By CJduke 1 Comments
2014 was, sadly, a year of disappointments. Many games that were supposed to be big, game-changing releases lacked content or were just rehashes of older games, and other games got delayed until who knows when. I also saw a big change in my gaming habits. I had more trouble this year finishing the big release games I purchased even when I liked them a lot. There are two games I quite enjoy on my list that I haven't finished yet, and certainly not because of lack of time. I did develop a Dota 2 addiction, so I guess that doesn't help. But I'm finding it tougher to play single player games to completion. Maybe that says more about the quality and excitement of this years games than it does about me? I don't know but here are the games I thought were the best this year.
10. Crypt of the Necrodancer
Crypt of the Necrodancer is one of the best examples of why Steam's Early Access is awesome. The game is filled with content, clearly tells you what is unfinished, and provides constant updates. It also shows the amazing creativity that can come from these smaller early access titles. Rogue-Like games have been done to death over the past few years, but Crypt of the Necrodancer manages to stand out among them in an extraordinary way. Instead of walking around the dungeon, you move from tile to tile with the beat of the music. Fighting enemies requires you to hit them in time with the beat, or avoid being hit by them. The music is amazing, particularly when the shop keeper sings along with it. There are tons of different enemies and items, and each run is so quick that it is easy to just hit the retry button over and over. It's a fantastic idea for a game and I will continue to play it as new content is released in 2015.
9. Heroes of the Storm
I got into the Heroes of the Storm alpha fairly early on and so far I have really enjoyed the game. Blizzard has continued to make a lot of major changes throughout the alpha and surprisingly they have listened to player feedback more than they ever have before by actually removing entire stat and gameplay systems ( the rune system was horrible). While the moba scene is already dominated by League of Legends and Dota 2, Blizzard has come up with some very fun and creative game mechanics to give Heroes a Storm a seat alongside those two. The game features a team level rather than an individual character level, you change how your abilities work rather than buying items, and it has multiple different maps each with their own objectives. The leveling system is interesting because it allows players who otherwise would get behind to remain equal level, it removes the importance of "who gets the kill/kill stealing" during fights and encourages team work. Overall, the differences in the game compared to Dota and LoL mean that one hero can't get so far ahead that they can win by themselves. The game requires the team to have a strategy and to work together throughout the game, which in some ways makes it even more frustrating to match make solo than in another moba. They keep the game skillful on an individual basis by having lots of skill shots that require good timing and good hero combos. Overall it is a really cool game and if I didn't get addicted to Dota I would certainly be playing it more.
8. South Park: The Stick of Truth
Unfortunately, South Park is one of those game I have yet to complete this year even though I love it. The fact that it looks and moves just like the show is amazing, but the way Obsidian integrated the RPG mechanics into the world is outstanding. I am a big fan of the show and I enjoyed all of the references and characters I have seen so far. The side missions have been some of the best I can remember from an RPG like this in years and the game has so many incredibly funny moments, even when it is entirely stupid. Some of my favorite parts are how one of the games collectibles is your Facebook clone friend count, where your friends then post hilarious status updates for you to read throughout the game. The combat can get a bit boring, but using every party members special moves for the first time is a great experience. I'm about halfway through the game and hopefully I can find it in me to finish it in 2015.
I did not buy Destiny this year and after listening to countless hours of Brad and Jeff talk about the lack of content in that game and what it could have been, I feel like Titanfall is my Destiny. It is a really good game that could have been great, but they put hardly any content in the game. The core shooting is solid, the game modes are familiar but fun, the traversal is excellent, and the pilot versus titan battles provide for interesting gameplay. But then you pretty much see all there is to see after 8-10 hours with the game. Sure, multiplayer is meant to be replayed and the game does have a good amount of maps, but the amount of unlockables, weapons and perks, are at a bare minimum level. There is no campaign and for most of this year there was no cooperative mode. I'm not sure if a campaign is what Titanfall needs to make it a better, more fulfilling game, but it just lacked so much content. I love the core gameplay and I still played it for over twenty hours, but by the time I prestiged once I felt like I was done with the game. That and the fact that they removed game modes from the pc version due to lack of players made me really wish there was more to this game. I still love it, but I hope Titanfall 2 expands on the formula in some huge ways.
6. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
I hate Hearthstone. At the higher levels I feel like some decks and cards are just broken. You have to play way too much to get the necessary good cards to be competitive without spending money. The amount of luck involved in winning can be absurd. But I still got addicted to the game. The art design, the presentation, and the Warcraft theme are all outstanding. There is a high amount of strategy and deck building varients, and the game's draft mode "Arena" is a very cool, fun game mode that takes a lot of skill and smart deck building. They have already updated the game with a new mode and tons of cards that seem to have added tons of new decks and strategy to the game. In truth I don't hate Hearthstone. No matter how frustrating it can be, it is too easy to play and too much quick, addicting fun to not enjoy.
5. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Another game on my unfortunate unfinished list, Dragon Age Inquisition could have been my game of the year if I had finished it. It also could have been my game of the year if there weren't an excruciatingly long list of things I dislike about the game. I feel like Inquisition is one of the best games I have ever played wrapped in one of the most disappointing games I have ever played. How can that be? Well I love the core combat. Ever since Kotor I have loved pausing the game and strategizing my attack plan. I like setting the AI's behaviors and combining skills to make combos and use tactics to defeat enemies on higher difficulties. The combat in Inquisition is very satisfying and some of the enemy encounters remind me of old WoW raids, keeping aggro on the tank, healing at the right moments, and moving into the correct position to dodge attacks. Doing all this with four characters in real time can be tough, so pausing the game allows you to queue up commands for each character in order for them to do a set number of things you want them to in order. But as it turns out you can't queue up commands! When you pause the game you can tell each hero to either use an ability, a potion, or move to a position. You cannot pause the game and tell your archer to turn on poison weapons, use long shot, drink a health position, and then move to cover. If you want to do that you have to pause the game four times! Plus you have three other characters to manage! It is insane to have to pause the game so much and the level of control with the mouse and keyboard is pretty horrible, especially during tough boss fights like dragons. The AI never dodges attacks and hardly does anything that makes sense. I can never let the AI control my main character because he is a daggers rogue. The AI is so horrible it never backstabs, it uses invisibility randomly and stands in front of enemies and doesn't move. It is incredibly frustrating and disappointing because I love the skills in the game. I have spent multiple hours staring at skill trees and respeccing my characters multiple times trying out different skills and combinations. It is too bad it all can't come together in the way it should.
As far as the world goes, I love it. The game is gorgeous, the environments are varied and large and there is a ton to see and explore. Unfortunately a lot of the side missions are extremely boring, sometimes making exploration and clearing the map a disappointment. The party members are good, but not great. Some of them are very boiler plate and average while some stand out. I think Cassandra has the most personality and fits the world perfectly. Varric provides good comic relief and his relationship with Cassandra provides good drama and dialogue. Sera can be annoying but she is unique so I appreciate her. Cole is the same way and he is probably the most interesting idea for a character in the game. Unfortunately he never has said anything really interesting and his personality is lifeless (though he is a spirit I suppose).
I love the war room table, and pretty much everything you can do at your base. Making judgments on criminals, talking to party members, and building up Skyhold are all addicting. Crafting is also fun because there is a lot of it and it is actually useful. The story is okay, but I have found most of the cutscenes so far, particularly the ones where they are going for a big heroic/emotional scene as extremely corny. The game is just filled with a million "I love this part but don't like this part" moments that it is so frustrating to think of what this game could have been. I am 40 hours in and I will continue my love/hate relationship with it in 2015.
4. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor was the best surprise this year. It reminds me of when Arkham Asylum got announced and the game looked amazing, but since it was a Batman game I figured it would be total garbage. It turned out Arkham Asylum was a game of the year contender and Shadow of Mordor felt the same way for me. Being a huge Lord of the Rings fan I was convinced this game would suck and there was no way the nemesis system would be anything more than a gimmick. And just like Arkham Asylum the game turned out to be amazing (except for the Lord of the Rings part). The nemesis system truly felt like a next gen gaming experience. The first thing it did that amazed me was populate the world with these orc captains, rather than having them be in instanced areas or only in certain zones. I never knew I was going to run into one and if I hadn't already gotten intel on one, it's appearance could have been a total surprise. Early in the game I would go to attack an orc only to have him counter my blow and have the camera zoom in as he threatened to rip my guts out. It was always unexpected and always awesome. The second part that amazed me was the amount of variation in the orcs. The cynical side of me assumed I would see repeats of orcs 3 or 4 times each throughout the game with only a handful of dialogue differences. As I got deeper in, I was surprised to see the amount of different facial features, gruesome threats, and different names each orc had. I don't think I saw any name repeats and I heard tons of different dialogue. Being able to see the captain's current thoughts or status in the menu was also pretty cool and often times hilarious. Everything thing about the system works well and made the world feel alive.
The gameplay was also very strong but a bit too recognizable sometimes. The world itself also wasn't very creative or colorful, although that's less about the game design and more about the source material. The story was ridiculous and forgettable, but I didn't find any of it too offensive even though I'm a huge Tolkien fan. The part about the game that disappointed me the most was the difficulty level. Early in the game the captain's are extremely tough to kill. If there are two or three attacking you at once, good luck surviving! And dying to a particularly captain just makes him even tougher further increasing the difficulty and making every kill of a captain satisfying. The first half of the game felt like a real challenge that often isn't presented in these type of power fantasy games and I loved it for it. Unfortunately once you are able to brand the orcs and mind control them, killing any captain became almost trivial. It was amazing how you could set up ambushes and use the war chiefs guards against him, but at the same time it made killing a war chief incredibly easy. The branding gave the gameplay so many more options for creativity and interesting ways to kill the captains, but it also took away the difficulty from the beginning that I enjoyed so much. Overall though, Shadow of Mordor finally put something new into a big budget game and I hope the nemesis system is the next gameplay system we see used in many games in the future.
