Game of the Year
This was a complicated year for me, and for the gaming industry as a whole. A lot of people were down on 2014, with several major titles like The Witcher 3 and Evolve being pushed into 2015, and other high profile games like Destiny and Watch Dogs ending up being disappointments. For me, that ended up being a blessing in disguise, as planning a wedding and developing a television show didn’t leave much free time for gaming. Enjoy (or hate) the list, and let me know what your favorite games were!
Honorable Mentions (that I didn’t finish):
Far Cry 4
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Something about Supergiant Games’ games never click with me the way that I want them to. I always love the worlds they create, the combat they design that adds depth as you play, the characters they write, and the music they use. Each small piece is fantastic, but they never add up to a whole that I unequivocally love. Still, there’s absolutely enough in Transistor to earn it a spot on this list.
9. Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix
Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix makes it on the list for the strength of Kingdom Hearts 2, because the other two inclusions are pretty forgettable and actually kind of bad. While the second game in the series didn’t hit the highs of the first — which is still one of my favorite games of all time — it still has plenty to offer and does improve on the first in terms of combat variety and graphics. Kingdom Hearts 2 doesn’t look amazing in this collection, but the use of color and fun designs for the characters and worlds certainly help.
8. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD
The Kingdom Hearts 2.5 collection may include three games instead of two, but the games included in the Final Fantasy X/X-2 collection are just better games overall. Yes, I’m one of the crazy people that liked Final Fantasy X-2. Or at least, I like the combat. And Final Fantasy X is probably my favorite in the series. This collection was just a perfect excuse to go back and play these two gems again — and earn trophies for doing it.
7. Neverending Nightmares
Talk about a unique-looking game. Neverending Nightmares most definitely falls into the horror game genre than I so typically avoid, but there was just something about it that I had to check out. And I’m glad I did, because while the gameplay is simple and your first playthrough will be disappointingly short, there are themes in Neverending Nightmares that are both personal and terrifying.
6. Child of Light
I didn’t see Second Son on many people’s lists, and I guess that I understand why. For people that loved the first two games in the series, Second Son could have been seen as a disappointment, mostly because it was a large departure from the characters that were previously established. And Delsin wasn’t exactly the most likable character, even playing on the good side of the karma mechanic. But, as a launch window game for the PS4, I thought it really showed off the technical power of the new system in ways that Killzone: Shadow Fall didn’t. The world was so fully realized and looked gorgeous, especially at night in the rain. And those particle effects? Tasty.
On the story side, Second Son was a little lacking, with a mostly cliched revenge tale without any real surprises. But taking away the overly aggressive “punk rock” vibe from Delsin, the relationship between him and his brother was well written and acted, and the game introduced one of the best characters of the year in Fetch.
I loved playing around with the four different powers, though not being able to switch on the fly was a frustrating design choice. But, clearly playing the game was a blast; I beat it twice (once on the hardest difficulty), and collected everything on my way to nabbing the platinum trophy.
4. The Wolf Among Us
The Wolf Among Us was Telltale’s first major outing after the The Walking Dead Season One (one of my favorite games from 2012), and so there were many lofty expectations thrown at it. Having only minor knowledge of the comics on which it’s based, I went in with very little context, and I came out blown away by the characters, world, and story. There were a couple of characters and storylines that didn’t feel fully realized (Ichabod Crane and Bluebeard come to mind), but on the whole, I loved the twists and turns. And, being able to see these familiar fairy tales in a more modern, realistic setting was pretty cool.
Bigby was a similar anti-hero to Lee from Walking Dead, but Bigby obviously had a lot more room for craziness being that he’s a werewolf. That was definitely on display in the awesome final battle with Bloody Mary. And the game sure was a lot more violent than I had expected. I wouldn’t say it was any more violent than Walking Dead, but making the subjects fantasy characters instead of zombies sure made the game feel that way. The quick time events were a vast improvement over Walking Dead, as well.
All in all, The Wolf Among Us didn’t quite live up to the insane expectations set by Walking Dead Season One, but it did establish Telltale as more than a one hit wonder. Here’s hoping for a season two.
3. The Banner Saga
Banner Saga completely took me by surprise this year. I picked it up during the Steam Winter Sale, figuring I’d never play it, but then the sequel was announced at the Game Awards, which brought my attention to the awesome art style and strategy RPG mechanics. I likened it to Game of Thrones meets Oregon Trail, and I really do think that comparison is apt. Banner Saga had a fairly tried and true fantasy setting, but what stood out was the pervasive history of the world, something you were only really given glimpses into. There was a sense of time and place that made all of your decisions feel important, and yet futile in a way. It’s a tricky balance that the game pulled off very well.
