I’ve been accused of being obsessed with the new. Mostly this is in regard to how I am always trying out new albums on Rdio, to the point that it seems like I never go back and listen to anything more than a year old. It’s a fair accusation, I mean I really don’t spend much time at all listening to classic rock or catching up on movies from the fifties or marathoning important TV shows (that aren’t made by Joss Whedon or part of the Star Trek universe). Video games are a little different. While I still have a vast backlog of games that I’ll probably never catch up with, games are such a heavy time investment that I will go back for them. Last year I went back and played a lot of 2013’s Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins, among countless other old PC games that I picked up on sale and dipped my toes into.
My point is that unless this is your job, it’s really hard to try to play every game that matters. I don’t know how people do it, because I don’t have an especially busy social life and I still would be exhausted to try to get more than a couple of hours of gaming in on a weekday. So yeah, even though it’s almost February I still have barely touched Divinity: Original Sin, I’m still shooting my way through the early stages of Far Cry 4, and while I own Alien: Isolation, I’ve never even booted it up. Will I get to these games? I hope so. I hope I get to play them and many other great games of 2014 that I didn’t try out yet. Until that time, however, here are the 10 games I liked the most that I actually played last year.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Wolfenstein: The New Order
It’s set in a facsimile of Seattle! Those three honorable mentions are all probably better than Infamous Second Son, but I bet I played this game more. I beat it twice, after all. And let me tell you, if there’s one thing about this game that I think people will have forgotten, it’s the performances. Not all the characters are great in Second Son, but I really liked our hero Delsin, his brother Reggie, the misunderstood Fetch, and antagonist Augustine, who I think deserved more development. In a game that’s all about being a super hero in the big city near my hometown, it would have been easy to phone the story in, but the Infamous franchise has consistently not done that. Respect.
I bought Mario Kart 8 on the day I graduated from college again, so it was always going to have a special place in my memory. Really this is just a super fun racing game that Nintendo has thus far supported with some pretty great DLC. It’s awesome. But you know that, so instead I’d like to talk about the little guys. Where’s Birdo? Where’s Boo? Where’s that wizard guy? Why the hell is this game full on Bowser clones when there are other villains that Nintendo could have used? Yeah, I said it. Others may have said it before me, and better than me. But now my voice joins them and we form a beautiful chorus.
I’ve never said that Call of Duty just needed to add giant robots and wall-running because that has always seemed totally obvious to me. Everything should add that. But, even though I can’t claim I always said they should do it, I can definitely say I’m glad it has been done. The only thrill greater than dropping a mech out of space right onto of your enemy is climbing onto their mech, ripping it open with your bare hands and shooting it until it explodes. This is a fun game that I wish more people were still playing. I wish I was still playing it, too, but I got distracted by…
No, I get it, Destiny‘s kind of a bad game. There are some ways in which it could obviously be improved and Bungie has slow to do anything about them. But, despite the fact that the story is hard to follow and loot is not nearly as meaningful and diverse as it should be, I keep coming back. Destiny is a game that makes the grind fun, thanks to a just-barely-diverse-enough set of enemies and some very, very solid shooting mechanics. It doesn’t hurt that technically and artistically the game looks great and has one of the best musical scores of the year. Destiny came out in September and I was just playing it earlier today. I’ve got a problem.
The awkward moments when the camera flies between Bayonetta’s legs or focuses on her butt are worth it when the rest of the game is this fun to play. This is a spectacle fighter that is fun to play whether you mash buttons or memorize combos, thanks to the fact that combat is Bayonetta 2 rewards timing and strategy more than the sheer ability to input commands. Plus it helps that it’s set in a bizarre, uniquely Japanese world in which people do things like kick flying fighter jets out of their way and you’re in for a good time. Add on to that some goofy Nintendo costumes, and you’ve got a surprisingly replayable game. Then you add the first game in for free and you’ve got a package damn near every Wii U owner should have.
That game that made owning a Ouya not 100% stupid finally came out on PC last year, and yeah, it’s as good as I heard it was. Towerfall Ascension is all about jumping and shooting your friends, which sounds really simple but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Especially with Smash Bros. not coming out until practically the end of the year, we really needed something like Towerfall Ascension. It had some fun non-competitive stuff too, like some really fun challenges and a mode where you and a friend can fight off waves of enemies. Good stuff.
This probably should be higher, but my damn friends haven’t been over enough to play this with me yet. Plus Nintendo needs to be punished for not bringing back Solid Snake, my main dude. But they also need to be praised for all the awesome things they did, like creating a peripheral specifically for this game that allows us to play with old-ass GameCube controllers and take the game up to eight players, which is absolute madness. I still miss having a meaningful singleplayer option, but this is a multiplayer franchise this is easily the best offering for that purpose in series history. Let’s hope it gets even better in 2015 as Nintendo announces whatever its DLC strategy is.
Remember how I already really liked what I played of Diablo III? The Reaper of Souls expansion made it so much better. Say what you will about re-balancing item drops, removing the auction house, adding seasonal content – that’s great stuff, sure – what really impressed me was how Blizzard remade grinding into something fun with the new Adventure Mode. That’s some genius-level shit, the kind of which made me level each class up to the cap. And that new Crusader class? She’s my favorite and my new main character. Thanks, Reaper of Souls, for making a good game great and taking away so many hours of my life.
I ignored Hearthstone for a long time based on the idea that it was (a) an online-only competitive multiplayer game and (b) a collectible card game. I don’t typically like those things. Then it came out of beta about a year ago and I tried it and immediately became addicted. Blizzard really outdid itself on this game, making matches go just long enough, leaving the cards just balanced enough, designing the mechanics just simple enough that everything is so welcoming to genre newcomers like myself. Add in that additional level of polish (the interactive boards, the cool effects when powerful cards are played) and you have a game that’s irresistible. Best of all? It’s a free-to-play game that you can actually get into without dropping a single cent.
It took me 97 hours just to finish Dragon Age: Inquisition. Despite my preamble to this list, that means I could have played through a whole bunch of games if I hadn’t loved this one so much. But the fact is I love Bioware games, I love the Dragon Age franchise, and this might be the best example of both. This is a fantasy video game that is willing to deal with issues like racial prejudice, gender identity, homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination in an intelligent way without ever forgetting that first and foremost it is still a video game.