Year In ReviewWe look back at the highs, lows, surprises, and standouts in and around video games this year.  

It’s that time again: time to take stock of the year that was 2018. We’ll start with the nice stuff.

We do this every year here at Kotaku. (See: the biggest surprises of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.) We’ll post the biggest disappointments of 2018 later this week.

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider ships with the wrong ending.

Since Aeris’s death in Final Fantasy VII, video game fans have loved to debate online about rumored, secret endings for games that include special details other players might not have seen. Usually those sorts of rumors turn out to be nonsense, so it was wild to see a forum poster sharing a rumor about a hidden, different ending for Shadow Of The Tomb Raider that actually turned out to be true. The original ending, which was swapped out with the day one patch, depicted Lara Croft receiving a letter from Natla, the antagonist from the very first Tomb Raider. The developers later said its inclusion was a mistake that was supposed to be removed. “During the course of development on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, multiple post-credits scenes were explored. Unfortunately one of the directions that was considered, but not chosen, was mistakenly included in the game,” they wrote. Of course, not everyone downloaded the day one patch before playing. Whoops!

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Everyone wants to bone Bowsette.

Plenty of people have wanted to have sex with Bowser, but 2018 took it to a new level. In the lead-up to the Switch release of New Super Mario Bros. WiiU, Nintendo introduced a new item, the Super Crown, that turns Toadette into a fancy princess called Peachette. A fanartist made a comic depicting Bowser using the Super Crown, and, well, the rest is history. People being horny for a video game character isn’t much of a surprise, but so many people being this horny definitely was. Seemingly overnight, Mario fans all over the world drew their own lascivious depictions of Bowser wearing the Super Crown, which transformed him into a horned, bondage-gear-wearing princess, quickly dubbed Bowsette. Our loins have never known peace since.

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Game developers start talking seriously about unions.

We’ve long known that making a game is incredibly laborious, and that developers themselves work punishing hours, sometimes to be fired after the game is completed. This year, developers started working together to come up with ways to mitigate these problems. During this year’s Game Developers Conference, an organization called Game Workers Unite handed out pamphlets about unions and had a panel about organizing, which made organization one of the hottest topics at the industry event. The unionization conversation heated up again after an interview with Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser mentioned working 100 hour weeks on Red Dead Redemption 2, and then again when more details of Rockstar’s work environment emerged. Recently, the UK chapter of Games Workers Unite has actually become a branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. In the US, the conversation is still in its infancy, though it’s clear that developers want a seat at the table.

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Screenshot: CooliSushi2 (No Man’s Sky)

No Man’s Sky gets real, actual multiplayer.

When No Man’s Sky launched, players assumed that they’d be able to see each other if they were in the same geographic location. They were wrong, and then they were mad. Last year, developer Hello Games introduced a rudimentary form of multiplayer, in which other players were portrayed as glowing orbs of light. While those first steps were welcome, they weren’t enough. Hello Games wasn’t done, of course, as they demonstrated by adding actual multiplayer to this year’s massive, revitalizing NEXT update. Finally, you could actually see the other players landing on the same alien planet as you, and even team up with them to travel the galaxy together. It’s rare to run across another player in No Man’s Sky’s vast expanse, but when it happens, it’s exactly as magical as players were hoping it would be.

The Detective Pikachu movie actually looks pretty awesome.

There have been Pokémon movies, each of varying quality. There have also been countless movies based on video games, and a lot of those have been pretty bad. Detective Pikachu is a Pokémon movie based on the video game Detective Pikachu, and the trailer for it looks… good? Not just like a good video game movie, or a good Pokémon movie, but a good movie, period. Although casting Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu seemed like a wildcard move when it was announced, it turned out to be one of the more mundane choices showcased in this trailer, with its hardboiled aesthetic and its eerily realistic pocket monsters. (The internet lost their collective minds over Mr. Mime’s freckles and Jigglypuff’s coif, in particular.)

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Ridley finally makes it into Smash Bros.

Believe it or not, the Cunning God of Death, AKA Geoform 187, is finally a playable fighter in Smash Bros. As one of the Metroid series’s main antagonists, Ridley has actually appeared in every Smash game since the Nintendo 64 original. He was in the background in Super Smash Bros., was a collectible trophy in Melee, a boss battle in Brawl, and a stage hazard in Super Smash Bros. Wii U. Then, after nearly two decades of fleeting glimpses and teases, it finally happened: Nintendo announced Ridley for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He’s also really fun to play, and thanks to some creative shrinkage, is neither too big nor too slow, as Smash creator Masahiro Sakurai once feared he might be.

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Xbox Game Pass makes first-party games free on day one.

What’s better than paying a $9.99 monthly fee for access to an ever-growing library of Xbox, Xbox 360 and older Xbox One games? How about every first-party game that comes out for the Xbox One being made free for Xbox Game Pass subscribers on day one? The game subscription service was pretty nifty when it launched in 2017, but in January of this year it got really good. Instant access to games like Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon 2 and State of Decay 2 made Microsoft’s service so much sweeter in 2018.

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Fortnite becomes an international phenomenon.

Released in September 2017 as a free-to-play offshoot of Epic Games’s survival game Fortnite: Save the World, Fortnite Battle Royale quickly overshadowed the original game as well as its inspiration, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, aka PUBG. In fact, its release and subsequent popularity got the game onto our best surprises list for last year. That was really just the beginning of Fortnite fever, though. By January of 2018, the game had more than 40 million players worldwide, and it was just getting started. In March, popular streamer Ninja teamed up with singer Drake for a Fortnite Battle Royale Twitch stream that gathered a record-breaking 600,000 concurrent viewers. Now celebrities play the game. Talk shows discuss it. The dances Epic “borrowed” to use in the game are performed everywhere. And should you ever tell someone you write about video games for a living, odds are they’ll say something like, “Oh, have you played Fortnite?”

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Sony does PlayStation 4 cross-play and PSN name changes.

Let’s not forget the most magical thing that Fortnite Battle Royale helped accomplish in 2018. Thanks in part to the game’s rampant popularity, Sony reversed its long-standing policy on cross-platform play from “nope” to “fine.” After a couple of years of delivering lame excuses why the PlayStation wouldn’t play well with other platforms, Sony “identified a path” for supporting cross-platform play for select third-party titles in September, starting with a beta version of Fortnite Battle Royale, the most popular game on the planet. Perhaps they recognized this path from September of 2017, when Epic Games “accidentally” enabled PS4 cross-play themselves.

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In another example of Sony doing something it should have done years ago, the company announced in October that all PlayStation Network users, no matter how awful their initial choice may have been, can finally change their usernames. Dreams do come true! It only took nearly a dozen years.

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Steam competition grows.

While Valve’s 15 year-old digital game distribution platform isn’t of danger of going away anytime soon, 2018 saw a rise in the number of companies willing to go toe-to-toe with the Hentai-crusted juggernaut that is Steam. While existing services like EA’s Origin and Blizzard’s Battle.net continued to sell their own games outside of Steam’s purview, newcomers like chat app Discord’s digital storefront appeared, offering developers larger profit percentages to lure them over. Perhaps the biggest challenger to Steam arrived just this month as Fortnite makers Epic Games launched the Epic Games Store, locking down several exclusive games within their service’s first couple of weeks of existence. It’s good to see competition growing in a market that’s been dominated by Steam for over a decade. It helps gamers and developers alike.