Dauntless (2018 - PC)
Do you love the idea of Monster Hunter but find yourself bored, frustrated, or just otherwise uninterested in the reality? Dauntless may be the game for you. Set in a world where hunters hop from floating island to floating island via airship to track down and defeat mighty creatures known as Behemoths, Dauntless strips the MH formula of its more tedious elements in order to provide a satisfying and accessible game about picking a weapon and teaming up to bring down big-ass beasts.
And make no mistake, these creatures are nasty things that can be downright exhausting to take down. You'll need to use measured, deliberate strikes and coordinate with up to three teammates in order to be effective. So, for example, if a pike wielder breaks the armor of a Quillshot (basically a 30-foot long mix between porcupine, alligator, and boar), you want someone wielding a giant hammer to get in and smash the newly-created weak point for massive damage.
Each Behemoth feels like a boss fight, with intriguing visual designs and attack patterns that are varied and challenging to avoid and counter. Meanwhile, each class (as dictated by which weapon you're holding) feels unique and provides a benefit for your group.
Dauntless is only confirmed for PC right now, but feels like a natural fit for consoles - Phoenix Labs agrees, but no news on that front. Yet. Sam Prell
A Fold Apart (February 14, 2019 - PC, consoles)
A Fold Apart is one of those games that you just know is going to tear your heart to shreds by the time you're done with it. Inspired by the real-life long-distance relationship of designer and studio co-founder Mark Laframboise and his wife, A Fold Apart likewise depicts a couple living miles and miles (and miles) away from one another.
As one character dreams of the other, players fold the dream world as if it were paper to create solutions to environmental puzzles. So while one side of the "page" might feature a gap you cannot cross, the other side might depict a bridge. By folding the edge of the screen over, the opposite side becomes part of the level, and you now have a bridge you can cross.
Once the sun comes up, the couple communicate with each other via text and progress the story, navigating all the difficulties of a long-distance relationship. I was told to expect misunderstandings, frustration, and sadness; but considering the real life inspiration has a happy ending, I'm hoping A Fold Apart's will too.
A small but nonetheless sweet feature of the game? At the beginning you can choose your couple: male-female, female-male, male-male, or female-female. Aww! Sam Prell
WaveCrash (Early Access - PC)
Fact 1: nothing matches the simple satisfaction of clearing out a nice big chunk in a Match-3 game. Fact 2: ok, maybe one thing - the satisfaction of carefully setting up and then executing a momentum-shifting special attack in a fighting game. Fact 3: Wavecrash combines those two things. Unlike the abstract, fight-adjacent puzzles of the Puzzle Fighter series, Wavecrash puts the characters directly on top of the colorful tiles.
You run your chosen character around on the grid, swapping pieces around and sending matched-up blocks sliding to the other side - hitting the other player to claim more of the battlefield, or slamming against their backline to temporarily box them in. And instead of memorizing special move inputs, you just have to remember what kind of color patterns you need to put together to activate your character's special move! The end result is fighting game competitiveness and mind games with the pace and strategy of a puzzler. I can't wait to see what high-level play looks like with it. Connor Sheridan
Dark Devotion (2018 - PC, consoles)
You know the phrase "It's like Dark Souls but..."? While that description may sometimes get tossed around a bit liberally, in Dark Devotion's case it really is true. This game is pretty much Dark Souls, but 2D. The world is oppressive and gloomy, the combat is the same weighty, punishing-but-fair flavor Souls fans have come to love, and boss fights are a pain in the aaaaaass.
Dark Devotion is far more than just another "Dark Souls but" game though. The shift from fully-rendered 3D to pixelated 2D is perhaps the most obvious difference, but there are others too. Go through a door in one of Dark Devotion's levels and that's it - no going back. This isn't an open world or metroidvania-style sprawling map, it's a deadly dungeon delve with consequences.
As you may have guessed from the title, religion is also a major focus in the game, with "faith" swapped in for what would typically be labeled "experience points" and a dedicated "pray" button. This didn't come up much during my demo, but I'm eager to see if the game will have Something To Say about faith and religion, or if it'll use theology more as a backdrop for spooky setpieces. Either is fine with me, so long as I can dodge roll through barrels and fight gnarly-looking bosses with flaming greatswords. Sam Prell
Black Future '88 (2018 - PC, TBA)
I finally got a feel for what Black Future '88 when I found a raygun that instantly teleports you to the (former) location of whatever you just shot with it. Then I equipped an upgrade that made all of my projectiles bounce off walls. It's a uniquely disorienting power-trip to oneshot scads of robot goons as you blip into their wreckage, occasionally appearing in an unexpected corner thanks to a lucky ricochet kill. The throbbing synth soundtrack helps too.
Black Future '88 is a sidescrolling, run-based shooter; your character's heart will explode in 18 minutes and their only hope for survival is to fight through a dystopi-neon tower and destroy the evil force at its peak. The time limit means you have to keep the needle above "cautious exploration" or else you'll keel over and die, yeah, but your measly health bar means you have to keep the needle below "reckless rampage" too. More than just an arcade-style challenge, time serves as the most valuable currency in Black Future '88; you can even take devil's bargains here or there to exchange your time for powerful boons, or capitalize on powerups that increase your precious store of minutes and seconds. Connor Sheridan
The Gardens Between (2018 - PC, PS4)
This puzzle game has a multitude of strange but fascinating inspirations: take the visuals of Monument Valley, the environmental storytelling of Inside, the ability to rewind and fast forward time like a VHS tape, and wrap it all around a story of two best friends who run away from home.
There are no words or explicit story in The Gardens Between. In fact, you don't even directly control Arina and Frendt, the two main characters. Instead, you'll move time forward and back, causing the platonic pair to move around the game's small, intimate spaces along a set path. Environmental obstacles will block your progress, but with clever manipulation of light, sound, and the level itself, you can reach the goal and advance to a new island.
The Gardens Between chains together a series of "aha!" moments in a relaxing atmosphere that invites you in and wraps a blanket around you. It's charming, gorgeous, and full of heart. Sam Prell
Disco Elysium (TBA - PC)
First: I have some concerns about Disco Elysium because its fictional world is made up of things both new and borrowed. Some are fun, like the popularity of disco music. Others are awful, like rampant racism and distressingly casual use of real-life slurs for gay people. You play as a police detective, so it makes sense that you'd run into unseemly characters who proudly wear their prejudices, but I didn't play far enough to tell how thoughtfully the game handles them.
The stranger parts, though? I feel pretty good about those. Disco Elysium is framed like an old-school computer RPG, but you spend just as much time in dialogue with aspects of your character's personality as you do with other people. Your encyclopedic side (complete with a freaky book-person-mind hybrid portrait) might pop up to run down a little bit of lore, while your esprit de corps could interject to explain why your fellow police officer is behaving strangely (and your addictive nature keeps hounding you to find some smokes). These same aspects are your stats, too; they give bonuses to background dice rolls for challenges like choking down your puke while inspecting a rotten corpse. These personality driven tasks and conversation have an introspective, even hostile, feeling that I've seldom experienced in games, and it makes me curious to see more. Connor Sheridan
Any we missed that you loved? Let us know in the comments! For more great games, be sure to check out our list of the best upcoming games of 2018.