2018 will place, respectably, just after 2017, but definitely before 2016, 2015 and 2014 as the second best year of the PS4/Xbox One/Nintendo Switch generation (2019 TBD). Behold!
If you’re coming to a 2018 games-of-the-year list to read about a bunch of games that are older than 2018, you’ve hit the jackpot. Oh the old games I played over the past year! Heads will turn! Eyes will be cocked! Necks will turn too quickly and the mouths attached to them will say ‘ow!’ I think I have to start with the most old game.
*drum roll please*
I did it, everyone!
*that old, good ass Windows start-up noise; you know, the one that’s like… “Bom-bahhhh!”*
I finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution! That game came out in 2011! When I say it in my head it goes “hyoo-min-reva-loosh.” I don’t remember the specifics of the multiple endings of the original Deus Ex, but I do remember that those endings were one of the things people loved about that game back in the day. The multiple endings of DXHR were all pretty lame. And the boss fights. Good god, the boss fights were shit. But there was still so much I enjoyed. For example, the hilariously stiff and cliched, smokey-throated cyborg protagonist, Adam Jensen, who I find likeable somehow still, despite many douchey moments. And if I can quickly pat myself on the back, I somehow retained the muscle memory, perseverance and hard-headedness to beat this game without A) setting off any alarms (!) or B) killing anyone (!!!). Playing the game intermittently over a six year period. Right? Thank you!
But then I overstepped, got too thirsty. I rolled right on into 2016’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Which is…a different game, and a game not really trying to do what DXHR did (which is fine), but isn’t really doing anything better or more interesting or different enough. It’s like shinier but dumber Human Revolution. Will I ever finish it? I don’t know. Keep reading these lists until 2024.
I also played a beloved/hated classic for the first time, yes, it’s Far Cry 2. Of course. At a time when the Far Cry franchise feels about as dead and milked as Assassin’s Creed did in late 2015, man, lemme tell ya, Far Cry 2 is a cool game. After playing for two hours my most prominent thought was this feels like Breath of the Wild. Far Cry 2 is now a distant memory to folks who’ve been playing that series, so it’s probably easy to forget the time when you had a clipboard with a compass on it and a static paper map to lead you around the malaria-plagued world of Far Cry 2. The series wasn’t always a jumble of waypoints and things to climb. Far Cry 2 sets you free after the first hour with your end goal determined. I wish I had played this game back when it came out because I think I would have been blown away. It seems like the one game in the series where they actually stick to the concept that they set out for themselves when the series was created. That concept being: Here you are, free to roam this place and achieve whatever goals. As someone who is admittedly not a Far Cry expert (I’ve played 1 and 2 and know of the others only through what I’ve watched/read), it seems to me that if you were going to play only one of the fifty Far Cry games, Far Cry 2 is the good one.
I also got around to what has to be the cutest post-apocalypse there is, Tokyo Jungle! Yay! No actually, Tokyo Jungle is a super cute, funny, neat, bizarre video game that I’m glad I finally gave a few hours to. The setup is this: Humans are gone. Animals are not. In fact, animals are thriving! Enter you: pomeranian scavenger. Find food. Hunt other animals. Find a dog of the opposite sex. Extend your bloodline! That’s the whole game. But you keep going up the food chain. I have no idea what animals you become, but I know they keep getting bigger. What a good ass concept for a video game. The PS3 had some great weird shit.
“Wow, you played a PS3 exclusive in 2018?!”
A? A PS3 exclusive? Haha, no, no, I played three PS3 exclusive games in 2018. And let me tell you, Resistance 3 is the best game in the Resistance series. It’s kind of a pretty good game. Resistance: Fall of Man was an okay 2006 game. It doesn’t hold up too well. Resistance 2 is hot garbage. But Resistance 3 is actually a pretty good shooting game with a story that I liked enough to see it through. So there you are, if you were planning to dust off a PS3 and play one of the Resistance games, play the third one. I’d also like to nominate the Resistance 3 jewel case for one of the best reversible covers I’ve ever seen. Give it a Googs.
