I say this all the time, but it is impossible for any publication, no matter how big or small, to publish a definitive list of the best games released in a year. With so many games released per week, there simply isn’t enough time for anyone to play through them all.
That said, our list represents our entire staff and what our staff has enjoyed playing the most over the past 365 days. Anyone who has followed our website in 2018 would have surely seen us write at least one article about each and every game making an appearance down below.
As with any list, our list is far from perfect. There is one obvious oversight (Return of the Obra Dinn) and since none of us play VR, you won’t see Astro Bot Rescue Mission make an appearance. Nevertheless, 2018 was a great year for gaming. Our staff nominated a total of 80 games and after an hour spent calculating the votes, we’ve dwindled it down to 30. We’re confident that regardless of what genre or style of games you prefer, you will almost certainly find a lot to love here, just as we did.
Special Mention – Fortnite
Fortnite has become such a pervasive and all-encompassing phenomenon over the last year or so that it’s hard to think of anything unique to say about it. This game has penetrated the public consciousness in a way that is almost hitherto unseen before. Famous sports stars are copying the emotes in their celebrations, and even famous soccer player Mesut Ozil (yes, he looked like a cod before he discovered Fortnite) has had his recent run of poor form blamed on his obsession with this behemoth. It seems nobody can escape weekly updates, with stories of Fortnite running from Ellen to national newspapers, all the way down to us lowly games press. It seems that no corner of the world is safe from Fortnite.
Probably the most fascinating thing about Epic Games’ cash cow is that it has sprouted from the most unlikely of places. Starting out life as a ‘Game Jam’ and announced during the 2011 Spike TV Awards, Fortnite was to be the next title from Cliff Blezinski’s development team, and would be a third person, wave-based survival game. It next went almost completely radio-silent until it appeared in July 2017 as a paid early access game, but it wouldn’t be until September of the same year that we would first see the free-to-play Battle Royal version that most people recognize today.
As we look back on 2018, we can see little signs of the Fortnite train slowing down , and if anything, it seems to be going from strength to strength. Just this month, Epic have completed the long-awaited step of releasing their own storefront on PC, and are in the process of trying to encourage some of their 200 million-strong player base into considering this as a viable alternative to the more established players in the field. Will be the ultimate legacy of Fortnite (as dare I say it out loud) be as the biggest game of all time? It may well be a 2017 game, but there’s no question that Fortnite has made a massive impact on the gaming landscape in 2018. Who knows what we will be saying about it this time next year. (David Smillie)
34 – NBA 2K19
By now, you’d figure that there wouldn’t be much to add to the conversation when reviewing the latest entry in the NBA 2K franchise. Not only is it one of the most critically acclaimed video game series of all time (not to mention a series that has had a strong hold on the video game basketball market for nearly two decades), but little has changed with the brand from one installment to the next. Year-in and year-out, the 2K games have almost always delivered a level of quality that no other sports series has come close to matching, and in this critic’s opinion, the NBA 2K series is the only viable option for fans seeking out a game that is well worth your hard-earned money (sorry NBA Live).
2K19 features its strongest MyCareer mode yet with the aptly titled, “The Way Back,” a fascinating look at the culture behind college basketball recruiting. Written by Adam Hoelzel and directed by Christian Papierniak, “The Way Back” is a well-scripted, finely acted coming-of-age tale about a young man who starts out as a self-centered, incredibly selfish brat and over time must overcome his biggest obstacle: his overall attitude to both the game he loves and the game of life. “The Way Back” also doubles as a heady dose of the American dream and the American nightmare combined, as it unfolds like a true-to-life investigation of how one turnover, one bad pass, or one missed basket can make all the difference in a player’s fortunes.
