This may be the quickest I’ve actually managed to churn out another entry in my month-spanning blog series. It’s only been a little over a week if memory serves correctly, but you can take the easy way out and find my previous entry here as well. In that particular entry I spoke of my favorite games from 2013 and 2014 so it only logically follows that this entry covers 2015 and 2016- bringing us both remarkably up to date and setting the stage for me to wrap the blog series up for the foreseeable future until there’s more content to develop.
I’ve not forgotten several of my other blog series which require further exposition or outright finishing and I still have several fresh ideas up my sleeve as always. Expect to see more of these projects in the future but in no particular order or at any particular time of course. I’m sure I’ll always essentially be behind on reviews but you may get the chance to see my ‘Games I didn’t Review In X Year’ posts morph into games from even older years as well. Without further ado, let’s get to the matter at hand. Feel free to comment on my choices as you see fit, as always.
2015: Dying Light, Pillars of Eternity, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Batman: Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Undertale, Soma, Fallout 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider
Dying Light is Techland realizing the full potentially of what Dead Island and Dead Island Riptide oftentimes failed to recognize. It offers essentially the best zombie experience in that vein that we’ve yet to see and it’s still being supported quite well even now. It’s always truly impressive to me when a developer so adamantly supports their project even well after its release and when they prove their love for the title even more so than fans might. The mechanics and the world and the creativity which they allow for is part of what makes Dying Light one of my favorite titles of recent note.
Pillars of Eternity is Obsidian doing what they do best- making a brilliant game as an homage to games of renown in the past and making it both fresh and exciting as well as a thrilling tie-in. What’s perhaps more impressive is that the role-playing game started as a crowdfunded and kickstarted effort and is perhaps one of the best examples of success from that particular platform as well. It’s every bit as much its own game as it is a successor to Planescape, Baldur’s Gate, and all of the most popular and widely recognized RPGs of old out there today. It has a pretty simple interface and premise but don’t let that fool you as far as enriching story and atmosphere are concerned. I’m a sucker for stuff like this.
By now if you know anything about me it’s that you’ll probably never get me to shut up about The Witcher 3, which I still stand by as possibly the greatest game I’ve ever played in my entire lifetime and may as of yet ever play at all. I’ve written blog post after blog post about the merits of the game and the many references to other great works within it whether intentional or not, however now let me boil things down to just a few extra notes. The combat and the story are easily the best in the series and also in terms of how easily they are able to be handled and understood by both newcomers and series veterans. It’s equal parts an accessible package and one that can curdle the blood of even the hardiest adventurers on the highest of difficulties. Wild Hunt is phenomenal in many ways but probably more so for the ways in which it lays itself bare while also hiding secrets under the surface that we are only just now discovering or perhaps may never discover at all.
So far on this particular list all of the games have deep replayability and untold value as a complete package. The buck doesn’t stop here as the next in line is Batman: Arkham Knight, the as of now thrilling conclusion to the Arkham storyline and perhaps the most ambitious Batman (and superhero) game in history. I thought things couldn’t get better after Asylum and then came City. I thought we couldn’t possibly see a better project than City and then came Origins- which wasn’t a better thing than City so I was correct at least as of then. But then we got Arkham Knight and boy were even my high expectations met pretty well. I theorized villains and characters that could be in the title and many were much to my surprise and pleasure. I dreamed about seeing Knightfall come to life and boy was it (sort of; also sort of TDKR vibes as well). Rocksteady forever has my appreciation for this series.
2015 saw many huge video game releases but one thing it had remarkably in common beyond even those blockbusters was that it was most definitely the year of the beard. Geralt of Rivia’s ever-growing scruff and Venom Snake/Big Boss’s remarkably visage are two of the best we may ever see. I considered the fact that The Phantom Pain would and could be the next Metal Gear game and boy was I on the mark. But it was never what any of us expected and I say that in the best of ways. What an amazing epic and what an experience. It either intentionally or unintentionally tied together so many years of Metal Gear history and work and it actually made (sort of) sense. It gave us an experience that was as much entertainment as it was a total red herring and we loved it. Just wow.
