Best of 2015 – Videogames

Well that time of year again, I’m typing this up in the first week of January. When I actually finish and post it is anyone’s guess. 2015 was a pretty solid year in terms of gaming as a whole. Lots of great games were released, several of which will easily become “classics”. Most major publishers and platform holders started making serious moves towards promoting VR. Sony had perhaps the greatest E3 ever. Several white whales were spotted and beached (Shenmue 3, FFVII Remake, Last Guardian alive and well). Overall a solid year. But it was also the year of the delay, so many titles got pushed back 2016. Which, when you add in the titles planned for 2016, makes the upcoming year look like a monster.

In terms of my gaming in 2015 it was marked by two things, playing a lot less individual titles in favour of playing endless or extremely long games and (somewhat on the flip side) playing an absolute fuck-ton of mobile games. Most of my gaming was done on the PC, to the point where if Bloodborne hadn’t come out I’d have serious buyers remorse over owning a PS4. Actually there’s another, great, trend from this year. A lot of niche Japanese games, which previously only appeared on consoles, are starting to get PC ports. On the one hand that’s great, you usually get better performance, graphics, etc. On the other hand it means I now largely have consoles and handhelds for exclusives.

I’d intended to spend less on games this year,the crippling of Steam trading certainly helped here, and I largely did spend less than last year. I averaged €60 a month, more or less, or one full price game a month. I ended up buying less actual games this year, as mentioned lack of steam trading certainly had a lot to do with that. On the plus side this meant I completed a higher percentage of the games I bought. I’m going to try to spend even less, or at least buy even fewer games, this year. Which may prove difficult given the amount of outstanding titles on the horizon. But I have to, my backlog has moved from curiosity to active annoyance. The fact most of my gaming time goes on endless games (which isn’t likely to change) means that my backlog is equally unlikely to change.

A quick note on how I compiled the list. Any game I played this year, whether it was released this year or not, is eligible for inclusion. However if the game in question appeared in a previous year’s Top 10 it can’t be included unless it’s received a major update or expansion. I’ve also made a conscious effort to try to keep the entry for each game to around two hundred and fifty words. I don’t think anyone is interested in reading a magnum opus. I’ve rounded the top ten out with super brief thoughts on other games I’ve played this year that failed to make the cut. Games aren’t listed in any particular order.

Editor’s Note: I am posting this in the middle of October 2016. Is that because I wanted to see if these games stood the test of time or because I lost interest in writing top X lists and thus this is very very late? It’s the latter, definitely the latter, very late, very very late. If this post was the White Rabbit he’d be an oddly clothed rabbit skeleton moldering in a forgotten burrow at this point. While I made the list back in 2015 I’ll be writing the comments now.

Bloodborne

(PS4)

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While it lacks the feeling of something entirely new that Demons Souls had this is probably my favourite game in the extended “Souls/Born” series of games. The action, while lacking quite as many differing avenues of play, is significantly faster paced and aggressive and does a great job of ratcheting up the tension in a way that feels different from its predecessors. Perhaps the most appealing thing to be about the game was the setting and the characters, both strongly influenced by the Cthulhu mythos. This is the first time I was really interested in the lore of a Souls game and trying to work out the underlying story, provided in maddening hints, added an enjoyable extra layer to the game. The game also looks gorgeous (and I’m sad there’ll never be a PC port to really make the most of it). Mix in the huge amount of content common to these games and this game alone makes it worth owning a PS4.

Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

(PC)

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FFXIV is both the best “classic” MMO out there as well as being an excellent Final Fantasy game in its own right. Heavensward took a great game and made it better, filling it with a ridiculous amount of new content (the majority of which you can complete single player if you wish) as well as improving content that was already there. This really was a great expansion, it totally re-invigorated my flagging interest in the game and really MMO’s in general. I bought the expansion I took a month or two to finish all the new content and bits of the old I missed and then I let my sub lapse. Since then I’ve even less interest in playing MMO’s (until I get a new job I’m honestly worried I’ll just totally no-life it) but based on how good this was the recent announcement of a second expansion has me considering re-subbing.

Resident Evil HD Remaster

(PC)

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I never replay games any more. It feels like there’s simply too many out there to “waste” the time replaying something I’ve already played. Some games are obviously designed for constant play and work well with it, but multiple endings and such just sort of bum me out these days because I know I’ll never see them. But I replayed this, multiple times in fact, clearing all the challenges. I can’t even attribute it to nostalgia because while I played the original I never actually completed it. It was the only game Ed had for his PS1 when I lived with him but he traded both away for a Sega MegaCD, so I never finished it then. The next time I played it all the lads in the house played the same save so I only got to play bits and pieces of it. But I really did enjoy this remaster, I loved the old “tank” controls, I loved how creepy it was, I loved the setting and I loved how compelling I found the game.

Besiege

(PC)

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I played this when it was fairly new to early access so I’m not sure what its current state is. But at the time I gladly sunk my time into it because it’s basically bloody medieval lego. Figuring out how to get your machine to do what you wanted with limited pieces (and without it literally tearing itself apart) was really fun. The initial community that sprung up around the game was enthusiastic and surprisingly pleasant. My time with the game was just a nice experience over all.

Darkest Dungeon

(PC)

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It’s funny, I loved the first twenty or so hours I put into the unfinished version of this. But after playing a full campaign of the finished version I have absolutely no interest to ever play this again. Not the most ringing endorsement I know. Anyhow, the game is quite atmospheric and has a wonderful aesthetic. It has solid (if needlessly obtuse) dungeon crawling mechanics and offers a good amount of replay. But it overstays its welcome and frequently mistakes randomness for legitimate difficulty. One or two (actually three) key mods significantly improve the experience. To the point where I would say they’re essential.

