The problem might not be that there are too many videogames these days. I mean, sure, that’s a major issue for developers and publishers—with every storefront getting swamped with new releases every week, it’s harder than ever for any single game to stand out. For the other side of that relationship, though—for the people who play games more than they make them—the problem might be that there’s too much game today. Who has time to try out weird, small games on the PC when beasts like Spider-Man and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey require dozens and dozens of hours to complete? If you’re a regular person whose gaming hours are limited by work or school you can easily go months without feeling the need or desire to try out a new game. That might be good for your bank account, but it’s not great for games as a business or an art form. (And these massive games are especially not great if you’re a writer who has only a few days to crank out a comprehensive review of a 40 hour game.)
Spider-Man is the only game on our list this month that runs for anywhere close to that length. And frankly it’s so good that it’s pretty much the first game I’m determined to play to 100% completion since I was in college. But as good as they are, even games as unassuming as Wandersong and Lamplight City will take over ten hours to complete. Neither seem like they should take that long, and although the length doesn’t hurt either game in the least, they would probably fit into many people’s lives more comfortably if they took a little bit less time to complete.
This piece isn’t really about how long games can get, or how many are out there, but which ones are the best released last month. It’s hard not to think about these things, though, both because it’s a larger conversation being held by game designers and critics throughout the internet this past weekend, and also because I’m thoroughly buried in the ridiculously long Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and not sure when I’ll ever return to the surface. I get the dollar-per-hour concern—if you’re paying $60 for a brand new game, you want to make sure you get your money’s worth—but an eight hour game that’s been carefully whittled into a sharp point will always leave more of a mark than getting slapped upside the head with a wet noodle for 60 hours.
None of the five games below are wet noodles. Some of them could have used a little bit more filing down, perhaps. Either way, they’re all great, all worth playing, and all part of what made September 2018 a totally acceptable month for new videogames.
5. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
It’s clear that Dragon Quest XI made a considerable effort to shake off the bad habits of past entries and, to a certain extent, the game succeeds in updating itself for the current generation. This entry feels a lot more accessible and welcoming compared to other games in the series, and the English voice overs help to breath a lot of character into the extremely long plotline. With that said, it feels as though the efforts made to appeal to a western audience for this localization have in turn caused it to become much tamer, especially when it comes to the game’s combat difficulty. Despite its minor flaws, Dragon Quest XI’s sprawling story easily outshines everything else and makes for an exciting adventure for you to lose yourself in.—Andy Moore
4. Lamplight City
Lamplight City is a murder mystery, and as such it runs the risk of falling into classic murder tropes. Even when it does, it attempts to turn them on their heads. It addresses the discrimination women faced in pursuing math and science; it highlights the common struggle of Black people in a world that still considers them to be the Other; and it focuses on the life of people in the LGBTQ community who must hide their sexuality to not be harassed, or worse. The game isn’t afraid to show any of these hardships, and it’s a great game because of it.—Shonté Daniels
3. Life is Strange 2 Episode 1
There’s a lot I like about Life is Strange that returns in Life is Strange 2, particularly the setting and character writing. The attention to detail is marvelous; it is impressive how well Dontnod have been able to recreate the feeling of key Pacific Northwest areas and scenery. One of the most notable things about the original game, outside of its beauty and its interesting rewind mechanic, was its lead characters, Max and Chloe. While I’m sad to see that Life is Strange 2 doesn’t have strong female leads, the story of Sean and Daniel feels equally compelling and important. The first chapter does a great job of establishing the momentum of the game’s narrative arc. The Diaz boys are very easy to root for, and the pain Sean feels as he must protect his younger brother from the truth of their father’s absence is palpable. The more you participate in the bonding experience of being an older brother, the closer the events seem to hit home. By the end of the chapter, I felt genuine fear for the boys and, while I usually don’t waste time speculating on how a piece of fiction will end, I found myself hoping for the best.—Holly Green
Given Wandersong’s focus on unity, it’s not surprising that the game always returns to ideas of harmony. It’s a game about music, after all, so the motif fits. And while playing Wandersong, I also felt like harmony was that much closer, that the greatest evils were defeatable if only we could rally together. And that’s a powerful thing for a game about a humble lil bard.—Dante Douglas
Spider-Man might return to too many wells too many times—it might be too stuffed full of fights and collectibles and typical open-world business—but its foundations are so strong that it never threatens to collapse on itself. This game understands why Spider-Man has been perhaps the most popular superhero of the last half-century, and does about as good of a job as the comics or movies at capturing the character’s essence. It blends more than fifty years of Spider history together, molds it around a thrilling recreation of Spider-Man’s trademark motion and fighting styles, and puts you in control of the whole thing. All together that makes this one of the most mechanically, narratively, and nostalgically satisfying big budget games of the year, and the best Spider-Man game yet.—Garrett Martin