There’s so much to write about when reviewing NBA 2K19 — from the Blacktop mode (that includes half court street basketball) to the updated roster, to the classic NBA teams, the colorful commentary (welcome Bill Simmons), to the incredible soundtrack, and even MyLeague, which allows you to build upon an NBA franchise with a dazzling amount of customization — but of all the improvements and changes this time around, it is the new gameplay additions and tweaks that are by far its most impressive component. (Ricky D)
33 – Yakuza 6
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life had the misfortune of coming out at roughly the same time as God of War. There was no question which of these games was going to sell better come mid-April, but don’t count the Dragon of Dojima out. The conclusion to Kazuma Kiryu’s decade-and-a-half-long saga brings a lot of new things to the table, while also refining a lot of the aspects that made previous games so charming. This street brawling beat ‘em up has been simplified down from the previous game, but comes with a variety of ways to toy with the environment. You can slam bikes, traffic cones, and couches down on top of people to finish them off, but there are also plenty of comedic and inventive ways to make use of the environment around you.
Equally as entertaining is the variety of side-quests you can undertake, which range from simple missions about stopping street hustlers to helping a young couple that swapped bodies when they fell down a flight of stairs. All the while, Yakuza 6’s main plot brings the franchises main story to a finite conclusion, one filled with the same action and drama that’s kept the franchise enjoyable and interesting since its debut on the PlayStation 2. The biggest weakness of Yakuza 6 is that it’s a sequel — not the best place to hop into the franchise. The game gives you a bit of backstory to catch you up with what has happened in previous entries, but you really don’t get the full emotional ride if you haven’t experienced it firsthand. Thankfully, Yakuza and Yakuza 2 have been given a makeover for the PlayStation 4, and 3, 4, and 5 were recently announced to be getting modern console upgrades as well. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a great story-driven brawler, and is easily one of the better niche titles that have been released this year. (Taylor Smith)
32 – Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
As far as Kickstarter stretch goals go, this is a Cristiano Ronaldo bicycle kick. Koji Igarashi and Inti Creates promised an 8-bit spin-off from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and drive a stake through my heart if they didn’t deliver. Curse of the Moon looks, sounds, and feels just like the 8-bit Castlevania titles on NES. Players can swap between four different characters (a la Castlevania 3) on the fly as they progress through a handful of beautifully crafted levels — each of which culminates with a challenging boss fight.
It strikes a real chord for the talent Igarashi possesses when it comes to effortlessly craft titles within the genre he helped to define. What could be dismissed as a throwaway, token effort to appease the backers of the main event ends up as a very sufficient starter to the main course. It’s got everything a game of this type should have: the moody castles, the pulsating chiptune soundtrack, restrictive jumping, whips, candles to be destroyed; it’s all here, and it functions on a much higher level than a simple box-ticking exercise. Thanks to the decades of experience gained in the aftermath of the titles it apes, Curse of the Moon feels respectful and refined in equal measure.
The game might not necessarily be very long, but levels have multiple routes, and there are three difficulty levels, which is more than enough for the incredibly meager asking price. What’s more, this is the exact type of game speed-runners love, and I’m sure it’ll appear to be destroyed at a GDQ in no time. Until then, we mere mortals can enjoy one of the more satisfying retro throwbacks of the year. (Alex Aldridge)
31 – Ni no Kuni II
You don’t always get to choose your friends. Sometimes your best friend is the first kid to say “hi” in kindergarten, sometimes your best friend is the time-traveling President of the United States blasted
into your dimension by a nuclear terrorist attack. But that’s fine, because you’re a cat-human prince and you and your sky pirate friends and wisdom-dispensing starfish need his help to build a new nation out of nothing. All of this before an ancient evil being destroys your world and turns everyone against you.
Ni No Kuni 2 is a bit of a weird game.
Hiding below this insane exterior is one of the best RPGs of the year, one that constantly keeps things fresh with a great variety of gameplay along with a consistently interesting story. It’s a mix of action-RPG combat, simplified city management, and even some real-time strategy battles, all of which blend together and into each other perfectly. While it may at times lack the emotional weight and artistic flair of its predecessor, anyone looking for a deep and engaging — if not downright silly — RPG should certainly pick up Ni No Kuni 2 as soon as possible. (Andrew Vandersteen)
30 – Yoku’s Island Express
Yoku’s Island Express is a tiny, bite-sized game of incredibly good original content. Originally released for the Nintendo Switch in late May of 2018, this adorable game is a total mash between a Metroidvania and pinball. Upon hearing that, it doesn’t sound like it would work as a concept, especially because the game is utterly cute, but it absolutely does, like mixing together something salty with something sweet. You play as Yoku, a dung beetle who washes up on a small island and is immediately put in charge of the local postal service. The laid-back lifestyle Yoku was hoping for is quickly diminished as the “God Eater” begins killing the island deities. Yoku must find the leaders of three religious factions and bring them together for a ceremony of healing.
