The year is finally over, and so is my other list. Which means it's time for the big guns: Games from this year that I actually played this year. 2014 hasn't been the best year for video games, though it's been a much better year for me personally than 2013 or 2012 were. These forums have also seen better days, mayhaps, but I clearly still think this place is worth saving.
Game of The Year 2014
|1. Bayonetta 2Bayonetta 2 is the hyperkinetic stripper witch game that doles out batshit insanity and extremely fun, extremely well-made character action combat in equal measure. It's probably the best character action game I've played since Devil May Cry 3, but unlike that one it's actually approachable by normal humans.|
|2. Middle-earth: Shadow of MordorThe nemesis system and its underlying components elevate Shadow of Mordor, which what would otherwise be a good but unspectacular open world action game, into something that you could actually say has never been fully done before in a video game. Helps that it's a mechanically solid, dumb sandbox that smartly keeps the main story stuff in the background (because that stuff isn't what makes the game). Very interested to see how these ideas will show up in games during the coming years.|
|3. Age of Wonders IIIIf games were ranked by hour count, Age of Wonders III would likely be number 1 on the list this year. It's a fun, well-made tactical wargame of the kind I enjoy so immensely, and it helps that the developers have been aggressive in their post-game support, patching and updating the game in such a way as to make it even better than it already was. Also doesn't hurt that the music is really good.|
|4. Dark Souls IIDark Souls II is not Dark Souls. I take issue with parts of DS 2's structure, its boss design and storytelling, but it's more mechanically interesting with the first game and I had a lot of fun running around like a maniac with dual greatswords, killing invaders in the bell tower and using pyromancy to once again be sorta OP.|
|5. Might & Magic X LegacyMight and Magic X is the best game I could've realistically hoped for under Ubisoft's tenure. It's a clearly low budget, clearly experimental title not without problems, but it also does the seemingly impossible thing of nailing the essence of what made its forebears so great.|
|6. Dragon Age: InquisitionDragon Age is a return to form for Bioware after 3 years of disappointment. It has a little too much "Single-Player MMO-itis" for me to be comfortable putting it super high on the list (Also: I haven't played it all the way through), but it's a hell of a lot better than Mass Effect 3 and I liked that game well enough.|
|7. Divinity: Original SinThe only reason Divinity isn't higher on this list is due to my computer exploding near the end of this summer and with it my save from 30 hours into this game. Should I ever get over that disappointment, chances are I'd probably consider this to be one of the best RPGs in years, period.|
|8. ThiefHah! Thought you had seen the last of me being the only guy who liked that Thief game, didn't you? Well, no. It's on this list, after all. A pure stealth game that is about being sneaky, not teleporting like a maniac or shooting your way through situations after you get discovered. Not without some pretty obvious flaws, but hey, that seems to be a common theme this year.|
|9. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace AttorneyYo, I really, really like the Ace Attorney franchise and think that crossing it over with Professor Layton is a thing that works surprisingly great. It might not be as good as Dual Destinies, but I'm glad it made it over here nonetheless.|
|10. Wasteland 2Wasteland 2 is nothing if not unapologetic about what it is, which is to say that it's an old-school CRPG made in the style of something that wouldn't be out of place among the luminaries of the late 90s. It's not as GOOD as those games, mind you, but it's a dead on simulacrum and for that it has my appreciation. Still, if there's one old-school inspired RPG of this year to get, it's Divinity.|
And here's some additional commentary on every game on my list. Feel free to skip the paragraphs you don't want to read. I might've gone a little overboard and am not going to bother posting any pictures to break up the wall of text staring you down.
Game of the Year 2014: Bayonetta 2
I imagine Bayonetta 2 is like drugs. No, not the horrifying addiction or the awful side-effects that end with you in a gutter clutching a dirty syringe, but the part where everything is flashing and crazy at all times. Much like the first game, it’s a magical cacophony of sensory overload, hyper-sexual imagery and anime craziness while a sassy british witch lady says some double-entendre to her foes. It’s honestly a little too much at times, but I imagine that’s the point.
The sheer spectacle at play would be enough on its own to recommend Bayonetta 2, but it just so happens that it is also one of the finest character action games I’ve ever played. Is it the way the combat is often split into short, intense bursts? Maybe it’s the broad weapon variety where everyone can find their own favorite? (I’m a big fan of the giant hammer myself). Or maybe it’s the part where I’m a witch lady doing sexually suggestive moves while wearing a Link costume. I thought Bayonetta 1 was quite good on those fronts, but something about this second game was enough to motivate me to play on a harder difficulty, something that I haven’t done with one of these games since… DmC, actually. So not that long. Still! This game is better than DmC and has a certain amount of mechanical precision that makes pulling off crazy stuff feel both effortless and fun. I think the normal difficulty is maybe a tad too easy, but that’s coming from the perspective of someone who has played a decent number of these games.
