Stian’s favorite games of 2018

I don’t know if we have been lucky or anything, but 2018 had a lot of fantastic indie-titles that makes it hard to only choose 12 titles for my list. Throughout the entire year, I have been rewriting this list more times than I really should have the patience for, and you bet it was sad to neglect some titles for it, so really keep in mind that this was a difficult year to limit myself with the number of entries.

However, before I get on with the list, I just want a quick glance over some rules for this top 12, as I do every year:

  1. This is only MY PERSONAL top 12 games of 2018. I am really interested in hearing what other gems I might have missed this year, so think of this list as more of a conversation-starter than anything else.
  2. While some remakes are impressive, unless they have something that makes the game totally different in general, it won’t be on this list.
  3. These are games I have at least finished. If I have not fully invested my time in a game, despite how much I enjoyed it, I don’t feel compelled to put it on the list or even really talk about it.  

We good? If you read on, I suppose we are.

#12 Yakuza 6

Like last year, we got two Yakuza-titles this year, that being Yakuza 6 and a remake of Yakuza 2 titled Yakuza 2 Kiwami. It was somewhat difficult to choose one over the other, but while both are worth your cash, Yakuza 6 was the more solid package in my eyes and went for more quality, than quantity. It might be also a mood-point, but it was great to see the Yakuza-series finally taking advantage of the PS4’s powers and going all out with its capabilities. It is a gorgeous game, with fantastic visuals for cutscenes and combat-animations, with the audio being some of the best the series has had, both with its voicework and soundtrack. It really goes out to make the last game with Kiryu as the star as spectacular as possible, with fantastic writing, twists, and subtle references to his older adventures, without getting up in your face and linger on nostalgia. For example, instead of putting a little girl mixed up in a Yakuza-war, let’s put a baby in instead.

Yakuza 6

While the main story is fantastic with even Takeshi Kitano being a voice-actor here, it is all those sidequests with bizarre events that really makes you adore this world. There are certainly lesser parts when it comes to the side-activities, but all are entertaining and who doesn’t want the power to save stray cats? Combat is also fun and engaging, providing you one fight-style compared to previous 4 styles, but by making it more focused on one style, the developers provide more options for leveling up your stats or abilities. If you are still uncertain on getting this title, you do get Virtua Fighter 5 for free.

#11 Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

I was personally more than just done with the Assassin’s Creed-series as I have expressed a couple of times throughout some articles, but last year’s Origins made me have actual faith that the series could be in for an important reboot of some sort. Yes, it took a lot of pages from The Witcher 3, but that is one of my favorite games and seeing the developers using it well and focus on making the ancient Egypt interesting (not to mention being open to fantasy and lore-elements that even Final Fantasy is now canon to the series), I was very excited to see the series take on possibly my favorite era: classical Greece. Odyssey is heavily similar to Origins, but has enough originality with its skill tree and setting to be unique and improves on just about every element from the last game.

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While I could gush about just how authentic it all feels, I also love the characters, as they are charming, relatable or just humorous. These are some of the most memorable cast the series has ever had, and I love how they made the female lead just as strong as the male. The gameplay is again fantastic, giving you the ability to focus your skills as a hunter, assassin or warrior, and all are equally important, giving you options to focus on one or be a jack of all trades.

All skills provide something for your adventure and the sidequests, be it infiltrating a fort, fighting in a war amongst soldiers, hunt for gaining materials, find cult-members, and much more. Everything you can do relates back to your skill trees, which is simply fantastic and sidequests are creative enough to be varied and entertaining. Even the returning ship battles have been heavily improved and are about as strategic as those in Black Flag, providing an engaging time both on land and at sea. I could go into so many fantastic details about this entry, but to put it simply: for one who had lost hope in AC, I am stunned with how much further they have come with the series in terms of quality. Going insane with magic and lore definitely helps too.

