At last, our journey takes us here, to the end of all things.
And by that, I mean it’s time to wrap up my long-delayed 2019 video game awards (celebrating the best of 2018 video games) with the big “Game of the Year” award.
While 2018 wasn’t quite on par with 2017 in regards to video games (which would be no small feat), it still produced some truly memorable gaming experiences. Enough that I could once again compile a full top 10 list, as opposed to my usual top 5. And also, with my gaming purchases beginning to slow down, who knows if I’ll be doing a full top 10 again any time soon. Best to take advantage of what I’m given when I can.
So, what were the best games of 2018? Well, according to me, anyway, they were these following ten titles.
To say that video games try to give you some extra bang for your buck these days is an understatement. Games now go out of their way to make sure players will spend countless hours with them. While this can sometimes be to the detriment of a game (tedious padding, pointless extra modes, and worst of all, post-release content that should have been there from the start), it has also given a number of modern titles an unparalleled longevity.
2018 had plenty of big games, but only one could take the cake.
Winner: Red Dead Redemption 2
What else was it going to be? There is literally something to do in every nook and cranny of Red Dead Redemption 2’s meticulous world. Want to do the main story? Go straight to it! Want to take a break from said story and do side quests? Be my guest! Want to rob a train? Take your time to plan the heist and hop to it! Want to play poker with some random socialites? You are more than welcome to do so! Want to track down rare beasts to hunt for a new pelt? You do you, my friend!
Okay, you get the idea.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is simply a game that doesn’t let up when it comes to things to do. It’s take on the Wild West presents one of the most immersive and interactive game worlds to date. No matter where you go in Red Dead Redemption 2, there is always something that can be done, whether it’s a necessary mechanic or not. Red Dead Redemption 2 may have its technical issues, but they are all too easy to ignore when you remember this is a game that presents a deep narrative about loyalty and betrayal, but can turn into one giant fishing simulator if you so desire.
Now if only Rockstar could add all these features to the online mode…
Sound effects rarely get the credit they deserve for how important they are to video games. Sound effects alone can help give a game atmosphere and personality. Can you imagine Mario grabbing gold coins without that delightful little “bling” sound? Or trudging through the deadly realms of Dark Souls without the heavy clanging of your armor? It just wouldn’t be the same, would it?
2018 saw many games with terrific soundwork, but only one could stand above the rest for the deep immersion its sound gave it.
Winner: Red Dead Redemption 2
It’s only fitting that Red Dead Redemption 2 – a game that builds its world with with as much attention to detail as humanly possible to make every inch it feel believable – would feature the best sound work.
Much like 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Red Dead Redemption 2 utilizes its sound design to add a sense of life to every facet of its world. Whether it’s something as big as a train in the distance, or something as small as a card dealer shuffling a deck of cards in a game of Poker, Rockstar North went all out in making Red Dead Redemption 2 sound as true to life as it looked.
Not every game can build its world so meticulously through sounds alone. And even fewer can do it as well as Red Dead Redemption 2.
I love video games. I really and truly do. I love them so much so that, as I’ve stated in the past, I’d like to make my own games someday. In many ways, gaming is better now than it’s ever been. But gaming is also a mighty expensive hobby, and I’m not made of money. Even more so, gaming is becoming more and more time consuming.
Now, I realized some time ago how much of a time commitment gaming was becoming, but it really hit me personally when I played Persona 5. Now, don’t get me wrong, from what I played, Persona 5 was a pretty great game. But once I had put more than ten hours into the game and still wasn’t done with the first dungeon, it kind of lost me. I still want to go back and finish it sometime, but it really hit me just how long games get these days. And it would be one thing if it were a couple of games here and there, but it seems like most major releases these days require 50+ hours just to get through the story.
Somehow I actually managed to beat Red Dead Redemption 2, which was a great game, but took forever just to get through the story (and as I mentioned in my review of the game, it’s fifth chapter feels like little more than extensive padding just to drag out the story longer. And yes, this was the primary reason I scored RDR2 an 8 as opposed to a 9, despite its many, many strengths). For as much fun as I had with the game, it seemed like its main story – great though it was – went on much longer than it needed to, when the countless side activities the game’s open world provides would have more than sufficed in regards to content.