The third PS3 exclusive I played is the saddest footnote of games in 2018. The “death” of this game is a particular blow to some of the denizens of Tap-Repeatedly. It’s Demon’s Souls. Whose servers were retired on February 28. I was there, helping my friend defeat Armor Spider eight years after he first defeated the infamous level 1-1 boss, Phalanx. The boss was crushed, my goal was fulfilled, and as I came back to my own world that dreaded server-wide message hit me: “The Demon’s Souls Online Service has been terminated.”
The Nexus will always be dripping with character and ambiance. The Tower of Latria is still a brilliantly crafted, creepy-as-fuck horrorshow. The many characters of the world still mysterious and shifting. But the loss of other players’ apparitions, messages and bloodstains is such a blow to what that game was and has been for nine years. It has been fundamentally altered in a way that most art never will be– at least not in the span of one person’s lifetime who experiences that art. Demon’s Souls will continue to be revered as a cult classic, its myth will only grow. But those who come to it after 2018 won’t experience the full scope of what it once was. If you thought it a lonesome world before, well, start singing the blues.
Speaking of the PS3 and cult classics, I played some of Deadly Premonition – The Director’s Cut! Whoooooooboy that’s a bizarre fuckin’ weird hilarious bad good game. It’s one of those games I’ve owned for years and just decided to fire up someday back in the spring to finally catch a glimpse. I could say so much about even the handful of hours I played (about 5-7), though I’ll say just brief, quick things. The game has genuinely well written and interesting characters, interesting locales, it’s funny in ways I wasn’t prepared for; all built on obvious technical limitations. The character animations are particularly limited (a little imagination is required); but so much of the playing itself is so bad. Really bad. Like, probably-not-worth-experiencing bad. I would watch a condensed version of the game on video where all the combat sequences (so awful) are skipped. Still, whether it’s Zach or my coffee telling me to, something compels me to revisit Greenvale.
Elsewhere, I finished The Fall (Part 1) after starting it two Extra-Lifes ago. It’s a game whose story I like quite a bit, the puzzles decidedly less so. Still it was worth playing. The sequel, Part 2: Unbound came out in 2018 and what I heard from most sources was that it disappointed and didn’t deliver what they expected based on the promise of Part 1. I can’t speak to that, but The Fall, Part 1 was easily five to six hours (I’m bad at puzzles) well spent.
Old games galore, people. I finished the original SteamWorld Dig and am glad I did. That’s a good ass game that gets better the more you play it. A lot like SteamWorld Dig 2 (my #6 game last year), a game I also finished to completion in 2018 and am very glad I did. I don’t have much to say beyond both of those games are really, really great, and you should play both of them. Yes, you.
Rise of the Tomb Raider, the second entry in the rebooted Lara Croft series, is another few-years-old game I played. I liked it a lot. More than expected. Lara herself is kind of a crappy character, doing kind of crappy things (she breaks a lot of shit that isn’t hers), but when you remind yourself it’s a game that some people made so you could do tomb raiding puzzles (in which no actual people or things are destroyed), it does quite well. It looks great and is fun to move around in. I just wish Lara was more likeable. As far as its sequel, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which actually came out in 2018, I’m too early into that affair to have much of an opinion, other than holy shit Lara, your ego needs to chill. She took a dagger out of a pedestal and thinks that caused a tsunami. My guess is it actually did, as far as this game is concerned, but, c’mon…she’s gotta get over herself. These games seem aware of her absurdness– after said tsunami, all she wants to do is chase the people who just took the aforementioned dagger from her, while her friend Jonah is like, yo Lara there’s plenty of people right here in front of us who we could help, and all she can think of is getting her Indiana Jones on. I like these games as games, but I wish they would have spent more time critiquing and deconstructing Lara’s fucked up actions and motivations instead of just contributing another straight-ahead foreigner-tramps-around-on-ancient-civilization’s-ruins-and-destroys-them-and-doesn’t-really-face-any-consequences narrative.
I gave 2017 honorable mention Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun a good chunk of time over Extra-Life weekend and it’s as good as I’d hoped. If you liked Commandos, or if you like isometric tactics, please play this game.
