What a year this has been. I can barely remember the last time I sat myself down to do one of these lists and had to narrow down to ten from a list of over twenty that could each have made a solid argument for the top spots. Before I begin, I want to throw out a few special mentions that didn’t make the list due to personal disqualification but definitely had a severe impact on me this year.
Dota 2 Reborn: Valve’s world-dominating MOBA got a huge face-lift this year, with a completely new client and a bunch of additional features. And the new patches have been throwing the meta into a frenzy.
Diablo 3: Blizzard have supported this game far and above expectations, throwing out new, incredibly fun content patches every few months. It’s amazing that this game is still changing regularly, and for no cost to the consumer at all.
Borderlands: The Handsome Collection / Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin: Two games I absolutely adore and dropped a lot of time into this year. Neither are 2015 releases, but if you were to tally my total time spent in each game I played this year, these two would be up there, alongside Diablo 3.
Destiny: The Taken King: Where do I even start? After a year of arguable early-access, The Taken King finally transformed Destiny into a video game worth investing time into. So much so that I added it to my running Game of the Year list almost immediately, I was that impressed. And then Bungie and Activision did what they do best. Introduction of micro-transactions and assurance they’d be purely cosmetic. Introduction of a game mode people have wanted since day one that will only be live for three weeks. Announcement that they’re binning content packs in favour of temporary events. Introduction of a new micro-transaction that is not only not cosmetic, but pretty much acts as an admission that their early game grind is an utter bag of badly-designed crap. Long story, short: I took it off my list pretty hastily after that last thing happened, but I wanted to give it a shout out anyway, because it sucks that I hate it again. Also, the fact that they still haven’t tuned raids for optional 3-player fireteams is a sick freaking joke.
And now onto the Top 10 list!
10. Blood Bowl 2 / Cyanide Studios
Blood Bowl is a game I’ve enjoyed playing since my teens. In those days (so long ago!), we had to buy miniatures, which we painted and then played with ever-so-carefully. The time it took to set up a game back then was lengthy, and the arguments over the rules came thick and fast. In 2009, Cyanide Studios released a very competent video game adaptation of Blood Bowl to glorious fanfare worldwide. It made the game so much easier to play in a multitude of ways, and I invested well over 100 hours into it. At that point I thought I was done with Blood Bowl, but like chess, some games are just going to be good forever, and with a few polishes in the right places, Blood Bowl 2 has reinvested me back into that crazy Warhammer Fantasy meets American Football meets Fantasy Sports meets Management Sim.
9. Bloodborne / From Software
My predilection towards From Software games is well known. I fell in love with Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, and Dark Souls 2 in a way that video games have never really gotten out of me before. So it was with great anticipation that I awaited the release of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s latest masochistic adventure, Bloodborne. Unfortunately, that reverence and expectation worked against me, as I found Bloodborne to be left wanting when compared to its predecessors. The result was a period of almost eight months in which I just couldn’t be bothered to work my way through it, despite knowing it was still a good game, if not living up to my lofty expectations. It was different to the other Souls games, which as it turned out was beneficial to its critical reception, as almost every player that had issues with Dark Souls found reconciliation in Bloodborne, but those differences made it a struggle for me personally to invest myself. That being said, Bloodborne is a great video game, and certainly worthy of what I champion as a new breed of Souls-likes in games.
8. Mortal Kombat X / NetherRealm Studios
NetherRealm can’t seem to put a foot wrong in recent years. MK9 redefined what a fighting game could be, introducing a story-driven campaign that not only made sense, but was an absolute thrill to play through. Their follow-up, Injustice: Gods Among Us, was an awesome story based on characters we know and love acting in ways we would never expect. Then comes MKX, the sequel to a story in which pretty much every main character dies at the end. How the hell could they pull this off? With a slice of extra strong cheddar cheese, and a new control feel that made it far superior as a fighting game to its predecessors, it turns out. I love everything about Mortal Kombat X. As a non-serious fighting game fan, it allowed me to learn characters in a way that made me feel like a badass. And as a fan of the MK fiction (we do exist, I swear), it somehow managed to tell a story I cared about involving a host of new characters, while playing fast and loose with some golden oldies. I don’t think the story was quite as great this time around, but I still liked it a lot, and the way this game controls is right up my alley. Plus, the fatalities are fantastic, and more gruesome than ever.
7. Star Wars Battlefront / DICE
This is a tough one to defend, honestly. I am well aware that it’s not a great video game. If this had a different skin over the graphical layer, and more traditional sound effects, I wouldn’t even care about it. But I’ll be damned if a coat of heartfelt Star Wars paint doesn’t launch this thing up the fun ladder by a severe order of magnitude. Every moment spent playing felt like I was in Star Wars, and that’s really all I’ve ever wanted from a Star Wars game. It’s a game for filthy casuals, as BRB UK’s Dan might put it, but as much as I hate to admit it, the look and feel of this thing is what parks it in my Number 7 spot, gameplay be damned — which is something I very rarely say. For me, this is 2015’s The Last Of Us. All of the setting and feels with gameplay found lacking, but I’m on the other side of the fence this time. Turns out if Naughty Dog wanted me to like The Last Of Us, they probably should have thrown a few X-Wings and lightsabers in there.
6. Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: A Hideo Kojima Game / Kojima Productions: A Hideo Kojima Studio, By Hideo Kojima
Just after its release, on the Barrelcast, I made the comment that I could understand why someone might claim that The Phantom Pain might be the best game ever made, and to this day I still consider that opinion a valid one. I don’t know if another game has ever executed on the action genre as effectively as this one did, and even more surprising, it didn’t require a background in Metal Gear History to understand. The story was reasonably self-contained, and the characters well defined. This is a game that offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of action and/or stealth-action, and then adds optional layers to make it all the more deep. Okay, the FOB stuff is gross, we can all admit that, but outside of Konami’s dumb — and frankly unnecessary — grab for microtransactions, MGSV is a showcase of where action games could go in the future, and further proof that Hideo Kojima is a mad genius.
5. Super Mario Maker / Nintendo
As far as I’m concerned, every game from here onward — in my Top 5 — is worthy of the #1 spot, so despite it falling to fifth place in my almost-arbitrary decision-making process, I consider Super Mario Maker to be one of the most perfect ‘things’ ever to be made. Everybody knows Super Mario, so how could a game that allows you to design your own Mario levels be anything other than super intuitive and fun? It can’t, as it turns out. It is exactly everything we all hoped against hope that it would be. Mario is back in a big way. And what I love most about Super Mario Maker is that it doesn’t just cater for the standard platforming fan. Ever since its release, the Mario Maker community has slowly transformed into a devilish group of nightmare creators, making levels that are as much super-hard puzzles as they are perfection-demanding platformers. I love making levels, and I love seeing the levels and crazy ideas other people have come up with, and that loop has not yet stopped paying off week after week. If ever you needed a reason to justify your purchase of a Wii U, Super Mario Maker has you covered, and then some.
4. Rocket League / Psyonix Studios
I think Rocket League took us all by surprise this year. It’s rare that a sub-AAA game comes out that dominates everyone’s friend’s list. It’s predecessor — Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars — was essentially the same game, but for reasons that aren’t at all obvious in any way, never got any real traction. Rocket League had word of mouth spitting game left, right and centre, though. It’s such a simple formula: Take the world’s most popular sport (Football/Soccer), make ball enormous, put players in rocket cars. The result is money, and fun. This is a game that I was so into in the weeks following its release that I literally took my PS4 to a hotel for a weekend while away for a stag run, just so I could play it in my downtime on crappy hotel wifi. It’s an intuitive game that you can just pick up and play for five minutes or fifty, and it never gets old. Add that to the crazy amount of post-release content they’ve been working on and you have a game that I’m sure will be in almost every Top 10 this year.
3. Ori and the Blind Forest / Moon Studios
Some people didn’t like Ori, and that has boggled my mind since March. Here we have, what is in my personal opinion, the best looking video game released in 2015, and a damn high contender for the ‘ever’ category. Add to that the soundtrack that to this day resonates with my very soul, and the combination of a metroid-vania skeleton that focuses on super hardcore platforming instead of weapons, and the result is a very, very happy Kev. Nine months later, I am still blown away by this game every time I see it, and I literally cannot wrap my head around the ambivalence some people have towards it. For me, it defined everything I love about this industry. Solid gameplay, beautiful design, and a story that inspires ‘dem feels’ with almost no narrative to speak of. So profound was my reaction to Ori, that it was number one with a bullet on my game of the year list up until very late in the final listing process. I adore it, and hope if Moon Studios makes another game, it is as original and incredible as Ori and the Blind Forest.
I’ve been a Dota 2 casual for a couple of years now. I love it to bits, despite being pretty terrible at it myself. In fact, the one thing that could make Dota more accessible to me, is if the meta was a little easier to understand and keep up with. Enter Heroes of the Storm. If ever you needed proof that Blizzard are the masters of taking an existing idea and perfecting it to a point that allows everyone to enjoy it, Heroes of the Storm is the centrepiece of that argument. My initial impressions were really hard on it. Unlike Dota and League, Heroes came off as a MOBA for simpletons, for casuals. But then I realised after playing it for a little while, that’s great! Not only does that make it cater to me in a much friendlier way, but it caters to a whole new potential audience for the genre. And the fact that it utilises Blizzard’s most iconic characters just adds to the level of special that this game achieves. The free-to-play model it uses is certainly worse than Dota’s, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s by no means abusive. I have spent more time with Heroes of the Storm in 2015 than I have with Dota 2, or many other games, so as far as I’m concerned, this thing has gone from ‘a game for babies’ to a legit Game of the Year contender.
1. Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void / Blizzard Entertainment
Despite all the praise I’ve rained upon the games named thus far, no game provided me with more satisfaction this year than Legacy of the Void. I know a lot of people think the Starcraft story is dumb, and they’re right, but I love it. This game went full-blown Dragonball Z by the end of the campaign in a way that had me glued to edge of my seat, but it also featured a campaign design that is arguably the best Blizzard has ever achieved in a strategy game. I’d never been a big proponent of Protoss prior to Legacy, but I freaking adore them now. And as if the campaign wasn’t great in and of itself, the ever-popular multiplayer game got a whole bunch of tweaks and improvements, and the introduction of a new co-op mode with persistent upgrade paths, and the utterly chaotic — and thus hilarious — Archon 2v2 mode have made this by far the most well-rounded package I came across this year. Well worth every penny spent on it, and a stupidly satisfying conclusion to the great many hours spent in previous instalments building up to it. I really hope Starcraft doesn’t end here, but I also have no idea where they’d go next. I do not envy the Starcraft design team at Blizzard HQ right now!
“But Kev,” I hear you ask, “What about Fallout 4?” — It’s not in my Top 10, that’s for damn sure.
Tags: Blood Bowl 2, Game of the Year 2015, Heroes of the Storm, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Mortal Kombat X, ori and the blind forest, Rocket League, Star Wars Battefront, Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void, Super Mario Maker