The Best of What I Played in 2014

2014 was a weird year for games. Ubisoft shat the bed and never quit. EA was strangely quiet this year. Sony dominated Microsoft up until Microsoft decided to knock the price of their console down to a straight-up stunning $350 (and often cheaper). Gamergate (ugh). All the feels (double ugh). We saw lots of great ports, and few truly great original titles. We saw some fascinating indies, and some real stinkers. Technical glitches and straight-up broken games were the headlines over the holidays.

So it shouldn't come as any surprise that this list reflects the strange despondency of the year. I played some great games, true, but nothing on this list really felt like a huge leap for gamekind. As loaded as 2015 looks, I hope this coming year reinvigorates the industry.

List items

  • This was highly unexpected, but I guess it really shouldn't have been. I've mostly been fond of Bioware's games, and they've done a masterful job of shoring up their strengths with DA:I.

    It's a slow burn, to be sure. The early game features a lot of frustrating plot moments, and is paced glacially slow. When you've finally got the freedom to explore more of the game's world than the Hinterlands and Haven, the real depth of Inquisition is revealed.

    There's a staggering amount of content. Most of it is your usual "go here, fetch this, kill that" style questing, but its done masterfully well and doesn't feel extraordinarily grindy. This is especially true once you begin traveling around the various areas and start taking on more and more quests and companions. Bored of a particular quest line? Go do something else for a few hours. Can't take down a vicious mob? You're guaranteed to have a dozen more quests you can do to help you out.

    It's not a perfect game by any means. Animations are reused from its forebearers. There's a lack of new skills and combat actions. Healing has been straight up ripped out of the game, forcing you to micro-manage your party with potions. Some of the companion characters are distinctly lacking in personality (namely Cassandra) and others are annoying as all get-out (Sara).

    But overall, this is such a meaty, well-done love letter to Bioware fans that it's hard not to have a great time. And of all the games I played this year, it's definitely the best.

  • Shadow of Mordor gets a lot of praise for its Nemesis system, and rightfully so. It's far and away the coolest future-tech in any game this year, and it's something everyone will emulate eventually. Once you rip through the hum-drum main quest, there's a wild time to be had just wiping out boss after boss, turning them into your loyal servants or just straight up chopping them to bits. The power plays between bosses are delightful to watch.

    With more of its own backbone (this really is just a straight-up Batman clone with LOTR baddies and environments), this probably would have fought tooth-and-nail for the top spot.

  • It's more Far Cry 3. That's a fantastic thing, but it does limit its place on this list. Again, much like with Shadow of Mordor, the main plot is only a tiny percentage of the game. It's when I'm roaming Kyrat, watching soldiers gun down eagles, setting mines to take down bears and tigers, or just screwing around that I really find the beating heart of Far Cry 4. It's the sort of game that puts fun first.

  • There's a heart to Blackwell Epiphany that most other adventure games this year lacked. The culmination of the Blackwell series has some glaring issues, particularly when it comes to a few pixel hunting quests (damn you, gym key card) and some straight up lazy animation (the mental ward). But the heart and soul of Wadjet Eye shines right on through. The fun ghost-hunting plotline comes to a nice, emotional head, the voice actors have gone from sort of laughably bad to completely respectable (particularly the actor who plays Joey), and the game has found a tempo other games in the series never quite reached. I hope we see more quality games from the Wadjet folks, because this sure left me wanting more.

  • I've made a few comments here and there about how impressed I am that Banished was made by such a tiny team. It's a sharp little city-builder that will straight up punch you in the teeth if you're not paying attention but reward you lovingly if you are. It looks good, plays better than just about any other modern city-builder I can think of, and it's tremendously replayable, particularly with the addition of mods.

  • At a certain point in the year, I thought Wolf Among Us was a lock for my GOTY pick. It's a really stylish adventure game, full of the types of characters that would draw me right in to a novel. Seeing them portrayed in a video game was downright jaw-dropping. Upon reflection, I realized that while the early and late game were pretty terrific, I just couldn't justify placing it higher on my list due to the mediocrity of the mid-game. I'm hopeful we see a second season of Wolfie, because holy hell, this has huge potential.

  • Oh man, I was not prepared for this. The Stick of Truth not only nails the look, feel, and hilarity of the show, but it comes packaged with a pretty awesome combat and loot system to boot. Sure, some of the environments are recycled a bit too often, and I would've loved to have explored more of the South Park world, but this is a great foundation for future South Park games to build upon. And I really do hope there are more.

    Also, Butters is the greatest. The greatest!

  • Look, more Borderlands is always going to be an attractive prospect for me. I'm unabashedly a fan of shooting, looting, and skill trees. The Pre-Sequel managed to surprise me by being solidly written and voice-acted (seriously, let's hire more Aussies for voice acting, mmmkay?). Aside from a few frustrating boss battles and a couple of forgettable main characters, this was a really nice treat. Still, Gearbox, get on Borderlands 3!

  • This should have been a slam-dunk GOTY contender. I should have played it through to the end, humming the theme half the time without knowing it. I should be hotly anticipating the next Zelda game, but... it's just not there for me.

    This is a caring look back at one of the most beloved games in Nintendo history, but I couldn't help feeling the whole time like this game needed an ounce of its own soul. True, the "pick your dungeon" aspects were neat, but honestly, who will remember this game for anything beyond that? The plot is forgettable, the world is a complete rehash, the bosses and characters have been done before, and the whole thing just feels too mired in the past to truly spring forward. it's a great game, to be sure, but certainly not as great as it should have been.

  • Sometimes, the Internet and I disagree. Shocker. I thought Watch-Dogs was a perfectly acceptable, if a little overwrought, open world actioner. It lacks a certain sense of style and soul, but it makes up for it with pretty solid gameplay and neat twists on "take over X outpost."

    I liked it, all right? Piss off.

  • Honorable Mention:

    This is probably the game I sunk the most time into in 2014, despite having some real issues with it on the PC. Suffice it to say that you should play this with a gamepad, not a keybaord and mouse. It's a fun game that rewards patience, even from the worst players out there (read: me). I like what they did with this game, but if there are to be future Rogue Legacies, more environments, wildly varied enemies, and more ways to play characters would be awesome.

  • 2014's Decade Old Game of the Year:

    Yes, I played the hell out of this in college. Yes, I revisited it every so often after that. That didn't stop me from having a blast with FFX earlier this year. It's still a bit problematic - you can't skip cutscenes and some of the mini-games are fucking sadomasochistic as all hell - but the Sphere Grid and turn based combat are still amazing. Love love love this game, even in 2014.

  • 2014's Fifteen Year Old Scotchy Scotch Scotch Game of the Year:

    I finally saw the credits roll on FFIX, nearly fifteen years after it was released. I adore the heart and mechanics of this game. It's one of the most solid of the series. I'm hard pressed to say if this, VII, or X are my favorite at any given moment. This was the best trip down nostalgia lane I had all year, bar none.

  • 2014's iPad Game of the Year:

    Yeah, okay, I've played this one before too. That doesn't mean that the iPad port isn't deserving of an award here. Being able to control the camera angles with mah fingers is a great touch (ba dum bum bum) and this game is perfectly acceptable on the iPad. It's still a riot to play, too, and still laughaably incomprehensible. It's a great game. Go play it.

    Man, I played a shitload of Final Fantasy this year.