Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:07pm 01/01/19 | Comments
AusGamers presents our Top 10 Best Games of 2018...
It's been a helluva year for games. The open-world action and/or RPG genre has exploded in ways we never thought possible not so long ago, while even the quality of most Indie products is now at a par for the tech available to most. This year we saw the release of a number of Triple-As that sated various tastes and gameplay leanings, while even staple annual releases such as Treyarch's essentially 'Best of Treyarch Call of Duty' Black Ops 4 and DICE's gorgeous chaos simulator Battlefield V, enjoyed critical and commercial success.
And there were a lot of games released in 2018. One glance at our own Reviews Section should highlight that, and this year we decided rather than simply list the games we reviewed in score order from best to 10th best, we wanted to take a more personalised approach. Especially when you consider the age-old argument that reviews are just "opinion". So instead Kosta and I have listed the Top 10 Best Games of 2018 that reached us on a personal note. Between us we came up with a list of 20 games, then came to consensus on where the 10 best of those sit in a classic listicle of 10th to first. But, we've also decided to reveal each game one day at a time in celebration of the New Year, and once we crack the top 10, we'll also be following up with an Honourable Mentions list of the final 10 that didn't make it.
And so, without further ado, please see below our collaborative list of the AusGamers Top 10 Best Games of 2018.
As it stands now, open-world gaming is king. Technology that allows for expansive ideas to be realised on current-gen hardware, and on decent PC gaming setups has allowed developers to truly invite players into playspaces they simply couldn’t even just a number of years ago. At the fore of this design tilt is an unlikely franchise in Microsoft’s Forza. While the Forza Motorsport series as founded by Turn 10 gives us the more streamlined racing experience; track to track, championship to championship, it’s in Playground Games’ arcade offering with the Forza Horizon series that we’ve realised going offroad, however you see fit, is an oddly natural thing to do in open-world gaming. And it’s not just the freedom here that elevates the franchise, it’s in the technology behind it. If you think about it, in comparison to a rigid racing game or series, Forza Horizon shouldn’t exists -- it’s the antithesis to what we know as racing in videogame form, yet it does exists and, in my opinion, trumps most racing games around it.
"It all looks and plays stunningly, while the ever-rewarding XP system remains in tow, keeping players forever gaining, simply by driving..."
That the Horizon spin off has also helped forge a new design tentpole for racing games, with the likes of Ubisoft’s The Crew following suit, shows that by removing race line barriers and giving players the freedom to take super cars into places they shouldn’t be able to, a new genre has been forged. Which brings us to Forza Horizon 4, the latest entry in the series, and one that manages to not only make England look inviting (sick burn), but has also changed how you attack the game with changing seasons, that completely reshape parts of the environments, and even unlocks previously locked areas. It all looks and plays stunningly, while the ever-rewarding XP system remains in tow, keeping players forever gaining, simply by driving.
We can’t wait to see what this talented team does with their purported open-world action-RPG they have in the works, given what they’ve managed to do with the simple concept of taking your vehicle off the road and into no-man’s car’s land.
9. Ashen - PC, Xbox One
Ashen is a rare breed of game that is more than the sum of its parts. Working towards its strengths and not shying from its influence, this Indie gem from New Zealand-based A44 is a true triumph. Billed as an action-adventure RPG, We’d liken it more to a Souls-lite action romp, set within an ever-changing, yet ever-resetting sandbox. As confusing as that sounds, this is a deliberate design goal set to help the player understand the game’s difficult-to-earn-and-keep currency (Scorios), which is used to better themselves through stronger weapons and gear. As you progress, a small village you initially stake your claim in becomes more vibrant and expands. More people join your cause and offer more services, through this unique system which, of equal importance, also works to show you the true fruits of your oft exhaustive action labour.
"Once you unlock fast travel and get your favourite weapons up to a higher forge grade, Ashen quickly pulls you in and never lets you go..."
