The First Friday

I want to take a little time today and talk about what stood out to me over the course of last year. 2018 by any measure in the game industry was packed to the gills with products worthy of your time. As such it can be hard for any person with limited free time and budget to pick the winners. Some years you may as well run it as a random drawing because of the sheer amount of options.

For me this was 2018 in a nutshell.

Favorite Title of 2018

Wait, you mean like just one? What idiot came up with that?

Oh right, this is my blog. Lets try that again.

Favorites of 2018

We’ll dispense with the choices that should surprise no one at all. 

God of War, Spider-Man, and Red Dead Redemption II are the titles that you’ll find on pretty much every list out there, including mine. This is for good reason as all three were stunning examples of games done right and while I, and many other people, can find nitpicky reasons to tear them down a peg. Why bother? I’m not a stranger to or wholly against nitpicky analysis of things for fun but in this case it feels to me like just searching for an excuse to not give something it’s full kudos.

These games were great, plain and simple. They are more than worth the time and money to experience if their type of game is your thing and to be honest, even if it isn’t I think they could win you over in the end.

That being said, what other games did I love in 2018?

Developed by Motion Twin

My relationship with the RogueLike/RogueLite genre of games has always been a bit contentious. I want to like them a lot more than I oftentimes do however Dead Cells seemed immune to my fickle ways.

Thinking on it I haven’t been able to nail down precisely why and have come to the conclusion that the game in its entirety is the reason. Tight, responsive controls with engaging, fast paced combat underscored by a darkly atmospheric soundtrack leaves little room for disappointment. On top of that the variety of gameplay styles supported by the available weapons, perks, upgrades and items give the built in replayability even more variety. All of this is tied together in a vibrant art and animation style that you can’t help but admire.

Even with the time I put in prior to the full release I still can’t say that I have completed Dead Cells. However in rare fashion for me with these types of games the tug remains to go back and dive back in.

Developed by Fatshark

Warhammer as a franchise carries with it a seriously incredible amount of history regardless of whether you are talking about the Fantasy or 40k iterations. Whole YouTube channels, wiki resources and books have been dedicated over the years to cataloging and making sense of it all for people new to the lore. Vermintide II along with being a heart-pounding action game of running battles and skin-of-your-teeth survival scenarios is packed with tidbits of this lore. There is something that is fabulously appealing to me about media that is, rightly, confident enough in its story and setting to eschew the need for extended exposition to explain how and why a thing is happening.

Vermintide II thrusts you and your three companions, be they AI or fleshbags, into various save-the-day scenarios in which there is no time when you are not on the verge of being overrun. In the brief moments of respite that you have you can heal up and seek out items to either assist you in combat or increase the difficulty for additional rewards.

Each of the five classes in the game are embodied by one of five characters–

  • Sienna Fuegonasus – Battle Wizard
  • Markus Kruber – Mercenary
  • Kerillian – Waystalker
  • Victor Saltzpyre – Witch Hunter Captain

and my personal favorite –

  • Bardin Goreksson – Ranger Veteran

Truth be told all five are a blast to play for different reasons and each one has several different subclasses each with their own flavor of play for you to further augment.

At the end of the day you could water down Vermintide II to its core loop of completing (grinding) missions for rewards and better gear as you could with many games. Ultimately though it does a great disservice to the voice acting, writing, music and aesthetic design that build the tense and exciting environments in which you fight through. No matter how many times I’ve battled through a level the adrenaline rush of surviving a big fight or barely making it through to a portal with all grimoires in hand has never dulled. After that breath of relief you’re always ready to go again and test yourself against the skaven hordes or hulking armored chaos warriors.

Just writing this makes me want to reinstall it and start playing again. The question is who else I can drag down with me in the process.

Developed by Harebrained Studios

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a fatal weakness for giant robots piloted by puny humans. It’s the ultimate overcompensation and I still don’t care, forget your dually-axelled truck-nut adorned Ford Super Duty and give me a Cataphract CTF-1X loaded for bear. Give me the ridiculous weapons of Macross or the imposing frames of Gundam or Evangelion.

Do you have any idea how jealous I am that people on the bullet train in Japan get to see this?

Credit to The National

Battletech really scratched the itch I had for a turn-based strategy game and since playing it has thoroughly reignited my passion for the genre and also reminded me of the pain of things like X-Com. That may sound bad but it really isn’t, X-Com is as much a game you can love as it is one that makes you want to pull your hair out. Battletech excels in the more granular aspects of the RTS where things like Starcraft prefer to gloss over. The specific loadout, pilot and strategic placement of a mech in a given moment can drastically alter the course of a battle. Environmental concerns like cover, rivers, mountains, trees all add more complications to how you choose to approach a situation.

