Some Games I Liked From 2018’s Second Half

For the games I liked from the first half, here’s a link to the post. Assuming you don’t want to scroll down a screen’s length, anyway. Don’t say I don’t look out for you~

Just as I am somehow delivering another (hopefully) great post within a week of the last one, so too did it seem that the second half of 2018 was dropping an intriguing title in our laps at much the same pace. This breakneck schedule seemed to continue pretty much until the first week of December, whereupon it took a quite breather for the holiday season and then is slated to get right back to it in just a few days.

Looking at you, Tales of Vesperia. Can’t even give me time to fully digest the FF14 patch updating as I write, can you?

So let’s get right back to it then. First, a couple of footnotes of sorts that I could have included from the first half, then right back to the second half of 2018, culminating in a quick talk about my favourite game of the year at the end. I’ll have plenty more to say about Yakuza Kiwami 2 than what’s here, but keeping to the 2-3 paragraphs trend for this article seems to suit me well.

Civilization 6 and Stellaris expansions

Both Civ 6 and Stellaris saw a sizeable content drop of an expansion/DLC in February, and Stellaris doubled down with another in early December. A second Civ 6 expansion that has a few intriguing features should be dropping a month from now. I already played a hefty amount of those games before their changes, but the content drops saw both default to my “comfort game” of sorts which I would play in bits and pieces while catching up with streams, Youtube, documentaries, podcasts etc. on the side.

Civ 6 remains my favourite vanilla iteration of a Civ game to date, and the expansion added a few new elements which… well, they’re kinda good, but they don’t seem to be fully iterated on or connect as seamlessly as the other puzzle pieces that comprise the game mechanics. I’m hoping the next expansion is able to tighten them a little, but even without that they’re still fine and add another layer to an already interesting game.

Stellaris, on the other hand, has received totally sweeping and radical design changes across their free updates with the DLC largely being additional extras to coincide with these. I tend to pick up the paid pieces anyway, but it’s all just a further evolution and further development into a more hefty and involved grand strategy than the “comparatively simple” take it had in regards to other Paradox titles. It’s still fun to empire build, pluck away at weird and wonderful stories of space empire mishaps, and just whittle my time away watching coloured blobs grow on a map.

So while neither are technically new games in the year, both remained staples of my playtime throughout and both had new paid content additions that were worth mentioning. That said, back to the meat of July 2018 and onwards.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2

This one’s just a short mention since, ultimately, I didn’t play it nearly as much as my friends or contacts. That said, I did play a bit of it when it first dropped and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It took the solid foundations of the more melee-oriented, gothic themed Left 4 Dead style gameplay of the first Vermintide and just ratcheted it up with more and better additions. More to fight, more tweaks to make to characters, more gear to get, more maps… it was a good little romp and I enjoyed what I played of it.

Again, I didn’t put as much time into it as others, but I know for a fact that those more inclined to play multiplayer games frequently got a lot more playtime out of it. It’s a solid, enjoyable game from a bunch of hard-working and formidable devs who I wanted to give a shout out too for sticking to their guns in the climate of bland rehashes and safe, familiar bets (even if a sequel to the last successful game does sound safe, it really isn’t of late).

While we’re talking about Warhammer…

Warhammer 40: Gladius – Relics of War

This one was a bit unexpected for me, but not at all unwelcome. The small and plucky devs who made Pandora: First Contact (a space themed, planet-based 4X game better than Civ: Beyond Earth on a fraction of the budget) got the license to do that game again but in 40k. With that in mind, they set to work and came up with an obviously budget but nonetheless immensely creative 4X game that I feel must not be overlooked.

The scope of the massive Warhammer setting had to naturally be focused given their size and resources, but what instead resulted was four factions that play entirely different and unique from one another even if the core mechanics are largely the same. Imperial Guard, Orks, Necrons, and (of course) Space Marines all have solid lore and flavour, mechanics that suit those themes, and individual experiences and quests that really do a good job of playing with the source material well.

