Best Games Played 2019: Beefiest Invitation

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2019 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

Have you ever wanted to prove yourself? Grow stronger, faster, more hardened in the face of oppressive odds? Stand against a world of indomitable preditors and show your resolve? Smack a dinosaur in the head with a hammer that’s bigger than you? Because so often, when I hear Monster Hunter getting compared to other games, especially in terms of long-haul difficulty and challenging combat, I see Dark Souls used as its closest kin, with its drill instructor tendencies, berating and demeaning your vain attempts at success.

But Monster Hunter is more like a personal coach — cheering you on, engaging in pre-workout chants and helpful advice, and trying to get you to bring out your best. Previous MonHun titles embraced their PlayStation 2 origins to a fault: clunky movement and archaic UI design proved too large a mountain to scale for most new players. But last year, Monster Hunter: World entered the scene with a promise to deliver on the classic Monster Hunter experience, refined for modern sensibilities. Now with Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, we’ve hit the apex of what this series can deliver, with the most impressive buffet of monster hunting the series has ever seen.

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Best Games Played 2019: Greatest Culmination

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2019 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

Video games can come and go, but every once in awhile you get one that sticks with you forever. I played Outer Wilds at a point where mental health was in a deeper valley than usual, and it left me so profoundly impacted that I didn’t do much but think about it for a week afterwards. The game has a stellar concept — the very definition of “galaxy brain” in scope and execution — and yet so humble amidst its thematic backdrop.

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Best Games Played 2018: Greatest Evolution

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2018 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

I have a self-professed weakness for retro-revival FPS games, so New Blood’s latest shooter, DUSK – and it is stylized as DUSK, all caps – should be no exception. But DUSK cuts through the pack of them with a full awareness of what it can and should be. Like Shovel Knight’s dedication to recapturing and reinventing the NES-era 2D platformer, DUSK understands what makes 90s shooters click just as well as how to make them feel even better.

DUSK captures a sense of adrenaline unparalleled. Through slip-n-slide movement mechanics and chunky weapon firing, DUSK operates on a keen sense of the rule of cool, empowering players through big changes to the FPS formulas we all know: the biggest and brightest being instead of reloading, your guns just shoot forever until the massive ammo pool runs out. Hitting the reload key simply flourishes your weapon – spinning it about to give the moments between shootouts a distinct sense of style. Instead of a run button, your player character is constantly at a nonstop sprinting pace.

DUSK establishes these rules immediately before letting you lose on a carnival of levels set in creepy rural Americana, steeped in the occult and rampant with the kind of gooey, cheesy horror you’d reminisce about waiting for Halloween in the 90s. Demonic reindeer and burlap sack-wearing cultists rush you with magic spells and shotguns alike. Levels are riddled with moments that let you stretch your new legs – flying through the air is as easy as a mouse movement and an open canyon filled with jump pads, letting you feel the wind and exploding viscera in your hair.

Puzzles are kept simple and are largely there to keep you moving between shooting galleries, like colored keys opening their corresponding doors and hitting switches hidden in dark corridors, but this is by design and proves very effective when used against you: following the path to a door I finally found the key for saw me falling through a sudden trap-door to the next level.

All of this culminates in an FPS adventure that reawakens a nearly forgotten flame, one that yearns for the simplicity of classics while providing even more to keep that love burning. Games like this only come once in a nostalgic era, and DUSK is an absolute must play.

Best Games Played 2018: Clearest Purpose

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2018 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

On the surface, Kingdom Death is a towering wall of smooth black stone, a monolith among board gaming that dares anyone to try and uncover its secrets. This might be what makes it so alluring – between its many mechanical layers of strategy, combat, and crafting and its bleeding edge art and atmosphere, Kingdom Death feels rich with an energy of menace. Yet, for all that splendor, what intrigues me the most about it is what it doesn’t do.

Kingdom Death recreates a Dungeons and Dragons-like experience, the story creation and player mythos, without any of the shortcomings of its predecessor. Tabletop RPGs like D&D are unique in that they allow players to create near infinite stories, legends, and worlds, unhindered by the video game constraints of asset generation and production timelines. However, the same systems that make tabletop RPGs so limitless and free can also run the risk of making them feel weighed down.

Trying to work with hundreds of variables in your game system – character traits and motivations, player temperament, game master skill, quality of narrative, and more – can turn a noble attempt at an RPG campaign into an incoherent mess of wasted effort and disappointment. Kingdom Death aims to circumvent all of those pitfalls by creating a streamlined game experience focusing on the core joys of tabletop RPG gaming: relaying adventure, humor, comradery, and pure terror with every dice roll.

Players declare a hunt query at the beginning of every session, starting off with a series of events that play out like miniature stories – discovering anything from strange fruit, fellow survivors, or a deadly trap. Once found, monsters engage in combat via an AI deck, each card being an action that declares a target via unique parameters and executing their maneuver ruthlessly. This AI deck also counts as a health counter, so as cards run out, the monster becomes weaker and actions get repeated and more frantic. Actions like carrying a player across the board or specifically targeting someone who would be hiding in a bush starts to create story beats for each character within this system. Combat, and death, all feel visceral and textured with added flavor text and gorgeous art.

