A Title Match Made in Heaven (NXT Reactions, Jan. 28)

Wrestling
  • Upsets in wrestling are fun to watch, but you have to wonder if Buddy Murphy and Wesley Blake are going to be anything more than transitional champions. The Lucha Dragons actually work better when they’re chasing the titles, so there’s nothing wrong with taking the belts away from Kalisto and Sin Cara. However, it kind of feels like a spit in the face to all the hard work the Vaudevillains have put in over the past few months to let such a green team ascend so quickly to the top spot in the tag division. Murphy and Blake make a great team, bring some real energy, and possess the talent to bring crowds’ to their feet. That said, the Vaudevillains deserve to hold the belts during their run in NXT. They’ve put in a lot of work to become a coherent tag team that’s more than just two guys thrown together. Simon Gotch and Aiden English have absolutely owned their gimmick and that should be rewarded. We’re seeing something of a revolution in NXT of actual tag teams and the Vaudevillains are a big part of that. Hopefully, they get their title run sooner rather than later.
  • Are the announcers not even going to mention the Solomon Crowe teaser we just saw? At first I thought my computer was acting up, but then it was made clear that this was the first little vignette for Crowe’s debut (technically redebut?). We’ve seen a new star debut at the last two NXT live specials, so it’s easy to see Crowe finally making his way on to NXT TV when the next Takeover special airs. His old character was a hacker character and that teaser seems to suggest he might keep that persona when he finally makes it to Full Sail. Time will tell.
  • As many times as we’ve seen Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd wrestle each other, you’d think it would start to get boring. However, those two are such superb performers that they continually think of ways to change things up and force you to love their work. Because Kidd is spending more and more time on Raw and Smackdown of late, the ending to this one was fairly academic. That said, Neville’s path through this tournament is something to pay attention to. It seems too early for him to get back into the title hunt proper, but without a real feud waiting for him, it’s hard to imagine who he would match up against. Of course, if the WWE brass has plans to move him up to Raw and Smackdown either during or right after the Wrestlemania season, then that doesn’t really matter. Either way, expect to see Neville go as far as the finals of the Number One Contenders match and then bow out to give Sami Zayn some new competition.
  • That was a well-booked tag team match for the women tonight. We were treated to some excellent offense from each wrestler and no one looked overly weak or strong with the brawl-like finish. Further, both sides had some major dissension, though it was teased in different ways. The beef between Charlotte and Bayley was pretty overt, but I preferred the subtle split between Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks. It’s pretty incredible to see what the women of NXT can do each week (Charlotte, in particular) and seeing the four of them compete in a Fatal-Fourway at Takeover should solidify their standing as the best women in the business.
  • Now that Baron Corbin has seemingly moved on from his feud with Bull Dempsey, he’ll get a chance to prove that he can actually put together a solid match. Next week, he’ll go up against Adrian Neville, who should bring out the best in the young man. Corbin is an impressive specimen, with a devastating and cerebral finisher. However, he hasn’t shown an ability to put together more than five or six moves in course of a minute-long match. NXT stars don’t become main event players if they can’t wrestle 10-15 minute matches, and Corbin can’t do that yet (or at least he hasn’t shown that he can). That means he’s still a long way from competing at the highest level of the company. Because of his raw talent, it’s easy to see him getting there. He’s just not quite ready.
  • It’s impressive the amount of emotion Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Sir William Regal brought to the ring tonight during a contract signing. It’s a very subtle, but very smart decision to keep the signing from turning into a fistfight and that immense swerve to turn this into a championship match only added to the gravity of the situation. Further, it sets Zayn up to make his long-awaited move to Raw and Smackdown. It’s obviously not set in stone, but it wouldn’t be completely crazy to have Owens walk out of Takeover as the new champion and “takeover” the NXT from the old guard. It would completely restack the deck and provide Zayn a reason to move onto Raw with his buddy Adrian Neville. However, this story is too personal for it to be over after a single PPV, so it would be a surprise for a Zayn loss to signal the end of his run at Full Sail. Instead, the smart booking would be to have Owens go over and let Zayn continue to chase until after Wrestlemania season. Then he and Owens can have one final match before Zayn rides off to Raw and Smackdown.
  • Closing Thoughts: Making Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens’ Takeover bout a title match elevates that tilt into the stratosphere of wrestling hype. It was already set to be one for the ages because of how personal it’s become since R Evolution. Now, it has all that emotion tied around the biggest prize in the company. If you’re not excited, you don’t have a pulse. The actual wrestling this week was typical of NXT, which is to say, great. Seeing Baron Corbin wrestle someone like Adrian Neville should go a long way toward showing how far along he is in his development and the women continue to amaze. An all-around great show, that left a lasting impact after the screen went black.

Top 10 Video Games of 2014

Lists

2014 was an interesting year for video games. On one hand, it was marred by spotty at best releases from some of the biggest names in the industry (Assassin’s Creed and Halo, to name a few). Other games were pushed back from the original release dates in an attempt to fix issues that plagued the titles mentioned above. However, when the games came out and worked, they were actually pretty great. Sadly, we weren’t treated to many big exclusives for the new-fen systems, but the third parties really stepped up to deliver satisfying experiences. Obviously, I’m only one man and couldn’t get to every game released this year (something I want to talk about later on this week). Therefore, a few big names are going to be off this list because I just didn’t play them (Sunset Overdrive, Titanfall, etc.). What follows are my personal Top 10 games of 2014. Let me know if agree or disagree in the comments below.

  1. Infamous: Second Son

I considered putting The Wolf Among Us in this slot because I adore the Fable universe and thought Telltale did an excellent job of realizing it. However, the pacing got really bogged down in the middle of this episodic adventure and I wasn’t as intrigued by the overall story as I thought I would be. Instead, I went with Infamous: Second Son. This game isn’t without its problems, but it represented that first real “next-gen” experience I had this year. The graphics were, at the time, stunning for a console game and the little ways Second Son took advantage of the PS4 hardware really impressed me. Add in some exciting and varied super powers, and you have a great Playstation exclusive and an excellent game to begin this Top 10 list.

  1. Wasteland 2

Wasteland 2 is one of the two games on this list I haven’t finished just yet; however, I’ve put about 15-20 hours into this post-apocalyptic world and think that I’ve experienced enough to know this game belongs on my personal list. If you’re a fan of the first two Fallouts or just turn-based strategy RPGs in general, then this is the game for you. Like games of that type should be, Wasteland 2 is, in a word, punishing. Expect to see party members die often and for your choices to have long-lasting and unforeseen consequences. In fact, it shouldn’t surprise you to be forced to start over 10 hours or more into the game because you made decisions during character creation that make it near impossible to beat a scenario. That means this game won’t speak to everyone, but it certainly whispers sweet nothings in my ears. It’s a tough world to conquer, but if you can handle the challenge, it’s well worth your time.

