How do we do it anymore? With so many games releasing these days there literally isn't enough time to play them all. And with the advent of games as a service, time is becoming more valuable than ever. But take a minute to unplug from the cycle of daily and weekly quests, leave the dream of a Rathian gem alone for a minute, and you'll find a radiant stockpile of underrated games that somehow slipped by. We're talking complete journeys, unique experiences, ideas new and old—all just sitting there, idly, while we complain about this week's patch notes and unlucky loot drops.
These are just a few of the games that released in 2018 we think are more than worth your time and money. Fill that holiday quiet with something new and unexpected, and if you think we're missing something, please shout it out in the comments.
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I haven't played Tangledeep—yet—but it's absolutely on my list for a rainy day, as a modern RPG-roguelike in the classic sense. It's a game I probably never would've paid much attention to if a friend, the same friend who introduced me to Nethack, hadn't recommended it. The list of features and genre buzzwords (dungeon crawler, roguelike, 16-bit RPGs, job system, skills, etc. etc.) makes it feel like a kitchen sink of a game. He described it as "kinda like the best Shiren the Wanderer game ever made," so for the three people that particular sell riles up, give Tangledeep a gander. If it sucks you in, it's a game you could probably play for a couple hundred hours, and though it released back in February it's been regularly updated throughout 2018. —Wes Fenlon
Lethal League Blaze
While not as under the radar as a lot of games collected here, I think far too many people missed out on Lethal League Blaze, the sequel to the best indie murder pong game ever created. Like a fighting game, you can play Lethal League Blaze by mashing buttons and having a good time, or you can play at a competitive, tournament-worthy level that demands insane reflexes. Blaze adds a bit of depth to a game that was already deeper than it looked, but it doesn't make it any less fun to pick up and play. It's a perfect party game, but works extremely well online, too. Hell, play it for the new songs from Jet Set Radio's composer alone. —Wes Fenlon
The Bard's Tale 4
I enjoyed what I played of Bard's Tale 4 in every preview up until release, and Andy really liked the final game in his review. But that was hardly a universal sentiment, and a lot of players ran into bugs and performance issues that really hurt it on release. I was sad to see such a messy, poorly received launch. But on the bright side, things have gotten better since then. Big patches have fixed performance and load times, squashed bugs, and added some missing, heavily requested features, like grid movement and the ability to save anywhere. Hardcore dungeon crawlers can now turn off automapping or enable permadeath. You can now respec. I imagine The Bard's Tale 4 still has some rough edges, and will probably get even better with patches in the months to come. But if you were interested in the game but turned off by the rocky launch, it's in much better shape now. Winter breaks were made for long RPGs. —Wes Fenlon
A platformer with art heavily inspired by Studio Ghibli, which we quite liked when we reviewed it earlier this year. It's not going to wow you with its running and jumping, but there are fun puzzles to solve and just so much gorgeous animation to look at. Wrote Jody: "It looks lovely, obviously. The indie budget shows in a few moments but it's still a hell of an achievement, full of throwaway character designs with more personality than other game's protagonists, like the cigar-chomping teddy bear foreman or the teapot in sunglasses who plays poker." — Wes Fenlon
Mirror Drop is a puzzle game. You click on different surfaces to turn their gravity on or off, which in turn moves a little blob around. Simple so far, yeah? The goal is to use those surfaces to move the blob around to specific points in the area. The thing is, you can move around the entire area in first person, and each environment is a bonkers psychedelic dream (or nightmare, if saturated colors and impossible geometry aren't your thing). Half the challenge is making sense of the space in front of you while manipulating gravity to move the blob around. The rest is maintaining your personal sense of gravity. —James Davenport
Super Mega Baseball 2
Certain sports not involving soccer or rocket-car soccer don't get a lot of representation on PC, so it's always a exciting when a good baseball game shows up. Super Mega Baseball 2 improves on the goofy original, bringing it a bit more down to earth but still retaining plenty of cartoony charm, while adding a much needed multiplayer mode. And even in singleplayer season mode, it's fun and surprisingly robust baseball sim. No, you can't trade players (hopefully we'll see that in the next version) but you can customize the hell out of them. (I even made team of video game heroes and villains and played them against each other.) — Chris Livingston
You're a bard on a quest to save the world by singing at pretty much everyone and everything you meet, even the ghosts. Initially light and quirky, Wandersong's real success is its central relationship between the bard and his reluctant companion, Miriam—a witch who is very much not on board with all this singing. Unfortunately for her, there's plenty of singing to be done—Wandersong excels at creating a joyful atmosphere begging to be filled with impromptu, improvised tunes. There's a real heart to the story, and the way it subverts the idea of heroes and destiny makes for some compelling twists. Even the achievements are clever. —Phil Savage
Far: Lone Sails
Far is a narrative sidescroller, something you'd set against the likes of Inside or Limbo, but it's a bit more optimistic about things. You play a little girl in a wandering the world after a global climate disaster. All you have is a massive jalopy, a big two-wheeled vehicle with a topsail that otherwise burns garbage to move. You'll run around its innards to manage acceleration, engine temperature, and the fuel supply all the while, stopping to pick up garbage, gather mementos, or perform maintenance. It's a lonely tour of a devastated landscape and fallen civilization. Far doesn't make it clear where you're going or what you're looking for, but the music instills a light undercurrent of hope that lifts up the beauty in the broken world, a reason to keep rolling, rolling, rolling. —James Davenport
It's the next game from the creator of Pony Island, the freaky fourth-wall demolisher that hid horror and jokes and so much more inside of an innocuous pony-jumping game. The Hex goes meta right off the bat, opening on a bar filled with patrons that represent the most popular game genres. It doesn't take long for someone to die, at which point The Hex becomes a videogame genre murder mystery, filling in the gaps with stories from each character in the shape of entire chapters that lampoon the genre they represent.