3. Dark Souls II
Dark Souls II is not as good as Dark Souls I and in many ways, not as good as Demon's Souls, but it is still a great Souls game. I was disappointed that the world was just one long hallway rather than a big connected area filled with surprising short cuts and backdoors and most of the boss fights required you to rotate toward the bosses shield until they swung and missed and then beat on them. Some of the bosses were quite easy and weren't designed with too much creativity, although there were some standouts (such as the chariot boss). Even still, Dark Souls II is a great adventure. The first ten or so hours of the game is brutally tough and the world is still filled with tons of hilarious "what the fuck!?" traps. It still never holds your hand, and it still has some insanely fun and intense pvp. Also, it had maybe some of my favorite set pieces in all the Souls games, particularly the Dr. Frankenstein-like mansion with all the weird experiments, the giant pillars in the sky with dragons flying all around, and best of all, the moment you first step out into the hub world with the sun shining over the ocean. Technically it still had the same old framerate and janky Dark Souls issues, but it still looked damn good. I even got into the story, which I didn't care much about in previous Souls games and I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. The ending sequences were really neat and while I didn't understand everything that happened myself, I consulted with the internet to learn more about the world and its characters. Even though it may not have been the best Souls game, it was still a great game and one of the best this year.
As my ability to finish games gets worse and worse every year I really start to appreciate the shorter, simpler games. Transistor really hit all the right spots for me. The music was amazing (I instantly bought the soundtrack) it looks incredible, and the story was awesome. Also, I felt like the gameplay mixed a lot of genres in a way that hasn't been done before and I really enjoyed it. The skill trees were unique and the way you could combine skills to make new ones resulted in such a huge variety of gameplay styles and strategy. While Supergiant's previous game Bastion was more about timing and reflexes, Transistor required more strategy and experimentation which is something I love in games. But really the combination of the visuals, the music, and the story is what pushed this game near the top of my list. I understand the complaints about the story and my only response is that not every game has to be told right up front in your face and make sure you understand. I really enjoyed the mystery surrounding of what had happened to the world and its characters and I came away from the game with tons of my own theories. Of course I consulted the internet to discover what everyone else thought, but I liked the fact that everything was left for the player to discover and determine themselves. The ending especially is pretty open ended but I just though it all fit together so well. It was an original world with a lot of original ideas and I think the gameplay, music, story, and visual style all came together so perfectly. After this and Bastion, Supergiant is easily one of my favorite developers and I will be very excited for whatever they make next.
1. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
Reaper of Souls is what I wanted original Diablo III to be. I loved Diablo III but overall it was a huge disappointment. The real money auction house, the low drop rates, the crazy nerfing of every skill, and the lack of cool useful legendaries was just baffling to me. It destroyed a game that was supposed to be crazy mindless fun and turned it into a torturous grindy pay to win mess. Thankfully Reaper of Souls rights all of the wrongs of the original game, besides the incredibly stupid story. The real money auction house has been removed, legendaries and set pieces are the best gear, skills receive buffs instead of nerfs, skills got reworked to be more flexible and to allow for a wider range of builds, and the end game has more variety to it. Adventure mode is tons of fun, and the rift system really makes the game a joy to play. The new seasons system really got me back into the game as well, to the point where I started playing hardcore with my friends. I lost about five demon hunters in the season, including one right after I got one of the rarest one-handed crossbows in the game, then I had roughly 80 hours on a demon hunter with a full turret set, and died on the tier 30 rift boss. 80 hours of work gone forever, but I wasn't even mad. I knew the risks and I had tons of fun playing it. hardcore changes the way you think about the game a lot and turns it into less of a relaxing podcast game into a furious micro battle, particularly when getting hit once can instantly kill you. There is just so much about the game that is fun now, like how the treasure goblins can spawn a portal to the goblin world where you get tons of gold and gear, legendary gems that can be upgraded, and season specific leader boards and achievements that I just enjoy playing the game to have fun. Every second feels like the next drop could be that piece of gear you need to move up to the next rift difficulty, or the next goblin will open a portal, and it continues to be addicting even though I've put hundreds of hours into the game. While I have trouble finishing epic single player story driven games, my brain apparently has no problem clicking on demons until they explode over and over. Playing Reaper of Souls the ngiht of its launch was the most excited I was to play a game this entire year and I'm happy to say my excitement actually turned out to be worth it this time. I've taken a break from playing until season two starts, but I still think about starting up a new character all the time, even though I have already gotten every class to the level cap. Either that's the sign of a game of the year, or I just have a serious problem.