  1. Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

If you were to go to Steam and check my profile page, you’d see something like 150 hours played on the original Binding of Isaac. Then, you’d need to add another 100 or so hours due to playing the game outside of Steam to get my full time spent playing Isaac. That’s 250 or so hours spent trying to kill Mom and her minions. I’m saying all this to illustrate that I’ve played a lot of Isaac. Not “crazy person” a lot, but a lot. Therefore, it greatly surprised me that I actually wanted to play more Isaac when Rebirth dropped. I thought I was finished, but the Isaac team did just enough to bring me back. There are tons of new items and extra rooms that really do a great job of putting a new twist on that classic Isaac gameplay. Similar to Wasteland 2, Isaac isn’t going to hold your hand. This is a devilish roguelike that’s going to test your skills every time you sit down to play. But if Isaac grabs you, you won’t be playing much else for quite a while.

  1. Far Cry 4

Like Wasteland 2, I haven’t actually finished Far Cry 4, so this entry needs an asterisk beside it in case I come out of the end hating Ubisoft’s latest shooter. However, in the 15 hours I’ve played, Far Cry seems like a very polished version of Far Cry 3, which is far from a bad thing. The game plays just like you’d expect an iteration on a Far Cry game would, which means solid gunplay and all-out insanity in the open world. The moment-to-moment gameplay is some of the best in the industry, rivaling many other games’ set pieces. It’s absolutely incredible to see all these intricate systems come together to form one of the most fully realized worlds in vide games. Watching the AI of humans and the animals mix together is so compelling that you almost forget there’s an entire game underneath it. And, at least so far, it seems like the team has improved on their story-telling from the franchise’s third entry. Really, the only big gripe is how many pointless pickups the game has. The map is completely overloaded with chests and collectables, making it a rough proposition for completionists like myself. That said, this game definitely scratches that open-world shooter itch that Far Cry 3 brought to the table. It might not be a big enough iteration for some fans, but most will be glad they decided to grab a train ride to Kyrat.

  1. Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein has to be my personal surprise of the year. When this game was announced, I had no interest whatsoever. The last thing I needed in my life was another stereotypical shooter. Then the reviews started coming out and they were praising the story in Wolfenstein. A story? In Wolfenstein? Now, I have to play it. The initial reviewers weren’t wrong. The New Order develops interesting characters and lets the story go completely off the rails on the road to one of the more compelling narratives you’ll see in WW2 shooter (though, it doesn’t stay a WW2 shooter for long). Gameplay-wise, Wolfenstein is probably best described as comfortable, yet surprising. The shooting is about what you’d expect from a shooter of this ilk; however, the game does some interesting things with its skill trees to spice things up. As you do certain actions, you’ll gain extra abilities centered around that action. So, if you decide to forgo shooting and approach the game stealthily (which is surprisingly viable) then you’ll acquire abilities that will improve your stealth capabilities. It’s almost like the Elder Scrolls style of gaining levels in a shooter, which is not something I ever expected from the Wolfenstein franchise. In the end, The New Order ends up being the movie you had no expectations for, making it an unforgettable experience when you realize just how much fun it has to offer.

  1. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Danganronpa is a visual novel that uses Phoenix Wright’s courtroom gameplay to help you solve mysteries. You play as a high school student who’s been randomly selected to join a school of “Ultimates”. However, when you arrive you quickly realize that it’s all a set-up and you find yourself locked in the school with your schoolmates and a robotic, devil teddy bear named Monokuma. You’re then told that the only way out of the school is to commit a murder and not be caught. From there, the game sets up various stages that follow a similar pattern of learning some story, finding a murder, casing the scene, and then engaging in the previously mentioned courtroom gameplay to try and discern who the murderer is. Those are the basics, but the narrative gets equal parts wacky and dark, taking you to places that you never expect. The twists and turns are what make this game, along with the many different characters. Your classmates begin their journey as various JRPG stereotypes, but the writing team does an excellent job of twisting these conventions to make characters you care about. If you’ve never played a visual novel, Danganronpa is a good place to start.

  1. Dragon Age: Inquisition

In my experience, your enjoyment of Dragon Age largely comes down to whether or not you can get past the tedium of some of the quests. The fetch quests can really bog a playthrough down and take a player’s focus off of the characters Bioware is building. This can be a major problem because the standout moments of Inquisition are, undoubtedly, the characters who make up your party. From Iron Bull to Dorian to Sera, your party members have stories to tell that are worth your time and they all feel so different that everyone is sure to find at least one character they fall in love with (though, if you don’t fall for Iron Bull, I don’t know if I can be your friend). Unfortunately, a few big missteps (namely travel speed, lack of easy access to potions, and reliance on MMO-like cooldown abilities for combat) leave the actual gameplay somewhat lacking. It isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t do justice to the excellent storytelling you’re being exposed to back at Skyhold. That said, experiencing your companion’s personal stories make Inquisition well worth the purchase price.

  1. World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Draenor did something I didn’t think was possible. Blizzard’s latest expansion reignited my love for Warcraft. It’s almost impossible to believe how much Blizzard has done by just upgrading the visuals and adding a few gameplay tweaks. The improved characters models make this feel like a brand new game. I’ve been playing Warcraft off-and-on since 2005, so seeing my character’s model evolve into modern standards brought back some Blizzard magic in a way I didn’t expect. That said, the biggest addition is likely the Garrison. Sure, it functions a little too much like a Facebook game, with timed missions that your minions can complete for various gear. However, it gives you a reason to come back to the game each day, which almost always leads to extra time spent exploring Blizzard’s world. That’s a great thing because Draenor, with its lack of flying region-wide, has brought exploration back to WoW. In Vanilla, you never felt safe and always needed to comb the land looking for hidden treasures or Easter eggs. Those feelings are back in Draenor and it makes Warcraft more enjoyable. Blizzard has also done a great job of filling this world with good stories. Each zone tells a contained narrative that is continually building up the over-arching story. This makes everything feel connected, which leads to a better overall narrative. Because of the nature of this game, it will be interesting to see where Blizzard takes their tale over the course of the various patches coming to the game.

  1. South Park: The Stick of Truth

South Park should probably not be a good game. In fact, it’s a spit in the face of all the old, terrible South Park games that this experience is so great. The biggest praise anyone can give The Stick of Truth is that it feels like an entire season of South Park mashed into a role-playing game. The combat isn’t great, but there are so many WTF moments of pure joy that it’s honestly hard to remember anything else. This is a game of countless big moments put together to make a compelling narrative that you simply have to complete. You get to fight a Nazi Zombie abortion baby, go to Canada, and summon Jesus to help you through tough battles. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I hesitate to say anything, because I really don’t want to spoil the insanity that is The Stick of Truth. So, if that sounds like a good time to you, go buy this game. It’s worth your money.

