Hoeg Law’s 2018 Game of the Year Countdown

2018 has been a great year for media of all types.  Whether you’re a fan of TV, cinema, or the written word, chances are something (or more than a single something) was made practically just for you. 

As our first love here at Hoeg Law is and always will be interactive digital entertainment (or, you know, “video games”), please join us in celebrating the end of 2018 with this list of our favorite games from the past year.

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10. Red Dead Redemption 2

Certain to raise the ire of some fans, Red Dead Redemption 2 comes in first…to be mentioned in Hoeg Law’s 2018 Game of the Year Rankings, in the number 10 slot.

Rockstar’s latest open world magnum opus is nothing if not grand.  Grand vistas, grand scale, the grand plans of its characters dashed on the rocky shores of a world unwilling to allow them to come to fruition.  Again, and again, and again, and again.

While there is little doubt that Red Dead Redemption 2 features fulsomely drawn characters traveling through interesting and meticulous detailed locales, its relatively thin narrative plotting (as opposed to characterization) struggles to support the massive infrastructure upon which it is built throughout the games 60+ hour running time.

In other words, if you thought Breaking Bad’s pacing was slow, well, “Saddle Up, Partner” because Rockstar’s got another gear slower to show you.

But that’s far too negative (and just goes to explain why RDR2 appears this low on the list.)

Never has a video game world felt more “solid” and “real” then the world of Red Dead Redemption 2.  Featuring by far the best graphics we’ve ever seen, from the mountains to the prairies, from dusty Valentine to the soot and smog of Saint Denis, if you are looking to have your own Westworld virtual tourism experience, Red Dead Redemption 2 is the place for you.

And since it features one of our favorite musical scores of the year, you’ll be enjoying aural pleasures to go along with the visual.

In terms of gameplay, Red Dead is pedestrian but serviceable.  Ride with interesting character to point X.  Shoot bad guys at point X (and maybe Y).  Ride back with interesting character.  Repeat for 60 hours.  But that’s too reductive. The real beauty is in the “in-between”.

The sounds of thunder coming over the mountains as the buffalo scatter before you.  The look of a stream in the first light of morning as a passenger train passes by.  The hustle and bustle of a turn of the century city that feels endless in possibility.

Narrative is absolutely important in games, and Red Dead 2 might well have been better off if it cut a 60 hour story down to 20, but that’s only half the tale.  The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is the other half, and it is just an absolutely stunning, wonderful, and immersive place to visit.

All of which makes Red Dead Redemption 2 a more than worthy inclusion on this list.

9. Octopath Traveler

When “Project” Octopath Traveler was first announced alongside Nintendo’s off-the-wall, set top/handheld “Switch” project in early 2017, it was instantly a match made in heaven.  Here was a modern RPG built to resemble the RPG classics of old (and, in particular, the SNES’ own Final Fantasy VI), but with a graphical flair which immediately set the Internet abuzz.

When Octopath Traveler (now sans “Project”) was released this past summer, it more than lived up to that early billing. 

Clearly inspired by 90s RPGs, but blazing its own trail, Octopath allows players to choose one of eight different characters, each themselves representative of a standard RPG class such as Thief, Warrior, Cleric, or Hunter, but each also much more than just that class, having their own backstory, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses to overcome. 

Once acquainted with their “main”, Octopath players see it open up its world entirely, allowing them to join up with the seven other “travelers”, in a loose alliance of, let’s call them, companions, to complete all eight quests in whatever order the player sees fit. 

Which is a good thing, because, for an RPG, the tale it tells does tend to the more pedestrian side of the scale.

Not there is anything particularly wrong with the eight individual stories, mind, but by virtue of the breadth of the game they are necessarily simple and somewhat simple-minded.  If you’ve seen a movie before (or a TV show, or cartoon, or read a book of any kind), you know where these stories are going almost before they start.

But, like the #10 selection on our list, Red Dead Redemption 2, Octopath Traveler is much better thought of as a travelogue rather than a compelling narrative of its own. 

The world of Octopath Traveler is absolutely huge, with multiple cities and towns to explore in each of eight biomes, replete with their own graphical flourishes, side characters, and orchestral themes.

