Published on January 14th, 2016 | by Ethan
GOTY 2015 Ethan’s Top 5
What a year it’s been.
An absolute ton of excellent games came out in 2015. Even though I played more games this year than I have in the past, I still didn’t put enough time into all the games I wanted to play.
2015 was the year of the open world. What felt like tons came out and each of them somehow managed to differentiate themselves from the pack. Problem is, big, impressive, open worlds take a long time to complete. 2015 produced not just a lot of games, but a lot of game. Blah, blah, blah, this year was great, but what is worth playing you might ask? Well, in my not so humble opinion, these are my favorite games of 2015. Okay, these are actually my honorable mentions, but scroll further and you’ll find my list.
Despite my problems with the beginning of the game and being absolute trash at bullet hell games, Undertale is a charmer. Within the first hour or so, I thought I had this game figured out, but pretty quickly, this game goes bonkers. All of the characters, even the lame monsters found in the wilderness, are memorable in their own way. Couple that with an amazing soundtrack and you have a game that will be remembered for years to come. (I know Tumblr certainly will.)
I want more games like this. Personal stories. Cibele is about its game designer, Nina Freeman, who falls in love with a guy through an MMO during her college years. Personal stories have been explored in film, books and to an extent in song lyrics, but not much in games. I feel games have the potential to give a more intimate look at someone’s life than any other medium. For the most part, Cibele succeeds. I can’t say all of it comes together, but I love what Cibele is and I hope to see more games like it.
Metal Gear Solid: V:
I can’t believe I played a Metal Gear game. I didn’t think I’d ever touch one of these after attempting to play Metal Gear Solid II. The overworld, free-to-play, mechanics are super wonky, but most of the mission designs are a blast. Congratulations Hideo, you got me to put 40 hours into a game that I didn’t even think I would touch. For that, you get an honorable mention.
Rise of the Tomb Raider:
Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t break new ground, but it is one of the best game-ass-game, big-budget titles around. It has a solid story, gorgeous graphics, a manageable amount of side content and awesome tomb raiding. It took everything enjoyable about the first game and refined it beautifully.
5. Her Story
While not a game I could ever go back to, this is easily one of my favorite experiences of 2015. Her Story is a game where you look through an unsorted list of interviews. The only way to navigate through these files is by typing words from the transcript into the search engine. It sounds so simple when you explain it, but it’s a completely innovative way to tell a story. It also is one of the few games I know of that doesn’t have a definitive ending. Just play until you’re satisfied.
Her Story makes you feel more like a detective than any other game I have ever played. Combing through files on a familiar interface felt real and sometimes I would forget I was using a computer within a computer. Because you can see the clips in any order possible, the story comes together in an organic way unique to your playthrough and thought process. There are no hints, there are no checkpoints (per-se), it’s just you trying to piece together the story in your head.
This is a form of storytelling that can only be done in video games and I want more.
4. Super Mario Maker
I played this game at Matt’s house and figured I knew everything I needed to know from that brief play session. “Neat it’s a game for making infinite Mario levels. That’s cool.”
No, no, no. It’s so much more than that. It revolutionizes level creation tools by allowing anyone to use it. Without any prior experience, you can put together a solid level in 10 minutes. That level won’t be anything clever, but it’s amazing to create a level that looks like it might actually appear in a Mario game.
No other game gave me the same level of joy of watching someone bash their head against a level I created myself. Between the play testing and the level creation it’s the only game in my memory that made me feel like a real video game developer. “Oh, Lakitu can be used to exploit this section. Is this jumping section more frustrating that it is fun? This level needs more variety.” The process of watching a friend or family member play a level I made, had me questioning all of my design decisions. It’s safe to say that part of the accessibility is because you’re making Mario levels. A game nearly everyone has played.
The creation interface is one of the rare cases of design where usability also dives into obscurity. Dragging items on top of obstacles and shaking the item to change it is brilliantly intuitive, but sometimes I found myself lost at where to find specific items. For example, checkpoints turn into arrows when you shake them. I can kind of see the logic, but it’s a bit of a stretch. I had to Google where to find them. It’s not as instinctive as shaking a wiggler and OH NOW HE’S AN ANGRY WIGGLER.
Seeing other people’s courses is a blast too. Sometimes before I head to bed I pop on a 100 Mario challenge, which tasks you to beat 16 randomly selected courses with only 100 lives. It’s a great way to see some of the most curious content and blow off steam before bed. (was this level made by a kid?) There is so much to love in this wonderful package and I can see myself playing this years to come.