Inching ever closer to the present it’s … Super. Hot. Super. Hot.
Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot. Super. Hot.
Superhot! Wow that’s a fun and different game. And it’s beatable in only a few hours. I didn’t play it in VR, which is the way cool people play Superhot. But it was just fine in regular old not-VR. This is the shooting game, remember, where the rest of the world moves only when you move (okay it goes very very very slow when you’re not moving, but it’s basically not moving) and all the people are just red polygonal things. Yeah, that game! Check it out.
Okay, it’s the present now! I played A Way Out. The co-op game made by the people who made that game Brothers: No Need for a Subtitle. Borrowing a page from Quantic Dream’s book (ugh) A Way Out employs European voice actors who do very bad American accents in a funny way. They take a shot at trying to emulate ’70s crime film dude speech. It’s really bad, it’s quite funny. The game isn’t that great, but playing with my friend, it did give us a few great oddball moments here and there. I wouldn’t really recommend it, but there are worse games.
Donut County is another video game. Simplest concept ever: You are a hole in the ground (controlled by a raccoon named BK via his tablet, of course), swallowing objects, growing larger with each object swallowed, until you’re large enough to suck up everything. The narrative is a goofy and enjoyable tale of gentrification, so if that’s your thing, Donut County!
There was another game called Fortnite; ah yes, you’ve heard of it? Fortnite! The game which you can say the name of and people will go oh, uh yeah erm huh ooh I know that word. What I learned about Fortnite in 2018 is that if you make a game that is accessible to a lot of people and free, your game might get played by a lot of people. Or in this case, all the people. I actually had a lot of fun with the 15 hours my Switch tells me I put into Fortnite. I liked landing on the big tomato. Oh, and just so everyone knows, Drake did not start at the bottom. He grew up in a really polite and wealthy neighborhood of Toronto. “Started from the bottom now we’re here.” Lols.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate came out a week into December and ended up as the fifth best-selling video game of 2018. That’s nuts. That’s also why I’ll never play it online: too many fanatics ready to beat my ass. But I’ll continue to have plenty of fun with offline matches, playing that Nintendogs level (holy fucking cute overload) over and over and over and listening to the beautiful sounds of Sonic’s spin dash, or those immortal words of wisdom, passed down to us from the heavens so long ago, Pika! or the inevitable “Jigglypuff wins” (Jigglypuff is very good).
As for elephant-in-the-room Red Dead Redemption II, I’ve sunk no more than five or six hours into that game which is a sliver of what’s there as far as I know. I usually like to be involved in Rockstar’s games early on because they seem like such cultural events, but so far I’ve never stuck around to finish one. Aside from the games that established them, GTA 1 and 3, I think their games age very poorly as narratives as well. As does the satire they attempt. GTA IV and V are deeply pessimistic and shitty worlds full of shitty characters. I’d say the same of the 10 or so hours I’ve played of the original Red Dead Redemption. RDR2 seems different; now, things might change, but from what I’ve seen they’ve changed it up from the same old shit and are actually trying to make a protagonist likeable in Arthur Morgan (sorry Nico, I didn’t find you likeable), and a narrative that isn’t completely full of hopeless garbage people. But there’s still going to be some of those I’m sure.
It was another year where there was plenty I didn’t play but would’ve liked to. Namely the God of War soft-ish reboot which looks significantly different from the other God of War hackfests. There was also Ashen, released late in the year, a very intriguing looking game that takes some inspiration from Dark Souls and seems to implement that in interesting ways. Also released late in the year (and both of these last two are available on Xbox Game Pass, which is a hell of a service) was the tactical strategy mouthful Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, which looks X-Com inspired, and features characters with such delightful names as Dux (he’s a duck) and Borman (guess what he is).
Well I think that does it for the preamble. On to the games that I enjoyed the most…
#6 – Owlboy
I had been hearing about Owlboy for at least two years before playing it. The game came out on PC in 2016, Mac and Linux in 2017, and finally was released to consoles in 2018. It was on my radar for a while but waiting for the Switch version was the right call for me. The Nintendo Switch, while not having a first-party software bonanza like it did in 2017, had a very fine 2018 if I do say. For me, that began with the indie game delights that were Celeste (more on that in a bit) and Owlboy.
