After revealing our awards during the past several days, the biggest day of them all has finally come. That’s right, it’s the end of the road folks and time for us to award our greatest honor: Game of the Year. Both the nominees and winner were not taken lightly, having to exemplify the best of gaming to be named. It was a hard-fought battle, but without further adieu, here’s our top 10 games:
Don’t be fooled by how low on the list Dragon Quest XI is, as this has been one heck of a year for games. This is a JRPG of old, while containing a number of modern day improvements to help streamline the experience and offer an overall superior game. Dragon Quest XI has a unique and highly-enjoyable story, and an addictive turned-based combat system rarely seen in AAA games nowadays. It helps that the art style is gorgeous, easily being the best looking Akira Toriyama title to date. The main cast are overly charismatic as you’ll quickly fall in love with their interactions with one another, and you’ll be entranced with the woes of side characters around the world as their stories are worth hearing. With over 100 hours to complete and a wide variety of activities to partake in, you’ll be at this for weeks, if not months, and each moment will be pure bliss. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll be hard pressed to find another game like Dragon Quest XI as it’s one for the ages.
If you’re going to make one of your most beloved series seemingly annual in its release schedule, you’d best make sure that what you’re putting out is of the highest quality. And safe to say Sega made sure to maintain Yakuza’s impressive streak going with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. No doubt we haven’t heard the last of Sega’s long-running, beat ‘em up, story-led RPG franchise here, but this year’s entry at the very least did justice to what would be the close of series staple Kazuma Kiryu’s tale. Powered by the Dragon Engine and showcasing the returning Kamurocho and debutant Onomichi districts in a greater detail than before, the highly-entertaining story and roster of characters, consistently-enjoyable combat, tons of side content to indulge in and a retaining of the series’ light-and-dark tone — of atypically slapstick self-awareness and dark, criminal undertones throughout — resulted in Yakuza 6 being by far one of the best entries in the series to date. A reminder to any and all studios crafting open-world, non-linear experiences, that size alone is never an indicator of a game’s appeal or quality, it’s what you do with the world comprising it that ends up defining it.
8. Dead Cells
Dead Cells was in early access for years and its full 2018 release showed that you can’t rush greatness. While the early version showed off great potential, the final game showcased the finest-playing Metroidvania game on the market. With a blend of that sub-genre and a rogue-lite element that gave you an extreme punishment for death, playing defensively became more important than ever before. Instead of being able to rely on nearby checkpoints and become a hit sponge to get past tough areas, you now have to play with skill. Some games would punish players for not learning quickly, but Dead Cells makes it easy to learn by giving you all the tools needed to succeed early on. There’s a ton of variety in weapons and gaining new ones feels rewarding, with boss battles allowing you to test your skills with new weapons or provide a greater challenge and swap them out for weaker gear. It’s a tough, but fair adventure and one of the best action-platformers ever made.
Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight has long been championed as the game that brilliantly combines nostalgic, throwback gameplay with a modern-day sensibility of challenge and presentation. Well now, that game finally has some deserved company in that illustrious department with Sabotage Studios’ own debut entrant, The Messenger, joining it alongside. As similarly a throwback the game might have appeared on the surface, with its solitary nods to the original Ninja Gaiden, The Messenger quickly established itself as a game never tiring from its pulling back the curtain to reveal what it was truly housing. And if the immediately impressive platforming mechanics and catchy soundtrack weren’t enough, the ways it contextualised its inevitable transitioning to a 16-bit aesthetic, both narratively and during gameplay, cemented The Messenger as one of the smartest and best-delivered releases this year. But to keep on surprising us, to offer up a delightful cast of characters that weren’t afraid to poke fun at its own absurdity, proved Sabotage as a studio both passionate of the past yet knowledgeable on how to approach game design at present. The Messenger is an outright delight to behold and one of the best platformers you’re likely to find.
Rockstar Games is a renowned developer best known for their Grand Theft Auto franchise. Sure, they’ve had their hand at other properties such as Bully, Manhunt and Midnight Club, just to name a few, but none of them stack up to what GTA was able to accomplish. The closest has to be their cowboy action franchise, Red Dead, or more specifically Red Dead Redemption as most want to forget about the original Revolver. With the sequel to the 2010 hit, we received one of the most emotionally-charged and overly-detailed world we’ve ever seen in video game form. It’s a massive open world filled to the brim with life and random encounters. You could run into lost souls or come upon a group of bandits looking to ambush you; your story will feel unique. It helps that the protagonist is a complex and charismatic individual you shape to your own liking. Despite the controls being a bit of a mess at times, somewhat affecting what would be a perfect single player experience, Red Dead Redemption 2 remains a game like no other. It’s an exhilarating experience that will have you on the edge of your seat all the way through.
