(Originally written in 2015)
Another year, another GOTY list. Here are my top ten favourite games from 2015.
This was such a surprise. I enjoyed the first two Borderlands games enough and even found them funny in places but the more of Claptrap you see and the more of that brand of humour you get shoved in your face the unfunnier it gets. Gladly this game is pretty damn funny and not in the typical Borderlands style and the character are actually super likeable. The game is also peppered with really cool moments such as the episode openings that each feature a different song and all work just so well. It’s a really great story with great characters and some really silly moments that makes it one of the best Telltale games.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a flawed game. A beautiful, flawed game. This isn’t on this list because of its story, in fact its lower on the list because of it. The plot is half-arsed, barely explained, questions raised and ignored right up to the very last moment and the info dump you get ends up being contradictory to the post credits twist and it has weird references to the first Xenoblade game that just don’t really make much sense but seem more than the Final Fantasy style chocobos and Cids. But man, exploring the planet was amazing. Each section looks and feels different, the music might take a while to get used to but when it clicks it just adds to this weird alien world. The progression from on foot, feeling like an ant, to getting a giant robot to finally flying in said giant robot is great and really makes you appreciate the world design. The pacing on those upgrades is great too because just as you start to feel fatigue from exploring on foot and running everywhere you unlock your first Skell and can now explore faster and jump higher and just when you start to feel that isn’t good enough you unlock the flight module. The combat is basically an upgraded version of Xenoblades which isn’t a bad thing but not enough to praise but I feel what is worthy of praise is all the alien races and how different they look and act and how much you learn about them via sidequests.
I have a list on the site where FFXI is my favourite Final Fantasy game and while XIV so far doesn’t have the same feeling while playing it, that feeling of real effort or struggle in getting from place to place or fighting with friends, it is a very good MMO and FF game. The main story of the base FFXIV is serviceable, it has a fair amount of slow points and a few really cool moments and an enjoyable climax it isn’t really until Heavensward, the first expansion, that you could call the story great. It really feels like a classic Final Fantasy, you basically have a party and are on an adventure and there is character development and mourning and moments of triumph. The only negative I can say about the story is that a pretty major twist in the patches leading up to this release basically gets undone and it just feels like the developers wanted to back out of it rather than commit. Outside of the splot aspects the game still plays like regular XIV but with a new level cap, new skills, flying mounts, bigger areas and new jobs and it’s all pretty damn great. They really took the lessons learnt from A Realm Reborn and applied them to this expansion.
Who would have thought Nintendo would make a competitive third-person shooter? And that it would be so much fun? This game just oozes fresh style from the soundtrack to the character designs to the clothing options. Splatoon is a brilliant twist on team based multiplayer shooters by having the detemining factor in a match be decided not by how many kills your team gets, but by how much of the arena is painted in your teams colour. It’s a simple but effective twist that is further improved by how you use terrain painted your colour to travel faster or up walls. Add in a fun single player campaign with a fantastic final boss and you’ve got an amazing debut for a new IP.
I always feel I’m not good with creepy/scary games yet some creepy/scary ones always wind up on my lists. I really liked Soma, it was tense and creepy and the mystery of what exactly was going on was gripping. It also tackles interesting ideas about consciousness and identity. There were one or two times where the monsters frustrated rather than scared like one time in a sunken boat where I needed to get past a monster to use some stairs or a ladder but I was stuck in a room at the end of a narrow hallway and I had to try and bait it into a small room and out maneuver it in a tight space. Other than that the monsters were creepy and unsettling and kept me on my toes but unlike Amnesia weren’t something that made me play with the sound off and constantly alt-tabbing to a guide so I could speed run through the game. Just a really great Sci-Fi Horror game.
I loved Dontnod’s last game (Remember Me) and was looking forward to this when it was announced. I waited till all the episodes were available like I do every episodic release and played an episode a day so I don’t end up forgetting details or characters and can enjoy it without waiting months between episodes. I just fell in love with the characters and I always love me some time travel shenanigans. Working through the disappearance of Rachel Amber and what exactly was going on with the strange thing happening in Arcadia Bay felt compelling and some of the twists and shocking moments felt really effective. There were also some hard choices to make and like most games of this style, they never end up meaning much in the end but to me what matters is feeling like they matter.
Despite everything, this game is still pretty damn good. I’ve put in more than 80 hours on the PC version. It’s a great game that is so much fun to play and has maybe the best gameplay of the franchise. It does however lack most of the things I love about Metal Gear Solid, the crazy bosses, the huge amount of crazy cutscenes. I mean, it does have a weird story (and the stupid pointless twist) but it’s so light on the story compared to others. And in a way it does have boss fights, but they aren’t good or interesting or fun or memorable. The best boss fight in MGSV was done a million times better in MGS3! The open world is also pretty boring with copy/pasted outposts littering the world with actual interesting locations few and far between. However, despite the flaws the game was a whole lot of fun to play.
Bloodborne is a fantastic “souls” game. The removal of shields and encouragement of aggressive combat tactics really forced me to change how I play these games and I love it for it. I usually stay back with my shield up, waiting for an opening before getting a few hits in and backing off again but in Bloodborne there is no shield (well, there is but not really, it doesn’t matter). I was forced to be more aggressive and encouraged to do so with the whole Rally system where you can gain health back from the attack you just took by dealing damage to enemies. The game features a Victorian style setting soaked in Lovecraftian horror and it’s just so unsettling and weird. From the start you just think “werewolves in old London” but then slowly the ancient cosmic horror is introduced and makes you look at everything in a new light. In this way it’s genius that you gain “insight” as you play.
I’m a huge fan of the other two games in the series and felt this was a fantastic finale to Geralt’s story. The world of The Witcher is still full of morally grey decisions and interesting characters with maybe the most memorable being found in the Bloody Baron quest line. Hunting monsters is better than ever with each contract playing out like a mini investigation where you question witnesses, search for clues and sometimes set traps. The massive open world is fantastic and feels so natural and it looks amazing (especially on PC). Hearts of Stone is also a fantastic piece of DLC which I’m lumping in with this (due to it also releasing this year).
What a complete and utter surprise of a game. I pretty much ignored it on release, and continued to ignore it as everyone praised it, but eventually broke down. I did not expect to like it as much as I did, especially from the slow first area, but the characters are so likeable, the battle system fun [I]and [/I]funny and the humour is on point throughout. What absolutely sold the game to me though was the final area and endings. I enjoyed it plenty up to there but that is what pushed me over. It also has a fantastic soundtrack and uses leitmotif to great effect throughout the game. How can you not love a game where you can win RPG battles by making friends?