#10 Dragon Quest 11

I adore the Dragon Quest-games. It is a solid RPG-series that only changes specific concepts of the gameplay and story just significant enough to be called sequels, while always relying on the simple RP mechanics the series has been known for, and this one is no exception. While Dragon Quest 11 is still a challenging turn-based J-RPG, it is one of the most beginner-friendly there is despite also appealing to veterans, and rarely requires grinding as long as you don’t skip every monster on your way. One of the best mechanics it introduces is the ability to make your own weapons by finding materials and recipes around the world, giving you plenty of reasons to explore, besides the adorable side-quests and simply by how diverse and gorgeous the areas are. Money is hard to come by, so giving an option on how to proceed with this addition, is a clever one.

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The combat still holds up with a turn-based setup and four party-members at the front, with skill-trees being simple, but important to take in consideration for character-customization. It is always fun to take on a match and the bossfights demands clever strategies and for you to be diverse in your approach. There are smaller yet significant additions like limit-mode and how enemies appear on the overworld for avoiding or making the first strike in an encounter, but the main reason for why I fall in love with this game as with its previous installments is the charm. Akira Toriyama’s style is one I adore and can appreciate on both a quality and a quantity aspect, the orchestrated soundtrack is superb and strong, and the story takes you to interesting locations with all having interesting scenarios and problems, and the loveable cast of characters are always delightful. There is never shame in being traditional as long as you can provide quality and variety, and Dragon Quest shows yet again that it is the solid rock I can always depend on.

#9 A Way Out

What a surprise! I was not a fan of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as I have already expressed in my review and was originally planning on skipping this entry until a friend asked if we could play it through together. Taking a complete shift from his previous project, Josef Fares’ next cinematic, story-driven, puzzle-game can only be played with one other player and it goes all the way with it. Starting lightly by focusing on you and your companion working together to get out of prison, everything you do, you have to do together. It can be something action-packed, like one character driving a car, while the other shoots at the cops or something small like playing Connect 4 together.

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This is what A Way Out thrives on, but also in a more methodical way. You can’t, for example, progress with a choice unless you both agree on it, which forces the players to talk out their options, and there are tons of things you can explore to get more out of the duo’s chemistry and personalities. Their dynamic is very intriguing, since as you play it, you see how close to your partner you actually are. Without spoiling anything, the end-part reflects beautifully on the journey, through the buttons’ new meanings, and really shows how important these kinds of details are overall. It might prone to traditional QTE and scripted events on occasions, but is still a story so strong, I shed a tear both when I played it with my friend, and yet again when I played it with my sister. A fantastic way of testing your friendship.

#8 Pocket Rumble

One fun fact about me is that since I was into fighting-games, yet rarely had the consoles they were actually released on, I usually got the handheld-versions of those games. I know this was and probably still is a bizarre thing, but some titles were actually impressive for the devices they were released on, such as the Street Fighter Alpha-games on GBC, GBA, and PSP. Pocket Rumble takes the concept of a GBC fighting game by only using two buttons for attacks and the D-pad, but does this to a fantastic extent. By simplifying with holds and quick presses that are easy to differentiate, you will have strong and weak attacks, mixed with down forward or down back for special attacks, instead of doing quarter-circles.

Pocket Rumble

All characters have a limit-bar and special moves that make them unique, such as Parker with quick defenses, or Quinn with his werewolf-transformation. All are a joy to try out and easy to get the hang of, yet hard to master. This is all topped by an authentic presentation with simple-colors that ooze with personality in victory-animations and even in the character select menu. It really goes to show that a ginormous roster of fighters does not mean a thing when you can’t be diverse and interesting, which Pocket Rumble is and more, making it one fantastic fighting-game that anybody can pick up and play.

#7 Marvel’s Spiderman

I was actually not following this game’s hype or development when it was announced, but I felt confident that Insomniac games would provide a solid game. However, I got much more than that and, to be vague with its description for a bit, this game takes the best from Spiderman 2 for the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, and mixes it with elements from the Batman Arkham-games. Thus, it makes for an amazing setup that gives you combat that is easy to handle, but loose enough to make you agile and creative. You can even choose a stealthy approach or go all up-close with melee, with both being worthwhile tactics, and thanks to a small RPG-addition where you gain CP by doing any task the game provides, you will be able to upgrade your hero. Here you can unlock more gadgets, stat-boots or my personal favorite: costumes.

