It’s that time again. The year is drawing to a close, so it’s time to look back and see which digital worlds we lost ourselves in the most this year. As usual, everything’s divided up into genre categories, and we’ve included our runners up, as well.
I’d like to thank the rest of TNW for helping me narrow down the list thus far, especially Tristan Greene and Bryan Clark for their assistance with the sports and racing games. Unfortunately, even with all our powers combined, we didn’t hit every game, so if you don’t see a game from this year on the list — Ni No Kuni, Hitman 2, Mega-Man 11 — that doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t like it, just that we didn’t have time for it.
Quick disclaimer: I will not be including in this list games that came out for certain consoles this year if their original release date was another year. We had a heckuva lot of games that fell into that category — not leastwise because the Nintendo Switch was vacuuming up last year’s scraps to bolster its own library. So if I were to include them, they might just crowd out the games that actually were released for the first time this year, and frankly I can’t give that many games a second bite at the apple.
That’s the reason Fortnite isn’t on the list, for those of my readers who might detect a snub. Both the base game and the battle royale mode launched on most platforms in 2017.
Unfortunately for me, that also means no Spyro Reignited Trilogy, no Dark Souls Remastered, no Yakuza 6. Rules are rules. And there were enough games that came out this year to populate the list just fine without them.
So without further ado, here’s TNW’s list of the 10 best games of 2018.
God of War
This sequel to the gory hack-and-slash trilogy of the last console generation, God of War 2018 makes the surprising, but welcome choice to dispense with the anarchic violence of its Greco-Roman predecessors in favor of a melancholic, dramatic story of fatherhood in a Norse world.
Older, wiser, and calmer — but no less dangerous — we see the infamous Kratos attempt to parent his one still-living family member, little Atreus, while the two undertake an epic journey together. The cooperation and kinship between the two is surprisingly touching and complicated, and their adventures together are shot with loving artistry.
That said, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be playing some slow-paced point-and-click story. Kratos still has every ounce of the deicidal combat chops from the last games, and you can put them all to wonderful use here. That’s why we chose to put the game in this section, rather than to put it in the story-driven section below. My colleague Bryan Clark called this game a “ sure-fire Game of the Year contender” when he reviewed and… well, you can see he wasn’t wrong.
Runners Up: Spider-Man, Just Cause 4
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
All three of these games are enormous fun to play, and it was very hard to choose between the eternal rivals Call of Duty and Battlefield. But the gunplay in Black Ops 4 just can’t be beaten this year, feeling quick, responsive, and destructive all at once. You really feel like a powerful soldier of fortune, and going up against your fellow players feels more like a fun brawl than anything else.
The modes available on Black Ops 4 at the time aren’t large in number, but they feel like exactly what the audience needs at this point in gaming history: the battle royale mode in particular. The promise of future DLC also bolsters the game in my estimate.
And if you’re starving for a story — the one area where the game lacks in comparison with the runners up — then you can head into the tutorials and play a few of the missions. It’s an unorthodox way to keep a campaign in the story, but, given how easy it would have been to just chop it out all-together, I appreciate the extra effort.
Runners Up: Battlefield V, Far Cry 5
As we said last year, sports games are tricky to judge, as they come in yearly increments and are frequently only just a bit better than the games that preceded it. So it goes this year, but we can still give the award to someone — in this case, the basketball game.
When I picked the brains of my colleagues, they were in agreement about how great NBA is, though Tristan was quick to remind me it wasn’t necessarily because the game is the most polished that came out this year. It’s just that it’s so much fun to play even in spite of its flaws. Granted the game does beg a little hard for microtransactions, but if you can get into it, you’ll find it’s absorbing and has a wealth of stuff for you to do. It’s the type of game that keeps you coming back, and will give you something fresh each time.
Runners Up: FIFA 19, Golf Club 2019
Forza Horizon 4
This one was just no contest. Forza Horizon 4 is the most beautiful, responsive, and fun racing game released this year. Set in the British countryside, this edition of the game introduces seasonal weather patterns and the stunning graphics.
And when I say stunning, I mean it. My colleague Nino de Vries said in his review, “It’s hands-down the best looking driving game ever made, and it might just be the best looking open world game, period.” The seasons are also more than just scenery — they provide the backdrop for weekly challenges that reward consistent play, and the multiplayer component has been adjusted to allow you to ignore or engage the other players as you please. It also has the benefit of coming with Xbox’s Game Pass, meaning you can, for all intents and purposes, give it a free demo during the Pass trial period.
Runners Up: The Crew 2, F1 2018
The return of the Battletech series is especially welcome given how open the market is for good strategy games in the wake of the X-COM games. Tristan, a long-time fan, was seriously impressed with this game, saying it was “everything I was hoping it would be.”
