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2018 Game of the Year: God of War

Copyright Sony Entertainment

It really couldn’t have been anything else. I loved God of War 1 and 2 when they came out, but I never thought that a God of War game would be this good. It was always just a big, dumb spectacle brawler without much depth, but no, this time, Sony Santa Monica Studios got something in Kratos, in God of War as a franchise, something no one else did, and made a literal masterpiece. The writing, the mechanics, the use of violence and mythology, all of it comes together to create something unlike anything else we’ve seen.

The best part is the story. A lot of writing in video games is bad, sure, but there is good writing out there. Gaming is a language people are still understanding, so it’s why it’s so hard to get really good writing out of the medium, which is a shame, because every so often, a game like God of War comes out and shows us just what it can do. This is a game that manages to capture grief and familial love in a way I don’t know if any other medium can. It’s about family, it’s about coming together AS a family, and it’s done with the player bonding directly with the main character’s son, both through mechanics, thanks to including him directly into combat, and some really well done acting and writing. Kratos feels like a person, something he has never felt like before. Like, he doesn’t feel like a different character, this really seems like an expansion upon what he once was, but new life has been breathed into him. He is a man with regrets, someone who has done some of the worst things ever, and wants only to make better for what he’s done. All of his talk of gods being evil and not worth anything to Atraeus, his son, is him telling his son to be better than him.

Atraeus, too, is such an interesting character. He isn’t some tagalong kid like he seems like he would be. He is almost as much the main character as his father, in that he follows his own arc and his own way of dealing with the grief of losing his mother and becoming closer with his father. The way both of them grow and change in relation to each other is nothing short of beautiful. It smashes through so much toxic masculinity that Kratos once reveled in, especially when contrasted with Odin (who doesn’t appear), Thor (him neither, sorta) or Baldur, who are so much like how Kratos used to be. Sure, it has to break Norse mythology into shape to tell the story so they can have that contrast, but it doesn’t matter, it works and gives us an amazing story about a father breaking the cycle and actually giving a lesson to his son. Atraeus WILL be a better man than his father, than the gods, and with his mythological origin revealed at the end of the game shows that he will make things better. In a lot of ways, this game plumbs emotional depths that the first game tries to, with Kratos murdering his wife and daughter, but doesn’t succeed at. This relationship is real, not told to us in flashbacks.

This story gives us a huge, beautiful world to explore. Actually, it gives several, huge, beautiful worlds. We get to explore almost all of Norse mythology, except for Asgard. We see a Midgard flooded by the hubris of the gods (and possibly Kratos), a blasted Jotunheim, an eerie Helheim. It looked like this God of War would be a smaller game, on a smaller scale, because the camera is so much closer and the game covers so much different ground, but it’s not. It’s just as big, if not bigger, and we get to explore some crazy, crazy stuff.

The game also plays like the old games. Like, it may seem different with no Blades of Chaos, the Leviathan Axe, which may be one of the coolest weapons in the series, and a close up, Dark Souls inspired combat. It’s easy to think it’s just an easier Dark Souls clone, but that’s only because of similar button mapping. It takes more from the old God of War and even Devil May Cry to give us a much more complex combat system than any game in the series has ever shown us. Hell, once we do get the Blades of Chaos back, a lot of those powers are just like how they are in the old games, it’s crazy. It helps that there are so many cool enemies. Even basic draugr have tons of variety, and then all 9 valkyries are each unique with different approaches and fights. It’s awesome.

From the gorgeous graphics, amazing story and just kick ass gameplay, it had to be the game of the year. Nothing touched it. Nothing even came close this year. Time will tell if God of War will be an instant classic like Breath of the Wild, but the story is sticking with me, almost a year later. The only real issues are the too many trolls and having to do Muspelheim twice. That sucks. Everything else was great.

