GOTY 2015

2015 ended up being a strong year with a diversity of good games, and more than a few that bring fresh ideas or take something familiar to the next level. Trimming down the games I played to a top 10 was hard, but ordering this was even harder, especially as it got close to the top, with the top few all being so close for me.

That said, these are my favorite games of 2015!

List items

  • Geralt’s third and probably final outing is gorgeous, massive, detailed, and filled to the brim with great characters, scenes, and writing. The Witcher 3 is truly a triumph of open world RPGs, blending a world of scope with a world of detail, wrapped by a fantasy setting that is compelling and unique. It manages to be a full experience that seems to refuse to compromise, wringing everything it can out of the world and its characters and wrapping up in a way that is very satisfying and feels extremely complete. This bleak and unforgiving narrative just continues to impress with its dedication to telling meaningful stories and grounding them in characters and emotions that everyone can relate to, even with the extreme fantasy heights that are reached before the credits roll. Bravo to CD Projekt Red for this trilogy, and for capping it off with something truly spectacular.

  • For me playing Titan Souls is a series of peaks and valleys of intensity. Moments of serene scenery and lovely music separated by brutal, intense, and sometimes frustrating encounters with the game’s bosses. Sometimes those fights are over quickly, sometimes they seem like a brick wall, but you go into each knowing that a well placed arrow can bring you that flash of sweet, sweet victory. Titan Souls has no filler and spends no effort on training the player to use dozens of abilities and items, opting instead to give you nothing but a bow with a single arrow and the ability to call it back to you from afar. Dodging an attack, firing, and recalling your arrow is the core of Titan Souls and it feels great every time. On top of that is the rising tension as you work your way around one of the unique bosses to line up the perfect shot, and the sudden flash and silence that comes when you nail it.

  • Yharnam is the kind of eerie, twisted, and blood-soaked world you would expect from a follow up to the Souls series. I continue to love the way From Software creates these worlds and fills them with secrets and danger, but the combat is the star here. The use of offhand guns, transforming weapons, and the ability to recover damage by retaliating take the basics of combat to the next level. These changes successfully make the combat feel faster and more aggressive, while not at all breaking the game down into something simple or just mashing buttons.

  • Grow Home is simple, lighthearted, and it scratches the itch to climb and explore without putting anything else in your way. The simple act of climbing by putting one hand forward while gripping with the other is essential and opens up Grow Home’s beautiful landscape in a way not found in any other platformer. Extending the central plant is also a great progression, and growing its smaller limbs creates new surfaces to cross or climb and opens new areas in a really cool way. All of that says nothing for the incredible charm of BUD and his stumbling, chirping robot ways.

  • Legacy of the Void brings closure to the story of StarCraft in a way that none of the previous entries have, and goes to some pretty extreme levels to do so. With some moments that are genuinely striking and others that are hard to take seriously, this story is in all the way, all the time. The updated multiplayer is also updated and faster in a way I appreciate, and the inclusion of a dedicated cooperative mode is also very welcome here. This is a real-time strategy package that is complete in every way, lovingly crafted for the fans of a legendary franchise.

  • Mario Maker’s biggest success is that it makes it a joy to tinker and go through the refinement process of your levels. Building is a game all by itself, and for me it feels like just a nice addition that I can use it to play an infinite variety of Mario levels from 4 different styles. The tunes that play as you place stuff all over the screen are great, and the quick back and forth between building and testing is vital to the experience. All of that and the solid foundation of 2D Mario gameplay way overshadow the issues Mario Maker has as an online experience.

  • The Blind Forest is absolutely, stunningly gorgeous, and Ori’s journey is harrowing and emotional. The ability to leap off of enemies and projectiles while also redirecting them is incredibly versatile and just plain fun. You can go from navigating a vertical area by bouncing off of falling rocks to redirecting attacks to open a way forward, and then flinging enemies into each other (or even better, into a pit of spikes), all using this one core ability. On top of that is a great level of progression with optional abilities that can significantly change how you play.

  • New guitar, and new Guitar Hero. I was ready to write off the return of the plastic instrument music genre before Live and Rock Band 4 came out, but Guitar Hero pulled me back in with its new controller and streaming service. The Live part of Guitar Hero live is wonderfully goofy with its FMV of fake bands performing in front of fake crowds with a whole bunch of totally real thumbs ups. Guitar Hero TV seems like a solid service for just turning on the game and playing some songs you (probably) haven’t played before. The biggest seller for me so far is the new controller, with its new 6 button, 2 “string” layout that introduces cool finger movements and a different challenge for veterans of the 5 colored buttons of yore.

  • Her Story has a compelling narrative at its core, but it is the way the player uncovers the narrative that makes this a video game worth recommending. The (intentionally) horrendous and nonsensical video database system you are given places strict but necessary limits, making you think about ways to dig deeper and focus on details. In the end Her Story asks the player to really engage with the story and thankfully it is a web of mysteries well worth the effort. Additionally this game would not at all work without the great performance by the main (and only) actress Viva Seifert.

  • In an episodic narrative-driven adventure where you make big choices, throwing the ability to manipulate time into the mix gives the player so much freedom. Life Is Strange also ramps up Max’s time powers over the course of the 5 episodes in a way that really works, with multiple instances of genuine surprise when things go to the next level. There is also a lot of good character development and interaction from the ensemble cast, with childhood friends Max and Chloe and their evolving friendship being the shining star.