Being the year after all the Gen 8 consoles hit store shelves and family living rooms around the globe, 2014 has (or maybe had by the time you’re reading this) carried more than a few expectations. Video gaming has infiltrated the modern entertainment conversation as much as comic book movies have replaced the summer action blockbuster, and just like any other titanic shift in the battlefront of pop culture, it has painted an emotional portrait in the colors of joy and blood.
As a member of the GT staff for just over a year now, I have grown ever closer to the beating heart of the video gaming industry. I have triumphed and fumbled as a fledgling journalist, shared drinks with my long-time icon Adam Sessler, attended E3 as a person of merit, and gotten to know some of the most supportive and talented minds a person could hope to meet. It certainly hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been worth it.
But right now is a time where I get to step back and celebrate a few of the titles that most recently reminded me why I got into this scene in the first place. This certainly isn’t a list of every title that brought a smile to my face or a tear to my eye, but it is an assortment of the games that kept bringing me back in-between my various duties as a writer and otherwise.
From the launch of the Beta to the release of The Dark Below, Destiny has never really been the game that I hoped it would be. The narrative is paper thin, the maps are surprisingly repetitive for how large they are, and no matter how you approach it there is just no way to deny the fact the entire experience is just one big gear-grind.
But what Destiny also happens to be is one of the smoothest, most action packed first-person Shooters to hit players’ screens in years. Once this title gets its hooks in, you’re going to keep coming back, tedium be damned. And, if you happen to have (or find) a few like-minded players to share the experience with, you will be guaranteed hours upon hours of fun and memorable times. Sure, it’s possible that if the dev’s don’t find a way to broaden the scope of Destiny’s immersion they could find the title ejected from the iron-lung that is its fans dedication, but that time isn’t now. For now, bring on the Fallen, bring on the Hive, and let the Vex continue to darken the horizon. My fireteam and I still stand ready to bomb a few heads.
9: Halo: The Master Chief Collection
You can’t swing a dead cat without swatting a handful of HD remakes, or re-masters, or re-whatevers these days. Most of us have accepted this to be the tenacious growing pangs of an industry currently more interested in the for sure returns of its entrenched franchises than the critical acclaim but potentially low profit gambles of new IP. While occasionally a shameless cash grab, sometimes these old favorites really respond to the HD spit-and-polish, and few can claim that more than Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
This game really is something special for fans of the series. Toggling back and forth between the old and new versions of your favorite maps and battles is an alarmingly potent reminder of how far gaming has come, even amongst the best examples. Complete with new menus, gaming options, streamlined functionality, this isn’t just a bunch of titles slammed onto a disk. This is truly a prestigious piece of work in reverence of the character who elevated first person shooters from the original worlds of Doom and Quake. While it may hurt to look at your old Halo 3 Collector’s edition helmet-case now, knowing it’s become that much more a badge of your own sentimentality, it’s good to know that the games it contains are still just that damn good.
Generally, having low expectations of a free-to-play games isn’t a bad idea. Most of them are grinders with no real purpose, making a 100% profit the moment to you decide to cough up a dollar to try and make it more worth your time. But sometimes there are diamonds in the rough that will pay you back tenfold if you’re willing to give them a chance, and Hearthstone is certainly a prime example.
This game is the just the best kind of addictive fun a person can have. It’s easy to pick up, challenging to play, and is actually worth your money if you decide to spend a little cash to enhance your experience. The first time I fired this title up, it was four hours before I clawed my way out of my game-room, and just like any addict I found myself back under its control after I gorged down a quick meal. While I’m still waiting for an Android port so I can enjoy it on the go, Hearthstone is still a fun time wherever you can get access to it.
Where HD remasters take a risk thinking all an old title needs to be relevant again is a fresh coat of high-resolution paint, authentic, bottom-to-top, remakes (which also happen to be HD) are another matter entirely. To take something old, mostly forgotten, and thoroughly mummified within the dusty coffin of pre-millennium nostalgia, is a daunting task. At least for a professional team aiming for conventional success.
If it’s going to be done though, Strider is a blueprint on how.
Capturing everything from its 80’s musical themes to its unforgiving arcade platformer feel, Strider is almost an exactly replica of what made the original great. With each stage passed and enemy boss defeated you feel not only the buzz of victory but the pride of being a better player. Playing Strider isn’t just a quest to complete your various missions, it’s a gauntlet of grueling threats daring you to make the most of what little you have. It’s the x-factor of gaming realized. It is something to behold.
6: Rollers of the Realm
As a professional journalist, it pays to avoid being biased whenever you can. However, if you happen to be biased and then turn out to be right, nothing is quite like it. Rollers of the Realm had me at hello when I played its demo at this year’s E3, and since then I’ve been singing its praises to the ears (sometimes to the annoyance) of my fellow GT-ers.