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Of course, the best feature is not just the exploration, but the way you move around to partake in it. The momentum in your swings, the subtle effects of timed jumps, how webs need to be connected to buildings, and the ways to use your abilities for traversing, are just outstanding and fantastic. There are so many ways to get from one path to the other, it is no wonder I find myself returning to the race-challenges just as much as the other tasks. It really gives you a sense of how much effort was put into immersion, allowing players to feel like they have become the web-slinger, and combine this with an interesting take on the Spiderman’s world, characters, and lore, it makes for a refreshing and fantastic PS4 exclusive. It is a really amazing game made by fans for everyone.

#6 Unravel 2

Yet another co-op game published by EA. Is it odd that these indie-titles are more interesting than their triple-A line-up? Regardless, Unravel 2 takes the best parts of the first Unravel with an adorable protagonist in a “little creature in a big world” setup and makes everything close to perfect. First of, the areas you visit are wonderful, going from cities, rooftops, parks, out in the woods, and more, giving you a nice variation between the urban and naturalistic environments. I set this up as a huge deal, since the first game was more about style than substance, and the style is still present here with events going on in the background, while we indulge in our doll’s adventure.

Unravel.jpg

However, this time, he is not alone and has a partner that he interacts with, where both convey personality through their contrasts and reflects well over what is going on in the background. While the style is about on par with the previous game, the gameplay has gotten a major upgrade with each level providing something new, be it fast-paced platforming or clever puzzles. Both aspects are simply fantastic, with a co-op partner enhancing the experience. After the perfect length of a story mode, there is still a lot of replay value in the form of other challenges, collectibles, and 20 bonus stages. It’s honestly hard to find any fault with this game, as it will tickle your heartstrings as a wonderful experience both in style and in substance.

#5 The Bard’s Tale Trilogy

I don’t do remakes on these lists that often, except if they upgrade a game to the point that they make the original not worth playing anymore other than for nostalgia, due to fixing a lot of issues in the original one. The Bard’s Tale Trilogy is among my favorite old-school C-RPG’s from my childhood and while I did enjoy tremendously Bard’s Tale 4, this remake is a clear thing of beauty. To see these titles back with a lot of smart changes, such as providing an actual tutorial,  optimized with better presentation, and automapping for easier insight on where you are, are just a few reasons for why I am thrilled to revisit this trilogy.

Bards Tale

However, what it also keeps in mind, is to retain the feeling of a traditional RPG or RP-campaigns in general where you must listen carefully to what people say, take notes, and be aware of how vulnerable your party is. If you wanna go completely old-school, there is an option for just that as well. Though as in the original, this trilogy wins due to feeling like an adventure where you always have to be careful with every step, every choice, and pay attention. There is combat with simple interface and choices on what to do, and while it is enjoyable, The Bard’s Tale Trilogy shows that wits, keen senses, and a little bit of luck, can go far.  Also, three great RPGs in one package. Can you really complain then?

#4 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

I will wholeheartedly admit that this has something to do with my love for the Castlevania-series, but this is such a fantastic and polished tribute, I believe newcomers will also have a great time with it. Taking a page from the best titles in the series, such as Castlevania 3, Super Castlevania 4 and even Bloodlines, you are set in a linear sidescroller, with the focus being on pinpoint jumps and being smart with your choice of weapons at hand. Though you are not alone on this journey, as you can take along your partners with each having special abilities and they all play completely differently from one another or kill them to make yourself stronger. Because of this, you always have a new experience if you want to go for another playthrough with even multiple pathways, secrets, and challenging platforming and combat being there to test you.

Bloodstained

All are simple, but have enough depth to be enjoyable thanks to the wonderful level-design and enemy-placement. The same goes for the diverse boss-battles that are varied and force you to be ready for anything. Though what Castlevania has always been known for is its style, and Bloodstained goes so far with it through gorgeous designs for enemies, providing beautiful gothic sceneries, and gives us music composed by the same woman who did the original Castlevania-tracks, and it is all simply fantastic. Style and substance can both be achieved, and Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon does just that perfectly. They even color-coded the lanterns for highlighting which contains subweapons, how wonderful of a self-aware detail is that?

