Indie games have routinely changed the landscape for studios and the gaming industry in general, and that remained true in 2018. What used to be a small section of the industry reserved for talented developers attempting to break through into the mainstream consciousness has quickly become a burgeoning and lucrative element of video gaming.
Indie games are no longer characterized by being shorter adventures or graphically inferior to triple-A titles and, in truth, haven't been for some time. 2018 saw some of the best indie games ever created arrive to push the narrative of indie studios rising to meet the challenges laid out for them by bigger developers even further.
Some of the best experiences in gaming regardless of studio size came out of the indie scene, and we've compiled our list for the 10 best indie games of 2018 (in no particular order) to recognize just some of the titles that helped make it such a great year for fans. If you haven't given these games a shot, perhaps the lull in the holiday season will be the perfect time to dive in.
10. Insurgency: Sandstorm
Insurgency: Sandstorm emerged to change the way we view the military simulation genre. Developer New World Interactive put a priority on team-based, tactical gameplay that was meant to mimic the way that soldiers in real life might attempt to achieve the objectives given to them by the chain of command. In the past, this has been a dicey proposition, often creating games with a pace that is too slow or combat that falls short of the mark.
Neither of those problems plagued Insurgency: Sandstorm, however. It might not be the most attractive shooter from a graphical standpoint, but it featured arguably the best gunplay available in games that debuted in 2018, and it had a deep roster of weapons to choose from as well. Better still, the pacing of the game was frenetic and enjoyable, making the FPS combat exciting in a way that many military sims can only dream of. Insurgency: Sandstorm was criminally underplayed this year despite excellent review showings, and its still evolving, making it well worth a look for those who might have missed it earlier.
9. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Speaking of immersive, realistic gameplay, Kingdom Come: Deliverance delivered that in a big way when it released in early 2018. Developer Warhorse Studios had promised a game that focused on historically accurate content while still providing a compelling play experience. Somehow, in a game that makes you bathe your character so they're more presentable to the nobility that will then ridicule them anyway, the balance between those two design philosophies was struck in a pitch perfect manner.
A combination of great characters, strong storytelling, and one of the best first-person melee combat systems ever designed helped buoy Kingdom Come: Deliverance through the dry periods of its historical accuracy. Even then, the history was part of the selling point, as it was told in a way that was easy to get invested in. The kind of attention to detail present in Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an indie marvel, and its the type of game that could be the progenitor of even more historically-accurate period pieces in the future.
8. The Banner Saga 3
Stoic Studio's The Banner Saga 3 hit hard and didn't hold anything back when it released this past summer. The climatic finale to The Banner Saga trilogy saw protagonists players had spent years familiarizing themselves with make the toughest choices imaginable. While the game's open-ended narrative means that player experience will vary, it's safe to say that The Banner Saga 3 left its mark on everyone who played it, good or bad.
That emotional storytelling was accompanied by some of the finest tactical RPG combat available this year, and the same gorgeous animation style that had won over fans of the previous two entries in the trilogy. We may never get a series of games quite like The Banner Saga again, and The Banner Saga 3 was an excellent feather in the cap of Stoic Studio, who proved that cinematic storytelling and engrossing gameplay doesn't always come from the biggest names in gaming.
7. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Sometimes it feels a little disingenuous to refer to developer Obsidian Entertainment as an indie studio. The consistent quality that Obsidian delivers is on-par with the most famous AAA developers, and what the studio is able to do given its relative size and funding is nothing short of incredible. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire continued that tradition in 2018, providing a worthy sequel to its award-winning predecessor.
It's hard to find a major flaw in Pillars of Eternity II. Its story, like so many others in this collection of indie titles, was nothing short of sublime. The combat depth and customization was detailed without ever feeling overwhelming. The cRPG graphics were done with the kind of finesse we've come to expect from some of the best in the business. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire even featured a whole lot of swashbuckling, infusing it with the kind of charm that keeps players coming back for more. It was a triumph and wouldn't be out of place on any best of 2018 list.
6. Sunless Skies
Sunless Skies exudes "cool." The sequel to 2015's Sunless Sea returns to a familiar blend of mechanics and storytelling that serve developer Failbetter Games well, focusing on exploration and narrative rather than any particularly deep gameplay innovations. That style works here, though, as it helps accentuate the Gothic moodiness that permeates ever corner of Sunless Skies' world.
"SAIL THE STARS. BETRAY YOUR QUEEN. MURDER A SUN." That's how Sunless Skies is marketed online, and if that tagline isn't enough to persuade you to give it a shot, perhaps the knowledge that the protagonist is the captain of an interplanetary locomotive will? Sunless Skies is bizarre, beautiful, and will stick with you long after you've retired from its Victorian-inspired world.