Kingdom Death builds upon this foundation with random enemy encounters and player progression that rivals many tabletop RPGs, always using the same board but with new environment tiles and minis – and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the minis are among a league of their own, beautifully modeled and constructed, with detail in every possible corner – to create unique fights and moments with accompanying story beats, and an art direction that carries the full weight of its world on its back. Kingdom Death is not for everyone, but if you can accept its aesthetic (and its price tag), you’ll experience easily one of the finest board gaming has to offer, with a refined core and a clear goal for players to endure.

Best Games Played 2017: Greatest Feat

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2017 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2017, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

Genre fusions are difficult to do, but Sloclap, developers of Absolver, has pulled it off. They’ve combined the mechanics of the 3D fighting genre – à la Tekken or Soul Calibur – with the persistence of a massively multiplayer online game, within a massive open world.

What Absolver establishes is an incredible groundwork for a future potential genre, but this proof-of-concept stands on its own – both in the innovation of its premise as well as the polish of its presentation.

Playing as warriors in the land of Adal, you are tasked with collecting new moves and armor from other enemy combatants by defeating them in martial arts. The action is like graceful dancing, where refined combat fuses the 3D fighter mechanics with the animation prioritization and unforgiveness popularized by the likes of Dark Souls.

You assign moves from your collection to a combat deck, which allows you to determine the order with which you use specific attacks. This customization of the flow of your strikes creates a deep metagame of trade-offs. You can chain moves seamlessly together and create an endless barrage for an enemy, putting you at risk of being predictable and easily-countered, or you can create several shorter combos to promote mix-ups at the cost of a sharper learning curve for your thumbs. Some moves can even break an opponent’s block, and each character can learn to use dodges, armor, and spawn weapons to keep this system unique and full of surprises for you and your enemies.

After a duel, the social features of the game help promote sportsmanship and encourage friendliness. Warriors can communicate only in premade emotes, preventing hateful language from ruining the experience and turning off players. During player versus player duels, it has become traditional for players to bow before beginning the fight. It’s even been reported that players have taken their character’s own lives in a duel if they’ve achieved a win through dishonorable means. Players who have beaten the game – an achievement marked with a unique piece of gear – often hang out in the starting areas of the game to pick up new players as disciples. Where learning a move in Absolver would normally require defeating an antagonistic opponent who already possesses it, playing with a teacher allows you to acquire those techniques faster while also honing your skills.

These tenets of respectability and cooperation, combined with a steady stream of new content, has kept the world of Absolver fresh and fun. Sloclap has captured lightning in a bottle with this game, and we can’t wait to see more.

Best Games Played 2017: Coolest Experience

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2017 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2017, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

Titanfall 2 is a game built on, out of, and all about the rule of cool. Juiced to perfection in every direction from punchy sound, hyper animations, dazzling effects, and mechanically slick movement, Titanfall 2 delivers an experience that rises above and beyond what you see in so many action first person shooter games today. Titanfall 2 is capital-V Video Games. Fun above all else.

Its campaign is in a class of its own, readily offering new mechanics at every level and just as quickly taking them away before they get boring. Time travel, switch flipping, moving platforms, and wind tunnels all play a part for some truly fantastic moments that test your movement and reflexes. Set pieces are both a gauntlet for free-running and gunning as well as a sandbox for massive battles with the Titan mechs.

While the campaign’s story may seem unremarkable at a glance, don’t let that fool you. It delivers staggering emotional beats by establishing the bond between a pilot and his Titan. Even when seperated, your Titan is providing support through either dynamic conversation or by activating sonar pulses to highlight enemies or even dropping ordinance in the midst of battle. Showing the bond between these characters through gameplay rather than cutscenes is a subtle but ingenious design choice. In fact, Titanfall 2 has no cutscenes – every scripted moment plays out in first person with stellar animation. Even though Titanfall 2 is written like a Saturday morning cartoon, this only plays to its strengths, and smartly toys with your expectations.

In the singleplayer as well as the multiplayer, Titanfall 2 ensures that you always feel powerful. Even if you’re feeling like a god in your Titan, you’ll still feel nimble and quick as a pilot on the ground. There’s no loss of control in any situation. Whether it’s wall running into battle or launching out of a mech while it explodes, digging into a pack of grunts on the ground or trying to take on a Titan as a pilot in your own personal parable of David and Goliath, Titanfall 2 is all about ensuring you have fun and feel incredible doing it.

The simplest examples of this philosophy are in the multiplayer loadouts – you are allowed the option of your standard FPS frag grenades, but how about ninja stars that explode into flames, or gravity wells that let you trap other players and curve rockets and bullets? You can pick the Titan that slowly lumbers across the map firing 40,000 rounds per second, or the one carrying a sword the size of a school bus. Neither is inherently better than the other, but thematically you get to play the exact kind of super space-soldier you want to be.

We could go on about primary loadout abilities, which strike a perfect balance between being capable of both offensive and defensive maneuvers, or how every weapon – no matter how simple or complex – feels satisfying to use, or how dense the mind-games can get when two enemy Titans meet in an open field. There’s so much to love about this game. It can be hard to talk about it without its small install base, but we’ll encourage where we can: play Titanfall 2. Become a pilot. Meet your Titan.