GOTY 2014

I’m in general agreement that 2014 was not the best year for games, yet forcing myself to sit down and organize a top 10 list reminded me that, yes, I did have a lot of fun playing video games this year. It may be missing those one or two real standout games, and going back to school may have drastically cut down on my gaming time, but 2014 still provided me with countless enjoyable hours of my favorite pastime. I even had trouble narrowing this list down to 10 games, but I feel confident in showcasing these 10 as the best, most memorable gaming experiences I had all year. In order!

List items

  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has no business topping this list. I’ve rarely liked how open world action games play, but this game’s combat, stealth, and traversal crush genre standards to rival anything out there. I simply had a blast with the moment to moment gameplay, and the nemesis system is a brilliant idea that ties it all together. It thoroughly justifies the existence of an “open world”, connecting you to your adversaries on a more organic and personal level. Shadow of Mordor reveals new potential in a genre I’ve never loved, and thus comes away as my favorite game of the year.

  • Dark Souls was always going to be a tough act to follow, but this sequel offers up an adventure that’s plenty memorable all on its own. From the Lost Bastille to the Iron Keep to the Shrine of Amana, I had a grand time exploring its many wondrous and well designed areas. It’s that sense of exploration and discovery that keeps me coming back, and it’s expertly supported by intricate character customization, hard hitting combat, and a finely tuned level of challenge that continues to be oh so rewarding. Dark Souls II may not reinvent the wheel, but it’s a damn fine wheel that’s still worth spinning.

  • Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call sets a new benchmark for quality fan service. With 221 songs in the base game it might be the most generous rhythm game ever made, and the fact that those songs are culled from the best music in video game history makes the deal even sweeter. It plays extremely well too, and offers a myriad of ways to tap and swipe along with these classic songs at your own pace. Even during my busiest weeks this past fall I still managed to find a few minutes for this gem almost every day, making Curtain Call the one game I kept coming back to throughout 2014.

  • Leading your caravan of downtrodden troops through The Banner Saga’s doomed world is intense and gripping. You’re constantly faced with impossible decisions that drastically affect the well-being of your followers, and that struggle for hope and survival is interwoven with a series of exciting tactical battles. The way both gameplay styles effectively bounce off of each other is highly satisfying, and it’s all complimented with sharp writing, gorgeous art, and a beautifully thematic soundtrack. Equally thoughtful and fun, The Banner Saga is one of the most memorable games I played all year.

  • What a rush. I’ve never been the biggest fan of competitive shooters, but Titanfall immediately hooked me with its buttery smooth movement. It combines first person platforming with shooting in a way that’s not only a blast, but also infinitely more functional than it has any right to be. The core acts of moving and shooting feel as good here as they do in any FPS I’ve played, and the AI grunts and titular titans are smart additions that make it easy for anyone to dive in and contribute. I had a ton of fun every time I played Titanfall this year; I can’t think of much better praise than that.

  • Supergiant Games’ sophomore effort is no slump. Transistor hits the ground running with a clever combat system that caters to action junkies and turn based strategists alike, and experimenting with its many customizable skills is immensely satisfying. Everyone seemed to come up with their own effective loadout, adapting the system to their style of play in pretty amazing ways. Toss in an interesting world teeming with life, a thoughtful narrative, some of the best art of the year, and a truly incredible soundtrack, and Transistor connected with me on virtually every level.

  • Super Smash Bros. keeps getting bigger and better. This latest installment expands the roster to a ridiculous number, yet it somehow manages to feel like the most polished, well considered entry to date. The characters are wonderfully varied such that anyone can find one that suits their style, and the crisp visuals and bombastic musical score add plenty of flair. Perhaps most importantly, the long overdue addition of (mostly) functional online play gives Super Smash Bros. more legs than ever; you no longer need to live in a college dorm to get a lot out of this rambunctious brawler.

  • Despite its clear reverence for the NES classics, Shovel Knight doesn’t need to rely on nostalgia to thrive. This is the rare retro inspired game that looks forward just as much as it looks back, successfully combining old school style with modern sensibilities. It’s that fusion that makes Shovel Knight tick, and its highly detailed art, immensely catchy soundtrack, smart level design, and tight controls combine to produce a fun game no matter what year it is. You don’t need to be a die-hard 80s kid to enjoy what Shovel Knight has to offer. You only need to like quality video games.

