2018 continues to roll onward to its grand finale like a runaway child on a sled down a steep hill, so now that we’re just past the half-way point and are all just starting to realise that Christmas is somehow not that far away again it seems like a good time to check out the best games of the year thus far.
Now, do keep in mind that I currently game on Xbox One and PC, which means a very notable game in which “BOY!” is yelled and uttered a lot won’t be making an appearance on this list. Sorry, Playstation fans, I’m annoyed I missed it too, but money is limited and consoles are expensive.
Oh, and it goes without saying that I need to have actually played it. I’m one person, I can’t play everything. I try, though. I really, really try.
Not a surprising entry given my glowing review of this city-builder/survival game that tasks you with constructing a city amidst an ice-age. From your God-like perch you need to decide how to spend limited resources, expanding your mighty generator to keep everyone warm, adding homes, researching new buildings and mining for the ever-important coal.
Speaking of which a lot of the early game is spent balancing coal; your people need warmth so it’s always tempting to ramp up the generator to stop people from people gravely ill, but coal is in short supply. It can become even tougher later when your city is vast and the temperature just keeps dropping and dropping, forcing you to burn through the coal you’ve piled up.
You start out so attuned to your people, but it doesn’t take long to start treating them more like numbers. A passed law that forces children to work might be the first step, and before you know it you’re running a city where propaganda is sent to every home, guards patrol the street and fighting pits help relieve the stress of everyday life. Maybe you start adding sawdust to soup to pad it out, or decree that mass graves are easier than proper burials. It’s a simple moral question; how far do you go to survive?
Free content is coming for the game which will hopefully combat its biggest flaw; once you’ve played the campaign there isn’t a lot of reasons to go back.
The brilliance of this game came from the insanely satisfying feeling of your weapon crushing skulls. There’s a level of feedback and visceral pleasure that stems from connecting with a swing that so few other games can really match, and I think Vermintide 2 can be held up as a prime example of exactly how a weapon in a first-person melee game should feel when it slams into an enemy.
But that isn’t everything it gets right; a solid loot system, beautiful graphics, awesome controls and fun levels all contribute to this co-op hack ‘n slasher being a whole lot of messy fun with a group of friends or even with strangers, and it’s surprisingly challenging on the harder settings, too. It might seem like mindless mashing of a button, but there’s more to it than that.
I’ve not gone back to it in quite a while, mind you, but I did sink 70+ hours into it and enjoyed pretty much every minute of it, especially once I persuaded a few friends to join in with the rat-smashing mayhem. Mostly I’m just waiting for a major update or expansion to drag me back into the blood-thirsty action because as fun as it can be it can also become quite repetitive.
Take racing, toss away the laps and notion of having to be ahead of the group, pop in some fun game modes and then finally make utterly destroying everyone on the track the main goal of everything and you have Onrush, a freaking brilliant racer from Codemasters that proved to be a welcome breath of exhaust fumes.
It even manages to mix in a bit of Overwatch with its vehicles each coming with special abilities that alter how they should be used out on the track. Admittedly the carnage is so damn thick and fast that teamwork is purely accidental for the most part, but it’s nice to feel like you’re making a difference every now and them for your team.
Yup, the fact that you have two teams is a big part of the game and something else that makes Onrush feel different. Slamming into your own team is unavoidable in races that are so damn chaotic, of course, but it’s interesting to know that there are other people on your side fighting for the win as well in a racing game.
Like quite a few other games on this list the real problem is how much legs the whole concept actually has. It’s fun, fun, fun, fun up until it just isn’t. There isn’t a gradual drop off, it just goes from awesome to meh. But damn, everything up until that cliff of meh is bloody great.
Who knew that running a shop could be so much fun? Especially when said shop stocks a bunch of strange artifacts that can only be acquired by delving into various dungeons and beating the snot out of everything within it. why? BECAUSE LOOT! And loot means money, and money means better gear, and that means even more loot.
It’s such a simple gameplay loop; kill stuff, get stuff, sell stuff, buy stuff, kill stuff. But the game does it with a charm that solid level of execution that hours upon hours can whizz by without you even realizing it. As time passed in a blur I got a warm, fuzzy feeling from expanding my shop and from nailing the right prices for new items. I delved deeper into the dungeons, bought better kit, got better stuff and stopped the occasional thief trying to steal my stuff.
Honestly, if I was to recommended two games with reservation from this list it would be Frostpunk and Moonlighter.
I feel like this game might get forgotten about as the year goes on due to its quite early release, but if you’re after a sprawling RPG that has a grounded, medieval tone then this one is for you. A big open world, tricky first-person combat, a skill system that has you getting better at things the more you do them and likable lead character in Henry all help make this a hell of a game, albeit a sometimes daunting one.
Much like the Witcher 3 some of its best moments come from when you’re just exploring the land, soaking up the atmosphere of a miserable period in history where death was practically waiting around every corner in the form of disease, stabbing, food poisoning and other lovely things. Ah, those were truly the days.
It also has one of the most memorable missions of the year so far from when you agree to go on a drunken bender with a priest and then wind up trying to deliver his sermon while nursing a raging hangover. Good times.
Y’know, this one only just scraped the list because it does have problems – lots of them, in fact. But ultimately this brooding vampire simulator made the cut because it feels so different to anything else that has come out this year. Sure, it has a lot of violence and blood, but a lot of the focus is on exploring the world, learning about the people and the constant debate about whether to murder them in order to gain lots of glorious XP.
The characters are all fleshed out people with wants, needs and fears, making the world a more interesting place and your choices surrounding who lives and who dies more intriguing. And the idea of being able to use your skills as a doctor to treat the ill and increase their potential XP yield is darkly fascinating as it acts like fattening a cow for the slaughter. Man, it’s dark like that and I love it.
There’s a damn good story, too, even if it does tend to go off the rails toward the end. I was pretty much hooked from the very start, wanting to know what was going to happen.