The hundreds of folks you can meet, help, or harm, further each have their own small biographies.  That girl selling flowers?  Well, she may always have wanted to be a ballerina.  That old man standing guard at the gate?  His is an unexpected tale of woe and tragedy.  Each adding just that little bit extra to the game’s abundance of charm.  It truly is a game about traveling.  About meeting new people and wondering  what’s over the next horizon; what new site the next town will bring; what adventure will next unfold.

Combined with graphics that straddle the line between modern 3D environments and 90s pixel art, one of the best musical scores of the year, and a combat system that is both streamlined and complex enough to be continually engaging, the mere act of traveling through Octopath’s world is enjoyable. 

Which is why we are very happy to include it as #9 on our list.

8. God of War

By the end of 2010’s God of War 3, the entire Greek pantheon had been decimated; the world torn asunder.  All at the hands of Sony mainstay character (and sometimes mascot) Kratos, in an act (or really series of acts) of irredeemable rage. 

Kratos was Sony’s own Joker, just wanting to watch the world burn, and burn it he did.  Kratos was not a nice guy, and frankly, by the end, was not particularly nice to play as.  The Joker isn’t the protagonist after all.

By 2018, the world had changed, and there really was no place for the rage monster that Kratos had become, which is why our #8, Sony Santa Monica’s God of War (following the popular reboot trend of renaming a product after its first iteration), gives us a Kratos almost unrecognizable to what came before.

Moving to a new pantheon, the Norse, 2018’s God of War changes the entire perspective of the series (in more ways than one).  Anchored by his relationship with his son, new character Atreus, Kratos is no longer fueled by rage, but instead by an overriding sense of mourning (for his newly dead wife) and almost confusion as he tries to grapple with the trials (and triumphs) of fatherhood while fending off monsters, demi-Gods, and the occasional world serpent.

Unfortunately, as good and as interesting as the characterization is, the actual plot of God of War largely revolves around finding mcguffins, and red herring mcguffins (and red herring paths to get to red herring mcguffins).  While the makers of the game were clearly more interested in exploring the father/son-Kratos/Atreus dynamic, the end result *is* a plotline that winds up feeling a bit like a 30+ hour prologue to the real story.

Undeniably beautiful, this new God of War occurs almost entirely in real-time, pulling off the particularly interesting technical feat of making the entire game look like it’s occurring in one, single seamless virtual camera shot.  Like the first two games on our list, if you enjoy seeing new and interesting places, God of War is a fantastic place to visit, though it does require players to circle the same slightly modified lake area perhaps one or two too many times.

Combat in this 2018 iteration is “different” than earlier games in the series, but primarily as a function of the change to a close quarters, over the shoulder perspective rather than the fixed-camera, “arena style” wide shots of the earlier entries.  It’s undeniably a fun experience, but whether or not one finds the combat “better” is largely a matter of taste, as it does lack some of the dynamism and sheer over-the-top spectacle that were at the core of the series’ DNA in the 2000s. 

Musically, the score is incredible, going on the same journey as Kratos and son with deep percussive elements, chanting, and orchestration.  As the adventure is not a particularly happy one, it tends to more of the “dirge” side of the musical spectrum, entirely fitting for portraying the story at hand, but not as joyous or adventuresome as the music in say, Octopath Traveler.

Like the phoenix of his prior games, there’s something remarkable about seeing a God of War 2018 with Kratos reimagined and reborn, rising from the ashes of his previous series, and setting the stage for an entirely new set of adventures. 

We can’t wait to see what comes next.

7. Two Point Hospital

In 1997, legendary game development studio Bullfrog Productions, creators of genre shaping strategy games Populous, Syndicate, and Theme Park, released a most unexpected entry in the nascent “theme” genre: Theme Hospital, an irreverent humor-fueled look at the world of health care management.

When the studio was shuttered by Electronic Arts in 2001, the era of the comedy hospital game seemed to end, just as quickly as it had begun. But in 2018 an heir apparent appeared.

Enter Two Point Studios.  Formed by veteran developers from Bullfrog, together with simulation veterans from Lionhead and Muckyfoot, Two Point Studios’ stated mission is to “make accessible games with understated depth, set in an atypical world.”