Undertale is probably one of the most well-known independently developed projects of late besides Amnesia or Limbo. And that’s good company to be in for a perfectly clear reason: Undertale is an amazing role-playing game and has quirks that will also make it undoubtedly one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had with a game as well. When you include little details like the ability to either befriend or murder all of the potential bosses faced in an adventure then you’re doing something most people would never even think of and more importantly you’re doing something right. Undertale is much more than a game in that it is the sum of an experience as well.
By now Frictional Games is somewhat of a household name in the gaming industry thanks to the success of Amnesia: The Dark Descent and the still ever-interesting and horrifying Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Despite having mixed success with their last major project, it’s Soma that really has recaptured my attention and shows me that not only is horror very much alive but it can also sometimes be a veritable journey of self discovery. Without ruining the best of the twists, let me just say that Soma not only has the as of now expected twists but that you’re more than likely genuinely not going to see them coming until they hit you point blank. In a world of derelict stations, underwater facilities, and space-age vibes you’re going to encounter horrific experiments and plenty of terrifying robot models. And you’ll love it.
Fallout 3 is one of the best games of all time despite the plethora of flaws that accompany any major Bethesda title being present as well. Fallout New Vegas is a worthwhile sequel and pushes the potential of the series ever further despite being technically hindered at times and being an experience that proves divisive to the audience as well. Fallout 4 has beautiful graphics but may be the most divisive title to date in the history of the renewed and reinvigorated modern take on Fallout. A lot was promised with the title and it failed to deliver some of that but also showcased plenty more than was expected. It doesn’t have much in the way of additional content when compared to the plethora of content available in New Vegas and Fallout 3, and yet for what it does offer in Far Harbor it more than improves the already entertaining experience. If you’re willing to accept the fact that you’re pretty much shoehorned into portraying a good guy by the narrative, then Fallout 4 is truly astounding in what it does offer by design. It has more within it than any wasteland to date and I’m still discovering new things day by day.
I thought that 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot would be alright but that it was treading dangerous water with the semi-dead series. Then I played the game and was utterly blown away and loved it. Likewise I was skeptical that lightning could or would strike twice successfully for the proposed 2015 sequel. Then I played it and loved every aspect of it that had been crafted bigger and better than before. There are still the moments of survival and horror as in the origin story and yet it also allowed Lara Croft to come into her own as a tomb raider and adventurer, providing more action than the origin reboot and treading the fine line between mysticism and realism that characterizes the new and old series. I cannot wait for what comes next in this series but I am utterly satisfied by what we’ve seen thus far as well and particularly the support the game has gotten in the wake of the anniversary as well.
2016: Hyper Light Drifter, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Stardew Valley, Titanfall 2, Dishonored 2, The Witness, Chronos
Hyper Light Drifter is every bit the homage to SNES games and times past as well as an admirable story that doesn’t need dialogue to convey the feelings it wishes to convey. Even if the art style or the hardcore elements of the role-playing adventure may not be for you personally, I would still infinitely recommend the title because of the emotions it handles and the soundtrack and gameplay that accompany that. I’ve only since gained a deeper understanding of the true inspirations behind the game by following up and doing my own research of sorts and that honestly just blows me away as much as the experience itself does. If science fiction is as much your thing as it is mine, you’ll love this memorable indie title.
Uncharted 4 isn’t the last that we are going to see of Nathan Drake’s world but it is potentially and fittingly the last we will see of Nathan Drake and some of the other beloved characters we’ve come to know thanks to the talented folks at Naughty Dog. Although we are getting a standalone expansion at some point in the near future with The Lost Legacy, Nate Drake’s final appearance is as much his final appearance as it is a flashback to his early days as well. Naughty Dog and this series have come such a long way in their storytelling and set piece moments and this may be the best we’ve yet to see for the likeable thief/adventurer. I won’t spoil the best of the story but let me just say that if you’ve played the rest of the series then this is the pinnacle of that experience and you’d best believe I’ll be thinking about the memorable moments for years to come.
