Who will win 2018’s Crystal Joystick award?
2018 was a polarising year in the world, with Brexit, Trump and populist movements continuing to dominate headlines all over the world. Every passing day seemed like it was conditioning us for the startling image that greeted us this at the beginning of this year: the leader of the free world standing proudly before a banquet of cold fast-food burgers on silverware platters, with Abraham Lincoln looking down in bemusement. Craziness, conflict and calamity seem to have become the new normal, and the escapism provided by gaming has become ever more important to help us cling by our fingertips to the slippery cliff-edge of sanity.
2018 was just as polarising a year in gaming as it has been politically and this was reflected in the amongst the Hey Poor Player staff, with voting split for our coveted Game of the Year crystal joystick award split six ways from Sunday. Read on to see the results!
Created as a project by one man developer, Konjak, Iconoclasts is a 2018 indie darling that managed to release to great critic reviews. However, it also managed to receive very mixed player reviews in the process. However, even having played a multitude of games since its January release, I still find myself holding Iconoclasts in very high regard.
This was a multi-year endeavor for Konjak and the progress that he made as a developer shows as you get farther into the game. The game’s storytelling starts out a little rough in the beginning but it gets much better as the game progresses. The characters also became much more fleshed out the farther you go. The tale’s ending was something that I especially found to be both excellent as well as something from way out of left field. Even now, I still look forward to seeing friends complete the game just so that I can speak to them about how it ends.
The gameplay, on the other hand, remains pleasant throughout. Inconoclasts gives the player a rather limited arsenal of equipment in comparison to other games of its ilk but the weapons and their abilities are used in fun and fantastic ways throughout the game to solve puzzles and explore the environment. The platforming remains tight and well executed throughout the experience with no deaths being able to be blamed on the controls. And the boss fights were something that I always looked forward to and enjoyed triumphing over. None of the bosses are particularly brutal but the joy comes from figuring out how you are meant to win and executing those measures to sheer perfection.
Last but not least, I fell in love with both the game’s soundtrack and the sprite design of all of the characters. The OST is something that I regularly listen to in my car and I have even featured on a VGM podcast that I am a part of. Each track feels very well suited for the area that it is composed for and never comes across as either grating or annoying. And watching Robin hop around with her wrench while interacting with Mina and the other cast members was great mostly due to their sprite designs.
I can’t guarantee that others will enjoy this game as much as I did. My enjoyment may have even been due, largely in part, to how much I was anticipating the title in the first place. But, in the end, I can say that it did not disappoint me in the slightest and I’d urge people to at least give it a full runthrough in order to judge Iconoclasts for themselves.
– Pernell Vaughn
24. Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight
Finally following up on the weird and wonderful game that was Persona 4: Dancing All Night, ATLUS saw fit grace 2018 with not one, but two Persona-related rhythm games. And, while Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight, and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight were both amazing musical experiences, P3D managed to emerge the victor. At least in my opinion, anyway.
The first game to solely focus on Persona 3 in a whopping 8 years, P3D provides a wonderful opportunity for players to get back in touch with the SEES crew not as who they end up as after saving the world – a la the Arena games – but as they are within the confines of the original Persona 3. Despite having such a sizable hiatus, the writing feels exactly the same as it did during P3, with character interactions and dialogue exuding the same darkly whimsical charm as it always has. And, while focusing so much on character interaction might sound kind of weird for a rhythm game, we all know that those of you playing this game will be just as interested in that kind of thing as I ended up being.
Let’s be real, though. This isn’t Persona 3: Talking in Moonlight, it’s Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight; and boy, is there a lot of that to go around! The good folks over at ATLUS made sure to go all-out (hah, get it?) when it came to the music in this game, gracing players with amazing tunes such as the remixes of “Wiping All Out” and “Time” (among many others!) whose catchiness knows absolutely no bounds. I’ve always said that the mark of a good rhythm game is having at least one song that ends up being so good that you feel as though you just have to get a perfect score – and the fact that P3D had quite a few speaks volumes as to just how good it really is.
– Kenny McKee
Frostpunk, the utterly bleak post-apocalyptic citybuilder from 11-bit Studios consumed my life for weeks when it was released earlier this year. And unlike our reviewer I. Coleman, who in his review claimed: “Every decision has both practical and ethical considerations to be weighed, but I found myself rarely concerned by the latter.” I was exhausted by the weight of the decisions I made during my many playthroughs.
Choosing whether to introduce a mandatory child labour law or to announce a 24-hour working shift, to excavate enough resources to survive the -70C blizzard on its way, are dilemmas that weighed heavily on me. And that’s where Frostpunk truly excels.
Forget for a moment, the beautifully realised steampunk setting, the interesting accompanying lore and the fact it’s a bloody great city builder in its own right – Frostpunk constantly asks questions of you.
What kind of leader will you be? Will you control the minds of your citizens with 1984-esque propaganda centre? Or will you turn to an authoritarian faith in the face of apocalypse; to maintain law and order? I grappled with both decisions. Both ideologies disgust me, so it made my playthroughs exceedingly uncomfortable.
At launch, many commentators accused the game of having a thin content offering for the price 11-Bit asked for, but the Polish developers have continued to support it with a range of free updates, including the well-received Fall of Winterhome and endless survival mode.
Should you play Frostpunk? If like me, you’re the kind of person that likes games that ask questions of you, while simultaneously, stretching your citybuilding sim skills to the limit – then this is the game for you.
Just remember, Frostpunk isn’t about winning, you simply must get by, no matter the cost.
– Jon Davis
22. 39 Days to Mars
I probably had more fun in the two hours it took me to complete 39 Days to Mars than playing days’ worth of longer games this year. There are some huge games companies that will throw thousands of dollars at a game, making amazing graphics, music, voice acting etc. But they never impress me as much as a simple adorable indie game that takes me to a safe and happy place.