The mechanics operate like an open-world exploration mixed with pinball, then mixed with platforming. I personally binged this game in one day after I picked up; it was nothing less than addicting, and as soon as I put my Switch down to take a break, I’d be reaching for it minutes later and play for another handful of hours. This quick indie game is a must-have for any switch library, and can even help brighten your life in a tiny way. (Katrina Lind)
29 – Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
How would you rebuild one of the oldest — and in certain circles — most revered of genres? How do you take established conventions and modernize them, make the old new and the out-dated fun again? And how do you do this all without compromising the integrity of your game to still deliver one of the best CRPG experiences in the history of the genre?
Easy. Just call in Obsidian.
2015’s Pillars of Eternity was a breath of fresh air for the stagnant genre, bringing in new ideas while doing away with the constraints of old tabletop rule-sets that older games held as sacred for misguided fear of offending players. 2018’s Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a hurricane of fresh air, washing away much of the grime left behind in the genre. It’s a swashbuckling, god-chasing good time that maintains everything we love about Obsidian games while moving the genre forward in such great strides as to make anything left behind feel difficult to play as a result.
Pillars 2 no longer feels like a ‘best of’ RPG like the last game, or other contemporaries do. Obsidian were already renowned for their RPG experiences, but with Pillars 2 it feels almost like a victory lap, showing off while showing a new way forward. (Andrew Vandersteen)
28 – The Banner Saga 3
The Banner Saga 3 is less a sequel and more the third act of a cohesive whole, one that can’t truly be appreciated without having experienced the first two chapters. As a finale, it makes for the perfect bookend to the series, delivering more of what fans wanted and expected, while also throwing a few curveballs into the mix. This trilogy of light-tactical role-playing games has always excelled in terms of writing and world-building, and it’s never been afraid to unceremoniously bump off a character or five without warning in true Game of Thrones style, but The Banner Saga 3 ups the ante.
Perhaps the best new feature in the game relates to how your choices throughout the trilogy are translated into a gameplay mechanic that can reward or punish in equal measure. All your decisions are weighed up, and depending on how many followers you have, how many people are loyal to you, as well as other criteria, your heroes are given a time limit for how long they can survive an unrelenting enemy assault. While this clock ticks down before your eyes, a small band of party members must race against time to save the day. Not knowing if you’re going to have enough sand in the hourglass to complete your mission makes for a startling — and bleak — conclusion to a wonderful story. (John Cal McCormick)
27 – Dandara
For as many twists and turns as they take, the stale caverns of the Metroidvania genre rarely alter course from formula, the tried-and-true gameplay rarely strays from the established path, so when something like Dandara comes along, its minor deviations can feel like a breath of fresh air. Instead of the usual running and gunning, the titular protagonist here must plot her course through the various rooms by employing a multi-directional dash that allows her to reach to certain areas on the floor, ceiling, and walls to which she can stick (think Spider-Man crossed with Nightcrawler). This unique method of movement makes every room and battle almost its own puzzle, adding a layer of strategy even to traversal, and ensures that players pay close attention to their surroundings — which is perfect for finding secrets.