  1. Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor

Shadows of Mordor takes what should just be a solid mashup of the Batman and Assassin’s Creed franchises and makes it into the must-play game of the year by introducing the Nemesis System. Essentially, the Nemesis system takes a random assortment of Uruk-hai, gives them special abilities, and builds a ranking system that tells you which Uruks are the strongest/most important to kill. This leads to some exceptional emergent gameplay because when an Uruk kills you, he immediately moves into the rankings as the newest captain in Sauron’s army. Thus, you quickly accumulate a variety Nemeses that are unique to you. And, as you get further in the game, you gain different powers that only increase how in depth and interesting the Nemesis system is. For instance, you’ll gain the ability to take over an Uruk’s mind and turn him to your side. So, if you make a captain your minion, you can then use him to take down one of the Warlord Uruks that top the rankings. This is just one example of the many different scenarios that come about through the Nemesis system, and your experience will likely be very different from mine because we will differ in how we approach each situation. In addition to the Nemesis system, the game does a great job of making you feel like the ultimate Lord of the Rings warrior. It’s a classic power trip, where you feel like you’re equipped to take on the world and come out alive. It doesn’t really fit the LOTR lore, but it makes for a super fun video game experience. This might just be the best licensed game ever made and, mostly because of the Nemesis system, it’s my game of the year.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Review

Reviews

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a difficult game to review. Bioware’s latest epic has some major gameplay flaws, but it does such great work narratively, that it’s easy to recommend on the characters and story alone.

Let’s begin with that story. When talking about Dragon Age’s narrative it would be foolish to simply focus on the main through line of the game. Your battle against a certain Elder One feels sufficiently “epic” (if I can use that word) and provides you with a fair number of big set pieces that are really fun to experience. However, the storytelling really shines in the form your companions.

As is typical in most Bioware RPGs, you’re going to amass a collection of companions during your time in Thedas. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll be given opportunities to get to know your party members in and out of battle, and that’s where the game really shines.

Bioware has always been known for their great characters; however, I think DA:I is the best example of how well they do character development. Each character has an interesting story to tell and layers of depth that are believably revealed as you continue spending time with each companion. The “Companion Story” still plays a prominent part in this game, but I’ve found that just as much is learned from the smaller moments that play out either in the field or at your base of operations.

Depending on which party members you bring on your adventures (pro-tip: always bring Iron Bull), you’ll get new and revealing battle dialogue that actually fills in gaps of the story that you might miss. This can be problematic at times, as you might miss a few key points (specifically related to the final cutscene) if you don’t play with certain characters, but it really drives home that everyone is building their own personal story.

Say you don’t like Dorian or Iron Bull (you monster) and decide to never bring them on your adventures. Well, then you’ll miss out on some intriguing dialogue about the relationship between Qunari and Tevinters. However, maybe you always bring along Cole and Varric, which means you’ll learn more about their relationship than others might. This allows Bioware to further make your adventure feel completely different from someone else’s. Some players may dislike that they could, in theory, miss out on important details, but I think it’s an important step to better incorporating player choice into the narrative.

Unfortunately, in the larger storyline, player choice doesn’t really change too much. You’re going to get a smattering of different text and dialogue from your friends, but it won’t be anything game changing. It’s not a huge problem, but it makes some of the earlier choices you made seem somewhat trivial. When the quests are good (like the Winter Palace caper that feels very much like an episode of Game of Thrones) you don’t really care. Unfortunately, so many of the quests (particularly the side quests) are a little too bland to keep players from realizing how little much of what they’re doing matters.

Which is really too bad. I’ve read other reviews that claim Dragon Age doesn’t “respect their time” in its design, and that’s a hard description to disagree with. So many quests are just “go here, kill this, do that, and come back” that it often feels like you’re playing a single-player MMO. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if that’s what you’re looking for; however, I can see how this would turn players off, especially if they don’t love Dragon Age’s actual gameplay.

Sadly, the combat might be the weakest part of the game. Bioware did an admirable job of incorporating both the tactical style of combat from Dragon Age: Origins and the action-based combat from Dragon Age II. Personally, I played through much of the game in the Dragon Age II style because the tactical view just felt too slow for my play style. But even with the action camera, Dragon Age’s combat was often bland.

You spend too much of the game just waiting for cooldowns to run out so you can use abilites. Essentially, you’re just holding down the R2 button to auto attack for 75% of every fight. It’s not necessarily the worst way to do combat; it’s just that you’re going to be doing a lot of it over your 60-80 hour playthrough. Fortunately, this is a fixable problem for Bioware. One easy way would be to vary their quest design and give players more ways to approach situations. I mentioned the Winter Palace quest above and that’s a great example of what I’m talking about. Combat is kept to a minimum here, in favor of you sneaking around the castle and doing some detective work. More varied quests like these would go a long way toward solving the combat problem, though this is hardly the only problematic mechanic in Bioware’s adventure.

Dragon Age has two other major problems: traversing the environments and how health potions work. The areas of Thedas are vast and take forever to run across. This is where your mount comes in…or at least, where it should come in. For some reason, your mounts in Dragon Age hardly move faster than your character and you’re not allowed to gather loot while mounted. That means you’ll almost never use your mount because it’s such an unattractive option. That’s a mistake. Mounts should be fun to ride and should allow players to quickly move through areas. In my playthrough, I used a mount once or twice just in hopes that it had somehow gotten faster while sitting in its stable. It had not.

Your health is restored through the use of health potions, which is something most fantasy RPG players are likely used to. However, you only get 10 health potions to use between your four characters. This is a major problem because the potion refilling options are few and far between, meaning that the game often forces you to stop adventuring (you know, the fun part) and port back to an encampment. That’s not a fun mechanic, especially when, after refilling, you have to run back out into the field, which, as mentioned above, takes far too long. It all adds up to too much of the player’s time wasted on trivial and pointless content. It’s bad game design and something that should’ve been left behind years ago.

But hey, the characters are worth your time, the overarching story is interesting, though lackluster in places, and the game, outside of some minor clipping issues looks incredible. In fact, there are at least three key moments where those three things collided to have my jaw on the ground. Games don’t often do that, so when one does, I stand up and take notice.

Dragon Age: Inquisition has its fair share of mechanical problems, but when you get past that, this game can really draw you in. Bioware has crafted a suitably epic tale that demonstrates some of the best character development in the industry. As a gamer, it’s more than worth your time to see this one past the end credits (no spoilers, but the post-credit scene is absolutely astounding).

Should You Play This Game: YES

When I think back on my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition, there’s a Qunari phrase that comes to mind, “Taarsidath-an Halsaam.” Play this game, enjoy yourself, and really soak in the experience. You’ll be happy you did.

Board Game Reviews: Lords of Waterdeep

Board Games

Lords of Waterdeep is probably best described a medium- to light-weight worker placement game loosely based on the Dungeons and Dragons city of Waterdeep. For the uninitiated, a worker placement game is a mechanic where each player has a set number of tokens called “workers” or “meeples” that they then place in various spots on a board to either gain points or resources that will be used to gain points later.