Stardew Valley is yet another example of the meaningful resurgence of indie gaming lately and also a testament to hard work paying off. It has sold pretty well for an independently developed title and that’s probably largely in part thanks to the fact that it has been ported to virtually every console out there now. 2016 was sort of a retro re-appreciation and as such sims were ‘in’ yet again- something I wasn’t entirely sure would ever happen but that I’m glad did. It’s odd when you can put a farming game and a juggernaut such as Uncharted 4 on a level playing field but both stuck out to me and are equally memorable for differing reasons entirely in the sense of matters for this particular year. Stardew Valley functions quite well and is an enjoyable experience because it is so vastly different from the other titles released in 2016.
Titanfall 2 may be the best and my favorite shooter I’ve played in quite some time and it’s not too early to recognize that whatsoever. The campaign may have followed in the footsteps of the typical multiplayer shooter in that it is fairly short, especially if you’ve played it previously and have the fundamentals down, however it also draws some of the most creative inspirations from other games since the original Darksiders did from a multitude of sources. The multiplayer is where you’ll live or die by the Titan sword and I fundamentally love how it has evolved over time from a great experience into an even better one, free downloadable content siphoned in along the way as well. Sure, you can pay for some cosmetic upgrades and whatnot and I haven’t minded shelling out the few extra dollars here and there just because that stuff is genuinely cool, but all of the base extra content and maps and such are completely free and I love that about Respawn’s work ethic. They love what they do and want to share it with as many people as possible. Too bad most opted for Battlefield 1 merely for the name rather than Titanfall 2 for the better game…
It saddens me like nothing else that both Titanfall 2 and Dishonored 2- two phenomenal games by anyone’s standards, didn’t sell as well as they should’ve when compared to other titles selling solely for a name brand. Dishonored 2 is the continuation of an excellent free form experience and will also soon feature a story expansion akin to Uncharted having an expansion to tie up loose ends in the current narrative and add background to previously sidelined characters. We may be seeing the end of the Corvo Attano/Emily Kaldwin era however we may not be seeing the end of the Dishonored universe or the gameplay elements we’ve come to love and appreciate. I once speculated that the original Dishonored could very well be a better game than Skyrim in many aspects and I was not wrong. With the sequel, like Titanfall 2 virtually everything has improved and while some things have been maintained it’s both a thrillingly fresh and familiar experience.
Jonathan Blow is not only an unique individual and creative mind but also a fairly commonplace name in the gaming industry thanks in large part to the success of the indie-explosive kickoff game Braid. It should come as no surprise that The Witness, being another of his projects, is both expressive and enjoyable as well as unique and creative. The Witness channels every bit of the classic Myst vibes that I love in games such as the Myst series and more recently Obduction. However there is one notable difference and that would be the fact that The Witness features some of the most devious and delightful puzzles I’ve yet to play in any game, puzzle centric or otherwise. The Witness gives Portal an easy run for its money in terms of gripping puzzle aspects because the entire island habitat of The Witness is one large interactive puzzle and it’s all divided up into sections that range from lightly impossible to ‘you’ll never guess what this deviously difficult path leads to.’ Sometimes it’s an exercise in frustration but I love it.
I’ve already done my part in talking about Gunfire Games’ Chronos in a post that was equally parts praise and review, however I must still maintain that this is likely the best VR focused game we have yet to see and may yet see for the foreseeable future. Chronos is so enjoyable and works as well as it does because it does not approach VR as most VR games do- it instead operates as an experience that could just as easily work in any other role-playing game and that is where it achieves its main strengths and success. Because it does not focus on presenting itself entirely as a gimmick heavy VR experience, Chronos can instead showcase its brilliant concepts of time and player management as well as a loosely laced in narrative as well. I’ve yet to purchase many VR titles because most of them are largely gimmicks and one trick ponies, however if I had to pick one experience to recommend this (as well as the interesting Adr1ft) would be that solid choice.
And there you have it folks, the conclusion (for now) to my lengthy blog series spanning several long years and plenty of memorable titles. I cannot tell you how many times I considered a game merely because I’ve played it entirely too much only to decide that it wasn’t actually a favorite, merely a time consuming activity. I do hope you’ll comment with some of your own thoughts and also enjoy hearing mine. Cheers.