game is exploring the map and finding whether or not you can survive a newly discovered area. Octopath Traveler is hands down the best RPG for the Nintendo Switch and if you own one you simply have to play it.
Obsidian was one of those companies that revived the long forgotten genre of isometric RPG games, with its successful Kickstarter campaign for Pillars of Eternity, which paved the way for other masterpieces like the acclaimed Divinity: Original Sin and its even greater sequel.
The second part of the PoE saga puts players at the helm of a pirate ship free to explore the huge Deadfire Archipelago filled with mysteries and incredible stories. The story is an epic tale of an eternal battle between gods where mortals are mere tools used for settling scores but that pales before the fact that this one is the best pirate game since Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag!
You have your own ship populated by a band of original characters, each with their own backstory waiting to be unveiled, you can sail wherever you want and do various quests across the pretty world of Deadfire, or simply wonder the sea in search of battles against epic sea monsters. If Obsidian created parrot pets (there's just one bird pet in the game, reserved for those who pre-ordered the game) Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire would be a near perfect pirate game.
The story is more than solid, main and side quests are filled with great moments, there are numerous items and pieces of equipment you can find across the world, locations are unique and extremely attractive, the game is bursting with the amount of well-written dialogue and combat is not too shabby. What more can you ask from a quality RPG? All this makes PoE II: Deadfire the best classic RPG game of 2018.
Insurgency is a small but excellent hardcore multiplayer shooter and its sequel ended up as the best multiplayer shooter of 2018. CoD BLOPS IV is okay, it's Blackout mode is great but the single map can get boring after a while, Battlefield V looks like the game got released in Early Access mode, World War 3 feels great but is riddled with bugs and is another Early Access title, making Insurgency: Sandstorm the best of the bunch.
It got released bug-free, it offers tight and unforgiving gameplay that feels amazing once you get the hang of it, and it comes with a solid choice of maps that are all equally interesting to play on.
Gunplay is on the hardcore side but it simply feels amazing, modes are varied and ask for team play, and visuals are great for this type of game. We like that you cannot simply run and gun around the map (hint: you will be killed in less than a second if you start playing like you're in CoD) and that you have to coordinate with your team in order to fulfill objectives.
We also like the fact that the game does an excellent job at balancing teams and that netcode works flawlessly. Great job from New World Interactive, a studio that gave us an early New Year's present in the form of this excellent shooter.
A mix between a sim city building game and hardcore survival experience may sound like a bad idea but Frostpunk isn't bad at all. In fact, it is one of the best games of 2018. The game takes place in an alternate reality where the world is encrusted in eternal ice and where humans must fight hard to survive another day in this godforsaken (and frozen) wasteland. You have the hard task of making sure that the whole settlement survives, and that grave responsibility often demands making hard decisions that will haunt players during the rest of the game.
It all starts fairly simple but as the campaign progresses players are faced with harder and harder challenges that demand sacrifices and if you think that Frostpunk can be played like other city builders you are gravely wrong. This is a pure survival experience with individual survival being replaced with the survival of the whole community, which is way harder to pull off.
You will curse, cry, try to find an alternative where people don't have to starve on a daily basis, where children don't have to work, where you don't have to turn off refuges thus sentencing them to death but if you want to stay alive in the unforgiving world of Frostpunk be ready to do just that. It's a stressful experience but one that's oddly rewarding and fulfilling and better than most other games we had the chance to play this year.
Celeste is an indie fairytale come true. A small team of people who create games because they love them gave the world a marvelous platformer that evokes feelings we had back when we first played Super Mario, Ghosts and Goblins, Donkey Kong, and other cult classics of the 8-bit era. And this one is, like many platformers of the past, a damn hard challenge that will also evoke all those moments where hitting the controller against the wall was the only thing capable of preventing you from going mad. Yes, Celeste is hard as they can get but at least we don't have to deal with permadeath. It's something.
