2015 Game of the Year

Lists, Video Games

2015 was a very good year to me in terms of video games. I was able to complete the most games ever in a single year (42), which is pretty surprising given that I put 200+ hours into both Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3. My Game of the Year list is really all over the place because of the plethora of experiences available over the past 12 months. This leads me to believe that the current console generation is really maturing well along with the continued presence from indie developers. In fact, 2015 stands as one of the better years in gaming for me; making the process of selecting my list very difficult.

Of course, a difficult GOTY list is always a good thing and, because I liked so many titles this year, I have quite a few honorable mentions I’d like to get in before the list proper. As you’ll soon find out, 2015 was a heck of a year.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

The Uncharted Collection – I was a 360 owner during the past console generation, so I missed out on this great series. The remaster is an incredible value and the big set pieces have aged well. That said, it didn’t feel right putting this game in the top 10 when so many new games were so great. In 2014, this probably makes the list, but not here.

Citizens of Earth – This was a game I was really looking forward to in early 2015. It’s Earthbound inspiration was evident and the battle system looked interesting. Sadly, myriad technical issues pushed it down the list.

Not A Hero – I like Not A Hero’s styyyyle and Bunny Lord is a pretty fun character. Unfortunately, the game quickly becomes pretty repetitive and, though I enjoyed my time, there are better games from this year.

The Order: 1886 – This one had a lot of potential. While the gameplay was lackluster, the graphics were super slick and the story had some interesting hooks that should’ve turned into a solid story. Then the game ends during the first act and we’re left wondering if Ready at Dawn will ever get funding to finish what was apparently seen as a trilogy.

Fallout 4 – In my “Thoughts On” article about this game, I compared it to a synth. On the surface, it looks and plays better than past games in the series, but it lacks the heart that made those old games special. I stand by the comparison and still can’t recommend this game. That said, I have to assume that anything I was able to play for 200+ hours is, in some way, “good”, so I’ll give it an honorable mention to sate my ego.

Her Story – It’s barely a game and the story is preeetty dumb. That said, I think the story has be “out there” if you want to make the gameplay experience worth it. This is a very interesting experiment in how to do interactive story-telling and I hope Sam Barlow gets to continue pushing the medium in new and interesting ways.

Tales From the Borderlands – Tales was probably going to make my list due to its humor and solid characters. But then another game came along and demonstrated how powerful episodic, narrative-driven games could be, and Telltale’s brand become infinitely less impressive. This is, for all intents and purposes, number 11 on this list and you really should play it. I just think there are better games out there.

10) Rocket League

20150211_rocketleague_01

The nature of my job is that I’m basically working 16 hours a day, seven days a week during the summer. So, you’ll forgive me if I missed the initial rush of love for Rocket League. In fact, during that first month, my only real knowledge of the game was my brother texting me things like, “yo, this Rocket League game is pretty good” and, “I can’t stop playing”. As soon as my summer season wrapped up, Rocket League was the first thing I jumped into and let me tell you, it was worth the wait. As I get older, I’ve started to value fun-factor above just about anything else (other than maybe story) in video games. I don’t really care if it looks pretty or if there are some buggy technical stuff, I just focus on how much fun I had when I was playing it. Rocket League wasn’t the most fun I had in gaming this year, but Psyonix has seemingly synthesized a “fun-drug” and turned into a video game that, much like my brother, “I can’t stop playing”.

9) Until Dawn

Until Dawn is a game you can play through in an afternoon. For some, that’s a turnoff because “eight hours isn’t worth my 60 bucks”, or something like that. If you get past that, you’ll find my favorite horror game of the year (though I haven’t gotten around to SOMA) that takes a great teen slasher and turns it into a David Cage-esque Quick Time Event game. The writing is appropriately campy, the characters are spectacular in their own ways, and your choices actually matter. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a Saturday night.

8) Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

Your mileage with Keep Talking likely comes down to whether or not you can find a good group to play with. Luckily for me, I play countless board games with my friends and family, so Keep Talking was a pretty easy sell to both of my board game groups. It doesn’t get much better than watching your mom and grandma try to “work with” your aunt to solve a puzzle using Morse Code. And when I say “working with”, what I really mean is your aunt is yelling and terrified because there’s only 30 seconds left, your grandma is so confused she can’t see straight and your mom is yelling at you, asking, “why are you laughing at me? The world is about to explode!” If you have a party coming up, put down your 15 bucks, print out the manual and prepare for big laughs and bigger thrills. Of all the games on my list, I can easily see Keep Talking being relevant five years from now because of how great it is as a party game.

7) Nuclear Throne

It feels kind of weird putting Nuclear Throne on this list when I’ve probably only played 4-5 hours of it. Compared to my 300 hours in Binding of Issac, that feels like nothing in a Roguelite. That said, in games like these, when I know, then I know; and I know that Nuclear Throne is my favorite Roguelite in quite awhile. Right now it feels super fast and hectic, but I can slowly feel it slowing down and my skills are catching up to the point of respectability. If you liked Issac, I would give NT a try.

6) Undertale

What follows is a typical conversation my girlfriend and I had during my first Undertale playthrough:

GF: What have you been up to today?

Me: Well, I went to go fight this skeleton, but couldn’t beat him, so he captured me. I escaped and then he captured me again. That happened like four times before he took pity on me and realized that I just wanted to flirt with him. So he invited me on a date where we ate spaghetti and he showed his room and his “cool dude” clothes. Then we went on a super date, during which he decided I loved him more than he loved me, so he couldn’t date me and instead we just became best friends. I have his number now and we talk a lot, but it’s totally platonic.

That’s why Undertale is on my list. It’s dumb. It’s silly. I love it. Now it’s time to see the other endings.

5) Bloodborne

Bloodborne is first real experience with a Souls game (I played DS2 on the 360 for a few hours, but then they announced that they would port the game to PS4, so I decided to wait and sent it) and I was in love from my first death. The punishing difficultly is something that I’ve craved in my AAA releases for awhile. When I turn most games up to their highest difficult, it feels more cheap than hard, which is why I gravitated so much to games like the Binding of Issac. In Issac, and Bloodborne, your death is your fault. The game isn’t cheesing you by sending out stupid amounts of enemies or limiting your health. It’s your execution that put your corpse on the floor and execution is something you can work on. I still haven’t beaten Bloodborne, but it has been such a great experience for me that I’m salivating at the impending Dark Souls 3 release in early 2016.

4) The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Prior to 2015 started, I probably would’ve told you that The Witcher 3 would be the front-runner for my game of the year. And for awhile, it looked like that would be the case. The opening 20-30 hours are pretty incredible story-telling and the character building is some of the best in the business. But then the boring gameplay starts to wear on you and the story slows down considerably. By the end of the game, it felt more like a slog than I had expected and, even though I loved most of my experience, the full experience never captivated me like those first big quests did. Of course, I still think it’s the fourth best game in a year full of huge games, so it’s far from a bad game. It’s just not quite as great as I thought it would be. Well worth your time though.

3) Super Mario Maker

I’ve probably watched more Super Mario Maker than I’ve actually played this year; largely due to the excellent Dan Ryckert-Patrick Klepek feud that lasted the entirety of the fall. That said, this level editing tool is an incredible game that really should have been on Wii U from Day 1. That would’ve undoubtedly driven a few more console sales for Nintendo. Sadly, it took a few years to get Wii U a real “system-seller” and, with The Big N seemingly looking ahead to the NX, it’s tough to see SMM having as big of impact outside of core gamers that it could have. That’s really a shame because, like Wii Sports, SMM makes this platform. You simply couldn’t do this game without the gamepad and the core Mario game is fun for casuals and hardcore players alike. Nonetheless, I sure am excited to have infinite Mario in my future.

