Game Of The Year 2015: Stu's Picks

If you may recall from my 2014 list, I bemoaned what a poor year it was for games and the industry as a whole. Well, I think that 2015 was much better! Less controversy, not as much gamergate nonsense (at least not so prevalent). There are of course still some underlying issues with the industry and those around it. I would like to see games journalism evolve and mature still. See it become less of an arm of marketing and more like traditional journalism.

Overall though, 2015 was better where it matters: the games.

Now that the two consoles have become established there was a much broader release of games. Not forgetting PC of course, which is still ticking along with flight simulators and spreadsheets!

Personally I certainly played more games than I did last year, although I don’t have published stats to back it up (sorry Rob!). When I sat down and began to think about putting my list together, I realised I was struggling somewhat. I think this was in part due to having played lots of remakes or remasters of older games and episodic titles that began in 2014 but ended in 2015. With that in mind, some of my entries will be accompanied by small caveats.

So please: read on, enjoy and let us know which games made your top list this year!

7 – Heroes of the Storm

Trust Blizzard to get everything they touch right! Granted the MOBA genre was basically invented via Warcraft III but with DOTA resting with Valve, Heroes of the Storm was Blizzard's return to this popular and highly competitive genre.

My entry point for MOBAs was League of Legends (I tried DOTA 2 but I didn’t like it, it felt too “busy” to me) HotS took everything I liked from LoL and removed everything I didn’t, making for a much more accessible and refined experience. Some of the tweaks include removing the in-game store used to buy power-ups; I found this store was a huge cause of the negative community surrounding LoL and closely associated with MOBAs in general. HotS removes this in favour of a more traditional RPG/MMO skill tree, which in turns makes for less people complaining at me for buying the wrong items!

HotS also shifts the focus away from individual players and their kill ratio and pushes team based objectives to the forefront of being successful. This is another factor that tends to make games with strangers a lot more pleasant than in other MOBAs. You are forced to be a good teammate to be victorious; It is not a viable tactic to be a lone wolf in this game.

The fact it features characters I am familiar with from a plethora of Blizzard titles (Jim Raynor for life!) also made it that much more appealing to me. I still need to try out the two player controlled character Cho'Gall, though.

Overall HotS features all the glitz and production values you would expect from Blizzard and is an all-round entertaining package.

Go download it now!

6 – Game of Thrones

If winter is coming then the Forrester family are in for a blizzard in Telltale's foray into the world of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” (yes I have read the books, because I am cool).

I can’t really go into too much detail here about this game as it follows the standard Telltale formula where each decision you make leads to a different outcome. It's also obviously very story driven so I would not like to unintentionally spoil anything for those who have not yet played it. I can however say that this time around decisions did seem a bit more meaningful even if (as Tom mentions) they tend to lead to bad outcomes. This is Game of Thrones after all!

I can say though that I found this game fairly solid and bug free (Telltale games are generally bug ridden in my experience) and the graphics are presented with a nice painterly effect. It also features all the actors from the TV series reprising their roles in voice form and none of them phone it in. So, if you ever wanted to cross wits with Cersei or share some wine with Tyrion then this is the game for you. As with everything related to this franchise though, just don’t get too attached to anyone!

Earl did a sexy article discussing Game of Thrones a little while back. Check it!

Caveat Alert!! Episode 1 of Game of Thrones was released in 2014 whilst the remaining 5 were released in 2015.

5 – Destiny: The Taken King

Who remembers my 2014 list where I included Destiny? In which I said that I enjoyed my time with it, but I would not play it again. If only there were some kind of archive, or repository of awesome information which included fun articles and silly podcasts. Damn it Jim! I am a Doctor, it’s just not possible. Oh wait, there is, it’s called!

Make like Marty McFly to 2015 and here it is, back on my list - At number 5!

Destiny will forever be a divisive game, especially now that they have added microtransactions. Even Bob, who loves microtransactions must balk at the latest addition, you can pay 25 quid to automatically get to the highest level.