You play as Otis, a highly sensitive and mute owl…boy. His pal Geddy often speaks on his behalf, and a lot of that speaking is defending Otis’ actions from this or that jerk in their sky village called Vellie. Otis is a seemingly sweet little fella (look at him!) who as far as I can tell never wronged anybody, yet his teacher always seems pissed at him. That guy’s one of the jerks.
The game is beautiful and I loved inhabiting its world. It’s one of those where, on any given screen, I could just put the controller down and enjoy the sounds and scenery as wind rustles the leaves of trees, the understated soundtrack cooing in the background. The art style is one that I’ve never quite seen before. It looks painstakingly handcrafted. It’s something fantastic.
The playing part itself has you flying around a small scale Metroid-style map and holding a companion (first Geddy, later some others join) so they can do some kind of enemy dispatching (Otis doesn’t really have any attacks himself, he just twirls and flies). This part is totally adequate, but for me what I looked forward to were the character moments, mostly in and around Vellie, seeing the story of this place defending itself from outside threats unfold. Jerks aside, there are also some compelling characters who are kind and wise.
If I’ve done a poor job of explaining or selling Owlboy, it’s because I think the game gives back what you bring to it, and what I brought was a meditative dose of deep breathing, not a lot else. It was a personal experience. It gave back what I sought.
#5 – Celeste
That’s all you had to do, Super Meat Boy. Have a narrative that I give a shit about. You were challenging and quirky and cute, but I care not for the plight of band-aid girl and whatever-his-face guy.
“Hi, this is Madeline..”
“I was expecting Celeste…”
“Sorry, no, Celeste is the name of the mountain. I’m Madeline. Madeline = person. Celeste = mountain.”
That’s the first thing you need to know. “Those cutesy bastards!!” Yes, yes they did the thing. They did the thing where the name of the game is a girl’s name, and you play as a girl in this game, but her name isn’t the name of the game! Ohh! You rascals! That would be like if Pink Floyd instead of calling Wish You Were Here that, had called it Swimming in a Fishbowl. It’s still a line in the song, sure, but come on! They also could have called the game The Search for Strawberries (call me).
But it’s fine. It’s fine! Celeste is a fine name, I’m just goofing.
Celeste is also a hard game. Constantly failing/dying is integral to the experience, so it’s good that restarting is as quick as it was in Super Meat Boy. If the visual indicator of progress up the mountain is to be believed, I’m pretty close to the end of the game, but man, it’s hard. I said that already but, yeah, this game is hard. I think I’ve died over one thousand times. This is some Dark Souls Diaries shit.
But like Dark Souls there’s more to it than just being hard. It’s got a great balance of challenge and reward. When you finally finish those levels and take a breath it’s a hell of a feeling. It’s definitely a game where you need a bit of time to warm up and get into a groove. The 2D platforming of this game provides a dextrous challenge.
I’m glad to see this game got a lot of love, both upon release and around game of the year time. A game about a young woman suffering intensely from anxiety and depression. I’ve found Madeline’s journey up the mountain highly (no pun intended) compelling. She comes off as a completely developed and believable character. The same goes for Theo, a guy she meets on the mountain. Madeline is constantly questioning herself, doubting herself, and hating herself; hey, just like an actual person!
But it also wouldn’t be winning people over if the gameplay itself wasn’t solid, and it is. The platforming is wild at times, and each new level introduces some new way to interact with the world in smart and surprising ways. You’re getting a lot in a small package here with Celeste.
Oh, and the soundtrack is incredible too.
#4 – Yoku’s Island Express
If there’s a theme to the first half of my list, it’s that I’ve been really feeling games that have a positive energy. Otis. Madeline. Yoku. They’re all pleasant folk who are trying to do good. That’s what I wanted in my life in 2018. Some good doing. Well, come to Mokumana Island and hop on the Island Express. This game is bursting at the seams with loveliness, some choice music numbers and happy vibes. Yoku himself (herself, itself? I dunno) is a happy little dung beetle. Look at him pushing that ball! Didn’t really get old.
