We’re finally here – the ten best games of 2018 – or at least what is our staff’s ten favourite games released this year.
As I mentioned in the first part of this list, whittling down the year’s best video games is simply impossible to do since none of us here at Goomba Stomp have the time nor money to play every game.
There was a veritable barrage of excellent games released, from overstuffed triple AAA bonanzas to indie games made by small teams of passionate game developers.
While we wish we had more time to play more games, we are very happy with the way the list came out, and we couldn’t be prouder of the titles that our team selected.
The 10 Best Video Games of 2018
10 – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
It might seem absurd to nominate what is essentially a series with an annual release schedule for one of the best games of the year, but if Fortnite can claim such a title, then I see no reason why the latest entry in one of Ubisoft’s best known and loved series couldn’t either. 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins was a bold departure for the beleaguered franchise, one that was long overdue. The developers were obviously keen to capitalize on the goodwill and reinvigorated enthusiasm of the fanbase, and so while Assassin’s Creed Odyssey may not have been the great stride forward that its recent predecessor was, it continued to raise the high bar that had been set for the series.
Odyssey‘s world is an immaculately realized representation of ancient Greece in all its riotous magnificence, a place and time that birthed many of the scientific, philosophic, artistic, and political concepts that we now take for granted. The decently fleshed-out skill tree makes leveling up feel genuinely interesting, and with the ability to freely reset skill points, players are never punished for wanting to try out a new playstyle or mixing up their chosen skill set. The story itself may not be anything that Herodotus would write home about, but it nevertheless provides a compelling backdrop to the action, and never fails to entertain. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey may not prove to be one of the best games of all time, but it more than holds its own against the rest that 2018 had to offer. (Chris Underwood)
9 – Far Cry 5
Far Cry 5 is a game that has encountered controversy since the first image was released, largely thanks to Ubisoft’s decision to set the game in Hope County, a fictional region in rural Montana overrun by a doomsday cult called the Project at Eden’s Gate. Although this cult has no coherent doctrine, and its structure doesn’t resemble real-world cults in the slightest, it has nevertheless managed to anger many game critics who for some reason were expecting an entry in the Far Cry series to send a clear political message that perhaps addresses the polarized nature of current American politics.
But seriously folks, this is the fifth entry in a series that has never taken itself too seriously. It’s a sandbox adventure known for its non-stop action, extreme violence and cruelty — all of which is juxtaposed with over-the-top humor and bombast. The truth is, Far Cry 5 may not be the best game of 2018, but it is the most fun game I’ve played so far this year. It fully embraces what the series does best, while Ubisoft has thankfully done away with some of the franchise’s most frustrating aspects.
There are plenty of welcome new additions, including the Arcade Mode, which includes a powerful map editor that allows you to create challenges and share them with other players, and an escort system that allows you to hire and fight alongside up to two other characters who you meet in the game, each of whom brings special skills into combat (my personal favorite being a dog named Boomer). Meanwhile, the side missions are a blast, the game looks absolutely gorgeous, and it features one hell of an ending. There’s really so much to love here that it makes it easy to overlook what the game lacks in story. If you are a fan of the series and haven’t yet had a chance to play Far Cry 5, I highly recommend it. (Ricky D)
8 – Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!
Nostalgia is an addiction that the older generation is often powerless to resist. When Nintendo announced Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee!, they knew it was the children of the 90s that were going to buy into this charm offensive, with any doubts about the two games being quickly dispersed.
Curiously, the nostalgic elements of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! are merely a facade, with much of the gameplay mechanics drawing from Pokémon Go in one form or another. Notably, catching a pokémon is borrowed straight from that mobile title, with much of the gameplay centered around catching as many as possible. This is made easier by wild pokémon that appear visibly on the screen, with the tall grass acting as a loose spawn point. While it’s easy to argue that Pokémon: Let’s Go is an experiment by Game Freak before the main series titles land next year, many of the mechanics introduced could easily be used in the next Pokémon adventure.
Creating addictive gameplay and wrapping it all up in memories of Pokémon Yellow is the best present we’ve had from Nintendo this year, and we didn’t even know we wanted it. Essentially, what has made Pokémon: Let’s Go such a raving success isn’t that it’s what we expected, but it’s everything we thought we didn’t want but now do. We’ve been seduced by Nintendo, and now we’re craving more; the new generation can’t come soon enough. (James Baker)
7 – Dead Cells
Dead Cells doesn’t necessarily evolve the rogue-like genre, but what it does expertly refines it. Sporting buttery-smooth gameplay with an addictive and rewarding one-more-run structure, Dead Cells is as exhilarating as it is brutally difficult. Each run through its procedurally generated levels is filled to the brim with pixel-perfect combat, relentless enemies, loot and upgrades aplenty, and most importantly, a substantial level of variety that helps make each run feel distinct. This is very much a good thing — a mandatory thing, even — because repeating levels is what you’ll be doing as you die, again and again, all in the name of mostly minuscule progress. Whenever you do get through a run and finally beat a boss or unlock some incredibly badass weapon for a future attempt, the satisfaction is all the sweeter for it.