Elite Dangerous

(PC)

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This game is beautiful, but it looks better than it plays. It is vast, intimidatingly so, but it is also shallow, annoyingly so. There is a lot to do but very little of it feels particularly meaningful nor is any task particularly engaging. The games big selling points are its graphics, its size and its excellent flight system (which combat pretty fun and tense). I really enjoyed my time with the game but once you get a bit bored with it it feels like you’re done for a significantly long time. As I (foolishly) bought the expansion I’ve been getting emails about additions to the game and it looks like it may have addressed some of the issues. But this is not a game you pick up and play, the fact that once you forget how it plays you have to re-learn it, is a significant barrier to getting back to playing this.

The Witcher 3

(PC)

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Well this wouldn’t make the list if I was making it now. I was about twenty hours into this when I got very sick for a week and couldn’t play it. After that I never went back to it and so, despite falling into the trap of the season pass, I am unlikely to every finish it. Simply because sitting down to something you know is nearly a hundred hours is immensely intimidating. Anyway, that said, the game is beautiful, the narrative is interesting and well delivered, the world does a good job of making itself feel alive (though only in the parts populated by sapients). On the other hand the combat is at best rudimentary and is part of the reason I don’t want to go back to it.

Xenoverse & Season Pass

(PC)

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Quite simply the best Dragonball game ever made. This was basically all I wanted in a Dragonball game, an excellent and in-depth personalised character, a combat system that delivered on the visual spectacle of the source material while still maintaining enough depth to be interesting, a story that felt like it fit into the universe (unsurprising given that it was written by Toriyama himself), solid but optional multiplayer, great visuals, etc. Really this game delivered on nearly every front for me. The games one (big) failing is that some elements are (far) too grindy. But I stopped playing before that became an issue for me. Really looking forward to the sequel and I’m hoping we just get more of the same with a few QOL improvements.

Diablo 3 2.2 & 2.3

(PC)

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For a game with no micro-transactions or subscription its impressive how much work still gets put into Diablo III. While there might not be a huge amount of new content the mechanical tweaks and what new content that does get added are generally all excellent. The two major patches that came out in 2015 perfectly exemplify that, of the two 2.3 was probably the superior. The addition of Kanai’s cube to the game really opened up the range of viable builds and made the meta feel considerably less constrained. The Season’s Journey added some much-needed structure and as always the balance changes kept things from stagnating. I have but a ridiculous amount of time into Diablo 3 and while that’s partly because I am (very) susceptible to operant conditioning it’s also because the game just keeps delivering.

Oreshika

(VITA)

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A truly novel rpg experience, while other rpg’s try to get you to care about individuals or groups this one tries to (and succeeds in) making you care about a lineage. The game is a dungeon crawler/turn based rpg tied to a deceptively entrancing generational system. The game’s soundtrack is excellent and its visuals use a lovely stylised watercolour effects (which doesn’t really come through in the accompanying screenshots, looks great on the VITA). The main gameplay is that of a turn based dungeon crawler, it’s solid but not particularly amazing. What really elevates the game is the generational aspect, you end up making sub-families and creating narratives in your head about why this branch family all are masters of the sword, as you play you remember how this characters aunt or mother or uncle were just a bit better (or hadn’t bred with an ugly god and thus didn’t look like a frog), etc. I cared about what happened to the lineages I created, I felt sad when characters died, just like I felt sad when their grandmother and great-grandmother had died. I also quite liked the overall story, it’s fairly dark without feeling unrelenting. If you’re looking for a rpg experience that’s a little different I’d definitely suggest checking this out.

The Rest

Chaos Reborn (PC) – Critical Hit – Love this game, simple but deep, tense, beautiful, but sadly the population is small and people largely by veterans. Havent played it since it hit full release so I’m not sure what changed.
Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae (PS4) – Hit – Good, Ramuh was amazing, went from being vaguely interested in the game to being excited about it coming out.
Invisible Inc (PC) – Hit – Very enjoyable, very short, the replayability just didn’t hook me but I dont feel that my short time with the game was wasted.
One finger Death Punch (PC) – Hit – Enjoyable enough time waster.
Pillars of Eternity (PC) – Miss – Wildly over-rated, solid enough “old-school” revival CRPG which has an ok opening act, a great second act, and then completely fell to pieces. The writing and transparent agenda at the end of the game were so bad that the writer(s) should feel embarrassed. Maybe the expansions were good but I sure as fuck wasnt taking the chance.
Warframe Update 18 (PC) – Hit – Warframe was, and remains, a game I can’t stop playing despite dropping it for months at a time and regularly complaining about it. It’s great for drop in/drop out play and this was a particularly solid update. Recent (2016) month long content droughts and bizarre developer behaviour have soured me on the game but I have put an embarrassing amount of time into this game.

Mobile Games

As I mentioned above I got big into mobile games this year. Luckily I managed to resist spending money on them. Which was more effort than you’d think as most of these are “gacha” games where pulling from the premium gacha is one of the big hooks. Generally I like F2P games where the F2P feels “fair”, which generally means you can earn the best units in the game through play or that the gacha units dont completely dominate the game to the point where not having one makes playing feel pointless. Editor’s Note: Not sure what I was going to list here but considering the only one I’ve continued to play regularly is Granblue Fantasy let’s just assume it was that.

Vent your spleen