  • Far Cry 4 is a well earned victory lap for the franchise, and a rollicking good time at every bend. Whether I’m hunting dangerous animals, taking over outposts, diving off mountains with a wingsuit, or throwing C4 in a truck bed before pushing it down a hill into a rhinoceros, there’s no shortage of fun stuff to engage with in this large, wild world. I simply had a hard time putting this game down once it got going, thanks to the breadth and variety of open world shenanigans I could endlessly stumble into. Far Cry 4 is loud, dumb, and completely crazy, and that’s exactly why I like it.

  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an assuredly assembled platformer in any number of ways. Its rock solid fundamentals are backed up by lavishly gorgeous visuals and a vibrant musical score (by David Wise!), and that high level of production has always been a staple of the series. It lends some stunning atmosphere to its fun and challenging gameplay, and this latest installment successfully carries that blend into the HD era. It may not set the world on fire with innovation, but Tropical Freeze is sublimely crafted, and the best the big ape has been in a long, long time.

3 Comments

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Slag

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Slag • 

I have to admit I'm amazed Mordor beat out DS 2 on your list, because I know how much you liked the first one. That might push me over the edge to getting it before the steam sale runs its course.

Destiny may be most critics disappointment of the year, but I have to wonder if Dark Souls 2 might be the one that is judged the harshest for not meeting the incredibly high expectations its' fans had.(Not to say it isn't justified, it's just that surpassing or even equaling Dark Souls is a near impossible task. Even a fantastic game is going to look noticeably lesser in comparison.).

Whereas Mordor, it's hard to not think it's benefited tremendously critically from the low expectations it had going in.

I've yet to play Mordor but so much of the praise nearly universally seems to be laden with caveats, it makes me wonder what the "aftertaste" of that game will be in the coming years. Especially after another title utilizes their own variant of the Nemesis system. Will it be another Arkham Asylum? Where others copied it but never surpassed the originator? or will it be different in that future copycats will do it better?

It any event it feels like it may end up being the most critically begrudgingly GotY of all time.

On the plus side, maybe it really should be the GotY since it tackles something long overdue for improvement this gen, NPC AI. Maybe the importance of the Nemesis system, even if that is solely what makes the game worthwhile is that profound.

If it sparks other developers to focus less on increasingly minute graphical improvements with rapidly diminishing returns and focus more on making game worlds smarter,more personal and more dynamic, Then that truly is a great achievement.

Nice list man!

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MajorMitch • 

@slag: Thanks Slag! The internal debate between Mordor and Dark Souls II for that top spot was one of the MANY tough debates for this list, and the margin between those two games is very slim. As you said, Dark Souls II seemed to be judged fairly harshly for not meeting overly high expectations, but I don't really feel like much of that is warranted, and I had a blast with the game. My only real caveat is that it is the third game in that line, and is very similar to the previous two without being "better" in any real capacity (even if it's not much "worse"). So it's a situation of "This game is right up my alley as a design ethos I really like, and is executed very well, but it's also nothing different or better than what came before."

On the other hand, Shadow of Mordor is, for me at least, virtually the complete opposite. It comes from a type of game I've never really liked (open world action, particularly the Assassin's Creed variety), and in many cases I've felt like it's just a sloppy genre. I'm working on a blog that goes into a lot more detail on open world action games and Mordor's impact (my next monthly roundup), but the short version is that Mordor is the first open world action game where I genuinely enjoy all of the nuts and bolts of the moment to moment gameplay. Then the nemesis system is such a great idea that makes much better use of the game's "open world" than anything I've seen. Mordor is a monumental improvement in both execution and ideas over what came before, compared to Dark Souls II that's more or less staying the course. It wasn't easy by any means, but that's what ultimately won it for Mordor. Even if in some ways I still enjoy the act of playing Dark Souls II more, purely because it more closely aligns with my particular gaming tastes and values.

It is interesting to think how Mordor will be viewed over the years though. It's possible that in a few years from now I may feel differently about it, but that's too hard to project for the purposes of this list. Everyone's making the best picks with what 2014 gave them :) My best guess is for it being a Gears of War situation, where it sets a standard early in the generation with a cool idea, then later games (particularly its own sequels) continue to refine and add to that idea. That's all speculation of course, but if that is the case, I don't think that devalues the original much at all; everything has to start somewhere!

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Edited By Slag • 

@majormitch:

re: Gears of War - I suspect you may be right about that. The Media seems to have such a strong aversion to the LotR license though, I don't know if they will praise another one of these though like they would a Batman or Gears for that matter.

Guess we'll find out! I'll look forward to your blog about it!