2015 was a good year for gaming. From the AAA masterpieces like The Witcher to new indie gems like The Beginner’s Guide, last year just had so much variety. This is a little late for a lot of reasons, but I figured I might as well put it out there. In ascending order, here’s what I consider to be the top 5 games of 2015:
5. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I’m gonna say this straight out — I haven’t finished this game. It’s just too big. And no, I don’t think it’s as good as everyone makes it out to be. But I like everything I’ve seen of it. Its content is just so well done. It’s not overwhelming in its scope, but there still feels like a lot to do. The sidequests don’t feel essential, but still substantial; every sidequest has a nice, self-contained story that still manages to add to the larger story of a main quest. The game is just really good at world-building. The combat is a little too fast and spammy for me, but I still love that it rewards studying up on your enemies (attack patterns, effective signs, etc.). The story feels like a classic fantasy tale, but with tons of darkness as well. The story is helped by the stellar performances. And the graphics! This game manages to depict its fantasy aesthetic so well, it’s really easy to get lost in the world. And the game is great as an actual RPG! It’s so fun to lose yourself in this fantasy world and become a monster hunter.
4. Batman: Arkham Knight
I know it’s popular to hate this game, especially for its PC port, but screw that! As a massive Batman fan, this game was near perfect. The gameplay has been refined to perfection, actually being able to evolve the Arkham combat system to be interesting again. The stealth sections got the same treatment, with smarter enemies and just the right amount of tools at your disposal (looking at you, Assassin’s Creed!). The story is a loving tribute to the Batman franchise (well, at least most of it). And it looks beautiful. Sure, there are some writing fails; the Arkham Knight’s identity is literally only hard to guess because Rocksteady outright lied to us, certain characters feel weirdly written (Tim and Babs are just… ugh) and some sections were obviously an afterthought (Two-Face and Hush’s respective quest lines stand out). And the Batmobile gets an amazing amount of undue focus. But everything this game does right, it does really well.
3. The Beginner’s Guide
Holy shit. So The Beginner’s Guide was something that was being played by two video game YouTubers I follow, and after hearing that it’s some moving narrative experience, I bought it about a week later and started it at 1am. I finished it in one go, and then promptly passed out. The game may be the finest example of a ‘walking simulator’ ever created. The beautiful music and voice acting alone are worth the price of admission, but the game does something I haven’t seen other games do. While The Stanley Parable explored the nature of game design and narratives, The Beginner’s Guide explores the very nature of creativity. And while its mechanics aren’t as tied to its message as the former, it’s still an unforgettable experience in how it analyses game design.
2. Fallout 4
Fallout 4 is something I was really looking forward to. I took days off work, counted down the days, hell, I built my first gaming PC for this game! And when I got my hands on it… It was pretty friggin’ good. The combat feels like a real FPS, which only helps the role-playing. The settlement building makes you feel like you’re finally being active in the wasteland and rebuilding. The aesthetic is beautiful, with some nice colour finally making its way into the franchise, and we finally have nice character models. The main story has problems (you’re actually set in a pre-set role that does massively define your character), it feels well-written. And the characters all feel interesting as well, as opposed to all of Skyrim’s interchangeable housecarls. The music, while rarely used outside of combat, perfectly captures the sad beauty, as well as the rough and tumble nature of the wasteland. While it failed to live up to my expectations in some respects (simplified dialogue and quests), it really is still an amazing game to just live in.
1. Life Is Strange
No, I haven’t finished this game. I’ve only played the first two episodes, and I’m still emotionally unwinding from Episode 2. Episode 2 may contain one of my best gaming experiences of all time. Helping Kate was such an involving, touching, and just well-written experience that I can’t see anything in this game topping it. It works as a game, testing what you’ve seen and done, as well as a narrative, in just how… grounded, yet larger than life it can be at the same time. And it made your decisions matter! This one storyline just touched me. The game is a beautiful soap-opera with a beautiful score and beautiful writing. The dialogue is still iffy, but everything else is just so damn good that I don’t care. Unless Life Is Strange wildly veers off course in its next three episodes, I don’t see anything that could stop it being my game of the year.