39 Days to Mars by Its Anecdotal follows the story of Sir Albert Wickes and The Right Honourable Clarence Baxter, two Victorian gentlemen with dreams of space adventure and the perfect cup of tea. These two brave explorers launch their spaceship on their journey to mars, having to endure engineering hiccups and space kraken on the way! The players must solve a series of puzzles to keep to ship running all the way to Mars, as well as making cups on tea in-between tasks. The story is so undeniably whimsical that you still end up feeling cheery and amused- even when you can’t seem to find any goddamn coal in all of space!
As suggested, 39 Days to Mars is a two-player game and is best experienced with a friend. I honestly never thought my game of the year would ever be a two-player game. Not because I don’t play well with others, but because I like playing a game to be a personal experience that isn’t dependant on other people. Being forced to play two-player often feels to me like being forced to read a book with someone else peering over my shoulder. But I strode forward with 39 Days to Mars, thinking that it wouldn’t take long and that it at least looked adorable. Obviously, I’m very glad I did!
I’ve heard a lot of people complain that it isn’t possible as a one player game. I disagree- it is possible one-player, the player aided by “The Ship’s Cat,” but the experience isn’t the same. Playing the game as intended is honestly a very romantic experience- the artwork and perfect soundtrack drawn you into a bonding experience that’s almost impossible to describe. (However, I would not recommend this game for a first date as the puzzles can get very frustrating and communication with the other person is key!)
Honestly, this game would be better if it were longer! But then again, maybe part of its charm is in its briefness. Besides, if it were longer, you’d have to wait around for the other person to be free to play it with you, which might turn a cute experience into a resentful one! You can check out my review of 39 Days to Mars here!
– Dougie Powell
21. Highway Blossoms Remastered
Originally released in 2016, Highway Blossoms tells the story of Amber. A young woman who is driving her motorhome through the American Southwest on her way to California. While driving through New Mexico, she happens upon Marina, whose car has run out of gas on the side of the road.
Turns out that Marina has left home and is searching for an old gold miner’s treasure. Said miner’s journal having been recently published. While Amber doesn’t believe in the treasure, she can’t leave Marina to fend for herself along the side of the road and takes her to get some gas. When they return, however, the car is gone.
Unable to leave Marina on the side of the road, Amber agrees to embark upon this journey. Just for a little while. And thus begins Highway Blossoms. A kinetic yuri visual novel that, interestingly, focuses not on someone discovering they’re a lesbian, like most Japanese VNs. But instead, focuses on the struggle of someone who has closed themselves off to the world opening themselves up again. But if this was released in 2016, why is it on a list for 2018? That’s because Highway Blossoms got a bit of a tune-up in May.
Amber has quite the vivid imagination.
Highway Blossoms Remastered is an update to the original VN which was impressively distributed for free to all previous owners. With the addition of a remastered soundtrack, new CGs and sounds, improvements to the script, this would seem like a light update. However, the big change was the addition of a full English voiceover.
Yes, this is an Original English Language Visual Novel (or OELVN) that has voices, and they are brilliant. The voicework adds a lot of depth to the characterization and helps convey the underlying emotional tone the developers were striving for. Making this the definitive version of both a romantic and dramatic yuri VN.
If yuri VNs are something you enjoy, then give Highway Blossoms a read. Amber’s and Marina’s road-trip is certainly a memorable one.
– Benny Carrillo
20. Warriors Orochi 4
After Dynasty Warriors 9 many people wondered what would be next for one of Koei Tecmo’s longest running franchises. Thankfully, fans didn’t have to long as nine months later Warriors Orochi 4 would come out to reassure people that the beloved Hack-and-Slash combat we all knew wasn’t going anywhere.
How do you follow up after Dynasty Warriors 9? How about a war that has humans becoming gods?
In case you aren’t familiar with it. The Warriors Orochi franchise crosses over characters from both the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors franchise. Don’t think this is just a few characters’s that were handpicked from a few games, however. There are 170 playable characters spanning over ten games! If you are a true 100% completionist who has to get everyone to max level, here’s a challenge for you. That aside, the character’s alone don’t make a game. Gameplay does, so what did Warriors Orochi 4 do that was new? Add magic of course!
Some characters, like Mitsunari Ishida, can actually take on deification form based on a Greek or Norse God.
Yes, magic is the new mechanic this time around and it’s a breath of fresh air. Sure, any one of these character’s can take entire armies alone, but not you can use the power of literal gods cause havoc or dispense justice on the battlefield. From surfing on a tidal wave; to calling down the lighting with Mjolnir; to even giving some characters deity forms; Warriors Orochi 4 sought to spice up a familiar formula and did an amazing job at it.
If battling your way through hoards of enemies is your thing, then make like Zeus and call down the lighting with Warriors Orochi 4.
– Benny Carrillo
19. Super Robot Wars X
The Super Robot Wars franchise has been going through an international renaissance since 2016. With a game being released each year in English through Bandai Namco Asia. 2018 brought us the latest entry in a franchise that’s been running for over 25 years now with Super Robot Wars X.
When you combine the likes of Gundam, Mazinger, Gurren Lagan, Code Geass, Cross Ange, and Mightgaine things can only break the definition of awesome.
Taking place in the fictional world of Al-Warth. You might at first think you’ve wandered into a Tales game. Especially when looking at Amari and Iori’s designs. However, Super Robot Wars is a turn-based strategy RPG based on giant mecha. Which means in this case, our giant robots can use magic! Though don’t think that magic is the only way to win this war. Especially when pilots and mecha from other worlds begin appearing in Al-Warth.
Just because Amari and the Xelguard are magic users, don’t think they can’t throw down with the best of them.
Yes, Super Robot Robot Wars is a massive crossover between various mecha properties. Featuring characters and mecha from shows like Cross Ange, Gundam Wing Endless Waltz, Code Geass, and Brave Express Mightgaine just to name a few. This story is both massive in scale and in its roster. Which means you’ll have plenty of choices as to who to put in your dream squad of mecha badasses. Want to team up Simon from Gurren Lagan with Duo Maxwell from Gundam Wing Endless Waltz? Well now you can, and it is glorious! In addition, the actual welding together of these various series with differing backstories is done well.