Art-direction and presentation here is absolutely beautiful, and helps Ashen stand as a unique slice of gaming across all genres, and is polished to the nines. Sporting an incredibly moving soundtrack, majestic beasts, gorgeous vistas, unique characters, challenging interiors, time-based combat and co-op, the game’s biggest hurdle is perhaps in its more grindy nature. This, coupled with the slower character movement and large spaces to cover in order to retrieve your lost Scorios, which happens whenever you die, can make it feel like a chore early on. But once you unlock fast travel and get your favourite weapons up to a higher forge grade, Ashen quickly pulls you in and never lets you go.
There’s a franchise-in-waiting here from the talented A44 Games, and we haven’t shied in the past from suggesting Microsoft or Sony would do well in looking at bringing them in as an exclusive first or second-party developer. With more development support and a bigger budget, the sky’s truly the limit for this young studio. And we see big things on their horizon.
Ashen is an absolutely incredible piece of design across all fronts, and a game we can’t recommend highly enough from our friends across the Tasman. Essential gaming.
The Greek setting is perfect for Assassin’s Creed, not only because you get to explore historical sites and landmarks in a way that the series has always excelled at -- but mainly due to the recent genre transformation we’ve seen. Assassin’s Creed as a series has now become a proper ‘open-world RPG’ with the tightly structured action of Assassin’s Creed 2 blended with the exploration and discovery of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This is a journey that began with last year’s excellent Assassin’s Creed Origins. Aside from the tiered and coloured items and levelling, you also get to choose who to play in a sprawling story that is filled with rich characters, choices and grand adventure.
"If this is the new direction for the series then we’re more than excited to see where the teams at Ubisoft head next..."
Like all great open-world RPGs the world itself becomes a key character, and the sheer size and scope of the Ancient Greece on offer here is truly staggering. And beautiful, with some of the best lighting and HDR implementation we’ve ever seen. On a high-end rig or an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro the mountain and island views are often jaw dropping.
If anything, however, Odyssey’s size works against it, with many of the finer storylines, quests and discoveries requiring more than a few dozen hours or so of adventuring to come across. This adds a somewhat scrappy feel to the presentation of the world, because the good bits are brilliant and the lesser parts simply good enough to keep you going. In the end though, if this is the new direction for the series then we’re more than excited to see where the teams at Ubisoft head next, and like with the core titles from the Xbox 360 and PS3 era -- see the evolution and growth of the open-world RPG Assassin’s Creed timeline.
What’s not to say about a game that is essentially already a ‘Best Of’ of a seminal ‘Best Of Nintendo’ series that threw a new spanner in the works by way of fighting? Like Mario Kart before it, which pitted Nintendo characters against each other in a unique racing setting with tight mechanics, course design and pure charm, the Super Smash Bros. series has epitomised what Nintendo does best, by just being a Nintendo game -- unique, creative spins on gameplay, characters and history with a pure outlay of fun. You know, the Nintendo way.
In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate we get the ultimate version of the above. But in this we also get a game that delivers on the content front in absolute spades. It’s almost intimidating how much there is to do here beyond the essential combat concept. Whether it’s the new Spirits system, which has a number of modes and gameplay systems built around it, or the roster of characters that exceeds 70 with more set to come -- Ultimate simply stands as the best in the series yet.
No need to take our collective word for it though, here’s what our resident Super Smash Bros. expert, Toby Berger, had to say in his in-depth review (9.8/10):
Smash Ultimate is easily the best package ever put together by the development team by some distance — it’s absolutely brimming with content to venture through, and I absolutely adore its core gameplay.
This is an essential Nintendo Switch title purchase, if you haven’t already reached for your wallet. It ticks the content box, and then some. It’s easy to learn and difficult to master. It will likely bring the series into the esports world in ways the previous didn’t, and is remarkably fun to spectate. But most importantly, alone or with friends, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate simply delivers in the fun department, and is ever-rewarding regardless of skill level.
