Hey! It’s August so I thought it was about time to finally post this monstrosity. It was about 95% finished on December 31st of 2017 but in the last few days of the year I was able to spend a ton of time playing new VR stuff and I decided to hold off posting until I was able to write up the VR games. I’ve since decided against a full write-up of those games, instead opting to list them and give a few quick thoughts.
On the whole this year’s GOTY stuff is more trimmed down. It’s basically been a complete re-write from the original list because I’ve decided I don’t like the long-form stuff. It’s just devolved into describing the game at a mechanical level in the past and I don’t feel like that’s a good use of my time. Without further ado… here we go!
Return of the Obra Dinn
I can’t not start with this game. It’s easily been the highlight of my year in gaming and is one of the most memorable titles I’ve played in long time. Obra Dinn is the modern, more fully realized version of Where’s Waldo that I’ve always wanted and I dearly hope that we see more games of this kind in the future.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Another excellent entry in the series, Ultimate sets a new bar for single player content. World of Light is so simple and yet it works so well. Each fight is crafted to revolve around a character from Nintendo’s vast library and I’ve not found a single encounter yet that hasn’t felt exactly right. The addition of slowly unlocking characters forces you to branch out from your mains and encourages you to swap characters frequently even though most of the game could be facerolled with DK if you wanted to.
Not ever having been a competitive player of any sort, I miss a few of the extra modes that got cut (All-Star, Home-Run Contest, Target Smash) and the handful of maps that didn’t make it back to Ultimate (RIP Poké Floats ) but overall the game lives up to its name, being the most complete Smash Bros experience to date.
God of War
Prior to the 2018 God of War, I had no experience with this franchise, having not owned any Sony consoles growing up. I was letdown slightly by the game’s combat (having been spoiled by the Souls games and their special brand of swordplay) but this is where my disappointment ended. God of War has one of the most interesting and inviting open worlds I’ve experienced in a single player game, even more-so than Breath of the Wild.
I was also quickly drawn in by the game’s two main protagonists. The interplay between Kratos and boy (I have honestly forgotten his name, but that’s not really important) is a joy to watch unfold. Everything from cutscene dialogue to incidental exchanges that occur as your wandering around the world is delight to experience and I never felt like I heard Kratos repeat one of his lines to Atreus (thanks Google).
The plot itself kept my engaged all throughout, from humble beginnings exploring around the log cabin home through the nexus and into each of the worlds in the multiverse, meeting a slew of interesting characters along the way. Apart from the main plot, the beauty of the open world is the space it provides to tell short, sweet side stories.
It was almost always easy for me to drop whatever important story beat I was working towards and fuck off around the lake for an hour or two, just exploring. Maybe I’d find a restless spirit who wants me to secure the bones of his wife, or maybe I’d find a cool runic puzzle guarding a treasure chest, but regardless of what type of neat thing I’d find, there always seemed to be something more waiting out there.
Another year and another Zachtronics game has come out and made my list. I’ll say right up front that this time around it’s another programming game and while I always enjoy those, I’m never able to fully conquer any of them.
Unlike in Opus Magnum where any solution could eventually be correct, there’s room for error in EXAPUNKS and it demands a finesse that I don’t have when it comes to programming. Difficulty aside though, I was able to play through a good portion of the game and enjoy my time with it. The satisfaction of completing a puzzle in any of the Zach-likes is a feeling like no other and I keep coming back to these games for the thrill of the solution.
Much like eating a donut, Donut County is short and sweet. It’s only about an hour and a half long, filled with cute characters and is comprised of a series of fun vignettes that let you play around with the game’s major mechanic. There’s a small amount of progression but the game is mostly the same all the way through. It’s lovely for what it is and while I’d love to see this idea expanded out into a longer and more complex puzzling experience, I think the length fits perfectly as is.
I’ve always been interested in these types of games, but had not taken the time to sit down and really dig in. Obduction is a great intro into this genre and overall I really enjoyed my time with it. There wasn’t really one standout puzzle in Obduction that I loved but the satisfaction of beginning to understand the worlds and how they interacted was a huge breakthrough for me. By the end of the game I was zipping around through portals from one world to the next as though this place had always been my home.
For as beautiful as the game and its worlds are, you spend an overwhelming amount of time walking around in the same place over and over again. Some puzzles (especially near the end) are tedious and require circling around a given space numerous times, cycling through the individual parts of the puzzle until everything clicks into place.
I finished Obduction wanting more point and click play but not being completely satisfied with my time spent with the game.
Following Obduction, I thought it only right to return to where this series really came into its own and play Myst. The inspirations that Obduction took from the game were clear but as old as Myst was, it felt like the more refined of the two. Maybe it was the old style of graphics or the abstract design of the worlds, but I warmed up to Myst in a way that I never did with Obduction.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth
writers note: I’ve significantly reduced this section from it’s original length, down to something more concise and less ranty
World of Warcraft has simultaneously never been better and never been worse. This year’s questing experience and the new zones are all wonderful and don’t feel overbearing or develop into a grind partway through. Leveling from 110 to 120 (at least the first time) was fun and exciting, as it always is when exploring new lands, but BFA seems to have perfected the formula of weaving storytelling into the leveling experience and making the world feel like a living place rather than a countryside scattered with quest nodes.
Things change once you hit level cap, though. There are still a smattering of quest chains to follow through on but my primary complaint with the overall endgame structure of WoW still stands. RNG is king and Blizzard is refusing to change course, despite acknowledging the issue multiple times in the past. I won’t dwell on this issue because anyone who plays knows it’s a problem and it’s difficult to explain to anyone not familiar with the game but it remains a key issue in the game (even more than halfway into 2019!). Another minor complaint I have is with the Mythic + progression system, but that ultimately falls down more to there being no means of solo progression in the game and it’s not an issue that I expect to be rectified ever. I don’t find Mythic + to be an engaging or exciting system and having to jump through hoops to find groups if you’re not in an active guild makes me want to engage with the system even less.