2) Life Is Strange

Life Is Strange is the most powerful game I’ve played in a long time. This narrative-based game from DontKnod forced me to take a step back from the story being told and examine my own life. That’s something great art does and I can’t remember that happening for me before in a video game. I realize that the reasons this game spoke to me are deeply personal and aren’t something everyone is going latch onto. That said, even without those big, personal moments, I think the story told here is pretty interesting and the time-warp mechanic is the best addition we’ve had to the Telltale formula. As I said in my “Thoughts On” article, this game is worth your time. More so than almost anything else released in 2015.

1) Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain

Like I said in my Rocket League entry above, fun factor has become huge for me of late. I honestly can’t think of a more fun experience I had in 2015 than playing through MGSV. Yes, the story is pretty garbage and, in some ways, it barely feels like Metal Gear game. However, the moment-to-moment gameplay is so engrossing and open, that it doesn’t really matter. Kojima really, truly nailed “Tactical Espionage” in a way that has never happened before.

I don’t want to get into too much hyperbole, but I would probably call this the most technically perfect game I’ve ever played. Would I love to have 10 more hours of story that actually explains things in a way that satisfies us fans? Absolutely. But if you put the story aside and just analyze the gameplay, there wasn’t a better, more fun game released in 2015. And that’s why it tops my list.

Video Games I Wish I’d Played in 2014

Lists

I should start by saying that there are quite a few games that aren’t on this list that probably should be. The reason for that is that I choose to not list games on consoles I don’t own. Thus, you won’t be seeing things like Super Smash Brothers or Fantasy Life because I have yet to pull the trigger on a Wii U or a 3DS. So just know that, if I had a Nintendo console, this list would probably be chock full of them. Will 2015 be the year I buy a Wii U? Most likely. They’ve put out more than enough great software to make that system compelling, and the next time I see it on sale, it will likely be an immediate purchase. With all that said, let’s get to the games I wish I’d had the chance to play, but, for whatever reason, wasn’t able to get to in 2014.

The Banner Saga

Banner Saga is an experience I really want to have. The art style looks incredible and I’ve always been a sucker for hard, turn-based combat. Also, it’s a setting we haven’t seen much of in video games and I think it’s important to support developers who go outside the box for their story. That support is what’s keeping the industry from only using repetitive settings that line up with various marketing benchmarks (read: war shooters). The good news is that I’ve already purchased this game months ago. The bad news is that I continually put the Banner Saga on my back burner. I think the problem is that I bought the game at a time when I had no free time to play it. Which led to that initial interest slowly eroding over a few months. And now that I have time to play, there are new, shinier games coming out that I’m more immediately interested it. Thus, Banner Saga has quickly become one of those games that “I’ll get to, at some point…maybe”. Hopefully that point happens soon, because The Banner Saga 2 is coming, and I know I’m going to buy it.

Jazzpunk

Comedy is really hard to do in video games. Mostly because the player has so much control over what they’re doing and what they’re looking at, which makes it a struggle to really hit on your comedic timing. A lot of games have funny moments, but not many games can claim to be pure “comedies”. That’s why I’m so interested in Jazzpunk. From all the reviews and videos I’ve seen, Jazzpunk’s absurdist style is something everyone should really experience. I’ve attempted to stay away from any videos to keep my experience pure, but it was this recent Giant Bomb Quicklook, that finally convinced me to put down 15 bucks and buy Jazzpunk. Luckily, the game doesn’t appear to be too long, so hopefully it gets out of my backlog much quicker than The Banner Saga.

Dark Souls 2

Oh Dark Souls, why couldn’t you just release on the new-gen consoles? I actually rented Dark Souls 2 at one point for the Xbox 360, but I just can’t bring myself to turn on that old console anymore; no matter how badly I want to play a particular game. I know Dark Souls is out on PC, but this is a game I want to play on my big tv with a PS4 controller, not on my laptop’s 17’ screen. Luckily, Dark Souls 2 is going to see a new-gen release later in 2015; however, by that point, we’ll already have access to Bloodborne. Does anyone really have time to play both Bloodborne and Dark Souls 2 before the video game release schedule starts to speed up in the fall? I guess we’ll find out.

