Every year, we talk about what we loved about the past 12 months of geeky entertainment. It’s usually under the guise of discussing what to honor with our Escapist Awards, but we always seem to gravitate toward that list of five unique things that especially moved us this year. It could be cute, it could be have emotional impact, it could be just downright silly, but each of the things on these lists means something to us.
Here’s what some of The Escapist‘s most passionate video game enthusiasts picked for their five favorite things from 2014.
The first full year of next-gen consoles has been a tad less ambitious than I was hoping, but I’ve had a damn good time along the way all the same. Despite investing in a next-gen console right around launch last year, I’ve been struggling to find games that justify the expense, given that most games coming out are available across console generations. On the other hand, my 360 finally red ringed, so as long as we don’t have too many more Borderlands the Pre-Sequel situations – BLTPS is only available on last-gen consoles and PC – I’ll be okay with it.
That said, there were some outstanding games on next-gen consoles, as well as an abundance of fantastic PC games, and a spattering of last-gen goodness for the tens of millions of last-gen owners out there who haven’t taken the plunge quite yet. Looking at PC, and both generations of consoles, here are my Five Favorites for 2014.
5. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
One feature I’m particularly glad doesn’t exist in Hearthstone is “/played,” which tells you just how many hours, days, weeks you’ve spent in game. Being a sucker for punishment, I did a rough estimate and came up with two weeks. Yes. Weeks. The kicker is that I’m still playing at least a match virtually every single day. From Arena to Ranked to Naxxramas, every single mode available in Hearthstone adds something valuable to the overall experience. Despite the limited selection of cards, the diversity of viable strategies has given Hearthstone an incredible amount of longevity. Whether you play Zoolock or Miracle Rogue, you’ve got nine unique classes to tinker with during deck building, and every single class has been represented in some form or fashion in tournament play, which speaks to the delicate balance that Blizzard has achieved with the game. It’s easy to learn, fun to play, and can be enjoyed for exactly zero dollars. Naturally, this gives Hearthstone a roughly infinite fun-to-dollar ratio. Not a bad deal.
4. Dragon Age Inquisition
Having never played a Dragon Age game before, I wasn’t an early adopter of Inquisition, but as I watched my wife play it, I was drawn in and, before I knew it, I was in control of a four-mage party, casting an endless stream of spells at anything that dared cross my path. One night, I simply wandered through the wilds of Thedas for hours doing side quests, closing rifts, and incinerating everything even remotely flammable. At this point, I can’t even spoil the story for you, because I haven’t actually advanced the plot since I took control. As a lover of stories in games, this is particularly telling of the quality of the experience.
After having cooperatively sunk at least 30 hours into the game, we hit a mission that more or less concluded the prologue and brought us into the actual game. The depth of the world and characters, combined with the freedom to do more or less what you want at most points in the game add up to a genuinely amazing overall experience. It’s not without its flaws, of course. Namely a Stash of any sort and a Knock spell so my all-mage party can get past the locked doors that seem to bar story progress in too many cases, and it’d be nearing perfection.
#3 – Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
Runner up in the “I’ve spent way too much time in this game” category is the expansion to Blizzard’s 2013 dungeon-crawling lootfest, Diablo III. I got awfully fed up with D3 after a couple of short months, what with the loot drops being useable approximately 1% of the time, and the Auction House being a pit of despair for anybody that wasn’t interested in sinking hundreds of hours or tens of dollars into a single piece of slightly-better gear. It was an intensely fun game, mind you, but it had very little staying power. I didn’t pick it back up until Reaper of Souls hit, and I was so glad I did. Blizzard fixed virtually every niggling problem with the base game, and it was good. From tailored loot drops, making 9/10 Legendaries useable, to the now-permanent 100% boost to Legendary drop rates, to Adventure Mode and Nephalem Rifts, the new and improved D3 experience was truly that.
