Looking Back on the Past Six Months in Gaming
How’s everyone’s 2018 going so far? Terribly, I would guess, but at least we had plenty of video games to get us through it all!
Another year brings another pile of new games from all the major and minor publishers. Despite the fact that companies typically prefer to roll out their biggest releases closer to the holiday season, the first six months of this year have been defined by a litany of excellent game releases, plenty of interesting attempts at innovation, and, in come cases, some disappointing failures. Every major console and PC has seen a handful of high-profile titles so far, and those titles have incited a range of emotions. Here is how the staff at The Punished Backlog feels about 2018’s games at the midpoint:
Describe your 2018 so far in one word.
What’s your overall view of the state of gaming in the first half of 2018?
Sam: I’m cautiously optimistic. The current slate of games I’ve played this year has been pretty good. This year’s E3 had a ton of interesting games on display, though it overall felt unnecessary, as many games had already been announced/showcased. I’m concerned that we’re heading towards a gaming environment that has too many service games (e.g. Destiny, The Division) instead of more interesting single-player experiences, but there have been enough good titles in the first six months of the year that I feel good going into the second half.
David: I’ve loved what I’ve seen from the industry this year. It’s no secret that I wasn’t the biggest fan of gaming in 2017 — Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey were great, but they weren’t quite the revolutionary masterpieces others made them out to be — and so I came into 2018 with a bid of trepidation. So far, however, I’ve been blown away with the amount of quality content we’ve received in just 6 months. Monster Hunter: World. Shadow of the Colossus. Celeste. There’s been something for everybody, and that’s not even counting the appeal of free-to-play juggernaut Fortnite and fantastic ports/compilations for Switch like Hollow Knight and Mega Man Collection 1 & 2.
Genesis: I think 2018 has been good, but I’m hoping for more. My 2018 has been more nostalgic than anything in terms of gaming, so I’ve been giving more focus to games from my childhood instead of playing new games. While I haven’t been trying out as many games being released in 2018, I have noticed how good gaming is right now. I think I went into this year with not very high expectations, but based on games that have already been released, like Monster Hunter: World and Detroit: Become Human, I think that 2018 has more than met my expectations. I’m excited to see what the second half of this year is like.
Augustine: 2018, so far, has been fairly mediocre in terms of gaming. However I feel like there’s a severe lack in games that have really interested me enough to actually purchase them. With the exception of a few PC games, Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Subnautica, the only real big title game I have purchased so far was Monster Hunter: World, which I’ve only played a few hours. Although God of War and Detroit: Become Human both look amazing and I do plan on getting them, them alone don’t really make the first half of the year for me. I am pretty optimistic with the second half of the year with games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Fallout 76, Dragon Quest 11, and many others.
Kei: I think 2018 has been pretty great… but I can’t tell if I’m being swayed by how many games from 2017 I’m still playing through! I’ve gotten several big releases released this year and have barely touched them due to working through my backlog of games like Prey, Wolfenstein 2, Doom, and more.
OK, the big one: What is your favorite game of the year so far?
Sam: While I’ve played plenty of interesting titles so far this year, none have been as engrossing and entertaining as Celeste. Everything about the game struck a chord with me: the story explores the various manifestations of anxiety and depression in ways that are often difficult to explain, and the challenging yet rewarding gameplay fits perfectly with the overall mood of the game, with the joy and whimsy of old-school platforming often clashing with oppressive and stress-inducing environments and level design.
This year has already had its share of excellent experiences, but no other game I’ve played so far this year affected me quite the same way that even just the first hour or so of Celeste did. I don’t know if Celeste remains my game of the year six months from now, but right now it’s solidly in first place.
Honorable Mention: Despite an apparent lack of content, Sea of Thieves is a very clever idea that is (mostly) executed well. Nearly every SoT session I’ve played has resulted in a hilarious new story, and most of the gameplay mechanics work nicely in tandem with excellent visuals. Give it a chance!
