Editor's Note: Today's list is from our second guest writer, Hailee Kenney! Like Justin, she's also a friend of some of us on the staff and is also a video game enthusiast who works as a software developer. You can follow her on Twitter @HAIL_9000
I have to admit, when I set out to write a list of my favorite games for this year, I was worried I wouldn“t be able to fill ten slots. I“ve found myself more and more frequently reaching back into older games that I haven“t played before, because I haven“t been all that dazzled with the AAA titles coming out in recent years (I know I“m ten years late, but if you want to talk to me about how Knights of the Old Republic 2 is a really interesting exploration of the Star Wars universe let me know).
I was pretty pleasantly surprised, though, that when I sat down to make this list I had way more than ten games I wanted to include. I also realized that my list includes a pretty wide variety of games from publishers of all sizes, and even from crowdfunding. I“m excited how many avenues are now available to deliver unique and interesting games, and this year renewed my excitement a little for what the future has in store.
Before we dive into the list, I just wanted to give an honorable mention to Tri Force Heroes and Until Dawn. Both games made it on my list at some point, but I ultimately decided to exclude them because I realized it was the people I played them with that really made those games enjoyable. But if you“re looking for a good time with some friends, Tri Force Heroes is incredibly fun, and Until Dawn is great with a room full of people shouting over each other to make decisions. But enough of that -- let“s send off 2015 in style.
10. Ori and the Blind Forest
Of all the games I played this year, Ori and the Blind Forest was one of the most beautiful. A Metroidvania with mechanics polished to a perfect mirror sheen, Ori managed to remain fresh and challenging throughout its running time. There are some incredible acrobatic gameplay challenges, especially during some of the timed â€œraceâ€ segments. The game also had incredibly beautiful art, which made the world a joy to explore.
Best of all, though, it married its mechanics and art with a simple yet powerful story. Ori doesn“t have dialogue, and none of its characters speak (aside from the narrator), yet the game affected me on a deep level. The fact that it achieved so much in terms of story with so little is a marvel, and that combined with its sharp mechanics and amazing art make Ori one of my favorite games this year.
9. Tales from the Borderlands
I“ll be the first to admit that I (like many) have grown a little weary of the five episode Telltale formula ever since season two of The Walking Dead. I wasn“t even planning to play Tales from the Borderlands until I started to hear a lot of positive buzz about the first two episodes. I decided to give it a shot and I“m glad I did. The game is charming, and has a dorky sense of humor that really drew me in.
I found that I really liked the characters, and I liked the lighter mood Tales from the Borderlands had compared to some of the other recent Telltale games. And to top it all off, the episodes were much closer to the length I would expect (2 to 3 hours), as opposed to the 40-60 minute episodes Telltale has been putting out. So even if the new Telltale adventure game formula isn“t my favorite, Tales from the Borderlands proved to be a fun game with great characters.
Speaking of adventure game formulas, here“s one that follows the old school formula that I do like. Technobabylon was a lot of fun, and was a return to the puzzle focused adventure games that I love. On top of having good puzzles, it pretty much had good everything else too: an interesting (cyberpunk!) setting, a compelling plot, and great characters.
It was a really nice example of both cyberpunk and classic adventure games, two things I feel have faded away in recent years (although cyberpunk seems to be making a bit of a comeback in the gaming world). And while we got another cyberpunk adventure game this year, Read Only Memories (which I did enjoy), I found Technobabylon to be a bit more carefully written and interesting.
Splatoon filled a really important role for me this year in that it was the game that I could sit down and play for as little or as long as I wanted. As someone who tends to seek out strong narrative experiences, I find myself drawn to long, involved games that I don“t always have time for. Sitting down for one or two (or sometimes twenty) short matches of Splatoon was awesome, and on top of that the game was just a lot of fun.
I found the gameplay mechanics to be enjoyable and well tuned, the character customization was great, and I was pretty into the game“s “90s punk aesthetic. And of course the inklings were super cute. Plus the Miiverse integration, the Splatfests, the ability to easily play with friends, and the lack of voice chat made the community feel really vibrant and welcoming. It was also really nice to see some of my friends who had avoided competitive online multiplayer get really into Splatoon.
6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
I could definitely write a novel about all the things I didn“t like about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but since it“s on my top ten list obviously I loved a lot of things about it. It“s true that when I finished the game I said I never wanted to talk about the Metal Gear series again, but once I calmed down a little bit, I realized how much fun I had and how amazing the gameplay was.