And with their first game: Two Point Hospital, the number #7 entry on our Game of the Year List, they knocked it out of the park.

Two Point Hospital is almost exactly as one might expect a spiritual successor to the original Theme Hospital to be, upgraded from 1997’s technological stylings, of course, with all the spit and polish modern PC gaming can bring to bear.

Like its forebearer, Two Point Hospital doesn’t seek to create an exacting replica of what managing the day-to-day operations of a hospital might actually be like, but instead uses the hospital setting as a “framework” upon which to set its time and space management simulations.

Like the more widely known Theme Park or Roller Coaster Tycoon games, players of Two Point Hospital are tasked with saving different hospitals in separate scenarios of ever-increasing challenge. One such hospital, for instance, might be beset by outbreaks of lightheadedness (indicated by patients arriving with a full Edison light bulb where one might expect their head to be, of course), while another might ask players to juggle multiple different psychiatric requirements while also dealing with that hospital’s “haunted wing”.

As you can tell, humor *abounds* in Two Point Hospital, with developer Two Point Studios deftly avoiding the common “spreadsheet simulator” trap by infusing each and every malady, illness, and disease with punny names, colorful artwork, and smooth Aardman-esque animation.  Even when your hospital is unsalvageable due to an epidemic of “Jest Infections”, you’ll love seeing 100 full on clowns taking over the proceedings.  And the cures are sometimes even funnier than the diseases.

But above all else, Two Point Hospital is emblematic of the Two Point Studios mission statement, it *can* be difficult, it can *stretch* your managerial skills to the brink, but it – is, above all – “accessible”.  Rooms are created with simple drag and drop placement; necessary equipment a simple push button away; and all arriving with a satisfying “thwap”, “pop”, or “boing”. 

Two Point understands that the fun lives in struggling through the pressures of management and not the pressures of fiddly interfaces and difficult to read spreadsheets. 

It is a master class in accessibility, and worthy successor to the genre-defining games that came before.

Which is all another way of saying, Two Point Hospital is not to be missed.

6. Tetris Effect

The game of Tetris is a simple one, and one that’s been around almost as long as the video game industry itself. 

For those unfamiliar, players drop one of seven differently shaped blocks into a well, seeking to combine them in such a way as to extend a complete line or (lines) from one end of the well to the other.  The more simultaneous lines cleared (including the titular four-line clearance, the Tetris), the higher the score.  Some have called this simple elegance the “perfect game”.

So how does one succeed where countless other reimaginings have failed? How does one improve upon perfection? 

Behold the Tetris Effect – the #6 entry on our list.

With mechanics understandable by toddlers, scoring premised on only the most basic of “combo” principles, and a history in games almost as old as gamers themselves, it’s difficult to explain what makes Tetris Effect so special without suddenly waxing poetic, turning to philosophy to better explain what this simple block-dropping game is doing to your body, to your mind, to your soul.

But in the absence of such poetical thoughts, one answer does rise naturally to the surface:

It’s the music, stupid.

Before Tetris Effect, creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi was best known in the puzzle game landscape for his musical masterpiece, Lumines, a puzzle game premised around the interplay between gameplay, sound, and music, where each player movement, each player success, was made to be part of the game’s unfolding symphony, one created not solely by musical instruments, but by the harmony of both player and game.

Tetris Effect can perhaps best be described mechanically as “pretty similar to Lumines, actually”, only now built upon the best puzzle foundation that has ever been.

Combined with dazzling, over-the-top visual effects, and a virtual reality mode which further immerses not just in sight, sound, or the simple act of clearing lines, but in every gust of wind whipping past a mill, every whale song, every trip to the moon…it’s a revelation.

Anyone that has ever sat in a darkened room with headphones on knows the inherent transformative power of music.

Tetris Effect is a doctoral thesis on that transformation, in combination with the best puzzle game ever made.

Rational and irrational. Emotional, logical. Sight and sound.

Mind, body, soul.

