It’s January. The year has just started and we already have a handful of game of the year contenders with Resident Evil 7, Tales of Berseria, and Yakuza 0 releasing on the same day. 2017 was one of the best years for gaming since 2007. With such a consistent string of hits, 2018 couldn’t compete.
It’s Not All Bad News
Before people make erroneous assumptions, I am not saying 2018 was a bad year. The drought of the console generation’s first two years no longer applies. If you went to a store or browsed a digital storefront looking for new releases, you’d find multiple games worth your time and money. 2018 was a low-key year. It wasn’t filled with bad games and it didn’t lack good ones either. It was also a good year for both the AAA and indie spaces.
Smaller titles like Paratopic and Return of the Obra Dinn garnered unanimous praise. Dusk, the 90’s first-person shooter throwback, officially launched in December. Life is Strange 2‘s first episode released. Forza Horizon 4 became a runaway success thanks to Game Pass, pulling in people that normally don’t play racing games. Soul Calibur and Valkyria Chronicles made decent comebacks with their sixth and fourth mainline entries, respectively. Red Dead Redemption 2 may have been divisive, but it’s one of 2018’s best reviewed games.
Hitman 2, Spider-Man, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also released in 2018 to varying degrees of commercial success. 2018 was a good year, but it’s more like 2017’s younger, shier brother. He doesn’t have as many friends.
The First Half
We already established January’s simultaneous triple threat, but what about the following months?
February had Nioh, Night in the Woods, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Torment: Tides of Numenera. March slowed down a little with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Nier: Automata making the biggest noise. April brought us Persona 5, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Little Nightmares.
May started strong with Prey releasing on May 5. It’s one of the most brilliantly designed and unique games of the generation. Coming from Arkane Studios, Prey is the perfect modern day interpretation of the immersive sim philosophy of game design laid down by Thief, System Shock, and Deus Ex. It didn’t sell that well, but it’s one of the generation’s most fascinating games.
Tekken 7, Nex Machina, and the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane trilogy capped off the first half of 2017. These games may not be your personal favorites or even games you liked, but there’s no denying their quality and critical/consumer response.
What did the first half of 2018 bring? Remasters(not remakes) and late ports to other platforms aren’t considered for either year.
Dragon Ball FighterZ, Monster Hunter World, My Time at Portia, A Way Out, God of War, Pillars of Eternity 2, and Onrush were the most noteworthy games of 2018’s first half. That’s not such an impressive start stacked against its older brother.
The Second Half
Splatoon 2 dominated July while Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Lawbreakers launched on the same day in August. Lawbreakers failed commercially, but it was an excellent arena shooter emphasizing skill-based movement. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and Yakuza Kiwami also released that month.
September, as the start of the holiday season, showed no signs of slowing down. We got Divinity: Original Sin 2, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, and Cuphead. Forza Motorsport 7, The Evil Within 2, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Super Mario Odyssey, and Wolfenstein 2 all released in October.
2017’s final two months were the only slow months, with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 standing out the most. 2018 had a weak first half, but at least its second half improved.
Octopath Traveler and The Banner Saga 3 came out in July. August saw Dead Cells‘ official release along with Overcooked 2, Yakuza Kiwami 2, and Two Point Hospital. Spider-Man, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Valkyria Chronicles 4, Paratopic, and Life is Strange 2‘s first episode kicked off the holiday/fall season. October was an equally strong month with Forza Horizon 4, Soul Calibur 6, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and Red Dead Redemption 2.
2018’s final two months demolished 2017 releases within the same time frame. Between November and December, Ashen, Dusk, Hitman 2, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Battlefield 5, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate came onto the scene.
Consistency and Quality
Though 2017 began to wane in its final months, the consistency of its releases blows 2018 away. 2017’s best games like Nier: Automata, Resident Evil 7, Persona 5, and Yakuza 0 stand out more than 2018’s games. You can argue about how refreshing Return of the Obra Dinn was. You could even argue that nothing last year brought as much simple joy as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Spider-Man.
At the end of the day, though, 2017 brought an endless flurry of must-play releases. With a more evenly spread calendar, more densely populated months, and a larger variety of experiences, 2017 will go down as this generation’s version of 2007. 2017 also brought Japanese games more mainstream attention than ever before. Persona 5 became the franchise’s most successful entry. Nier: Automata, partially due to Platinum Games’ involvement, brought more recognition to Yoko Taro along with the Nier and Drakengard IP’s. Yakuza 0 marked the start of the Yakuza localization hype train, resulting in four Yakuza games over a year-and-a-half long time frame.
Resident Evil 7 revitalized a franchise that, to many, jumped a massive shark with Resident Evil 6. What Remains of Edith Finch reinforced the narrative potency of walking simulators. Horizon: Zero Dawn proved that a mediocre developer could create a fascinating game outside of its comfort zone. People adored Breath of the Wild‘s systemic design.
2018 did have moments like this. Soul Calibur 6 arguably saved the franchise after the last misstep. 2017 simply brought more good games and more monumental moments for the industry and individuals on a more consistent basis. 2018 felt more top heavy with less overall game of the year worthy contenders.