I look forward to the changes that the next expansion will bring but I’m also entirely confident that the issues that have been plaguing this game for years now are here to stay.
Grace Bruxner Presents: The Haunted Island, a Frog Detective Game
This is something you’ll either love or simply be indifferent to. It’s a short (~45 minute) narrative about a cool Frog Detective investigating a haunted island and the whole game is adorable. Airing on the side of caution to avoid spoilers, all I will say is go play this. When you’re done probably go play Alien Caseno too.
Another short, awesome game, Minit can be completed in about an hour and a half and it’s a great time start to finish. The influences of early Zelda games are easy to see but Minit plays on classic mechanics and mixes it with modern weirdness a la Undertale. It’s simple on the surface but with enough depth to require a bit of thinking at every step along the way.
I can’t expound greatly on my feelings for Celeste. It like the game but for whatever reason it never really clicked for me. I enjoyed the challenge presented, was able to make my way through the main story, and was satisfied with my time spent but even knowing that more challenges laid waiting for me in the B and C sides, I never felt any desire to pursue those and I don’t really know why. I’m sure if I set my self to the task, I’d be able to see all the extra content through to the end but alas, my heart just isn’t in it.
If, somehow, you’re reading this and haven’t played Celeste, it’s definitely worth checking out, and that’s about all I can say about it.
Hitman was my 2016 GOTY and easily rank on my top 10 games of all time. Hitman 2 is more of the same goodness, tuned up a bit with new bells and whistles and, most importantly, a bunch of new maps.
The change in format from a monthly episode release to a full game release have left me hesitant to play too much of the game. Instead I’ve sequestered myself to Miami and I’m trying to savor the stealthy murder goodness in small bursts. As a result I haven’t played nearly as much of Hitman 2 as I had expected but I know it’ll always be there for me to dip into whenever I need another dose.
If you haven’t played the 2016 Hitman, start there. It’s $20 for the entire first season which is a steal. Hitman 2 isn’t revolutionary but it’s exactly what I wanted, which was more of the same goodness of the first game.
Chris from the future just chiming in here to say that I’ve played a fair bit more of Hitman 2, but only just replaying old Hitman 1 levels to get back into the groove and to unlock all the goodies I left behind on my old save. This game is still great but I really really do miss the monthly roll-out of content in the way the first game did. I’m overwhelmed by choice paralysis and have still only played Hitman 2’s first map Miami.
- Beat Saber – Loads of fun but the song selection is limited. Custom songs are nearly always set to the max difficulty so replayability is limited for me.
- Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality – I had some technical issues while playing this that complicated things but overall it was a fun quick adventure. Recommend that anyone playing this have way too much space to move around in for best results. Otherwise, not a ton to say about this one. It’s a series of short Rick and Morty vignettes in VR, mostly all taking place in the garage and is probably exactly what you’d expect if you watch the show. It probably won’t do much for you if you haven’t at least seen the show before, though.
- GORN – GORN is a delightful showcase of what VR can be if you don’t take it too seriously. The arena battle format has never suited another game more. Progression is satisfying, as is the feeling of getting better at the game and bathing in the blood of your enemies.
- The Lab – Not a ton to say about this either. It’s a neat collection of VR tech demos all structured around Portal’s Aperture Science Labs.
- Accounting + – I can’t remember whether I’ve discussed Accounting in previous GOTYs or not. It’s a fun trip but very much only for people who can appreciate it’s specific type of humor. It’s not something that I’d recommend as broadly as something like Job Simulator, but if you enjoy Justin Roiland specific brand of comedy then you’ll love this game.
- Thumper – I think I missed the boat on this game by a year but regardless, it’s an intense and engaging VR experience that I’d highly recommend to anyone who’s a fan of rhythm games.
- Rez Infinite – This was my first experience with Rez and while it was a little overwhelming I’m very glad I took the time to play all the way through. It’s not something see myself coming back to play with any regularity but maybe dipping back in once a year would be nice.
- Subnautica – While it technically launched in 2018 it’s been in Early Access for a while now and I have not had the opportunity to play the full release version as fully as had hoped. This is mostly because the VR version was (as of my last test) still quite unstable. At some point I’ll have to abandon the VR idea and check the game out properly but I really enjoyed the time I spend with the Early Access version of this game.
- Dead Cells – Another Early Access game that launched fully this year. Echoing my thoughts of Subnautica, I played a fair bit (maybe 10 hours?) of this prior to release and enjoy the game despite my tendencies to shy away from rogue-likes and look forward to playing more at some point in the future.
- Slay the Spire – Yet another Early Access game that (I think?) came out this year (2018). Out of the three games listed here that released in Early Access I’ve easily played Slay the Spire most and is the one I’ve gravitated to most. I love card games and Slay the Spire deliverers something new and exciting. On top of the main game, daily challenges can make drastic changes to the core gameplay and always keep things interesting.
- Magic the Gathering: Arena – I’ve been very back and forth on Arena since I started playing in the beta (prior to the Amonkeht/Kaladesh rotation). I love Magic the Gathering and I really want to love this game but it’s made some questionable decisions where the player economy is concerned and I have little interest in Magic becoming a $600 per year expense just to keep up with new sets and possibly even more if I just want to be able to brew jank. Because of the economy, I feel that Arena encourages net-decking and actively punishes you for brewing and for me brewing up stupid decks is at the heart of what makes the game fun. I’ve also been hesitant to spend any more money on the game because we still don’t know what will he happening as of the next rotation which (at the time of writing this in August 2019) is a mere 52 days away and I have little faith in WoTC and their plans for the player economy going forward.