It also did a few things that I hope more 4X games consider in the future. Tile-by-tile acquisition and building management, each production building having a separate build queue to juggle, joint resources one’s entire territory allowing focusing or min-maxing of cities, plenty of variety in tech paths, hero units to level… even if the game understandably lacks diplomacy from 4X games, there’s a lot of really unique or underutilised takes on the entire turn-based strategy genre that I really hope devs take notice of. Even if it wasn’t without issues or not done perfectly, it certainly caught my attention and was worth mentioning.

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth

…Nah, I’m just fucking with you. I haven’t played it, sticking to my statement in early Legion that I no longer felt any kind of connection or attachment to Azeroth, and that has remained wholly true. By almost all accounts, avoiding this expansion was a good call, so I’m content to happily remain in FF14 like I detailed back in this post. Just had to take a jab, though.

Octopath Traveler

And now for the JRPG section of 2018. With FF15 continuing to be milked on every conceivable platform and style for all it’s worth, Square Enix made two moves in relatively quick succession to ease some of the ire and restore a bit of the faith in their capabilities to make solid JRPGs. The first was Octopath Traveler, an utterly gorgeous game that blends more retro-styled pixel art and battle systems with amazing lighting and sound, as well as a few tricks and gimmicks largely adapted from the success of the Bravely Default games.

Now, I didn’t actually care for this game as much as many others, but I did enjoy it in places and have to give it due. The eight playable characters all have their charms and their individual classes some interesting concepts, doubly so when given subclasses and combined in interesting ways. Unfortunately, the overall story was for some reason never fully designed with getting all of them, so the lack of overlap and interaction is minimal at best until some of the later stages in the game. The individual story arcs seem to have been written individually as well, with tone and quality being a bit mixed; Tressa and Primrose on their own might be neat stories, but in the same game and party it just feels bizarre.

The multi-character concept is a novelty to some, but to me… it just made me hope that the Romancing SaGa 3 update and port isn’t too much longer in arriving. Still, for what it’s worth, Octopath was a charming and enjoyable romp for what I did play before putting it down.

Dragon Quest 11

If Octopath was Square Enix’s love letter to the retro JRPG, Dragon Quest 11 was it looking to the future of the “classic” JRPG and tackling it with every bit of presentation quality they could possibly muster. I cannot stress how utterly gorgeous DQ11 is. Still rocking the legendary Akira Toriyama’s art, they nonetheless crank those stylised visuals up to 11 (heh) with all the high graphical fidelity that Square Enix usually dumps into their games to the detriment of all other factors. But unlock their other titles, they still crafted a damn fine game here to match!

A remarkably involved and interesting story, diverse systems, and easily some of the most personable and engaging characters the series has ever seen (Jade is love but Sylvando is life), it completely blew my expectations. Nonetheless, despite this praise, I have to temper that with some negativity. For all the steps forward the series has taken, Dragon Quest’s battle systems are still firmly in the “slight iterations on the very first JRPG system ever” and really haven’t met the improvements in design that many of its contemporaries have. There’s nothing wrong with a more simple and casual battle system, sure, but DQ11 just came across in a way that felt lacking in that department.

Plus, for the quality of the story, the player character being silent and expressionless despite having emotional ties and hooks into the narrative meant that much of the punch was totally lost. We’re past that point, guys, and you can do better. But even so, this is leagues better than what Square Enix has done outside the MMORPG space in years, and I seriously hope they take notes for the future.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna, the Golden Country

Late 2017 saw the release of Xenoblade 2, and I didn’t fully get around to playing it properly until 2018, whereupon I discussed many of my issues with it at great lengths in this post. But like I said in the addendum at the end, Torna was a dramatic improvement on many of those concepts and a more condensed, focused standalone that I enjoyed better on a per-hour basis.