But even if you’re not a returning fan, you’ll still find a lot to like in this turn-based mech combat sim, in which you must direct your mech warriors to engage the enemy in brutally-difficult combat. It’s the sort of game you throw yourself like it’s a brick wall, because eventually you will bring it down. It’s not for the faint of heart, but that’s probably what makes it such a good entry in the strategy genre.
Runners Up: Frostpunk, Return of the Obra Dinn
This one was a tough call, as all three of our top candidates this year were very strong platformers bursting with color and character. But eventually the pure charm of Unravel Two won us over. Developer Coldwood have delivered to EA another entry in this sweet, slightly haunting series about tiny yarn creatures navigating the world, and Two is just as lovely as its predecessor.
The game’s nifty mechanics make for an experience that’s great both alone and shared — my colleague Tristan Greene called it “one of the best local co-op experiences I’ve seen.” You can play it both alone or with a partner, and neither experience is diminished by the existence of the other. The puzzling platformer sections can be genuinely challenging, and the game comes outfitted with slightly more content than the original, which can be finished within the span of an afternoon.
Overall, this one’s just a genuinely great experience, neither too slow and ponderous nor too jittery and fast-paced. While we still enjoy and recommend both of the runner’s up, we have to give the award to someone, and we think Yarnie deserves it.
Runners Up: Celeste, Dead Cells
Red Dead Redemption 2
It says something for the strength of the story-telling in this year’s game crop that so many of the games we’ve put in other categories could easily go here as well. But this category’s for games that rely primarily on their story above even what it can offer the player in terms of thrill or escapism. And we think the game that did the best job of that this year was Red Dead Redemption 2.
A Western tragedy that relies on the strength of its characters’ love and trust, RDR2 has the confidence to keep its pace steady and slow. Like the land it’s portraying, it’s brutal and beautiful, all at once… and the ending was so spoiler-iffic I had to put the story review in its own article.
And if, for whatever reason, you get tired of following the story, you can grab the nearest horse, gallop over the horizon, and partake of gameplay, as Nino said, “totally lives up to the hype.” From hunting and gunplay to bounties and cardplay, the world of RDR2 may exist to serve the story, but it still feels bright and alive in its own regard.
Runners Up: Detroit: Become Human, A Way Out
Call of Cthulhu
This year was curiously lean on horror titles, and there was no one game that leapt out and made us truly terrified — no Outlast or Resident Evil 7 or Alien Isolation. That said, there were a few titles that gave us the heebie-jeebies and, while it’s by no means a perfect game, we think the best one so far was the new Call of Cthulhu.
With pacing, gameplay, and art design reminiscent of old-school point-and-click adventure games, Call of Cthulhu tells the story of a detective who falls into an occult mystery far over his head. The story is sprinkled with elements of Lovecraftian occult horror, giving it a flavor unlike any other game out there this year.
The game also has a certain something about it that gives me that creeping feeling of awfulness, just like I always have when it comes to anything Lovecraftian. Maybe it’s the sopping wet island environments (seriously, you can almost smell the mold and seaweed) or maybe it’s the haunted look of some of the NPCs. Regardless, it was the game that came the closest this year to outright scaring me.
Runners Up: State of Decay 2, Vampyr
Monster Hunter World
As much as I appreciate both of the runners up, Monster Hunter World somehow managed to suck me into the story and (appropriately) the world in a way no other game did. While it lacks the unrelenting difficulty of the classic 3DS series, it makes up for it in visual wonder.
Taking down the monsters in World feels extra rewarding, tracking them down and whittling their health with persistence that better characterizes the human spirit than just about anything else you could do in a game. Luckily, the world is unbelievably beautiful, so the act of running around after the beasties gives you such a great view that it’s impossible for it to feel arduous.
The mechanics are also deep and complex. From managing your own stats by way of food to keeping your weapons and armor as strong as they need to be, there’s a lot to keep track of — and isn’t that just the essence of role-playing games?
Runners Up: Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Octopath Traveler
Super Smash Bros Ultimate
Well look who snuck in to the list at the last minute. As much as I loved both Soul Calibur and Dragon Ball, for their crunchy combat and fun story mode respectively, there’s just no beating the fun you can have with the new Smash Bros game, or the sheer volume of what you can do.
You want to go up against friends? You can. You want to go online and trounce fools as Captain Falcon? Pony up for a Switch Online and get to it. You want to play a single-player campaign with a wide open map and honest-to-god RPG elements? Done and done. It’s not perfect — the matchmaking in online play is utter chaos, for example. But there’s something just great about Smash Bros Ultimate that’s hard to quantify, and it makes me want to keep playing. Maybe it’s the variety of fighters on offer, or maybe it’s the frenetic energy characteristic of the game. Either way, we’ll probably be having Smash Bros matches at TNW for ages to come.
Runners Up: Soul Calibur VI, Dragon Ball FighterZ
Did we miss anything? Let us know what games you were playing this year in the comments section below.