5. Dead Cells

A good “Metroid-vania” game (referring to the progenitors of the genre, Metroid and Castlevania) is characterized by responsive, robust, two-dimensional action, in a puzzle-box of a game location (or locations) where the player’s ever increasing skill set and traversal options open up ever more areas to explore and fight in.

By contrast, a good “Rogue-like” (referring to the 1980 classic release Rogue), is a game premised  around exploring procedurally generated environments with the ever-present fear of the player’s permanent death lingering in the air. 

Many a modern classic has been built off of Rogue-like sensibilities, from the name-dropping Rogue Legacy, to more far afield games such as Don’t Starve and FTL, but never has the genre been mixed so effectively with a Metroid-vania as it has in the #5 entry on our list: Dead Cells, an acknowledgement of both the natural evolutionary flow of gaming history, and the creation of something entirely novel.

Each game of Dead Cells begins with the player regaining their body in the same decrepit castle, striving to escape hordes of monsters while navigating a map born very much of the Metroid-vania concepts which clearly inspired it.  At the start, play consists of little more than swiping at foes with a sword while learning when to roll out of the way of attacks.  But even in those early stages, Dead Cells shows its strength.

More than perhaps any other entry in the genre (including its namesakes), Dead Cells is a wonder to play.  Attacks are quick, responsive, and visceral.  Movement, fast and fluid. In creating Dead Cells, Developer Motion Twin has tapped into the essence of playing a Metroid-Vania, but in such bite-sized full-speed chunks as necessitated by the application of Rogue-like principles.

You see, in Dead Cells, you will die and die a lot.  You’ll die to poison zombie monsters.  You’ll die to mutated worm monstrosities.  You’ll die to pure dumb luck.  But that’s okay, because Dead Cells is not a Rogue-like.  Not really.  Instead it is the more modern and cuddly equivalent.  The Rogue-LIGHT.

In a Rogue-Light like Dead Cells, death *is* permanent, but progress (small as it may be) is not lost entirely.  Players are constantly picking up “cells” (surprise!)  which can be used to progress any of a series of permanent player upgrades between levels or which can unlock new items for which the player has found blueprints in their explorations.  In this way, almost every run is made useful.  Every ten minutes is paid off, but with the lingering fear of death still omnipresent when you’re sitting on 50 cells or want to turn in that epic blueprint you just found. 

It’s brilliant design.

If we were to prioritize the things we’d want to see in a “Metroid-vania”/”Rogue-like” hybrid, rewarding exploration, responsive action, enjoyable traversal, and a solid “economy” which allows progress while still penalizing death would all be at the top of our list. 

Combined with beautiful graphics and an unexpectedly good soundtrack (which is asked to survive being heard by the player hundreds of times), Dead Cells nails them all.

4. ASTRO BOT: Rescue Mission

It takes a lot for a game to turn the head of someone who’s been following the industry for some 30 plus years, but the #4 selection on our list – ASTRO BOT: Rescue Mission – certainly did, and literally.

Since gaming first became a viable entertainment option, the idea of virtual reality, of actually setting foot inside the world of a game, has long been sought after.  And while Sony’s PSVR headset has had some standout experiences since its release in the fall of 2016 (including Resident Evil 7 and Tequila Works’ The Invisible Hours), most could rightly be criticized as simply presenting more immersive versions of games that were perfectly capable of being played on standard old two-dimensional television screens.

Not so with ASTRO BOT.

Built from the ground up specifically for Virtual Reality (and based on some early concepting done as part of the free Playroom VR game that came out around the time of the PSVR itself), ASTRO BOT: Rescue Mission has an admittedly simple premise: Hundreds of delightfully adorable little iMac-esque robots have been cast out of their spaceship by a mischievous cartoon alien, into dozens of different platforming levels which Astro Bot must traverse to save his missing shipmates.

But like any good “kid friendly” platformer, that premise is barely the beginning of the story.

Astro Bot, like Mario before him, must leap, bounce, bash, and climb through any manner of different environments, from caves lit by the neon glow of some very special mushrooms, to underwater ruins where the waves hit the player’s face as Astro Bot proceeds in and out of the water.