For the rest of you I offer only one suggestion to improve your lives: Play Bayonetta 2. If you own a Wii U. Don’t own one? Well, heck, don’t ever buy a console for one game. I think there are enough games on the Wii U to make it a console worth owning, but your mileage may vary depending on your love of Mario doing what Mario does.
Runner up to Game of the Year: Shadow of Mordor.
“More than the sum of its parts” is a phrase that can be dangerously overused, but I think that’s true in the case of Shadow of Mordor, one of the bigger surprises for me and others this year. You can reduce it to its components, saying “It’s like Assassin’s Creed in Lord of the Rings with combat that’s like Batman: Arkham Asylum” and you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Add in the Nemesis system though, and suddenly familiar game mechanics gain a whole new context to be used in, where Orc Captains will talk shit to you every time you encounter them. It could be dismissed as gimmicky, but that one thing turns a well made open-world action game into something that is both memorable and unique. Sure, the story is garbage and the connections to Tolkien are tenuous at best, but when you’re running around Mordor bulldozing/mind-controlling orcs to take down their hierarchy it’s the kind of sandbox nonsense I can really appreciate, where the dynamic game systems at play overshadow and possibly compensate for the “constructed” parts. It’s going to be fun to see how developers play on these ideas in the future.
Strategy game that I played a decent amount of this year: Age of Wonders 3
I’ve stuck with Age of Wonders 3 in a way that I haven’t stuck to a strategy game in a long time. Not so much a Civ-style 4X as a Heroes of Might and Magic style tactical wargame, it offers a level of complexity greater than that of Heroes to both its benefit and detriment. Either way, this is easily the game I’ve played the most this year, just playing one-off skirmish maps. I haven’t even touched the campaigns. It’s a game with a ton of ways to play based on the race and class you pick for your leader. Goblins are sorta squishy, but what if you backed up their racial units with an army of mechanical flame tanks and golems? Or perhaps what if you made a Dwarf Rogue and ambushed your enemies with units who are invisible on several different types of terrain? It’s a pity that more people didn’t play it, or perhaps were offput by it at launch, because the developers have also been quite aggressive with their support post-release; patching and balancing in ways that have improved what I already considered a pretty great game.
Souls game of the year: Dark Souls II
I wrote a whole blog about Dark Souls II, so you don’t need me to repeat my spiel. It’s a good game and a worthy enough sequel to the first Dark Souls. It plays it a little too safe at times, has too many bosses who are just huge knight dudes swinging weapons in wide arcs, but allows for more varied and interesting character builds and for once I actually had fun with the PVP in these sorts of games. I’m sure if I jumped in now I’d get slaughtered by some ridiculous ninja monsters, but that’s the benefit of being an early adopter right there.
Best old-school RPG revival: Might and Magic X
Yeah, suuuuure. The guy with the Might and Magic related avatar puts the Might and Magic game on his list. You got me. Weirdly enough, there are no less than three games on this list that could easily fill that qualification. Might and Magic X is unapologetically old-school and unapologetically Might and Magic in a way I never thought I’d see from a property owned by the company that seemingly churns out multiple Assassin’s Creed games every year from their 40 separate studios. I’m not going to pretend that the weird, low-budget experiment that they put out is perfect, but given the number of weirdly specific references to the older games in the series, it seems pretty obvious to me that the developers knew exactly who they were making the game for. Namely, me. I’m not sure what a person without a history with the series would think, or whatever, but it seems like the RPG hardcore liked it well enough. Hopefully it sold well enough that a Might and Magic XI isn’t far behind.
Blog Forthcoming: Dragon Age Inquisition.
I admit, I gotta play more Dragon Age before I have any final words to say about it. Namely in a separate write-up. Good thing I’m at home with zero responsibilities for like another 12 days, right?
Kickstarter game of the year or something: Divinity Original Sin
I’ve been pretty outspoken about my disdain for the unfortunate pile of mediocrity known as Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga. It’s not a very good game and I don’t think it’s worth your time. The original Divine Divinity might be, if you can get past the part where it’s really hard (I didn’t), Beyond Divinity is apparently like that first game except bad, and Dragon Commander at least has some really funny/intriguing political stuff to compensate for the part where it’s sorta a bad RTS. Point is: I didn’t have super high expectations for Divinity Original Sin. It miiiiight just be one of the better RPGs I’ve played in a long while. It doesn’t lean on nostalgia like a crutch, but it’s also a game that is playing towards a specific audience and doing so very well. Heck, the only reason this game isn’t theoretically my Game of the Year is because my computer exploded this summer and I haven’t mustered up the heart to start a new game yet. Maybe next year…
Game most likely NOT to appear on your own personal list: Thief
I liked Thief. I know there are a handful of users here who also liked it, but it seems like the general reaction to that game has been negative. Part of that might be valid, part of that might be games reviewers not actually liking stealth-ass stealth games where you can’t shoot your way out the second you get discovered and part of that is probably the weighty reputation of the original Thief trilogy, a reputation that would probably have been impossible to live up to in any case. Excuses aside, it’s a game I enjoyed for most of its (20-ish hours doing everything) run-time. I can’t say if you’ll feel the same way, but if you like the sneaky games about sneaking, maybe check it out the next time it’s on sale?
