2018 felt like a turning point for this era of video games. We’re undoubtedly closer to the next generation of video game consoles than we are to the last, and there’s a chance that 2018 was the last year before the PS4 and Xbox One begin to wind down as developers ramp up for new platforms. But the good news is that, with over five years of experience under their belts, studios are able to push these consoles to their limits.
Back in 2013, when the PS4 and Xbox One launched, we could only dream of games like Spider-Man, God of War, and even Sea of Thieves existing. But this generation may very well have peeked in 2018, and since there’s no telling what 2019 will look like, it’s worth taking a step back and appreciating that.
DIsclaimer: The list you are about to read is not comprehensive, nor is it objective. This is an unabashedly subjective take on the best games of 2018 (which I also did in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017). Games you absolutely loved won’t be here. Games you despised will be ranked highly. But this is my list, and I’m sticking to it.
I appreciate when a game takes me out of my comfort zone, but I don’t often seek out those games, as was the case with Dandara, which seemed to just fall into my lap at the beginning of the year. One of several 2D platformers on this list, Dandara is the only one with a brand new traversal system, forcing the player to bounce from one platform to the next, sticking when they land. There’s no running or jumping in this unique title.
I’m not sure why Dandara stuck with me all this time, but distinctive traversal mechanics have always excited me. Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive comes to mind. There’s just something about having to rewire your brain to do something you’ve never done before that can turn a good game into a great game.
This is also the first full-fledged game from Brazilian developer Long Hat House, and if Dandara is the floor for what this team can create, I can’t wait to see what comes next, no matter how long it takes.
9. Astro Bot Rescue Mission
For the second year in a row, a virtual reality game (specifically a PlayStation VR game) has made my top 10 list, but Astro Bot Rescue Mission is perhaps even more deserving than last year’s entry (not to take away from Farpoint). I had my doubts when I began to see people online refer to Astro Bot as “the Super Mario 64 of VR,” implying that is might truly signal a paradigm shift for the platform. But the hype was deserved.
From the moment I took my first step into Astro Bot’s colorful worlds, I had to reset my expectations. Most worthwhile VR titles are either singular ideas executed incredibly well, or games that only stand out because of VR support. Astro Bot is neither. While it would be a perfectly competent platformer without VR, the added dimension accentuates the experience to such a degree that I would never want to play outside of VR.
Existing inside of these vivid, kinetic, cheerful worlds while guiding my trusty robot companion through a series of increasingly difficult platforming challenges was among the highlights of my gaming year, and I’m hopeful that Astro Bot Rescue Mission is just the beginning of a wave of high-quality VR titles.
Gris was the last game I finished in 2018, and I couldn’t have asked for a better palate cleanser to close out the year. In addition to employing an impeccable, irresistible art style, Gris weaves a minimalist narrative that promises to keep you engaged from start to finish. And while it might be the least challenging game on this list, it knows when to push the player to find their own way and when to hold their hand and guide them forward.
After spending dozens of hours battling some frustratingly punishing opponents in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Gris was a perfectly timed reprieve. I never got stuck or lost for more than a moment, and it was all about momentum — using the new powers I’d gained to reach a new area and explore further in this picturesque world.
While there’s a part of me that wishes the experience could have lasted a bit longer, I definitely finished the main story of Gris long before I had grown tired of it. Plus, no matter how long it had lasted, I was always going to leave the painterly landscapes of Gris wanting more, so instead of complaining, I’ll just play it again.
7. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
After dominating last year’s list, the Switch only makes one appearance in 2019 with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Not only was it one of the only blockbuster Switch games to release this year, but we had to wait until the end of the year to play it, as it didn’t arrive until December 7th. Thankfully, it was well worth the wait.
With over 70 characters, 100 stages, a 20+ hour story mode, and online matchmaking that actually seems to work, this is among the most appropriately named games of 2018. If you want to collect everything, have friends to play with, and care about your online ranking, you could end up spending countless hours with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for years to come. There’s just so much here that it’s almost overwhelming.
I’ve played every Smash Bros. game extensively, all the way back to the N64 original, but this is the first time since the GameCube’s Melee that I’ve felt comfortable naming a new best game in the franchise.
6. Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 is unquestionably one of the most impressive achievements in video game history. No other virtual world feels this alive, from the sweeping landscapes to the bustling towns to the pitch-perfect voice acting to the unmatched attention to detail. Its slow pace forces you to take its world in, and as accustomed as we’ve become to frenetic, hyperactive shooters, you will appreciate Rockstar’s more laidback take.
Like many other gamers, I wasn’t always sure if I was actually having fun while playing Red Dead 2, but its world and its plot are intoxicating enough to keep you coming back for more, even when you’re getting sick of tromping around the same dirt roads over and over again on your trusty steed.
With a more modern control scheme and a tighter narrative, I think Red Dead 2 could have been the defining game of the generation. Instead, it will simply have to settle for being a defining game, and one that will undoubtedly improve in time as Rockstar continues to add content to Red Dead Online for years to come.