There’s still some issues, like a sheer glut of items and a mess of complicated interwoven systems that end up just being pointless as a result of their volume. It’s definitely a good lesson in how less is sometimes more for game design. Even so, it was the best parts of Xenoblade 2 condensed and improved on, and a charming if bittersweet appendix (or… prependix? I should coin a term for that) to the overall tale.

Metal Max Xeno

This is a game I purchased, supported and enjoyed more for the potential on display than anything the game was. It’s one of those “designed for PS Vita and thus very cheap looking” PS4 games with a fairly average story and characters that fall heavily into tropes and ends on a really unresolved and unsatisfying note. The environments are immensely repetitive, movement is slow, and battles a little bit monotonous or limited. So why, then, does it get included on this list?

Because it’s a turn-based JRPG where you customise and fight with tanks. Not the fantasy warrior clad in heavy armour; I mean goddamn treaded, bristling with turrets tanks.

In addition to the lackluster ground combat, much of the game sees you rolling out in a squad of tanks and other armoured vehicles with a huge array of customisation, weapon options, and different approaches to how you kit them out. It’s easily the best feature, and while the optimal strategy tends to be to stack a single category of weapon on one chassis and fire everything to dps race because defensive options suck… I seriously had so much fun with this. This is a long running JRPG series that is trying to see a resurgence, and so I happily bought in in the hopes that they take this as a starting point to jump into something far better. The pieces are there, and future Metal Max games could be awesome. As Metal Max Xeno stands? Well, I finished it and overall had fun, so I’ll take it.

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise

Fuck yes.

Now I never saw Fist of the North Star growing up, but it’s more than a little bit legendary by this point. Inspiring the likes of JoJo or God Hand, an anime series in the most 80s post-apocalypse imaginable where every problem is caused by and solved by utterly absurd martial arts? This has so much potential to be an amazing video game — again, see God Hand — but has itself been rarely utilised or well done.

Turns out, you needed the Yakuza devs to take it and make it a Yakuza game, but… Fist of the North Star. So all the crazy, flashy, high energy brawls of that series get amped up even further and the special finishing moves now result in heads and bodies exploding in the most hilariously gratuitous way imaginable. Then you keep a selection of Yakuza inspired mini-games like managing a host club, mixing drinks at a bar, kitting out a buggy and racing it in Mad Max-style deserts… and then getting right back into more insane fights as you go.

The game also manages to take many key plot aspects of the very long running anime series and condense it into this one single stand alone experience. I’m told it could have been managed better, but it still did a complete and altogether fun job. It’s not without its flaws either, as the open world driving tends to be a bit barren, but there was rarely a time where I was able to be bored before another simply insane situation reared its head. Great game, and a great way to ease the withdrawal I had following the completion of Kiwami 2.

Soul Calibur 6

I recall losing my shit in 2017’s VGAs when Harada of Tekken and Soul Calibur fame strode onto the stage and hit us with the quote “do your souls still burn?!” to reveal that a new Soul Calibur game was happening after years of absence and a frankly bad fifth game. Soul Calibur 2 and 3 absolutely remain some of my favourite and beloved fighting games ever, and were especially notable for having a huge amount of content and options for playing solo even if the multiplayer matches aren’t happening. That was always what kept me playing, and it was what I hoped for Soul Calibur 6… and what it absolutely delivered.

Once again, Soul Calibur 6 turned out to be one of the most fun, enjoyable, and relatively long lasting times I’ve spent with a fighting game in forever. It was clearly a bit of a passion project for them, as it was done in an obviously smaller budget than stuff like Tekken 7 but nonetheless managed to hit home and feel super fun. The characters and movesets are diverse and entertaining, my long-time main of Xianghua was back and enjoyable to play, there were big sprawling story modes and options to tinker with, and the character creator has provided months of hilarity and creativity ever since.

I owe it to the game and to the friends I trained and fought against (sorry Ding!) but have since been absent on to pick this game up again and go a few more rounds. I’m terrible at sticking with multiplayer games and just bounce too quickly, but even so… deep down… my soul still burns.