David: I have to go with Sam here as well and go with Celeste. The game hits so many checkboxes that it’s hard to imagine it was developed by such a small group of people. It has sharp writing, multi-faceted characters, and a story that deals with issues like anxiety and depression in a realistic, powerful manner. It has tight controls and fantastic level design that make every level an absolute joy to play through. It has impeccable audio design and a soundtrack that mixes chiptune, synth, and jazz in a beautiful complement to the game’s platforming and puzzles. It has a bevy of rewarding collectables, challenging post-game content, and phenomenal speedrunning tools, ensuring that players come back to it long into the future. Plus, you can play it on the go with your Nintendo Switch. What’s not to love?
Honorable Mention: I’ve gotta show some love for Hollow Knight. Yes, it released back on PC in 2017. Yes, people loved it back then. But as someone who waited nearly a year and a half to play this Aussie-developed Metroidvania… boy, oh boy, was it worth the wait. As much as I love the 2D Metroid games… Hollow Knight gets the formula down even better, frankly. The scope is absolutely mind boggling — the game world is massive, housing vast, varied zones, hundreds of unique enemies to fight, and tons of worthwhile collectibles to find. The atmosphere is dripping with moody personality, while the game’s design allows for a level of freedom reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Expect to sink at least 30-40 hours in this bad boy on the way to 100% completion. Another must for all Switch owners, right after Celeste.
Genesis: This is a hard one, but I think I have to go with Minit. I expected to hate it honestly. It sounded hard and frustrating and like I’d give up immediately, but I actually enjoyed it a lot. It is hard and frustrating at times, but I never wanted to stop playing. I love the simplistic art style, and the uniqueness of 60-second missions. It doesn’t feel like a game I’d love as much as I do, and it was nice to experience a game that’s a little different than many others released this year.
Honorable Mention: Fe. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this game. It wasn’t something I was looking forward to for months on end, I just stumbled upon it. I have such a bias for games with environments similar to the one you experience in Fe. That’s what pulled me into this game for sure, how beautiful I thought the game was. Fe, at times though, frustrated me. It’s a 3D platformer, so it might be a little difficult at times, but I found myself having to start an area all over again because I took one wrong step. That could be said for a lot of platformers, but this takes you out of the environment mentally, and all it becomes is a frustrating platformer. I will definitely stand behind the fact that this game is gorgeous, and that made the frustrating moments worth it.
Augustine: Sort of a sleeper pick here, but Kingdom Come: Deliverance exceeded my expectations. I was never really a big fan of the Elder Scrolls games due to its un-interactive combat and underwhelming story though I never played Skyrim because of the poor experience I had with Oblivion, but Kingdom Come: Deliverance really felt much more immersive and fun to play. Everything you do and all the items you have are much more important to your survival. Food and resting are much more important, the combat system is much more interactive; deciding what direction to slash your sword matters. Everything is feels much more fluid and fully met my needs for an action RPG.
Honorable Mention: Subnautica would have been my favorite game of 2018, but the issues with the racial statements sort of brought it down. That being said, don’t let the problems with the one individual take away from how great this game is. It’s the survival game I’ve always wanted and it is executed perfectly. The exploration, the music, and the fauna all enhance the survival aspect to the game. It is beautiful but also terrifying.
Kei: I know it’s a remaster, but jumping back in to Dark Souls: Remastered reminds me of just how brilliant that game is. While I would have welcomed a Scholar style remix, even the quality of life changes are big and it’s an amazing way to remaster one of the best, and perhaps most influential, games of the last generation.
Honorable Mention: I’ve barely played enough to scratch the surface, but Monster Hunter: World is the perfect entry point into that series for a newbie like me.
What is your least favorite?
Sam: I’ve already written at length about how State of Decay 2 is the worst game I’ve played this year, but I want to add one more comment: I often judge games by how long it takes for me to say, “You know what? I don’t have to do this anymore.” Some games, like Assassin’s Creed Origins, take over 30+ hours for me to get to that point. Though I played a little more of State of Decay 2 to give it the benefit of the doubt, it only took me about 30 minutes to feel the need to abandon it.