In Waterdeep, you’re playing one of the Lords of this great city. Mechanically, this card simply tells you which types of quests (we’ll get into these later) score you extra victory points at the end of the game. If you want to add some extra flair to the game and don’t really care who wins, I would suggest roleplaying your character during the game. Obviously, this could break the game if people have played a few times because you can guess which Lord each person is playing and keep them from getting the quests they need. However, if you’re just looking to play a fun round without really caring about the scoring, this is a great way to do it. Further, it’s a fun way to play the game during your first few playthroughs before you really know the different Lords.

Before moving any further, we should probably talk about quests and Adventurers. At the beginning of the game you’ll be randomly given two quests and can acquire more quests by placing a worker in the tavern during your turn. Completing these quests is the main way you’ll score victory points. There are, if memory serves, five different categories of quests you can complete and two different types. The normal quests generally just score you points; however, there are some rare quests called Plot quests that do much more. A Plot quest will have text on it that gives you an extra reward upon completion. This will be something like “when you gain one cleric, gain two instead” or something to that effect. These are often super powerful because when you complete a Plot quest, you continue to receive its reward throughout the rest of the game. So, in the previous example, you will quickly amass quite the cleric army to complete many piety quests.

To complete quests, you’ll need to send your workers to the various places of Waterdeep and pick up adventurers. Adventurers come in four different colors (black, white, purple, and orange) that represent different adventurers (rogues, clerics, wizards, and warriors). You’re going to need quite a few of these little guys. Unfortunately, so does everyone else and, at least at the beginning of the game, there is only one slot per color to pick up new adventurers. That means, unless everyone ends up needing different colored adventurers, you’re going to be fighting over those spots in a bloodbath of worker placement. There are ways to open up the board later on, but before we talk about that, I should probably mention Encounter cards.

Like Quest cards, you’ll be getting two Encounter cards at the start of the game. These cards have many different uses during the game. Some get you extra Adventurers, while others force opponents to take on various Mandatory Quests that they have to complete before completing any other quest. These serve to slow players down who are getting out to a lead. My playgroup is generally pretty nice, so I haven’t seen many Mandatory Quests played, but they certainly serve a purpose. Similar to everything else in the game, you can’t just play an Encounter card willy-nilly. You have to spend a worker to play an Encounter; however, after everyone else has played all of their workers, you get to take back a worker used to play an Encounter card and replay them at another open spot on the board.

The final big mechanic you need to know about is the act of buying buildings. You can place a worker in the spot for purchasing buildings, buy one of the buildings available and place it in one of the open spots along the side of the board. When you do this, you claim that building, and from now on, anytime a player that isn’t you uses that spot, you get a tax paid to you from the bank. This can either be money or adventurers, but it is almost always something you’ll want. Sometimes a building is the best thing to purchase because it represents something that will likely get you extra resources for the rest of the game without having to use your own workers. Because those workers are so precious, that can be an important tactic for the middle to late game.

Those are the basics of the game, but how is it to play? In my experience, it’s extremely fun and varied. When telling new people about the game, I often call it the “next step up from Carcassonne”. It’s not a perfect statement, but it’s one that’s rung true in my plays. Carcassonne is a very casual game that has some strategy involved, but that strategy is fairly limited. Waterdeep takes that simple worker placement mechanic and adds quite a bit more in the many ways you can go about scoring points in the game. The obvious way is to just stockpile Adventurers and use them to complete quests and that’s certainly something you need to do. There’s just more than one way to skin the owlbeast, so to speak.

For instance, in one my plays, another player decided to mostly forgo doing anything besides buying buildings. Now, this made it obvious that he had the Lord card that gave him bonus victory points at the end for every building he owned. However, if I try to stop him from getting buildings, then I need to forgo my own strategy for winning. Also, by keeping him away from his tactic, then someone else has a much clearer path to to win the game with another strategy. You can see how the interplay between everyone’s various strategies forces you to constantly adapt your own in pursuit of victory.

That’s infinitely more varied strategically than something Carcassonne and that’s what makes it so enjoyable to me. In Waterdeep you’re able to have that same “gateway game” experience, while giving your brain something to really chew into. In truth, Waterdeep is often as deep as you want to make it. You can be just as successful with a very basic strategy as someone who’s played a hundred times. Obviously, the latter person is going to have an advantage, but if they don’t play it correctly, their newbie opponent can very easily steal a victory.

And that is an example of a good gateway game, in my opinion. It’s relatively easy to teach, but difficult to master. I’ve played the game quite a bit and I’m still constantly learning new strategies for play. Waterdeep has quickly become a constantly in-rotation game on my table and I would highly recommend that you go out and buy yourself a copy.

Should you buy it? ABSOLUTELY

They’re Wrestlers, Not “Divas” (NXT Reactions, Jan. 14)

