The 15 Best Xbox One Games of 2018

Games Lists Best of 2018
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The 15 Best Xbox One Games of 2018

Creating a great games library is a delicate balance. Every hardware publisher needs to find the right mix of exclusives and third-party favorites to attract an audience. Nintendo can only sell so many consoles on the backs of Mario and Link, and the lack of major third-party games hurt both the Wii and Wii U. On the other end you have the position Microsoft found itself in this year with the Xbox One. The only major Microsoft franchise to release a new game this year was Forza Horizon. With nothing new from Halo or Gears of War, Xbox One owners looking for huge action blockbusters had to depend entirely on games also found on the PlayStation 4. If you reduce videogames to a mere corporate battle between the massive international companies who make the most prominent consoles, you’d have to conclude that Sony had a better year.

That doesn’t mean the Xbox One had nothing great to play this year, though. Some of the best games of the year came out for the system, including a couple of great console exclusives in Ashen and Graveyard Keeper. And the Forza Horizon series kept on cruising in style. 2019 looks stacked to be a banner year for the Xbox One, but you shouldn’t overlook all the notable games that came out on the console this year.

15. Forza Horizon 4

I am not a racing game aficionado, and to some degree that makes me a very honest critic when it comes to these types of games. As I said at the top, I don’t even like driving real cars. I have none of that American open road fantasy about me. So a game that can bridge all of these basic realities of my life and make me care about a car game is, in my mind, at least interesting. Forza Horizon 4 does that work. It makes me think about how following the right line and accelerating and braking at certain moments impacts the long duration of a race. It makes me care about road conditions, for God’s sake, and it does so in a way where I don’t have to be bogged down in simulation-y minutiae. To me, that’s impressive game design, and I applaud the bridge-building work that the developers of Horizon 4 have done to make someone who is a relative outsider to both this genre and enthusiasm about cars feel welcome.—Cameron Kunzelman


14. Ashen

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Annapurna Interactive continues its streak of fascinating cult hits with this inspired gem. Ashen combines Souls-style combat with the worldbuilding and sense of adventure of a Zelda game, and wraps it all up with gorgeous cel-shaded artwork. It’s a smart attempt to bridge what some might think is an impassable chasm between idiosyncratic art games and market-friendly third-person action blockbusters. What matters most, though, is that it pulls off everything it tries to do with enough skill to hook players of diverse preferences and predilections.—Garrett Martin


13. Valkyria Chronicles 4

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A decade’s a long time, so there was reason to worry about the first console Valkyria Chronicles game since the original came out in 2008. Valkyria Chronicles 4 captures what made that game such a success, though, between its brain-flexing strategy action and its gorgeous art style. For those who are deeply invested in the Valkyria epic, this game expands on the story of Gallia and the wars that ravaged Europa, touching on some of the same themes and emotions but without repeating itself too closely. Some ideas are timeless, and an anime tactical strategy game based on a fictionalized version of World War II is clearly one of them.—Garrett Martin


12. Vampyr

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Dontnod’s Vampyr has more in common with Remember Me, the studio’s first game, than Life Is Strange, its commercial and critical breakthrough. Like Remember Me, Vampyr is an ambitious, idiosyncratic oddity that doesn’t quite fit into any recognizable genre. It might not be as slick or smooth as the biggest action games or most popular franchises, but it has more personality and more spirit than most of them. It can feel faintly embarrassing one moment, and then do something unexpected and with surprising confidence just a few seconds later. There’s probably an equal chance that you’ll hate it or love it. In an industry that constantly obsesses on trends and often disrespects the taste and intelligence of its audience, Vampyr is another refreshing and anomalous cult game from Dontnod.—Garrett Martin


11. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

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There is too much of a good thing. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey proves that. As a game it has a strong core of enjoyable action built upon a reliable and slightly upgraded foundation. As a story it’s an intriguing personal journey with good ideas but lackluster storytelling set against the backdrop of war between Sparta and Athens, with a strong, charismatic pair of leads making up for a lot of dull dialogue and meandering conversations. As an Assassin’s Creed it turns Origins from an outlier into the start of the new status quo, sacrificing a bit of its identity in order to bring it more in line with Ubisoft’s other open world games. It still captures much of what makes these games special, though, from the historical setting, to the dynamic action, to one of the few stealth combat systems that isn’t too slow or frustrating to enjoy. Embark on this journey with confidence, but be prepared to lose a lot of your free time along the way.—Garrett Martin


10. Monster Hunter: World

The Monster Hunter series, as the title suggests, has primarily been about striking down massive beasts and using their remains to fashion new armor, weapons and food. While Monster Hunter: World certainly maintains that emphasis on killing giant beasts, the game also asks us to care about the monsters we slaughter, and understand our own hand in maintaining and destroying the ecological system.—Shonte Daniels


9. Dragon Ball FighterZ

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Dragon Ball FighterZ is both the fighting game and Dragon Ball spin-off I never realized I always wanted. The production values are better, and the narrative tension is vastly improved. Given how Dragon Ball FighterZ amps up the drama on existing Dragon Ball storylines, increases engagement by allowing the player to take dialogue sequences at their own pace, and puts a polished, beautiful spin on the old cartoon, this isn’t just my favorite Dragon Ball game. It’s my favorite Dragon Ball anything.—Holly Green


