Some people play video games just to relax and divert their mind from the real world. They don’t want to lose or “die,” they just want to play. But other gamers have a very different outlook on video games. They want something that will challenge them, something difficult to complete and that lets them feel truly satisfied when they make it past a level or finish the game. They want bragging rights to their friends who gave up. They want to face a real struggle that makes them have to work at the game.
There’s nothing wrong with either type of gamer, but this article is aimed at the latter, those who want a real challenge. So if you’re looking for a difficult new game to try to overcome, or want to know what new titles to avoid because you don’t want this kind of game, read on! We have compiled a list of what we feel are the Top 10 Most Difficult Games of 2018. These are the games that punish you for dying, require a lot of tactical thinking, present challenging boss battles, or have steep learning curves. We guarantee you won’t blitz through any of these titles!
10. Dark Souls Remastered
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Namco Bandi Studios
- Developer: FromSoftware
- Release Dates: May 23rd, 2018
Dark Souls Remastered is the re-released version of the action RPG Dark Souls, one of the most influential video games of its time. The plot is very minimal and up to the player to discover as you attempt to make your way through the game. You play as a cursed undead character in the realm of Lordran. The land used to be ruled by dragons, but they were defeated in the Age of Fire. When the flame begins to die and is artificially rekindled, a curse spreads through Lordran causing some humans to be continually resurrected upon their deaths. It’s up to you to decide the fate of Lordran by keeping the flame alive or letting it go out forever.
We couldn’t make a list of difficult games without adding Dark Souls Remastered. It’s known for its unforgiving difficulty, causing players to have to replay huge sections of the game when they die. Boss battles can only be overcome by learning attack patterns and strategies against them, and constant player death is an expected part of the experience. Making it to the end of the game has become a modern gaming achievement, as many gamers never make it that far. Dark Souls is so famous as a difficult game already, though, that we will leave it here at the tenth place because chances are you already know of its challenging, infamous legacy. You didn’t need us to tell you it’s not for the easily frustrated!
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux
- Publisher: Matt Makes Games
- Developer: Matt Makes Games
- Release Dates: Jan. 25th, 2018
Celeste is a platforming video game that went from having a prototype created in a four-day game jam to becoming a well-received full game. You play as Madeline, a young woman determined to climb Celeste Mountain despite warnings against doing exactly that. On her journey, Madeline encounters many different people. Some of them are helpful and others harmful. Amongst them and perhaps most interestingly, she has to deal with a dark reflection of herself called “Part of Madeline.” Madeline has to learn how to deal with this dark piece of her if she ever wants to survive the brutal climb to the top.
Celeste has already won several awards in the gaming world, and at the time of this article’s publication, is awaiting the results of many more nominations. The difficulty of Celeste is actually built right into the story. Since the game is about climbing a mountain, the difficulty mounts over time, just like climbing a real mountain. And because the story is all about Madeline overcoming everything against her and working hard to reach her goals, that is exactly what you are doing playing the game and overcoming its difficulty - gamers can directly empathise with Madeline. With instant respawns Celeste does have some forgiveness for its challenges but remains a difficult game to reach the end of.
- System: Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Devolver Digital
- Developer: Gamespires, Croteam
- Release Dates: Aug. 29th, 2018 (early access)
Scum is a multiplayer survival game set on an open world map. It’s set on a prison island in Croatia, and you play as one of the 100 escaped inmates. You have to try to get off the island and survive long enough to do so. By completing objectives and successfully surviving, you will earn fame points. These points allow you to be cloned to come back if you die and also serve as currency when you’re in a safe place. You’ll have to decide what you can do to remove your deadly implant and navigate the island’s many dangers to try to get away safely - and that includes the other 99 players that will also be on the server with you, trying to do the same thing.
Scum is still in early access on Steam only, but has already sold over a million copies and will be releasing in 2019 for consoles. What makes Scum more difficult than your average multiplayer game is that it realistically stimulates the human body, forcing you to micromanage your character a bit. For instance, you need to make sure your character is fed and gets enough vitamins to stay healthy. But if you lose all your teeth in a fight - and you can’t get them back, of course, since it’s meant to be realistic - you’ll have to find a way to liquefy your food first. You even have to urinate and defecate, but doing so leaves behind traces of your whereabouts that other players can use to track you. If you’re not ready to manage not only combat but also intense self-care and long term consequences, you’re not ready for the challenge Scum is presenting.