It’s worth mentioning that the console port of Reaper of Souls, dubbed Ultimate Evil Edition is also strictly fantastic. It’s a whole different experience on console vs PC, but as a dungeon crawl, it’s an absolute blast. Considering the local co-op, the arcade-style Massacre, Destruction, etc counters, and the permanent legendary drop rate boost, the console version is nearly on par with the PC. Except that you can’t target Black Holes and Meteors, so I had to go an entirely different route with my Wizard build.
#2 – Wolfenstein: The New Order
Nazis, Nazis, Nazis. You’d think that after a near-infinite number of WWII shooters we’d be tired of killing them, but here we are, another year, another Nazi killfest. And you know what? It’s still good.
Given that Wolfenstein 3D is actually one of the games that originally popularized the entire concept of a shooter, it should come as no surprise that it was one of the very first WWII shooters as well. It’s been over two decades since 3D came out, and some things have changed. The New Order tosses you into an alternate reality where the Allies lost the war, and the Nazis have developed all sorts of devastating technology to keep themselves in power. There are some fanciful weapons, of course, but most of this technology has been channeled into giant death robots, which you’ll have the pleasure of taking down more or less by yourself.
The New Order is something of a huge leap forward for the series, however, as it’s more than just killing endless waves of soldiers. It actually has a plot. There are actual characters who have actual backstories. Also, giant robots.
#1 – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Whether or not you care about Middle-earth, Tolkien, or hobbitses, Shadow of Mordor is a genuinely amazing experience. It’s got a weird reverse difficulty curve, where combat starts out as a bit of a challenge, but as you unlock abilities through experience and story progression, you’ll get to the point where the combat is a fun distraction, rather than the most trying aspect of the game. It does an amazing job of making you feel like you’re growing in power as the story dialogue explains how you’re growing in power. There’s the Nemesis System, which gives Uruk warriors names and special traits, and has them contend with each other for power among the ranks, as you slay one, only to have others step in to fill the gap.
Shadow of Mordor is impeccably designed in virtually every regard. The combat is insanely fun, especially when you’ve gone from taking down small raiding parties to frontal assaults on army encampments. You’ll Brand some, forcing them to fight by your side. You’ll interrogate others, gaining precious intel on the strengths and weaknesses of your next target. You’ll simply lay waste to many, many more, who made the mistake of getting in your way.
That’s it for my Five Favorites of 2014! Be sure to check out the rest of The Escapist‘s Five Favorites!
No matter what you’re into, 2014 was a superb year for video games. Shooters? Got ’em. RPGs? Hell yes. Adventure games? Continuing to thrive. Killer first-party titles? Check. Bizarre Japanese imports that don’t fit neatly into any defined genre? I’ll take two. I played dozens of excellent games this year, and it was tough to narrow down the list to five favorites (seriously, I had nightmares about what to cut). Looking back, these five (okay, six) games were the ones that stood out the most this year, all for different reasons.
#5 – Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc/Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
This is cheating a bit, because two Danganronpas came out this year, but I’m counting them as one due to the closeness of their release dates. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair have been out in Japan since 2010 and 2012, respectively, but just made the jump stateside-and boy, did they make a splash when they landed.
Both Danganronpa games feature groups overachieving high school students who find themselves trapped and forced to kill each other-literally getting away with murder is the only way to graduate. Trigger Happy Havoc is set within the walls of an elite boarding school, while Goodbye Despair takes a class trip to a series of tropical islands, but both games task the player with finding the truth of each brutal killing through increasingly chaotic trials while unraveling a bigger mystery. The Danganronpa games are so weird, but so engaging-the higher the body count gets, the more you’ll want to play. That its strange gameplay can be summed up as Persona meets Phoenix Wright should tell you all you need to know, especially if you’re into offbeat, quirky games like I am.
#4 – Wolfenstein: The New Order
A common problem we see in gaming is titles that shine in previews not living up to expectations when the final product is released. Wolfenstein: The New Order had the opposite problem. I wasn’t overly impressed by its appearances at various trade shows, despite being a longtime Wolfenstein fan; I remember describing it as “very Wolfenstein-y” after PAX East this year, which was the most positive thing I had to say. On the other hand, the complete game was super impressive, and Wolfenstein: The New Order blew me away when I finally played it.