5. Marvel’s Spider-Man
I’ve been waiting for a worthy successor to Spider-Man 2 for over a decade. In 2018, Insomniac Games delivered. Marvel’s Spider-Man is not only the best Spider-Man game ever made, but also the best superhero game ever made, the best representation of New York to ever appear in a video game, and one of the only PS4 games I see myself returning to for years to come (unless Insomniac comes out with a sequel before then).
Honestly, I probably would have been satisfied if the developer had just nailed the swinging mechanics. If this was just an empty sandbox where I could swing around as Spider-Man, it still would have been one of my favorite games of the year. But the deep combat system, the rogue’s gallery of villains, and the best Spider-Man story (outside of Into the Spider-Verse) we’ve seen in years puts this open-world adventure into rarefied air.
4. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
I’ve played bits and pieces of every mainline Assassin’s Creed game ever made, but none have ever enraptured me the way that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey did in 2018. This is without question the new high water mark for the series, and despite spending dozens of hours in this stunning recreation of ancient Greece over the past few months, I plan to return to Ubisoft’s biggest world yet often throughout 2019 as more content is added.
While it doesn’t have much in common with the classic Assassin’s Creed games, Odyssey is by far the fastest and most kinetic game that any of the Assassin’s Creed teams have ever made, with a fluid and entertaining combat system that takes all the best elements of Origins (while leaving the worst bits behind).
Plus, Kassandra is the most compelling assassin to date, with a captivating backstory, a complicated family, and an incredibly active love life to boot. I could spend another 50 hours in the world of Odyssey and I still wouldn’t see everything the game has to offer… but that’s a challenge I’m willing to take.
3. God of War
As mind-blowing as Red Dead Redemption 2 was from a technical standpoint, God of War might have impressed me even more by flawlessly rebooting one of the most iconic PlayStation franchises of the last two decades while reckoning with the mistakes and missteps its creators made the first time around.
God of War is somehow both a touching story about fatherhood and a sprawling adventure of epic proportions. It is also a completely different game from its predecessors, with a new combat system, added RPG mechanics, a different perspective, and a protagonist who wants nothing more than to live peacefully with his family.
But the universe has more in store for Kratos, and what follows is my favorite PS4 exclusive to date. Slashing my way through the realms with Kratos’ son Atreus was equal parts thrilling and challenging, and I can’t wait to see where they take the franchise next. If only every video game reboot could be this good.
I do my best to avoid hyperbole when talking about my favorite games every year, but Celeste is close to a perfect game. What I mean by that is that every element of this 2D platformer (the third on this list) is sublime. The art, the music, the story, and, most importantly, the gameplay. They all hit the mark.
But (like every game on this list) if it wasn’t fun to play, it wouldn’t matter. And Celeste is exceptionally fun, offering such a well-balanced challenge that I never got frustrated, even when it took me more than a dozen tries to complete a single room. And that’s another thing that Celeste has perfected — stringing together a cohesive world while limiting the platforming challenges to singular rooms. You’ll never have to start an entire level over if you fail (and there are some brilliant accessibility options for those who need some extra assistance).
If I had to recommend a single game on this list to anyone, I think it would be Celeste. Not many games can balance a poignant, meaningful story about mental health with some of the tightest, most thrilling gameplay of the generation, but striking that balance is just one of Celeste’s many impressive feats.
1. Monster Hunter: World
Picking my top ten games of 2018 wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected it to be, but the closer I got to the top of my list, the more trouble I had deciding which game deserved to be number one. Virtually any of the top four games could have ascended to this coveted slot, and I would have been satisfied, but the more I thought about it, I began to realize that I spent more time with one game than most of the other games combined.
Monster Hunter: World is the first Monster Hunter game that I’ve ever spent any significant amount of time with, and while none of the other entries were able to hook me, World dug its claws in deep. Few games that require this much investment and offer this much depth understand how to pace out the experience to give players time to learn the mechanics and decide with play style best suits them. But World does.
Much like Bloodborne or Dark Souls, I could feel myself getting better the further I got into the game. Where I once struggled to even reach the last stretch of the Nergigante fight (one of the most difficult monsters before the post-game), I am now more concerned about how quickly I can defeat it than whether I can at all.
Trying to keep up with all of the major new releases throughout the year can be a chore, and I rarely have time to return to open-ended games like this as the months roll on, but Monster Hunter: World is one of the few games that keeps dragging me back in, month after month. For that alone, it has to be my game of the year.
While these were my ten favorite games of the year, I played dozens of awesome games that I enjoyed in 2018, such as Hitman 2, Far Cry 5, Donut County, A Way Out, and Detroit: Become Human, which had one of the best voice acting performances of the year (outside of Red Dead Redemption 2) by Valorie Curry.
Feel free to blast me for my list below, or share your own list and see if we might have overlapped.