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Top 5 Number Two: The Messenger

Copyright Sabotage Studios and Devolver Digital

The Messenger was a game that came out of nowhere for me. I heard about it on Kotaku about a year before its release and put it out of my mind. Then, around release, I hear about a brand new, Ninja Gaiden-esque game and I know I had to be in on this, and well, since it’s the second-best game of the year, it was obviously worth the time. There are three games on this list where I just lost days playing this. The other two were Spider-Man and the Game of the Year, but this one was its own beast. I’m a sucker for these throwback titles, because a lot of what we get to day isn’t quite the same, and the Messenger is one of the best throwback action platformers I’ve played in years, probably since Shovel Knight. This year has made a lot of comparisons to Shovel Knight, I guess it’s another year of the indie.

Here’s the thing that makes this game so cool: it has some of the best movement controls I’ve ever played. Movement in games is extremely important to me, it’s pretty much why I put up with the Assassin’s Creed games for as long as I did. I didn’t mention it much in my entry on Spider-Man, mostly because Pete’s movements on the ground are crap, but that webslinging was part of what made the game so good, getting around New York was great, fast and was just fun, even if it was rather simplistic. The Messenger takes it to a whole different level. Right from the beginning, you get the Cloudstep, which allows our hero, the titular Messenger, to jump whenever they strike an enemy, parts of the level or, after an upgrade, an enemy projectile. This sets the stage for how the Messenger is going to get around, and how he’s going to be using his momentum to get the advantage over the enemies and bosses. As the game progresses, he learns more and more ways to move, whether it’s the grappling dart, the wingsuit or the climbing claws, everything exists to get the Messenger around in interesting and cool ways, and it’s baked into the level design so well, that even knowing that all of the levels are going to open up in a Metroidvania way for the last quarter of the game, it’s still mindblowing to realize that the movement upgrades have been doled out in a way to make sure that the game is effectively a well made tutorial. It’s like realizing the entire ceiling of Castlevania in Symphony of the Night was designed to be a different set of platforms for the Inverted Castle.

The movement abilities do seem pretty basic: strike-jumps, gliding and grappling hooks, the way the levels are designed are what makes this work. Again, a lot of the levels are pretty standard NES/SNES style levels: Volcano, underground cavern, ice mountain, swamp, whatever, but each one has an interesting mechanic that doesn’t feel like a gimmick, which is, once again, tied into the new type of movement ability the player picks up, the use of which become more complex and difficult as the level progresses, and of course, once the player has the new movement ability mastered, they start to incorporate all of the old ones. This is a game where nothing is wasted. No Iron Boots or block creating canes here. Every ability, gadget and upgrade is used and adds to the Messenger’s repertoire, and it’s not something the developers let the player forget, with its self-aware story.

That level design is amazing. It really is a lot like the castles in Symphony of the Night in their approach. Once the game becomes a more open world/Metroidvania sort of game, the player really gets to see how each level was built, and for what purpose they were making it. That sort of design isn’t something that players get to see very often, and I really appreciated it a lot. On the other hand, that open world section is probably the only real major flaw in the game, in that it’s both too long and feels a bit like backtracking, and too short because it’s also the coolest part of the game. Especially since the game involves time travel, jumping from the present to the future, and changing from an NES game to an SNES game, along with a change in music. Going from one era to the next and back all in one screen to solve a puzzle is awesome, and I kind of which we had gotten to that part earlier.

Especially because that music is just so damn good. Holy crap, while there is really only one soundtrack, the 8-bit and 16-bit arrangements each have their own nuances and quirks based on the tech they had at their disposal. Like, it’s rare to see particularly complex music in a platformer, but to use multiple real world technological eras in video games to change out based on what style of graphics are being used at the moment adds a level of musical complexity you just don’t see in any medium. I’m shocked I’ve never really seen anything like it before. It’s just such an awesome idea.

This is a game that just didn’t get enough love. It’s not just a Ninja Gaiden or Metroid throwback. It’s a love letter to an alternate universe of gaming, one that should have been here a long, long time ago.