In short: these games are too damn long.
That’s not an innately bad thing, of course. But if you have one game after another after another that each take forever to complete, you begin to not have time for any of them.
That’s why, as of 2019, I’m trying to cut back on my video game purchases. Yes, I bought the Bowser’s Inside Story remake and Kingdom Hearts 3 already. But the former is a remake of my favorite DS game, a title I enjoyed so much I definitely want to give it another whirl in its new guise, while the later has been in the making for thirteen years (and, more importantly, I love me some contemporary Disney, so I couldn’t resist playing a game that featured Frozen, Tangled and Big Hero 6 in it). So that’s two games so far in 2019, plus a couple other I have on pre-order. But if we went back to this time last year, I had pre-orders up the wazoo! And, as is evidenced by the fact that I’ll only now be getting to my reviews of games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and God of War (and still need to get to a point where I can review Ni no Kuni 2), I’ve gotten pretty backlogged.
In my defense, the reason I’ve been playing so many games these past few years is, well, because of this website. I greatly enjoy writing reviews and sharing my opinions, and I want to build this site up. What better way to do that than build up an extensive library of game reviews?
Well, I think I’ve succeeded in building such a library of reviews covering several different eras of gaming and many different genres. Not to brag or anything, but my Red Dead 2 review was my 328th video game review. So I think I’m at a point where it’s okay to slow down with the video game reviews for a while.
Now now, I don’t have any plans to stop updating this website. I plan to keep on keeping on with the Dojo. But when it comes to video games, I think I’m going to start prioritizing the games I still have in my collection for reviews, and that I don’t need to purchase more than a few new titles every year. Granted, that may make my annual Game of the Year awards less interesting (talking of which, my 2018 awards will happen really soon), but there are only so many hours in a day.
I still have plenty of games I already own that are in need of some reviewin’, and I’m still going to buy new games and review them. But because time and money are limited, I’m going to have to be more picky. I’m going to try and put a number limit on myself for games per year, and try to stick to that (there will be exceptions of course. If Nintendo suddenly announces they’re making Super Mario Galaxy 3 and it releases this year, I don’t care if I’ve met my limit, that’s a game I’d make exception for no question).
I remember in my younger days, I replayed video games a lot more. Star Fox 64, for example, is an easy game to beat. But I still probably spent countless hours on it over the years playing its single and multiplayer modes over and over. I find myself continuously wanting to replay games like Bloodborne and Super Mario Odyssey, but then I tell myself I’ve already reviewed them, and that I have other games to review. But games like Bloodborne and Odyssey are the kind of games that beg to be replayed over and over, much like Star Fox did all those years ago. Besides, it’s not like someone is paying me to play these games (though I am continuously trying to build up this website and hopefully can get some earnings from it. Wouldn’t that be dandy?). Plus, there are more ways to write about games than the direct reviews themselves.
While it’s been great picking up different big releases each year to review them, I think I’m at a point where I can also just replay games if I feel like it, and write other articles about them. Don’t worry, I’m still going to write game reviews, but probably less for newly released games every year. Gotta pick and choose.
Yeah, I will review Persona 5 and other extensively long games when I can. But I’m not going to try to rush those games to completion just to add another review to my belt sooner. If anything, my review of Red Dead Redemption 2 felt special. As long as that game was, I took my time with it, and my review almost felt like a reward to myself…as weird as that sounds.
Basically, my point is, it’s getting harder and harder for me to review every big game that gets released these days. So I’ll be slowing down with that for a bit. Again, I think I’ve reviewed enough games, covered different genres, and awarded each number on my scoring system more than enough to justify the majority of my reviews in the foreseeable future being games I already own. Like I said, that’s no shortage of games as it is, and with the occasional review for a new release, Indie games, and other articles focused on games, and I think I still have more than enough game-related material for my site. And of course I also have my movie side of things and, as I keep saying, I want to start writing about TV shows to some degree as well.
So…sorry I’m not going to be able to review every major release that hits shelves, but I will still keep the gaming side of this site strong and healthy. Like a kid who ate his broccoli. Plus, this opens up more time for me to work on other creative outlets, like my long promised videos and studying up on video game design. You’d want to play a game made by me, right?