Outside of just the combat the granularity carries over into the campaign mode of the game where your existence is dependent on more than just clicking Next Mission. As a mercenary commander you’ve got to figure out the most effective way to pay the bills that keep you and your cadre alive and effective on missions. The outcomes of the missions you take on are not the binary victory of defeat you may be used to instead you have the option of retreating and earning a Bad or Good Faith Withdrawal. If you succeed in killing one enemy and completing a single objective before your retreat you’ll still receive partial payment for the attempt. This allows the player an opportunity to look at a tough fight and decide if financially its worth it to try and win or do what they can and get out before it goes south.

On the technical side the environments, animations and unit textures were all beautifully done using Unity. Whether you are zoomed out for a wide overview of the battlefield or zoomed in over the shoulder of a mech the game is stunning. Sound and music I thoroughly enjoyed although admittedly I’m a sucker for this particular mixture of synth rock, soaring orchestral pieces and the occasional chorus.

It’s not a perfect title but if you’ve been craving a solid futuristic wargame then this should be right up your alley.

Developed by 11 Bit Studios

I’m actually going to start this off by recommending a different game developed by the same studio called This War of Mine. It’s almost the micro version of the macro-style of Frostpunk. Where This War of Mine makes you care for each individual, Frostpunk aims to force you to look at the bigger picture and ultimately see those in your charge as resources. Like any other resources in this game they must be spent for the good of what little is left of humanity and it’s survival.

You know the situation is dire when the games Law system allows you to do everything from instituting Child Labor to potentially using the dead as fertilizer to increase the efficiency of your hothouses to stave off famine in your city. Suffice it to say that in this frozen hellscape there are tough choices to be made and they’ll fall squarely on your shoulders as the architect of this new civilization.

While the overall feel is an RTS where the enemy is nature, both human and otherwise, the gameplay is almost that of a Roguelike. You will most likely fail quite a lot and while you cannot carry over resources to your new game you can take your knowledge with you. Over time you’ll refine your strategy to ensure a society that is as stable as you can possibly manage for as long as you can manage against the cold and misery.

In this vein there is an honorable mention that came out about a month after Frostpunk called Surviving Mars. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to play it but if you like your survival city builders with a decidedly more sci-fi twist there is, of course, a game for that.

Developed by Wizards of the Coast

It’s been a long and honestly rocky road getting to the release, or open beta rather, of Magic the Gathering Arena but as a long time player I am so thankful we have finally arrived. With all due respect to Stainless Games and the hard work they put into the Duels of the Planeswalkers series of games. Even with respect to WoTC themselves with Magic Online and Magic Duels, Arena is what the game has been destined to be for some time now.

That being said it isn’t perfect as right now it basically only supports the Standard format which is comprised of the four most recent sets of cards to be released. If you’re a fan of eternal formats which allow far more card variety or things like Legacy or Vintage then this still isn’t quite the game for you. For now however Arena has shown, as much to WoTC as their customers, that they are capable of designing a game that actually looks and plays like it was made within the last five years.

If you are someone who knows of MTG and has been wary of trying out the physical version because it can seem intimidating then Arena is the perfect entry point. It is free-to-play and comes with a sleek New Player Experience to walk you through the basics of the game before letting you poke around for yourself. While there is some ongoing debate about the economy of the game I do think your average casual player can find enjoyment earning the free starter decks and building their collection. Gold rewards come fairly quickly with the completion of daily and weekly goals and Gems, the paid currency, are largely unneeded unless you want to participate in competitive or draft events. Players also have the opportunity to earn Wildcards which can be turned into any card of the equivalent rarity i.e. common, uncommon, rare, mythic. These wildcards are generally found as random rewards in packs that you open either by purchasing them or earning them through quest milestones each week.

Overall Arena shows great potential to grow beyond what it is now and WoTC seems determined to get this one right for the long run which is excellent news for players. It means that they are willing to listen to feedback and adjust as they go to ensure that when the game “releases” as the full non-beta version. So far this has lead to several community driven decisions to improve quality of life and player rewards since the open beta started last September. WoTC has also set its sights of positioning Arena as an e-sport platform for MTG which again shows a level of dedication to the success of this product that had been sorely lacking from offerings like Magic Duels.

With the longevity seemingly guaranteed for the foreseeable future I think it is as good a time as any for people who have been on the fence about giving the game a try to jump in and see what all the fuss is about.

Where did the time go?

Well heck, that ended up being much longer than I anticipated when I started this, not to mention I took longer to gather my thoughts. It also ended up being entirely about video games and not much else which is sort of disappointing given that there were quite a few other things I found last year to enjoy. I think I want to do a second part of this which I will hopefully have time to work on over the weekend but I also want to get back to my regular articles so perhaps we’ll pick this up next Friday.

We’ll see how the weekend goes. I’m not sure what days I’ll be posting on from week to week but for now two per feels about the right pace so I’ll start there.

Hopefully you enjoyed this and it wasn’t too rambly as I didn’t take the usual amount of time to write it, throw it out and then write it three or four more times. I promise I’ll try to not do that too often going forward.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful first week to the New Year and if you’re so inclined why don’t you let me know what games you enjoyed last year and why, I’d love to know.

For now thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon.

  • Anthony