Okay, so this game has an amazing concept. The way the world is laid out, and the way areas are reached, progressed through and revisited, you would call this a Metroid-style game. The twist is that the way you traverse the world is pinball bumpers. Blue bumper? Hit the left trigger. Yellow bumper? Right trigger. Blue and yellow? Hit either one.
It’s so simple, so clever, and so fun. The pinball tables themselves are usually a minor challenge, not a lot of frustration, mostly just your beetle and his ball busting through colourful bubbles of fruit. Wheeee! And there’s so many goofy and fun characters all over the island. They all seem generally decent. There’s no evil villain, no huge assholes. Just some fun goofballs who like it when you deliver their mail.
Oh yeah, so Yoku is the titular dung beetle, who is tethered to his ball, because how else would he travel around an island of pinball bumpers? And all you’re doing is delivering people their mail. Seriously. And, oh my god get this, because he’s such a tiny little beetle, he needs a way to get people’s attention, right? So he has one of those things they give to kids at birthday parties, the whistle-cazoo thing you blow and the paper thing blows up and rolls out. That thing. Yoku has one of those things, and when he blows it confetti comes out. It’s really good.
Here’s the feel good song of the year:
#3 – Stellaris
I was never able to get into one of these 4X games until Stellaris. A game not released in 2018 but this was the year I discovered it. It was released over two years ago, but is heavily supported by developer Paradox. They released an expansion, Utopia, in 2017, and another one, Apocalypse in 2018, and continue to patch and change the game. Even as I write this, portions of the game have been drastically overhauled since I last played it, to the point that I have to revert to a previous version for my saves to even work. That’s not supposed to be a compliment or anything, just an observation.
So yeah, I came to Stellaris on the strength of a video series I watched, done by some of the staff at Waypoint. Their 10 episode playthrough of the game sold me on it, and sent me to purchase a game on Steam for the first time in over three years.
It’s not like I haven’t tried to get into a sci-fi 4X game before, but for whatever reason I was just ready for it this time. I feel like you’re either a 4X person or you’re not; at least not until you find your Stellaris. For me I think it’s a lot about what the Waypoint folks brought into the game themselves: getting into a role-playing mindset and imagining a type of future civilization that you want there to be. And like them, I chose to go into it with a high-minded bunch of egalitarians who travel around the galaxy and crush slavery along the way. There are so many things you can do in Stellaris, so many types of civilizations you can form, but if nothing else the game could just be your personal liberation simulator. It’s satisfying from that angle alone.
You can of course go the opposite route and be the terrible slaving despots. That’s probably all you’d find if you look for people playing the game on Twitch, sadly. I don’t know what it is with these obscure science fiction games like Stellaris and Elite Dangerous, but every time I go to watch someone on Twitch playing them I stumble into the middle of a baffling conversation about how people are too sensitive and how Hilary Clinton should go to jail (there are still people on that, yeah). Ugh.
But just because fans of a game are man-child losers doesn’t mean the game is bad. This here Stellaris is good. If nothing else, I recommend you watch Waypoint’s series if you want to see their attempt at creating a utopic society, and how it goes horribly awry very quickly, and how they try to recover.
#2 – Dead Cells
Hey hey, my my. The Hand of the King can never die. Oh wait. He did die. When I kicked his ass. Thank you…Oil grenade? Huh. Really didn’t think, on my 61st run, that the Oil Grenade would help me win for the first time.
Defeating the final boss of Dead Cells was the singular most satisfying thing I did in a video game since defeating the first boss of Demon’s Souls, the Phalanx (incidentally, which I did seven years ago today).
Hooooly shit this game is good! I played this and my #1 game probably more than every other game I played in 2018 combined. It was one of those years where the two games I played the most were also the two games I liked the most.
