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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.