Divinity: Original Sin

Divinity is the only game on this list that I’ve actually started. My friend and I run a Youtube channel and Divinity is the first game we started playing in the new year. We’ve only put in about 2 or 3 hours so far, but I’m really enjoying the game. It’s a lot like Wasteland 2, which I’m also playing through on Youtube, but it lets you play the entire game co-op. The game doesn’t hold your hand, so having a friend to help with combat and figuring out puzzles makes Divinity much more enjoyable. Plus, listening to your friend suffer through trying to voice act a character with smoker’s lung is worth the price on its own. I fully expect that this game would’ve made it on my “Best of 2014” list if I’d been able to get to it in time. That said, if you like turn-based RPGs, this is one you should take a look at.

Freedom Wars/Danganronpa 2

I’m lumping these two together because they’re on the list for the exact same reasons. I’ve owned both these games for a few months now and really want to play them, but anytime I turn on my Vita I just keep playing Persona 4 Golden. Persona 3 is one of my favorite games of all time and I’m about 90 hours through its followup. P4G hasn’t quite grabbed me like P3P did, but it’s still a great game and I feel like I have to finish it before starting anything else on my Vita. Thus, games like Freedom Wars and Danganronpa 2 (and Citizens of Earth and Rainbow Moon and…you get the picture) are just sitting by my bed, constantly tempting me. I think I “only” have about 10 or 20 more hours left to go in Persona 4 (depending on how much grinding I need to do), so here’s hoping I can get to some of my other Vita titles before 2016 gets here.

Kentucky Route Zero

I have a pretty strict rule for episodic games that I don’t play or purchase them until all the episodes have released. Therefore, I don’t feel as bad about not playing Kentucky Route Zero as I do with other games on this list. That said, Route Zero just about made me break that rule when all the hype was coming down about Episode Three. I’ve tried to stay away from most information, but, from the limited stuff I have read, this sounds like the kind of game for me. It’s all about the story, with minimal gameplay. It sounds weird to be so excited for a game that’s barely a game, but I’ve almost always been more interested in how video games can tell an interactive narrative than anything else. Gameplay is important, but I get much more out of a game that has a great story and subpar gameplay than one with innovative gameplay and a crap story. Not everyone is like that, but that’s what makes video games so special. I can get my Kentucky Route Zero experience and others can get their Call of Duty. As long as they’re making both, we can all be happy.

Wildstar

I was lucky enough to get into one of the betas for Wildstar and I really enjoyed myself. I just didn’t enjoy myself enough to pay a monthly fee to play the game. If this were a free-to-play game (or even pay-to-play ala what Elder Scrolls Online is about to become) I could easily see myself losing weeks of 2014 to running about the world of Wildstar. Unfortunately, as long as Wildstar keeps its subscription fee, it’s going to be one of those games I wish I could play, but never will. And the problem with waiting so long to drop that fee, is that by the time you pull the trigger, a large portion of your playerbase will have moved on. If Wildstar ever does drop their fee, I’ll probably check it out. I just doubt it holds me like it would have if it had started without that sub fee. Oh well, at least I got to experience the beta. Maybe that’s enough for me.

You know it was a pretty solid year in video games (or I was just really busy with grad school) when you can list that many games for a list of games you didn’t even get to in 2014. Here’s hoping I can shrink this list when I write about 2015, but, who am I kidding? There are just too many good games coming out these days for anyone to realistically get to all of them. Plus, I’ll probably be playing Persona 4 until the day I die, so I’ll always have that gigantic Vita backlog. Well, time for me to get back to Inaba. See you next time!

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.

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!

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.

