GOTY 2015

Honorable mentions include Axiom Verge, SOMA, Tales From the Borderlands, and Until Dawn.

List items

  • Every few years a game comes along that stands out as a truly special release, one that will stay with me for years to come. The Witcher 3 sits comfortably in that category. It took a while to gets its hooks in me, but the third entry in the series stands out as one of the most confident and compelling RPGs I've ever had the pleasure of spending dozens of hours with. The simultaneous beauty and decay of its expansive world compliments the morally gray narrative and multi-dimensional characters. The game also nails RPG quest design, with plenty of side activities that provide just as much fun and intrigue as the main story. Also, I'd like to give special kudos to CD Projekt RED for making a game with so many kickass female characters. Ciri, Triss, Yennifer, Keira, and Cerys are all awesome women who know how to get stuff done. It's great to see that in such a high-profile release.

  • Metal Gear Solid V is the best video game in the MGS series, but the worst MGS game. I know, I know, just stick with me for a moment. As a big MGS fan, I miss David Hayter as Snake in The Phantom Pain. I miss the iconic boss fights. I even miss the over-the-top cutscenes that go on for far too long. But man, MGSV is some of the most fun I've had with a game in years. Ground Zeroes was just a small precursor for the brilliant sandbox gameplay in The Phantom Pain, a game that asks players to use their imagination like few others. Want to take over that base? How about blowing it up with a rocket launcher? Perhaps you prefer a stealthier method... may I suggest throwing out a series of inflatable decoys that spout off iconic Big Boss lines to distract the guards? Oh yeah, and you should totally shoot a guard with your rocket punch arm while you're at it. Long story short: the emphasis on player freedom makes up for a lot of MGSV's faults as a MGS game.

  • I LOVE the Souls games. Sure, Bloodborne falls under a different name, but this is basically another entry in the tough-as-nails RPG series. Fortunately, Bloodborne attempts to breath life into the familiar Souls formula with a stronger emphasis on quickness and skin-crawling atmosphere that feels like something pulled out of a horror game. I also love Bloodborne's selection of transformable weapons that feature inventive designs and unique movesets. It loses steam in the back half of the campaign, but I'd also say that about the first Dark Souls which is one of my all-time favorite games. I choose to look at the highs more so than the lows, and Bloodborne provides some of the most memorable (and terrifying) moments of 2015.

  • I played Divinity: Original Sin last year and enjoyed it a lot, but a series of small issues kept me from loving it. The Enhanced Edition corrects all those issues, makes important story tweaks, and even adds new content to the game such as wands and grenades. I didn't beat the game last year, but I spent 70+ hours with the Enhanced Edition and saw it through to the end. It helps that Divinity: Original Sin features some of the best RPG combat I've ever experienced. Honestly, I loved every time I ran into a group of enemies. Much like another game on this list, MGSV, Divinity: OS rewards creativity. Combat encounters can be difficult, but if you put your thinking cap on and brainstorm creative solutions, much of that difficulty dissipates and the game shines in the process.

  • Plenty of people will pick Super Mario Maker as their GOTY, and I might have done the same if I had more of a nostalgic love for old 2D Mario games. Super Mario 64 was my introduction to the iconic Nintendo mascot, so I don't know games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World like the back of my hand. I have played them though, and I still find joy in creating my own 2D Mario levels in an attempt to find my inner Nintendo designer. Unfortunately, my inner Nintendo designer sucks, so I mostly play other people's creations. That's just as much fun though, and it goes to show how creative the video game community can be with a set of intuitive tools. Also, Super Mario Maker gave us the epic Dan Ryckert/Patrick Klepek showdown, which was one of the best Giant Bomb-related moments of 2015.

  • Here's a game that seemingly came out of nowhere. Some people find soccer to be boring, but trust me when I say rocket-power vehicles give the sport the excitement it needs. Rocket League's greatest strength is its fun factor - any time I enter a match, I know I'm going to have a blast. I didn't quite expect that going in since I tend to avoid competitive multiplayer games. The aid of friends helps, and playing and communicating with other players definitely benefits the overall experience. Also, developer Psyonix continues to support the game with free content and paid DLC that doesn't interfere with the core mechanics. That's the kind of business model I can get behind.

  • I'd argue Destiny was the most disappointing game of 2014, and yet here it is on my 2015 list with The Taken King expansion. The Destiny of 2015 is much different than the one that was released a year ago, and a majority of the improvements over that course of time have made it a compelling experience after dozens and dozens of hours. The monotonous repetition that used to set in largely disappears with the added content in The Taken King, and Bungie also limits much of the grind of old Destiny that caused pointless frustration. Oh yeah, and the new story missions in the expansion are actually fun and worth playing. Shocking, I know.

  • Leave it to Nintendo to put a unique spin on competitive shooters that appeals to folks like myself who typically avoid the genre. The pacifist task of shooting ink at stationary walls and floors in Splatoon creates an experience that simultaneously gets the competitive juices flowing and keeps my overall blood pressure down. Sure, it was light on content right out of the gate, but Nintendo has done a fantastic job of supporting the game months later in an effort to keep the core player base coming back for more. I mean, how can you stay away from a world with such vibrant colors and ridiculously good Miiverse art?

  • Her Story is a game that gets under the skin. I couldn't stop thinking about it days after I beat it. The way in which the game allows players to piece together a mysterious murder at his/her own pace with a purposely disjointed video database makes the conclusion that much more rewarding. It all comes together thanks to the magnetic performance of actress Viva Seifert. She appears subdued at first, but a few hours with her in the interrogation room reveals subtle layers of complexity that lead to more than a few theories about the overall narrative. Even now, I question my thoughts on the protagonist and her role in the game. Just a deeply resonating experience.

  • Life Is Strange doesn't quite stick the landing in its final episode, but sometimes the journey matters more than the destination. Over the course of five episodes the game delivers an emotionally charged story that explores relationships and meaningful topics not often seen in most high-profile games. The time rewind function makes for a novel game mechanic, but the emotional core of Life Is Strange and how the characters contribute to it are where the experience really shines.