Wow, for a game that has made my list and at number 5 no less I sound quite negative about it so far! Joking aside, I liked Destiny from day one, it is a nice looking game with solid gunplay, it was just quite lacking in other regards. Quite repetitive and shallow in places. But again great fun, which is why I included it last year despite its shortcomings.

With the release of The Taken King in 2015 Bungee finally launched the game they intended. Whether you are in the camp thinking they should have done that day one, or someone who is just happy to see a game be supported and evolve there is no question that the improvements in Taken King make it worthwhile returning to. It added more content, more structure, more story. It also replaced Peter Dinklage with Nolan North doing a Peter Dinklage impression. Inception!

Beneath the additions the core gameplay remained as good as ever. Say what you want about Destiny, it is one of the most fun and satisfying shooters on the market and I am happy that The Taken King pulled me back in for a second go around!

Caveat Alert!! Destiny is obviously not a 2015 game but The Taken King is so expansive that it is practically a new game and worthy of addition to my list.

4 – Tales from the Borderlands

Aside from The Walking Dead I used to quite dislike Telltale games. Then sometime last year I got a little obsessed with them and bought them all and devoured them like a monkey on crack. I still hate the early 3D ones though! Out of all them, however, Tales from the Borderlands is my favourite by absolute miles.

Tales is a legitimately funny game whilst at times insanely emotional. It features another great performance by Troy Baker as the lead Rhys and in a nice touch he is later joined by Ashley Johnson so you can pretend that you are playing the further adventures of Joel and Ellie (fun fact, did you know that Ashley Johnson was the little girl in the Jean Claude Van Damme film A.W.O.L, or Lionheart for our American cousins).

The game features some tender and emotive moments, usually underscored by a beautiful song or a nice piece of music. It probably has some of the least impactful choices featured in a Telltale game but the overall story and experience more than makes up for that.

These days I am not even a huge fan of the Borderlands franchise so it is very telling what a great job was done here to make me love it so much. If anything, Borderlands is more suited to this type of genre with its outlandish environments and crazy characters. It really lets the story shine.

Caveat Alert!! Much like Game of Thrones, Tales was started in 2014 but concluded with the majority of its episodes in 2015.

3 – Rocket League

What a phenomenon Rocket League has become! So many fun hours and sessions with the GoPlayThat crew and beyond.

Rocket League is gaming perfection. It is fun, accessible and quick. Easy to pick up, difficult to master. It is also exciting just to watch, which is why it is quickly becoming an eSports powerhouse.

Since it released for free on PlayStation Plus I have been keen to show my support for such a lovingly crafted and fun game by purchasing every single DLC pack released, I never even read what they contain before buying, I just drop the cash to show my support!

Even developer Psyonix was not prepared for the popularity of their game (which is actually a sequel to the overlooked Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars) and its success is really a testament to what a huge push PlayStation Plus can give to smaller games and teams. This surprise was evident in the fact it had a slightly rocky launch and server issues as they were overloaded by tens of thousands of eager fans of the game - a much higher number than they had anticipated.

With the fast five minute matches Rocket League is perfect for quick or long sessions with friends or strangers in between more serious gaming sessions. There is always time for a few matches before bed!

Currently exclusive to PS4 and PC, Rocket League is scheduled for release on Xbox One, although that will have no cross platform play - which could potentially impact its longevity on that platform.

It is quite redundant to say go out and get this game as any sane person already has. If you don’t, then take your medication and download it today!

2 – Bloodborne & The Old Hunters DLC

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the Souls franchise and any of its offshoots. I own at least 3 copies of Demon’s Souls: Original import from Japan, Collector’s Edition from the US, and the standard Dark Phantom release from Europe. With its tough but rewarding challenge, subtle but deep and interesting lore and the unique and otherworldly characters, I have been hooked since day one. Each game in the series has such a foreboding atmosphere and a general sense of hopelessness which just permeates from the screen.

It is therefore no surprise that I love Bloodborne, I have probably sunk a couple of hundred hours into it by now, and I have collected everything, I have achieved 100% in the main game and the Old Hunters DLC. I am currently around level 260 and I have no intention of stopping any time soon. I am basically acting now as a hunter for hire for any friends trying to get through the game.