Add to that a curious visual design that is at the same time incongruous yet clear in its visions, and there’s a funky vibe going on here. One minute Dandara is fighting giant bugs in a pixelated pine tree forest, and the next she’s shooting cat soldiers amidst rundown urban streets, all while a cosmic backdrop frames the action. Yet, it all makes sense, and Dandara conveys its story with focused melancholy and a tinge of hope. The action can get clunky during the few bullet hell sections, but mastering the movement leads to the thrilling satisfaction of ricocheting through the world at ease — and points the genre toward the discovery of new ways to explore. (Patrick Murphy)
26 – Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
When Black Ops 4 was first announced back in March of this year, it seemed like it was poised for failure. Not only were Treyarch and Activision completely removing the single-player campaign, which had been a series staple, but they were chasing trends by adding a new battle royale mode. This sent an unclear message to fans for what this exactly means for the series, and concern soon followed suit. The moment the game launched, however, those worries were put to rest.
It’s clear that Treyarch didn’t just remove single-player to cut corners on development, but rather to divert those resources into crafting the tightest multiplayer experience the series has ever seen. Specialists lend a light team-shooter element that gives players interesting and diverse new toys to play with, while never detracting from the importance of raw shooting abilities.
Diverging from the “spawn and die” franticness of regular multiplayer, the new battle royale mode, “Blackout,” has even been able to claw out a place for itself in the rapidly expanding phenomenon. Merging the palpable tension of battle royale with the fluidity of movement and tight shooting of Call of Duty turned out to be a harmonious marriage. Additionally, the inclusion of zombie nests creates nice little flashpoints of contention that add further stakes, while not overwhelming players who don’t want to engage in them.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is definitely one of the surprise success stories of the year, and that bodes well for a series that has been accused of becoming stagnant and stale with many of its recent entries. (Matthew Ponthier)
25 – A Way Out
Five years ago, Lebanese film director Josef Fares emerged into the spotlight of the gaming industry with his breakout indie hit Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Venturing into game development for the first time, he described the title as more of a “storybook experience,” with themes of brotherhood and bravery inspired by Astrid Lindgren’s novel The Brother’s Lionheart. His next project of course became A Way Out, a two-player cooperative action-adventure designed with local multiplayer at the forefront. You play as either Leo or Vincent, two convicted prisoners who must work together to escape a maximum-security prison before hunting down the man who framed them and put them behind bars. Unlike Brothers, A Way Out is exclusively cooperative, meaning you either have to play the game with a friend locally or with someone over the internet. In other words, going solo just isn’t an option, and in order to accomplish this daunting task, Hazelight Studios turned to one of the oldest techniques used by film editors and VFX artists alike. Of course, I’m referring to the split screen.
In the world of gaming, Josef Jares could have easily made A Way Out a simple, two-player experience, no different than most games played online in which players connect with each other via the internet. But Fares didn’t do that. Instead, the majority of the game sees you and your partner sharing one screen. Some times you’ll get an evenly split-screen sequence, and at others, one of the two characters will take up more real-estate, depending on the situation unfolding. The dynamic shifting of the split screen based on how the story unravels is indeed a novel experience, and more importantly, a creative storytelling tool. Both players will need to cooperate to succeed, relying on what they see on their half of the frame, whether it be finding specific items, solving random puzzles, or saving each other from ongoing threats. Everything — and I do mean everything — is designed with two players in mind. And while there is always a common objective that both players are working toward, the characters are also free to individually explore and interact with the world in between each major story beat.
A Way Out is obviously far from the first video game to use split-screen, but through its narrativ,e the developers were able to make it feel fresh and exciting from start to finish. You’d be hard-pressed to find another couch co-op game released this year that is as ambitious as this. (Ricky D)
24 – Forza Horizon 4
The Forza Horizon series is now firmly established as the most accessible “serious” racer. You can play the game pretty much any way you want; whether you’re a car-nerd who’s going to tune your vehicle to within an inch of its warranty, or just want to get a Ferrari and put anime waifu decals all over it, the game is totally catered for anyone who wants to make a big shiny thing with wheels go fast and get muddy.
Forza Horizon 4 hasn’t reinvented the wheel (ugh) established in its three predecessors — the racing line is still there if you want it, the rewind function remains, and it’s still a smorgasbord of myriad race-types — but it has made the most significant addition of the series to date: the seasons. Methods of creating a ‘live services’ approach aren’t new to Forza, but the seasons feel substantial enough to mean that checking in for seasonal events feels consistently worthwhile. I’m one of those nerds that likes to make sure I’m driving a season-suitable ride as well — Jeeps in the winter, convertible Caddy in the summer, ‘natch.