Top 5 Number Three: Celeste

Copyright Matt Makes Games

I wrote about this game about a week ago, and how it affected me personally. Like I said there, I have depression, and it’s something I’m going to struggle with until I die. It’s recursive, and based mostly on stress and my ability to deal with it, so it’s not something that will likely kill me or drive me to make dangerous decisions. Instead, I just sit around feeling shitty about myself and my relationships with my friends and family and feel like a failure. I give up on the things I love and get pretty insular. It’s something I’m dealing with as I type this, thanks to some personal stuff, so Celeste was a game that resonated with me on a lot of levels.

It’s not just a game about depression and anxiety, it’s a game about overcoming something that feels like an impossibility. At the very beginning of the game, at least after the prologue, it tells the player “You Can do This” and it’s what pushed me through some of the most difficult sections of the game. This game combines narrative and gameplay better than most games. Our heroine, Madeline, is depressed and struggling with anxiety. She wants to overcome the mountain, to prove that she’s not worthless, and to do so, she has to overcome some seriously difficult challenges. Depression can sometimes be described as climbing a mountain, but it’s not just a simple metaphor. The game uses puzzles and level design to make the player feel helpless and that they’ll never make it to the next room. They’ll die over and over again, but those words “You Can Do This” pushes the player, or at least it did me, to keep going and finish climbing the mountain, and when the solution presents itself, it feels so amazing.

Not that the game really ever goes over the line for difficulty. At AGDQ this year, the runners playing it described as the hardest game anyone can beat, and that’s a very apt description. There are times where the game feels like I can’t do it, but I don’t think I spent more than 6 minutes on a single room. Sure, I died over 1500 times, but it rarely ever felt like it wasn’t something I was doing. Thanks to the varied and beautiful levels, once I did overcome something that became more frustrating than fun, it meant I was moving on to something new or different. Each of the 7 main zones have very cool and different mechanics, all of them are really cool, except for that fucking feather, which is the worst damn thing in the game. I hate it even more than the dust bunnies that grow on the walls after you touch them in the Hotel level. Even then, when you do die, even to that feather, most checkpoints feel fair and get the player right back to the game. Except maybe in the boss fight of level six, the game never feels like the checkpoints are too far away.

Better than all of that, this game probably has the best soundtrack since Shovel Knight. Seriously, this is up there with Castlevania or Final Fantasy with some of the best tunes in gaming. It’s great that all of the songs are available on Spotify, too, because they’re totally worth jamming too. Also, yes, this is an acceptable way to describe them. Outside of Dead Cells, all of the games on this list have great soundtracks, and this was a year for really great soundtracks, but none of them stand out just like this one does, except maybe God of War’s excellent soundtrack, and even then, that’s more like a really good movie soundtrack, while this is more of an excellent game soundtrack. Also, I’d say Celeste has it better

This is a game with some unfair difficulty spikes, some kinda bullshit post game stuff, and that fucking feather, but all and all, it’s probably the best challenge platformer I’ve played in years. It’s compared a lot to Super Meat Boy, but I would say it’s a lot better than that. It’s a different animal, other than the one hit kill. This is a game where the challenge has a meaning, at least to me personally. It definitely deserves to be in anyone’s top 5.

Top 5: Number 4 Dead Cells

Copyright Motion Twin

It was between this and Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. Both harken back to one of my favorite video game franchises, Castlevania, which has lain dormant for years. Bloodstained was the 16-bit Castlevania 4 we never got, while Dead Cells was the 32-bit followup to Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night that could never exist. Even though Dead Cells wound up on my Honorable Mentions last year, I had to give it the nod, because I’ve spent nearly 50 hours on this, and I got stuck on one of the Nightmare mode bosses on Bloodstained.

That being said, Dead Cells is totally worth the honor. It could have made the top 10 last year, maybe even the top 5, but I couldn’t give it the push because it was in Early Access, and that didn’t seem fair. That said, it’s been a rough way to the top this year, releasing with poor performance glitches on the Switch, and a lot of late game elements needing tons and tons of patching before the balance was even remotely fair, but it’s fought and earned the honor it’s receiving because this is a very damn good game. A Castlevania-inspired Roguelite with Dark Souls inspired combat, but on speed is right up my alley and exactly the kind of game I think I need this year, even more so than last year.

