2014 has been a year of many changes for me. In June, I left academia–a field I’d been in for the last 15+ years–to explore what it would be like to be part of the videogame industry. This is my attempt to make my geeky leanings into a career! So, in the past six months I wrote about, networked, and yes, played way more games than I’d otherwise have the time and inclination for. In the last month alone, when I was overseas, I had six articles published at various sites and that was without my even having an opportunity to update my blog. Whew!
So here we are at the end of the year. Of the games I played this year, this would be my Top Ten list.To be fair, there are games that I bet are great, but that I didn’t get around to playing yet, like Bayonetta 2, Assassins Creed: Unity (despite the release fiasco), Dragon Age: Inquisition and Tales from the Borderlands. So this list is limited by what I’ve played this year that actually came out this year, plus a few honorable mentions for games that were published before 2014 that I’ve still not let go of.
The conditions for making this list were basically that the game was something I found enjoyable, where “enjoyable” refers to an overall gaming experience including gameplay, graphics, sound (and voice acting), and narrative. I love strong narratives in games, so that’s a consideration. I also should note that these games are also some of the most memorable for me, so this lists isn’t intended to be anything definitive or authoritative (when are lists like that anyway?).
So, here’s the countdown:
10. Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville
I am a HUGE fan of the Rebuild franchise, and this new version has added so much to the original online game. You’re still managing a group of survivors in the zombie apocalypse, but factions, more decision trees and character backstory make the game a lot more immersive. There are also additional endings and more moral dilemmas, which were one of the most interesting parts of the game for me. There’s a huge improvement on the graphics and soundtrack from Rebuild 2, plus more customization options. The learning curve is also steeper now, but since the game’s moved from being a casual online game to being sold on Steam I guess that’s reasonable to expect.
9. Shovel Knight
Shovel Knight does well to pay homage to the old school 8-bit platformers it emulates with its simple soundtrack and dialog trees, but it’s still enjoyable for new generations of gamers. Although–as with all platformers–there are some tricky sections, gameplay is good, with tight controls for jumping and movement, and lots of options for how you want to do combat, and it’s also pretty funny to boot. (I mean, he’s a knight with a shovel. Come on.)
8. Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls Edition
One frustration I had with the original Diablo 3 was that there was no local co-op option. Reaper of Souls does well to mend this, plus the expansion breathes new life into the existing game. I’ve now replayed it with three different classes of character, and there’s still new items to craft. The story, although epic and well-written, does get repetitive with gameplay, but I think this one is more about beating the crap out of every last undead out there.
7. Monument Valley
This is the only mobile game that made it onto this list, but it definitely deserves the spot. It’s elegant in its simplicity, but still leaves a lasting impression. The controls are easy to learn and tactile, and every moment of the game is so beautifully composed that you could literally print it out and frame it for your wall.
Sure, we all know that the story and the lore are lacking, and even Peter Dinklage’s voice acting was patchy at best, but Destiny still has a lot to offer as a shooter. There was so much in the world to explore and discover, and the range of options for character customization is pretty impressive. Lovely visuals and smooth gameplay do well to provide a fantastic gaming experience, and the multiplayer options offer additional hours of fun.
Okay, so Gauntlet itself is nothing new, but this reboot of the game comes the closest to capturing that frantic button-smashing desperation in combat that you had at the arcade, especially when you play an entire campaign with four players. A lot of shouting will probably take place in your living room. A lot of the elements from the original carried over really well, and some of the snarky comments from the characters give them more depth. Just don’t shoot the food!
4. The Wolf Among Us
Although technically the first episode came out in late 2013, the remaining four were all 2014 releases, so on average it makes it into the 2014 list. I think Telltale hit the nail on the head when they developed the graphical adventure game sub-genre with the heavy relationship mechanic, and it’s still going strong. In particular, the gritty story in TWAU really lent itself to using the game’s relationship/morality mechanics well. I love the graphics as well, and I got into reading Fables as a result of how fascinating the story and its characters were.
3. Sunset Overdrive
Punk Rock meets zombie apocalypse in this open world game where you swing, grind and parkour your way through hordes of monstrous Overdrive Drinkers. I also like the jab at commercialism there, and the bright Tank Girl-esque art style does fantastically to make the end of the world very silly and very fun.
2. Divinity: Original Sin
This is what I feel like the PC version of Baldur’s Gate would be if it had continued to evolve for another decade or so. Long, twisty quest lines and lots of map to explore give it a really epic feel as you gather your party and travel around. Co-op is by far more fun than single player, where you have to manage an entire party. Some of the dialog is a bit odd, but the gameplay was so good that the first weekend I got it I think we dumped about 20 hours into it right off the bat.
1. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
I already reviewed SoM for Short Game Review, but this is probably my game of the year. I’ve never finished a game like it and then wanted to go back and play it again and continue exploring the world. The nemesis system really motivates you to write your own narrative in terms of the battles you have with the orcs, and there are so many sidequests that continue to fill in the game’s lore (and builds on Tolkien’s existing universe). The graphics are lovely and the soundtrack is as epic as the game itself. The DLC also means that there’s still more to discover, but being able to do it as other characters, and with Camera Mode you can now capture those badass beheadings for posterity.
Honorable mentions (games I’m still playing from previous years)
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Although there’s (technically) no new content here, how can you go past a four-games-in-one combo? With new graphics for the older games, plus access to the Halo Channel (which, in turn sucks you deeper into the Halo universe), it’s almost a new experience replaying the old Halo games.
I love Papers, Please so much. It’s basically a glorified “spot the difference” game, but even though it’s so simplistic and straightforward, I find it so compelling at the same time. The whole commentary on the desperation of Eastern Bloc is what really drives the story, even if the gameplay itself could have been about any other border checkpoint. Plus, making decisions about basic survival (do you want to feed your family, or keep them warm?) really gets at my sense of social justice.
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
After logging over 200 hours into Skyrim, I’m still finding new things to do. Sure, I fast-travel now whenever I can but I can still develop my character, and getting the two DLCs really put a lot more into the game when it was starting to fade. The soundtrack is still amazingly epic, although I am still running into problems when I always have more loot than I can carry.
I’ve played this for YEARS and it’s really interesting to see how the game’s developed with new items and whatnot. I’m not much of a crafter though, so I’m happy with my little three-story cobblestone castle with the little farm on the side and my vegetable patch. I think my character is basically a retiree at this rate. There’s still a lot to explore, and every now and then I’ll leave the comforts of my little blocky house and go on an epic adventure. I love the fact that you can do basically whatever you want in this game, and if you want to be a homebody you can do that in the game, which is basically a case of art imitating life for me. Heh.
Those are my picks for this year! Here’s to a lot more gaming in 2015!