Oh yes, “the player’s face”.  You see, unlike in a Mario game, the player of ASTRO BOT: Rescue Mission is actually inside the game.  Generally playing the role of camera man, but sometimes shown as the large floating robot (complete with PlayStation controller) that the game sees them as, the player is a direct part of the proceedings.  Those vines up ahead? They’ll swipe across your vision like you’re entering a haunted house.  That giant gorilla boss?  Well, he’s even more giant when you are seeing him in “life size” scale and a full three dimensions. 

Not since the Mario Galaxy series has a platformer (or really any genre of game) shown so much inventiveness from level to level or even from challenge to challenge.  You’ll dodge (physically) attacks that seek to crack the screen and harm your vision, you’ll bash through obstacles (physically) to open up new areas of travel for Astro Bot, you’ll bend your head this way and that to see around a corner or behind you as Astro Bot makes a perilous climb up a beanstalk fit for fairy tales, all while utilizing new and inventive “gadgets” that allow you to use your Playstation controller like the Wii wand of old, physically interacting with your environment in a manner that would simply be impossible in the absence of VR.

Every single level offers something new to do and new to see, each with clean, bright graphics that can’t help but call to mind the Nintendo classics of old, and each scored to a joyful, infectious beat that gets your toes tapping and your spirit ready for fun, fun, fun.

ASTRO BOT: Rescue Mission is happiness in a box, and a VR “system seller” in a way that no game has ever been before now.

3. Marvel’s Spider-Man

Spider-Man is no stranger to the gaming landscape.  If you’ve been playing games for any length of time, chances are you’ve stumbled across some digital iteration of the web-slinger’s many adventures.  But Marvel’s Spider-Man (the full branded name of the Insomniac Games 2018 release) is something different.  Something greater.

Which is why we are happy to name it one of the three best video games to release in 2018.

The overall plot of Marvel’s Spider-Man is not overly novel (and in fact owes quite a lot to the 2004 Spider-Man 2 movie in particular).  Players play as the titular super hero as well as his alter ego Peter Parker, love interest Mary Jane Watson, and ward/protégé Miles Morales throughout dozens of hours of storytelling in and around a video gamified version of New York’s Manhattan Island.

Through the course of the game, you’ll fight many of Spider-Man’s famous foes, explore New York at all times of day, and generally make the world safe for pizza loving, 20-something, crime-fighting superheroes everywhere.

But like any plot summary, much is lost in so simple a synopsis.  The true greatness of 2018’s excursion into web-slinging is in the way the story is told.

Unlike some other top games released this year, the pacing of Spider-Man’s 20+ hour storyline is exquisite, bouncing between plot points, action beats, and deep, well-considered characterization with the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

This is particularly impressive in an open world game like Spider-Man, as players are constantly drawn to the nearest item of interest, sparkling backpack, or jewel store heist.  Never do such “side” activities get in the way, however, nor do they ever feel inappropriate for the state of the world or overall plotline at hand.  Dissonance is never a factor, which says a lot for the attention to detail paid to every bit of Spider-Man’s world.

There may never have been a video game made with this kind of obsessive devotion to the smallest of things.  The way the music changes as you swing through the city during good times as compared to bad, or the way the quick travel mechanisms alter their loading screens to indicate the various states of the current story.  Spider-Man voice actor Yuri Lowenthal even recorded each line of dialogue twice, so that the game could transition between different vocals to match whether Spider-Man was standing or swinging.  Heck, even the “controller is out of power” screen is custom-made, showing a tiny cartoon Spider-Man telling you to juice back up.

But none of this would matter if the gameplay weren’t up to task.  Fortunately, Spider-Man’s fast and frenetic action borrows liberally from the lessons learned in other recent popular superhero games (Gotham City, we’re looking at you) while still emphasizing the acrobatic grace and fighting wit that separates Spider-Man from his more dour and self-serious superhero brethren.

All together, between the fantastic story, pacing, characterization, attention to detail, world, and action, Spider-Man is the realization of a super-hero dream that has been decades in the making. 

It is not to be missed.

2. Star Control: Origins

In 1994, Panasonic’s 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (the “3DO” for short) received a port of a somewhat underrated PC gem called Star Control 2.  That game, that version in particular, just so happened to be the greatest game ever made.

