Nick’s Games of the Year 2014 – PROCRASTINATION EDITION

I’ve wasted a whole lot of time I could have spent writing about my favorite games of the year last year, but in my defense, I just recently started doing this whole “having a website thing.” 2014 was truly a year like no other in video games, and I probably played more new video games during it than any year ever, so I thought it was finally time for me to weigh in on it. The way I see it, this year, a lot of these games are going to be getting massive price cuts (I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous sale prices so far already), and especially in the first half of the year when their isn’t necessarily a host of new games coming out, based on my recommendations, maybe someone will fill that void with a gem from last year. I’ve select my favorite ten games that came out last year, so starting with #10, allow me to explain what makes these games so awesome.

#10 – Watch_Dogs

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Watch_Dogs (pronounced “watch underscore dogs”) was not supposed to come out in 2014. Ubisoft’s original intentions were for their near-future, open world technology-driven GTA-like to come out when the current generation of consoles launched late in 2013. Except it didn’t. As games sometimes do, Watch_Dogs got delayed. I’m personally of the opinion that when a game gets delayed, it is almost always for the best, because the game typically comes out better (more polished, more content, etc.) on the other end. People already had high expectations Watch_Dogs since the first E3 demo from 2011 or whatever that showed a very good looking demo on “next generation hardware” and showing endless possibilities for the player to “hack” electronics around them remotely with their “mobile phone,” but when the game got delayed, the Expectation Machine went nuts. At this point, if Watch_Dogs was flawed in any way, the masses would be let down. At least, that’s what happened. Watch_Dogs’ reception was lukewarm, noting that didn’t do too much to separate itself from other similar games.

The thing is, I liked Watch_Dogs, a lot. Maybe it was because it was one of the first “next gen” games I played, but I thought it was great. It looked good enough, and I think it innovated enough that I didn’t feel like I was just playing Grand Theft Auto. The characters were interesting, and although the story dragged in some points, and some of the side activities were painfully unfun, the game kept me captivated. I found myself interested enough in the story to continue finding out what happens next, while completing side activities along the way. I think the “hacking” gameplay was maybe not as robust as they implied it would be, but it made for a pretty fun game, and sometimes that’s all I really care about.

#9 – Destiny

destiny-featured1Yeah, really. I think everyone knows a little bit about the history of Destiny, the next big game from ex-Halo-developers Bungie, in the works since before Halo: Reach. Destiny is another prime example of what happens when the hype train gets out of control. People set a certain expectation of what Destiny was going to be, and when it wasn’t, people returned with middling reviews. They were expecting an amazing game full of thrilling space adventure across every square foot of every planet in the solar system. What they got, however, was a great shooter with some re purposed content that played more like an MMO than some people feel comfortable with.

I’m of the school of thought that Destiny is not perfect, but it is what it was meant to be. We knew going into it that it was going to be very much like an MMO, but some people tried to ignore that “because Halo” or something. That means isolated “story” missions, and instanced areas, and some replaying of content. I’ve come to terms with that, and I accept it. I think that Destiny was the first of it’s kind to do a grand FPS MMO on consoles, and did it well, all things considered. At the end of the day, Destiny plays extremely well, is very engaging to anyone interesting in acquiring loot (now that some of the initial kinks are worked out). Ultimately, I knew I had to put Destiny on this list because anticipating its release, and playing it in the first month was an experience that defined my year. Being a part of group of people discovering new things about the game, and witnessing early game crazy things like “the loot cave,” it made Destiny simply too big of a part my 2014 for me to just ignore it. Plus, it allowed me to be a Space Wizard like no other game has before.

#8 – Dragon Age – Inquisition

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Speaking of wizards… the world of super-progressive high fantasy! I’ve never actually played a Dragon Age game before, so all I knew about the series were half-truths from the dark sides of the internet. Needless to say, the release of Dragon Age Inquisition snuck under my radar. Once it was out, though, it created a buzz such that, me being in between games, and in the mood for wizardin’, I decided to just go buy it. Historically, I tend to not buy new games because they’re new, usually reserving the honor for games I was highly anticipating, most usually because it the next game in a series I loved. That being said, I was pretty glad I decided to pick up DAI.

Dragon Age Inquisition literally starts with a bang. Actually… it starts with a super complex and comprehensive online “compendium” of events that happened in past two Dragon Age games. Needless to say, it is quite the tapestry. The Dragon Age Keep is quite the revolutionary concept, allowing you to painstakingly go through all choices in the first two games, and pick what your character would have done, who lived and died, and even how the story ends. It’s really quite the brilliant idea, not only for people like me, who never played a game in the series before, but also for people who are switching consoles, or people who played the first games so long ago, they just forgot what happened.

The game tells a captivating story, and the battles are fun and engaging enough to carry the story through. It’s a bit of a commitment, but anyone with the time and patience to explore a vast world with plenty of side quests and do a lot of talking, I would highly recommend it.