Personal Top 25 Video Games of All Time (Nos. 20-16)

Lists

Yesterday morning, I began putting together my Top 25 Video Games of All Time, which you can check out here; and today I’ll continue on with numbers 20 through 16. As mentioned in my last post, this isn’t a list of the “Best Games Ever”. Instead, it’s a list of my personal favorites. Those two are very different, because there are quite a few games I really enjoyed (Smackdown vs. Raw 2007) that made the list over games that are, in ever sense of the word, better (Half Life 2). So don’t think I’m dissing your favorite game because it’s not my list. I’m sure whatever game you like is great….unless it’s Crash Bandicoot, and then I feel bad for your family.

20. Donkey Kong Country

My aunts owned an NES when I was super young, so the original Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt are my earliest memories in gaming. However, Donkey Kong Country was the first game I ever personally owned. My parents bought me a SNES when I was five or six and DKC was the only game I owned for at least six months. And for those six months, I was hooked. I would skip sleepover parties with my friends to play DKC. I would wake up at six in the morning on school days to get in an hour or two before school. It was my life. There aren’t many games I still go back to play, but every time I go to my grandma’s for Christmas, my brother and I dust it off and take on King K. Rool one last time.

19. Saints Row: The Third

As much as video game narratives have matured over the last few years, I still think a lot of what comes down to a game being good is the “fun” factor. Saints Row: The Third takes that “fun” factor and turns it up to 11. The developers have long left behind the question of whether or not any of  thismakes sense; they just want to make the most enjoyable experience possible. For me, they’ve succeeded in ever way possible. If you don’t have a smile plastered on your face throughout this game, you’re in the wrong hobby.

18. Star Fox 64

Outside of maybe Goldeneye (and that’s a weak maybe), I don’t think I spent more time with another N64. Star Fox was just that good. Plus, there were branching paths that let you play different levels and change the story based on what planets you decided to rescue, which kept the game fresh through multiple playthroughs. As a kid that was captivated with Star Wars, getting to fly around and engage in dogfights was a dream come true. I don’t know if I’ve played a better space fighting game since Star Fox (Rouge Leader for Gamecube comes close), and that says a lot.

17. The Binding of Isaac

316 hours. That’s my Binding of Isaac time across Steam and my Vita. And that number doesn’t even sniff the amount of time others have put into this excellent rouge-like. This was my introduction to the genre and, though I’ve flirted with others (Spelunky, Our Darker Purpose, etc.), nothing else has captured my attention like Isaac did. My only gripe is that Cain’s innate power was nerfed in Rebirth, so my favorite character isn’t quite as strong. That said, they added Azazel, so all is forgiven.

16. The Witcher 2

This is probably my greatest source of gaming shame. You see, I’ve mostly beaten The Witcher 2. In fact, it should’ve been beaten months ago. I love this game. I love this world. I love Geralt. I think CD Projekt Red made one of the best games of the past generation. But, I haven’t ever finished The Witcher 2. A large part of that is me wanting to experience the end of that story as close to the Witcher 3’s release. You know, I’m cutting this off and finishing the game. Sorry, Dragon Age: Inquistion, Geralt calls. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.

Personal Top 25 Games of All Time (Nos. 25-21)

Lists

I’ve been wanting to put together a Top 10 list for video games published in 2014, but I’m still working my way through both Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4. Knowing my gaming habits, I expect those two to at least make my list, if not garner a top spot. So, to give myself a little more time, while also doing some extra writing during the end of my Christmas break, I’ve decided to put together my top 25 games of all time. This list is pure opinion and really just serves as a way for me to document how my tastes change from year-to-year (with the idea that I’ll continue this blog for awhile). This first post is going to look at some honorable mentions, as well as begin the list with numbers 21-25.

Honorable Mentions: Danganronpa, Dragon Age: Origins

We’ll start with Danganronpa. I absolutely adored this game when I played it during this past summer. I’m a sucker for wacky Japanese games and anything resembling Battle Royale. Danganronpa has both in spades. The sequel is currently sitting beside my bed, waiting for me to finish Final Fantasy X for the Vita, and I’m dying to boot it up. Monokuma is one of the best villains of the year and the story is so batshit, that I have to recommend this to anyone with a Vita. That said, I could just be really high on this because it’s recent, so it might not have lasting power; which is why I decided to play it safe and keep it as an honorable mention.