The story of Madeline and her efforts to reach the summit of the mountain of Celeste is an epic tale of conquering inner demons and a perfect example of how the will is the key to success and how we are our own worst enemy. You will often persevere and beat a certain extra hard level not because you're awesome at the game but because you got the will to finish that damn level. Controls are tight and extremely precise, which is needed in a game like this but despite that, you will die, often. But once you reach the summit all that frustration will be forgotten and only the good moments will stay in memory.
Perfect pixel art visuals will amaze everyone who played SNES or Sega Genesis and the game's simple yet fitting soundtrack filled with 80's beats is the perfect companion through this climb of a lifetime. A small game that became worldwide hit has proven that dreams can become reality, and the same happened in Madeline's case. And once you finally reach the peak and start playing those punishing B-side levels you'll discover that the base game was simply a base camp compared to those trials of the damned.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the best part of the new Lara Croft Trilogy that presents the triumph of game design with its incredible tombs and atmospheric gameplay that finally found the perfect ratio between combat and exploration. This is the best Tomb Raider since Tomb Raider Anniversary and while it won't end up as a favorite for those who prefer Uncharted and its focus on combat, longtime Tomb Raider fans will be delighted playing the game.
The pseudo-open world design again proved as a perfect formula for a Tomb Raider game with a couple of major hubs separated with wilderness and ancient temples that provide an excellent backdrop for Lara to jump, climb, and fight her way through beautiful yet unforgiving South American rainforest.
The decision to include difficulty levels for exploration with the option to play without those too obvious stretches of white paint notifying players where they can climb and where the path continues was the right choice because this one finally felt like playing Tomb Raider game that actually puts your senses and logic to the test while discovering the path forward through a level.
And the game's tombs finally shine. They were an afterthought in the first game, got a bit more attention in the Rise of the Tomb Raider and in Shadow of the Tomb Raider most of them provide an epic set of environmental puzzles that are the essence of Tomb Raider and if you love exploration part of the game you will adore solving tombs.
Combat is less frequent and too easy but that's okay because everything else is top notch. The story received an excellent conclusion with all its threads closed so we cannot wait to see what's next for Lara, who earned her break during which she will stay in her manor with a decision not to meddle with ancient relics ever again. But we are sure she will have to take her guns and save the world again in the future.
Assassin's Creed became an action RPG and while hardcore fans of the series won't accept this, the fact is that the game actually is an excellent action RPG. The prequel to Origins is set in ancient Greece and follows the main character in their quest to unravel their family secrets and to destroy the ancient Cult of Kosmos that is trying to rule the world from shadows.
The world is immense, even a bit daunting to explore once you realize just how huge it is but if you simply start exploring your surroundings and gradually uncovering new regions Assassin's Creed Odyssey will feel like any other open-world RPG. The key is to slowly explore new regions and to not wander too far from your current zone. Developers made sure that players don't stray too far by level-locking regions, and while we understand why they did this we don't really approve the solution.
But aside that small downside the game is great. Combat is tight and challenging, asking for reflexes as much as for right combinations of blocks, dodges, parries, and attacks. There is a huge amount of equipment to unlock, buy, or loot, and the return of ships can only be a positive thing. The game offers more than 150 hours of content and even more if you plan on clearing up all camps and other side activities making it a video game with the best value for money we saw this year.
The main story is solid but the biggest strength of Odyssey is its side quests that, like in Red Dead Redemption 2 (more on that in the third and final part of the best of 2018 list), often end up being better and more enjoyable to play than the majority of main quests.
And the game is beautiful, with incredible draw distances, detailed characters, solid animation, cities and other settlements filled with details, and the sweet lighting effects. This is one of the prettiest games ever and it all looks sublime even on consoles. But if you own a beefy PC capable of running this one in 4K with all options maxed well, you will be blown away by the level of visual presentation.
This is the biggest and prettiest Assassin's Creed game ever and it features the best combat out of them all but it isn't in the same group as games from the series that predate Origins. That's okay because action RPG seems like a perfect genre for Assassin's Creed game.