I don’t really have anything else to say about this game other than what I already wrote up in that one blog: Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright
The “I like old RPGs and this RPG is like those old RPGs so it gets a spot on this list by default” award for competence in execution: Wasteland 2
If you are going to get one RPG this steam sale, get Divinity. If you already own Divinity, maybe have another 60 hours of time on your hands and don’t want to play Wizardry 8, Wasteland 2 isn’t a bad option at all. Much like Might and Magic and Divinity, I’ll use the term “Unapologetically Old-School” to describe this game, but maybe I’ll throw in the added caveat that Wasteland 2 brings a lot of the baggage from the classic RPGs of yore in addition to its turn-based combat and heavy reliance on numbers. What do I mean by this? It’s not exactly a looker. The writing sometimes gets a little too cheeky or cliche for its own good. The interface is sorta clunky. It’s lengthy as hell and I don’t necessarily think all of the content made for it is 100% a winner. Nonetheless, I look forward to finishing the second half of it sometime next year, likely before Pillars of Eternity comes out and I figure out if that turns out well or not.
Special Achievement Awards:
Game numero 11: Super Smash Bros (for 3DS and Wii U)
I still like Smash Bros, apparently. I thought I was too good for the series after Street Fighter IV showed me what real fighting games were about, but I guess not. It’s still a blast to play with friends and has a roster of characters I can support (because there are no less than 4 Fire Emblem representatives and hey Shulk is pretty cool too). Much like Pokemon, I will probably pretend I’m too good for these games until they actually come out and I enjoy them for the rest of my life.
Other Honorable Mentions: The Banner Saga, Borderlands the Pre-Sequel, The Wolf Among Us
The Banner Saga is a Strategy RPG/Oregon Trail thing that I think is absolutely beautiful and well worth your time, but I don’t think the actual combat parts of it are super amazing. I think the game runs out of steam from that angle before the 10 or so hours are through and the Oregon Trail stuff loses a bit of its significance when you realize that keeping people alive isn’t necessarily super important. Borderlands is more Borderlands, but that’s okay because it’s been long enough that a new Borderlands is still fun. The Wolf Among Us has some pacing issues, it drags like crazy during its mid chapters (3 and 4 especially) and doesn’t even bother giving the illusion that your decisions matter at all. But as a noir-ish cop thing about Fairy Tales? Surprisingly effective. I’d rather have another season of this than another season of The Walking Dead and its misery porn miserableness, but maybe Telltale’s magic only worked for me once.
Most Disappointing Game: Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth
Thought I was going to say Bravely Default, weren’t you? Bravely Default is alright right up until it decides that turning the last third of the game into a repetitive boss rush is a good idea. That might’ve soured Square’s Final Fantasy throwback for me and kept it off this list, but whatever. I still really enjoyed those first 40 hours or whatever. But Beyond Earth? Beyond Earth is a worse version of Civilization V with a sci-fi wrapper, if I’m going to be blunt. It’s not different enough to be a real sequel and the parts of it that are different aren’t necessarily fantastic on their own. I could foresee improvements coming in the form of expansions somewhere down the line (much like with Civ V), but while there’s nothing modern that’s quite like Bravely Default (for as flawed as it may be), there is no reason to currently get Beyond Earth when there is a superior alternative that does almost the exact same thing.
Runner up for Most Disappointing Game: Xenonauts
Nope. Still not Bravely Default. Xenonauts’ problem is the part where they pretty much just made the original X-COM again, did some tweaking and rebalancing, then called it a day. Don’t get me wrong, I really like X-COM. But after the Firaxis reboot and after playing strategy games that aren’t so… clunky or punishing, playing a game slavishly devoted to recreating a 20-year-old classic wasn’t quite my cup of tea.
Heroes of Might and Magic game of the year: Heroes V Tribes of the East
Probably should’ve mentioned this in my old game of the year blog, but yo: Heroes V is pretty great and sometimes I’m convinced it’s better than III. It’s a pity that a lot of crazier strategies aren’t so useful against the AI, but maybe at some point I can blackmail my friends into playing this with me?
The “YO I SHOULD PLAY MORE OF THIS” award for being seemingly super rad: Legend of Grimrock 2
YO I SHOULD PLAY MORE GRIMROCK 2. It seems pretty rad.
Stuff I need to check out next year: The Evil Within, DKC Tropical Freeze, Lords of the Fallen.
I figure I’ll be able to save up for a PS4 sometime this summer. Then I can play that Not Resident Evil game and that Not Dark Souls game. Donkey Kong Country is just my own negligence. Hoping my brother gets it for Christmas.
All American Hero: Dan Ryckert