We’ve already given you our alternative game awards, so we thought it was time to get serious for a minute and give you our proper Game of the Year picks.
Before we get stuck in, a note: we all picked different ones so you didn’t have to read about the same game seven times. We also haven’t all played everything (I have, pretty much so shut up). Also, go easy on Matt for picking Fortnite – I tried to stop him, I really did.
Right, I’m glad that’s all cleared up. First up, the one true choice.
Kirk McKeand – Red Dead Redemption 2
I could bang on all day about how Rockstar filled Red Dead Redemption 2’s world full of surprising stuff for players to discover. I could talk about how it’s a living, breathing place where deer dart across dirt paths, crows circle over corpses, and bears stalk through the woods. I could write an essay on the volumetric lighting that bakes the world in a sepia glow as the sun sets on the mist. Or I could talk about the incredible sound design as your horse slowly gallops across the cobbles of Saint Denis, backed by the whirring of encroaching industry.
But what really sticks with me over a month after finishing the game is the characters. In Arthur Morgan, Rockstar turned conventional video game storytelling on its head, starting the game off with a character at his peak and slowly teasing his inevitable decline as the game goes on. It’s not often I remember quotes from game dialogue, but I’ll always remember when and why Arthur Morgan was afraid.
Matt Martin – Fortnite
Fortnite wasn’t released this year? I know! The point is Fortnite has changed exponentially, from a fairly average online zombie shooter with some fun building mechanics, to a battle royale behemoth, to a worldwide cultural phenomenon. From co-op goofing off, to your dad doing the floss, to million dollar team-ups with the biggest movie franchise on the planet.
It’s still a fun shooter that caters to multiple playstyles – short bursts of machinegun chaos sit alongside tactical defense and stealth. You can win by hiding in a bush or going on a killing-spree. But more importantly it morphs from week to week, with Epic pushing out, tweaking, fixing, changing and flipping the game in front of the player’s eyes. It’s the epitome of a live game. When you sit down to play it tomorrow, it can be a completely different game to last week. Even when on a formula that 100 percent hits its target, Fortnite is still willing to keep changing. That’s a rarity in an increasingly conservative industry.
And here’s every developer and publisher watching it intently. Not just to crudely ape its success and jump on the battle royale bandwagon, but studying how it engages, how it works with the players and the community, how it pulls in an entirely new audience, and yes, how it makes its millions. It’s done all of this in just over a year. What the hell can it achieve in 2019?
Alex Donaldson – Monster Hunter: World
The task ahead of Monster Hunter: World seemed impossible. For a series hugely popular in Japan to bridge the gap to widespread, mainstream Western success without losing its essence seems near impossible. Many have failed in the past, while many other Japanese series such as Final Fantasy have frequently wrestled with their unique, culturally split identity – but Monster Hunter: World is a resounding success.
Smartly designed to take the best ideas and elements from Western action games while keeping the often heavy-feeling, animation-prioritising movement of the previous games somehow works even when it feels as though it shouldn’t. Monster Hunter: World feels sharp and responsive, even as you’re holding through the two-second wind up and charge animation for a massive, helm-splitting attack. Then there’s the moment that attack lands, brilliant sound design driving home the weight of your accomplishment as an epic beast crumples beneath you.
It’s all decently satisfying when you play alone, but Monster Hunter: World really comes alive in that late game content that’ll next year be expanded further with the newly announced expansion pack. You want those chaotic scenarios as four highly skilled hunters with characters each equipped in unique ways work together to ensnare and trap a hardcore, high-end monster. Those moments are magical, matched only by those first few times you really begin to find yourself working in true sync with your weapon of choice, busting out combos, dodges and unleashing critical hits in a trance-like state.
Many games today are focused on narrative execution, but Monster Hunter: World is the rare big-budget game that does the opposite – it’s almost entirely focused on the feel of its combat and movement, its world built by the monsters and weapons that inhabit it instead of through wordy story sequences. It works, it’s refreshing, and it’s one of 2018’s best.
James Billcliffe – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Assassin’s Creed games have always been criticised for being full of meaningless ‘stuff’, but Ubisoft’s efforts to desaturate Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are plain to see. That doesn’t mean that the game’s three main questlines lack staying power though, you’ll still see close to 100 hours slip by on the sundial before your marathon through Ancient Greece is run.
It’s bitterly disappointing that the game’s XP gain seems to be balanced towards a Herculean grind during the later game – especially between levels 46 and 50. Right when the dozens of hours of story are supposed to be paying off you’re forced into a ton of diversions, which undermines the level of choice you’re given to pick your own path throughout the rest of your Odyssey somewhat.
However, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey doubles down on the RPG elements first properly introduced to the series in Assassin’s Creed Origins, and replaces all of the horse racing guff and collectable filler in previous games with quirky narrative-driven side quests and a rogue’s gallery of shady mercenaries to play violent games of cat and mouse with.
Michael Antonakos and Melissanthi Mahut as Alexios and Kassandra are both great, and the likeability of their performances does a huge amount to carry things forward, as does the steady progression of equippable loot throughout your journey.
All of this, combined with a more over-the-top, spectacle action-orientated combat system and quiet improvements to stealth and parkour, result in the one of the best Assassin’s Creed games in the series.
