With it being the end of the year, it’s a time for video games journalists to reflect on everything that’s happened, the good and the bad, and compile the annual “end of the year” lists. Seriously, people love lists, it’s like the internet’s ninth favorite thing, and I’m not one to turn my nose on a system that works.
This year, though, I think I’ll keep things nice and simple: rather than having a list of the best and worst games, or the best and worst companies, or moments, or events, or whatever: I’m just going to have two lists: The best things of 2018 - the "nice" list - and the worst things of 2018 (the naughty, even though it'll be after the holidays). That can include events, companies, video games, whatever.
In any case, we’re gonna keep things positive by starting with the good, so let’s list off all the best stuff to happen in 2018:
Belgium and the Loot Box mess
I was sick of loot boxes, I am sick of loot boxes, and I’m going to be sick of loot boxes. There’s no way to twist these things to make them palatable to me, and the fact that video games still cling to them is enough to make me avoid most triple-A and mobile games like the plague. But for as bad as they were in 2018, if it weren’t for Belgium clamping down on the practice and giving the whole industry a spook, there’s no doubt they would have been way worse.
Basically, after the mess with Star Wars Battlefront, several countries around the world – including the US – have noticed how scummy and manipulative loot boxes are, and have started investigating them. Belgium was the first country to say “hey this is kind of messed up, stop it”, pointing to several specific games in the process (Including you, Overwatch) and demanding that developers make things less crap. Soon after Belgium made it’s point, several other countries followed suit: and while some studios (EA) have pushed back, most have realized that loot boxes are just becoming too toxic, such as Shadow of War.
I have little doubt that Loot Boxes aren’t going anywhere for a long time: but at least we had to deal with less of them thanks to Belgium. So we’ll go ahead and call that a good thing.
God of War and Spider-Man
I really shouldn’t lump these two games together, as they were both very distinct and good in their own way. However, of all the games on this list, these are the two I haven’t actually played: they’re less on the list because of their quality (which, to reiterate, is very good) but more because they are a much-needed reminder that not only are console exclusives good, they might be necessary if we want video games to survive as a medium.
Because here’s the thing, man: these are basically two of the few games to be released this year that actually felt like proper video games. Not some shoddy “free service”. Not some vehicle for loot boxes and microtransactions. Games that you bought, and you played, and you enjoyed, and you finished. Remember when all games were like that?
I might not have played these games but I respect the hell out of them: they told bold stories, they were a blast to play, and they certainly showed the value of the kind of triple-A single-player games we just don’t see anymore. So I’m glad that other people buy them, and that they sold well, and that they give people plenty of ammunition when some developer inevitably says that “single-player games are dead”.
They’re not dead, games industry, they’re just neglected. By you. Because you suck.
The League of Legends Worlds Final
When this won at the Game Awards as the best eSport event, I wasn’t surprised at all. While the final may have been disappointing, and the semi-finals a bit too much of a stomp, everything before that was a roller-coaster of enormous upsets, surprising results, and intense inter-region drama. More than any other year, this felt like a season where anyone could win. It was the first year that America actually made it to the final round. It was the first year Korea – mother Effin’ Korea – actually got kicked from the event before the semifinals. And while the west didn’t ultimately hoist up the Summoner’s Cup, China did for the very first time, which must have been very exciting for millions upon millions of fans.
With a new season comes a new meta, and there’s a better-than-good chance that this year’s Worlds was lightning in a bottle, and that the Koreans will adjust, adapt, and begin their reign of domination once again. In the very likely instance that they do, then the 2018 Worlds Cup will be remembered as one of the best, if not the best year, to be a LoL esports fan: it was the year that literally anything could happen, and it often did.
Super Smash Brothers Ultimate
It’s not really that surprising this would wind up on the list, is it?
With the Switch having a very carefully curated library of first-title games, the system is becoming somewhat famous for hosting high-quality, highly-sought out titles. Heck, these days, it seems Nintendo makes a hit more often than a whiff (sorry, ARMS), so for Super Smash Brothers Ultimate to really stand out among it’s peers, who set the bar so high, it would have to do something amazing.
And as the good lord is my witness, they did. Not only did they craft what may be the best Super Smash Brothers game ever, they made what may very well the very best game on the Switch.
They brought back every character. Nearly every stage. An enormous library of music. Tons of side-modes and bonus activities. Better online play (still not good, but better). They made games faster, stripped away annoying elements (goodbye, random tripping), nerfed dodges, introduced a parrying mechanic, and all-around made a game that encourages aggression and skill. Now, more than ever before, Super Smash Brothers feels like the premier fighting game, one that just might surpass Melee as the go-to for competitive Smash play.
A bold prediction, but I have high hopes.
The Epic Store
I know it’s still too early to call, but the Epic Store doesn’t so much earn its place on this list because of what it’s done, but for what it could do. So think of this as the equivalent of Obama winning the Nobel prize.
But basically, Steam has become too big, bloated, and rich for it’s own good, and it’s starting to show. The Epic Store has been the first online marketplace (thanks in large part due to the generous money-sharing rates and the fact that it has friggen’ Fortnite) that could actually challenge it: and not only does it mean we have a nice new store to buy our games on, it also means that Steam could be forced to get its crap together in order to be competitive, which will make Steam better, too. And I think for as much a people hate on Valve and Steam, we don’t want them to go away: we want them to be better, and return to the days when they were actually worth admiration.
The Epic Store might light the fire under their butts that we need to see that happen. So I’m crossing my fingers and hoping.
Shut up I loved it.
Attacking crunch hours
Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t on this list (although you might see it on the other one!), although it did spark a conversation that earns a spot here: a discussion about the overworking and oftentimes, abuse of the people who actually make your video games. The conversation around “crunch” has slowed down a bit since it first started, but people are more aware of the issue now and I think it’s safe to say that if accusations of abusive worker hours enter the conversation again, people will be quick to jump on the bandwagon and start asking that studios let their developers… you know, live their lives outside the office.
This is a good thing. Good for developers who might feel pressured into wasting their lives in the office, and good for consumers, as it shows they’re becoming more savvy of what goes into the games they enjoy. Net good, and thus, one of the highlights of the whole year.
And, finally, we have Cyberpunk 2077. The game wasn’t released this year, but we did get a good fat look at it earlier with trailers and gameplay demos, which made it look good. I mean… really good. And considering the pedigree of the developer behind it, it’s safe to say that expectations for this game can be rivaled only by… let’s say pre-2016 No Man’s Sky.
It’s either going to be the biggest game ever or the biggest disappointment in gaming history. And I feel just confident enough to say I actually think it’ll be the former.
But we’ll have to wait till the future to know for sure…