First the usual disclaimer. Here are the the notable games I didn’t get to play: Vermintide 2, Return of the Obra Dinn, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, Forza 4, God of War: Dad Edition, Battlefield V, Pillars of Eternity II, Sea of Thieves, Dragon Quest XI, Bard’s Tale IV, The Long Dark, and whatever Yakuza game most recently came out. There are a couple of games that might have been contenders if I’d spent more time with them. I really liked what I saw of Subnautica and Battletech, but for various reasons didn’t explore them as much as I would have liked.
Which is why I’ve enlisted the help of Nick Diamon and Jason McMaster for this year’s list.
Tom Chick’s top ten
It might be a 2D game, but it’s got the punch, heft, and full-throated gunplay of a fancy 3D shooter. It’s also got a ton of variety wrapped up in a generous rogue-like package.
9. Into the Breach
What Invisible Inc did for stealth, what Tooth and Tail did for real time strategy, Into the Breach does for tactical RPGs. This is the best of X-com, Ogre Tactics, and Fire Emblem packed into potent packets of distilled gameplay. It’s not even a lunch break game; it’s a cigarette break game. Into the Breach even packs a Tardis-esque amount of variety into its micro-tactical challenges. Never have robots and kaijus so tiny fought so fiercely in so many different settings with so many different arsenals.
8. Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War
If you’re one of those people content to play braindead strategy games like Civilizations V and VI because you just want a city builder, Gladius is not for you.
From the review:
Although it adopts the easy rhythm and the sleek information pipeline of the latest Civilization games, it focuses on one thing and one thing only: distinct Warhammer pieces fighting each other. It knows exactly what it wants to do and it refuses to pad it with more of marginal relevance. City management be damned, it cries. This is all guns, hold the butter. It scoffs at endgame sprawl because so many of your units will die along the way. Units don’t shuffle around in the gaps between cities, because those are no gaps. Those are the game.
The joy of traversal, well-written world-building, heartfelt dialogue, and a Batman-style upgrade system based on gadgets that fit Spider-Man as snugly as his costume. Suit. Whatever superheroes call their silly outfits these days. Insomniac’s remarkable engine meets the demands of street-level detail and dizzying skyscraper heights with aplomb. First Spider-Man: Homecoming, then this, and now Into the Spiderverse? Hey Spidey, way to upstage everyone else at Marvel!
The precision Italian sports car mentality drives so many racing games. But not Wreckfest, which is all about power, aggression, weight, and heft.
From the review:
…its core value is rough and tumble instead of shaving a few seconds off a lap. It’s for those of us who long to drive like we did when we were teenage boys: rude and reckless, like we’re the star of an action movie instead of sharing a road with other cars.
5. State of Decay 2
Undead Labs again demonstrates that they understand zombie mythology better than anyone else making zombie games. And they’ve learned a thing or two about open-world games since the last State of Decay.
From the review:
The genius of developer Undead Labs is how well they get not just the essentials of zombie mythology, but the moment-to-moment incidentals. The tension as you’re filling your gas tank while a horde shambles down the road toward you. The unexpected horrific face in your flashlight beam as you’re exploring a dark house that you thought was empty. The panic of holding one zombie back while two more lunge at you from either direction. The rot and shuffle. The disparate survivors working together, one a firefighter, the other a car salesman, another a low level politician. That last important bullet. That fortuitous rucksack of food to feed your survivors for another day. The hero killed, which wasn’t supposed to happen. Most of the time you’re prepared. That’s the gratifying part of State of Decay. Sometimes you’re not. That’s the dramatic part.
This is what Descent felt like back in the day. And this is how it looks in my memory. What a thrill to once again fly through and fight in gravity-agnostic level design. Also, this is the reason to have a VR set. Overload’s VR adaptation puts to shame almost every game made specifically for VR.
3. Cultist Simulator
It might not be much of a game, but it’s one hell of a revelation. The point is to go in blind and discover a world hidden beneath all things mundane, with Alexis Kennedy’s sinewy prose as your Virgil.
From the review:
The more you play — and necessarily fail, as befits this kind of mystery/horror — the more you start to discover something else in there. An economy, a mythology, a set of gameplay systems live underneath the day-to-day reality of going to work, reading books, and sleeping. Your protagonists discover these at their peril and your edification. Your next protagonist will learn more. And the next after him even more. Eventually, one of them will start working in the context of this hidden world’s economy, mythology, gameplay. The revelation is the point and the captivating writing is the payoff.
2. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
On any year without a Red Dead Redemption 2, this sparkling multi-faceted adventure would easily be the best game of the year. All those years making Assassin’s Creeds have finally come to this.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
The deeply moving story of Arthur Morgan, doled out in a laconic Old West open-world, is unlike anything you’ve seen in a videogame. Once again, Rockstar refuses to be limited by the fact that they’re making videogames.
