I know I am late in getting my list out, but hey, it is still January.
5) Valkyria Chronicles 4
In some ways "Valkyria Chronicles 4" is the realization of the promise contained in the original game. A few specific tweaks to the games rules make all the difference. Scouts are still the single most important piece in the game. Yet, the rest of the cast plays a far more important role. The ability for scouts to move squad mates, the APC, and the Grenadiers change the dynamic of the real time turn based hybrid in significant ways. These system changes are supported by excellent and varied level design that kept my attention.
Personally I found the story forgettable, but the various squad members had great personalities and they will stick with me for a long time.
4) Return of the Obra Dinn
I thought this slot was going to be filled with a giant robot game. Either the creative flair of "Into the Breach" or the warm bath comfort that is "BATTLETECH." However, as the year closed out "Return of the Obra Dinn" slipped into the 4th slot. If you wanted to disparage Obra Dinn as an overgrown art house version of "CLUE," I wouldn’t stop you. But I think a more accurate view is that it is the most clever adventure game I have played since "Ace Attorney." I especially liked how clues could be found anywhere: dialog, character models, or just small details in the environment.
As an added bonus I got to play it with my wife, we both worked through the logic and kept our eyes out for clues. Bringing us together in a video game is pretty rare and I liked that quite a bit.
I feel a little like a cheater putting "Codex" here as it was released, and made this list, in 2016. However, this year I have gone deeper into Codex than I ever had in the past and the experience has been terribly rewarding. In one of the pivotal games my opponent skipped playing Tech II units and charged straight to deploying his Tech III super unit. It wiping me out and I never looked at the game the same way again. After that it felt like each new trick I learned in the game opened my eyes to additional clever moves to employ in the future. Codex might not have changed in 2018, but I have and that makes it feel like a whole new game.
2) Hollow Knight
I am going to tell you every wonderful thing about "Hollow Knight" I can think of and then I am going to try and explain why it didn’t make number 1.
Hollow Knight is the most surprising and enthralling game I played this year. It was beautiful to look at, a pleasure to control, and had a world that caught my imagination. The tunnels of the Hollownest were a pleasure to explore. It is a rare game world that feels so much like a place I could believe in and even less common to pull it off in 2D. The host of characters populating it were wonderful: heroes, villains, and everything in between populate the fallen kingdom and offer you challenge or commentary as is their want.
Unfortunately, the game is also too difficult and stingy. I had to replay the games tougher challenges again and again until my victories were robbed of any thrill of completion. Defeating some of these bosses just left me feeling tired. If they had eased off just a bit it still would have been a hard game but not as wearying. As it is it just feels mean.
In the future I hope Team Cherry learns a little moderation and openness. There is no way I am going to miss what they do next, I just hope I don’t have to suffer so much when I play it.
1) Monster Hunter World
In many ways "Monster Hunter World" is the mirror of Hollow Knight. Being the latest in a very long running series it isn’t that shocking or surprising. However, it is the best the series has ever been. And making a return to contemporary consoles has given Monster Hunter room to breathe it hasn’t had since it moved to PSP. It looks better, the environments are more flowing, and the controls are drastically improved.
And the monsters?
They are glorious. The first time you see The Great Jagras hugging the ground with its low body you realize there is a new sense of life to everything around you. You get so used to how evocative these monsters are you almost forget how much craft must have gone into them.
A lot of my friends won’t be surprised I chose Monster Hunter World as my game of the year. If there was any surprise it was how many people have joined me in enjoying this game. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at its newfound popularity, this is a generous and giving game and I never regretted the time I spent with it.