7. Into the Breach
- System: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux
- Publisher: Subset Games
- Developer: Subset Games
- Release Dates: Nov. 20th, 2007
Into the Breach is a far future strategy game set in a world where humans are threatened by an army of monsters called the Vek. The only way to fight back against them is, of course, in giant customisable mech suits! It’s up to you to build your party of mechs to go up against the Vek in turn-based battles to prey upon their weaknesses and systematically bring them down. Each map you fight on includes civilian infrastructure that is critical to the power grid supporting the mech suits, so your primary goal is to protect those buildings. Maps also have additional objectives to try to clear in your fight against the powerful Vek.
Like several other games on our list of the Most Difficult Games of 2018, Into the Breach includes the chance to lose combatants permanently. If any of your mech soldiers die, you cannot get them back ever. That already adds a significant amount of pressure and challenge to the game. Considering the strategy you need to win is to upgrade the equipment and skills on the mech units to make them strong enough to clear objectives, losing even just one of your best fighters is devastating. It’s a lot of hard work and time undone, and if you lose too many of your most powerful mechs, you may find the game impossible to complete.
6. The Messenger
- System: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch
- Publisher: Devolver Digital
- Developer: Sabotage Studio
- Release Dates: Aug. 30th, 2018
The Messenger is an action platform game, and one of the few difficult games on our list made for the Nintendo Switch. It takes place in a ninja village that is attacked by a terrible and powerful demon king. When a mysterious Western Hero arrives, he says that the only way to defeat the demons is to carry a strange scroll to the top of a mountain. One of the ninjas, who becomes known as “The Messenger,” is tasked with this challenge. He must ascend the dangerous mountain with the scroll, travel through time, and defeat the evil demon king 500 years in the future. But this is just all part of a time loop where that messenger becomes the Western Hero over and over again in an endless cycle...
Before it even was released, The Messenger took home several awards. Since it came out, it has nabbed a few others. But what makes it so difficult? It’s platforming sections are exceptionally challenging. You must be ready to do them absolutely perfectly, have great timing, and avoid a number of hidden enemies and traps if you want to succeed. As the game progresses, these platforming sequences become more and more difficult, but also more important to finishing the game and achieving all the bonuses. Beyond the struggle of these platforming parts, boss battles in The Messenger present quite a steep challenge. When you finish them, though, you can expect intense satisfaction.
- System: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
- Developer: A44
- Release Dates: Dec. 7th, 2018
Ashen is a low fantasy RPG set in a mysterious sunless world, where you play as a nameless protagonist searching for a new home. Gameplay in Ashen consists of single-player exploration, multiplayer competition and cooperation, and battles with NPC monsters. Ashen has an open world environment you are free to explore as you will, and is presented with muted cel-shaded graphics to illustrate the eternal darkness of the land. Rather than raising stats to become stronger, Ashen lets you customise and improve your character through equipment and talismans that can be found or crafted.
Many reviews of Ashen compare it directly to Dark Souls, one of the most famously challenging games of all time. If that isn’t enough to already make you believe Ashen is a challenging playthrough, keep reading. Combat is more than just button mashing and hoping for the best; that’s more likely to get you killed. Even seemingly simple and weak enemies can spell death if they overwhelm you in large enough numbers. Boss battles are also sure to present quite a challenge to overcome, so you had better be ready to learn attack patterns and how to anticipate enemy movements if you hope to survive.
4. Monster Hunter: World
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Dates: Jan. 26th, 2018
Monster Hunter: World is an action RPG that released for consoles in early 2018. In it, you play as a Hunter who can take on missions to kill or capture amazing beasts from a variety of environments. Alongside a cat-like companion, you can explore the world with other players, working alone or together to and down the biggest and baddest monsters you can find. Conquering a monster drops materials that you can use to create better equipment and weapons. With that improved gear, you can hunt bigger and more difficult monsters.
Monster Hunter has been a popular series in Japan for many years but failed to gain traction in the West. Monster Hunter: World was meant to change that by offering easier to learn gameplay and a more forgiving system. It did work in some ways, and Monster Hunter: World found a lot of success overseas as well as in Japan. But even if the game is easier than its predecessors, it is by no means an easy game. Monster Hunter: World has an incredible amount of customisation available, with so many different weapons to learn how to use each with their own unique combos to memorise. The monsters are very challenging and often take a long time to defeat, and you have to be skilled at the game’s combat system if you hope to succeed. The learning curve is still quite steep as it drops you right into things from the start, which is quite intimidating to gamers that may not be familiar with the Monster Hunter series and mechanics. Basically, there is a lot to learn and it takes quite a bit of time to master before you can really bring down the best beasts!