Bloodborne will be very familiar to longtime fans of the Souls franchise but it does change things up quite fundamentally. Demon’s and Dark are both quite defensive games, relying on heavy armour, shields with the player slowly and carefully progressing through the game. Bloodborne is a different beast (haha), because as a fast hunter of Yharnam you take the fight to your enemies. There is no turtling in this game, in fact you are rewarded by always attacking. If you have taken damage, you have a short window to get your health back by attacking your foes. On a personal level, whilst still challenging, I found Bloodborne to be the most accessible and “easy” entry into the franchise.

Boy, did The Old Hunters change that though.

Old Hunters is rock solid. By the time I got round to playing it I was on NG+5 and level 260. I was a pro in other words. But the challenge of Old Hunters hit me like a ton of bricks. I spent about 3-4 hours and lost a few million Blood Echoes before I had even encountered the first boss. There were just so many things out to get you in the new areas. There was not a second to breathe. But it was so enjoyable, and such great value for money. Not just for the new area, enemies, lore and bosses but the new weapons and items which are all so fantastic. I am now thoroughly enjoying going back through the base game and the Chalice Dungeons trying out all the new weapons. You can use a gigantic gatling gun for Pete’s sake. Shut up, Pete.

By all rights Bloodborne should be my number 1 game. It really should, I have put so many hours into it and loved every second even when I was close to crying and giving up and smashing my TV. I loved it. I will continue to play it until Dark Souls 3 is released as I do not believe they intend to release any more DLC which makes me a sad panda. However, it is not my number 1, which is a testament to how much of an impact the next game had on me this year.

Dun dun dun…

1 – Life is Strange

What a shock right?

I think I mentioned a few times that I enjoyed Life is Strange. Wait, that is an understatement. Life is Strange is not only the best game I have played this year, it may well be my favourite game of all time.

Quite the statement. Why is that, you ask?

Life is Strange is certainly not a revolutionary game, in fact it quite closely follows the same formula as many Telltale games, two of which are already featured on my list. Why then did I love Life is Strange so much?

It just resonated with me so much. The music, my god the music. Beautiful. The setting, the art direction. The characters. The choices. The gameplay. I loved it all. It had much more meaningful consequences than most Telltale games. But is also let you choose small, inconsequential things. Do I want to listen to Bright Eyes as I wake up, or alt-J? Do I want waffles or bacon and eggs for breakfast?

I won’t talk at length here about Life is Strange as I have already covered most of it here and I would not want to risk spoiling this for anyone else.

Outside of the game itself, developer Dontnod have embraced the fans and community that have built up around this experience and are very open and communicative with them. They have created a forever fan in me and I will buy anything they make day one. No questions asked.

Just look at this YouTube video from one of the songs featured in the game. Over 1 million views and most of the comments are referencing Life is Strange. It is a testament to the impact this game has had on those who played it.

Dontnod and publisher Square-Enix recently announced the game will release in a physical Limited Edition early next year, so if you have not purchased the game yet I would highly recommend making this purchase. I know I will be buying it again just to own it physically.

Thanks for the feels, Life is Strange!   

Honourable Mention

Assassins Creed Syndicate

I am only a few hours into playing the latest Assassin's Creed game, so there is no way I can feature it in my list but so far it is pointing to being a massive return to form for the series. It is too early for me to call it the best entry (Black Flag is a monster to beat!) but so far it seems to have corrected everything wrong with the series, which culminated in the slight fiasco that was Unity.

I think that this is what, the 100th entry in the series right? And for the first time I actually feel like an assassin. There is some degree of stealth and freedom in how to approach targets. I am not talking Hitman levels but it is a move in the right direction. The characters are likable, which to me is vital to enjoying an Assassin's Creed game. The setting is great (although I am probably biased) and it looks great without the countless issues that plagued Unity.

One funny side note, I think Unity, which is based in France, accidentally featured better English accents than Syndicate, which is based of course in Victorian London.

My recommendation with Syndicate then is whether you feel you may have fatigue from this franchise or not, you should give it a shot. I think you will be nicely surprised!