Ange, the protagonist of Cross Ange, is one of my personal favorite characters. Both because of just how badass and snarky she is, but also because the Vilkiss just a really good unit.
Crossovers are always tricky since you have to figure out how to make everything fit together and take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each series’ canon. For a quick example, the plots of Gurren Lagan, Cross Ange, and Savior Wataru are all central to Al-Warth itself. With those character’s actually living there. On the flip side, the characters from the various UC Gundam franchises get pulled into Al-Warth during the battle of Axis that occurs in Char’s Counterattack. How? Why? Well, you’ll have to play the game to find out, but as you can imagine dragging the UC war into an already chaotic battlefield makes for some complicated times. All-in-all though, it’s a fantastic game that if you haven’t tried yet, you should consider. And don’t forget that Super Robot Wars T is right around the corner as well!
Super Robot Wars is a celebration of all the awesomeness that Mecha anime is. If you haven’t played either SRW V or SRW X, then consider giving both a try.
– Benny Carrillo
18. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
When Ubisoft talked about this game at E3 I proudly joined the angry hordes, who thought it was ridiculous for them to pat themselves on the back for making a game where you could play as a female character. The most annoying thing about it was their claim that it was the “first time” in an Assassin’s Creed game you could be play as a female or male character – except it wasn’t because you could do that in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate! It’s not progress if we stop every two steps to pat each other on the back and it’s definitely not progress if we take two steps back and pat ourselves on the back again!
What actually pushed me to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was a tweet by an unnamed idiot saying that it was historically inaccurate for the game to include homosexuality. The game is set in Ancient Greece… (So, I guess thanks unnamed idiot, but you’re still a fecking idiot.)
But on to what I actually thought about the game and what I like about it. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey starts the way any adventure RPG does. You’re a misunderstood child, with expectations of greatness because your grandfather did something cool, but then a big misunderstanding happens, and you’re forced to actually prove you can be a hero. I’m not going to pretend that’s innovative, but it makes for much better gameplay than having greatness thrust upon you “just because.”
Honestly, what I love most about the game is its atmosphere. I can’t protest the complaints that the scenery can seem a little copy pasted, but overall it was amazing to just explore and see this interpretation of Ancient Greece. The game is filled with side-quests and interesting characters, motivating you to just explore and enjoy the beauty of it. While every other game I’ve played set in Ancient Greece focuses on the Spartans, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey focuses on many other areas of ancient Greece, opening more doors and offering more to the player. There are three playstyles to choose from (hunter, warrior or assassin), giving the player freedom in the game to explore this world in different ways.
Not to justify why I like this game, but it’s probably easier for me to like it since I haven’t played all the Assassin’s Creed games and I don’t consider myself to be a hardcore fan. Most complaints I’ve heard about it led to “it’s not as good as other AC games,” and it’s easier to not go there when you have less experience with the “other games.” For me, this was a fun, RPG set in an interesting time period that isn’t often explored, with a vast Gameworld, immersive atmosphere and interesting characters.
– Dougie Powell
17. WarioWare Gold
It’s no secret many Nintendo fans resent ongoing 3DS support alongside the company’s hybrid console in Switch, and when considering a) the handheld’s plummeting sales, and b) WarioWare Gold’s failure to penetrate NPD charts, they may have a point. While that’s an essay in itself, my enduring fanboy love stands behind this principle: who cares if the game’s this good? After languishing over the past decade with tired sequels and paltry tone-deaf releases (Game & Wario), WarioWare Gold doesn’t just take a page from Rhythm Heaven Megamix by resurrecting classic microgames and control schemes — its reboot directive zanily reinvents WarioWare for a modern age, incorporating full voice-acting and achievement lists into a more engaging, addictive fever dream.
WarioWare Gold is a manic toy chest — the endless flow of content in supplementary mini-games, challenge checklists to conquer, personal voice-over dubbing on-top cutscenes, and fictional phone calls never, at any point, leaves me bored with the hilarity. When we think the well’s dried up, it keeps delivering in full-fledged card games or games within games — how many WarioWare Kard games have you won? How much Ashley-themed artwork adorns your Pumpkin Panic library? We’re compelled to zap every last mandrake, leap over every incoming potato, and dig every last nostril to check off high scores and missions.
Uproariously funny and endlessly entertaining, WarioWare Gold is the most uncynical release of 2018, as knowing I’m always guaranteed a laugh is a blessing. Welcome back, Wario — we really missed you.
– Anthony Pelone
16. Far Cry 5
The premise of Far Cry 5, where extremism takes over an area of the famously democratic US of A, seems just as relevant now as it was when David Koresh was in the headlines. Set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, Far Cry 5 casts the player as a hapless lawman sent in to arrest the charismatic, enigmatic cult leader: Joseph Seed. Of course, it all goes to hell and all-out war breaks out in Hope County as Seed’s cult establishes all-out fundamentalist martial law. As is Far Cry tradition, the player can aid the insurgency against Seed’s Fundamentalist rule by foot, car, boat, plane, helicopter or hang-glider.
What’s particularly brilliant about Far Cry 5 is the addition of an ally system, where you can have up to two companions join you on your adventures.
It’s also really fun how companions interact with each other on missions, particularly if you bring along burly Hurk Drubman alongside his mother, who chastises her dim-witted offspring while torturing him with details about her young, lithe yoga-obsessed new boyfriend. Just as much fun is pairing Hurk with Sharky who have a brilliant redneck bromance over beer, quadbiking and dream of going “somewhere really foreign and exotic, like Florida”.
As well as your backwoods bipedal comrades, there are also three animal companions to choose from. There’s a dog named Boomer who can fetch guns for you with an innocent expression on his face. There’s the adorably named Cheeseburger the bear whose cuteness belies his capacity for pinning enemies and rending them to pieces. Just as lovable is Peaches the cougar, who stalks through the long grass before feeding on her increasingly steady diet of cultist flesh.
