With only two months left to go, the end is nigh for what I consider a pretty terrific year for gaming. Major players like Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Star Wars: Battlefront, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and a little game by the name of Fallout 4 are still to come, but let’s pretend today is the last day of 2015. What would be some of your favorites? Is there one in particular you’d say is your Game of the Year?
I’m not a fan of choosing one game to rule them all, since my mood usually dictates what I feel like playing. Certain games are great for a multitude of reasons, and narrowing it down to one when they’re all special snowflakes just isn’t my cup of tea.
In no particular order, here are some of my favorites so far.
Life is Strange
I’m a big fan of adventure games, and Life is Strange is probably my favorite so far in 2015. There’s tons of fleshed out characters, a fun (at times) time travel mechanic, and some tough choices to be made within the dialogue that significantly alter the story–all of which had me hooked since episode 1. And that soundtrack. Dear lord, that soundtrack. So good.
Although the finale abandoned most of the game’s puzzle elements to tie up loose ends in the story (which was a bummer) I was emotionally invested in the series and its memorable cast to the very end.
Max is a young photography student who’s been given the mysterious ability to rewind time, but at what cost? Do you think of your troubled best friend instead of your own well being, all in the name of friendship? What’s the story with all the missing girls in Arcadia Bay? What caused the giant tornado and other uncharacteristic climate changes around town?
Life is Strange deals with some hard hitting issues, like bullying, suicide, sexual orientation, and murder, and does so in a way that doesn’t feel forced. I know how much it sucks to be a teenager, and as someone who was bullied throughout high school I found myself connecting with Max. She wasn’t just a well written character. Max felt human, vulnerable, and unsure of herself. She struggles with things almost anyone can relate to, and she’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Sometimes it felt weird bending dialogue choices with the rewind feature, since it seemed like Max was projecting herself on to these characters and changing their future in to something she wanted it to be, taking away their choice for a “better future”, but that’s just the harsh reality of her powers.
It’s definitely an enjoyable trip and I look forward to seeing if developer DONTNOD have plans to continue the series beyond the first season. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoyed Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Tales From the Borderlands, or their most recent episodic adventure series, Minecraft Story Mode.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
With over 100 hours invested in The Witcher 3, it feels odd to say that I haven’t finished it yet. There’s just so much to do outside of the primary quest chains, like monster hunts, side-quests, and the highly addictive card battle mini-game Gwent.
The world is as massive as it is gorgeous, and feels like a living, breathing universe where humanity is just as much a threat as the nekkers and drowners that dwell within it. CD PROJEKT RED has made significant improvements to the series’ combat and swimming mechanics as well, which makes exploring the vast open world much more enjoyable.
Geralt is a terrific character who is all business with a sword, but full of deadpan humor and smart assery when it comes to striking up a conversation. He’s joined by some highly memorable characters in the hunt for his chosen daughter Ciri, like the bitchy-yet-likeable raven haired sorceress Yennifer, and his former (or current, depending on how you approach certain dialogue options) love interest Triss. Even secondary characters like the Bloody Baron are deeply written and full of human emotion.
I laughed while trying to locate a good friend by questioning his many, many female companions, and stumbled Geralt’s dialogue while he was the acting lead in a local play. I’ve questioned the motives of a grotesque trio of crones, battled the Wild Hunt alongside my fellow witchers, and befriended a plethora of non-human “monsters” as opposed to feeding them my silver sword. Quests are varied and enjoyable, and the game’s fast travel system ensures there’s rarely a dull moment as the ashen haired witcher.
I’m a sucker for role-playing games, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is easily one of the best I’ve ever played.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2015 so far, Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn caters to my love of campy slasher films and general horror from the 1980’s and 90’s. As a game that wears its inspiration on its sleeve, the character tropes made it easier to connect with the cast while putting the stellar graphics and choice-driven gameplay at the forefront.
Rarely do I revisit a game, but even after watching two others play through it in its entirety I’m still playing it again myself. Lately my girlfriend and I have been going through it with a serial killer’s mentality, trying our best to get everyone killed off before the credits roll. Afterwards we’ll go back through and ensure everyone’s survival, but for now we’ll play a merciless god with a taste for the macabre.
Until Dawn banks hard on its butterfly effect gimmick, but it’s little more than an illusion. Set pieces are always scripted, certain characters can’t be killed off until you reach specific chapters, and it mostly alters the dialogue while leading you to the same location in-game.
Still, it’s a great game to pick up and play along with friends, agreeing on dialogue choices, and seeing who fucks up and moves the controller when your favorite character’s life is at stake. Unlike Life is Strange where you can rewind time and fix mistakes, Until Dawn forces you to live with your choices until the very end.
I was never impressed by anything shown leading up to Until Dawn’s release, and Supermassive Games didn’t have the best resume, but I’m thoroughly impressed by just how good and how fun it is to play.
Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below
As a fan of Dragon Quest it’s no surprise that the latest Dynasty Warriors mash-up Heroes has been my obsession as of late. It’s a meaty game with loads of missions, side-quests, items to craft, and tons of slimes to kill, and it’s my current go-to game when I have some free time.
Where Hyrule Warriors felt like Dynasty Warriors dressed in The Legend of Zelda garb, Heroes definitely feels more like Dragon Quest with just the right amount of Warriors‘ flavor. You’ll still hack your way through enemies by the thousands, battling familiar foes like dracky, slimes, and hammerhoods, but gone are the days of riding on horseback while overtaking base camps and hunting down officers.
I love that they’ve kept a traditional 4-person party system, which lets you play around with a variety of characters that you can switch out on the fly. The new characters are likeable, with Aurora and Isla as mentionable standouts, but fans of the series’ will likely geek out at the inclusion of returning favorites like Bianca, Maya, and Yangus.
Lately I’ve been revisiting completed levels to grind out crafting materials and level up a bit, since there’s plenty of crafting recipes to learn and each character has their own skill grid to fill out. Combat is fast and I really dig the colorful, light-hearted visuals that Dragon Quest has become known for.
If you’re a fan of Dynasty Warriors, or action RPGs in general, I highly recommend giving Dragon Quest Heroes a shot if you own a PlayStation 4. It’s accessible yet challenging, and I’ve had a blast unwinding with the game every day after school since its release.
Bloodborne is another game on the list that I haven’t actually finished, nor have I came close to doing so. It was a rental that blew me away with its dark, gothic architecture, hidden story, and satisfyingly aggressive combat that was a bit of a departure as a fan of the Souls games.
As someone who’s used to approaching combat in From Software’s mainstays by being cautious, raising my shield, studying enemy attack patterns, and countering accordingly, I actually preferred the combat in Bloodborne.
It was far more exciting to stay aggressive, attacking enemies after being hit in order to regenerate some of my lost health. Gun parrying was a great mechanic that was difficult to master, but lead to some brutal visceral attacks that made short work of even the toughest of foes.
Trick weapons offering two playstyles that I could switch on the fly felt rad. I could approach combat as a heavy hitter (at the cost of losing my gun parry), and switch back to my gun-plus-axe to counter-kill some of the more menacing foes. But of course I died. A lot. I also liked that there were fewer stats to mull over, making it a bit more straightforward when it came time to level up a bit.
I loved how complex and labyrinthine the world felt in Dark Souls, and that was something I missed the most in Dark Souls 2. Thankfully Bloodborne’s town of Yharnam was just what the doctor ordered.
It’s utterly massive with tons and tons of hidden pathways and alleys that begged exploring. Climbing a tall ladder and seeing how many of the areas I had been to previously were connected, or discovering an arched doorway leading from my current location back to the beginning of the game were testaments to the developer’s knack for creating some of the most satisfying environments I’ve had the pleasure of dying repeatedly in.
I look forward to picking up Bloodborne later on and finishing up what I started. In fact, it’s at the top of my list of things to do when this semester of college ends on December 4th.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
I’ve been out of the Metal Gear loop since Snake Eater, having passed on all of the PSP games and Metal Gear Solid IV on the PS3. The story was just too far out there to hold my attention, and outside of the stealthy combat and memorable boss encounters, it’s just not a series that’s been at the top of my list.
I actually passed on The Phantom Pain at first, opting to pick up Mad Max instead (which was equally enjoyable and forgettable), but its widespread critical acclaim put my wallet in a chokehold and off to the store I went.
I’ve already made a lengthy post about my feelings here, and I still stand by the fact that Metal Gear Solid doesn’t need an open world. The gameplay changes introduced in Ground Zeroes are great and the mission structure in The Phantom Pain is fantastic, but I still have yet to enjoy any bit of the open world.
However, locating cassette tapes and fulton’ing things back to Mother Base for a bit of R&D has yet to become stagnant. The Phantom Pain is an absolute blast to play. The only thing that rivals watching D-Horse fulton back to base while I fly away in my chopper to David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World is little D-Dog waiting for me at the landing pad.
So overall not a very unpredictable list. There were others I enjoyed, like Neverwinter (prior to its latest expansion, anyway), the pleasantly surprising Screamride, episode one of Blues and Bullets, Quest of Dungeons, and what little I’ve played of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, but not everyone makes the cut.
Like most of you, I can’t afford every game that comes along. And with that in mind, I’ve yet to pick up some of the bigger titles like Halo 5: Guardians, Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, Tales From the Borderlands, or Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. There’s also a few odds and ends I’ve passed on. Rocket League, Undertale, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos, Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess, Tales of Zesteria, Toukiden: Kiwami, Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut, SOMA, Axiom Verge, and Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition all have my attention, but I’m waiting for significant price drops before pulling the trigger.
So let’s hear it. If today was the last day of 2015, what would some of your favorites be? Sound off down in the comments and feel free to post trailers, links to your own reviews, etc.