The narrative design fell closely in line with the recent Telltale games, where you were making heat of the moment decisions that often had lasting impact on group morale or even mortality rates in battle. To keep things fresh, Banner Saga also had turned-based, grid style combat scenarios. The combat wasn’t terribly deep, but it added another layer to the game other than conversation and resource management. Most characters fit into archetypal classes, and they all felt a bit similar in the late game. Playing on “normal,” I rarely had to employ more in-depth tactics than “surround a dude and hit him,” so I hope that combat is a focus during development for the sequel.
The last (and best) thing worth mentioning is the art style, a beautiful throwback to the hand-drawn cartoons from the early days of Disney animation. Don’t let this game sleep on you the way it almost did me. It’s definitely worth a look.
2. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Let me be honest with you guys, I don’t love the fact that Inquisition was my 2nd favorite game from last year, as I had several major and minor problems with it. I’m not sure what that exposes more, how few games I played in 2014, or how weak the year was in general. But, I still came away from the experience feeling positive, and I think Bioware can take a lot of great lessons from this game to implement into future projects. But first, the bad.
Inquisition fell into the easy trap of open world games where there are so many things to do and places to see and people to talk to that the main narrative ended up feeling disjointed and uninteresting. The game didn’t have a bad story, it just wasn’t terribly memorable. As for some of my smaller quibbles, the run speed was too slow, horses were completely useless, the platforming was miserable, and, most egregiously of all, you had to travel back to Skyhold and open up the war table every time you wanted to explore new side missions for your council of advisors. That’s ridiculous. And the game had plenty of bugs, too. In my 80+ hours, the game froze multiple times, a side-quest was unfinishable because an NPC got caught in a dialogue loop, combat sounds frequently dropped out completely, and characters would glitch in and out of cutscenes on a regular basis. And then upon reaching the final boss battle, my game crashed three times in a row. That was a pretty nerve-racking experience, being afraid that I might not even be able to finish the damn thing. And besides a few notable characters like Cassandra and Dorian, the cast was far less interesting than in past Dragon Age games.
So with all of these misgivings, how was Inquisition my 2nd favorite game of the year? There’s an easy answer for that: It was just a blast to play. Part of it is my weakness for western RPGs and Bioware in general, but I really thought the combat and world design was top-notch. Playing as a mage, I loved the spell effects, and I thought there was a ton of strategy and customizability to the combat. I loved exploring new areas, meeting new characters, finding rare items, and tracking down dragons. Inquisition is far from a perfect game, but I still loved my time with it.
1. South Park: The Stick of Truth
I’m a huge South Park fan. I’ve been watching the show for over a decade, and I even own most of the seasons on DVD. So, keep in mind that if you’re apathetic towards the show, your mileage with Stick of Truth may vary. But this isn’t an objective list of the best games of the year, it’s a list of my favorite games of the year, and South Park: Stick of Truth easily trounced the competition.
This was just the perfect fan-service game, while still remaining a great RPG in its own right. There was a surprising amount of depth to the equipment customization, and a wide variety of enemy types that required differing tactics. The number of side quests was disappointingly limited, but the main story was beefy enough to last upwards of 15 hours, and offered a ton of different locations and goals, all without the need for grinding.
The game looks exactly like an episode of the show, too. It was actually kind of disorienting at first, to come out of a cutscene and remember that you were playing a game and not just passively watching the show. Most impressive was how they plotted out the city of South Park so that everything made sense as you explored. You could visit Cartman’s house, Tom’s Rhinoplasty, City Wok, and pretty much any other South Park landmark from the show. But it didn’t stop there. The main story took you to several places beyond just the humble mountain town, including an alien spaceship and Canada, where the game employed an awesome, retro 8-bit look complete with top down controls.
My biggest complaint would have to be about the special Dragonborn (yes it was literally called that) powers. The tutorials were extremely frustrating until you figured out what you were supposed to do, and that’s the literal opposite of how a tutorial should feel. And overall, I didn’t find those skills to be especially useful in combat, anyway. But, all of the tutorials were presented alongside funny scenes, so it was hard to stay frustrated.
And that leads me to the best and most impressive aspect of Stick of Truth, the humor. Comedy in video games is extremely hard to pull off, as so many jokes depend on timing, and that isn’t something games can usually control. But Stick of Truth nailed every scene and beat. Everything in the game just worked, I only wish that there was even more of it to enjoy. Matt, Trey, and Oblivion, please make a sequel.
And that wraps up my Game of the Year 2014 list! I hope you enjoyed, let me know what you think in the comments!