It’s no secret that as PC veterans we fondly remember the Golden Age of the point-and-click adventure. You know, the days of LucasArts and Sierra On-Line. At a glance Unavowed may look like a simple throwback to this specific era of games circa 1990-something, but in telling its dark and supernatural tale it manages to push the genre forward and into the 21st century in exciting ways. And all with a key understanding of what drew so many people to the adventure game in the first place -- story. A Choose Your Own Adventure of sorts (currently all the rage), where you’re in control. And by implementing an almost BioWare-like RPG approach to its characters and mechanics, where you get to choose from many different origin stories as well as who you take with you on each investigation, developer Wadjet Eye Games has created one of the most memorable adventure games in years.
"Despite the pixel-art still looking and feeling like something from a different era, the wonderful writing, voice-acting, music, and simple but calculated animation adds to the immersion..."
And by injecting meaningful choices and consequences that can sit comfortably alongside memorable story beats, Unavowed lives up to the genre’s initial promise in ways many of the older titles or classic adventure games from decades ago never did.
Despite the pixel-art still looking and feeling like something from a different era, the wonderful writing, voice-acting, music, and simple but calculated animation adds to the immersion of exploring the dark and noir-drenched streets of New York City. There’s a timeless quality to Unavowed’s presentation that is hard to put a finger on, and even though we’ve seen the detective trope more than a few times in this genre its implementation here feels fresh and anything but a simple throwback. Like with with all the great adventure games of yesteryear it all comes back to story, and Unavowed tells a great one - in a world as described in our review as a place where “gods, interdimensional creatures, different astral planes, and myth merge with the current day. Like John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, but more serious.”
Frostpunk is a game all about mood, albeit one of imminent and persistent dread. While at its core a city builder, by raising the stakes to create true moral and situational panic thanks to the Victorian-era steampunk meets the Ice Age setting -- 11 Bit Studios has delivered what can only be described as an emotional rollercoaster wrapped up in a tightly structured simulator. A Sim City natural disaster taken to the utmost extreme level. Playing through the various scenarios, especially on the harder difficulties, the ‘surviving the cold’ aspect adds considerable weight to staple city builder activities like constructing new and more comfortable homes for your citizens. Or, setting aside room for places workers can unwind after a long day in the cold mining for coal or gathering wood.
"[Frostpunk is] a Sim City natural disaster taken to the utmost extreme level..."
Outside of the more drastic and in your face decisions, like deciding on whether or not child labour laws are the best option for the survival of humanity, or slipping into a form of governance that, is for a lack of a better term, fascism -- each of the playable scenarios offers enough thematic and thematically-challenging variety. No decision feels unjustified, or there for mere shock value. And even though it may sound, to quote Marty McFly from Back to the Future, ‘heavy’ -- Frostpunk is also entertaining and works brilliantly as a scenario-based sim. The reliance on heat and temperature to keep a functioning society chugging along, with a large steam-reactor at the center of everything -- is both visually striking and one of the most well-executed mechanics the genre has seen in a while.
It doesn’t hurt that Frostpunk’s art direction and visual effects look simply gorgeous running on a high-end PC, either -- where the ice, frost, steel buildings, smoke effects, citizen animation and sombre soundtrack immerse you into its world entirely. Post-release and free support for Frostpunk has only helped to improve the experience too, by adding more ways to play, new scenarios and an endless mode for those that want to set up a permanent steam-powered city surrounded by ice.
4. Yoku's Island Express - PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Few games have come so far out of left field so complete as Villa Gorilla’s Yoku’s Island Express. We gave the game a 10/10 perfect review. And if you’ve followed AusGamers for any amount of time, you’ll know 10s here don’t come willy-nilly.
"The setup is simple -- Yoku, a dung beetle with a perfectly round rock tethered to him, has arrived on an island to replace a pterodactyl mailman..."