*Review based on Red Dead Redemption 2’s single player campaign. A separate review based on the game’s online mode will follow sometime in the future*
I don’t think I’ve ever played a video game as big as Red Dead Redemption 2. The sheer scope of its world, countless playable activities, and excruciating attention to detail are second to none. Though Red Dead Redemption 2’s ambitions can prove to be a bit of a double-edged sword. Its journey and world-building can feel miraculous at times, but daunting in others. The whole of Red Dead Redemption 2 is a thing of sheer beauty, but its individual pieces can frequently expose its weaknesses on both a creative and technical level. Tedious gameplay elements, bloated objectives, and technical issues eventually do add up to hold back what is otherwise a classic and unforgettable gaming experience.
Set in 1899, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel to its beloved 2010 predecessor. Players take on the role of Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van Der Linde gang (named after its leader, Dutch Van Der Linde), who happen to be going through a rough time after a big heist went horribly wrong. Members of the gang, authorities, and innocent civilians were killed when the job went awry, leading the Van Der Linde gang to go into hiding, and Arthur to begin questioning their future.
Dutch and the gang are on the run from the law, trying to find a means to survive both nature and civilization. Dutch believes one last successful job can lead the gang to prosperity, but that’s easier said than done when Pinkertons, wealthy oil magnate Leviticus Cornwall, and rival gangs such as the O’Driscals are out for the blood of the Van Der Linde gang. In Arthur’s shoes, it’s up to the player to help the Van Der Linde gang get back on its feet, in hopes of a better future.
That’s the basic setup of everything, but as the game progresses, Red Dead Redemption 2 turns into a pretty compelling, character-driven narrative, complimented by some of the best voice acting I’ve ever heard in a video game.
As the game begins, the Van Der Linde gang is low on resources, so naturally the gang has to start small to build itself back up. As Arthur Morgan, players can simply progress through the plot – completing necessary objectives to push the story forward – or they can partake in seemingly countless endeavors across the game’s vast open world.
Unlike most open world games, there’s never a moment when Red Dead Redemption 2 feels lifeless. Every inch of the game feels packed with things to do, whether big or small. You can ignore the story entirely and just get lost in hunting wild animals for meat, robbing trains, playing poker, or making new discoveries in the game’s world. You really have to hand it to Rockstar, they left no stone unturned in regards to making their interpretation of the Wild West feel like a living, breathing world. There is so much to do in Red Dead Redemption 2, in fact, that it would be impossible for me to detail them all without this review turning into an instruction manual.
Red Dead Redemption 2 features a morality system, which will change Aurthur’s moral alignment (and his interactions with others) depending on the choices the player makes. So even though Read Dead 2 gives players the freedom to go about Authur’s life and journey as they see fit, there are consequences for your actions. Killing random passersby and looting them will, of course, take away Aurthur’s morality. Should anyone else notice evidence of Aurthur’s crimes, a bounty will be placed on the player’s head. And whenever bounty hunters are close by ready to collect said bounty, certain game elements (including side quests) become unavailable. Conversely, if you happen to come across people in need during your journey (whether it be a blind beggar or a victim of a snake bite requesting Arthur to suck out the venom), lending them a helping hand will reward you at a later time (in a few instances, the people I helped later appeared in towns, and offered to buy me whatever item or weapon my heart desired). Although Rockstar games have a reputation of indulging in deviant behavior (and that can even be true here), Read Dead Redemption 2 bucks that reputation with an emphasis on every action having a consequence.
As stated, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a massive game, filled to the brim with content. On a technical level, the attention to detail and the amount of things to do are unrivaled. Though there is a downside to this insane level of intricacy, with the game sometimes being unable to handle itself, leading to some unfortunate technical issues.
The loading times can be extensive, but that’s fair, given everything the game has to load at any one time. Less tolerable however are the glitches you’re likely to run into across Arthur’s journey. During my playthrough, I encountered more than my share: In one instance, I had to restart a tutorial after enemies spawned on top of the camp I was setting up, who then proceeded to disappear and reappear. For another example, I even had one of my bounties disappear into thin air just as I was taking him in to the local sheriff. Thankfully, I never encountered anything game-breaking, but these issues were big enough and frequent enough to lead to more than a few moments of frustration.