What pervious Far Cry games were really lacking is a cast of allies you could really get invested in to give a more personal investment to the proceedings, but Far Cry 5 has it in spades.
There’s a huge amount of fun to be had in the massive open world, whether it’s parkouring around ruined buildings to find hidden weapons caches or capturing Eden’s gate outposts. You’re given plenty of choice in how to take down outposts, from stealth-killing cultists with a knife or outright calling down airstrikes from Nick Rye’s biplane.
Far Cry 5 is not without its flaws: chief among them being the comical insistence on the part of the villains for repeatedly capturing you so they could have a good scenery-chewing lecture at you about their motivations, before toddling off and leaving you in an easily escapable position. However, Far Cry 5 definitely provided enough Montana mayhem and madness to make it a worthy entry on our list.
– Jonathan Trussler
15. Pokemon: Let’s Go
At first glance, I wasn’t entirely sure what to think about Pokémon: Let’s Go. It’s a gimmicky remake of Pokémon Yellow, featuring catching mechanics from Pokémon GO (which I do still play regularly, to be fair), and a lower level of difficulty than that of its original counterpart (which was already really easy). But, after some deliberation, I decided to take the plunge with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!; and I haven’t looked back since.
As much as Pokémon: Let’s Go is a game made to introduce children to the original generation of Pokémon, it’s also a game for those who grew up playing Red, Blue, and Yellow (like me!) to relive their childhood in a way that they only dreamt of when those games first came out. Running through a revamped Kanto with an Eevee atop my head (and later on, on the shoulders of a Machamp!) was an experience which had me smiling from start to finish. Let’s Go manages to stay astoundingly faithful to its source material, even down to a lot of NPC flavor text and item locations, while tweaking just enough things to avoid most, if not all, of the major pitfalls plaguing the original Gen I titles.
As for those Pokémon GO mechanics… they’re honestly a lot of fun. Surprising, huh? Well, it’s true! While I’m not sure that battle-less capturing would work well in a mainline title, it ultimately only enhances the whimsy surrounding the entirety of the Let’s Go duo. It’s fun watching the Pokémon move around, and Game Freak has done very well with breathing as much life into them as possible. And, perhaps best of all, this mechanic, allowed me to live out a childhood dream of mine; to beat the game with a team of (non-hacked) shinies. Well, except for Eevee. Sure, it took a little while, but the reward at the end of each of those catch combos more than made up for all of the time spent hunting each Pokémon down.
Chaining your catches aside, it might not sound like Pokémon: Let’s Go is terribly complex. That’s because it isn’t. But it doesn’t need to be. What Pokémon: Let’s Go is, however, is fun. And nostalgic. And, for a game like this, that’s all that it really needs to be in order to be successful.
– Kenny McKee
14. Destiny 2: Forsaken
It’s been four months since Destiny 2: Forsaken launched on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC and much-maligned loot shooter is still going strong. In my review, I talked about the improved storytelling and surprises like the first endgame dungeon; The Shattered Throne.
Since then Destiny 2 has continued its rehabilitation through some hit and miss live events, with Iron Banner and The Dawning amongst my highlights. To address the content drought between expansions, Bungie announced the Annual Pass, which comprises of three content drops, the first of which, Black Armory launched in December 2018. The crux of the DLC centres around lost forges – horde mode-styled activities which allow you to create exclusive Black Armory weapons with a swathe of unique perks.
It wasn’t smooth sailing for the DLC as two days after it launched, Bungie had to adjust the power level difficulty for the Volundr Forge. This was because many players complained it was far too challenging for them to complete. Other issues have included lengthy and tedious quest steps to unlock subsequent forges, but overall, Black Armory is a decent addition to Destiny 2: Forsaken.
The brand-new raid Scourge of the past is excellent, complete with new gear to chase. The five new exotics, which I haven’t got my hands on yet, look awesome. And at the time of writing, the community is still waiting for the fourth and final forge to unlock, along with the return of the iconic hand cannon; The Last Word.
But why have I voted for Destiny 2: Forsaken to be my game of the year? Well, I certainly don’t think it’s the best game I’ve played this year (that accolade belongs to Red Dead Redemption 2, predictably) but certainly, I’ve played this one the most with my group of mates.
Bungie have successfully married RPG-lite features with a top-drawer shooter and it’s perfect after a long day at work to slide into the game, mindlessly shoot some baddies and then clear off to bed and do the same again the following day.
– Jon Davis
13. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of the Elusive Age
With the older that I get and the more games that I play, the more I start to think that I simply don’t have it in me to enjoy a classic styled JRPG anymore. Then, a game like Dragon Quest XI comes along and lets me know that it these games don’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to be great.
Dragon Quest XI gives you the same tried and true combat system that the series is famous for. It also provides the tropey characters, familiar monsters, and familiar gameplay that we’ve come to know and love about the series. However, the world itself has never looked or felt better to get lost in. Unfortunately, there was no job system this time around, but it did go back to the more tried and true idea of unique character skill trees.
The Draconian Quests were a fantastic add-on that made the game feel that much better for me as well. I enjoyed being able to tweak the game to just the right amount of challenge for myself. It wasn’t for trophies or for secret unlockables but purely for the joy of it. Those that didn’t want to add those tweaks to their game was free to play without them. What this meant is that we could all experience the story to our heart’s content while our own polished experiences with the gameplay mechanics.
A lengthy adventure with a number of plot twists – some of which being rather untraditional for the series – await each player willing to make the time to dive into this meaty adventure. It’s familiar territory but it is a familiar territory that never felt better to lose yourself in. One hundred plus hours well spent on this one!