It’s probably quite hard to describe to any of my cousins out there from across the pond (so abundant is the number of games set in your homeland), but from a selfish standpoint, having the game set in the UK is glorious. The cottages, the hills, the rain, the road signs — bloody hell, mate, it’s awesome. The recreation of Edinburgh, in particular, is affa braw, da ken? There are few gaming experiences more relaxing for me than taking my 1988 Countach for a springtime spin while listening to a podcast and drinking a cuppa.
Forza Horizon 4, then. Graphically astounding, endlessly playable, totally accessible, geographically comforting — the perfect racer for when the mood takes you, no matter what type of mood that is. (Alex Aldridge)
23 – The Walking Dead The Final Season
2018 turned out to be a tragic year for Telltale Games, with the out-of-the-blue announcement that the studio would not only be closing but also that all of their games would be canceled. The most unfortunate victim of this news was the stellar The Walking Dead: The Final Season. Having finally revamped and re-tooled their engine, Telltale gave it a dry run with the end of Clementine’s story, only for it to be cut off in the middle.
Fortunately, Skybound Entertainment has stepped in to save this series from the out-stretched hands of the newly dead. If you haven’t given this one a spin yet — and especially if you’re tired of the old Telltale formula — I would really encourage you to at least watch a video of the new engine in action, as it’s really something.
For a studio like Telltale to slip away just as they may be on the edge of another real masterpiece is a real bummer, but nothing says we’d like to see some more like supporting what may be the best-designed game from the studio yet. (Mike Worby)
22 – Guacamelee! 2
The original Guacamelee is a game with a celebrated reputation as one of the best Metroidvanias in the history of the genre, so fans could be forgiven for expecting a lot from the long-awaited sequel. Luckily, Guacamelee 2 fires on all cylinders, delivering a worthy successor to its forebear. Nixing much of the bothersome side quests that dragged things out the first game, as well as adding in a string of new moves and upgrades, Guacamelee 2 doesn’t just match the quality of the original — it improves on it in nearly every conceivable way.
Fans of the more silly aspects of the original will be pleased to find that Guacamelee 2 is just as bananas, as you’d expect, but the real surprise comes with the amount of depth and heart that Guacamelee 2 packs, especially in its ending. Even as there are more and more indie gems to pick from these days, Guacamelee 2 is still well worth your time. It stands apart from the pack as not just one of the year’s best indies, but truly one of the best games of the year. (Mike Worby)
21 – Donut County
Donut County is the kind of game all “casual” games aspire to be, in one way or another. While its aesthetic does more than just please (it actually shines), and its lampooning of “normie” millennial humor is well-thought out and executed in a charming fashion, it’s the gameplay at the center of it all that glues things together into a meaningful experience. Mind you, it’s rather passive gameplay that does not require the dexterity or puzzle-solving mindset required from games like Katamari Damacy — from which it takes a lot of inspiration — but it’s engaging input that helps you feel part of its world, nonetheless.
The story of a selfish jerk of a raccoon dooming an entire SoCal-inspired town into oblivion via an invasion of moving holes controlled with an app, Donut County embraces its silly premise and is able to make you care about the world through its offbeat but heartfelt narrative, all the while exploring the primitive human desire to throw things down a bunch of holes.
The term “casual” in gaming is often tied to negative connotations, but this genre, fraught with walking simulators and artsy experimentation, can occasionally yield some of the more interesting results within that field, as the idea of what is and isn’t a game is tested, challenged, and stretched out in a push-and-pull way. Donut County comes out of this space, but focuses more on the pseudo-tactile nature of what makes committing to actions in video games rewarding in the same way a fidget cube is rewarding to, well, fidget with.
Plus, Donut County accomplishes all of this with an awesome soundtrack to back it all up, which draws its vibe from the laid-back Californian atmosphere of the game, but combines with a descent into (as I said in my full review) “glitched-out breakbeat absurdities”. (Maxwell N)