Look, you and I both know calling something “the best” is really just a way of jumping up and down and shouting to get your attention. It’s shameless, I know. But now that you’re here, let’s dispense with the semantic bait. Let’s just say these ten games from the first half of 2019 have most effectively captured my attention, my imagination, and my time. Which, to be fair, is pretty much my definition of “best”.
But first, the disclaimer. I haven’t yet played Total War: Three Kingdoms, inkle’s Heaven’s Vault, or Zen Studio’s Oprencia. I petered out before making much progress in Far Cry: New Dawn, Metro: Exodus, and Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2, all of which I was mildly enjoying in the hopes they might get better. I may never know. Also, I understand there’s a Crackdown 3, but you either have to hook up a useless Xbox One in your living room or wade into the hip-deep torturous inconvenience of the Microsoft Store to play it. I love Crackdown as much as the next guy, but I have my limits.
I was enjoying Anno 1800 and World War Z immensely — immensely! — but both of them managed a critical failure that cancelled all my progress, and therefore all my enthusiasm. In the case of Anno 1800, I hit a scripting bug in the campaign that brought everything to a screeching halt, but without me realizing it until a few hours of citybuilding later. The bug was eventually fixed, but not for people who had already run into it. So many hours down the drain. In the case of World War Z, I couldn’t change the game’s resolution. In the course of troubleshooting the issue, I Googled solutions, edited .ini files, rolled back graphics drivers, and waited on Focus Home Interactive’s non-existent technical support. Eventually, I resorted to the nuclear option: a full uninstall and reinstall. That’s how I discovered the Epic Games Store doesn’t have cloud saves, and furthermore Focus Home Interactive’s online servers can’t be bothered to store a 4kb user_progression.dat file that tracks all your progress, but only exists on your hard drive. Without that file, the server thinks I’ve never even played. I guess Focus Home Interactive expected me to back it up on a 5 1/4 floppy.
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.
This is never a fun list to make, because these are all games I wanted to like. Without exception, they are games I was looking forward to playing. What went wrong? My expectations, the games themselves, or — most likely — some combination of the two? This year’s list actually goes up to twelve because it includes two games I never even played.
These are games that I briefly tried, often during a livestream, and then made a mental note that, hey, that might be worth spending more time with! At which point, they tumbled into the backlog never to be seen again. Until today. I have unearthed them for this list, which is, uh, games that are…uh, the ten games of 2018 that, well, uh…
Okay, I’m going to be completely honest with you. I’m making this list in the hopes that you guys will check out these games and let me know if I was right. Are they worth spending more time with? Based on my limited time, the answer could be yes. But it could also be no because I’ve only spent limited time with them. Look, I’ve done the work for the other three lists this year, so this one is on you.
Why is it doing this? It’s not stopping. Sure, a couple clacks would make sense because something mechanical has happened and that’s a sound mechanical happenings make. Clack. But why is it continuing to happen? Why is it an ongoing thing?
This is utterly insufferable. It’s drowning out everything else. Why won’t it shut up?
Red Dead Redemption 2 will talk you through most of what you need to know. For the most part, it’s not a challenging game and it’s not trying to be. It just wants you to spend time with it while it tells you a story. But sometimes, you’ll find yourself wrestling with the controls or not quite understanding how something is supposed to work. You might accidentally shoot someone because you mixed up your L2 and your R2. You might then find a town full of folks shooting at you. You might then hitch your horse when you meant to get up on it. You might then die and now you’ve lost your favorite Appaloosa. All this is theoretical, of course. I’m not saying it happened to me. But I’m not saying it didn’t.
So here are a few helpful things that I had to figure them out on my own. And since none of them are spoilers, I pass them on for you to use as you start playing.
Founders Breakfast Stout won a drawing for my Patreon review requests. Since I wouldn’t have any idea how to write about beer or what to even write — it’s bubbly, it tastes like beer, there’s words and hopefully a picture on the bottle, three stars! — I cheated and enlisted the help of actual beer connoisseur and Qt3 Movie Podcast co-host Christien Murawski. Together we review the beer in video form while we drink it! It’s a Let’s Drink, complete with a rating at the end.
With this week’s release of the zombie DLC for Far Cry 5, Ubisoft has fulfilled its commitment to folks who bought the season’s pass. So how did it all turn out? What did you get for your $30? This is not a good week to ask that question. The latest add-on, Dead Living Zombies, is unmitigated junk, and that’s especially clear if you’re playing Rebellion’s surprisingly smart Strange Brigade.
My first thought upon flipping through a volume of Jean-Michel Basquiat works from a 2005 exhibit in Brooklyn was, “This is Basquiat?” He has such an exotic and dignified name. I assumed someone with that name would paint idylls and classical portraits. I expected he would be famous because his creations were moving works of beauty. Someone named Basquiat might even be a French master.
My second thought was, “This looks like garbage.” Angry childish scrawls. Gerald Scarfe when he was in boarding school. The cover of a Butthole Surfers album. An unabashedly amateurish webcomic. The scene when the protagonist flips through another character’s journal and discovers that character is totally insane. I don’t like this stuff. This is not the sort of thing I even understand.
The year is only half over and it speaks volumes that when I sit down to make a list of my favorite ten games so far, there’s no room for Into the Breach, Subnautica, or Vermintide 2, all of which are brilliant in ways I haven’t fully explored yet. I mean, seriously, what kind of list doesn’t include any of those games?
There have been some terrible years in the modern age. 1939 can’t have been much fun. 1973 must have been a real bummer. 2001 was a sobering experience. But 2017 stands alone. It might be the worst year the world has yet seen.
I might have included on this list of top games some really great 2017 releases if they felt more like 2017 releases. Total War: Warhammer 2, Dominions 5, and Spintires: Mud Runners are all great, but they’re great because they’re iterations on great games. They don’t feel like separate releases. The fantastic Pinball FX3 adds new reasons to play tables in lots of different ways, but they’re the same tables I’ve already been playing. Superlative DLC for Guild Wars 2, XCOM 2, and Diablo III made all of those games more relevant than ever in 2017, but none of them are 2017 releases.
This is the first year that none of my ten favorite games were popular AAA titles from larger publishers (with the possible exception of my #9 pick). I liked plenty of popular AAA titles from larger publishers! Destiny 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Warhammer II, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Wolfenstein II, for instance. But there were at least ten games I liked better.
Finally, the usual disclaimer for the games I didn’t get to play: Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, Hob, Hellblade, Persona 5, Heat Signature, What Happened to Edith Finch, Gravity Rush 2, and Logistical were all games I wanted to play. I also didn’t get to play any game that had the misfortune to be an Xbox/Windows Store exclusive. For instance, did you guys know there was a new Halo Wars this year?
Overrated is a loaded term. It looks good in a headline. It’s often used for no purpose other than to goad a reaction. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. When I call a game overrated, I don’t mean it’s bad, that the reviews were wrong, that the people who liked it were dopes, or even that I didn’t like it. It just means I’m surprised more people weren’t more critical, that the conversation wasn’t more often about ways the game could have been better.
So if the most disappointing category is a list of games that should have been better, the most surprising category is the opposite. These are games that were better than they should have been. Just as disappointing is about falling short of expectations, these surprising games exceeded expectations and, in some cases, were among the best games of the year.