3. Tales from the Borderlands
I don’t care for Borderlands at all. I think the shooting feels terrible and the world is boring and fraught with referential humor that never did it for me. When Tales from the Borderlands was announced from, interactive story maker of all things popular, Telltale, I hardly cared. Oh boy, I can’t wait to play a story driven game with a ton of insufferable characters. But after hearing many people saying this was their favorite Telltale game ever I gave it a chance. (Full disclosure: Telltale sent me a Steam code as well, which pushed me to play it)
Boy, I wasn’t expecting to love this game as much as I did. This is the first Telltale game where death and choices don’t matter much, so I wasn’t going in expecting all of my choices to affect the story like so many other Telltale games are expected to do. All of the characters are diverse, colorful and lively. I fell deeply in love with almost everyone in the game. Even characters I disliked in Borderlands 2 became fully fleshed out lovable people. This game’s humor is top notch with memorable moments from every single episode and that’s not including each episode’s intro featuring some of the best use of licensed music ever.
The story, a fairly straight forward heist comedy, is still interesting, but the characters are what make this game stand out above the rest. Another rare feat in episodic gaming is each episode continually gets better and better. When the credits rolled, I couldn’t shake this feeling of melancholy. I may never see more adventures of Fiona, Rhys and friends. Maybe that’s for the best, because this is one of the few games in recent memory featuring a solid ending.
Forget your “Telltale fatigue” or your dislike for the Borderlands universe, this game transcends beyond that and is one of the most fulfilling story driven gaming experiences this year.
I didn’t expect much in the terms of story from the developers of heart attack simulator, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but the story made SOMA fantastic. Frictional Games toned down the horror in SOMA and instead focused on building a cohesive world dripping with atmosphere and a compelling narrative.
The narrative was my driving force between the game’s bugs and horrible monster encounters. The monster sections aren’t horrible because they’re scary, they’re horrible because they can be utterly frustrating. Luckily, dying isn’t a big deal in this game, which everyone I streamed this for can attest to, but it still made progressing through the game more chore than fun.
Of couse there are always real life scares.
The best times I had in SOMA were when I was exploring the rotting underwater lab and poking through the puzzles the game presented me. Each puzzle was unique and thought provoking not only from a logical, problem-solving standpoint but from an ethical standpoint as well. At one point the game makes you constantly restart a person’s digital consciousness multiple times with different settings just to get information out of him. Each time he’s scared, frightened and says the exact same line of dialog. Each time I hoped he would give me the information. After I got it, I was presented with the choice of erasing the hard drive, essentially ending his life for good or leaving him alone inside the confines of a hard drive forever.
I erased it. I’m a murderer…but I did the right thing…right? Please tell me I’m not horrible.
The beauty of SOMA is it presented me choices I had to make, but none of them affect the game later on. Instead, it affected me personally and how I viewed my own morality system. Is your consciousness, confined to a nearly non-functioning robot an excuse for human life? No other game this year made me think about the big questions in life as much as SOMA did.
1. Heroes of the Storm
Look, if you know me, it’s no surprise this game tops everything else on my list. No other game this year comes close to the hours I have dumped into this game. MOBAs aren’t new to the gaming world or to me. I had a couple years of my life where I deeply invested in League of Legends, but as my real life responsibilities grew and I wasn’t able to devote as much time to playing it as I used to, the game’s complexities overwhelmed me and I dropped off. I tried a few times to go back, but the game kept changing and asking for more than I was willing to give.
Then I heard of Heroes of the Storm. A few of my friends had been singing its praises so I booted it up and instantly fell in love. No longer did I have to worry about learning each character’s last hit window, worry about which items to buy or sit through what could be an absolute slaughter after our team’s luck took a turn. Instead I found unique characters (Cho’Gall lets two players play the same character at the same freaking time!), diverse maps, shorter more action packed games, and a surprisingly deep talent system.
As a Blizzard fan, it’s also a joy to see how the company translates all of its characters and worlds into a MOBA setting. It’s like Super Smash Brothers for the PC! Even though this game is more accessible than most MOBAs, it still has a decent amount of depth to it after you scratch the surface. If anything, the game revolves more around teamwork than around equipping your character properly, which unfortunately in turn has lead to a semi-toxic experience higher up the ladder.
They can’t stop my passion for this game, though. Every time I pick Murky (pictured at the stop of this article) his dumb stupid face makes me grin with all the memories of slaughtering all my foes with a dumb baby murloc. Heck, I didn’t play nearly all of December, but I can’t wait to get back into it. I know Heroes of the Storm will welcome me with open arms.
This game shines by offering something new in an increasingly crowded MOBA genre and I can’t wait to see where it goes in 2016.
SHAMELESS PLUG: If you’re thinking of playing Heroes of the Storm, please sign up through this link. It will give me a dope mount that I can ride into battle. I’ll send you pictures if you want.