There were so many options when it came to stealth, and so many cool details like guards getting helmets if you relied on headshots and the player being able to take advantage of patrol schedules. It was also a pleasant surprise to see a game that took advantage of it“s open world to enhance the core gameplay, instead of just to be an Assasin“s Creed clone. And the game did have a lot of the Kojima silliness that I know and love (who doesn“t enjoy running in guns blazing on a pink D-Walker while blaring Friday I“m in Love?). And while I was ultimately disappointed with the game“s narrative, I was impressed that Kojima managed to reel himself in and present some much more subtle storytelling.
Was it the way I wanted to say goodbye to the series I love? I“m not sure. But was it a pretty good game? Definitely.
5. Pillars of Eternity
Back around the turn of the millennium, Bioware and Black Isle made some incredible RPGs filled with sharp writing and tactical, RTS-like combat. As Bioware moved towards a more modern cinematic style, the rest of the RPG genre followed. Pillars of Eternity was pitched as a return to this style, and it definitely followed through.
The game truly felt like a modern successor to the cRPGs of old, and was absolutely packed to the brim with lore. Obsidian“s writers clearly spent a lot of time fleshing out the world of Eoras, and explored the world“s pantheon of gods in unique and interesting ways, picking up the torch from Baldur“s Gate and Planescape. It also had a great combat system that, while occasionally clunky, was challenging and strategic.
Really, though, it was the characters that made Pillars. Obsidian crafted an interesting world, and added in some exceptionally written companions. I hope to see Obsidian return to explore more of Eoras in a sequel further down the line.
4. Fallout 4
I doubt there“s ever been a Bethesda RPG that didn“t make my top ten list the year it came out, and Fallout 4 is no exception. Even though I did have some issues with it (my two chief complaints being the stripped down roleplaying mechanics and a shortage of interesting quests), I really enjoyed the time I spent with it.
As always with Bethesda games, exploring the world was incredibly fun and provided hours of entertainment, and I love the environmental storytelling of the Fallout series. Even if the main plot fell a little flatter than usual, Fallout 4 still had some great world building, and for the first time in a Bethesda game, I found the characters to be very memorable. It was a nice addition, and it made me want to bring my companions along to get to know them.
So even if it wasn“t my dream Fallout game, all the important elements were there, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Also, my character looks badass in aviators and road leathers.
Before I talk about SOMA, for the sake of full disclosure I have to say that I really hate scary games. Jump scares, suspenseful chases, all the other usual elements make most horror games unplayable for me. However, I found those to be quite minimal in SOMA, to the point where even I was able to play it. The real horror in the game is much more existential.
It asks some really important and interesting questions that you“ll be thinking about for hours after you stop playing, and explores some fascinating philosophical concepts in the way that only the best science fiction can. It“s carefully written, and the story really drew me in. In addition to that, it excels with its atmosphere, exploration, and setting. Even though I would normally have written SOMA off as â€œnot my thingâ€, I“m glad I gave it a shot.
2. Everybody“s Gone to the Rapture
I can guarantee that Everybody“s Gone to the Rapture is not a game for everyone, but it“s definitely the game for me. It“s long, meandering, and absolutely beautiful. I loved exploring the carefully crafted English countryside, and the storytelling is done in such a unique way. I liked slowly discovering not only what had happened, but also getting to know the people who lived in the village through their memories, which are scattered about the game. I also found the plot incredibly intriguing, and was hooked by the mystery almost immediately.
I love games that leave me thinking about them long after I turn them off, and Everybody“s Gone to the Rapture was very much that kind of game for me. It“s calm, beautiful storytelling leads to some very poignant moments, and I really appreciated that it had a much more concrete plot to discover than Dear Esther, a similar game by the same studio. So ultimately I“d say that if you“re patient, and you love being forced to think, it“s definitely worth checking out.
Even though I had a tough time narrowing my list down, there was never a question of what my game of the year would be. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about Undertale, most of which I haven“t shared because I“m not sure I could do the game justice.
Undertale is so amazing and unique in many ways, from its save system to its gameplay mechanics to its writing and characters. But ultimately the thing I love about Undertale the most is its focus on kindness, and how it questions the fundamental mechanic of violence at the center of most games. Undertale has so much heart, and it gives the player so many chances to be compassionate. Even better, you“re rewarded for it. Befriending your enemies and showing them compassion leads to one of the best and most meaningful game endings I“ve ever experienced.
I wish that more games would take a page out of Undertale“s book and explore kindness and friendship as a mechanic, and encourage the player to take that extra step and get to know an enemy instead of fighting it. And that“s why Undertale is my game of the year for 2015, and why it has probably earned a spot as one of my favorite games of all time.