Rogue-likes have nailed formulas like this in the past, and standing out in an arguably oversaturated genre is tough these days. Dead Cells couldn’t make a splash as just a hard game, and so its visuals are even more of a significant USP, seeming to be the pioneer for pushing indie developers’ updated nostalgia graphics from 8-bit to 16-bit. The game has that familiar Symphony of the Night look to it, and this focus not only comes off great but also helps the game run beautifully. Put simply, the intuitive combat that Dead Cells hangs its hat on just wouldn’t feel the same in another visual style, and the combination of the two is so good that the game rightly sits right at the top of its genre. (Alex Aldridge)
6 – Octopath Traveler
What sort of group dynamic drama happens when you posse up a grizzled warrior, a pure-as-snow cleric, a feisty merchant, an idealistic apothecary, a vengeful dancer, a pompous academic, a wise huntress, and a dumbass thief? You’ll have to play a different game to find out, as Octopath Traveler has no interest in telling that sort of macro story, instead keeping its focus on the eight individuals that populate its fantasy world. This approach may irk fans of intricate JRPG plotting, but creates an opportunity for role-players to take on more of a part than just mere button pushing, allowing them to fill in the relationship blanks by using an ancient weapon once known as ‘imagination.’
It’s a bold move, but Octopath helps jumpstart that inner creativity with lush visuals inspired by the 16-bit era, a hybrid mix of pixel art and polygons that results in gorgeous pop-up book quality. From shimmering desert sands to soft ripples of idyllic ponds, the many landscapes are stunning, themselves almost incentive enough to continue the eight quests. Luckily, Octopath‘s turn-based gameplay is just as engaging, mixing Boosts and Breaks with a variety of attacks and defenses to provide an accessible level of depth and complexity that should encourage players to try out new characters and strategies. It’s a throwback that captures the feeling of older JRPGs while simultaneously feeling fresh and exciting, making for one of the best games of the year. (Patrick Murphy)
5 – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
There are very few game franchises where every release is a major cultural event for the medium. Leading with the tagline “Everyone is here,” Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is absolutely jam-packed with more characters, stages, music, and game modes than ever before. The sheer value it offers is ridiculous (especially compared to other major fighting games).
The truth, however, is that this latest iteration has delivered far more than just a massive volume of content. Ultimate is a fast-paced, addictive romp of a fighting game that is so well-balanced that nearly any of the 70+ fighters are viable given enough practice. Impressively, it also lends itself well to being a perfect pick-up-and-play game that players of all skill levels can jump into and enjoy. This perfect balance of depth and accessibility has almost always been the hallmark of the series, and it’s back in full effect here.
There really is something for everyone in Ultimate. The new smattering of multiplayer modes (the fan-favorite Smashdown is especially fun) and specially customized Classic Mode battles offer significantly new ways to play for series veterans. Meanwhile, the new single-player mode — called World of Light — is a fresh way for newcomers to gradually become acquainted with different characters and matchups. And the rock-solid core fighting mechanics? They tie everything together. The result is a must-own Switch title right up there with Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. (Brent Middleton)
4 – Celeste
Celeste elevates video games. This deceptively simple-looking platformer hooks you in with a mixture of tight mechanics and a sharp style, but then leaps further up the mountain of video game history and brings emotional resonance to its narrative in unexpected ways. In itself, Celeste looks and sounds beautiful, and is deeply rewarding to simply play and get good at. Each stage is a carefully designed, 16-bit set-piece, and every screen of every level is well-crafted and satisfying to overcome, as much a puzzle as a brutal challenge of dexterity. Celeste relies upon the tightly implemented mechanic of jumping and air-jumping, but this expands in nuanced ways that feel deeply satisfying to understand and master. But where Celeste travels further and evolves video games is in its unprecedented fusion of gameplay and storytelling.
The narrative and character arcs of Celeste are woven into every element of its gameplay and progression. The improbable tasks of reflecting upon deep ideas surrounding depression and anxiety are manifested within the gameplay itself (and via a few carefully structured and thoughtful dialogues and moments of glorious calm). It often feels impossible to get through a particular stage, just as it may feel often impossible to get through a particular day, but the solution opens up and feels utterly aligned with the emotional journey of Celeste‘s endearing protagonist, Madison.
Tying Madison’s emotional journey to gameplay progression continues to unfold as you climb further up the mountain and learn more about her inner world. Celeste subtly acknowledges that we each climb a mountain in our lives, and with a light touch that feels natural alongside its excellent gameplay and design, Celeste‘s unprecedented emotional narrative unfolds as you climb — both light-hearted and heartfelt. With a message that never gets in the way of a fine gameplay experience, Celeste is not only one of the greatest games of the last six months, but one of the greatest games of the last decade. Climb that mountain. (Marty Allen)
3 – Red Dead Redemption II
Red Dead Redemption II is undoubtedly one of the weirdest big-budget sequels of 2018. It’s a game that offers a staggering level of detail, as well as an open world more impressive than any ever crafted before, but it’s also a game that gives not one whit of consideration for your time. You’re going to spend plenty of hours riding from town to town on your own, making sure you’re getting enough food and sleep and brushing your steed’s hair to keep him healthy. Grand Theft Auto on horses, it ain’t.
