This is all about a game’s cast. It isn’t limited to the main character, but also includes party members, enemies, and NPCs that have an influence on the story. Having one great character won’t land a game on this list, but in the same vein, having a lackluster lead isn’t necessarily disqualifying — assuming the other cast members are awesome. Dialogue, writing, vocal performance, and motion capture obviously have a large impact on the success of a character, but I also want to highlight unique characters, ones with a good backstory, and well-developed character relationships.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
I’m playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as Kassandra, and I definitely think it was the right choice. She’s brash, sarcastic, but with an element of hopefulness. Some side characters are better than others, but the good ones stand out.
The protagonist of Celeste, Madeline, is a surprisingly deep person that struggles against her alter ego “Badeline” throughout the game. It’s also worth mentioning Mr. Oshiro, who runs the haunted hotel. He’s easily one of my favorite characters of the year.
I was never quite satisfied with how the character stories in Octopath Traveler melded with one another, which is the biggest reason it doesn’t make the proper list. It also sucks that I started with Therion, the thief. He’s super annoying. Most of the other party members are better.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit
There are really only two characters of note in this small “demo” for Life is Strange season two. But even in this small of an experience, the writers get a lot of mileage out of the father/son dynamic and just how adorable Chris’ imagination is.
5. The Banner Saga 3
As I mentioned in the Best Setting category, there are so many characters in The Banner Saga 3 that it can be hard to differentiate and keep up at times. That said, the main characters are all fantastic. Rook, Iver, Hakon, Oddleif, Canary, Folka, Eyvind, and Juno all return and have their own paths and personalities. Even new party members like Petrus and Alfrun add something different and unique.
Rugga was never my favorite villain, as he always felt a bit mustache-twirly. Even in a world where everything is falling apart and the most evil among us have nothing to lose, he still feels a bit too evil. But this is an incredibly complex world with complex relationships, and I really appreciate The Banner Saga series for going for it.
4. Red Dead Redemption 2
Again, I’m only judging Red Dead Redemption 2 from what I’ve played. Arthur Morgan clearly comes across as a man that’s done some bad things but is truly just looking for peace. It’s pretty clear to me that Dutch eventually becomes the villain of the story, as I don’t really buy his “we’re all in this together” attitude. But it’s those complexities that make the characters in Red Dead Redemption 2 so engrossing.
I haven’t gotten to know the side characters enough yet, but I’m really liking Lenny and hating Micah, which is definitely intentional. As with other categories, Red Dead Redemption 2 may have scored higher on this list if I’d played more of it. But I guess we’ll (probably) never know.
3. Donut County
And now for something completely different. The characters in Donut County actually remind me a lot of Night in the Woods. There’s far more light-heartedness to Donut County’s story, but the characters have the same millennial hipster way of speaking — where everything reads like a witty text message. That style isn’t for everyone, but it serves the game in this case.
BK is definitely my favorite character of the year, and the side characters are also fun anthropomorphized animals and objects, like Salt and Pepper. Raccoon King is also a great villain. The dialogue really makes the story work in this one.
2. Marvel’s Spider-Man
I was stunned after finishing Marvel’s Spider-Man, thinking it had some of my favorite video game writing and story of the year. That’s not at all what I expected from a Spider-Man game made by Insomniac. But they really nail the portrayal of Peter Parker here, which might be my favorite non-Tom Holland Peter Parker I’ve seen outside of comics.
MJ and Miles are also fantastically fleshed-out characters, and the relationship between the three grows and changes over the course of the game. The mentor relationship between Peter and Dr. Octavius is especially heart-wrenching, given how things progress. Marvel’s Spider-Man truly feels like a Marvel superhero movie in video game form, and I mean that as a huge compliment.
1. God of War
We live in a world where Kratos is one of the best characters of the year. And somehow they managed to do this without rewriting or retconning the events of previous God of War games. That’s insane. He’s a grieving husband that still has to be a father — something he clearly isn’t cut out to do when the game begins.
The arc of the relationship between Kratos and Atreus is something special, and that’s coming from someone that isn’t even a parent (yet). There’s a period in the middle of the game after Atreus finds out he’s part god where he becomes an unbelievable prick. It was so annoying; but the rest of the game and how he grows only works because of those moments. It’s brilliant. And that doesn’t even mention Mimir, Brok, and Sindri, who are all fantastic. If I had a list of my top 10 characters of 2018, all five of them would have a good shot at making the list.
Building from Best Characters, continue to the next page for Best Story!