The overall trend of many Game of the Year discussions seems to be that this was something of an off year. People have said that many of the year’s biggest titles ended up being pushed into 2015, leaving a gaming slate that felt half full. While there was an admittedly large gaming void for much of the year, I have always felt that a large hole in the ‘AAA’ lineup means that many of the less obvious games are allowed to stand out. And if there is one thing I know about myself, it’s that those are the games that I’m usually fondest of.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
The Wolfenstein series has always been a favorite of mine. I have loved each game that has borne the moniker individually on it’s own merits. The New Order has already received it’s fair share of praise from me earlier in the year, so nothing mentioned there bares repeating here. Simply put, Wolfenstein was the finest game I played this year. Equal parts throwback shooter, modern gunplay and top tier world building, this was the single game that managed to completely engross me in it’s violent yet moving adventure from beginning to end.
Here in a parallel timeline, Destiny was the best experience I had all year. It retained all of the things that really spoke to me: the beautiful aesthetic, interesting weapon and character designs and nearly perfect gameplay of Earth Prime’s Destiny. But this timeline also saw a robust fiction written for the game, one that fleshed out the numerous npc characters that lived both in the tower and inhabited the once spartan landscapes of our solar system. Levels also saw the inclusion of a host of unique and epic missions that spawned directly within the map, giving players a reason to explore every nook and cranny. While the disappointing game I was left with here in this timeline failed to make my list at all, it had enough there that I absolutely loved that it never truly left my thoughts on the best games of 2014. Somewhere out there, in another time and place, it holds that number 1 spot.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor was very nearly my top game of the year. After all the acrobatic kills and uruk manipulation was said and done, this was the only single player game to have such a wonderful world to play in that I felt compelled to come back after the credits had rolled in order to do just one more side quest. And then just grab a few more artifacts. And hey, while I’m at it, let’s try and gain control of the entire enemy army. All just for fun.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
South Park was an early in the year surprise. Ni No Kuni was the last proper rpg that I had played, and I was absolutely in the mood for another. While many of my backlogged role playing games are 100 hour plus affairs, Stick of Truth promised to be a brisk 20 with all the fat trimmed off. And boy did it deliver. Series in jokes, juvenile puns and a host of video game relevant humor was welcomed window dressing for the solid gameplay. While admittedly simple, the varied party members and their real life weapons and equipment were always fun to discover. The town and all of it’s hidden areas was rich enough to invite exploration, without being so large as to put me off of anything but the critical path. It was a game that hit at the right time for me and fortunately did not overstay it’s welcome.
Dark Souls 2
The first Dark Souls is a better game. Actually…. a much better game. The world was far more interesting, well connected and realized. Enemies were memorable, bosses were nigh impossible, and the tone struck the perfect balance between fantastic and terrifying. Dark Souls 2, whether from an increased familiarity with the series or because of inherent flaws, did not hit nearly any of the amazing highs of the first. Almost every aspect of the game felt “safe” in it’s design, leaving it as a mostly middling memory for me. So why so high on the list? Because the Souls games are just so darn unique. No other game can introduce a completely new, never before seen or imagined environment or enemy quite the way these games can. Looking back, the game might not deserve the high regard in which it holds itself, but in the moment, it absolutely delivers.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls
Vanilla Diablo 3 was probably the most disappointing blast I had playing last year. It was addictive but hollow, a problem that the Reaper of Souls expansion managed to fix this year. Rebalanced loot meant that better items dropped and were easier to upgrade. The additional act helped to fill out the rather sparse single player campaign leading to a better co-op experience. Aside from the series excellent multiplayer, the new quest system and the increasingly difficult nephalem rift system meant that the endgame was transformed into a deep risk versus reward system. A wonderful about face for a longtime favorite series of mine.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Inquisition was not my favorite Dragon Age game. Might not even be my second favorite. It’s still a little too early to tell where it ranks. What I do know is MAN DOES THIS GAME LOOK GOOD. The lush visual fidelity and overall attention to detail that went into building every single one of the maps is astounding. Almost ever area in the game features Elder Scrolls-esque easter eggs hidden throughout the environment, all of which were absolute treats. The characters in this game were probably the weakest in a Bioware game yet a fact that was not helped by a good 40 hours of playtime being needed before they become remotely interesting. Returning favorites Verric and Cassandra were the true delights, and from there it mostly goes downhill. I knew there were problems when Scout Harding, a minor side character, was far and away my most romanceable character. The rest of the ingame characters were almost as forgettable as the game as a whole. Almost. The main storyline, most of the side missions and the combat itself were dull and boring. But that party banter! So good! Any character arguing with Sera over how inappropriate she was was gold. Inquisition was salvaged from being forgettable due to the personal investment I had from the previous games and the near perfect sense of adventuring this game manages to deliver.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Ethan Carter is another game on my list that I have expressed my enjoyment of elsewhere. What is quickly becoming known as a “walking-simulator”, it is a game that foregoes traditional gameplay in favor of providing an enhanced sense of place. The story and setting take center stage, with looking at things the only real immediate goal at any point of time. Fortunately, the world and bits of story contained within are done well enough to retain interest throughout. Pacing is slow and calculated and never lingers long enough for you to become completely bored.
Transistor was the only game this year where the gameplay reigned king for me. The combat system was awesomely unique, with ingame powers being used as a primary attack, a modifier for another main attack or an overall character buff. Mixing and matching your ever expanding arsenal led to an ‘ultimate build’, recreating one of the best aspects of Super Giant’s previous game Bastion. This series of powers was one TRUE build that allowed you to absolutely dominate for the rest of the game. And just like Bastion, it was different for everyone that played it. The art and music complimented each other well, with the story being the only part that was lacking. While not necessarily bad, it was overly vague and required far too much player effort in order to unlock the mysteries surrounding the main narrative.
The Wolf Among Us
The Walking Dead was traditional storytelling done right. The Wolf Among Us is as well. The noir aspects of taking Sheriff Bigby around the seedy underbelly of fairy tale characters living in New York provide a great backdrop for the well written characters, all of whom are deeply flawed but likable. While there is a hiccup here and there narratively, usually relating to forced story choices not really adding up to how I had been playing my good-guy Bigby, this first season was good enough to make it my most anticipated Telltale Games sequel.
Shovel Knight is a complete throwback, both in style and gameplay. A lost relic directly from 1992. Steamworld Dig only feels retro-inspired, but is in fact a fully modern game. Taking the satisfying digging and mining mechanics from games like Terraria or Minecraft, but placing them in a tight, traditional game structure was a wonderful combo. The maps are large and randomized, allowing for each playthrough to feel fresh. The hub, along with its cast of characters who help you along your linear skill tree, give the game more than enough direction to the more sandbox inspired games that also feature map manipulation. For me, Steamworld Dig was one of the better games because it managed to not only feel like an old game, but exceed those limitations.
Best Saturday Morning Milk-N-Cereal Game:
Biggest Difference Between Quality of Screenshots VS Quality of Game:
Best Co-Op Superhero Simulator:
Saints Row IV