In Star Control 2 (the sequel, as one might have guessed to Star Control, itself also underrated but of an almost different genre of game), players were tasked with piloting an ancient alien vessel from one end of the galaxy to the other, meeting new and interesting aliens, affecting (or destroying) their empires, and participating in fast paced ship-to-ship arcade combat, all the while striving to free earth from a “Slave Shield” by better understanding and combating the alien menace at the heart of the galaxy’s disorder.

It was the closest games ever came to fulfilling the lifelong dream of piloting your own Starship Enterprise to seek out new life and new civilizations, and it was a revelation not just in 1994 but as an “open world” that stands up to the best of what modern gaming has to offer.

Fast forward to 2018, and Stardock Entertainment, the makers of classic strategy game Galactic Civilizations (itself borrowing liberally from Star Control plot points) have revived the series, with the second best game of the year – Star Control: Origins.

As the name would suggest, the story of Star Control: Origins takes place before any of the “difficulties” which would one day endanger the Galaxy in Star Control 2. (Or more specifically, it takes place in a separate galaxy where no such difficulties are slated to exist, but that’s more of a legal issue, and why would we discuss anything like that here, eh?)

Players in this new iteration are tasked with leading Earth’s first faster than light starship out into the cosmos to search for even more new life and new civilizations in a manner similar to that ground-breaking 1994 title.

Now, the graphics of Star Control: Origins are serviceable enough, but outside of the alien portraits and animation, don’t really stand out from their 1994 predecessors.  The one significant change to the earlier title’s gameplay, that of picking up minerals on small Super Mario Galaxy-esque spheroid planets rather than flat 2D rectangles, ultimately neither really enhances nor detracts from the experience offered in the earlier game (though admittedly it is fun to drop down from orbit onto one of these little spheres).   

As one might suspect, given that Star Control is a kind of hybrid action RPG based around contacting alien species, the actual nature of those species, their quirks and conflicts, the conversations you have with them, are paramount to the “enterprise” (no pun intended).  Fortunately, the writers of this new Star Control are more than up to the task, constantly infusing alien friends and foes alike with idiosyncrasies and unexpected dynamics, leading players to feeling like they are leading their own galaxy spanning adventure against the backdrop of a universe just as zany and interesting as Doctor Who’s or Douglas Adams’.

And isn’t that what games are all about?  Experiencing new lives, new stories, and new adventures in new places. 

For anyone that’s ever wanted to be a starship captain, Star Control: Origins is a ticket to a galaxy of new adventures, and a worthy successor to one of the greatest games ever made.

1. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Here we are, the definitive, completely inarguable, no questions asked, obvious choice, game of the year (wink), and what a trip it has been.  From cowboys to Norse gods, from managing hospitals to virtual reality robot rescue, everything has led to this. So what makes this 20th (!) entry in the Assassin’s Creed series worthy of so high an honor?  Well, quite a lot actually.

To begin with, it’s important to understand what the Assassin’s Creed series is at its true baseline.  Separated from Templar/Assassin conspiracies, from swordplay and knife kills, from synchronization of data points, and the ever present leaps of faith.  Apart from all that, Assassin’s Creed is, at its base…a tourism simulator.

Hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of man hours have been poured into recreating historically significant cities, towns, and regions in such minute detail, that just turning one of these games on is eye-opening.  Never before has history seemed so life-like.  We’ve traveled to the renaissance, and the French Revolution, to ancient Egypt, and now the very cradle of civilization at the height of the Peloponnesian war.  Taking away absolutely everything else from the series, each entry is an absolute marvel to explore and to walk around in for someone fascinated by history and how “we got from there to here”.  It will always be great for that.

Now, the series has had its problems.  By the time Unity and Syndicate rolled around, the actual gameplay formula had grown stale.  Reluctantly join guild of assassins.  Build up strength.  Take missions to assassinate foes.  Rinse and repeat.  Combined with a less than stellar rhythm and animation based combat system that actively prevented “fun” from occurring, and a parkour system that was just as likely to kill you as help you, and, well, it’s no wonder that the series had devolved into a kind of “well, it’s always a pretty much solid 8” status.