There aren’t a lot of games that let Nintendo characters go head to head and fight to the finish, let alone including a variety of third-party iconic characters into the roster. That’s part of what makes Super Smash Bros. such a wonderful series and Ultimate brings is to the forefront by being the best there is in the series. It not only brought back every previous fighter, but even offered a good amount new to turn up the heat. It takes its name seriously by being the most ambitious entry the series has ever had and we may never see another like it for some time. With tons of spirits to collect, bosses to take down and fighters to carry on, the pride of their series Super Smash Bros. Ultimate heats things up. It should be no surprise that a game that lets Ridley fight Solid Snake is one of the best to come out this year.
Monster Hunter has been around since 2009 and yet didn’t strike broad audiences until the release of World just this year. It came with updated mechanics to not only ease players in, but also teach them the basics that were a bit more cryptic before. Despite the ease of entry, it manages to remain just as difficult as any other Monster Hunter title all while looking wonderful in a brand new coat of paint. It also opened up brand new opportunities by being the first in the series to release on multiple platforms, making it easier for everyone to play on their console of choice. Those who really wanted a challenge for the first time or were just looking to get back into it could easily have one of the greatest hunting adventures of their time in this re-vitalized entry to the series. Monster Hunter: World is just the thing the series needed to make it shine and made a huge splash as one of the best games released in 2018.
More and more each year, we see crops of indie games that excel to such a high degree that they can even outshine several titles that the triple-A industry has to offer. But when the dust settled, Celeste easily emerged as this year’s greatest indie title, and one of its best games, period. There are many reasons for its success: likeable characters, a heartfelt story that people can relate to, one of the year’s best soundtracks, some of the most precise and fun platforming that can be designed, colorful graphics with imaginative locales…the list goes on. But everything keeps coming back to Celeste’s level of challenge. “Nintendo Hard” games are still very much in demand, but Celeste puts notable twists on its approach to difficulty, both in its optimistic approach and presentation that perfectly ties into the story, and by allowing options to tweak various gameplay settings to provide the level of difficulty that one prefers, without ever diminishing things (and encouraging players still approach things as normal first, of course). It may actually be the most accessible hardcore game ever created, delivering intense gameplay in any case. And when combined with everything else, it creates one haunting, mesmerizing, truly enjoyable game that is not to be missed.
Superhero games are notoriously difficult to pull off. Usually, they’re rushed licensed products that publishers shove out the door. When developers take their time and put lots of love and care into the project, however, superhero games can truly blossom. That’s what Marvel’s Spider-Man is, a beautifully-crafted game by developers who care about the character. Insomniac Games nailed what it’s like to be the webslinger. From slick and addicting web-swinging mechanics to beautifully-crafted suits, Insomniac Games gets Spider-Man. In addition to this, the developer crafted a deeply personal story that highlights the perils of being Spider-Man and how it effects Peter Parker’s daily life. Heartbreaking, exhilarating and humorous, Marvel’s Spider-Man hits all the right emotional notes. Beautiful to look at and fun to play, Marvel’s Spider-Man stands as one of the best superhero games ever made. The boss fights may not be as epic as the characters you fight, but there’s no denying that you’ll feel just like Spider-Man as you swing through New York City. Marvel’s Spider-Man easily stands as one of the best games of 2018.
Of all the games that released in 2018, none came together in such excellent faction as God of War. Santa Monica Studios took a tired franchise and delivered something fresh and exciting to play. God of War excels in the same areas previous entries did. From the presentation to performances to the gameplay, God of War delivers a stellar experience that lingers with players long after the credits roll. Numerous games this year featured excellent gameplay and stunning visuals, but what pushes God of War above its contemporaries and predecessors is its world and story. The switch from Greek to Norse mythology opened new possibilities to expand what a God of War game could be and Santa Monica Studios happily took it. With a greatly-expanded world to explore, various puzzles and challenges to conquer, and lore to uncover, God of War kept players invested in the world.
The story, however, is a complete game-changer for the series and one that effortlessly turns the enraged Spartan into a loving father. Kratos returns, but with a new family and outlook on life. Following the death of his wife, Kratos and his son, Atreus, look to honor her dying wish by spreading her ashes across the highest peak in all the realms. Instead of a revenge tale against some god that wronged him, we received an expertly-woven, emotional story with evolving characters. Kratos still has a roughness about him, but actor Christopher Judge injects humanity into a character few thought would ever have any humanity. Rounded out with an excellent supporting cast and filled with chilling moments, the deep, compelling narrative will have players on the edge of their seats as they wonder what’ll happen next. When it comes to gameplay, presentation, world and story, no other game quite came together like God of War. Santa Monica’s ability to marry all aspects together into such a compelling package makes it the crown jewel of 2018.