The first thing to say about this game is that it looks gorgeous. I love 16-bit games, that was where I feel gaming really got its groove, but this is one of the few retro throwbacks to the PlayStation 1/Saturn era, and that’s an era that deserves love. It was a wild west of game design with a lot of questionable artistic choices, but there was so much they could do when the game was in 2D, and Dead Cells is just the kind of game we could have seen. The animations, the art designs, the whole thing is just beautiful. All of the characters, heroes and villains, have these huge “sprites” that have tons of detail and all look really cool. The bosses, even more, have grown from the sort of basic looking shard golem that would eventually become the Concierge to some really cool designs. The Hand of the King is one of the coolest looking bosses I’ve fought this year, and that includes God of War and the Spider-Man Rogues Gallery. This is just a game with really good art direction, not just in characters or sprite art, either, but in everything. The environment design is beautiful too, with unique and cool designs. They manage to put a spin on even the pretty standard levels, like swamp city or a clocktower. Everything does look like it came from a Castlevania design document, but with its own design and spin.

That great art helps with the great combat, as well. The game has this fast, frenetic combat that rewards aggressive behaviors and quick dodging, which is a lot of fun, but what really works is that the art for the enemies makes it clear what the enemies are and what they can do instantly. Thanks to the beautiful art, when I see an enemy I’ve never seen before ina biome I’ve never been to, I tend to know their deal right away, and the game gives me lots of ways to deal with them. It doesn’t mean the game doesn’t throw a few curve balls every so often, but even when the greatsword knights throw a tornado at me, I still knew they were going to hit hard and have a big range as soon as I saw them the first time.

Even when I don’t know what I’m up against, though, the combat is just plain fun. There are tons of weapons and several different weapon categories and each one does something different. It’s really cool to engage with a bunch of different enemies all at once and cut them to exploding bloody ribbons. Plus, when I say each weapon is unique, I mean it. There are about 11 shields and all of them can block, but some can be used to charge, others can stab enemies that get blocked and others just hurt everyone nearby. That’s just ONE weapon type, and it doesn’t even get into the special powers, the bombs, grenades and whatever else.

The game isn’t without some problems, though. For a random Roguelite, the level layouts aren’t very random. It’s good to have a pretty good idea of what a level will look like, but very little changes from seed to seed. Also, like I said before, this game needed a lot of patches, because it’s balance is rough. It was rough in early access, and even after the major balance patch that made one of the bosses so much less brutal and random, it’s still pretty unbalanced. Some enemies are still proportionally too strong and a few are still way too weak. Also, the Time Keeper remains the hardest boss, harder even than the final boss by a pretty wide margin. Finally, while several weapons are unique, that means several weapons are plain useless. I guess the Cursed Sword is cool if you want to show off, but whatever.

I don’t know if Dead Cells is a great game, but it was definitely the game I needed this year. It was a lot of fun and when I finally beat it after 45 hours of trying, it felt so good. I’ve run through the game twice now and picked up tons of cool weapons.

Top 5 2018 #5: Spider-Man

Copyright Sony, Insomniac and Marvel

Super hero games, since Arkham Asylum, have just been getting better. Almost every year, we’re seeing better and better games that actually utilize the powers and abilities of the heroes in unique and interesting ways. Super hero games have always been a lot of fun, but most of the time, they’ve just been brawlers. When Arkham Asylum came out, everything exploded, and all of it has led to Spider-Man. This isn’t just a game that “makes me feel like Spider-Man” or whatever every other review has said about high end, AAA super hero games since Arkham Asylum came out, this is a game where the ability to play as Spider-Man is fully realized, and it’s one of the best depictions of the character, his supporting cast, villains and plots that has ever been made outside of a comic book. It’s not just a really good video game, it’s also a really good Spider-Man cartoon or TV show.

