It’s a new year, and the gaming horizons are refreshed. There’s bound to be loads you want to play – just check out our list of the best upcoming games for 2018 and beyond if you’re stuck for ideas – but at some point you’re likely to want to really get your teeth stuck into something long term. Because nowadays, not every game is a case of ‘play through and done’. Not every game is even a case of ‘massive play through, loads of DLC, and done’. Increasingly, bigger games are pitching themselves as hobbies. As virtual, unpaid careers, in fact. Destiny arguably popularised the model when it combined console FPS and MMOs in 2014, but this year there are an absolute stack of games – some new, some returning – bidding to be your next big, long-term obsession.
Crafting. Character building. Base building. Co-op career paths. Endless goddamn loot. Persistent, RPG-tinged everything. Over the next page you’ll find a saturation of all this and more. If you’re looking for a game to not just play, but to really call home, there’s almost certainly going to be one for you in 2018. All you need to do is decide which is the right flavour for you, and then get ready to move in.
Fortnite and Fortnite Battle Royale
Release date: Out now (early access)
Platform: PS4 and Xbox One
It took a long (long) time to get here, but already, Fortnite's cannily chosen foundation built on the four core tenets of long-term compulsion - shooting stuff, building stuff, building a character, and doing it all with your friends - is earning it a heck of a loyal following. The core game is the PvE focused component, a kind of Minecraft meets Left 4 Dead scenario in which you and your squad collect resources, build bases and defenses, and use them to fight off endlessly incoming zombie hordes. And a damn fine component it is too, with serious legs.
Playing out over a long-term campaign, plus many planned, limited-time events, it offers myriad opportunities to develop your skills and abilities while increasing your overall power level in order to access an ever-expanding array of content. Having dramatically pivoted from the 'make 'em, release 'em, do a sequel' model of its Gears of War days to a resolute 'games as ongoing service’ outlook, Epic Games looks to have found a really rather good format with Fortnite's campaign mode.
On the other side is the surprise hit Battle Royale mode. The large-scale PvP variant of Fortnite might have launched under controversy, initially perceived as a slightly naughty cash-in on the success of Player Unknown's Battlegrounds, but it has rapidly established itself as a rather distinct, breakout success. Taking PUBG's core idea - up to 100, initially unequipped, players fight it out on one, ever-shrinking, open-world map, with last-man-standing win conditions - Battle Royale makes the concept its own with a dash of the PvE game's environmental crafting. With building resources collectible on the fly, you can construct as you fight, to augment existing structures, create whole new ones, or simply confound snipers with endlessly regenerating brick walls. With a full XP system and tiered gear drops from Common to Legendary - and plenty of updates and expansion in-coming - Battle Royale looks like it's going to stay as compelling long-term as it is in the moment. Which is, very.
Monster Hunter World
Release date: January 26
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
If you're one of the initiated loyalists who've been enjoying Monster Hunter for years, you know exactly why World is on this list. If you're one of the many who've been hovering on the periphery of this most beloved but cultish and inscrutable series, wondering what all the fuss is about… Well, let me explain by combining blunt references to bigger games and movies, in a fashion which will no doubt infuriate the purists, but will be regardless remain correct:
Dark Souls + a bit of Far Cry + Destiny + Jurassic Park = Monster Hunter. That’s what you want to know.
And trust me, it is the recipe for a game you want stuffed right in your face. The core gameplay loop is a masterstroke of moreish, long-term gratification. Stalk, track, and battle monsters - using a variety of puristic, demanding strategies and tactics spread over 14 different weapon types - take those monsters out using a careful, slow-and-steady approach (alone, or while combining your abilities with those of friends), then harvest their corpses for materials, craft new gear with it, and move on to bigger, more rewarding quarry. It's simple on paper, but the depth of Monster Hunter's systems, the purism of its combat, and the marathon nature of its progress path make for an intensely compulsive, deeply gratifying 'career' game.
Metal Gear Survive
Release date: February 20
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Look, I know, okay? Saying anything positive about Metal Gear Survive has long been akin to a spirited discussion of herpes prevention around the Christmas dinner table. However important the points being made, there is simply no-one who wants to hear that shit. But please, I ask you to stop dry-wretching over the metaphorical pigs-in-blankets for a second and hear me out. Because Metal Gear Survive, if you divorce it from all the weighty trappings of Kojima, Konami, and Metal Gear Solid itself, actually *whispers* looks like it could be pretty good.