Though the gameplay itself was fairly straightforward for a shooter, The New Order‘s alternate universe that saw the Nazis as victors of World War II made this entry one of the most interesting in the series’ history. So many small touches helped build the “what if” world, like finding newspaper clippings detailing the 20 years since WWII’s end and hearing popular music of the era in German. There was plenty of memorable imagery throughout the game–rising up in the submarine to see Castle Wolfenstein in the distance is one of my favorite scenes in gaming this year. It’s been a long time since a Wolfenstein game made such a good impression on me, and I’m glad The New Order turned out to be one of 2014’s best surprises.
#3 – Persona Q
I adore Persona 3 and 4 an absurd amount. They’re two of my all-time favorites. Between both of them I’ve probably put 500 hours into the series. Despite this, I wasn’t sure I’d dig this mash-up of characters from both games, because I’ve never been a huge fan of Etrian Odyssey‘s map-building and dungeon-crawling, which comprises most of Persona Q‘s gameplay. As it turned out, adding Persona characters, combat, music, and plot into the mix is exactly what I needed to go all in on the dungeon-crawling action.
Persona Q takes place mid-story for both the Persona 3 and 4 gangs, and if you’re wondering how that could happen given they take place years apart-well, I won’t spoil too much for you. The two casts mesh together so wonderfully, and it’s a thrill to build a party with my favorites from each game for the first time. The map-drawing I found tedious in Etrian Odyssey is somehow addictive in Persona Q, and I take pride in my meticulous dungeon layouts. And, like the others in the Persona series, it’s paced so well you never want to stop playing it. Persona Q could so easily have been a forgettable distraction from the long wait till the next game in the series, but instead it’s a terrific dungeon-crawling RPG worthy of the Persona name.
#2 – Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8 was one of my most anticipated games of the year. That’s often a recipe for disaster–it’s hard to live up to that much hype–but Mario Kart 8 delivered in every possible way. It looks great, the courses are wonderfully designed, and most importantly, it’s just so much sheer fun. The last few entries in the series were good, in my opinion, but I want so much more from this series than just “good.” Mario Kart 8 is excellent. It’s addictive. It’s fun when you’re playing alone and it’s an absolute blast to play with others. It’s a true return to form for the long-running Nintendo series.
Seven months after its release, this is still my go-to game when I have friends over. Mario Kart 8 is the kind of game you’re still playing months (if not years) after its release, and there are so few titles I feel that way about. And as if the core game with its two Rainbow Roads wasn’t enough, the first round of DLC launched in November and was equally excellent. I can’t decide what I like better, racing with Link or the absolutely perfect ExciteBike track, but either way: I’ll definitely still have this in my Wii U when 2015 rolls around.
#1 – The Wolf Among Us Season One
It seems kind of silly now, but less than a decade ago it wasn’t uncommon to hear “adventure games are dead.” Thankfully, Telltale Games didn’t listen. Instead, it revived the genre for a new generation and made a name for itself with strong episodic titles like Sam & Max and The Walking Dead before adapting the long-running Fables comic series into The Wolf Among Us. Though the first of The Wolf Among Us‘ five episodes launched late last year, I’m counting this as a 2014 title because that’s when most of the story unfolded.
Set years before the comics begin, The Wolf Among Us has Fabletown’s Sheriff Bigby (better known as the Big Bad Wolf) working alongside Snow White to solve a series of grisly murders. Telltale’s take on the Fables series has a lot of familiar faces and new characters plucked straight from fairy tales and folklore, like the villainous Bloody Mary. Fables is my favorite comic series, and as far as I’m concerned, Telltale can continue to adapt beloved properties for as long as it likes. I waited a loooong time for this one (it was announced in 2011!), and The Wolf Among Us was worth it.
