As the world seems increasingly tumultuous and hostile, it’s only natural to seek some means of escape—if only for a few hours at a time. Luckily for those of us who prefer video games as our means of a temporary reprieve from reality, 2018 offered an embarrassment of riches. This year, gamers have been treated to everything from refreshing takes on longtime favorites (like God of War and Super Mario Party) to bizarre yet utterly enjoyable titles that push the medium forward in new and exciting ways (like Donut County and Florence).
Whittling down the list of the year’s best games is an annual challenge, one that seems only to get harder every time. That’s a good thing, of course, reflecting the outstanding quality coming from major studios and indie designers alike. For TIME’s list of the best video games of 2018, we focused on the games we couldn’t put down this year, the games that surprised us in some delightful way, and the games that were just simply gave us the most joy to play.
10. Donut County (PS4, iPhone, PC)
Among the year’s strangest games, Donut County turns each player into a giant hole in the ground swallowing up as many houses, people and pets as possible. Lurking just beneath the surface of this enjoyable oddball is a surprisingly poignant message about selfishness and greed.
9. Dandara (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, iPhone, Android)
In a radical update to the old-school 2-D platformer, Dandara players dart from point to point to help the titular hero (inspired by a 17th century Afro-Brazilian abolitionist of the same name) save her “world of Salt” from the mysterious and infectious Golden Idea. The beautiful graphics and wide range of attacks make the steep learning curve worthwhile.
8. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
The latest in Ubisoft’s long-running series drops players in ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian War. While it offers gamers more plot-altering choices than ever before and (finally) gives them the ability to pick between genders, it largely takes an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach to deliver a Greek-history geek’s dream game.
7. Super Mario Party (Switch)
Super Mario Party is a satisfying return to form for a classic franchise. This time, Nintendo’s designers have wisely simplified Mario Party’s board-game elements while bolstering the crowd-pleasing mini-games. This version also takes advantage of the motion sensors in the controllers, letting players shake, flip and stir their way through seriously silly contests.
6. Florence (iPhone, Android)
A standout in an emerging genre that blurs the line between video games and interactive stories, Florence is a novel experience in which gamers solve puzzles to help the main character advance her new relationship. In Florence, unlike other puzzle games, the challenges actually get easier as the game goes on, a moving metaphor for the bond that grows between people over time.
5. Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4, Xbox One)
A prequel to 2010’s much loved original, Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2 is a sprawling tale about the decline of the lawless West. Players fill the shoes of gang member Arthur Morgan, on the run after robbing an oil magnate’s train. The otherwise enjoyable game was marred by reports of overworked developers.
4. Subnautica (Xbox One, PC)
Subnautica is a sci-fi survival game in which brains, not brawn, are key to staying alive. Players take the form of a futuristic astronaut who crash-lands on a mysterious ocean world. While the deep blue sea is beautiful, it’s also dangerous. As a bonus: developer Unknown Worlds refreshingly kept guns out of the game to make it feel like an escape from real-world violence.
3. Into the Breach (Switch, PC)
From the makers of the award-winning FTL: Faster Than Light comes this turn-based strategy game set in a nightmarish future world overrun by monsters. As in chess, successful players must think ahead and make sacrifices for the greater good.
2. Spider-Man (PS4)
Insomniac Games has made the best-yet video game featuring Spider-Man—in fact, players will so enjoy the simple act of swinging around a hyperrealistic New York City that they might forget about fighting classic Spidey foes like Wilson Fisk and Electro.
1. God of War (PS4)
Previous God of War games focused on Spartan turned deity Kratos’ brutal acts of revenge against the gods who killed his family. This more mature story shows the aging demigod as a stoic father and grieving widower. God of War impresses with its game play, but players may need a tissue or two when the father-son dynamics get more real than mythic.
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