Spider-Man

Despite the initial excitement and great reception this got, I actually played it and then kinda bounced off it and put it down. It was clearly a good game to me, but I had the distinct impression that everything I’d done in it was something I had played before a half dozen times over. The style of missions, big open world gameplay… it was a new and polished take on something like Infamous or Prototype, but with Spider-Man. Neat, but something I’d already played before, and so I put it down for a while as the praise continued to rain down on it, unsure of entirely why.

Next time I picked it up about a month later, and the reasons why were instantly apparent. Whatever had failed to click for me the first time melted away in terms of the sheer joy and craftsmanship on display in this game. The devs clearly loved what they were doing and treated this take on Spider-Man and the cast with attention and finely tuned design. Just moving around the city was super fun and enjoyable, making traversal and movement so integral when most other games tend to just not worry. I rarely used fast travel, I just zipped around and had a ball doing so.

Combat was tight and the logical and improved evolution of the Batman Arkham games, but also featured gimmicks and tools that I actually utilised rather than tried once and forgot. The missions are familiar, but still well designed and the core mechanics are just so goddamn fun that I didn’t care. Even knowing the inevitable story beats, they were handled with care, well delivered, and the right balance of charming, humorous, serious and moving whenever they needed to be. I loved, loved, loved this game. Put me in a room at gunpoint and ask me which I preferred over it and God of War 2018, and I couldn’t tell you.

Pokemon: Let’s Go!

For those wondering which version I picked, well… my companion plushies would have words if I joined the other team.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this game as much as I did, and honestly was planning to skip it if not for picking it up on a whim. The more streamlined capture system makes for an oddly enjoyable and almost cathartic experience, and the battling is still solid Pokemon gameplay even if it’s still inevitably easy.

But I didn’t expect the sheer charm from the game though. Multiple times in the first couple of hours, the antics of the starter and the overall presentation actually made me grin in delight. Maybe it was a beginner friendly introduction to the game for casual fans, but it was still clearly a labour of love that shines through in every way, and it made me fall in love with the first gen of Pokemon and the Kanto Region all over again. Plus it looks really sharp and shiny, so I truly look forward to seeing what the future of Pokemon will be now that the mainline games are moving to the Switch console.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy

I didn’t own a PS1 as a kid and picked up a PS2 preowned quite late in its life, so I was never a Spyro kid at all. Still, I’d played and sampled them in various ways over the years and had a passing interest in it if only because dragons are cool. So this was the one and only exception I have made in my Activision embargo, entirely out of respect for the polish that devs Toys for Bob put into this remake.

It’s simply great. Vivid, colourful, bouncy and fun to play, incredibly well presented… I was more than happy to go right back to the hey-day of the 3D collectathon before it became a dying breed and try out the aspects of it that I had sadly missed. These games are a treat and they make me feel like an eager kid for a while instead of the snarky cynic I have become in adulthood. So beyond the Fuck Activision claim for making games 2 and 3 downloadable rather than on disc, you get no nitpicks! Shit’s good. Go play Spyro Reignited.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Ubisoft did absolutely everything in their power to make this latest Assassin’s Creed a complete disaster. Moving back to shoving a game out the year just a year since the last one? Getting even further afield of the overall modern meta-narrative of the series for the sake of history porn? Shoving as much intrusive and ridiculous microtransactions, season passes, confusing multiple editions of the game, staggered release dates and always online requirements as they can into what is still a single player game? This is the absolute pinnacle of sheer corporate nonsense and the poster child for what the triple A industry of video games has become, and how much I hate it.

Yet somehow, despite all of this horrific stigma? This game is fucking brilliant.

In Odyssey, Ubisoft managed to make what is my favourite entry in the entire Assassin’s Creed series that isn’t Black Flag. Absolutely gorgeous vistas and sights that are a joy to explore and roam, a really engaging and enthralling story with excellent characters both original and historical, a more fleshed out action RPG system than Origins before it with the return of enjoyable naval combat and enough loot to make Diablo blush… I almost effortlessly sunk over 90 hours into this title in about a month despite having fully intended to boycott the damn thing. But while I cannot stand for the business practices, to not still go and experience this game for what it is would have been a damn waste.