Sherif Saed – God of War
God of War is my game of the year, but it’s hard not to recognise its shortcomings. The action is satisfying, but combat lacks the depth of Devil May Cry and the finesse of Souls. The story is engaging, entertaining, and manages to never run out of steam, but it’s ultimately a simple tale of chasing MacGuffins. I would even go as far as saying that the commitment to a fixed third-person camera hurts the game more than it helps. But that’s only one part of the story.
God of War is at its most impressive when you see how it works within these self-imposed limitations. Santa Monica made a big bet when deciding to have a fixed camera perspective that rarely wavers throughout.
And in order for that to work, the story had to be structured in a way most games shy away from, because of how limiting it would be to the narrative. It meant that every story beat needed to happen in real time, to be fed to Kratos and the player in the same moment. The biggest loser of that decision is the action, but it was never egregious enough to become an issue, at least when the game isn’t being judged purely for its combat.
Perhaps as an adage of its own troubled development, or the personal struggles of its creator, God of War ends up being a story about dealing with disappointment and pushing through no matter the odds. Such as it is, the reboot was a disappointment to some longtime fans. For some, it was the focus on narrative, and for others, the much less spectacle-laden action.
The new God of War shouldn’t be compared to its roots, it’s tall enough to stand among modern giants. It’s a game with a world worthy of exploring, and a story worth hearing.
Steph Nunnely – Far Cry 5
Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Toronto produced an utterly insane, semi-precious gem with Far Cry 5. I have an absolute blast with Far Cry games, and this release was no exception despite a few flaws in said gemstone.
Far Cry 5 was one of my favorite releases of 2018 due to many aspects: the world, the plot, the random bullshit which can happen out in the world, and the stereotypical redneck characters you meet in the game. I live around rednecks. Some of my family members are rednecks. Okay, many of my family members are rednecks. Especially those who live southeast of the Mississippi. And I can say with authority, some of the stereotypes in Far Cry 5 were spot on, especially the accents.
It tickled me to be honest, but in truth, folks in Montana do not sound southern, which was prevalent in Far Cry 5. Montana residents tend to have a western accent, and while some characters sounded authentic, many a drawl from an NPC reminded me of my Uncle Dan who lives in the middle of Nowhere, Appalachia.
Aside from that, the studios did a fantastic job recreating Big Sky Country. If you have ever been, you will agree. If you haven’t, save some money and take a trip to Montana. You won’t regret it. If you think it looks beautiful in the game, the real thing will leave you gobsmacked.
Outside of the lovely scenery, it was fun as hell having a bear and a mountain lion as a companion (Cheeseburger and Peaches for the win). Boomer was no slouch either. Dogs are great. We don’t deserve them, and this one can’t die. Thank you, Ubisoft.
Now I could touch upon the Seed family, and the not so subtle religious and political aspects of the game, but I won’t. Many others outlets have covered it, so if you want a political opinion from me regarding the storyline or how it does or doesn’t portray libertarianism in a realistic manner, you won’t get it. What I will say about the Eden’s Gate Cult, is the game’s tragic figure Faith really got on my nerves. There came a point where I was dreading running into her during Bliss hallucinations. In fact, the whole Bliss backstory kind of ruined part the story for me, but I won’t go into it in the off-chance you haven’t played it.
The random encounters with cult members could have been dialed down too, by more than one turn of the knob. Random encounters are one of the best things about Far Cry games. They are crazy, zany, fun which come out of nowhere; however, when cult members are involved, it becomes a nuisance. The members seem to pop up out of thin air in a van or boat – constantly. It feels anything but random and really puts a downer on my fishing sessions.
Like most Far Cry entries, it also became a bit repetitive after a while, but that tends to happen in all huge open world games. But, all of the things I didn’t enjoy were minuscule compared to everything I enjoyed about the game. In the end, I spent hours upon hours of time in Far Cry 5, and enjoyed the hell out of it.
Lauren Aitken – Destiny 2
I didn’t think much of Destiny 2 when I picked it up at launch, barely giving it a second glance until Forsaken was released. I was still bitterly disappointed with the first game and it took me the better part of a year to warm up to Destiny 2.
Bungie promised to take all the best bits of Destiny and Halo to create a game which would have formidable gameplay, an interesting story, and unrivalled endgame content. Destiny 2: Forsaken has achieved exactly that.
With the addition of a new area and PvPvE mode, Gambit, Destiny 2 blew me away. Despite having played through the story with a new character, I’m still not bored of the Dreaming City, the excitement of clawing back a victory in Gambit, or hearing Cayde-6’s terrible puns despite the fact that he is very much dead.
The Halo franchise was groundbreaking in terms of what we could expect from an FPS, but I truly believe that Destiny 2 has become something bigger and better. Equally unforgettable, Destiny 2 offers an online experience that many have tried and failed to emulate. The roadmap detailing what’s in store over the next year is something few companies showcase, placing a Bungie game once again atop the FPS genre.
It will be interesting to see what Bungie has in store for Destiny 3 and how much further the studio can push the bar up, with even more lore, endgame activity, and community engagement in its next shared-world shooter.