GOTY 2018: Tyler's Honorable Mentions
While our list of the top ten games of the year is a collaborative effort, there are always some casualties. Our Honorable Mentions offer each staff member a chance to highlight some of their other personal favorite games of 2018 that simply didn't make the cut.
Yoku’s Island Express
Villa Gorilla | May 29, 2018 | Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
In a year full of challenging, exhausting, and bleak games, Yoku’s Island Express was my palate cleanser. It' a whimsical game about an adorable dung beetle rolling his ball (no, not that ball) through a “metroidvania” environment. The pinball exploration doesn’t always work as well as it should, but frustration never lasts very long and it’s the kind of game that has a dedicated party-horn “toot” button just for fun. Yoku’s Island Express is just oozing with so much cute charm that I couldn’t help but be pulled in. I had a great time helping the little guy assist the residents of the island. It’s not a GOTY, but it’s a thoroughly worthwhile experience to unwind with and something I’d love to see developer Villa Gorilla expand upon in the future.
Red Dead Redemption II
Rockstar Studios | October 26th, 2018 | PlayStation 4, Xbox One
I don’t care to admit how much time I actually spent in Rockstar’s faux-turn of the 20th century America, and I actively disliked maybe half of it. My vocal complaints were a bit of a sticking point when Aaron and I mentioned Red Dead Redemption II during the GOTY discussions, because it really turned a corner during Act 6 (which comes after hours upon hours of a deeply flawed experience).
The word that could most succinctly describe RDRII is “uncompromising.” It often feels as though it was made in a vacuum, ignoring many of the lessons learned about open world game design over the last generation. While it can be often frustrating how little RDRII seems to value the player’s time, it certainly creates a unique feeling different from the Ubisoft “let’s cover the enormous map in icons” model of open-world game design.
Red Dead Redemption II is far from the nearly perfect experience its review scores might indicate. The story has a lot of fat which could be trimmed to make it more impactful, and a few tweaks or stronger explanations could make the experience less opaque. However, credit where credit is due: Rockstar created one of the single most three-dimensional characters in a video game, and their strongest narrative to date. While the player has some degree of agency over what kind of person Arthur Morgan becomes, his story is largely set in stone. There is little disconnect, though, and a surprisingly deft balance is found between the action and the story, reducing ludonarrative dissonance.
This is all independent of the absolutely stunning vision Rockstar created of “the west.” Though it came about through unsettling working conditions—and the end result doesn’t justify the means—the artists and programmers should be extremely proud of their accomplishment.
Red Dead Redemption II is a massive improvement from its predecessor and truly earns the “redemption” moniker. I couldn’t tell you whether it’s worth your effort to see the story's conclusion because it takes so long to get to the point. It’s not an experience I would describe as “fun,” but it’s not one that could’ve been delivered as effectively in any other medium. After such a long and purposeful journey, I felt like my Arthur Morgan was redeemed; that’s hard to replicate.
Square Enix Business Division 11, Acquire | July 13, 2018 | Nintendo Switch
Octopath Traveler feels like a game so specifically made for me it actually makes me feel a little paranoid. It's extremely evocative of mid-to-late nineties B-tier Japanese role-playing games. Anyone looking for a Final Fantasy revival is likely to be disappointed, but if you want something along the lines of a LIVE A LIVE or SaGa Frontier, then this is 100% your jam.
The artistic style is a perfect high-definition adaptation of 16/32-bit pixel-art but without feeling like an indie copy, and the game has some of the best JRPG music in almost two decades. While I enjoyed this team’s efforts on the 3DS Bravely games, I hope to see their vision for Octopath continue in future titles.
It's unfortunate that the story is mostly a series of vignettes that don’t really substantially connect until the very, very late game, but I did find the stories interesting on their own merits. The “let’s save the world by killing god” plot is played out, so it's refreshing to experience the relatively small-scale stories of a thief, an academic, a hunter, and more.
I'm also delighted to see Square creating a strategic and entertaining turn-based battle system despite trends forcing more real-time, action-focused gameplay. Octopath can be quite challenging early on, especially depending on which protagonist you choose.
Octopath is not for everyone; honestly I’m surprised it’s for anyone besides me, but I’m happy it exists and seems to be doing well. I hope it's the start of a new retro revival trend.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War
Warner Brothers Interactive | October 10, 2017 | PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
Middle Earth: Shadow of War had a rocky start, to say the least. The game was rife with microtransactions early on that kept the truly special orcs behind a paywall. As the sequel to a game largely responsible for me upgrading to the current generation of consoles, I looked forward to Monolith expanding upon its “Nemesis system” from the first game. After all, no one else seemed to be cribbing from it.
Last year, Shadow of War, 10 months after release, was finally patched to remove said orc-boxes. Now the game is much closer to the experience everyone originally wanted. It’s more Shadow of Mordor—a lot more (maybe too much more…). While the mercenary system in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey evokes similar ideas, Ubisoft forget to give the mistios much of a personality beyond flavored text.
The additions to Tolkien's lore that Shadow of War introduces range from interesting (the backstory of the Nazgul) to the highly questionable (did the world really need sexy Shelob?). But despite sexy spider nonsense, it’s still fun to see Ratbag again and pop off some orc heads.