I’m not the biggest gamer. I’ve gone through Go and chess phases. The longest was Go. I even competed in the Collegiate Go League on the University of Washington team.
Most competitive games have the same problems for casual players: losing skill isn’t fun. But maintaining skill isn’t fun either, because it involves spending inordinate amounts of time memorizing opening sequences and training “reading skills” with problem sets.
All this is to say that I’ve kind of fallen off the “competitive game” wagon in favor of more one-time narrative-driven stuff.
I won’t stick to things that came out in 2018. Early access makes things confusing. Some games just never officially release.
Everything will be newish and something I discovered this year. The categories will be non-traditional, since I didn’t play enough variety to make “best” choices of any genre.
Favorite Overall Game:
I know everyone has been saying this forever. This game is near perfection. The art is beautiful. The music is atmospheric.
It takes the classic Metroidvania formula and innovates it just enough ways to be completely fresh. It’s cliche to utter the words Dark Souls in a game description. But this is hugely inspired by Dark Souls.
It uses elegant environmental storytelling. It’s extremely hard but fair. There will be times you think something is impossible only to look up someone who did it without taking any damage and using the weakest weapons.
You can spend a hundred hours exploring everything. Every time you think you’ve hit the edge of the map, it opens up into even more new areas. Somehow every area feels completely different even though the art style and atmosphere stays the same.
It’s kind of hard to explain just how good this game is, because so much of its excellence is based on experience.
I used to love RPG’s like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy when I was a kid. Later in childhood I played things like Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger. We were a Nintendo family, and after the mecca of RPG’s on the SNES, there were basically no RPG’s for N64.
So I haven’t played one in quite some time.
This game changed how I look at the genre. Maybe I’ve been missing out for a while, but I think they truly innovated here.
The way you play through the game is highly individual. There are eight starting characters. You can pick any one and work through the whole game as if that is the only story line.
Or you could pick any combination of two of them. Or all eight. Or any mix and match you think of! That’s a lot of possibilities. The battle system is really good, too. It’s not the old-school style where you just smash the attack button over and over, and then maybe heal if you have to.
Each battle is a fairly complicated puzzle to be solved based on resistances, shields, bonus attacks, character attack order, and on and on. Here’s a great description showing how “solving” the puzzle can help you leave with taking no damage:
Makes Me Consider Playing a Competitive Game:
Prismata is a brilliantly original competitive game. It has economic elements, card game elements, strategic elements, and many more.
It gets around the problems I listed in the preface above by having each game use a random set of units. It rewards clever, on-the-spot problem solving. One can’t memorize openings or tactics, because no two games will be the same.
Now, lots of card games do this, too. But this game has no draw luck, because there isn’t a deck. It’s the closest I’ve seen to a competitive game I might fully dive back into.
Shouldn’t Work But Turned Out Brilliant Anyway:
Slay the Spire
This is technically still in Early Access, but it is a more complete game than most officially released games.
It takes the idea of a “deck builder,” like Dominion, and pairs it with a dungeon crawling roguelike. It’s kind of hard to describe more than that. It’s extremely fun.