This game has amazing mechanics. Spidey is fast, strong and extremely agile, and all of the mechanics of this game work to serve his super powers. The game uses a modified version of the freeflow combat from the Arkham games, but unlike those, and the other games that have used them like the Shadow of Mordor games, this game more naturally integrates defensive techniques into the combo. One of the biggest complaints about the freeflow style combat is that defensive mechanics like dodges or blocks tend to break the flow of combat, slowing down the combos, whether due to slower animations, awkward transitions between dodges and attacks, or some combination of both. Spider-Man on the PS4 has none of those problems, as there is a natural progression between attacks and dodges. Part of this is because Spidey’s animations do a better job of dodge cancelling, and he can attack straight out of a dodge thanks to the “perfect dodge” mechanic. It helps that the perfect dodges are pretty easy to pull off, with great visual indicators for the game, so the player can dodge attacks they can’t even see, just like Spider-Man.

It isn’t Spider-Man, though, without some webslinging, and this game has weight and physics behind it. Honestly, it’s fun to just swing around the city, doing tricks and jumping off of Avengers tower, but it also works really well in combat, too. If Spidey gets jumped by some of the sci-fi enemies from later in the game, it transitions completely naturally. That ability to go from one thing to the next is really what makes it work. Everything is seamless, going from swinging around Manhattan, hearing about a robbery on the police scanner, landing and blasting them all with a web bomb and kicking all of the robbers’ asses. It’s so much fun.

None of this would matter, though, if this game wasn’t so damn compelling. Everyone feels like a hero here, not just Peter. MJ, Miles Morales, Aunt May, everyone here is trying to make the world a better place, and live up to the thesis of Spider-Man: with great power, comes great responsibility. The game has some of the best Spider-Man moments in them, although many of them take place at the end of the game, so as much as I want to gush about them, I can’t. Rest assured, this game uses his supporting cast and villains in some very interesting and unique ways. It helps that all of the characters have growth and arcs, not just Peter and MJ. Even May gets to be more than Peter’s nagging aunt, and that’s great. It helps that all of the characters, good and bad, have clear motivations and reasons for doing what they’re doing, all of which come across as natural and understandable. Dr. Octavius’ hatred of Norman Osborne is one of the best and most compelling elements of the game. Throughout the whole game, it’s hard not to root for him, hoping against hope that he won’t become Doc Ock in this continuity. Plus, his relationship with Peter is one of my favorite depictions of their relationship ever.

The game isn’t perfect. A lot of the side content repeats itself and feels a lot like it’s there to be there. There are four different “base attacks” in the base game, and the DLC adds three more. Also, there are these parts where you have to play as Miles or MJ and do these really boring stealth sections. MJ is a great reporter (an excellent turn for her), but she is not Solid Snake. She’s not even Meryl Silverburgh. Also, the story is really good, but it’s stuffed, and not everything gets enough time to breathe, and the pacing suffers because of it. The game drags around 70% of the way through, and it’s boring right after something really bad ass happens. Plus, unfortunately this ties in, there aren’t enough boss fights. Each of the Sinister Six are pretty much taken out in four fights, even then, more than half are defeated in two.

Spider-Man is just a great game, and it managed to stand out in this field. However, it winds up at the bottom because it does run into a few problems and can get repetitive. However, it and one other (this year’s Game of the Year) were the games that really felt like they were AAA games, both in production and in quality. This is a game that feels like it was made with love, heart and passion. A lot of people like to say licensed games that are good feel like they’re made by fans, but that’s not exactly what I feel about this game. The people who made it are fans, yeah, but that’s not what makes this game good. These are people who care about Spider-Man, and that’s what makes this game so good. They’ve taken Spider-Man and made it their own. Earth-1048 is completely Insomniac’s and that’s wonderful. It’s exactly what we needed this year, in a year when we’re finally getting away from Dan Slott and getting some really classic Spider-Man.

Top 5: Honorable Mentions

Copyright Bandai Namco, Toei Animation, Arc System Works, and Akira Toriayama (please support the official release)

2018 was a weird year, because while a lot of the big name releases were either mediocre rehashes of stuff we had already seen or just absolute crap, there were a whole lot of great games that still managed to come out. While it was difficult to come up with a top 5 this year, it doesn’t mean there were barely five games I liked. There were several, and not just games from before the turn of the century, that I really liked, and two of them fell into one of my favorite genres: fighting games. Both Dragon Ball FighterZ and Soul Calibur VI came out, and both were pretty good.

