2015 turned out to be a pretty good year for video games. As we approach the end of the year, it's natural to reflect back on all the games we played over the past 12 calendar months. This week, we've done just that. Here's a list of our coverage:
Today we wrap up with this year's best games. As an independent site, our staff can't play all the major games that come out in a year. So, instead of selecting just one game of the year, we talk about a handful of our favorites.
Life Is Strange - A new teen drama that still manages to resonate with this Gen X’er. Max, the main character, is a Polaroid otaku. She's a won’t-be-bullied shoegazer. She writes punchy diaries along the way. Life Is Strange mashes together the best of teen drama, yet bends into unique sci-fi shapes. No game this year gave me more moments than this one.
Journey (PS4) - I’m late to the party with Journey. Regardless, I’m here now. It’s mine and my five-year-old’s favorite game to play hotseat. She loves ascending the tower of light, I love pushing us through the snow. The smile on her face during that final, bright, triumphal flight up the mountain makes every playthrough worth it. For Halloween she dressed up as a “Journey Girl,” as she called it. And when she draws little-kid pictures of Mom and Dad and her, she draws all of us in embroidered robes with long scarves.
Fallout 4 - A workman’s role-playing game if ever there was one. Fallout 4 taps into several idealized versions of myself. Like the version of me with a blue-collar approach to diligent upcycling. My hard-bitten do-it-yourself project coordinator. And the part of me that not only makes do, but makes better. Again, I'm not that person. That’s the person I wish I was. Fallout 4 lets me live vicariously. The learning curve—from surviving to thriving—is as important as finding my kidnapped son. No one said I was a good parent.
Destiny: The Taken King - I should be putting this under "Biggest Surprise." Given all the issues Bungie dealt with for Year One of Destiny, The Taken King is everything I had hoped and more. The story makes far more sense. The new game modes are outstanding. Drop rates improved enough to where it isn't a hassle to grind. And the game looks beautiful as ever. I've lost a huge chunk of time playing The Taken King and I don't regret any of it.
Ori and the Blind Forest - This was one of those titles I had heard little about before it landed in my lap to review. Sometimes it's best to have little to no knowledge of a game, allowing it to mesmerize you simply as a fan of gaming. Ori and the Blind Forest did just that to me. The world is incredible. And the challenges that come with it range from obvious to suicidal. I can't tell you how many times I killed poor Ori, but I keep going back just to enjoy the environment, music, and challenge.
Rise of the Tomb Raider - I could have gone a few different directions with this one. But I'm going to give the nod to Ms. Croft's second post-reboot adventure. Rise of the Tomb Raider is everything that I enjoyed from the first adventure, turned up to 11. More side missions and hidden tombs. Harder puzzles to decipher. A more intuitive leveling and skill-crafting system. It all makes for an amazing experience. I was skeptical with the reboot, but I'm at the point where Rebooted Lara now trumps Original Lara.
Xenoblade Chronicles X - I’m not even that big a fan of JRPGs or turn-based combat, but the sheer scope and depth of this game is nothing short of head-snapping. The lore is Tolkien-esque. The deep gameplay strikes a balance between leveling and exploration, though the combat gets grindy at times. For heaven's sake, it has both on-foot and giant-mecha exploration. It’s intimidating at first, but Xenoblade Chronicles X is set in such an immersive world that you’ll want to get lost in it. You'll lose countless hours in the process. This is the first RPG I've played that actually feels like a planet. There's a massive world that you could fit Skyrim into five times over. And it’s not bland procedurally generated tedium either. Mira is a lovingly, expertly crafted world spanning continents and climates. It's brimming with a diverse ecosystem of fascinating—and dangerous—creatures. No game has ever realized a truly alien world like this before. Nintendo might have had a bare 2015 but they saved the best for last.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D - I know it’s a remake of a 15-year-old game. But the portability and gameplay improvements make Majora feel fresher than ever. I’ve tried replaying Majora before on the Virtual Console but always lost interest. On 3DS, however, I couldn’t put it down. Majora’s Mask is one of the weirder entries in the Zelda series but the disturbing, thought-provoking story, three-day time travel mechanic, and upgraded side quest tracking make it more enjoyable than ever.
Mortal Kombat X - MKX is my personal selection of game of the year. Netherrealm Studios knocked it out of the park. This game has pretty much everything players could have hoped for in terms of single and multiplayer content. It has raised the bar for fighting games.
Super Mario Maker - Hello? It is a make-your-own Mario game. Does anything else need to be said? Nintendo crafted an amazing game that is as easy to use as it is fun to play. This turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving in my household, with an endless stream of content and fun.
Rocket League - I don’t think that this is something that anyone saw coming. Rocket League has taken the video game world by storm, and rightfully so. It is a simple concept that provides an absolutely fantastic experience. It's as fun to spectate as it is to play.
Life Is Strange - I love being told an amazing story. This game took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions from start to finish. This is my game of the year.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - I sunk so many hours into this. A great game with a great story.
Earth Defense Force 4.1 - Never played any of these games before but I am addicted to this one. It's like one of those "so bad it's amazing" b-movies.
Tales of Zestiria - For the record, I’ve barely played any of the previous Tales Of games. My thoughts are based on this game only, and so far I’m enjoying it. The combat takes some getting used to, and there are a couple of things that perplex me. Like, why doesn't the map mark your current objective until you’re already in the same area as it is? But the graphics and music are good, and I enjoy the conversations among the characters.
