Mark 2018 down as another banner year for indie games, offering a diverse selection of titles for a wide variety of tastes. It's why the "Best Indie Game" category in the end-of-year awards always tends to be one of the most contentious; there are dozens of excellent indie games released every year, and everyone identifies and enjoys a different subset of those games.
Where a category for larger games can come down to a heated discussion over just one or two games, the cutoff for best indie games can involve dozens of titles. Which is why rather than offer a list of 20 or more excellent games, this list has been trimmed to a tidy list of 10 of the year's absolute finest releases.
Without further ado, here are Game Rant's choices for Best Indie Games of 2018
This late entry for the 2018 awards season undeniably earns its place as one of the best indie games of 2018. The first release from young studio a44 Games, published by Annapurna Games, Ashen is a thematically refreshing step forward in the modern line of Dark Souls-likes. Embracing positive themes of community and growth, and it's that optimism -- mixed with a healthy dose of compelling action and exploration -- that make Ashen one of the best indie games of 2018.
It may have taken five years, but Below has arrived and the depths await. As conflicted as players seem regarding the true rogue-like roots of Below, few could disagree that there's something magical about adventuring deeper and deeper. That each level deeper is all the deadlier, all the darker, serves only to drive the need to continue to explore and discover. Each death becomes a cache for a future explorer and a reminder of the costs of this venture.
From a team including the creator of Towerfall comes Celeste, a beautiful 2D platformer about a woman who hopes to find herself while mountain climbing. Players will come for the excellent level design and tight, responsive controls, but will stay for the story of Celeste's struggle to accept herself and her failings while still never giving up on her journey to climb that mountain.
7 Dead Cells
In many ways, Dead Cells channels the same ideas that catapulted Rogue Legacy into the end-of-year awards discussion in 2013. It features a unique mix of rogue-like procedurally generated levels alongside persistent elements for progression. Each new run is unique to itself and fun in a wholly different way. But Dead Cells' combat escalates it beyond such comparisons, capitalizing on an amped up and highly mechanical 2D action system as well as a highly diverse and challenging mix of enemy types. The end is only the beginning.
Florence is unlike any game this year. It's about a woman living her life, going through an important relationship, and growing as a person. The gameplay is light and a playthrough will only last a few hours, but in those few hours, Florence delivers more emotional impact than what other games struggle with in over 40. It's a concise, poignant, and beautiful story that shows perfectly just how versatile gaming can be on mobile devices.
The art of Gris unfolds in layers. The visual beauty of this 2D platformer is immediately apparent as color ebbs and flows over the screen moment to moment. The art of Gris' level design grows progressively more vivid as levels increase in intricacy, as character movement becomes part of the art on-screen. And the final peaks that are the game's story and themes grow to a climax that can feel like a punch in the gut. Gris is somewhat of a wounding experience, but also one that feels freeing if not enlightening.
4 Into the Breach
Into the Breach is not just another tactical game. Defeating the Vek requires precision and a resolute attitude to the point that Into the Breach may as well be a puzzle game. Positioning units so they not only inflict damage but also protect civilians, allies, and infrastructure is a near impossible task. The costs of this war are profound. Victory will rarely feel so. But that's what makes Into the Breach the incredible game that it is.
3 The Messenger
If nothing else, The Messenger is a love letter to retro games with Ninja Gaiden as the heart of the experience. But more than that The Messenger is a beautiful mix of 8-bit and 16-bit visuals, endearing storytelling, and crisp, exciting gameplay with a level of polish that all of the retro games from which The Messenger took inspiration could only dream of.
If Minit was nothing more than what it appeared to be, a 2D action RPG that grants players 60 seconds to accomplish as much as they can before the reset button gets pressed, then it would still be one of 2018's best indie games. But Minit is so much more than that, offering commentary on both the way we play and consume games as well as society in general. And even if that side of the game is too heavy, just wait for 60 seconds and start all over again with a new perspective.
1 Return of the Obra Dinn
From the creator of Papers, Please comes a mystery unlike any other. As an insurance claim auditor, it's up to the player to determine what led to the disaster of the Obra Dinn and its crew. What they'll uncover in the process is an intimate look at the last moments of so many lives, mysteries indescribable, all through the lens of an insurance adjuster and their apathetic employer, the East India Company. Even such a cynical perspective can't stop Return of the Obra Dinn from delivering such a unique and profound experience stunning in its pixelated monochrome.
It seems like every year the selection of excellent indie games grows broader. This year's list of the best indie games brings with it a mix of both familiar developers and fresh faces. Small-scale development experience propagates rapidly as new studios are formed, veterans from AAA studios experiment with their own games. And with new PC storefronts shifting towards a greater revenue share with studios, the security of indie studios will only grow from here. As exciting as 2018 has been for indie games, the promise those games make about the future of indie development is all the richer.