That said, before we get to all of the good stuff, it’s important to note that while I liked both games a whole lot, neither of them would have been able to make it on to the list because they both had extremely predatory DLC models. DLC in fighting games has been pretty bad over the decade or so, with constantly expanding rosters and multiple season passes, not to mention issues with balance and design, but both Dragon Ball FighterZ and Soul Calibur VI had really bad DLC practices. Soul Calibur walled off Tira, a regular character for almost half the series, in DLC, and may have had her on disc, and that was just the start. There are four DLC characters planned, and we only know what two of them are, the two that are out: Tira and Neir: Automata’s 2B. Not only do we not know anything, they’re not expected out until April, and the game came out in mid-October. We don’t know when they’ll announce them, or anything else. There’s also supposed to be DLC “armor packs” for the character creation, although we don’t know what’s in that, or when they’ll come out or how much they’ll be, or if they’ll even be available for people without the season pass. That last one is especially weird, because they haven’t exactly been forthcoming on that, one way or the other.

Dragon Ball FighterZ also has similar issues, although not to the same extent. There have been 8 DLC fighters, and they haven’t exactly been cheap. Two of them were a new Vegeta and Goku (base form), one was Android 17, who was already a part of Android 18’s moveset, and one was Vegito, so we got a lot more of the same. Plus, buying the new characters cost almost as much as the game itself, walling off a third of the characters for almost $40. Sure, it’s not as bad as Soul Calibur VI’s DLC issues, but it’s still a pain in the ass. However, that’s not the only issue it’s had, although it’s not the game’s fault that either Shueisha or Toei (it’s unclear who) have screwed over the professional arena for this game, and has implied that the game is dead. Like, the implication is that there won’t be more DLC, there won’t be a sequel, and that they won’t allow the game at professional tournaments. It’s unclear why, but it’s really hurt what could have been a great competitive game.

Still, those were the only major issues. Both were really good, well made fighting games. Of the two, I think Dragon Ball FighterZ was the better. It was definitely an Arc System fighting game, but with the super combos, coherent story and strong competitive balance, the game really made its own. The game has a whole lot of hidden depth, and does a really good job of teaching new players how to play the game. There’s a lot of mechanical depth to plumb with the basic combos and abilities, with a high skill ceiling even on the difficult stuff. With the complex and weird stuff, it gets even crazier. Playing the game doesn’t just “feel” like it’s a really high quality episode of Dragon Ball, it looks and sounds like it as well. The fighting mechanics lend themselves really well to the fast, visual art style of Dragon Ball, with brutal, swift attacks chained together, but with the mechanics that make the game a tense back and forth that the series combats are known for.

The small visual details are a treat, too, as the fighters get battered and their clothes get torn as the fight goes on. The stages, too, get torn apart, while the huge ki blasts and hyper fast punches throw people across the screen. The characters fly, vanish, strike and blast each other with poses and animations taken straight from the manga and anime. The game looks beautiful, and plays just as fluidly as it looks. Other than the predatory models of DLC, the only problem is the really boring set up for the story mode. It’s a weird board game that just drags on and on, from fight to fight, where the player has to clear an entire board, without a lot of control over which character they get to use, before they get to the next cutscene. I finished the first two campaigns, but the Android 21 campaign bored me almost as soon as it started.

Soul Calibur VI is a return to form for the series, ever since it went off the deep end, somewhere around IV. Not that IV was bad, but that was where guest characters and imbalance really took over. This is the game, unlike V, that felt like it learned from what worked in III and IV, and from what didn’t, and made a superior game. This is probably the best Soul Calibur game since II. Combat is faster, more fluid, the characters have better balance, and the new Counter Soul system is really cool.