Even so… world is too big to fully fall in love, radiant side missions and contracts too repetitive and stale, sheer wealth of loot makes individual pieces matter less, combat is a bit basic for how long you’ll be playing the game, level gating in main quest can be a nuisance if you aren’t willing to just go fuck around for a while to get experience… but other than that, Odyssey is great and has easily made up for the slew of less than stellar releases in the franchise. I just… really, really hope the sickening business aspects don’t continue to be a sign of the times.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate

So this list and article is getting pretty long by now, but it’s still a fraction of the size of the Smash Ultimate roster!

What’s to say about this that hasn’t been said before? Every single Smash Bros character is back with a slew of additions, and even the more average or “rounding out the roster with Echo Fighters” are still welcome. The Adventure mode is massive and sprawling, proving to be completely what I was hoping for after the comparatively content bereft Sm4sh.

More battle options and flexibility than ever before, the Spirits are a happy middle ground to add new solo content while also acknowledging and celebrating gaming as a whole, combat balance that feels faster but heavier and more snappy… this is my favourite incarnation of Smash Bros to date. Whether or not your character of choice made it or not (I’m still holding out hope for a playable Golden Sun fighter one day), the absolute size and quality of this offering is just monumental and cannot be disregarded. Sakurai and the Smash team have absolutely outdone themselves.

Plus it has Joker from Persona 5 coming as DLC! That’s fucking amazing, and it means all bets on future inclusions are off. I’m keen.

Yakuza Kiwami 2

The second half of the year was jam packed with some real heavy hitters, and the word count has been creeping steadily higher as I finally hit the piece de resistance. So here at last, we have my favourite game of 2018: the remake of the esteemed Yakuza 2.

Pictured: the series kicking its way into my heart.

What’s especially interesting is that I had no real knowledge or experience with Yakuza until about a year before this game released, when I started playing first Yakuza Kiwami briefly, then Yakuza 0 entirely, then back to Kiwami for the full game, and then on to Kiwami 2 when it dropped. In that time, it went from a series that I knew nothing about with only the barest of peripheral vision on it, into one that has rocketed up to be among my favourite experiences in video games ever, period.

The Kiwami remakes have chosen to be completely faithful to their original releases, maintaining the cutscenes, story beats, and gameplay concepts almost entirely but then sharpening the appearance and improving the battle systems to modern standards. The first Kiwami had issues, what with the heavy-handed forcing of Majima to be a bigger plot role after 0, and a few really awful boss fights that were transported directly from their equally terrible forms from the original Yakuza. But just as Yakuza 2 dramatically improved on the already good original, Kiwami 2 does the same with the first remake to be one of the greatest times I’ve had with games.

An open world that is focused and controlled, and therefore means I grow more familiar and attached to the setting than the random sprawling assets of Assassin’s Creed. Immensely enjoyable beat-em-up brawling action with a variety of moves, weapons, conditional triggers and wince-inducing finishers. Awesome music, great graphics, a ridiculous slew of mini-games and side activities ranging from the hilarious to the intense that filled hours of my time… and then the story. Oh man, the story. I could (and probably will) write at length about the sheer amount of twists and turns, the drama and intensity expertly mixed with comedic timing, the amount of themes and interesting takes that the plot explores.

And then… an ending that built up and up and up into the most intense explosion of surprises and emotional punches until all that was left was exhaustion, both for the characters and for me, in which it delivered one final epic showdown between game antagonist and main character that somehow perfectly matched that same intensity and exhaustion into something so hype and yet so poignant. Fuck. Just… incredible.