It’s easy to see why someone might pick up Red Dead Redemption II and be put off — this is truly not a game for everyone. But beneath the often finicky controls, obtuse systems, and frequently bewildering adhesion to realism, lies a game that contains an abundance of rewards for players willing to persevere with Rockstar Games’ more obstinate design choices.
The slow-burning cowboy story is surprisingly thoughtful and sad, the characters feel genuine and often likeable despite their moral ambiguity, and the mission design is strong throughout. The open world feels lived in and realistic to a fault, populated by citizens and creatures that go about their business as though they could quite easily go on living even after you’ve turned off your console. It’s a massive, sixty-hour story full of moments that will shock or delight, and a technical masterpiece that will unlikely be bettered any time soon. (John Cal McCormick)
2 – Marvel’s Spider-Man
Nearly five years after the release of the PlayStation 4, Sony doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit in giving gamers worldwide reason after reason to buy this generation’s best-selling console. If not for God of War and Monster Hunter World, the PS4 is once again a must-have system for anyone wanting to play Sony’s exclusive titles thanks to the amazing job Insomniac Games did on Marvel’s Spider-Man. It may not be groundbreaking like God of War, but at its best, Spider-Man might just be the finest superhero video game ever made, and one of the most enjoyable games I played this year.
Swinging about the richly detailed open-world recreation of Manhattan is an absolute blast, and it helps that the game does such a great job at maintaining an urgent tone, since there’s never a moment that doesn’t go by in which you don’t have something important to do. If Spidey’s cell phone isn’t ringing, there’s always something to keep your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man busy. As you progress, you’ll unlock new abilities and new power suits that not only open up the game more but help keep everything fresh and exciting.
Seriously, the traversal system in Spider-Man is a joy, and it gets better the further you progress in the story. Furthermore, Spider-Man is also one of the best looking games of 2018. From the day-and-night cycle to the photo mode to the gorgeous cutscenes, there’s always a reason to stop and snap a screenshot. Everything from the city design, various costumes, cinematography, and CG effects is top-notch — and John Paesano’s music is absolutely fantastic as well.
Where the game shines most is its story. Boasting six entertaining villains, a deep emotional focus, and a finale that may leave some players in tears, Spider-Man is hands down the best Spider-Man story (outside of the comics) since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Last, but not least, the epic boss battles in Spider-Man rival most action scenes in Marvel movies, and little touches such as Spidey’s Twitter feed, various side quests, and multiple Easter Eggs will keep players coming back for more and more. There’s a reason why Spider-Man’s platinum completion rate is insane. The game is hard to put down and begs players to explore every nook and cranny. All in all, this game is a blockbuster with both a heart and a brain. (Ricky D)
1 – God of War
Like so many popular video game franchises that have reinvented themselves in recent years, the new God of War offers a twist by shifting its focus to Norse mythology, casting off the iconic Greek gods for that of Asgard. The move northward sees Kratos on a long and trying journey to scatter his late wife’s ashes on the tallest mountain in Norse mythology, accompanied by his young son, Atreus. Kratos doesn’t think his son is ready for the trek, but due to unforeseen circumstances, Kratos can’t wait any longer
There is a long list of reasons as to why many have called God of War a masterpiece. I could praise the stunningly gorgeous world — here is a game in which every frame is heightened by the distinctive color palette, sensual light, and smoky haze. There’s an intimacy and unspoken emotion in God of War that not only can be felt but seems like you can touch it. God of War is without a doubt one of the best-looking console games ever released, and it’s all framed by one continuous camera shot to boot. I could also praise Bear McCreary’s incredible soundtrack, which gravitates toward low orchestral instruments, Icelandic choir, folk percussion, and Nordic stringed instruments to craft a unique theme for each and every character. And then there is the hard-hitting combat that grows more feverish and impressive as you progress, not to mention Kratos’ signature weapon, the Leviathan Axe, which is one of the best weapons in any video game.
Like its predecessors, God of War is indeed a technical and artistic showcase, but a masterpiece this would not be without its renewed focus on storytelling that sets a new bar for what can be accomplished in the world of AAA games. The previous installments of the series (which debuted in 2005) had little time to explore the emotional landscape of its testosterone-pumped protagonist, but what’s become of the brooding death machine in the latest installment is what leaves the biggest impression. This time around, the furious, bloodthirsty icon has transformed into a sensitive father figure, and while part of him retains the old violent tendencies that we remember him for, Kratos (for the most part) holds back his savage ways in order to be a positive role model. As a result, the relationship between father and son is everything.
In short, God of War has some of the best storytelling and best character development in any video game. Take that away, and what you are left with is yet another traditional hack-n-slash game, albeit a beautiful one. (Ricky D)