#3 Aggelos

Sometimes, I like to simply take a chance on a game I haven’t read a single review for, and just look up gameplay-trailers and read a bit on the creator’s website. This is what made me purchase Aggelos on the spot, and I honestly could not stop playing it. To put it simply: it is a mix of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link’s upgradable combat, and Wonder- Boy’s level-design, but fleshed out with more equipment that is more diverse than just stat-upgrades and goes all the way to be endearing with creative creatures and provides a simple, yet adorable quest.

Aggelos

It reminds me just how lovely a simpler time was, where rescuing the world was a reward in itself, though helping those in need could grant you more and exploration was always a great time. A brilliant concept the game uses is how they made every item you get from a dungeon not situational for just overcoming an obstacle, but usable for engaging platforming and combat maneuvers, giving the few items more beneficial uses. I honestly can’t say anything but praise for this game and it is my favorite RPG from this year, and probably has already stolen a place amongst my favorites within this genre period.

#2 Frostpunk

When the makers of This War of Mine were on their next project, I was constantly checking their site for updates every single hour. Set in an apocalyptic world where the ice-age has returned, you are the leader of a population who lives near the only source of energy, safety and warmth. Around this tower, you basically decide what houses to create, how close to the heat they are suppose to be, what laws to uphold, what choices to make on behalf of the individuals, what you want to help them with, and try your best to keep your people alive and at peace. It is an emotional journey with harsh decisions and a brilliant showcase of how important it is to find hope despite how dark it all seems.

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Though what I am so happy about is that they don’t just turn to the traditional “every choice here will make you into a bad person”, because despite that you will have to make some tough decisions, it is never forcing you to make them or even turn you into an evil person. You are simply making the harsh choices on behalf of the people, and they understand your troubles, as you are not above them: you are with and for the people. With two meters at the bottom representing their feelings towards you, you always want to make sure they can see hope and peace as clear as the snow outside. It is challenging, dark, and immersive, just like their last title.

#1 Iconoclasts

Man, a fast-paced Metroidvania is always a nice treat to me, and Iconoclasts provides so much, I even made a review of it on the spot. It is a brilliant and charming game that showcases plenty of uses with the protagonist’s wrench for platforming, such as swinging of bolts and reflect attacks. You do also have guns at your disposal, but just like the wrench, these are also used for platforming, providing diverse setups, and wonderful creativity to both the enemy and level-design. The concept of the game is fantastic and while you can always explore, you are always clear on where your next destination lies, providing both focus on the fast-paced nature it goes for, but also gives you the option for exploring and gathering materials for upgrades.

Icanoclasts

What did catch my eyes the first time I saw it, was the wonderful conflict of a metallic world vs nature, both in its 32bit visuals, the soundtrack, and even in its story. It is such a clever way to make a theme consistent both in its narrative and in its presentation, giving you a great atmosphere throughout this game. The story is a heart-wrenching one that is filled with characters that you will easily want to learn more about, with the main character staying silent, but still having so much personality in how she acts.

Actually, this whole game does a consistent thing perfect: the balance between setups. It has plenty of humor but also knows when to be taken seriously, there is a great mix of both platforming and combat, it provides fast-paced gameplay with the option for exploration, and the presentation is a clash of two worlds done to the utmost elegant touch. Many games try to be jacks of all trades and forget that leads to them becoming a master of none, but Iconoclasts makes sure to not just focus on the concept it goes for, but how to combine every piece to make them work, like cogwheels in a clockwork. Through this beauty, is the reason why Iconoclasts is my favorite game from this year.


I know this year had plenty of wonderful games as mentioned in the intro, so I want to quickly give some honorable mentions to Megaman 11, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Monster Boy and The Cursed Kingdom, Soul Calibur 6, Bomb Chicken, A Robot Named Fight, Overcooked 2, Into the Breach, Project Warlock, Banner Saga 3, and Sega Ages: Phantasy Star as they were some favorites as well. Though enough about my favorites, I also want to hear your favorite games of this year. Chances are your favorites didn’t make the cut here, but don’t take that as an offense if I didn’t get to play it or like it as much as you did. Simply share the love with me and hopefully, next year, will have more fantastic games again. Happy New year ❤

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