But that all changed with last year’s game Assassin’s Creed Origins

Gone were the corridor or location-based missions of the previous entries in the series (for the most part), gone was the rhythm game that had been substituting for action, gone was the codex, gone were (most of) the present day interludes.  What was left, can best be described as a kind of “my first” modern open world RPG.  A baby Witcher 3 if you will, in which players gained levels, and put skill points into skill trees, while collecting ever more valuable loot and traversing a giant (and I mean giant) open world, framing all of ancient Egypt, itself gated by high level enemies in the same way one might see in World of Warcraft or other massive open world role playing games.  With such a vast number of improvements, Origins (and now Odyssey) represents an almost entirely different series from the Assassin’s Creeds that came before (and indeed some that prefer the old versions have complained about as much, and often loudly).

So think of Odyssey as effectively “Assassin’s Creed Gaiden II: the one where they fix everything in the prototype and build a classic like those old Ezio games”.

So what does Odyssey do so well?  Why is it Hoeg Law’s game of the year?

Well, to start with, it takes the map of ancient Egypt that was so mind bogglingly big and it makes it bigger, prettier, and more grand.  You can’t have an odyssey after all, without really feeling the notion of travel, of being separated from the place you are trying to get to by distance, trial, and tribulation.  By putting the series in ancient Greece, developer Ubisoft is able to add vast distances between locations separated by huge expanses of the Aegean sea, complete with boating, ship combat, and sea shanties.  Each new port bringing new sights to see, new adventures to unfold.  One can truly feel like Odysseus in Homer’s own Odyssey.

And speaking of your own odyssey, this new Assassin’s Creed is the first time the series has allowed players to pick their protagonist with either the male Alexios or the female Kassandra (and with a female lead also being a first for the mainline console series).  Though given the same dialogue (for the most part) each carries their own inflection and sense of self throughout the story, with Alexios portraying a kind of Han Solo-esque scoundrel in over his head against Kassandra’s more straight-laced by the book mercenary.  But even there, players are given choice, as also for the first time in the series, they are allowed to control dialogue like in a Witcher or Mass Effect, including by making choices as to how a quest will proceed or resolve, and with the state of the world changing in at least some small part based on the choices made.

If Origins was “baby” Witcher, Odyssey is “teenage” Witcher.  Not quite as mature or subtle as CD Project Red’s epic, but getting there, and getting closer by the game.

On top of this single player, open-world, MMO with Bioware/Witcher dialogue role playing and decision making, Ubisoft has layered in system upon system for players to fiddle and engage with.  Want to focus on flipping territories to Spartan control, or maybe your prefer to fight for Athenian democracy?  You can.  Like a good strategic war game, the entire Peloponnesian war is manipulable with loot, loot, and more loot ready to be earned by taking, flipping, or defending territories.  But watch out, because the more things you do to aggress against either side, the higher your bounty will get, resulting in a string of mercenaries coming after you, themselves with their own strengths and weaknesses pulled right out of Monolith’s Middle Earth nemesis system.  It’s systems all the way down, and each capable of being used, tweaked, and manipulated for hours with nary a need to progress the “real” storyline.

And on top of all that open world, RPG, systems-based grandeur, the action of the game is as good or better than it has ever been.  From fighting multiple mercenaries each with their own special powers and styles, to scouting out a fort and determining a good way to do your best Metal Gear Solid V impression, every single minute of play is responsive, visceral, and fun.

There are only a few games we’ve ever thought of as a “forever game”, those games which through their systems, their breadth, their sheer enjoyability, could conceivably command a player’s interest for a thousand hours or more. 

It’s not a standard applied lightly, but if a Witcher-esque RPG, featuring the action of a Metal Gear Solid, the exploration of a Breath of the Wild, systems of territory control, economics, and nemesis creation, all in an open world as big and as grand and as beautiful as we’ve ever seen doesn’t fit the bill, well, then we don’t know what does.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey – Hoeg Law’s 2018 Game of the Year

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Thanks so much for joining us on this trip down 2018’s own digital memory lane, and here’s to a great 2019!  Happy new year!

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