What I really love about the best titles of 2014 is that there’s truly something for everyone. Even as someone who typically doesn’t go for the year’s biggest AAA franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Madden, there were plenty of interesting, original, weird titles to enjoy. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a big-budget shooter from time to time, too-the options were plentiful. Sure, there were some titles it was hard to leave off the list, and my pile of shame grows larger every year (I will get to you someday, Dragon Age series!), but out of the games I did play, these were the five that I loved the most.
I’m generally an optimistic person so while this year certainly had a few disappointing games released – looking at you AC: Unity and Destiny – there were more than enough excellent games out there to keep me busy. Crap, even one of the most personal disappointments of the year ended up sucking a huge chunk of my time, which probably says more about me than the spate of games from 2014. This year was also when The Escapist officially branched out into covering more than just games so it’s only fitting that some of my list encapsulate the TV show I loved binging the most this year. So without further distraction, I give you my five favorite things of 2014 ->
#5 – Civilization: Beyond Earth
OK. My analytical brain knows that the latest iteration in the venerable strategy series is deeply flawed. There was too much benefit given to trade routes, and managing them was super annoying (the most recent patch addressed this). The tech web is frustrating in practice, with too many choices becoming meaningless when those associated with affinities are all that matters. Still, even with these problems and more, I easily dropped 200 hours into Beyond Earth. I just love moving around units on a hex grid, and watching the combat animations blow the aliens to smithereens. I recognize its warts, but dang if I don’t love ’em. Now to get the last few cheevos …
#4 – Watch Dogs
I love me some open world action games, and in the wake of finishing last year’s Black Flag, Ubisoft’s latest IP scratched that itch for me for the bulk of the summer. I didn’t really care about the gruff protagonist, or his story, but I enjoyed running around Chicago and hacking everyone and everything I could. The side missions are tons of fun, and there’s lost of secret places to find. I spent hours just playing chess and poker in Watch Dogs. Here’s to the sequel getting a decent hero(ine) to match the vivaciousness of the city. Oh, but bring back Jordi.
#3 – House of Cards Season Two
I want to get drunk with Frank Underwood. I mean, I don’t want to talk to him on a subway platform. Or eat BBQ with him. Or be seduced by … Nevermind. I don’t want to be anywhere near the fictional Representative from Georgia who goes from Majority Whip to Vice President and beyond in House of Cards first season. The second season dropped 13 new episodes and each one is a gut-punch leaving you screaming “What?” to the screen. Luckily, you can watch all the episodes back-to-back on Netflix – and as soon as you start you will want to. The audience vacillates between hating Underwood and cheering his downfall to bemoaning his tribulations and maybe kinda wishing he gets away with it all. House of Cards is classic television.
#2 – Europa Universalis IV – The Res Publica expansion
There’s something that keeps pulling me back into EU4 – and it’s probably the multiple “expansions” Paradox Development Studio keeps releasing. I put the word in quotes because the expansions aren’t a massive dump of content, but a refinement of the amazing simulation they have created. The Res Publica one changed up how trade republics worked, among other things, and I got a kick out of playing Venice with the new systems. I took over Egypt, and most of the Italian peninsula, all while avoiding the monstrous powers of Europe. EU4 continues to evolve even two years after its release, and I look forward to wreaking havoc in our multiplayer stream with Justin and Jon in 2015.
#1 – The Walking Dead Season Two
That headline could have easily including Game of Thrones, the conclusion of The Wolf Among Us and basically everything Telltale Games did this year. The company has evolved its games from point-and-click adventures to interactive storytelling with strong dose of action. 2014 showed that Telltale’s expansion to tackle some of the greatest IPs of our time – including Minecraft? – has diluted the skill of the writers and voice actors in making me have all of the feels. I completed the last episode of The Walking Dead‘s second season on a plane with tons of turbulence and a crying baby, and I still had tears in my eyes. I can’t wait to see how they tackle the rest of Game of Thrones, Borderlands and maybe The Sorpranos?