But here it is, a near-perfect Indie gaming experience. The setup is simple -- Yoku, a dung beetle with a perfectly round rock tethered to him, has arrived on an island to replace a pterodactyl mailman. He’s had enough, you see, so much so he’s been slipping at his job in its dying days, leaving packages undelivered. Naturally this means you need to get cracking on getting the island’s whacky inhabitants their mail, which further reveals new missions for our hapless bug to perform. Navigating the island takes the form of a pinball-like experience, as Yoku’s round rock can be hit with left, right and neutral paddles. Tight physics are tied to this, while the overall level and game-design takes on a Metroidvania-like experience. It is utterly brilliant.
Charming to a fault, there’s a number of hours of challenging gameplay baked into the game, and for completionists an added layer of depth will keep you knocking Yoku about his little island paradise even longer. Presented with a classic Nintendo-era Rare-like visual sheen and story delivery, Yoku’s Island Express is both at fresh and inviting, while also feeling classic and retro in its overall design. Here’s what we said in our glowing review:
Yoku’s Island Express, in everything it presents to the player, couldn’t be more perfect. Its art, its silly premise, its characters, its progression system, its modes mashup, its level design… Science, that level-design -- everything is perfect. Describing the game is a bit difficult, but imagine a side-scrolling platformer-adventure game with quests, friendly characters and fewer bosses. Now, throw in physics and pinball, specifically in how you not only traverse the game-world, but also tackle ‘dungeons’, and you’re kind of on the right track.
Another essential game that lives on all platforms, giving you no excuse not own it.
From fan-favourite underdog to recently becoming a part of the Microsoft Studios first-party family, Obsidian Entertainment has been creating rich character-driven role-playing games for as long as we can remember. From the excellent Knights of the Old Republic II way back in the day to the wonderful Fallout: New Vegas and the studio’s own recent creation, the crowdfunded Pillars of Eternity. An isometric throwback to a style of game not seen since the days of Baldur’s Gate, Pillars was a reminder that no matter the presentation a great RPG is just that. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire shifts the focus to a new archipelago island region of Deadfire, and in doing so introduces a more nautical, pirate theme to the franchise.
"As with all Obsidian joints, choice plays a major role in how the overall story and relationships unfold, and when coupled with the exceptional writing and story easily makes it one of the most memorable RPG tales of recent times..."
It’s a refreshing change of pace that adds life and colour to the more sombre aesthetic found in the first game, with well executed naval conflicts and island exploration that take on a Choose Your Own Adventure meets graphic novel feel. The combat and visuals are vastly improved over the original too, with a more diverse cast of characters to interact with and potential party members to recruit. As with all Obsidian joints, choice plays a major role in how the overall story and relationships unfold, and when coupled with the exceptional writing and story easily makes it one of the most memorable RPG tales of recent times.
In the end though it’s the seamless and ingenious blend of styles that add to the overall enjoyment. The intuitive turn-based ship battles, the bombastic real-time magic and ability based combat, the graphic-novel like story sequences where you need to make tough choices, exploration that’s akin to moving about in a grand tabletop adventure, huge sprawling towns and villages full of character, stories, and discovery. All coming together to make Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire an RPG to savour.
“It’s Metroid Prime starring Kratos”. That’s how I managed to get my co-Managing Editor, Kosta Andreadis, into picking up God of War. Not that he, or even we, wouldn’t have eventually played it, but the initial pitch of Kratos somehow now finding himself in Scandinavia and surrounded by Norse mythology, just kind of didn’t resonate. I even made a stupid video about it. I say “stupid” because what Santa Monica Studios wound up doing was creating a near-perfect action-adventure experience -- albeit one with throwback sensibilities. To be blunt, they made exactly the kind of game we wanted to play as semi-jaded games journos. And we stupidly assumed they wouldn’t pull off the biggest gaming heist of the century.
"It also takes one of the baddest muthafuckers around and humanises him. And not even just a little bit, it does it to fucking nines..."
Okay, maybe it’s not so much a heist as a bit of sleight of hand, but whichever way you look at it, Kratos’s newest journey not only trumps all of his previous outings, it also takes one of the baddest muthafuckers around and humanises him. And not even just a little bit, it does it to fucking nines.