David: I wouldn’t say I have a least favorite this far in. I’m still catching up on a lot of games from 2017 while juggling games of Fortnite with friends and family. I simply haven’t played enough of 2018’s lineup to find a glaring weakness. Still, it’s disappointing to hear that State of Decay 2 was a bit of a letdown. I had high hopes for that one.
Genesis: I don’t think I’ve played any 2018 releases where I thought they were the worst. Not all the games I’ve played were amazing by any means, but I don’t think I’ve played enough 2018 releases to have one game I think is bad with almost no redeeming qualities.
Augustine: Going to get some flak for this, but Fortnite. I accept its rise to fame, its popularity with many players being F2P, and the few gameplay changes where it improves over PUBG, but I really don’t like the gameplay. I feel like the looting and exploration has been a downgrade from PUBG. Plus, the building and smaller map sizes encourages setting up towers to just camp in the middle of the eye. I just don’t really see the hype.
Kei: I don’t think I’ve played enough games that came out in 2018 to call anything a disappointment. If I had to, I might pick Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, which I’m not blazing through at the same speed I did the first.
Biggest surprise of the year so far?
Sam: What happened to mobile gaming? Like, pretty much all of the games I play on my phone have been around for a while now (Super Mario Run, Hearthstone). Have any big mobile games come out this year? I feel like everytime I see someone playing a game on the subway, it’s the same stuff I’ve seen for years: Candy Crush, Temple Run, Threes, 2048, Monument Valley. I know Fortnite and PUBG have mobile versions now, but how many people actually play them? Wouldn’t those people rather play those games on PC or consoles? It wasn’t long ago that industry analysts predicted that mobile gaming would conquer console gaming for eternity. How’s that working out?
David: Fortnite. At first, this game couldn’t have been further off my radar. However, Epic’s latest made a name for itself thanks to awe-inspiring building mechanics and a zeitgeist-level of popularity. Since launch, Epic has done a phenomenal job adding content to the game in the form of new areas, weapons, and modes. They’ve also made several welcome quality of life changes to the experience, making challenges easier to complete and giving players more options to customize both their controls and their graphical settings on consoles. Most importantly, the game has taken over mainstream culture in ways no one could have possibly anticipated. Fortnite is here to stay, and I for one could not be happier about it.
Genesis: This was a smaller surprise, but it still amazed me. I love Mario Party games. Back in 2015, Mario Party 10 was the worst thing to ever happen to me. I hated how different the game mechanics were from previous Mario Partys. There’s no fun in all players traveling the board as if they’re one big character. I ignored this game except for the occasional YouTube video, and just went back to my favorite Mario Party, Mario Party 6. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that this is changing in Super Mario Party, and we’re getting something similar to pre-Mario Party 10 games.
Kei: Probably the fact that I haven’t felt compelled to own a Switch yet. I was always planning on being a bit of a late adopter because I had so many games to play on PS4/PC, but more than a year in I still don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything crucial.
Sam: I find the gaming industry’s predictability these days to be fairly disappointing. Think about it: every time there’s a new leak or rumor swirling around, it’s met with a shrug of the shoulders. “Of course Fortnite is coming to Switch!” or “Of course they’re going to make more Halo and Gears of War games!”
On that note, as soon as something becomes big (e.g. battle royale, service games), EVERYBODY needs to get in on it. Some of these big-time publishers won’t rest until there are only three game genres in total.
David: I know this probably won’t go over well, but I’m going to say God of War. No, it’s not my biggest disappointment in the sense that I think it’s a bad game. Clearly it isn’t. However, it definitely has been a little underwhelming for me as I play through its early hours (if I were to take a guess, I’m probably around 8-10 hours in). It just isn’t wowing me like the original trilogy did. Combat is exciting and innovative, and damn if that Leviathan Axe doesn’t feel fantastic to throw and recall, but it all seems a little imperfect compared to the tight, flawless combos and controls of God of War III. The side quests and equipment/upgrade systems feel a little tacked on, while the main story lacks the pacing that made similarly cinematic games like Uncharted and The Last of Us so good.