Disclosure(s): Strauss Zelnick, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., is the head of ZelnickMedia, an investor in both Take-Two and Defy Media, LLC, our parent company. This article was published without approval or consent of ZelnickMedia or Take-Two.
To be brutally honest, I don’t think 2014 was a really exciting year for gaming. Sure there were a few standouts – there always are, but as a whole the industry is still mostly in the doldrums following a new console release. Developers are still splitting time by supporting old systems and learning the ropes of the new hardware, and this has an overall negative effect on the quality. It doesn’t help matters that there were a few high-profile and heavily hyped releases that didn’t quite live up to their expectations. Perhaps that’s why this year my list of favorites was so centered around my favorite genre, finding a little bastion away from the mediocre.
#5 – Persona Q
You know, Persona Q had the opportunity to be a total cash in, just something to stave off the hunger pains before Persona 5. Instead the fine folks at Atlus proved again that the 3DS really is a bit of a premiere system for RPGs these days. What they really managed to do was finally get the dungeon crawling mechanics and systems of the Etrian Odyssey franchise to work for a wider audience by injecting some much needed personality into it. Get it? Personality. Persona. Ok, I’ll see myself out. It doesn’t hurt either that the game features a fan fiction-esque, and often hilarious, team up of the Persona 3 and Persona 4 cast.
#4 – Bravely Default
I feel like a lot of folks are going to forget about Bravely Default when it comes to end of the year awards, which is a shame. It came out early in the year and handheld titles tend to not get a lot of fanfare, but that’s really selling this RPG short. Bravely Default is a game that knows exactly what it’s trying to be, it’s a distilled version of all the classic JRPGs of yesteryear. It’s basically a throwback to many of the older Final Fantasy titles in all but the name, but Bravely Default cleverly innovates in just enough places to keep things interesting.
#3 – Dark Souls II
In a lot of ways, Dark Souls II was a two steps forward and one step back situation. It expanded and refined some of the mechanics of the series, but at least until the DLC came out, it took a noticeable step back in areas like level design. That said, besides a few grievances Dark Souls II was still a good “check off all the boxes” sequel for the original Dark Souls, which is admittedly a really big shoe to fill. Even a retread of the same complex game mechanics, punishing but fair gameplay, and richly detailed setting, if you’re willing to poke around for it, is still enough to make it one of the finest releases this year.
#2 – Magic: The Gathering: Khans of Tarkir
So we had a little leeway to add some non-video games to our Five Favorites list, and I’m absolutely using that to talk about one of my favorite Magic sets to ever be released. After a few relative duds lately, Khans of Tarkir was an absolute breath of fresh air. What Khans of Tarkir really excels at is that it manages to balance being a really excellent set for so many different types of magic players. It’s the best limited format since Innistrad, the wedge emphasis meant lots of cool cards for Commander in some under-supported color pairings, and Khans has shaken up pretty much every other constructed format with some powerful cards that ride the line of being ban worthy, looking at you [mtg_card=Treasure Cruise].
#1 – Dragon Age Inquisition
As you may have noticed from this list, I kind of like RPGs, and there’s just no getting away from BioWare in that regard. As I mentioned in my preview, I didn’t think Dragon Age II was that bad. BioWare’s talent for writing interesting and entertaining characters can carry a lot of baggage. However, as someone that puts a lot of value on the exploration aspects of RPGs, Dragon Age II certainly fell a little short for me. Dragon Age Inquisition blew that away in such a big way though. I’ve happy sunk close to 100 hours into tracking down all the quests, slaying dragons, and diving headfirst into the story, and I’ve yet to find it fatiguing slog. Dragon Age Inquisition is pretty damn near everything I want out of a RPG. It’s got a big rich open setting, a large cast of fun characters, interesting story, and plenty of crafting and other min-maxing to obsess over. Dragon Age Inquisition is a strong contender for Game of the Year.
Here’s hoping for a better 2015, until then I’ve got some quests to finish up in Dragon Age Inquisition and maybe then replay some old favorite or catch up on my Steam backlog.