Another aspect of Red Dead Redemption 2 that may end up feeling like a double-edged sword is its emphasis on realism. Now, again, the level of detail is truly stunning, and that’s reflected in the game’s sense of realism. But these realistic elements can also border on tedious.
Arthur’s stats are divided into three categories: health, stamina and deadeye. Health is self-explanatory, and serves as Arthur’s hitpoints. Stamina dictates how long Arthur can run or swim without getting exhausted. Deadeye grants players the ability to slow down time during gunfights, allowing you to mark your targets and get easy shots in the process.
It sounds simple enough, and aside from the addition of deadeye, it brings to mind Breath of the Wild. But while Breath of the Wild streamlined things by simply having certain items recover (or boost) Link’s health and stamina, Red Dead Redemption 2 adds an extra layer to the equation in the form of cores. Cores more or less serve as the base stats of Arthur’s three attributes, and can be leveled up throughout the game to increase the maximum amount of health, stamina and deadeye Arthur can possess.
The downside to this is that the cores also deplete if Arthur has ran out of the stats themselves. And the cores require their own items to recover, separate from those used to heal their respective attributes. So you’ll often have to pause whatever you’re doing to cycle through menus (which thankfully is rather easy in itself, adopting the “wheel menus” originated by Secret of Mana), and use a myriad of different items just to get back to your standard. You won’t believe how many times I got killed in gunfights simply because I couldn’t keep up with all my stats, and kept getting riddled with bullets as Arthur stopped to perform the required animation for using each item.
Yes, Rockstar’s efforts in making the game realistic are admirable, but it also means keeping Arthur in top shape – as well as putting up with every little animation (you can’t simply grab an item by pressing a button, but have to wait for Arthur to crouch and pick up the item himself) – may try the patience of some gamers.
Unfortunately, there is one other big drawback to Red Dead Redemption 2. I mentioned that the story of the game is well written, and I mean it. The character development (particularly that of Dutch Van Der Linde) is truly captivating. But – as is a bad habit of modern games – the story can become dragged out with padding on a few occasions. With how massive of a game Red Dead Redemption 2 already is, and the countless things you can do at any given time at any given place, it really seems unnecessary for the main plot to be as long as it is. The story could have been trimmed down a good number of hours and not taken away its impact, and left the optional elements to fill out the game’s content.
In the most blatant example of padding in gaming since Uncharted 3’s cruise ship sequence, the entire fifth chapter of Red Dead Redemption 2’s story feels completely unnecessary. The plot would have worked just fine without it. What’s worse is that this chapter is the one instance in the game where you aren’t free to do as you please, as it forces the player to do what it wants. As great as the rest of Red Dead Redemption 2 is, the game’s fifth chapter brings its momentum to a dead stop.
These may be considerable complaints with the game, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is so well made in just about every other regard, that it’s still easy to get lost in it all despite its issues. None of its flaws are deal-breakers, but in many areas Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like one of the most masterfully crafted games I’ve played, and these issues sadly prevent it from reaching its full potential. In terms of ambition, content, and execution, Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like an all-time great. But the myriad of technical issues, gameplay tedium, and story padding do become something of a wet blanket, leaving Red Dead Redemption 2 to being “merely” great.
Still, it can’t be stated enough how much Red Dead 2 gets right. On the visual front, it’s a non-stop spectacle. The character models are some of the most believable and realistic I’ve ever seen (with only Uncharted 4 and 2018’s God of War matching it in those areas). And the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Aside from actually stepping outside and experiencing nature in real life, you probably couldn’t ask for more beautiful natural environments.
Complimenting these beautiful visuals is an absolutely terrific musical score that rivals any movie western soundtrack. There were countless moments in my playthrough where the score not only set the mood for what was happening in game, but really pulled me into the moments themselves. Rarely have I been so involved in what was happening in a game as I was riding on horseback with Dutch and the gang, dodging gunfire and riding to safety as Woody Jackson’s epic score flooded my ears.
Adding even more to these audial pleasures is some stellar sound work, which ranks as some of the best you could hope to hear outside of FromSoftware. Red Dead 2 is – like FromSoftware’s Souls series – one of those titles where every last sound helps create the emersion of its world.