Why am I yelling at you? Largely because I was an idiot in the first place and God of War on PlayStation 4 should have been a poster on our wall. We should have made it a mix tape. We should have bought it flowers. We should have asked it to consider moving in. We should have called more often. We should have made reservations. We should have remembered its birthday (which hasn’t even come up yet). We should have done a lot of things. Thankfully, we played the shit out of it, and I don’t think it could have realistically asked for much more.
Riding through a storm, black clouds hang overhead. The wind howling; grass, trees and Arthur’s jacket sway unpredictably. Looking into the distance and noticing what looks like a nearby and secluded house: shelter. Sitting on the porch, a portly and unkempt fellow offers food, warmth and company. A woman, equally unkempt, exits the front door to offer the same. It’s a proposition as ominous as the storm, but curiosity takes hold. Over food and drinks the conversation takes a strange turn, the strangers begin to sound more and more like promiscuous siblings. As Arthur takes another sip of his drink wary of what comes next he falls unconscious, only to wake up hours later in a ditch, robbed of all money, lying next to two corpses.
"In many ways Rockstar’s Western epic is similar to the game that made the top of our 2017 list - Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In that this is an open world in service to one thing only: Red Dead Redemption 2..."
Seven years to develop a cinematic open-world action game is without a doubt, quite a while. Throw in an astronomical budget, production values that could very well be considered James Cameron in their Avatar-excess, a team of talented writers, artists and designers at the top of their game, and well, the end result is the sumptuous Red Dead Redemption 2. In many ways Rockstar’s Western epic is similar to the game that made the top of our 2017 list - Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In that this is an open world in service to one thing only: Red Dead Redemption 2. Although the circular logic of that statement doesn’t make all that much sense, best to think of it more along the lines of the somewhat generic “an open-world unlike anything you’ve ever seen”.
Full of interactivity, life, discovery and surprise, nothing takes precedent over simply existing in the world of Red Dead Redemption 2. Being able to let players go fishing is seemingly as important to Rockstar as creating a realistic river-based ecosystem that reacts to the digital world. Or stumbling on a strange house in the middle of nowhere.
"The lack of pressure, or arrows or prompts rattling off one of 20 different places you can visit in icon form is refreshing and in step with the grand Western ambition that is both mood and sensibility..."
The same goes for hunting, heading into town to visit a saloon, or joining fellow gang members as they plan to rob a bank as part of a story mission. Living the life of troubled outlaw Arthur Morgan, this is a Western that can sit alongside the genre’s greatest achievements. No matter whether it’s a film, novel, or piece of music. The lack of pressure, or arrows or prompts rattling off one of 20 different places you can visit in icon form is refreshing and in step with the grand Western ambition that is both mood and sensibility.
Sure, you can race through all of the missions in sequence and experience the wonderful story in big chunks, but it’s the simple act of existing in the beautifully-detailed world that kept us coming back. Where each new location and journey was met with memorable encounters. Alone as Arthur, or with others. Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of those rare games where you feel intimately connected to the protagonist. In the example mentioned above, after waking up and slowly making his way back to the secluded house in a fit of anger, Arthur finds the woman holding a knife, startled. As she approaches Arthur doesn’t flinch or let his guard down, he kills her. As her brother races downstairs, he shoots him too. Searching the house he finds his money. Searching further he find out that the corpses he woke up to were the siblings’ mother and father. A small part of Red Dead Redemption 2, this little moment isn’t tied to any quest, telegraphed via a map marker or even treated as a mission or statistical encounter. Like Arthur and you the player, it simply exists.
Congratulations to the team at Rockstar global who poured their heart and souls into what will go down as one of the most significantly complete and polished game releases of all time. And a massive congratulations to any other team whose game made our final Top 10 Best Games of 2018 list. As promised, we'll be following this massive feature up with an Honourable Mentions list of the other 10 games that just missed out. So please stay tuned for that. Otherwise, drop us your thoughts on the now complete list.