We're a quarter of the way through 2018, and already we've got plenty of games piling up in our collective backlog. This past March was a solid month, with our two Game of the Month picks narrowly edging out the mountain-region mayhem of Far Cry 5 as you clash with gun-toting cultists and fend off ferocious wildlife. Meanwhile, the hype for Sea of Thieves might've been a little overblown; at launch, its multiplayer pirate adventuring is good fun but lacks satisfying end-game goals. Episodic murder mystery The Council has potential with its strategic conversation mechanics, but the stilted interactions between NPCs left us a bit cold.
At the end of every month, we comb through all our recent reviews to find the two games that qualify as must-plays. Consider these games to be the highlights of the year thus far - and if you're looking for something to play while you wait for the rest of the new games of 2018, these standout titles are a sure bet.
March Game of the Month (Runner-up): A Way Out
It's rare that a game actually can't exist unless you're playing with a friend. Usually, co-op is this optional, sometimes tacked-on affair for bigger single-player games, like Far Cry 5 - but with A Way Out, it's everything. You play as a pair of prisoners - Leo and Vincent - who are looking to break out of the slammer and earn their freedom. Everything they do, you have to do with your co-op pal together. From breaking out, to fishing, or even playing Connect Four, every little action has been carefully created to make it feel like a shared experience. This isn't just a co-op game - it's the most innovative use of co-op gameplay to date, and if you want to go on an adventure with your buddy, this is the one to beat. Sam Loveridge
March Game of the Month (Winner): Ni no Kuni 2
Ni no Kuni 2 is an improvement over the first game in just about every way - and the original is pretty magical to begin with. Chief among the improvements in this open-world, action-focused JRPG is the amped-up combat, which plays out like a fireworks display of flashy attacks and quick-swapping between party members. The rich story revolves around Evan, a wrongfully deposed king looking to reclaim his throne and restore order to his kingdom. As with the first game, the vibrant, Studio Ghibli-caliber visuals are a joy to behold, and the sprawling world is full of activities with incredible depth, like the RTS-style battles of Skirmish mode and medieval urban planning in Kingdom Management. With its endlessly charming vibes and bountiful content, Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is basically too pure for this world. Lucas Sullivan
February Game of the Month (Runner-up): Fe
EA's second unexpected indie punt has been something of a triumph. Emerging as a kind of lovechild between Shadow of the Colossus and Ori and the Blind Forest, Fe is a treat for the eyes, all pastel colors and polygonal angles, combining platforming and puzzle-solving. You even occasionally have to work out how to scale a colossal deer. Oh, and there's some sing-song involved too, with the little fox protagonist learning new ways to communicate with the forest and its inhabitants as you progress through the story. It's all utterly charming. Things aren't all sweetness and light, though - Fe can also be incredibly frustrating, with flummoxing logic, strange navigational problems, and a distinct lack of explanation sometimes leaving you without a clue on how to progress. But when it does all come together, it's an exhilarating joy for the eyes and ears - you just have to be prepared for a little ire every now and then. Sam Loveridge
February Game of the Month (Winner): Shadow of the Colossus
There aren’t many games that can feel as fresh and as special today as they did 13 years ago. Shadow of the Colossus’ latest HD remake on PS4 manages it effortlessly. Its tale of a young boy’s quest to bring his love back from the dead by killing 13 giant creatures still feels as ethereal and captivating as it did on PS2. The barren, atmospheric world tells its own story as you pound through it on horseback to take on the colossi one at a time, contemplating your actions as you go. Each creature-climbing attack is a unique moment of spectacle that few other games have ever so consistently achieved. What’s even more impressive is that under the updated, modernized controls and 4K graphics (with the option to choose between 4K resolution or 60FPS), this is built from the original PS2 code, proving that Sony and director Fumito Ueda nailed a timeless magical charm perfectly all that time ago. Leon Hurley
January Game of the Month (Runner-up): Dragon Ball FighterZ
Dragon Ball FighterZ accomplishes what so few games based on the Dragon Ball franchise have: it makes you feel powerful. That sounds like a pretty simple thing, but when we're talking "I can blow up a planet by pointing my finger at the ground" levels of power, it's actually quite a daunting task. Developer Arc System Works has mixed equal parts fan service and fighting game expertise, whipping up a lightning-fast and surprisingly brutal 2D fighter that plays as good as it looks (and it looks really damn good). If anything could get you to start practicing your Kamehameha form again, FighterZ is it. Sam Prell
January Game of the Month (Winner): Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter World has done one of those incredible things. It's taken a series that's been well known for being impenetrable to new players, and made it much more accessible. It's still not the best for clarity or ease of use - just check out our Monster Hunter World guide and the video above for some examples - but it makes the hunt much more fun and welcoming for new players to jump in. And boy, will you want to. Each area is lush and vibrant, teeming with monster life, and every fight will feel you leaving exhilarated - if you win, that is. It's an absolute triumph. Sam Loveridge
As if your backlog wasn't big enough already, you can check out our list of the best games of 2017 to see what set the precedent for this year's releases.