I’ve got along with some roguelikes/roguelites before this one, such as Rogue Legacy, or especially the brilliant Spelunky, but never have I been into one of these games the way I got into Dead Cells. I’m betting that’s true for a lot of other people too. Dead Cells is surprisingly accessible.
Like I said, it took me 61 runs (oh, yeah, it’s a run based game; as in, beat it in a single run or start over) to beat the final boss, and I really wasn’t expecting to. It was only the third time I even got to the final boss, and it wasn’t like I was going all in or bust. I was ready to fail dozens more times. The game is just that much fun to play. It never felt like I was grinding or plodding along painfully.
That’s due to A) how fun the combat is and B) the crazy variety of combat options. At the outset you have a basic sword and shield or bow (I recommend avoiding shields for quite a while until you’ve “got good”) and will gradually find blueprints, which you then unlock by paying cells into, at which point, unlocked items will be sold by merchants and drop from enemies. Cells are, of course, this game’s Souls. Use ’em or lose ’em. Wait a sec. Dark Souls. Dead Cells. D*** ***ls. D*** ***ls. Riddle solved! Three of the letters in the titles match. Same amount of letters. Yep, it’s all solved people. This game is just Dark Souls.
I don’t want to say too much about Dead Cells because it’s a journey of discovery. My tips are the following: don’t be afraid to take risks; don’t be afraid to die; don’t get stuck into the same routines and using the same items and weapons. Change it up and have fun. I could give a bunch more info but all you need to know is that Dead Cells is an essential game. You should be playing it. Right now.
#1 – State of Decay 2
I haven’t been this pleased with a sequel since Mass Effect 3 (remember me? lol).
Mmm! For the next five minutes just imagine me making James Brown noises. Yeah!
Okay, now imagine I’m Adam West when he made that Simpsons appearance. “And how come Batman doesn’t dance anymore? Remember the Bat-tusi?”
“But Max, wasn’t State of Decay 2 a broken piece of garbage at launch that everybody hated and quickly forgot about?”
Yeah, I…Yeah that’s this game, I guess. Yep, this is the one. It’s me. What else is new. Extra extra! Internet idiot who’s always saying dumb crap says dumb crap! Okay, let the defense of SOD2 begin.
If you hated the original State of Decay, not playing this game was an easy decision. However, if the first game tickled you in any way, well, State of Decay 2 is a doozy. Yeah, it had bugs at launch (it’s a LOT better now), ended up with a 60-something metacritic score and was pretty quickly forgotten about, as far as I can tell, by press and players alike. But let me tell you, here lies a mammoth sandbox survival simulation.
Remember that first game; you always started up as pals Marcus and Ed, returning from their fishing trip, then they meet Maya, then they meet Lily and the others at the church, and a mixture of canned and randomly generated characters fill out the world. You had a pretty brief narrative that didn’t have the best pacing, and before you knew it you’d finished all the objectives of the story and the game was over. It felt like there should be more to do, but at the same time it felt overwhelming.
Well, that overwhelming feeling isn’t going away. Instead of one map, there’s three maps this time. Each of them is roughly the size of the SOD1 map. And the thing I think a lot of people had hoped they might alter in a sequel (myself included) was to fix the balance of mission objectives constantly haranguing the player, well, they didn’t “fix” it. They leaned into it even harder. But with that the developers also give us crucial information this time around: The missions aren’t that important, and you can ignore every single one of them for as long as you want. That’s a key piece of knowledge that changes the way one mentally deals with all the blinking lights happening at any given time in this game.
Undead Labs also did away with having any canned characters at all. There’s no Marcus, Ed or Maya. No Pastor Will. No anybody. The only character from the original game who is even in the mix is Lily Ritter, who was your main radio gal in the first game. She appears as dialogue over the radio, as part of the faction called the Network; or, the faction who believes in hope. They wage a war of ideals against another faction in the game, Red Talon; or the faction who believes in shooting things first and asking questions, maybe, later.
Other offscreen constants include Twain, who more or less approaches things like Lily does, and amounts to a sort of post-societal pihlosopher; Sasquatch, who likes to give survival tips and I believe is the only other SOD1 character besides Lily who appears (as a voice); and a few others whose names I can’t recall.
