(Note: I normally wouldn’t post a draft like this a year late, but I couldn’t bear the thought of my terrible “tier” puns in the leftovers section going to waste)
The way I see it, it’s hard to call a game my “game of the year” if it wasn’t good enough for me to want to finish it (if possible). As such, my contenders list for 2015 game of the year is a bit shorter than it has been in years past. Looking back on the 2015 games I played and finished, I’m disappointed in myself for the glut of sequels. Of the eight games I finished that came out this year, over half of them were part of a series (having played it, I consider Bloodborne essentially the fourth Souls game) and of those The Witcher 3 is the “youngest” of them. I may have felt 2015 was a bit of a down year in gaming, but upon further inspection, I only have myself to blame. And with that ringing endorsement, here are my top 8 games of 2015.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse
In a year where I spent an absurd amount of time playing a mediocre-at-best puzzle game because it was skinned with a license I liked, I also spent more time than I probably should have playing this mediocre Dragon Ball game. To be clear, it is mediocre as a game, because judged just as a Dragon Ball game, it is actually fantastic. While I despise the game for its random, time wasting mechanics (especially for a game with no subscription or microtransactions) and generally uninteresting, ultimately repetitive combat, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy collecting skills and costume parts to build my own Z character.
Broken Age (Act 2)
The first half of Broken Age was a wonderfully pleasant play that ended in a cliffhanger that left me eagerly anticipating Act 2. By comparison, Act 2 felt more like a classic point-and-click adventure game, and not in the greatest way. With fewer characters and locations to introduce, it felt like the puzzle density was much higher. Many of them were definitely more convoluted. After gliding through Act 1 a year prior, I took over twice as long getting through Act 2 and resorted to outside help once or twice, something I desperately try to avoid in games. Playing Broken Age in two halves like this likely exacerbated the contrast between them, but this is how the game was released and how many have played it.
While playing Fallout 4, I couldn’t help but feel like it was just a more polished modern Fallout game with a worse story (the character arc, motivations, and what the game pushes you toward doing are a complete mess). This is mostly fine, as I do enjoy the format of these games, but it is nothing special. The town building mechanic is just barely fun enough to do for the sake of doing, which is good, since there is no other reason to do it. When games go longer between releases, some may expect more from them and I probably should too, but I actually judge them less harshly because I don’t feel like I’ve played the same game each year for four years.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
If there is one thing that I will say about CD Projekt Red, it is that they will always give you your money’s worth. When I play a game and sense the end is near, I tend to become less invested as whatever I do has less and less consequence. The problem with this sort of mentality in regards to The Witcher 3 is that what feels like the final stretch is closer to about the two-thirds mark of the game. This is after a bit of a restart of sorts as a result to moving from the first major map to the second (or second to third depending on if you consider the first map substantial). All of this is my way of saying that I think The Witcher 3 may be too long and risked losing me at several noticeable junctures. There is also the impossible to ignore dichotomy created by loading a game with side adventures and a fairly urgent main story, which is becoming a more and more common problem as open world games become increasingly popular. Look, I wanted to save Ciri as much as anyone, but this Gwent Tournament isn’t going to win itself (Gwent!).
Batman: Arkham Knight
After finishing Arkham Origins, I felt that the next Arkham game was going to have to do a lot more to make it a game as special as the first two. Arkham Knight fell comfortably short of this lofty standard. I enjoyed the Batmobile far more than I expected (I expected to hate it and never use it). Driving around Gotham City felt pretty nice and it added another tool to be used to make Riddler trophy collecting more interesting. I liked how this game handled its open world optional content compared to most other open world games, though in practice, completing them became quite repetitive. There really wasn’t much that I disliked about this game, but it had nothing that made it a revelation like the first two games were and all truly great games should be.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V is a game that I’m afraid I’m not creative enough to get the most out of. I approached every mission as stealthily as possible, but Metal Gear is not-so-secretly at its best when played poorly. The game is loaded with tools and interactions begging to be toyed with, but I stuck to my comfort zone and as a result, had few memorable moments while playing it. I don’t fault the game for this. The beauty of this game is that it doesn’t tell you how to play (though some of the bonus objectives certainly nudge you in a direction if your inclination is to complete them), so while it could have encouraged or even forced more variety, it’s probably better that it didn’t. I even think its asynchronous multiplayer is actually great. It is complicated and unnecessary enough that I ignored it until I was robbed overnight, and the feeling of violation that I experienced was among the strongest emotions I felt toward a game this year. I had to retaliate (and failed miserably) and learn how to set up my defenses so it didn’t happen again (or at least make it more difficult). Even though I didn’t spend much time participating in the multiplayer, I admired its subtle brilliance, and am glad that it’s not entirely optional.
I expected Bloodborne to be more than just another Souls game. On the one hand, it’s a strong formula that no one else has even tried to copy (despite “like Dark Souls” becoming as common a descriptor for games as “like Game of Thrones” was in in television). It’s still fun and forced me to play differently from how I played the previous three Souls games, but did not differentiate itself enough for me to not feel like I was playing just another Souls game.
Life is Strange
Life is Strange took me by surprise. Most of the games I chose to play from 2015 were known quantities to me, and as such, not terribly exciting plays. Then I watched a playthrough of the first hour or so of Life is Strange and knew I had to play it. While the game itself isn’t too much of a departure from Telltale’s adventure game formula, I like the format and the story had me hooked. It was far and away the most invested in a game in 2015 and for that, wins game of the year for me.