Because watch this big, six-minute gameplay trailer. Watch it, and try to ignore the fact that this game has the words "Metal Gear" in the title. Do that while, paradoxically, remembering just how good, fun, and versatile Metal Gear Solid 5's core gameplay systems are. While it shamelessly pulls influences from all of the hottest base-building survival games of recent years, Survive looks to do so really quite well, with a way richer and slicker suite of activities than we initially expected.
Solo stealth-survival missions, for seeking out supplies and survivors, and frantic co-op defense modes? Check. A home base army to build out of those survivors? Yep, it's got that too. A whole stack of defensive and offensive tools and items for deployment, that can be used to augment your base in the long-term, or comedically nail zombies on the fly? Those are also A Thing, and the facility to drop slippy-slidey flooring to send incoming shamblers hurtling off cliffs is particularly delicious. Consider all of that, remember that Hideo Kojima still exists, despite this game also existing - and is making Death Stranding - and then multiply all of that by how much fun Metal Gear Solid 5 is to play on a moment-by-moment basis. It might never be okay to admit, but Metal Gear Survive does look like it could be pretty good.
Sea of Thieves
Release date: March 20
Platforms: Xbox One
To be fair, it's not yet 100% clear to what degree Rare's Sea of Thieves is going to be a hobby game, in that we still don't know exactly what it is. Which is really weird at this stage. Seriously, the game is out on March 20. Never before have I seen a Wiki page for a major, first-party video game that consisted of only eight lines, two months before launch. But that is the case with Sea of Thieves. Still, everything certainly feels promising. We know that there will be open-world, co-op, seafaring exploration. We know that there will be quests and combat, both against in-game monsters and other players. And we know that there will be loot, because duh, because pirates. Without loot, this would just be a sailor simulator, and it would be called Sea of Boats, which would be crap.
But while the game's over-arching career structure is still under wraps - to be fair, its slow development might not be a bad thing, being the product of Rare's very open, experimental, 'find the fun and build around it' approach to organic development - we do know that the core gameplay promises to be really rather goofily compelling with friends. And if there's anything to keep you coming back to a game, night after night, month after month, it's guaranteed silly fun with friends.
GR Associate Editor Sam and I played a 20 minute session of Sea of Thieves together at E3, along with a few randomly selected crewmates. Within the first five of those 20 minutes, the crew had totally failed to point out an imminent rock while I navigated by map from behind the main sail, unable to see straight ahead. This caused us to pile straight into said rock, despite my repeated, specific warnings that the crew should keep an eye out for exactly such things while I navigated. Then we repaired the hull, bailed out the water, failed to notice the continuing leak on the next deck down (or, in fact, the existence of the next deck down, because it was totally submerged), sank, fought another ship, sank again, and then sailed straight into the black skies of an endless death-storm. Nothing went well, I got really angry with everyone, and it was great. Sea of Thieves could be the best 'dicking about with your mates' game of the year, if it can keep this stuff up long-term.
Release date: Q4
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
The most obvious rival to Destiny this year, Anthem couldn't scream 'Coming for ya, Bungie' any louder if it - perhaps via some bizarre Weird Science-style lightning based accident - actually grew a literal human mouth and audibly screamed those exact words in the loose direction of Seattle. It's a shared-world, co-op, sci-fi shooter, with an RPG tinge and set on a semi-apocalyptic looking planet filled with all kinds of lush, sprawling, semi-open countryside. There’s also a central city, in which you can pick up missions, and upgrade and tweak your gear. It even has a personalised approach to load-outs, by way of your Javelin power-armour, a set of firepower and superpower imbuing kit that comes in multiple base flavours, not unlike Destiny's three core classes.
It is, without question, EA's bid to steal a slice of Activision's pie. Or perhaps more accurately, to reverse-engineer the recipe and sell its own version of the pie, hoping that people will prefer the retuned formula. Heck, Anthem is even being referenced as a potential 10-year project for developer BioWare, just like Destiny has been for Bungie. This thing's intentions are as subtle as a clown at a funeral. Does it have a chance of standing out, given its obvious attempt at replication? Well yes. The game's third-person, jet-packing, entirely 'heavier' feeling combat should easily set it apart from Bungie's game in terms of moment-to-moment gameplay. And with Mass Effect writer Drew Kapyshyn on script duties, its world-building and narrative could be worth the price of entry alone.