Wrestling
  • Did anyone else sit down tonight to start watching NXT only to realize that this was the week they’d moved it Wednesday night? No? Just me? I can’t believe I didn’t listen to Tyler Breeze’s beautiful self and remember that NXT was moving to Wednesday to give Thursday to Smackdown because “reasons”. Anyways, let’s get on to the show. Hope it’s a good one.
  • Do you think Tyson Kidd is actually listening to anything through his Beats when he comes down to the ring? I mean, it’s not like those trunks have pockets that could hold an iPhone. Does he just tuck his music player next to his junk and hope for the best? Wait; do you think he wears an extra pair of undies below his trunks? Surely, he has to. It’d be so easy for us to see an accidental crotch shot if he didn’t. Somebody answer these questions for me, please!
  • This feud between Finn Balor and Tyson Kidd has legitimate potential. Balor has been great in tag team action with Hideo Itami, but we needed to see him work as a single’s competitor to judge his full repertoire as a WWE performer. Tonight was the beginning of that. Kidd is the ultimate veteran presence for young NXT stars to go against, especially if they happen to be great technical performers. Look at the matches Kidd has had with Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville, and Tyler Breeze. All three of those guys are incredible performers who really got to prove that when they went against Kidd. Tyson gets the best out of these young guys, which is what makes him such a valuable commodity. That’s why this feud is important for Balor. It won’t make or break him; however, it could set him up for a move into the title scene. It should also serve as a satisfying way to move Kidd off of full-time NXT programming and on to the main shows with the UpperCats. Great booking as usual, NXT Creative.
  • Okay, I’ve slammed Baron Corbin quite a bit since his debut and I still think he has a lot to prove. That said, that was a very, VERY impressive End of Days. Sure, he still only wrestled for about two minutes and barely has four moves he can do consistently (not to mention a lack of proven microphone skills): however, that finisher had some serious impact. Bull Dempsey weighs what, 300 pounds? Getting him up for an End of Days with that much pop is truly impressive. I’m still not quite sold on Corbin as a legitimate star, but he’s getting closer every week.
  • I almost made a comment about how much better tonight’s women’s match was compared to the Corbin-Dempsey contest. Then, I realized I’m writing about NXT, not WWE, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the women’s matches are more interesting than other matches on the card. That match had some great in-ring storytelling, along with excellent move diversity. Every time I see a match like it on NXT, I really feel for the women of WWE. There’s no way they’d be allowed to wrestle like that on the main show, which is depressing as a fan of wrestling. To just parade girls up there because they happen to be attractive is spitting in the face of the many women who live and breathe this business. People always complain about the lame storylines and the over-saturation of John Cena, but something needs to be done about how the WWE treats their women competitors. I’m not a huge feminist or anything; I just think people like AJ Lee and Paige deserve better. And we fans deserve to have girls on a wrestling show that can actually, you know, wrestle. *Soapbox: off*
  • The first five minutes of Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville’s match tonight felt very “by the numbers”. Both performers almost looked bored to be there, which made more sense when you witnessed what took place after the commercial break. Evidently, both wrestlers were holding back to deliver some of the better spots we’ve seen on NXT. Zayn, in particular, took a few downright nasty bumps. This one didn’t have the storytelling their R Evolution contest had, but it did have more than its fair share of jaw-dropping spots. This was very different from their R Evolution match. In fact, this had a different feel from almost any other Zayn-Nevill match. That’s impressive considering how often these two have wrestled each other. Their R Evolution tilt is still the high bar for these two performers; however, tonight’s contest was quite an impressive spotfest. And it was far from over after the three-count because Kevin Owens decided to continue his demolition of NXT’s main event players. After Zayn’s much-deserved win, Owens entered the ring to put a quick end to his former friend’s good time. Owens’ story is an interesting prospect, particularly if the creative team is able to pull a surprising swerve. Let’s be honest, Owens taking on Zayn for the title is pretty standard storytelling. True, Zayn and Owens are lifelong friends, making this feud deeply personal. However, would it not be more interesting if someone were behind Owens’ attacks? It would have been perfect if Neville had made his full heel turn by revealing he was behind Owens attacking Zayn, but that’s kind of out of the question now (probably). That said, I think NXT is due for another faction and, unless they’re brining up Shoot Nation soon, putting Owens with another wrestler or two could serve as a way to move them up to the main roster quicker than anticipated. This is obviously a far-fetched pipe dream that will likely never happen. That said, we’ve seen NXT factions have success on the main roster. Maybe it’s time to bring together another team to take over Raw and Smackdown. If anyone is set up to be the center of that prospective faction, it’s Kevin Owens.
  • Closing Thoughts: Outside of a relatively boring tilt between Baron Corbin and Bull Dempsey, this NXT had a lot to love. Finn Balor and Tyson Kidd’s match started the show off with a bang and could be the start of a feud that elevates Balor, while giving Kidd an easy way to transition away from NXT. There was also an excellent women’s match that continues to prove that women’s wrestling can be much more than just attractive girls strutting about. Finally, Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville produced a slow-starting, but high-impact title bout that turned into quite the spotfest between the two stars. Zayn took some nasty bumps and both guys continued to look incredible. However, Kevin Owens decided to again ruin everyone’s good mood by taking out Zayn after his win. Personally, I’m hoping this leads to Owens joining a stable with other NXT stars before they move to Raw and Smackdown, but who really knows at this point. At the very least, it’s an interesting storyline that will be fun to watch over the coming weeks.

The Talking Heads (Raw Reaction, Jan. 12)

Wrestling
  • That’s right John, they sure did “file” Dolph Ziggler. In all seriousness, does Cena really think that plan would ever work? You take the title belt home and you think The Authority won’t do anything about it? You’re going to be stripped of the belt and then, if you don’t give it back; they’ll just make a new one. And who knows, maybe they’d just send J & J to your house to take it. They are a security firm, after all. I don’t understand Cena at all in this segment. I mean sure, I want him to win to bring back Ziggler, Ryback, and Rowan; however, I think he’s an idiot based on the story. The Authority, on the other hand, made logical sense in their promo. I’m not saying they didn’t screw Cena, that’s not up for debate. I’m just saying, they kept their promise and showed the WWE locker room that they will always do what they say they’d do. What’s wrong with that?
  • I think that match would’ve been much better if they’d upped the stakes a little for John Cena. Make him put his title shot on the line to get back his “friends” careers. Cena really had nothing to lose, so the outcome was never really in doubt. Seems like a big missed opportunity, storyline wise. Oh well, maybe they’ll get it right next week.
  • What? Dean has to have an evaluation of his mental state? What is going on? Some very strange vignettes happening tonight. Oh well, I’m sure he’ll kill it.
  • Hey! Macho Man’s finally going into the Hall of Fame. My brother’s going to be very excited. He’s a big time Macho fan.
  • Roman Reigns is getting (kind of) better on the microphone and his story tonight showed some flashes of his potential. That said, I don’t think a 10-minute battle of words between The Big Show and Reigns is something anyone is tuning in for. Big Show is terrible, and always has been. Reigns might be serviceable one day, but today is not that day. Just let these guys wrestle and stop trying to force them into a spot they’re obviously not comfortable in. At least we got a heavy-hitting, physical bout between Reigns and Luke Harper afterward. Harper makes an infinitely better opponent for Reigns than Big Show does. Hopefully we see an extended program between these two at some point down the line. I’d be interested to see the match they build with more time.
  • Does anyone else think Reigns looks just like Leo Kruger when he smiles? For those of you who don’t know, Kruger was Adam Rose’s NXT persona before he joined the Party Express.
  • In Ambrose’s little segment with the doctor I couldn’t help but wonder why he and Reigns don’t get together more often. I know Reigns getting injured threw off some plans; however, I think it could be interesting to see those two get together to take on The Authority. Sadly, it looks like they’re setting up Reigns for a title run, which makes it hard to group him with anyone right now. That said, I’m hoping the WWE uses the history between these two sometime down the line in a program where they take on The Authority (or whoever else is in charge at the time). It would be more effective if Seth Rollins is still with the group in power, but that doesn’t mean he has to be involved. Either way, I think we’re missing out on a great story between those three former brothers in lieu of being fed Cena stories.
  • Can Paul Heyman deliver a promo or what? The WWE really needs to get a few more managers with Heyman’s charisma. One candidate is Enzo Amore from NXT. Enzo would make a great manager who can wrestle and take bumps from time-to-time. He’s got the kind of stage presence and on-the-mic creativity that you just can’t teach. Somebody get that guy up to Raw, stat. And bring Sami Zayn with him.
  • As great as it is to see Daniel Bryan back in the ring and actually doing some fighting, this is one of the most boring Raws I’ve seen in awhile. We’ve had, what, two matches? Maybe? Everything else has been people talking at each other and often not saying much or being uninteresting. Tellingly, the staredown between Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar has probably been the most compelling part of the night so far. This has just been very forgettable. Hopefully, the WWE brings its “A” game next week in the last Raw before the Royal Rumble. They certainly need it.
  • The first inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame is Panera’s Broth Bowl? What a surprising announcement WWE! Also, potentially one of the worst commercial placements in Hulu history? Likely. Congrats Macho Man. Whatta guy.
  • It only makes sense to end a 90-minute wrestling show of people talking with another 10 minute segment of, surprise, more people talking. That segment was solid and Rollins really delivered on the mic; however, I was so bored by that point that it didn’t impact me the way it should have. I don’t know if everyone is just super banged up right now or what, but that was one of the worst Raws I’ve witnessed in awhile. We watch wrestling shows to see people wrestle. Not to see “C”-list actors act. This one gets one big, fat Jericho raspberry for suckiness.
  • Closing Thoughts: Watch NXT. That is all.