From the review:
I want to resist the tendency to call Arthur a “videogame character”. He doesn’t need the videogame qualifier. He deserves a place alongside Ethan in The Searchers, or the Judge in Blood Meridian, or William Munny in Unforgiven, for how he stands out as a landmark in the genre, breaking its rules to push back at what it means to be a Western, at what it means to the origins and foundations of our country. You don’t need to specify that he’s a videogame character any more than you need to explain that Ethan in The Searchers is a movie character. The medium isn’t the measure.
Nick Diamon’s top ten
A survival crafting boondoggle that gives me an actual story to uncover, an end goal, and lets me build an aquarium in my underwater habitat like an oceanic Inception? Yes, please! Bonus points for not wasting my time with multiplayer weirdness. A pleasant surprise from the studio behind Natural Selection.
After more than a decade in development, this game has finally left early access and launched into janky glory. It’s an uncompromisingly hard post-apocalyptic cannibal fantasy Mount & Blade with rougher art, some survival crafting, a ton of bugs, and arguably too many features. Somehow, with all that against it, Kenshi perseveres and gels into one man’s vision of freeform roleplaying.
8. Monster Hunter: World
The grindiest of grindy games in which the goal is to grind for more grind. But I get a cat-tastic buddy and I can craft ridiculously large shoulder pads to go with my humongous sword. I’m sure there’s something Freudian there to dissect.
It’s a city builder and a brutal lesson in community survival. I haven’t played a city sim in a long time that’s pushed back on me this hard, and it’s a grand time. It’s This War of Mine in the post-apocalyptic snow, but with less hopefulness.
6. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
The Witcher 3 is a fantastic RPG wrapped around a great card game. This game removes all the action slashing, potion mixing, and beard-cutting, and leaves you with pure Gwent goodness spread over a delightful take on a King’s Bounty-esque overland map.
5. Return of the Obra Dinn
It’s not just an art style! It’s a cracking good logic puzzle!
4. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
I was skeptical when Activision announced that Call of Duty 4 (or IIII) would take on Battle Royale and drop the story campaign, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t pull it off. The normal versus multiplayer is fine, and the zombie crap is…well, crap as usual, but Blackout, Treyarch’s take on on the genre, is a revelation. Polished to a triple-A sheen, it’s a refreshing option for those that want something between Fortnite’s kiddie land and PUBG’s freak show jankfest.
3. Hitman 2
Can I lure the scientist onto the bridge to throw a wrench at his head and knock him over the rail and into the oncoming race car to kill the driver? Yes. As long as I’m wearing the flamingo mascot suit.
2. Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War
This is how you handle one unit per hex, Civilization V and VI. Please take notes.
1. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Ubisoft took the lessons learned in Assassin’s Creed Origins and added more, and for once it’s not more for the sake of more. The systems are layered thoughtfully and present a unified experience with only as much sidequesting as the player deems necessary. It’s also the best Wonder Woman game we’ll likely get for a long time.
Jason McMaster’s top ten
10. Fallout 76
Bungled PR and a shaky launch cast, in my opinion, a large shadow over Fallout 76. I believe there’s a strong Fallout experience hidden behind all that bumbling.
9. Vermintide 2
What’s better than killing hordes of Skaven? Killing hordes of Skaven and Chaos! The level design and character advancement add up to a very addictive and satisfying experience.
8. State of Decay 2
More than just being a zombie game, State of Decay 2 is a game about thriving. With in-depth base management, hostile survivors and several large maps worth of cool stuff to explore and loot, State of Decay 2 took up a lot of my gaming time this year.
7. Far Cry 5
The plot is nuts and the open world is insane, but the gameplay and stories that come out of Far Cry 5 are priceless. Worth the price of admission for Cheeseburger alone.
BattleTech is a game about running a mercenary company of people who drive giant battle tanks to get revenge on the people who betrayed your family. It sounds great, right? Well, it is. Harebrained Schemes really nailed every aspect of this game.
I’m always fascinated by possibility. The less I know about a game or its world, the better. A feudal Japanese themed sci-fi open-world game based on a post-apocalyptic, alien planet, Kenshi almost seems tailor made for my type of play.
4. Hitman 2
Agent 47 has had a few good years. Building on the success of the episodic Hitman, Hitman 2 delivers all of what made the first game great and gives you even more options. A must-play game.
3.Red Dead Redemption 2
What can I say about Red Dead Redemption 2 that hasn’t been said? A new standard for writing in games.
2. Monster Hunter World
Somewhere in the first few hours of Monster Hunter World, the game clicked with me and I haven’t stopped playing since. Challenging and beautiful, the world of Monster Hunter World offers a life like no other.
RimWorld is one of the best games of the last several years. In the game you play as a person, or group of people, who land on an alien planet and have to survive. It’s an advanced colony management sim that offers very deep gameplay options. Easily my number 1.