Other than them, it’s 100% generated characters. This, to me, is where the game gets interesting, and where it becomes one of those games that you get from it what you put in. Characters will have anywhere from two to four traits, which are pulled from a pool of over a thousand things; those traits then affect the missions that will be generated for them, and affects their skills. There are four primary skills as in the first game– cardio, wits, fighting, shooting– plus each character then has one unique skill which is usually generated by one of their traits (for example, someone who was a limo driver will probably get the Driving skill, which makes them save gas and make less noise when driving), or for some characters the fifth skill slot will be empty, in which case you can have them learn a new skill of your choice by reading a skill book.
This is the bread and butter of the game, for a player like me. What I wanted after State of Decay was to be immersed even further into the role-playing aspects and the character dynamics, and they doubled down on that. It works twofold. First, I think the traits can generate some really interesting characters, that you obviously help along by inventing your own head canon for them. Second, the traits almost always affect their skills, and while that doesn’t always have major implications and may just be the difference between starting with no stars in a skill or a five or six stars, it does almost always intermingle with the game’s systems in interesting ways. I could go on about them for a long time, but I’ll try to conjure a few choice examples.
So each of the four primary skills has you ranking them up from zero to seven stars. At seven a character can then specialize that skill into a second tier skill, usually from 1-4 choices, and those are also predetermined by a character’s traits (most of the time). But sometimes there are aberrations and things get interesting. There’s one trait called Slumming Mechanic. This gives a character’s 5th unique skill slot the Mechanics skill, which is useful for upgrading your base’s workshop and crafting items in said workshop. But as the name says, that person was actually a pretty shitty mechanic, and so their Mechanics skill won’t go up to 7 stars; it only ever goes up to 3 and can never be specialized. There’s another similar trait called Old and Tired, meaning that person is literally just old and really tired, and so they’ll have handicapped fighting and cardio skills, which can similarly never be specialized.
Some characters will get a trait like Lost a Child, or Lost their Father. This trait gives them a permanent morale penalty (yes, the morale system plays a role again). However, when one of your characters dies, a character with one of these traits won’t suffer the heavy morale penalty that all your other characters will experience, because they’ve been hardened, so to speak, by their previous trauma. Some characters will have a trait called Food Allergies, which at face value you’d think is only a negative. However, that trait gives the Cooking skill, because this person had to learn to cook because of their allergies. Characters who liked to fish will probably get the Angling skill, which just gives your base +2 food every day. I’ve had one character who was a stand up comic, and they’ll have the Funny trait, which just gives everyone in your group a base morale boost. There’s a dizzying range of traits from purely positive, to purely negative, to a mix of both. One survivor had a trait called Nerve Damage, which meant she had a higher base level of HP, but injuries received would be more severe.
It’s shit like that, Undead Labs made a very thoughtful system with an absurd amount of permutations.
I haven’t even mentioned the base management aspect, which is also back from the first game, but is highly improved. First, there’s a great variety of bases you can move into, which all have wildly different effects. Like a small bridge fort, which doesn’t provide much space, but highly reduces the chance of zombie sieges because there’s only two points of entrance; or the bar and grill that has a built in still and will provide your base with clean drinking water; or the medieval-themed drive-in theater, which comes with high walls and a wide berth of space so you can see the zombies coming from far away; or the football field with large outdoor spaces for things like a farm or a solar array, and a lot of parking spots; the list goes on.
I like to tell people to think of State of Decay 2 as almost a sort of intricate board game. I think it’s a fun and solid game even without all that stuff going on in the background, but of course all that stuff is in the background, dozens and dozens of invisible transactions occurring constantly.
It’s not without faults, but like an Obsidian or Bethesda game, for example, I’m far more interested in what the game tries to achieve rather than what it fails to do, and am therefore willing to forgive. And if you did play it around launch, it honestly is heavily improved since then. If you have Game Pass at least give it a try.
Until there’s a State of Decay 3 (please yes please please) I can see myself playing and enjoying this game indefinitely.
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