Ben Runnings’ Top 5 Games of 2018

2018 was so dang full of excellent releases, it’s nigh impossible to have played them all. Even though I’ve played a significant chunk of almost 40 of them, I still feel like there are dozens more I missed and could have loved. Was 2018 the best year for video games ever? I think it just might have been. Here are my top 5 games of 2018:

5. Deltarune

I couldn’t decide what should be my number 5 game and it was between God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Deltarune. When it came down to it, I went with the game with the least amount of caveats I’d apply to it. What this game accomplishes in mere hours is nothing short of remarkable and what most games can’t even do given much more time. The Undertale humor and style is back in full force and it works excellently. The combat system has also been updated in so many creative ways that I don’t want to spoil. Deltarune is a joy to play, with some of the best writing and characters this year. I don’t want to say any more, the game is free, go play it.

4. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

I didn’t want to put this game on my list. It’s by and large made up of everything that’s been in a Smash game for the last 20(!) years. There are only a handful of new characters and very few new stages. For those reasons it’s easy to say that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is extremely well executed but doesn’t offer very much that is new. And it doesn’t. We’ve had classic mode in every iteration of Smash, this one just so happens to make it personalized for each character in a creative, fun, and rewarding way. We’ve had single player adventure modes before too, never with this much content though.

Every time I try and poke a hole in this game to remove it from the list, I turns out, I can’t. Why? Because Smash Ultimate is so much dang fun to play. I haven’t had this much fun with Smash since Brawl, maybe even Melee. The quality of life changes, primarily custom rulesets, make it such a smooth experience. I can’t get enough of it.

Lately, I’ve ended every night with a couple rounds of squad strike, my favorite new mode, and it’s been a blast using some of the new characters. I’ve never liked any of the heavy fighters before, but Incineroar, King K. Rool, and Ridley have all quickly become my go-to brawlers. There’s so much to love in Smash Ultimate. And love it I do. This is a childhood wish fulfillment nostalgia party of the highest degree.

3. La-Mulana 2

Of all the Metroidvania games that came out this year, this is by far the best one. La-Mulana 2 is the closest a game has come to really feeling like you’re exploring an ancient ruin. The pathways twist and turn, traps and enemies lurk everywhere, and riddles pepper the scenery. The non-linear item and gameplay progression make this a game where you can have many different paths to take and get lost exploring for hours. The feeling of ‘falling down the rabbit hole’ makes traveling the gigantic map feel more like an open world game rather than a 2d Metroidvania. It has this wonderful cadence that you do not find in really any of the other games of its ilk. It’s a captivating experience that is basically unrivaled in its size, scope, and intricacy. 

La-Mulana 2 requires a lot from its players. You will die in some trap you didn’t see coming. There are puzzles that demand you not only explore everything but remember obscure details from hours prior. Some bosses and areas can be quite devious as well. About 20 hours into the game, I started using a guide to point me in the right direction if I got stuck and for solutions to the obscener puzzles. Even doing that, I beat La-Mulana 2 after over 40 hours of playtime. There’s just so much to see and do. La-Mulana 2 is coming to consoles sometime in 2019 and I implore you to give it a shot.

2. Monster Hunter: World

I’m so extremely happy that Capcom’s long-running Monster Hunter series not only finally brought its mechanics forward from the PS2/PSP days, but that it also found the tremendous success it deserved. Gone are the days of managing different pickaxes and bug nets, running out of inventory space constantly, boring gathering quests, and cumbersome crafting. Almost everything is streamlined to highlight the real draw of Monster Hunter: hunting monsters. Even more impressive is that the ‘hardcore’ fanbase didn’t revolt against making the game easier to start as the late game content is still abundant and challenging.

I sunk over 115 hours into this game, mostly in the first month or so of its release, as I was hopelessly addicted. This is what the series always should have been in pretty much every way. Hunting monsters into the early morning hours does not get old.

Honorable Mentions

Gris

Gris is nothing short of art. It’s beautiful beyond words and definitely got me choked up by the end. Play this game!

The Messenger

This game is combines stellar platforming with a cool story, memorable music, and more fun than you can shake a shuriken at. New-retro is now one of my favorite aesthetics.

Dragon Quest 11

Just a pure joy to play and grind through. The hours slipped by with this refreshingly modern-feeling classic JRPG.

Dandara

A Metroidvania where you can only move my jumping to different spots on the walls and ceilings. This locomotion change does wonders to make this game feel fresh. It also sports several jaw-dropping boss encounters.

Red Dead Redemption 2

1. Red Dead Redemption 2

I never thought a Rockstar game would ever be this high on my list, let alone even be on it, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is just that special to me. I’ve never taken to any GTA game. I played a few hours of RDR1 but quickly dropped it. Rockstar games just were made differently: sloppy shooting, obnoxious mashing of a button to run, awkward movement in general. The weird thing is, RDR2 has all those issues, but they all made sense here.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is not a mainstream game. I can hardly fathom how it exists at all, but it is a AAA old west roleplaying game where the designers are the dungeon masters. People complain that you can’t gallop through a busy street without running over someone and alerting the law—when that’s exactly what would happen in a real place. The sooner you start playing like a person in that world, the sooner those ‘janky and weird’ moments will fall by the wayside. That’s how I played it for 50+ hours and I loved almost every second of it.

I’d spend hours hunting deer with no goal. I’d comb the land simply to see what was there, not to check off yet another open-world task, or to clear the map of collectibles obsessively. RDR2 spits in the face of the Ubisoft model and lets players be free to explore and enjoy the world. Are there hidden items to collect? Yes, but it’s not at the forefront. You’re not pausing the game to look at the map and see ‘5/7 rabbits hunted, 7/10 mercenary stashes found,’ or any other garbage like that. It exists and you can find it and complete it, but RDR2 wants you to be a part of the world first and foremost so it dials all those systems back.

In any other game with collectible dinosaur bones, I would have tried to find them all. The quest might even have told me where they all were, or an in-game item would. RDR2 does not do that. It says, ‘they’re here, but that’s all I can say,’ and I loved that. I found maybe 4 dinosaur bones in my playtime and each time Arthur would doodle on the map to mark their location. We found those together. That’s the best we could do, it wasn’t all of them, but we tried. On our travels high and low, similar doodles began to cover the map, little mementos of the journey. The journey, the small accomplishments along the way, was its own reward.

The world is filled with systems like this and it ended up creating my favorite open world of any game ever. The NPCs feel closer to real humans than I’ve ever seen. Sure, they are nowhere near perfect, but the movement mechanics, the dialogue system, and the role-playing vibe made them feel much more than simple AI scripts.

Then there’s the story: a slow, somber tale of a man coming to terms with his life’s mistakes. He has followed and trusted a father-figure he is starting to doubt. While some parts of it are mediocre (chapter 5) what’s left on either side are tons of quests and character moments that I won’t soon forget. Arthur Morgan is easily one of my favorite characters of all time.

So, I guess you could say, I like Red Dead Redemption 2 a little bit.

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