#7 – World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

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Confession time: I don’t have a level 100 character yet. I have not yet experienced all that Warlords of Draenor has to offer, and yet, I can tell that this is the best expansion to World of Warcraft in a while.

First of all, it has to do with older Warcraft lore, which I love. I started playing WoW because I played so much Warcraft III when I was younger, and I wanted more of the universe, so Warlords is right up my alley. The land mass they’ve added is huge, and quests and content reach across each area — there is so freaking much to do. They also added garrisons, a sort of “player housing” that also allows for the gathering of materials, and just generally adding another element to the game, especially for people who don’t participate in the social methods of playing, like raiding.

I haven’t seen everything that Warlords of Draenor has to offer, but I hope to soon. I may not be getting the most of my enjoyment of the game in 2014, but I played enough to know that this shit is awesome.

#6 – Shovel Knight

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For you to understand how awesome Shovel Knight is, you just need to see it. Look at that! That pseudo-8-bit design is perfect. Shovel Knight may emulate the look of an older game, but everything else is uniquely modern. The game handles like a dream, much better than most games on the NES, with precise and responsive controls. Yacht Club Games worked very hard to create a game that parodied the platformers of yore, while also successfully creating a wonderful retro platformer in its own right. It strikes a near-perfect balance of old school esotericism and modern hand-holding, and creates a game with massive appeal, to the young and old, the casual and the hardcore.

Without a doubt, Shovel Knight is the best Kickstarted Mega Man-like ever… at least until Might No. 9 comes out.

#5 – Bayonetta 2

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If you own a WiiU and you haven’t purchased Bayonetta 2, you’re an actual insane person.

Platinum Game’s sequel to their hit 2009 beat-em-up, Bayonetta, almost didn’t get made when the company found themselves struggling to find a publisher for their new game. Sega, who published the original game, was too busy imploding to do it, and any number of other companies passed up the opportunity, and it was Nintendo who ultimately decided to publish Bayonetta 2. This was surprising, considering the mature nature of Bayonetta (the titular curvy witch wears a magical skin-tight suit made of her own hair, and finds herself progressively more and more naked, the more she uses her hair to slay enemies). It’s not exactly the kind of game Nintendo would publish, but despite that, they started promoting it hard. And for good reason. Bayonetta 2 is an awesome game.

Bayonetta 2 is an action game ala Devil May Cry, but the action is more frenetic and engaging. The combo and weapon systems, mostly holdovers from the first game, create a lot of depth to what could have easily become a button masher. The enemies, setting, and characters in the Bayonetta series are just so incredibly unique, it’s hard to not notice it. The game is so good looking, and so fun to play, it really stood out as an important experience I had in the world of games in 2014. That, and, the original Bayonetta is one of my top ten favorite games ever. Did I mention that Bayonetta 2 comes with a copy of the original game playable on WiiU with additional content? Please refer back to what I said about people who don’t own this game yet.

#4 – Super Smash Brothers for WiiU

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I love Smash Bros. I’ve always loved Smash Bros. Super Smash Brothers for WiiU (called henceforth: Smash4) delivers on everything I could want from a smash brothers game, but do note that I have the WiiU version on here, and not the 3DS one. I was on board with Nintendo releasing two different versions of the game, I guess, although I thought it was unfortunate that the rosters had to match, and given the limited memory and processing power of the 3DS (which got the ice climbers chopped, and Zelda and Sheik split up). But I lost the thread when they released the 3DS version first. It killed any potential hype for the WiiU version, in my opinion. I played the 3DS version that first week and I LOVED it. I still think Smash Run Mode (exclusive to the 3DS version) is one of the best features of either game. After a while, though, when I went to play the 3DS version, I was reminded that the WiiU version was coming out in like six weeks, and I stopped playing the 3DS version completely. I got the WiiU version right away, and it was incredible. Smash Bros in HD, like fifty controller configurations, tons of stages and characters, event matches, and more game modes that I even cared to play. I wasn’t exactly blown away, though, because I had a lot of the “surprise” ruined for me by the 3DS version, which is terribly disappointing.

However, that doesn’t diminish the quality of the game in any way. Smash4 is a game that I not only enjoyed playing in 2014, but one that I continue to play on a semi-regular basis now. I don’t sit down and play it by myself so much, because I have a host of other games to play, but the multiplayer in Smash4 is the best of the year. I mean, Eight Player Smash? Are you kidding me? That’s ridiculous! You can’t find a better couch multiplayer experience, period. Smash4 delivers on the high quality we expect from Smash Bros, while changing the game enough to make it feel super fresh.

#3 – Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

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Shadow of Mordor won quite it’s fair share of game of the year awards at the end of last year. Ever since early hands on demos, Mordor impressed people with it’s unique Nemesis System, and it’s snappy controls. It was shaping up to be the kind of game that I don’t get that excited about, fearing that it would just be another third person action game. As it turns out, I wasn’t giving the game enough credit. All it took was an hour or two hands on to get me hooked on the game, and I couldn’t stop playing it.