– Pernell Vaughn
12. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
It was quite a shocker to me that one of the biggest, most graphically gorgeous games of the year was Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which you’d think was a pretty niche title based on its premise. It’s set during the 15th century in the Holy Roman Empire, and is a thoroughly gritty, realistic portrayal of its medieval period. There’s no magic or dragons to be found in this world; mainly just pox-ridden peasants eking out an existence in ramshackle wooden hovels. The main character Henry’s lot is particularly hard, as his parents are murdered by a savage mercenary army mere minutes after the tutorial’s completion! Though this does, of course, set him off on a classic quest for revenge and personal redemption.
Rising up through this world is a satisfyingly tough, hardscrabble experience. Fighting with opponents requires careful control of distance and the positioning of your weapon to deflect strikes. Even on normal settings, the game only saves on completion of quests, sleeping in a bed or imbibing an expensive potion, so each fight can potentially be a really nail-bitingly tense affair to avoid losing hours a big chunk of progress.
There’s no handy reticule to help you aim when doing archery; you’ll just have to roughly judge the destination of your arrow from the stage of the draw you’re firing at, which can be tricky even firing at a static target, let alone a patrolling bandit or a gracefully leaping deer. Earning money is suitably gritty. If you want to hunt game to sell, you’ll have to get it back quickly before the meat spoils and rots. Likewise, earning cash from looting dead foes is no less unseemly, as if those boots you prized off a dead bandit got to damaged in the fight you had with him, or you anger the merchant too much by demanding too high a price, it can be hard to make good coin, especially since it costs to keep your own armour nice and shiny.
There’s a very involved social system steeped in the stratified social hierarchy of ye olde times. If you’ve got some intimidating armour and a sword dripping with blood, you’ll be more likely to intimidate people. However, if you wear the most expensive finery, keeping it clean and maintained, then nobles and peons alike will assume you’re of a higher social standing, calling you “Sir Knight” and deferring to you in many situations. Having a way with words is useful too as the reputation system is particularly unforgiving. Though pickpocketing and thievery is a quick way to get groschen, word will quickly spread of your deeds if a guard spots you rifling through the bailiff’s coinpurse.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance stands out amongst the pack and deserves its place on our GOTY list for its total commitment to immersing players in its down-to-earth medieval setting. If you fancy the idea of bracingly realistic duels with the clashing of sword upon shield, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is well worth a look.
– Jonathan Trussler
11. Dragon Ball Fighterz
Dragon Ball Fighterz is the video game combination that would have merely been a Dragon Ball fan’s dream just a few years ago. We’ve all done it: “wouldn’t it be cool if like, the developers of Guilty Gear made a Dragon Ball fighting game?” Well thanks to Arc System Works, 2018 made that very wish a reality. And to say it delivered is an understatement.
Arc System Works have truly delivered a fighting game worthy of its license. Super fast yet fluid combat, crisp and wonderfully faithful animated visuals, even original voice acting from both Japan and the US versions of the show. It is all here. Add to that an all-new story mode, several online modes, in depth tutorial trials and a seemingly infinite number of collectibles and you have all a fighting game fan and Dragon Ball fan needs.
Such is the success of the Dragon Ball Fighterz package, it has already appeared at the world famous EVO fighting game tournament. Something that even Capcom’s latest effort, Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite couldn’t manage.
Fighting game purists may scoff a little at some of the single-button simplicities, but there is a depth to Dragon Ball Fighterz that is worthy of everyone’s time. But make no mistake, Dragon Ball Fighterz has created a title that has united both anime and fighting game fans with the best fighting game of 2018.
– Kevin Kissane
10. Sonic Mania Plus
The irresistible Sonic Mania got even better in 2018, with the release of Sonic Mania Plus, the DLC which added Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo as playable characters. The add-on also features new gameplay modes, and some reprised versions of existing Sonic Mania levels you know and love.
But at the heart of Sonic Mania Plus are Ray and Mighty; the two characters from the 1993 arcade game SegaSonic the Hedgehog. They both offer unique gameplay mechanics which make your playthrough’s much different to those that you’d experienced previously.
Mighty can slam the ground in an attack that not only damages enemies, but it can also open new routes; independent to Knuckles. The armadillo can also make use of his shell to offer one-time protection from spikes and certain boss fights.
Ray on the other hand glides around the place, which our reviewer Delano Cuzzucoli described as a “sort of a mix of Knuckles’ glide and Tails’ flying.” He went on to say: “It’s best described as akin to the hang glider from the 8-bit version of Sonic The Hedgehog 2, though not nearly so unwieldy to use.”
Is Sonic Mania Plus the best Sonic game ever made? Well, probably not. Personally, Sonic 3 & Knuckles will take some beating. But it certainly is the best Sonic game made since then, and with the addition of all this extra content, you’d be a fool to miss out on Sonic Mania Plus.
– Jon Davis
9. Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection
Another platform generation, another Street Fighter compilation, right? Wrong. Unlike the previous Anniversary Collection that simply dropped the variant Hyper Street Fighter II and a port of Street Fighter III: Third Strike nearly 15 years ago, this collection is comprehensive.
Every Street Fighter II game, every Street Fighter III game, every Street Fighter Alpha game. Even the original Street Fighter, which is still a hot mess, but welcome even if only for the uninitiated. Most importantly, it contains the definitive version of the greatest Street Fighter game of them all: Super Street Fighter II Turbo.
As compilations go, there is plenty to chew on here. There’s a museum that contains concept art, original character pitches, and soundtracks from all of the titles on offer. There are even character biographies and histories to spend hours on. There is little left her for Street Fighter purists.
But the main draw is the games themselves. Four of which (Turbo: Hyper Fighting, Super Turbo, Alpha 3 and 3rd Strike) have had online multiplayer added. The Nintendo Swtich version also has the capability of an 8-player local tournament if you connect 4 consoles.
Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection may well suit the Street Fighter purists most of all, but if this current console generation is your first, then this collection is the perfect Street Fighter education package. It contains some of the best fighting games ever created, and for half the price of most current titles, it is also a bargain
– Kevin Kissane
8. Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was a highly anticipated followup to the Wii cult classic original. It was a welcome return to form that Xenoblade Chronicles X strayed away from, and was one of my top games of 2017, as well as still being one of my favorites in my Switch collection. When news of DLC came around for Torna ~ The Golden Country, I was intrigued. Then I found out that this was technically an expansion, and large enough of one to warrant a full standalone physical release. That’s the sort of thing you don’t hear about much in today’s gaming sphere, and the breadth of content and improvements to the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 experience are well worth the price of admission (which, to be honest isn’t all that much).
Torna ~ The Golden Country is set 500 years prior to the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and fleshes out the world’s lore as well as further explaining events of the Aegis War. Many of the areas you’ll visit are still going to be reminiscent of the base game, but Torna ~ The Golden Country offers a whole new country to explore. On top of that there are refinements to the combat system such as being able to switch out with your blades and take control of them, opening the way to special team attacks and techniques. Also gone are the “Gacha” mechanics from the base game. Instead of randomly rolling for new Blades you are set with the Blades your characters have when you meet them. This works very well as it makes the characters feel a lot more focused. The graphical engine feels more refined as well, utilizing some new graphical tricks and seeming to hold a more stable frame rate than the base game.
In today’s gaming world full of vague, low bang-for-buck Season Passes, paywalled DLC, and microtransactions; Monolith Soft has done a stupendous job of making Torna ~ The Golden Country a prime example of what DLC SHOULD be. If you have a Switch and need a sizeable, quality RPG experience for your library, Torna ~ The Golden Country is a solid choice (as is Xenoblade Chronicles 2 if you haven’t checked it out yet). Whether you choose to go digital or physical, this sizeable expansion will be well worth your while.
– Kevin Chapman
7. Yakuza Kiwami 2
Following in footsteps of 2017’s Yakuza Kiwami, this ambitious remake of the PlayStation 2 classic Yakuza 2 uses Sega’s formidable Dragon engine to breathe new life into Kazuma Kiryu’s second underworld epic. Featuring refined visuals, an overhauled combat engine, and a host of new sub-missions and distractions – including an excellent all-new three-chapter story starring the Mad dog of Shimano himself, Goro Majima, which bridges the events of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami – and you have enough content to keep even the most hardcore armchair gangsters busy, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is everything a fan of the series could ask for.
If you’re suffering from franchise fatigue, Yakuza Kiwami 2 isn’t going to remedy that. However, those looking for another journey into Japan’s seedy underbelly will find a plethora of content littered throughout the fictional streets of Kamurocho and Sotenbori. From plunking yen into arcade classics like Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtual On at Club Sega to more risqué ventures like the Gravure Photo Studio, it’s easy to let the story, as grandiose as it is, fall to the wayside as you live your best virtual life. But really, you should complete the story, because it’s one of the most enthralling ones to grace the franchise to date.
Simply put, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is yet another superb entry in Sega’s long-running series, and a textbook example of how to deliver a bang-up remake. It’s gorgeous, feature-rich, and delivers a wealth of new additions to its source material that more than justify a return visit from Yakuza 2 veterans.
– Francis DiPersio
Yeah, I know, Vampires aren’t cool anymore. But how about a game that takes us back to what we originally thought of vampires before the twilight years? A game in a beautiful, gothic setting, with dark themes that can’t be overcome with “true love.”
Vampyr is set in the streets of London in 1918, shortly after the end of World War 1. The playable character Dr. Jonathan Reid is a noble physician, with the aim of healing the sick, during a flu outbreak (along with something reminiscent of a zombie apocalypse) and being an all-round good human being. That is until he becomes a vampire and has to choose between suffering blood-lust and defeat or killing your friends and those you have healed to feed your vampiric ways. There are four districts in London to explore, which may not sound like a lot, but each is filled with original NPC characters with their own stories and dialogue. I’ve played games with up to twenty areas, all of which contain at least some characters that are copy-pasted and spout the same random, useless dialogue every time you run past them. In Vampyr, the more you explore each area, the more you get from the game. Even though this is a fantasy horror game, some of the stories feel so real, showing a darker side to our world. Vampires may be fantasy but church corruption is very real!
What’s really great about Vampyr is that there is no easy “good” or “bad” decisions. The game doesn’t boil down to good or evil, just Dr Reid’s progress and him trying to survive in this world. Technically, you can go through the entire game without killing any of the citizens. Killing citizens give you XP, but you also get XP from combat and completing objectives. However, refusing to kill citizens will make the combat harder and progress more difficult since you won;t have as much XP. Citizens are worth more XP the more you get to know them and improve their health, so tailoring to their lives feels a little like pampering a pig more the slaughter!
Vampyr is twisted, dark and offers something really unique in a world of so many samey fantasy horror games. It’s the first time in a while I’ve found the concept of “choice” in a game genuinely interesting, as choices continue to affect the gameplay as you progress, not just in the moment you make the choice. But overall, I love the atmosphere of this game and how twisted it gets at time. It’s not a “scary” horror game, but it’s innovative and offers a bleak but realistic view of humanity.
This of course is explored in more detail in Hey Poor Player’s Review of the game by our Deputy Editor Jonathan Trussler.
– Dougie Powell
5. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
The past month since Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s release is an overwhelming blur of observing character color alts, frenziedly finishing Classic mode with every last character, scooping up Spirits, online friend matches, clearing Challenges, and countless My Music adjustments. Almost all deserved the extra-mile treatment; for instance, I’m not satisfied with merely tinkering music adjustments; nay, I must visit relevant stages and prove the affected music tracks work. Or maybe I’m just rocking out to a new remix for the first time. Or maybe I’m curious how they function within Mob Smash, the mode now granting access to all stages.