3. Dead Cells
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux
- Publisher: Motion Twin
- Developer: Motion Twin
- Release Dates: Aug. 7th, 2018
Dead Cells is a roguelike-Metroidvania game where you play as a slime-like mass of cells that possess a dead body in a dungeon. You have to get out of the dungeon, using the corpse to fight off other undead monsters. Some of these monsters will unlock more cells when they are defeated, and these cells can be used to purchase permanent upgrades and items from the vendors between each level. That is if you can even reach the end of the levels without dying first. There are also bosses known as Keepers to defeat at certain parts of the game. Currently, Dead Cells has four of these Keepers.
There are a few elements that make Dead Cells a difficult game. Firstly, because it is a roguelike, the levels are procedurally generated. That means that a large number of pre-made pieces of dungeons are put together in a random and unpredictable order, along with a changing and random placement of enemies and items. So if you die and go back, the dungeon will not be the same, never allowing you to learn how to get past a particular part. Secondly, Dead Cells includes a form of permadeath. If you die on any level, you lose all cells and anything you’ve picked up so far and have to start from the beginning of the level again. Combat in Dead Cells also invokes players learning the attack patterns of enemies and using them to their advantage - and that means frequent player-death is just a part of playing the game as you learn what to do.
- System: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
- Publisher: Capybara Games
- Developer: Capybara Games
- Release Dates: Dec. 14th, 2018
Below is an action-adventure game initially teased in 2013, but wasn’t finally published until 2018. The game focuses on exploration as you play as a tiny warrior on a remote island who is trying to survive. Below is played from a top-down perspective. All of the environments are randomly generated, so no two playthroughs are quite the same. Below is a new take on a roguelike game, meaning that it uses many elements of the genre (a fantasy narrative, difficult gameplay, and permanent death for example) but tells a creative new story.
Below was designed to be challenging from its conception. Any game that has permanent death, which means you must always start over from the beginning if you lose, will be more difficult than those games that allow you to reload from a previous save or checkpoint. Below is full of difficult battles that you must face and try to overcome if you want to keep exploring and continue to play, and some gamers even called a few of these fights unfair in their difficulty. Plus there are death traps waiting for you all over the map, and since it generates randomly each time, it’s impossible to memorise where they are. But while some called the game too hard, many others say Below has a balanced difficulty. And they all can agree it’s satisfying when you’re able to play successfully.
1. Darkest Dungeon
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation Vita, iOS
- Publisher: Merge Games
- Developer: Red Hook Studios
- Release Dates: Jan. 18th, 2018 (Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)
Darkest Dungeon is an RPG where you step into the shoes of a person who has inherited a huge gothic estate from a relative. That relative had tried to find riches by excavating the catacombs and dungeons beneath the manor but instead had discovered portals to a dark dimension. Now evil creatures and monsters are pouring through these portals, and it’s up to you to stop them. You have to assemble teams of explorers to enter the dungeons and cleanse them from these evil creatures. Along the way, you discover the memoirs of your relative to learn about the portals and the Darkest Dungeon, the source of all the evil in the estate.
Darkest Dungeon has a unique gameplay element called the Affliction System not found in other dungeon crawl RPGs. Each party character has a stress level and a resolve level that is affected by how long they explore the dungeons and what happens, and that stress must be balanced with the pros and cons it brings for each character. Stakes are high, as any hero who dies in the dungeon is lost forever. Darkest Dungeon’s dungeons are randomly generated, so they are impossible to prepare completely for as you never know what you’re going to face. If Darkest Dungeon isn’t already difficult enough for you, switch it to Stygian mode. This gameplay mode forces you to complete the game in less than 86 in-game weeks and without killing more than 13 characters - or you automatically lose and your save file is deleted forever.
If you’ve played all the most popular games of 2018 but didn’t find any of them challenging enough yet, well. It’s time to try something a little more difficult! Many of the most difficult games of 2018 are smaller, independent titles that may have gone under the radar. But for gamers looking for something that they can really sink their teeth into (metaphorically speaking), these games are the best of the best the year gave us. You’re guaranteed bragging rights if you can finish these games, not to mention some very real satisfaction and hard-earned pride. If being the key word, of course!
Did we miss your favourite challenging game of 2018? Did you come here to find something new to play, or to find out what to avoid? Are you ready to try any of these games now, or have you played any of them before? How do you feel about difficult games? We would love to hear all your thoughts in the comments below!