8. Hitman 2

Agent 47 returns with another round of multilayered and minutely detailed puzzle boxes for us to sneak and murder our way through, and as revelatory as 2016’s first go round for this reboot was, the sequel still comes out on top. Hitman 2 eschews the episodic nature of the first season, while still exploiting open world game concepts in a way that’s sprawling but still tightly compact and manageable. Solving its open-ended missions and variety of challenges can be a true test of your ingenuity, and one of the more satisfying times you’ll have with a game this year.—Garrett Martin


7. Life is Strange 2 Episode 1

There’s a lot I like about Life is Strange that returns in Life is Strange 2, particularly the setting and character writing. The attention to detail is marvelous; it is impressive how well Dontnod have been able to recreate the feeling of key Pacific Northwest areas and scenery. One of the most notable things about the original game, outside of its beauty and its interesting rewind mechanic, was its lead characters, Max and Chloe. While I’m sad to see that Life is Strange 2 doesn’t have strong female leads, the story of Sean and Daniel feels equally compelling and important. The first chapter does a great job of establishing the momentum of the game’s narrative arc. The Diaz boys are very easy to root for, and the pain Sean feels as he must protect his younger brother from the truth of their father’s absence is palpable. The more you participate in the bonding experience of being an older brother, the closer the events seem to hit home. By the end of the chapter, I felt genuine fear for the boys and, while I usually don’t waste time speculating on how a piece of fiction will end, I found myself hoping for the best.—Holly Green


6. Donut County

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Donut County is entirely about holes and the destruction they can wreak upon a southwestern community when deployed with malice by a clan of scheming raccoons. If you’ve ever wanted to swallow up a pastel desert town full of blocky, adorable animals with sass and quirks aplenty, Donut County is the game for you. Other than the art style and character designs, the best thing about Donut County is the writing. It’s snappy and succinct, quickly establishing the unique personalities of a dozen or so characters, and legitimately funny without trying too hard or being obviously impressed by itself. As cute and surprising as the levels are, I found myself sometimes rushing through them in order to get back underground for the next bit of dialogue and the next character introduction. Like donuts themselves, Donut County will give you a quick, buzzy high, and taste great as you’re chewing on it, but isn’t all that filling.—Garrett Martin


5. Graveyard Keeper

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Emerging this past summer as the macabre, campy and deliciously evil counterpart to Stardew Valley, Graveyard Keeper stole our hearts by combining dungeon crawling and crafting to deliver a medieval management sim that’s as fucked up as it is fun. Whether you’re wooing a corrupt priest, making candles from human fat, or just dumping bodies in the river, the busy work in Graveyard Keeper is truly ghastly business. But there are so many games that let you harvest food, and only one that lets you harvest cadavers. For its inventive and dark spin on the genre, this game is, you could say, a keeper, and definitely one of the year’s best.—Holly Green


4. Dead Cells

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Not content with sheer novelty, Dead Cells importantly taps into the most significant aspect of both of the genres it fuses together. Few games are as addictive as those Metroid-style backtrackers, and perhaps the only thing that has come close this decade is the spate of roguelike platformers that flourished in Spelunky’s wake. Dead Cells beautifully captures what makes both of those genres impossible to put down, uniting the “just one more” drive of a roguelike with the “must keep going” compulsion of a Metroid. It’s a smart, confident piece of work, and anybody interested in either of the genres it builds on should consider checking it out.—Garrett Martin


3. Dandara

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Long Hat House’s first game might play fast and loose with history—its hero, Dandara, is a real-life figure from Brazilian history—but its Metroid-style design and unique approach to motion make it compulsively playable. It’s part myth, part dream, all wrapped up in an occasionally psychedelic sci-fi action game heavily indebted to the aesthetics of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and one of the best new games of the year.—Garrett Martin


2. Celeste

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Matt Thorson’s follow-up to Towerfall employs a familiar aesthetic and language from videogames past to tell a story about mental health and self-actualization, using the mountain the game is named after as a representation of a young woman’s struggles with depression and self-doubt. Celeste is an inspired triumph, with art that recalls the early ‘90s, and requiring a precision to navigate its levels that comes straight out of the heyday of platforming. The vibrant use of color and warm, stylistically varied score elevate the retro aesthetic beyond mere homage. It’s a touching and occasionally insightful depiction of what it’s like to live with anxiety and depression.—Garrett Martin


1. Minit

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Minit is an adventure with a twist and also a critique of capital split up into tiny bite-sized chunks and told through adorable animals in a sparsely drawn fantasy land. After enough stop and start minutes you’ll realize a factory is running roughshod over this place, polluting the land and working some of its employees to the bone while firing others whose jobs can now be done by machines. Behind it all is a maniacal manager prioritizing productivity over all else. After all these minutes and all these lives the true story reveals itself, and to reach the end you have to collect item after item, life after life, to eventually have the skills necessary to grind the factory to a halt. Even after realizing this it’ll take many minutes and many lives to finish everything you know you need to do, tiny bits of incremental progress in-between passages of rote, mundane, repetitive busy work. If it starts to feel like a job, well, maybe that’s the game’s point. The factory is Minit itself, its employees all of us who play the game, and its dictatorial boss the developers who put us through these paces again and again and again in hopes of the smallest iota of progress. Like the unending and uncaring work shifts that eat up our days until we die, we expend most of our vital energy redoing the same soul-killing nonsense over and over. It is one of the most effective metaphors for the exploitation of the working class seen in videogames. The minutes pass, we experience multiple tiny deaths every day doing the job we’re expected to do. And we press a button, and we do it again.—Garrett Martin

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