As with nearly every other Smash game, Ultimate is an embarrassment of riches — even with excising series staples in Trophies and All-Star Mode, I’m left paralyzed not merely how much there is, but how nearly its entire constitution’s executed this well. The HD stage reconstructions in Halberd or Port Town Aero Dive are simply breathtaking, aweing me every time I observe their starry sundowns. Spirits addictively weaving not merely Nintendo’s entire gaming history but Ultimate’s third-party partners into actual battle. Classic Mode giving contextual purpose to every character is incredibly clever and feeds into Smash’s innate “just one more time” philosophy. Stage Morph and Squad Strikes are bags of fresh air. World of Light is possibly fighting games’ finest solo mode. I could go on and on, and knowing that I personally haven’t even scratched the surface in Hazardless Stages or Mii Fighter costumes leaves me hungry for the future.
But more than that, it’s just an unbelievable marvel to witness and play — that a crossover of this magnitude is seamlessly brought together in balancing a 70+ roster, an infinite repertoire of cause-and-effect hysteria, and with such respect and love towards every single property within remains unlike anything else in the gaming industry. Smash is gaming’s greatest treasure, and that it exists it all is nothing less than a miracle.
(Well, okay, except the online play, but uh, I can dress Ridley with a Bunny Hood, so there!)
– Anthony Pelone
4. Octopath Traveller
Square Enix has come a long way since the days of the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest titles, providing its fan base with a wildly fluctuating and ever-expanding repertoire of RPG sub-genres. However, if you ask me, it’s games that cause this company to go back to its roots – games like Octopath Traveler – that really helps it to shine as brightly as possible (and, of course, we can’t forget the major part that Acquire played, either).
Octopath traveler is, in many ways, a traditional Final Fantasy game. Featuring 8 different characters, 10+ classes, challenging-yet-fun turn-based combat, and boss sprites whose realism and humongous stature contrasts your chibi-fied party members in a way that only classic Final Fantasy games can do, you can’t take two steps in this game without being submerged in nostalgia. But that’s not all that there is to this game. While Octopath Traveler, in most ways, is very much a classically inspired RPG, it’s also much more… ambitious, shall we say. And that’s all thanks to the astonishing degree of freedom and control that it provides to players.
Octopath Travelers features eight unique characters, with eight unique stories. That in and of itself isn’t particularly unique. What is unique, however, is the fact that the player is able to tackle of these in any order, and can jump from one story to the next whenever they’d like. Want to recruit all eight characters before jumping into the harder parts of the game? Go for it. Interested in taking on an entire story with its respective character alone? I pity you, but it’s totally possible. Feel like recruiting your four favorite characters first to create the perfect party, and then completing the leftover stories later? Go for it! There are many ways in which you can play this game, and no single one of them is better than the other. So long as you’re enjoying yourself, then you’re doing just fine. Truly, if there was ever a modern-day answer to the classic RPG, that answer would have to be Octopath Traveler.
– Kenny McKee
3. Detroit: Become Human
It would be irresponsible to not feature Detroit: Become Human on our game of the year 2018 compilation. The latest from visionary game director David Cage and acclaimed studio Quantic Dream, is a tour de force of the brand of interactive storytelling Cage has become synonymous with.
In Detroit: Become Human you explore the tried and tested trope of AI-driven robots rebelling against their human overlords – except this time, you control the androids themselves. You play as three characters – Connor, Kara and Markus – and their stories intertwine with one another.
I found Connor to be the most captivating of the three playable characters in my single playthrough. His story, certainly from my point of view, is probably the most ‘human’ of the three. He’s a specialised android sent by the folks that manufacture all the robots in Detroit: Become Human, to investigate why androids are freaking out and killing humans in the first place.
Over the course of your time with Connor, you’re encouraged through dialogue options and actions to question his programming and effectively; become more human. And Hank, the human detective Connor is partnered with encourages much of this. Hank’s backstory plays a big part in how things shape up with Connor, and it initiates this literal battle in Connor’s programming (or mind) on whether he (it) should contravene it or not.
Elsewhere, Detroit: Become Human navigates some complex themes in its plot. In Markus, Cage and the team devised a plot that draws parallels to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s roles in the Civil Rights Movement. And with Kara – at least in the initial part of the game – you’re thrust into a clichéd domestic violence scenario.
Certainly, there are elements of the game that mirror real life, but the key thing I took away from this game was to do with AI. Detroit: Become Human asks deep and meaningful questions about the definition of what it means to be human; or essentially a living creature.
If a machine is capable of thought, emotion and feeling – is it indeed alive? And should it have the same rights as us? And should we even create an AI, capable of that level of self-awareness? If you’d have asked the late Stephen Hawking, he’d have almost certainly have said no.
Either way, Detroit: Become Human is a powerful video game, it is surprisingly relevant in 2019 and it is full of ambiguous choices. You should definitely make time to play it.
– Jon Davis
2. God of War
God of War has always been considered to be among the best of Sony’s franchises. Ever since the original release on the PS2 in 2005, fans have been enamored with the series’ approach to greek mythology, clever usage of the Playstation hardware, and most of all the intense, combo driven action mechanics. When Sony Santa Monica announced that the next entry in the God of War series would be tackling Norse mythology and be more story focused, fans were concerned at first. After sitting through the game and platinuming it, I can safely say it’s one of the best AAA titles I’ve played in years. Taking place years after God of War III, Kratos has somehow survived his previous adventure and has settled down in the Norse lands, seeking to escape the nightmares of his previous life that still haunt him. While he lives happily with a new wife and child, that all changes when his wife suddenly dies. Her last wish being for her ashes to be spread across the highest mountain in the realm, it’s up to Kratos and his son Atreus to fulfill it.
The first thing you’ll notice about God of War, aside from how stunningly beautiful it is, is that the entire game is displayed in a continuous camera shot, with no camera changes or cuts of any kind. This is stunning to see in action and really drives home the cinematic nature of the game. Don’t be fooled though, this isn’t an 8-hour long cutscene of a game. God of War features robust combat options as well. Though you won’t be racking up combos with hundreds of hits like you did in previous games, God of War does still feature a multitude of weapons to choose from, and the combat is still as nail biting and brutal as ever. There are also RPG elements at play here through leveling up Kratos and Atreus, as well as improving and crafting new weapons and armor for them. There are also plenty of side quests to take on through the secondary characters you meet on your journey. All told, you can top 40 hours taking on everything God of War has to offer. Compared to previous entries, this game is enormous.