You'll play a cliched, bug-ridden RPG while its protagonists comment on how tired they are of grinding. You'll play an entire series of fighting games, riding out the buffs and nerfs that come with every entry. And from there, it gets even weirder. I won't spoil the many, many surprises, but let's just say that the 'true' ending to The Hex was found in a completely different game. If you're still charmed by games about games, this one's a must. —James Davenport
The Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game
$5 on Itch.io (includes Steam key)
This one's super short, but super charming. The premise is exactly what it sounds like: you're a frog detective on a haunted island. The goal? Track down that damn ghost. You wander a surreal cartoon island, interrogate animal suspects, and look for clues as you piece together the mystery at the heart of the island. Expect funny writing, cute characters, and a decent mystery with some light, but satisfying detective mechanics. At $5, it's easily worth it. —James Davenport
Lost in Vivo
Calling all Silent Hill fans and Corgi enthusiasts. Lost in Vivo is a first person psychological horror game about exploring tight, uncomfortable spaces. While taking your dog on a walk in the rain, it slips into the sewers. You follow, of course, and find a lot more than shit down there. The world begins to warp, strange creatures appear, and Lost in Vivo becomes a survival horror game with oppressive environments that recall genre classics. —James Davenport
Take Stardew Valley and add some grim shit like carving up corpses, selling their meat to a village butcher, and turning human fat into candles, and you've got an idea of what Graveyard Keeper is all about. You task is to manage a church, graveyard, morgue, farm, and winery, and each of those tasks comes with a million little tasks, making this an endlessly busy, detail-oriented game. It can at times feel a bit overwhelming, as a simple goal you'd like to achieve may be buried behind hours upon hours of grinding away at menial tasks, but it's also an engrossing and satisfying (and lovely looking) farm life game. —Chris Livingston
Maelstrom is maybe the first game I'd pick to jump into with 10 or more friends in a Discord server, an arcadey-yet-deep naval royale where each player steers a ship loaded with cannons in an ever-shrinking sea. Three styles of boat, three fantasy races, and unlockable captains and crew offer meaningful playstyle choices. Dwarven steam-powered ships can reverse, while orc frigates excel at ramming and boarding, and each ship can target hull, sails, or crew with different types of ammunition. Together, it's a charming multiplayer naval combat game desperately in need of more sailors. Since August, its peak concurrent player count on Steam hasn't exceeded 19—criminal, given how perfect a LAN-style game Maelstrom is. —Evan Lahti
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories
A puzzle-platformer adventure from Swery, the creator of Deadly Premonition, that we missed ourselves. Protagonist J.J. can regenerate after death, leading to some twisted, presumably painful puzzle solutions that involve intentional dismemberment. It's quietly gotten enough positive buzz to be worth checking out if you already know you like Swery's particular brand of strange storytelling; IGN's review said it "manages to tell a surprisingly human story that builds to an emotionally powerful payoff at its conclusion." — Wes Fenlon
You should always make time for a cyberpunk mystery with excellent writing and amazing music—but if you're old enough to remember the sound of your modem connecting to the internet or browsing GeoCities pages in Netscape Navigator, Subserial Network will strike the deepest of chords. Similar to Her Story, this quasi-text adventure is played almost entirely via three windows sitting on your actual desktop: a web browser, an email account, and a Winamp facsimile that comes with a selection of catchy, haunting tunes I'd describe as "Windows 95 wave."
Deciphering the enigma of who you are, what you're trying to accomplish, and whether or not it's the right thing to do is an absolutely gripping experience, as you bounce around the 'net exploring fan sites, IRC rooms, and blueprints for synthetic body modifications in search of a deeper meaning. I subscribed to the Humble Monthly program for the sole purpose of playing Subserial Network, and it was absolutely worth it; now that it's readily available on Itch.io for a fraction of the price, I implore you to check it out. — Lucas Sullivan
If you have recently thought, "I wish I could play a game like Hotline Miami again, but as a cyberpunk ninja in the year 2121 AD," well, here's a good way to spend $5. — Wes Fenlon
You Are Jeff Bezos
A text adventure that dares to put you in the shoes of the world's richest man, with a sharp sense of humor that reveals the hard-to-grasp scope of how much money Jeff Bezos actually has, and what he (you) could do with it. It's a simple Twine text adventure, but it's funny and bleak and just, man, look how much good Jeff Bezos could do the world if he spent that $150,000,000,000. If this opening line doesn't make you want to spend 10 minutes clicking through your options, you probably have very different feelings about billionaires than I do:
"When you wake up this morning from unsettling dreams, you find yourself changed in your bed into a monstrous vermin.
You are Jeff Bezos."
Time to spend all his money. — Wes Fenlon