Personal Top 25 Video Games of All time (Nos. 5-1)

Lists

Here it is, the moment you’ve all surely been waiting for. It’s the Top 5 of my Top 25 Video Games of All Time list. These are the best of the best, at least according to me. Remember, it’s a personal list and all that, so don’t get your panties in too much of wad when you don’t see something like Final Fantasy VII (haven’t played, *gasp*) or Half Life 2 (I like it, but don’t love it) on the list. Everyone has their own personal tastes and, just because mine differ from yours, doesn’t make your favorite game a bad one (unless it’s Crash Bandicoot, of course).

  1. Fallout 3

 

The biggest problem with limiting myself to 25 games was deciding if I should group series together or list them as individual entries. Because the list would get boring if I just listed each entry in a series, I decided that grouping them together made more sense. That’s why, even though I’m putting Fallout 3 here, I’m really putting the entirety of the Fallout series. From Fallout 1 to Fallout: New Vegas, I’ve played and loved each and every entry. With that said, Fallout 3 was probably my favorite. For this series, my preference mostly comes down to atmosphere and story. I’ve never gotten lost in a game world to quite the same degree that I was in the Capital Wasteland. It felt like an actual place and I never wanted to leave (bring on the rads!). New Vegas may have built upon the gameplay experience and made it much better, but it failed to captivate me in the same way. The earlier games are beacons of achievement for a, at the time, young hobby. I enjoy them a lot to this day, but Fallout 3 is a better game for my personal tastes (read: RPG-heavy games with fun, real-time combat). Regardless of how you rank the Fallout games, they are some of the best experiences a gamer can ever have. I would encourage you to go out and play them right now, if you haven’t. This column will be waiting patiently for your return.

  1. World of Warcraft

 

Alright, you’re back? How was it? Fawkes is pretty cool right? Anyways, let’s get on to the next game, World of Warcraft. I’ve been playing Warcraft on-and-off since about two or three months after the initial release. That’s 10 years that I’ve been playing this game. I have spent months of my life playing WoW and I’ll probably log on later today. To me, that’s incredible. This is a game that I’ve played more than almost any other and I still want to play more. Obviously, it’s a different beast because it’s an MMO, but I’ve played other MMOs and they haven’t kept me around for 10 years (looking at you The Old Republic). My main character, Tamu, an Orc hunter, feels like a person; a best friend, if you will. He has a history almost as detailed as my own. That’s not something you say about many video game characters. What Blizzard has crafted with World of Warcraft is one of the more impressive feats of achievement in gaming. I mean, think about it. This game came out in 2004 and there are still 10 million people playing it. 10 million! If you had told me as a freshman in high school that I would still be playing in this world called warcraft, I would’ve called you crazy and asked you how you learned to time travel. However, that’s what happened, and I couldn’t be more impressed. Thanks Blizzard. Thanks for making such great games.

  1. Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

 

This is another series I love, distilled down into my personal favorite entry. You can’t make a list of the best video games of all time without including the Legend of Zelda. I never loved the original game, but A Link to the Past blew my mind when I got my hands on it. However, no game in the series is better than Majora’s Mask. I know it’s probably the most divisive entry to the series and there’s quite a bit of hate for it out there. I just can’t see it. I loved getting new properties from gaining new masks. I loved the light-heartedness of the side characters. Heck, I even loved having to puzzle out how to deal with the three-day cycle. It was a fun challenge and I like to be organized, so it worked for me. The dungeons weren’t as good as in Orcarania of Time, but at least they didn’t have a Water Temple. To me, this game just represented pure fun, much like the entirety of the Zelda catalogue. Plus, it doesn’t get much better than going back to old bosses with the Fierce Deity’s Mask and just wrecking face.

  1. Diablo 2

Unlike a few other entries on this list, this one is not for a series, just this specific game. Of all the games I’ve played in my 26 years, Diablo 2 is the one I’ve spent the most time with. In middle school, my life was Diablo. I didn’t have friends. I didn’t talk to girls. Heck, I quit football to play more Diablo. It was unhealthy and I would never recommend it to anyone. That said, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. At one point, I had four different accounts. One filled with level 90+ characters built for PVE. One filled with level 90+ characters built for PVP. And two mule accounts to hold my extra weapons that I would use in trades. It was like working a 60-80 job every week. Except, I just so happened to love to my “job”. In fact, at one point, I died during a Mephisto run, panicked, and ended up losing a full set of Tal Rasha’s armor (some of the better sorceress armor in the game, for the uninitiated). Then, I deleted my account in a fit of rage and proclaimed that I would never play this game again. The next Friday I was back at my computer, leveling a Barbarian. I just couldn’t get away. It was a problem, a problem I loved, but a problem At the very least, this game taught me that I should never smoke or do drugs because I obviously have an addictive personality.

  1. Earthbound

For me, a game doesn’t get more perfect than Earthbound. The gameplay was classic SNES RPG-fare. You have a party of up to four and you use various attacks and PSI (magic) to take down your enemies in turn-based combat. The story was absolutely bonkers, but in the best possible way. At a very basic level, an alien is going to destroy the world and you have to stop him by finding eight melodies in some of the strangest places you’ll see (Prehistoric times, a zombie-filled carnival town, etc.) . However, what really put this over the top is the humor and the music. Humor is hard to do in a video game, which makes it impressive that HAL pulled it off so well here. The dialogue is great. The enemy names are fantastic. Heck, one of the main characters is named Poo, which was hilarious as a 10-year-old. And that music, man. Earthbound’s jazz-filled soundtrack is probably the best music I’ve ever heard in a game. The battle tracks, in particular, are worth buying the game just to listen to. When I was doing homework in high school, I would just get to a random battle and let it sit there, so I could listen to it while I worked away. That’s how good it is. It’s a shame we haven’t gotten actual releases of the other games in this series in the US, because this is a series that deserves more entries.  I love this game so much that I would go buy a Wii U today if they announced a new Earthbound (or Mother) game. It’s the best game ever, and no one can tell me otherwise.