Granted, I’m not done with the game yet — I get that. I’m not even remotely close, given how long people have been taking to complete this bad boy. However, if I were to grade it now, God of War is missing some of the magic that made other first-party Sony games this generation so enticing.
Genesis: Kind of going off of what Sam said, it does really feel like games start to become repetitive, or almost copies of each other, in order to cash in on what’s popular. Fortnite and PUBG are great and all, but do we really need more and more battle royale type games?
Augustine: Same with Sam and Genesis. I hate the direction that a lot of developers are taking trying to emulate the success of Fortnite. I feel like every multiplayer game is looking to implement some battle royale style mode. Sure, they are fun and entertaining, but the genre has become a bit too saturated for my tastes. At least try and add some sort of twist to it, similar to what Overwatch did with the MOBA genre.
Kei: The fact that Melee HD still doesn’t exist. In line with my biggest surprise so far, it’s how Nintendo’s first party lineup this year is actually looks pretty sparse, as awesome as Smash is.
What game(s) are you looking most forward to in the second half?
Sam: The second half is host to tons of games that intrigue me, but none have the high ceiling that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey does. The Peloponnesian War was a tumultuous and era-defining time in the history of the Mediterranean, and to be an active participant in events surrounding the War (especially as a Spartan) is incredibly tantalizing.
I really enjoyed Assassin’s Creed Origins a lot more than any other game in the series, partially due to the fact that it wasn’t wholly tethered to the broader meta-narrative that often plagues the franchise. While I’ve read that Odyssey does address that meta-narrative, it appears to exist as more of a standalone story, one that exists long before the creation of the Assassins Brotherhood. It also looks pretty as fuck.
David: Though Kingdom Hearts III had been my go-to choice, its delay has forced me to switch tactics. Thankfully, we have Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to replace it. Can’t wait to take up the fight once more as my absolute favorite, Snake.
Aside from Ultimate, I really don’t have any clear favorites heading into Q3/Q4, so I’ll just plug them all. Dragon Quest XI and Octopath Traveler will be the JRPGs I’ll dive into most. Spider-Man and Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be phenomenal AAA action games. And of course, let’s not forget the behemoths that are Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2.
Genesis: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for sure. It could be exactly the same as Smash for the Wii U, but with this fighter lineup, and I’d still love it. Ooblets too, because it looks so cute. Plus it feels like the closest thing we’re getting to a new Animal Crossing game. (And My Friend Pedro is set for a 2019 release, but shoutout to that game because I’m excited for that too. It reminds me of Sunset Overdrive, but less neon colors.)
Augustine: As I mentioned previously, Red Dead Redemption 2, Fallout 76 and Dragon Quest 11 are among the few I am really looking forward to playing in the latter part of 2018. I think the game I am most excited for is the new expansion to World of Warcraft coming this August.
Kei: I can’t wait for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which seems to be fully embracing Survivor Lara’s bloodthirsty brutality instead of… well, whatever Rise was trying to do. Other than that, I’m looking forward to Ultimate as well, although I’m actually one of the few who’s probably not really feeling this roster.
Bonus Round: What’s the next new game you intend to play?
Sam: Once I’m finished with Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion, I plan to hit the courts in Mario Tennis Aces.
David: Octopath Traveler. Loved what I played of the new demo, even if the writing and voice acting seems a bit all over the place. The open-exploration aspect of the game really has me hooked!
Genesis: I’ve been occupied with Super Mario Galaxy right now, and I’m hoping to either try Yono and the Celestial Elephants or maybe finally get around to getting the Nintendo Labo next.
Augustine: Honestly, it will probably be World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, but I am interested in trying Captain Spirit and Octopath Traveler when that comes out.
Kei: If we’re talking releases in the latter half of the year, I’m probably going to play Spider-Man or Shadow of the Tomb Raider. If we’re including things I haven’t got around to yet, God of War.