This is a Role-playing pinball game… and it works. It doesn’t only work, it works well. The further into this title you get the more you will be impressed by its various little innovations and how it manages to make such an unlikely pairing of functions feel like a match made in heaven. Like any pinball game, you are going to scream, you are going to get jabbed by the fickle finger of fate, and things will not always go your way despite how much you do right. But it doesn’t feel as bad when your pinball is also representing a stumbling, belching, barfing, old knight. It just doesn’t.
5: Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition
PC players have been touting Diablo III’s accolades for a while now, but the arrival of the Ultimate Evil Edition to consoles exposed the dungeon crawler to a new population of players ready and eager to get their axes bloody with the guts of their foes. With the addition of local and online co-op, this became more than just a dream come true, it became a calling.
Even though it’s still another port, Diablo III: UEE really brought something great to the still somewhat-anemic Generation 8 library. The game is a ton of gory fun, and inviting to anyone who wants to wade through a few fields of baddies with their pals. The mistakes and lessons learned from Diablo III’s original launch are all present and accounted for here, and if you grab it on the PS4 or XBONE (Like I did) you will also be able to really experience the most bang for your buck without the cut corners of the 360 or PS3 versions. PCer’s already know of this of course, but why segregate? There are plenty of ghouls for everyone!
4: Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth
The Civ series is an institution, and one of the longest-running franchises in the business. As a matter of fact, it predates the time when franchise became the “it word” to describe a procession of similarly-themed titles, and the term series was good enough.
But in its age the Civilization games have nurtured a vast amount of wisdom on how to develop each of their various entries, and it shows in Beyond Earth. This is a game that currently exists like a fully articulated skeleton, complete in its own right, but still ready and anxious to be added to and further developed. With its dreamy far away music, numerous settings and options, and an authentic Civilization approach to world building and domination, this is a strategy sandbox that’s made my butt numb for days and hours glued in front of my PC. More than a few arguments were started between me and my girlfriend over who would next get to have a Beyond Earth binge into the wee hours of the evening, which is all the more reason why this title deserves a high place on my personal list.
3: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
After the many disappointments that were wrapped up in the advertised Hacker paradise of Watchdogs, I thought it would be a long time before I would want to commit to another open-world title. When you need to balance the games you want to play against the games you have to play, those kinds of choices carry extra weight and letdowns have a deeper sting.
So to say that Shadow of Mordor was a breath of fresh air or even a fantastic game is an understatement. This game, in comparison to many open world experiences that came before it, was a redemption. It is evidence that something truly new and exciting can come from a genre that has become more and more of cliché.
The combat, control, graphics, landscapes and music are not only wonderful but an incredibly realized portal into the world of Middle Earth. This is not only a game that the developers should be proud they created, but players should be proud to own. The nemesis system is a revelation of AI mechanics and having a narrative that players can sink their teeth into only makes this title more a true slice of gamer ambrosia.
2: South Park: The Stick of Truth
If you play videogames and love South Park there is absolutely no excuse not to own this game. The number of times I’ve had non-gamer friends enter my abode whilst I was playing and ask me “what episode is this” speaks to this title’s impeccable authenticity. The fact that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone thoroughly had their hands cupped around the balls of this game’s development shows in all the best ways, especially the take-no-prisoners attitude reflected in its raunchy humor. I thoroughly, thoroughly love this game and it has carved out a permanent place in the halls of my all-time favorite gaming experiences.
I don’t really know what else to say. If you really understand what I mean you probably already own it yourself, and if you don’t you should stop reading this now and go fill the Cartman-shaped hole in your life.
1: Dragon Age: Inquisition
I haven’t worked the day of a Bioware title release since Mass Effect sauntered into my gaming life seven years ago, and the Dragon Age series has joyfully received identical (although much more rocky) treatment. Bioware release dates are holidays in my household. Days of rest from reality and immersion into a better (although admittedly less survivable) place.
Dragon Age: Inquisition was the inheritor of a very heavy burden. Not only was it tasked with being a good game in its own right, but also the redemption of its ill-received predecessor and the catastrophic memory of Mass Effect 3’s last moments. While some considered these debates arbitrary, considering the level of passion Bioware fans regularly project (myself included) these concerns were very real for the company.
Dragon Age: Inquisition not only laid my concerns to rest but was also a triumphant return to form for the franchise most noticeably affected by Bioware’s acquisition by EA and strong-armed toward their culture of trying to appeal to the “broadest audience.” (Even those who may not normally be interested.)
Even though it’s a bit rough in some places, DA: Inquisition is an immaculate work of gaming design. The size and richness of the world’s locations, the emotional resonance of the story and character interactions, and the way it seems to make even the most grindy elements just a little less… grindy, is just something any RPGer needs to experience.
I almost feel guilty giving this title the number one spot on my personal list, considering how biased I am toward Bioware titles in general. That’s not to say that Bioware can do no wrong in my eyes, but it certainly takes more for them to disappoint me than other developers doing the same.
But great is great and the truth is the truth. I was looking forward to this game with baited breath from the moment I completed Dragon Age II, and my faith was not in vain.
For more of the Gaming Trend staff’s favorite games of the year, check out our GOTY coverage hub.