But, I haven’t actually spent much time with that. Sure, the single player and multiplayer modes are great, the game feels really good, but I’ve mostly used it as a character creator for D&D characters, and even with the limited amount of choices compared to the previous two games, there’s still a lot to build here. Nearly everyone in my D&D group has been able to build their character (except for the dwarf, because there’s no fucking beards, god dammit Bandai Namco) and they all look great. The new options for elves, demons, angels and other creatures is actually really cool. I’ve seen a lot of creations that are neat. I just wish I could make a female character that wasn’t sexy by default.

2018 Top Five: Biggest Disappointment

Copyright Blizzard Entertainment

This year was impressively bad when it came to video games. It was so bad, I considered not doing a top 5 or top 10 because I had really hard a hard time remembering what games were actually good. Not only did I spend half of the year playing Final Fantasy games that came out before I was in high school, but so many of the biggest named games were awful, especially later in the year. Everything about this year was disappointing, even my choice for Game of the Year, which is an amazing game and would have been a contender for Game of the Year in the past three years (and the game of the year for the past 3 years have wound up on my top 10 favorite games of all time), makes me pause because the game almost wins by default. It’s not that there weren’t great games that came out, there absolutely will, but the biggest names, the biggest franchises and the biggest companies all fucked up so badly. I don’t just mean Fallout 76, I mean a lot of games. I was tempted to just do what I did last year and indict the whole industry, but that would have been too easy. Besides, this one is personal.

Somehow, Blizzard has fucked up everything this year. I can’t think of a single thing they did right. There was a lot of stupid shit they did this year: Diablo Immortal announcement, whatever they did with Overwatch, fucking up all of the leveling in WoW, but one, for me, stands above it all. To me, nothing has been as bad as Battle for Azeroth. I like World of Warcraft. I shouldn’t. It’s not a very good game, and is basically endemic of everything I dislike about MMORPGs, but I have a very positive view of it. I love this game. I love my characters Aethereon and Griffonheart, and even thought I’ve played since Wrath of the Lich King, I’ve never finished an expansion from beginning to end. I did, however, always get to max level. I have always gotten maxed out, I have always experienced most of the stuff I could experience, and then came back at the end and did everything I missed while I was on break. This time, I got to level 116. I didn’t even send Aethereon back to Boralus or anything. I got bored somewhere in the witch place and stopped playing. My Legendaries turned off, my artifact was no longer my weapon and I just didn’t care any more. It took me two full rotations to kill a wolf, nearly a full minute to kill a single mob and I was done.

Everything Blizzard did this year made all of its games feel like a waste of time. I’m not a big fan of live services. I played Destiny 2, because it was free, for about 2 or 3 hours before getting bored and turning it off. I like Halo, but this was so obviously trying to gameify my time that I was not interested. Blizzard has always had an issue with doing that, but it’s been so obvious, so blatant this time around that I just couldn’t stand it. It’s not just WoW, though, it’s been everything they’ve done. I think the worst, honestly, is actually cancelling Heroes of the Storm. I didn’t like Heroes, I don’t like MOBAs much and this one was pretty bad and I felt that its pricing model was predatory, but the people working on it found out they were getting moved off just hours before we did. That’s awful. This is already an industry where people get screwed over a lot, why would Blizzard make it worse and be just as scummy as everywhere else?

Of course, we later found out that it wasn’t the end. The entire company has been “cutting costs” all year, and by cutting costs, we mean cutting the human cost. The story about buying out contracts to get European Customer Service workers out of the company came across as very coercive and shitty, and seems to be a thing going on in the company. The games are bad, the company culture is bad and the response to criticism has been insane. The Diablo Immortal announcement was pretty bad, probably not as bad as it sounded, but the way they reacted to their audience was shocking. They knew it wasn’t going to get well received, and they acted like a wounded party any way, despite the “don’t you guys have phones” being one of the most tone deaf responses to an upset audience since people told us Mass Effect 3’s ending was fine, or good.

For me, personally, WoW is the worst part. It’s not fun to play, the story is so much worse than it’s ever been, and it makes me sad to think about. I don’t think this will kill Blizzard, but I do think it will shamble on as a zombie for a few more decades.