At the time of writing, Yakuza 3 is being shipped to me. I chose to wait until the end of the year for confirmation of an English release of the Yakuza 3 HD port that came out in Japan last year before committing to buying an original PS3 copy. It didn’t happen, so I committed, and soon I’ll be back to my beloved Kamurocho stomping grounds to kick ass as Kazuma Kiryu once more. I am now 100% a fan of this series and of the Ryu ga Gotoku studio of Sega in everything they do. Bring on Yakuza 3 through 6, bring on the spinoffs, bring on Project Judge, bring it all the fuck on.

So… that’s almost 2018’s gaming in a nutshell for me. But I would be severely remiss if I didn’t include one special little inclusion. See, Yakuza Kiwami 2 was my favourite game of 2018… but it was not my favourite game that I played in 2018. Not quite.

Special Mention: Yakuza 0

Take everything I have just said about Yakuza Kiwami 2. Now, add in the benefit of multiple years of the developers and team honing their craft, improving their writing and characterisation, and then better pacing the variety of twists and plot developments into a complex interwoven story that expertly splits between two lead characters and gives further build-up and prelude to their legendary careers and identities.

Yakuza 0, ladies and gentlemen.

Kiwami 2 may be built on a newer engine and have a lot more going for it in terms of gameplay potential, but 0 was the culmination of everything the older engine could provide in terms of ridiculous but awesome brawling combat. It still had the huge variety of diversions and mini-games to sink your teeth into. Further, it had all those extra years of plot crafting, as well as being able to take everything learned from the five (at that point) mainline Yakuza titles in order to take it right back to its roots and provide a prequel to everything that would follow.

But it’s not just a prequel in the sense of seeing how the main characters of Kiryu and Majima got to be as they are in the original Yakuza. It shows them interacting with characters both new and old in ways that hadn’t been dreamt of before, adding more depth and weight to so many little moments. Majima is crazy despite his sharp intellect, but now we see him before he’s fully embraced the insanity fully and it’s a treat to watch. We see the stoic and unflappable Kiryu be… well, still stoic and unflappable, but also more vulnerable and rough around the edges, taking his first steps as a Good Man into a very Bad World.

I just… cannot stress enough without going heavy into spoilers how incredibly well done the story is, though. It’s an amazingly intricate crime drama with plenty of mystery, expert pacing, fantastic progression and character building, and all sorts of powerful and emotional moments all throughout that reach some of the most badass climaxes and culminations I’ve ever seen in video games.

The ending is as powerful and bittersweet as the aforementioned Kiwami 2, and is quite possibly one of the most heart wrenching I’ve experienced. I openly teared up at the conclusion of both these games. But I think it’s more telling that Kiwami 2 features a Majima-centric side mode that features the return of a major character from 0… and despite devouring that game thoroughly as I did, I have yet to touch that particular mode. The reason is that, well… the conclusion of 0 was so fitting that I almost don’t want to try this new mode in the fear that returning this character will just diminish or change the way it ended.

Yakuza 0 hit me so damn hard that there is a part of Yakuza Kiwami 2 that I don’t want to touch for fear of it not living up to it. And that, right there, is absolutely telling in why I rate Yakuza 0 slightly above it. Kiwami 2 was my favourite game released in 2018, but Yakuza 0 is an early 2017 game that I missed during that year and played for the first time in 2018. And it is, unquestionably, my favourite game that I played in that entire year. Both Kiwami 2 and 0 instantly skyrocketed into contenders for the upper echelons of my favourite games ever (with Kiwami 1 getting a respectful notation there despite its flaws), cementing the series and development studio as being must plays and follows in a single year after barely even knowing they existed.

So that’s that. 2018 in a nutshell for me.

We’re now hitting the 5k words mark in this article alone, so with the first half of the year’s article included, I think I’ve done a decent job of highlighting some standouts and recapping my year of video games well enough. May this be the start of a good year of gaming in 2019, and hopefully an equally good year of writing about games and maintaining this blog in a way that last year was… well, not. We’ll see.

Thanks for sticking with me, guys. Go play Yakuza 0 if you haven’t. I’ll talk more about it and the series in depth Soon™. But until then, see you next time.

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