Super Mario Maker - I’m not creative when it comes to making levels. The only one I’ve posted is a remake of 1-1 from Super Mario Land. I have more fun playing other people's levels and seeing how much hair I have left on my head after doing a 100 Mario Challenge on hard difficulty. If you’re into level creation, there are a lot of different options available. You can make just about any Mario stage you want. Just give us more suit functionality from Super Mario Bros. 3 and I’ll be set.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward - An expansion pack as a game of the year selection? Yup. Easily. I can't think of a single game I fell more in love with. A recent patch added more content for me to get lost in. The revised presentation makes you feel like a major player in a growing story—and it's a story full of twists and turns. If you enjoy MMORPGs, there is no reason not to play Final Fantasy XIV.
Splatoon - This is one of those games that I had no expectations of whatsoever. I didn't even bother picking it up until well after launch. Once I got into this game, though, I was hard pressed to stop. The revolving map system and content drops keep the experience fresh. It pulls me back in every few weeks. This is a must-play game for the Wii U. The only bummer is the required net connection to get the most out of the game. But the single-player campaign is meaty enough to make it worth the price of admission.
Fallout 4 - My favorite game this year. My Steam already counts over 120 hours of playtime. Bethesda shows yet again its expertise in crafting immersive worlds. The range of gameplay improvements over previous Fallout games, not to mention the graphics overhaul, make for the best Fallout yet. I'm eagerly awaiting next year's modding tools.
Life Is Strange - One of the best narratives this year, along with two of my favorite new characters: Max and Chloe. While the ending wasn't what I had hoped for, the journey was worth it. I'll be playing again to experience all the choices I didn't pick in my first playthrough.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Rarely does a game come along that blows everyone's minds and expectations like The Witcher 3. The Witcher 2 was an interesting exercise in video game storytelling. It put a twist on the fantasy tropes of every other sword-and-sorcery anything ever. That was as much thought as I put into it, though. So, when The Witcher 3 came along and everyone was losing their minds, I thought that maybe people just hadn't played The Witcher 2. Nope. The Wild Hunt is incredible. One of the most finely crafted games ever made.
Fallout 4 - This was a strange game for me. I am a big time Elder Scrolls fan, but Fallout 3 didn't sink its claws into me. I dislike Fallout: New Vegas to this day. As such, I was one of, apparently, very few people who weren't on board the hype train for Fallout 4. I gave in, of course, and I enjoyed it a lot. I still think it has problems. It's not a perfect game by any means but it's a fun one. In a way, it's the opposite of The Witcher 3—Fallout 4 isn't as well put together, but more chaotic and improvisational, and sometimes just more fun.
Star Wars Battlefront - I admit it: I love Battlefront. I also admit, however, that I am a total Star Wars fanboy. I understand the complaints about Battlefront being too light on content. I understand the outrage at what is, essentially, a $120 price tag. But what I can't deny is how much fun it is. Battlefront is one of the most immaculately crafted shooters the world has ever seen. There may be only a handful of maps, but those maps are so authentic and Star Wars-y that I can't help but love them. And on top of that, I do think it's a good game. Not the best. But one of my favorites of the year.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - The Metal Gear series hasn't been easy to get into for a lot of people. But they're a ton of fun if you can, in fact, get into them. This fifth and final Metal Gear from Kojima is a lot more accessible than his previous. And it's still fun. You can play your way. Whether your approach is stealthy or guns, guns, guns, The Phantom Pain doesn't punish you for doing what you want to do. The game also evolves as you play, counteracting your preferred mission approach. It doesn't make it impossible to do what you want, but it makes it harder. It encourages you to try new methods, which makes the game less monotonous the more you play. Kojima also did the right thing and cut down on his usual long cut scenes. He got almost everything right on this one.
Cities: Skylines - The city sim is back. Paradox Interactive gives city simulation fans what they really want: Offline single player, large maps, and freedom of design. Cities: Skylines is what SimCity should have been. A lot of people are making mods for the game as well. Cities: Skylines shows you there's a formula you should stick to for certain games—and sales, as well as high praise, will come if you do.
Fallout 4 - It may have a lackluster story. The choices may be lacking compared to the previous games. But there's still a ton to do in Bethesda's latest open-world RPG. As I continue past the end game, I'm realizing that the side quests are the real stars. There are so many great little stories and events that you stumble on. It really brings Boston to life. Couple that with the usefulness of every item in the world, the great art design, and the improved first-person gameplay, and you've got a game that I just can't stop playing. That's good, because there's so much to find that makes me smile. Unlike my resolution with Shaun.
Fallout 4 - The only thing missing for me is New Vegas's Hardcore Mode. Otherwise it's the runaway winner for game of the year. I understand the criticisms people have. I realize there's no leeway to create evil or chaotic characters. But I've always been a lawful good type player, so that doesn't bother me. The thing about Fallout 4 that makes me realize how good it is, is that even in my first playthrough I'm thinking about my second one.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft - I was close to giving up on Hearthstone. The community is the most deplorable cast of unsavory opponents I've ever come across. I experience more instances of bad manners on Hearthstone than in all other games I play combined. Yet Tavern Brawl completely reinvigorated my interest. There is just enough random number generation to smash a lot of ignorant superiority reflex responses that plaugue the other game modes.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt - I only have one game of the year. The Witcher 3 consumed so much of my life in 2015. It crowded out most of the other games on my plate. It's a perfect storm of great writing, fantastic gameplay, and near-perfect open-world exploration. I spent 160 hours in Wild Hunt (180 if I include the first expansion pack). That's something I've never done in a single-player game. It helps that CD Projekt RED released a ton of free downloadable content. They also keep releasing significant patches well after launch. This is the best game I played all year. It has even replaced Half-Life 2 as my favorite game of all time.
If you have different favorite games of the year, tell us about it in the comments. You're not going to let Fallout 4 and Life Is Strange get away with the most nominations, are you?