Dragon Age: Origins is in a little different boat. I’ve always been a huge fan of Bioware’s RPGs and DA is no different. However, it didn’t have the lasting impact that other entries on this list did. Sure, my Champion of Kirkwall (a dwarf rogue) had a sultry romance with Morrigan and was able to save the day with minimal deaths, but that’s about all I can tell you. For other RPGs on this list, I can remember the most minute details about my personal story. DA is a great RPG, it just isn’t as good as other things on this list.

  1. Smackdown vs. Raw 2007

As I said at the beginning of this list, this is all personal opinion. Not many are going to put SVR 2007 on a list of their favorite games of all time. But, then again, not many people are going to remember staying up all night playing six-man Money In the Bank matches on repeat with the most ridiculous created Superstars in the business. This game makes my list more on the fun I had with the people I played with than the merits of the game itself. I don’t know if anyone else will think that’s valid, but I don’t really care. SVR parties are some of my favorite memories from high school and college, and no one can tell me differently. And if you try, I’ll just sic Jebidiah McDougal on you. That dude’s a stone-cold killer.

  1. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

I have to make a confession here; I’ve never been a huge fan of the Batman games. They’re fine, but the Caped Crusader has never really captivated me like it has for so many others. That could be why I loved Mordor’s combat so much. Yes, it “borrows” quite a bit of its gameplay from the aforementioned Batman games, as well as the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to play. You feel like a complete and total badass throughout and it’s absolutely thrilling to take on the higher ups of Sauron’s army. Speaking of those nasty Orcs, the Nemesis system just might be the most intriguing piece of emergent story telling I’ve ever seen. Mordor’s main story is pretty terrible, but the narrative you build through combat and random encounters more than makes up for it. I will admit that Mordor might just be on this list because of how excited the Nemesis system makes me for the future of this industry. That said, I still think it’s enough to break into my Top 25.

  1. Goldeneye

You won’t many more first person shooters on this list and that’s because my love of the genre basically began and ended with the N64 classic (though there was a torrid love affair with Timesplitters 2 and one other game on this list). I’m sure old-school gamers will scoff at me for this being the piece of FPS history that I put on my list, but I didn’t have a beefy enough PC to run games like Doom or Wolfenstein when they were current. Therefore, Goldeneye was my introduction to the genre and I never really saw a reason to continue on. Outside of the other FPS on this list, I basically wrote off the entire genre in favor of RPGs and action titles. The only downside to Goldeneye is that it doesn’t really hold up (especially the aiming); however, the local co-op was some of the best we’ve ever seen.

  1. Minecraft

I got into Minecraft right as it was starting up (probably three or four months into development) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I spent at least six months playing this game for hours every day after class and my weekends were blurs of mining and building. Even when I wasn’t playing, I was watching Minecraft Youtube videos or listening to Minecraft podcasts. It might just be the best 10-15 bucks I’ve ever spent (at least as far as bang for my buck). And most impressively, the game has only gotten better. I haven’t actually played the game in a year or two, but the amount of intriguing Adventure maps available to play is staggering. Even if you weren’t a Minecraft fan, you have to appreciate how it helped revolutionize the gaming industry. As one of the early Indie darlings, we owe a lot to Minecraft for helping usher in the current Age of Indies.

  1. Starcraft

The original Starcraft is one of my most played games of all time. The base RTS was an exceptional experience, but the game really opened up (at least for me) when you got into the many custom maps. With so many different ways to spice up the game, there was almost endless replayability. We had everything from Tower Defense to RPG-like experiences that could take hours to finish. I doubt this game would be on my list with just the base game, but, like Minecraft, the mapmakers made this game into one of my favorites of all time.

There’s the first five of what will be an ongoing series. Check back tomorrow for part two. Let me know how much you hate my list so far in the comments.