2018 is coming to an end and there are no shortage of “Top X Video Games of the Year” lists out there, but that hasn’t deterred me from making my own list. Since I’m not a professional game reviewer and this isn’t even a video game site, I haven’t played nearly every game to come out this year. But I’ve played enough to have a few favorites, as well as know for certain that God of War is my favorite game of the year…and it’s not even close.
- Red Dead Redemption 2: This very well may be on my list one day, but I haven’t made time to play this yet. It’s on my PS4 and ready to go, but for whatever reason I have not sat down to actually play it.
- Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze: This game is excellent, but it never quite clicked with me enough to make my list. If you want inventive, technically perfect platforming, this is a winner.
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: This one just came out and I’m still early in it, so I have not seen all it has to offer. That said, it’s an astonishingly good game and is everything I could have wanted this version of Smash to be. Fast and fluid combat with an unreal cast of characters combine for a fighter like none other.
- Golf Story: This seems like a game I would love, but it just came out at a bad time and I never got back to it.
My 5 Other Favorite Games of the Year
Celeste is a terribly hard, but incredibly engaging platformer with tons of heart. The pixel art is better than most, the music is to die for, and some excellent accessibility settings let you make the game a little easier to conquer if you need it, which I did.
Great combat, a surprisingly engaging story, and an open world with tons of sub-tasks that I couldn’t help but complete. Oh, and that web slinging? Whoa.
4. Dead Cells
Every couple years a rogue-like game clicks with me and this year it was Dead Cells. The difficulty ramps perfectly for me and I found this adventure to be engaging for many hours on end.
3. Hollow Knight
Likewise, I have a soft spot for Metroidvania games and Hollow Knight scratched that itch for me this year. The way this game makes you feel like both your character and the world you’re exploring are growing at an alarming rate made me constantly determined to dive deeper into this delight of a game.
2. Call of Duty Black Ops 4
Call of Duty got a lot of flack when it was announced that they would be dropping the single player component this year, but after sinking well over 50 hours into this game’s multiplayer and battle royale modes, I can say that I personally don’t feel like anything is lost. Focusing on online modes only has made this the best Call of Duty game in years and is the only one to grab my attention since Modern Warfare 2.
My Game of the Year: God of War
Before this 2018 game, the God of War series represented a lot of what is good and bad about video games. It had a great gameplay loop that empowered the player, had tight controls which made you feel totally in control of Kratos, and executed a “just enough” progression system to feel like you were progressing without feeling like you were in a full on RPG. On the other hand, it had a story that was pretty good for video games at the time but was still very much just a “video game story.” It was full of sex and ultraviolence that was fun, but not exactly something you’d be proud to play in front of your significant other. It was a male power fantasy that was fun, but not something that resonated with me less and less as time went on.
2018’s God of War is a perfect reboot of the series that is indeed a dramatic shift form the previous titles, but is by no means a rejection of those past games. My problems with the previous games’ stories are addressed brilliantly in this title, and God of War tells the tale of Kratos, who much like the audience for this game, is older and wiser since the last time we saw him. He’s run from his problems, has started a new life with a wife and a son, and the game picks up seemingly just hours after his wife’s death. The short of it is that he and his son need to take her ashes to the top of a nearby mountain, but it’s in the details that make this such a compelling ride.
The singular focus on getting to the top of the mountain helps guide you the entire way and also helps you gauge how far along in the story you are. This isn’t a climbing simulator of course, so many things and people/gods get in the way as you try to accomplish this task, and the story takes you to many fantastic places along the way, but you never stop trudging forwards and upwards.
This unrelenting pace is enhanced by the “gimmick” of the game, it’s continuous camera from start to finish. True to their word, Sony Santa Monica mange to create a complete 20+ hour experience where the camera never once cuts. From the opening shot to the final credits, the camera invariably moves around from exploration to combat to cutscene to loading areas all without a cut. It’s absolutely magical and is a phenomenal narrative, as well as technical achievement. This game would have been much easier to make without this, and it likely would have been received nearly as well, but the fact they had this audacious goal and achieved it is really something else.
Ultimately, the story is told in a mature, but still fantastical way. The stakes are far more personal than ever before. Yes, the villains in your way are gods and monsters as they have always been, but the moment to moment action is relatable even to us mortals. It’s a story about a father and son trying to connect. It’s a story about grief and loss. It’s a story about forgiveness and the depths of despair. The other gods and monsters are just window dressing.
The relationship between Kratos and his son, Atreus, is incredibly compelling, and you feel compassion for both characters. The dialogue between these two feels very genuine and gives the impression it’s coming from somewhere real. We’d be lauding this voice work if it was in a Hollywood film, let alone a video game. The work Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic put in here is just outstanding.
And its to the producers’ credit, because the quality voice acting extends to the entire cast, with each major player contributing memorable work. I especially loved Jeremy Davies as Baldur and Alastair Duncan as Mimir. Oh, and I loved how they had video game voiceover legends Nolan North and Troy Baker play two characters with a fierce rivalry.
None of this even gets into the gameplay, which is some of the best third person combat I have ever experienced in my 20 years of playing video games. Kratos’s axe is easily one of the best weapons of the decade, if not of all time. And this is coming from the series that already had one of the most iconic video game weapons in the Blades of Chaos. The Leviathan Axe will fill you with immense satisfaction as it chops through enemies, and as a bonus trick, you can throw it wherever you’d like and start to take on foes with just your fists. When you’re ready to get it back, just tap a button and it will zip back to your hands, slicing through anyone in its way in the process. It’s super satisfying.
I’ve gotten this far and haven’t even touched on a bunch of the game’s elements.
- The progression system is a little obtuse, but is simple enough to let you always feel like you are getting stronger as you go.
- The puzzles strike a good balance, with most essential puzzles being just complex enough, while the optional size puzzles will make you scratch your head a bit more.
- There is a CPU-controlled companion with you for most of the game and it’s never annoying.
- The visuals are drop deal gorgeous.
- The music is perfect.
God of War is a perfect revitalization of a franchise that seems to have pleased existing fans as well as a whole host of new players. Sony was rewarded for their efforts as God of War was the fastest selling PS4 game ever, until Spider-Man eclipsed it just a few months later. It’s currently the 4th best selling game of the year, behind Spider-Man, Black Ops 4, and Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s an achievement on every level and I’ll always look back fondly on my time as Kratos in this adventure. It was everything I didn’t know I wanted in a God of War game, and I’m still reeling from how good it actually was. From the moment the credits rolled way back in May, I knew it would be my game of the year and nothing has come close to dethroning it.