Another fun aspect of Red Dead 2 is that it has a pretty good sense of humor. Though the main story plays things straight for the most part (save for a now infamous drinking binge segment), there are many side quests and occurrences in the wild that frequently lighten the mood. Though the main game stays true to its American Wild West setting, the optional content will see Arthur encounter U.F.Os, vampires, robots, and many other oddities that might otherwise feel out of place. It’s actually a pretty effective and unique example of a game taking itself seriously in terms of its story, but also knowing when to take a break and just have a good time.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is, in many ways, an absolute triumph of video game design. Even if you give the technical blips a pass for being a side effect of the game’s sheer scope, its aforementioned missteps in padding and tedium are creative choices that are a little harder to forgive, and prevent Red Dead Redemption 2 from being the flat-out masterpiece it otherwise would have been. But if Red Dead Redemption 2 is a flawed game, it’s one of the best flawed games I’ve ever experienced.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has it’s issues. But while those same issues may break a lesser game, Red Dead 2 is so full of life and surprises that whatever drawbacks it does have suddenly seem a lot smaller amidst its campaign and open world. In terms of sheer scope and ambition, Red Dead Redemption 2 is nothing short of peerless.
Probably the most hyped video game of the year, Red Dead Redemption 2, was released last week. And after growing old waiting for my PS4 to install the game, I’ve managed to put a good number of hours into it. So here are my thoughts so far.
The good news is, it’s easy to see why people were so excited for the game, given its sheer scope not just in size, but content. It really does feel like you can interact with pretty much everything in one way or another. You can completely ignore the story and just spend time playing poker or robbing passersby on the road. You can make small talk with citizens, take baths, go hunting, and play Dominos (though even in a video game, I still don’t get it). It’s simply fun just goofing off and doing your own thing.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a very meticulous game, with all of the above activities (and so many others) having their own rules and mechanics. It feels like everything about the game’s world is given an extreme attention to detail. This level of intricacy is felt in the game’s sense of realism. Arthur Morgan – the player character – really feels like he has human limitations that other video game characters don’t have.
Similar to Breath of the Wild, Morgan needs to eat, dress appropriately for the weather, and craft materials in order to survive. Unlike Breath of the Wild, Morgan can’t climb every surface, and struggles against the environment as much as he does fellow outlaws. Your horses also need to be taken care of, and yes, you can even let Morgan grow a beard, and then decide how to shave his facial hair.
On the downside of things, I think this emphasis on realism can sometimes be frustrating. Having to stop and set up camp in the middle of a quest, and then needing to use item after item to keep all your stats in order can grow a little tedious after a while. Breath of the Wild’s similar survival elements were much quicker paced and always enhanced the experience. By comparison, Red Dead Redemption 2’s survival aspects can be involving, but just as often can feel cumbersome, and drag what is already a very long game out even longer.
Another problem I have is shuffling through items. Now, RDR2 is wise enough to have a Secret of Mana-esque item wheel for most of the essentials by holding the L1 button (though going to a menu is still required for many other items). But I kind of wish you had to hit a button to select an item, instead of simply letting go of L1 on a highlighted item, because this often causes me numerous problems when I’m in a firefight.
Although I’m less than twenty percent through the story, I’ve already encountered some notable technical issues. One especially egregious moment saw two bounty hunters randomly spawn in front of me as I was going through a tutorial on crafting while camping, the bounty hunters bumped into me with their horse, which canceled my crafting (and the dialogue that went with it). The bounty hunters then instantly despawned (and later respawned), and I couldn’t get back to my tutorial, so I had to kill myself to get back to the previous checkpoint. I’ve also witnessed a few instances of NPCs’ character models suddenly changing (a man working a hotel lobby inexplicably transformed into a bandaged version of himself and back again in the span of time it took to rent a bath). Granted, with just how massive and detailed the game is, you could say that such technical issues are almost expected. But does that really change the fact that they’re issues?
With all that said, I have had a mostly stellar time with Red Dead Redemption so far despite the flaws. It is a very easy game to get lost in and just have fun acting out the old west. I still have a long way to go before I reach the end of the story, so I guess I’ll have to wait and see how long the game remains engrossing. As it stands, Read Dead Redemption 2 has so far been an addicting, if flawed time.