Well, there you go. Those are my favorite games of all time. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. It’s fun to go back and think about what games impacted your life enough for you to consider them the best of all time. It’s not easy, but it’s fun. Now that this is finished, I’m hoping to get my Top 10 games of 2014 out before the end of January. Unfortunately, Dragon Age: Inquisition is an absolutely bear (though a bear I adore). Last night I hit the 50-hour mark and it looks like I have at least 25 more hours to go. And then I need to mess around with Far Cry 4 and I think I’ll be ready to sit down and draft up a column. So, look for that soon. Have a good one!

Chad Gable Debuts! And Other Stories (NXT Reactions Jan. 8)

Wrestling
  • We get enough 20-minute opening promos from Raw each week, but that was one of the best Sami Zayn’s ever delivered (at least on NXT). It was touching and felt real. Quite a few Superstars are stilted and you can tell their promos are scripted. Tonight, Zayn’s was different. I may be wrong, but it really seemed like they just let Zayn off the leash; letting him say and do almost whatever he wanted. That’s how promos should be done. Give them a few key points and then let them put it in their own words. Scripted promos almost never work; watch Raw for proof. I don’t know if NXT scripts their promos, but I sure hope that isn’t the case. Also, Adrian Neville gets his rematch next week. I’m sure it will be a match to remember (aren’t they all with these two?).
  • Curtis Axel has always been able to wrestle. It’s not the most exciting style, but it is effective. However, he’s struggled to find his place and seemed to like the charisma it takes to make it on the main roster. That made tonight rather impressive. Axel connected with crowd as a heel, forcing them to constantly react (an important trait), and he went toe-to-toe with Hideo Itami and didn’t look out-of-place. Obviously, the NXT arena is a completely different animal than wrestling on Raw, but tonight was a good indicator of what Axel could become. It looks like he’s being set up to be the next Tyson Kidd. I hope it works out for him.
  • Speaking of Kidd, what a vignette. I’m loving the UpperCats and Kidd is absolutely killing it as a cocky (and very strange) heel right now. His mic work has really improved during his time with NXT. He’s always been an all-world wrestler, but now he can actually talk? AND he has a legitimate haircut? Kidd has quickly become a wrestler I care about. Hopefully he enjoys this same level of success when he moves to the main roster full time.
  • That was a very short match between Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss, but it was well wrestled. Banks is the best women’s heel in the company, and she proved it again tonight. Everything she does has a purpose and makes you hate her more and more. She’s so in touch with what it means to be a heel that it’s almost uncanny. And, importantly, she can play different types of heels. We’ve seen her as a brash, cocky heel who dominates her opponent, but we’ve also seen her play a coward who runs away from competition. That says a lot about her as a performer. Bliss, on the other hand, is much more raw in the ring. She can do some incredible things (the first two or three moves of that match were extremely impressive); she just has yet to master her in-ring persona. However, I think that could come in time, especially if she begins getting more time when Charlotte and Banks move to the main roster. I’d really like to see what those two ladies could do with a longer match. Maybe we’ll get that in the future.
  • OH MY GOD! IT’S TYLER! I’m so glad Prince Pretty is back from scouting for a new seasonal residence. Also, isn’t this the on-screen debut of Chad Gable? I know he’s been wrestling on house shows, but I don’t think I’ve seen him on the tapings. This is exciting because, if memory serves, Gable is a member of the Shoot Nation faction that people have been talking about for a while now. Does this signify the stable of amateur wrestlers are close to their debut? If Gable’s arm bar over the ropes is any indication of their talent, I sure do hope so.
  • Even though that was a well-wrestled tag team match, I get the feeling that all anyone will be talking about is that move the Lucha Dragons used to finish the off the Vaudevillains. I don’t know if it even has a name, but you should go watch it on the Network or something. It was incredible. Honestly, it’s hard to really talk about anything else. The Vaudevillains dominated for much of the match and I actually thought they might finally get the belts, but Sin Cara quickly turned it around for the Dragons. Personally, I like the Dragons more when they’re chasing and think that this feud should be reversed. The Vaudevillains’ gimmick screams, “cocky heels trying to keep the good guys down”, and the Dragons are excellent as the good guys you want to root for. Here’s hoping this feud flips in the coming weeks. I think that’s a more interesting story than what we’re currently being treated to.
  • Closing Thoughts: That was a fun NXT. We got Prince Pretty back and the on-screen debut of Chad Gable of Shoot Nation fame. There was a welcome lack of Bull Dempsey or Baron Corbin squash matches. And Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville came back. That said, everyone’s going to be talking about the ending to the main event match between the Lucha Dragons and the Vaudevilains for the tag team titles. That move to finish the match was jaw-dropping and something everyone needs to see. Next week, we get the rematch between Zayn and Neville for the NXT championship. Can it top this week’s main event? I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.

Personal Top 25 Games of All Time (Nos. 10-6)

Lists

This is the point where it becomes incredibly difficult to rank these games in any particular order. I mean, my Top 3 were pretty much a lock, but 4-10 (and arguably 11) are so close that I struggled to find a ranking that truly works. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you could probably rearrange 4-10 in almost any order and I’d be okay with it. That said, I tried to rank them through a mix of time spent playing (one my most meaningful barometers because of how I play games) and overall impact on the gaming hobby. With those notes out of the way, let’s begin the list.

  1. Mass Effect 2

I would love (LOVE) to have the Mass Effect series higher on this list. The first one was ground-breaking and captivated me in a way that not many games had before. This was going to be my series! Then, ME2 came out and blew my expectations out of the water. It added some of my favorite characters (What’s good, Thane? Still alive?), and designed some of the best character-driven side quests I’ve ever seen. And then ME3 hit. I wasn’t as disappointed in the ending as some people were, but it did negatively impact my view on the series as a whole. Over the course of two very long games, I’d fallen in love with these characters; and Bioware just didn’t do that love justice. As a single entry, Mass Effect 2 has to make this list because of how well done the character-driven story was. However, because every entry to the series really does connect together like no other series has, I can’t justify ranking it any higher; no matter how much I wish I could.

  1. Super Mario World

Is this the best Mario game? Probably not. I mean, the N64 entry was incredible and lots of people love the originals. Heck, there’s even a swath of fans that might argue for Galaxy. I don’t know. I just love Mario World a lot. It’s the only Mario I’ve ever gone back and beaten more than once, and that’s largely because I like how it controls more than any other entry. The platforming is so tight that any time I screw up, I know it’s my mistake. That’s something I want in a platformer because that means I can learn from my mistakes and evolve into a more competent player. In the end, a Mario game has to go on this list. Personally, I like Super Mario World the most, but if you disagree, just put your favorite Mario in this slot. After all, I haven’t met a core Mario game I didn’t like (Yes, even Sunshine).