This past year was a spectacular one for movies, television, and video games. Here are five wonderful creations that we were graced with in 2014, this isn’t an exhaustive list but it’s what I dug from this past year.
#5 – Interstellar
If you’re in the mood to have your whole mind blown then Interstellar is right up your alley. From the mind that brought us all Memento, The Prestige, Inception, and the latest Batman films comes this trip through space. We’re all used to the cut and paste sci-fi films, aliens come to our planet and we fight them off, or they’re here to help us and we just aren’t smart enough to realize that they just want a safer Earth. This film takes your tried and true sci-fi tropes and throws them all away. We aren’t going to be getting any flying cars or jetpacks, but what we could looking forward to is a whole lot of what we already have, just tweaked. This film was hands down the best film of the year, it will re-energize your imagination and will have you hoping we’ll bring back our space program.
#4 – Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
Blizzard has done it again, this time they’ve come out with a stand-alone expansion for their smash-hit Diablo III with Reaper of Souls. It still has everything you loved about Diablo III but now with rifts. The additions that Blizzard has made have made a fun game even funner, which I didn’t think that anyone could do for Diablo III, it was already a pretty damned badass game to begin with. Then I decided to give RoS a whirl and had my mind changed, the additions they’ve added, like the Adventure Mode, which will have you hopping between acts and bosses. They haven’t just added some more content, Blizzard also added another class, the Crusader. They finally brought back the Paladin, sure they’ve got a different name but let’s be honest with each other, they’re the same. All of this adds up to what I consider to be the best expansion of the year.
#3 – True Detective
HBO’s amazing series True Detective has something for everyone. You want celebrities? Here are Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. You want a riveting story? How about ritual sacrifice with a smoldering twist that makes the series the best thing to come along for TV since HBO’s The Wire. This series will keep you glued to the screen, and as soon as you finish it for the first time you’ll want to go back and watch it again, because you’re sure that you missed something. Here’s a helpful hint, you did miss something, you missed quite a bit, so go back and watch. The best part of this series is that it has a definite beginning, middle, and end, so you won’t have to slog through seasons upon season of crap to get to a disappointing finale. True Detective wraps up their story, leaving just enough questions, in eight densely packed episodes. When looking for something new to watch check out True Detective and you’ll be more than happy.
#2 – The Grand Budapest Hotel
I am a Wes Anderson fanboy, ever since I saw Rushmore I knew that I had found what I was looking for all these years. Since Rushmore he’s made a slew of amazing movies, and the latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, doesn’t disappoint. The cast is untouchable, led by Ralph Fiennes in one of his best roles since ever, and with Wes Anderson at the helm we’re treated to a fantastical world beyond our imagination. The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in an idealized world, it looks like early 20th century Europe, but through a surreal kaleidoscope that will keep you just off balance enough to accept anything. In a year like 2014 it’s refreshing to see a film not lean heavily on special effects, all of the effects in The Grand Budapest are practical. Wes Anderson embraces his low tech effects, he takes them and adds a bit of fantasy, very much like the world of Gabriel García Márquez, a fantastical reality that adds just a bit of the extraordinary to let you escape.
#1 – South Park: Stick of Truth
You don’t need to be a fan of South Park to appreciate Stick of Truth, but it helps. South Park: Stick of Truth makes you the new kid in the seemingly quiet Colorado town. You’ll get to meet the other kids in town and join them in their wacky game, actually it’s less wacky and more dangerous. Stick of Truth makes you the one that needs to save the world, what started as a seemingly harmless game turns out to be far more important than you could ever imagine. This game will have you exploring South Park, and not just the highlights like City Wok and the school, but dark places like the sewers. They spare nothing in the story, they’ve pulled from every season to give you the full South Park experience. Honestly this is the closest we’ll ever come to a South Park amusement park, and I, for one, am happy with that.
These five entries made 2014 an entertaining one, when not busy grinding my way through Sanctuary and South Park there were more than enough movies to fill the time. These five properties had more than enough to keep my attention, and will continue to keep me occupied well into 2015.