Perhaps the most compelling part of God of War is its story. Shying away from the sheer carnage and brutality the previous games were known for has not hurt it in the slightest. If anything God of War’s masterfully structured story helps to humanize Kratos. He isn’t a rage filled killing machine anymore. He’s visibly aged and is wiser, albeit tired and tormented by his personal demons. He struggles with being a father figure to his son, and their dynamic clearly changes throughout the course of their journey. The bonding of father and son with each learning from their mistakes is beautifully done. Not only that, there are plenty of other story related twists that make the game a joy to play through. This year’s God of War is supposedly the first in a new trilogy. If this is what we have to look forward to for the next two, I can’t wait to play them.
– Kevin Chapman
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 has recieved near-universal acclaim from fans and critics alike, and let’s be honest: it’s little surprise that it has emerged from the mist of gunsmoke in 2018’s proverbial OK Corral as our game of the year. However, why it has rightly topped our list and so many others’ tells as much of an interesting story about the state of gaming today as it does about the wild west.
RDR2 a very formalist story-based game with the focus being completely on immersing the player in the role of Arthur Morgan, an outlaw approaching middle age, who has devoted his life to his gang. As the story progresses, his loyalties are increasingly torn between the gang’s increasingly unstable leader Dutch Van Der Linde and his own conscience. Set in 1899, RDR2 shows Arthur and his gang struggling to survive in the twilight of the old west, where railways and telegraph lines criss-cross a once chaotic land, seemingly having tamed the wild west. It’s an incredibly powerful story about the tragic side of “progress” and those it leaves behind: those who live in harmony with the land, the uncivilized, the free. It’s also a portrayal not only of the horrors of progress, but also of the painful exposure of old romantic myths many had lived their lives by, and the difficulty parting with them. Though it’s set over a hundred years ago, I could relate to Arthur and his pain at living in a changing world more than I could to the vast majority of fiction set today.
The amount of effort put into establishing Arthur’s sense of loyalty to his friends is amazing. Arthur lives with his gang in their camp, which moves from place to place. Every member of the outlaw group has their own lives, schedules and relationships with eachother. John and Abigail Marston argue about their son, Dutch schemes, grey-bearded Uncle tells his tall tales and Reverend Swanson publically battles with his alcoholism. You can intervene as the characters interact with eachother, being friendly or antagonizing them, or even join in with a singalong by the campfire. And of course, they encourage you to help with chores around the camp or donating money for supplies.
The sheer depth of social interaction available means you genuinely care about the characters and their fates whether you’re going on a risky action-packed train robbery with them or just hanging out with them and playing poker. Even Arthur’s horse is a character in itself, who needs to be patted and reassured when it’s under stress, kept well fed and groomed. This mechanic like so many others is designed so well to build bonds between the player and the characters that inhabit the game’s world.
The sandbox world outside the main missions also reinforces the feeling of being a cowboy on the range, with fast travel only allowed from and to certain logical points like stage coach and train stations, and it’s this bold decision that demands the player appreciate the vast, calm, lonely beauty of the wider world.
Hunting is a solitary experience. You can spend hours following trails and tracks over mountains, rivers and valleys to find your quarry, examine it and find that it’s got that perfect pelt. The echo of a single gunshot disrupting the perfect serenity of a forest is really a primally satisfying moment of victory of man over nature that’s seldom simulated so well elsewhere.
Of course, it helps that RDR2’s depiction of the natural world is unquestionably the most beautiful of any game to date. Thunder rumbles across the grand mesas under which hordes of buffalo run, beavers clean themselves and frolick in babbling streams that glisten under the sunlight. RDR2’s attention to detail is so precise, a nature enthusiast could easily enjoy countless hours just spotting every type of wildlife with Arthur’s binoculars without having to rob or shoot a single soul. Random events occur occasionally in the open world, punctuating Arthur’s long travels on horseback. Hoodlums try to stick up stagecoaches, strange mountain men kidnap women, blind beggars give prophetic advice and KKK members burn crosses (some setting themselves on fire like the idiots they are). How Arthur reacts to these incidents – whether he helps the poor and needy or prays on them – changes his honour status, and effects the main story.
Likewise, you can go into the metropolis of St. Denis and see cable cars rattling down the streets, with cabarets to cheer or boo at, picture shows that reveal a wider world that technology is starting to connect and the rot of corruption from the politicians and aristocrats who want Arthur to do their dirty work. Every corner has hustlers, thieves and self-righteous proselytizers. It’s the how bracingly different nature and civilization feel when moving between them that really underlines
Of course, what has caused RDR2 to have such acclaim are also the same attributes that have been vehemently criticized by many. Story missions tend to be funneled and linear in how you can complete them. The interface is a bit clunky and hasn’t changed much since Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto 4. Patting down bodies and slowly skinning animals is a time-consuming experience to earn money for an in-game economy that’s far from balanced. The online component feels something of an afterthought. However, I can’t help but see RDR2’s refusal to fully embrace the modern style loot-n-shoot sandbox game as part of its strength as a storytelling experience. Every criticism of the game just seems to show how Rockstar have prioritized immersion in Arthur and his life above all else. In today’s world, big publishers feel increasingly pushed to sideline the importance of telling a story entirely in favour of of pushing the online component and generating a steady income of microtransactions. I applaud Rockstar for going the opposite direction.
With Rockstar making an astonishing $725 million from RDR2 within 3 days of the game’s launch, and the game enjoying astounding critical and financial success, it’s clear that gamers the world over still crave that sense of immersion in a character and setting that RDR2 painstakingly provides.
Though Arthur Morgan might be trapped in a changing world that’s leaving men like him behind, Red Dead Redemption proves that there is still a place in gaming for narrative-driven epics as it rightly claims our crystal joystick for 2018’s Game of the Year.
– Jonathan Trussler