  1. Pokemon: Red/Blue

I was the target audience (elementary-middle schoolers) for Pokemon when the first versions came stateside. I remember it turning into a phenomenon at middle school. I even remember small rivalries starting between the kids who owned Blue and those who owned Red. I was in the Blue camp and I loved it. I was glued to my Gameboy Color (the purple see-through model!) for months. I went so far as to become the only kid in my town (that I knew of) to actually collect all 150 Pokemon (yes, I “borrowed” the Red edition from a friend). That doesn’t sound like a gigantic accomplishment in 2015, but in 1998-99, I was the coolest kid on the playground, or at least I thought I was. The Pokemon formula hasn’t changed much over the years, and that’s largely because they got it so right from the jump. Later games have built upon the framework Blue and Red laid down; however, not many other series can claim as strong a frame as Pokemon.

  1. Chrono Trigger

 

Five of my top seven games are RPGs. That probably tells you a lot about me as a gamer. In fact, now that I’m looking back at the list, seven of my top 10 are RPGs, and a few of the ones I’m not counting have heavy RPG elements. All that to say that I think Chrono Trigger is about as perfect a game as you can make, RPG or not. Now, it’s weird to say that and not ultimately rank it number one overall. However, this is a list of my personal favorites, not the best games ever. On that list, Chrono Trigger takes my top slot. The things they did with this game on an SNES are so far ahead of their time, that some of them haven’t really been replicated since. That, in my opinion, is absolutely incredible. If you’re a gamer and you have yet to play this masterpiece, please, do it. Do it now. You can thank me later.

  1. Knights of the Old Republic

So, I like Star Wars. A lot. For a long time, Star Wars Bounty Hunter was my favorite game on the Gamecube largely because there just weren’t many good Star Wars games out there. Then I played KOTOR. It’s hard to describe my feelings at the time without just devolving into lots of yelling and exclamation points. In a word, I was giddy. Like a 13-year-old schoolgirl at a Justin Beiber concert (is he still popular?). I played this game non-stop until I beat it. And then I beat it again and again and again and…you get the picture. I would sit in front of my computer and build up characters based on the movies just to have another reason to replay this game. Could a Han Solo character make it through the game? I had to find out (Yes). And I enjoyed every second of it. It was my introduction to how well-realized characters could be and that classic Bioware combat, which I still love to this day. It was an experience, and one I hope everyone can have.

That’s some high praise for a few of these games (notably Chrono Trigger and KOTOR), so you might be wondering what can top them. Well, you’ll just have to check out the next post to see the culmination of my Personal Top 25 Video Games of All Time.

Personal Top 25 Video Games of All Time (Nos. 15-11)

Lists

Well, I’m ready to play the Witcher 3. If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, I ended the countdown of numbers 16-20 of my Top 25 video games of all time by deciding that it was time to go finish the Witcher 2. Interestingly enough, we’re going to begin numbers 11-15 with another game I have yet to finish (for shame). Luckily, this is the last one on my list that is still sitting in my shame pile, so you can rest assured that I’m an “expert” on my Top 14. Anyways, on to third part of my countdown.

  1. Persona 4 Golden

When I bought Persona 3 Portable for my Vita in August of last year (yes, I’m a little late to the party. Sue me), I basically put my whole life on hold to play that game as much as possible. The game captivated me so much, that I put a little over 110 hours into it over the course of two weeks, beating it twice to see everyone’s full story through their social link. So, when I received Persona 4 Golden for my birthday in September, I decided I wouldn’t play this one as fast. I wanted to savor my food. Unfortunately, that means that I’m still “only” 50 hours in and probably have at least another 10-20 before I see the end screen. That said, P4G builds on P3P in almost every way possible, making it the clear choice for this slot. The character building of both games (as well as the overarching story) had me hooked from the jump and this is probably my favorite game I’ve played in 2014.  This game is the biggest reason to own a Vita. It’s a system-seller and it’s more than worth the price of admission.

  1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

To be honest, this is more of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for the Grand Theft Auto series. I’ve loved each and every GTA game and felt that I had include at least one of them. So, I decided to just lump them all in together and put my personal favorite as the lead-in. I think GTA 5 is the best game of series, but San Andreas was the one I put the most time into. Therefore, I feel comfortable putting either title in this slide. I know a lot of people have Vice City as their favorite in the series, and I agree that it was great. That said, I just found the characters and gameplay better in SA and 5. Really, you can’t go wrong with any GTA game and I would play welcome the chance (and time) to play through any of them again.

  1. Red Dead Redemption

Wow. Talk about taking a good conception (Red Dead) and turning into one of the best games of all time. Rockstar really hit this one out of the park. We hadn’t had a truly great Western game until John Marston saddled up to take back his life. The gunplay and story was classic Rockstar (read: good), but it was riding a horse that took this one over the top for me. That’s something that’s easy to get wrong, and Rockstar made it incredibly fun. You really felt like an outlaw and the mission design was almost always impeccable. Really, the only gripe anyone ever has with this one is the ending. However, then Rockstar released Undead Nightmare and everyone quickly forgot about Jack Marston and his terrible voice actor. Zombies and Cowboys? Sign me up.

  1. Borderlands

When Borderlands was first revealed by Game Informer, I knew this was a game I was destined to lose countless hours to. I’ve talked about how the FPS genre has never really done anything for me, but apparently if you put in a Diablo-esque loot system and fun-filled skill trees, I’ll play a shooter for 150 hours. Unfortunately, as each new edition of Borderlands comes out, I get less and less interested in playing them. It’s probably my fault though. I played the original for so many hours, hoping to get the loot gods to smile in favor, that maybe the newer games can’t hold my interest. In some games, more of the same is a good thing. The Borderlands franchise is not one of those games. It needs to add something more. If I were in charge, I would add slots for armor and I would actually tone down the amount of loot. Sure, it’s great to say your game has 87 gazillion guns, but if only 100 of those guns are worth anything, that number doesn’t matter much. With all that said, the first Borderlands game was one of the best I’ve played. Here’s hoping they get it back on track with the next one.

  1. Elder Scrolls: Morrowind/Skyrim

Much like Grant Theft Auto, it was hard to pick just one Elder Scrolls game. On one hand, Morrowind was really my introduction to PC gaming. It was sprawling, and really impacted my gaming choices to this day. I still prefer chasing that feeling of wonder and excitement in a new RPG; though that feeling is getting harder to come by. I lost weeks of my life to this game and I don’t even remember the ending. But that doesn’t matter. Morrowind was an experience for a young gamer like me, and it’s one I’ll never forget. Skyrim is similar, but also very different. Like Morrowind, Skyrim grabbed me from the very beginning. It was amazing to see this world fully realized. You could go seemingly anywhere and do nearly anything. It was an exhilarating proposition. Additionally, the game was so well crafted that everything felt lived in. This was a living and breathing world. In my opinion, a video game can’t get a better description than that. Both games made a significant impact on me as a gamer, but, if push comes to shove, I have to pick Morrowind. That game largely shaped my gaming tastes when it came out, and it’s something I still go back to at least once a year.

Well, there’s 11-15. Check back tomorrow for the start of the Top 10. As always, let me know what you think in the comments.