My 2014 was spent primarily on getting back to my roots in terms of video games. Role-playing games defined my childhood and as I get older, I’m finding that they are the only titles I really care about these days. Do what you love, right?
10. Telltale's Game of Thrones
When I heard that Telltale was taking a stab at the Song of Ice and Fire, I knew right away that I would love whatever came of their efforts. Telltale’s Game of Thrones accurately captures the drama and suspense that we’ve come to expect from George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic. As a gamer I’ve battled mighty wizards and giant mecha, but I’ve never felt so at risk for my own safety as trying to defend myself and my family against Cersei Lannister’s icy stare. The game does an excellent job of putting you in the boots of a noble of Westeros, and sweet Lord of Light are those some intriguing boots to be in.
Supergiant’s Transistor takes a pause-and-play approach to the action RPG genre that successfully mashes up your usual isometric clickfest and a more thought out pseudo-turn based system. On paper, I wouldn’t have imagined these two genres could be so well combined, but I’ll be damned if Transistor didn’t impress me. The game’s beautiful art, engaging score, and unique approach to storytelling didn’t hurt either.
8. Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire
I never thought that a Pokemon game could beat the original Hoenn titles, until Pokemon X & Y came out last year and absolutely blew me away. Then they did the unthinkable: they combined my new beau with my original Hoenn favorites. I’ll admit to having a pretty firm bias here, being a huge Pokemon fan since day one, but the franchise was in something of a lull until last year, and while Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire may not have much to offer new fans of the series that X and Y didn’t already provide, they are successful throwbacks for anyone looking to relive the Shiny Groudon days of their youth.
7. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-Earth really needed some new blood, and I’m not talking hobbits-in-barrels “new blood,” I’m talking an entirely fresh exploration of the world that Tolkien created so long ago. Talion’s journey from Ranger of Gondor to uruk-possessing, head-exploding, nightmare examines why anyone besides a good-hearted hobbit having the powers of the ring is an entirely bad idea, which is a genius subject for an action game. Not only does Shadow of Mordor build upon the immensely satisfying gameplay mechanics originally seen in the Arkham titles, it also introduces a unique enemy architecture with which players get to play with the uruk power struggles predominant throughout Mordor using stealth, swordplay, and possession. I loved it from beginning to end.
6. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
It has been a lifetime since I bothered with any manner of card game besides Magic: the Gathering. There have been several new attempts at the throne, both physical and digital, but Hearthstone really sets itself apart with its immediate accessibility and high-quality of play. All too often, digital CCGs will adhere too strictly to physical limitations, trying to imitate their predecessors without making much effort to explore the possibilities of what the digital platform has to offer, but Blizzard knows what they’re doing in terms of bringing the thrill of strategic card games into the limitless world of video games. Bright, fun, and challenging, Hearthstone doesn’t just change up the game, it sets a precedent for what a digital CCG can be. I’m excited to see where Hearthstone goes.
5. Tales from the Borderlands
In stark contrast to my high expectations for Game of Thrones, I couldn’t for the life of me have imagined that Gear Box’s Borderlands had anything worthwhile to offer in the form of a narrative-based adventure game. Telltale proved me wrong by doing what they do best: respecting their subject matter. Not only did Tales of the Borderlands breathe a little more life into the world of Pandora, it had me rolling on the floor with laughter so often that on occasion I would stop to catch a breath only to realize that my character had died some gruesome death in my absence of sense. Where Game of Thrones did exactly what I had hoped it would, Tales from the Borderlands drastically surpassed my expectations.
4. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
The original release of Diablo III was...bad. It was really bad. Unplayable, in fact. There were so many little errors at the design level that we were basically playing in a house built on rotten beams. I never suspected that in 2014 I would be spending months of my time playing the game’s expansion, losing myself in that same loot fueled euphoria that it’s predecessors had always put me in. Blizzard did so much to clean up what was originally a flop, skyrocketing Diablo III into a place of respect more deserving of its pedigree, that I sometimes have to remind myself that this is real. Talk about a comeback story!
3. Divinity: Original Sin
It’s always nice when the games you expect to be good really deliver. It’s even better when what you think is going to fail, actually succeeds. I didn’t even know that Divinity: Original Sin existed in any fashion until my brother bought it on Steam and commanded that I play it. This is the RPG that fans of the old Infinity-engine titles, like the original Baldur’s Gate, have been waiting for. Taking all of what we loved from those games and throwing in an almost overwhelming amount of amazing new mechanics, Original Sin is far-and-away the ultimate sleeper hit of 2014. It surprised me at every turn and never disappointed.
2. Bravely Default
Similar to what Original Sin did for isometric western RPGs, Bravely Default harkens back to my days of almost exclusively playing Square Enix titles. The Japanese RPG market has been stale for years now, to the point that the rabid JRPG fanboy I once was had all but died. Then enter Bravely Default at the beginning of last year. You’ve got beautiful graphics, a fun cast of characters, a world to save, and a complex battle system that you can experiment with ad infinitum. There is a damn airship. Essentially, Bravely Default encapsulates everything I wish I could still find in video games, and in RPGs in particular.
1. Dragon Age: Inquisition
People have their gripes with Inquisition, understandably. Apparently BioWare’s approach to open world gameplay is creating several points on multiple giant maps and telling you to walk to all of them. Disappointing given the franchise’s history of rich and immersive worlds. And yet, in its core quests, Dragon Age: Inquisition delivers a powerful narrative, full of tough choices, fun gameplay, and the return of some of the series’ most beloved characters. With the entire history of the world built on the choices you made in the previous games, Inquisition essentially has limitless replay value in its narrative, something that I personally find not only jaw dropping, but unique in a medium that refuses to maximize its potential for immersive storytelling. Inquisition has its hiccups, but there isn’t another game that even resembles it anywhere on the market today. I’ll still be playing this one in years to come.
Article by: Jeff Ellis