Over the next few days, we will reveal what we believe are the ten best games of 2018, organized by release date. Then on December 19, we will reveal which of the nominees gets to take home the coveted title of GameSpot’s Game of the Year. So be sure to come back then for the big announcement, and in the meantime, follow along with all of our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2018 hub.

It’s been said over and over again this year that Monster Hunter World is the most accessible game yet in the long-running Japanese action RPG series. Monster Hunter’s detractors know that doesn’t mean much–World may be the easiest entry point yet, but it’s still pretty obtuse for all but the most diligent, attentive, and detail-oriented newbies. Either you need to have the dedication and persistence to fight through hours of ignorance while you speed-Google every new thing the game throws at you, or you need a monster-hunting veteran friend to lend a hand. But that’s fine–some subjective concept of “accessibility” isn’t what makes MHW so great. And besides, cooperative multiplayer happens to be exactly where Monster Hunter World shines brightest.

MHW casts players as hunters on an expedition to a new land, where giant, powerful Elder Dragons have taken up residence and screwed up the local ecosystems. There’s a surprising amount of additional backstory and lore for the diehard fans who care, but you’re really just there to do one thing: Hunt big monsters and make hats out of their bones.

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A typical gameplay session involves selecting a mission or hunt from the game’s vibrant hub area, selecting the equipment and items you want to use, then heading out into one of the game’s several disparate, labyrinthine areas once you’re prepared. Each new fight is a battle of attrition as you slowly chip away at your prey’s health, chopping horns and tails until you eventually injure it badly enough to capture it or kill it outright. But the object of your hunt is never your only concern–as you pursue one target through forests, deserts, and caves, more powerful beasts invariably appear to throw a wrench in whatever plans you’ve made. Sometimes you can have the most fun just watching two towering monsters tear and claw at one another while you take the opportunity to heal, sharpen your sword, and re-apply any lapsed buffs.

With your prey eventually slain, you return to town triumphant, and see what new weapon upgrades or armor you can craft from the spoils. At higher levels, you target specific upgrade paths and hunt down the corresponding monsters over and over until you have enough materials. And then you do it all over again, gradually increasing your mastery over your chosen weapons, the monsters you hunt, and this world as a whole.

The exhilarating feeling of executing complicated combos with three friends as you gradually destroy an incredible beast the size of a house makes the considerable cost of entry worth it.

Alone, that all is daunting. But with friends, it’s a blast. That’s the key to Monster Hunter World’s success: You can do almost everything in the game in cooperative multiplayer. Each player’s character is practically the same, but there’s such a ridiculously huge variety of weapons to choose from, each type with its own complex depth of movesets and strategies, that no two players will fight the exact same way. Sure, the process of actually linking up with your friends to play can be irritating–again, being the most accessible Monster Hunter game yet is a low bar to hit. But the exhilarating feeling of executing complicated combos with three friends as you gradually destroy an incredible beast the size of a house makes the considerable cost of entry worth it.

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