Shadow of Mordor puts you in the shoes of a ranger, who’s family was murdered by “orcs,” but unable to die himself. Trapped in the land of the living a while longer, he goes on an ass-kicking spree, with the eventual goal of taking it to the Dark Lord. The story is more or less irrelevant. You could easily ignore the story in every regard and still have a blast with Mordor, in fact, I may even recommend doing that. The story is the part where the game lags a bit, and during scenes where I slowly (but automatically) followed an NPC and listened to him talk, I found myself asking “why am I not killing orcs right now?” That’s the best part of the game. The controls are simplified, so traversal is almost automated, and combat is simple, but not boring; It makes the game extremely approachable and easy to play. The open world they give you is not too large, so it feels very alive, and I think there’s a near-perfect amount of activities for the player. The Nemesis System, a display of the hierarchy of boss-type characters is innovative and adds a lot of depth to the game. Mordor is, all in all, I extremely fun and well made game, and I played the crap out of it in 2014, and loved every minute.

#2 – Far Cry 4

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I’m starting to sound pretty repetitive now. “I had fun playing an open world game in 2014” is something I’ve said at least twice already. Far Cry 4 is a seriously great game, though. Although it reuses a lot of ideas fairly directly from Far Cry 3, the setting is so wildly different, and the tone of the game is different enough, it really separates Far Cry 4.

Far Cry 4 takes place in Kyrat, a fictional Himalayan country under the rule of a charismatic despot named Pagan Min. You, the son of a famous freedom fighter, return to the country and get quickly caught up working with the rebellion to defeat Pagan Min and bring freedom back to Kyrat. While the premise sounds simple enough, the characters are really where the story shines. The two heads of the rebellion are at constant ends with each other, forcing the player to make difficult decisions through the course of the game, a system I found to be fascinating, because the game always had a way of making you feel like you made the wrong choice. Every. Single. Time. It was truly remarkable. Other characters include: an actually crazy American man who’s come to Kyrat for seemingly no reason, an ex-druglord/now arms dealer who’s found God and come to Kyrat in search of his redemption, two backpacking Europeans on a “spiritual pilgrimage” to do all the drugs, a super old school and playfully intolerant CIA operative, and those are just the “good guys.” Pagan’s lieutenants are quite the characters themselves, with him being the king of crazy people. He’ll frequently call you on the radio and talk to you, sometimes just to see if you’ll answer. Pagan’s character was one of the most fascinating elements of the game for me, because even with all the terrible things he did, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy.

Far Cry 4 is the whole package. Solid gun play, good mission variety, huge open world, captivating story, and tons of style. All together, it makes one of my favorite gameplay experiences of the generation so far, let alone of 2014.

#1 – Dark Souls 2

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So, this isn’t necessarily surprising, considering how I’ve been on record saying Dark Souls is my favorite game of all time. Which is not to say that the sequel gets a free pass. I actually struggled with this for the longest time, because as much as I enjoyed Dark Souls 2, it lacked a certain charm that Dark Souls had, something I think that we lost as the series became more modern. DS2 also really increased the punishment level by reducing your maximum health every time you died, and giving you a limited number of items to restore your health back to maximum. The thought of running out of those items (although that is very difficult) gave me a lot of anxiety and almost ruined my experience of the game, because the idea of being stuck like that in a game is one of my worst gaming fears. I learned to overcome it, because it’s not as big a deal as I was making it, and because there are clever in-game ways to overcome it. It showed that the game was very polished and well-tested, and I appreciated that about it.

The scope of Dark Souls 2 is so grand, it’s undeniably impressive. The world is huge, and sprawling in every direction, it captured the element of exploration that I think the first game was missing. I rarely found myself going down a path to find myself blocked by extremely difficult enemies because I was “going the wrong way.” That, along with the general difficulty curve of the game showed to me that Dark Souls 2 is an extremely well-made game.

For all the reasons above, I love this game. I love exploring the world, the challenging enemies, the online interaction, all the stuff that makes it uniquely a “Souls” game. Although it was missing that charm the first game had, I still love Dark Souls 2 in it’s own right. I almost would say that Dark Souls 2 is more apt to be it’s own entry in the series instead of a sequel, but the ties they make to the first game, actual, implied, and suggested, made this a treat for such a huge fan of the first game. I’m already anxiously looking forward to the release of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First sin, which will have everything included in the original and season pass, and then some. How excited I am to buy a full-price re-release goes a long way to show me exactly how much I love Dark Souls 2.

Here’s to looking forward to 2015, a year in gaming that will surely be like no other. There aren’t quite as many games on my radar now as there was this time last year, but given the insane nature of the industry, I’m sure there are some big surprises on the way.

E-mail the author: Nick Obleschuk.
Follow the author on Twitter: @Big4Vlad

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