The past 12 months have had a lot to offer those of us with a predilection for video games, from quirky indie titles like Undertale to the easy-to-predict blockbusters like Fallout 4. 2015 brought us the Star Wars Battlefront reboot that some of us have been waiting so long for alongside the best new Zombies mode in a Call of Duty game I’ve played since World at War. I’m not sure when the “Thing of the Year” business started, but it’s a fun exercise, and we enjoy offering our take on the games side every year. Of course, choosing one game from a list of hundreds is hard, so we decided to start out by choosing 10 games – these 10 games will serve as our nominations list for Game of the Year – so the debate is a bit more manageable.

Compiling this particular list was a fascinating endeavor that highlighted how drastically different the opinions of different sort of gamers can be. I’m a hardcasual – a word I just made up that means I play as many hours as the hardcore demographic, but have the skills of a filthy casual – gamer with a tendency towards co-op and console play. Justin Clouse is a bit more serious and a bit more skilled gamer who has a verifiable obsession with Baldur’s Gate reboots and has actually won matches in League of Legends. Jon Bolding is a strategy fanatic that occasionally re-enacts historical conflicts in Europa Universalis while working on his Cities: Skylines town on a second monitor. That’s just the three of us in the office.

Once I’d solicited recommendations from our in-house team and editors at large, I opened it up to our regular reviewers as well. All told, this list is based on the opinions of more than 10 separate individuals, each weighting their recommendations based on how strongly they felt it was worth including. Tallying up the totals, we narrowed down the 30ish suggestions to these 10 finalists. These games will serve as our nominees list for Game of the Year 2015, which we’ll announce at the end of the year. It stands to reason that each of you will agree with some and disagree with others on the list, so I’d encourage you to take to the forums and let us know what you’d keep, what you’d nix, and what you’d add!


Bloodborne Social

Bloodborne

(Review)

Mitch says: Bloodborne set the bar high for video games of 2015 when it was released early in the year and blew gamers away with its unforgettable adventure through the horrifying streets of Yarnham. Featuring exquisitely designed combat against beasts that would make even Silent Hill‘s monstrosities look cuddly, Bloodborne managed to take From Software’s trademark brand of brutally difficult gameplay, and successfully adapted it to a fit a much faster and more aggressive style of play.

The result was a game that maintained the same level of difficulty From Software fans would expect, but in a style that was completely different from any of the Souls games before it, making Bloodborne feel fresh, new, and exciting. Combine that with outstanding visuals, top notch level design, and some of the best boss battles of the year, and it’s easy to see why Bloodborne is one of the top games of 2015.


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Cities: Skylines

(Review)

After the SimCity debacle, the door to the city sim genre was wide open, and Cities: Skylines walked right through. It was the opposite of EA’s title in almost every way. It embraced modding, eschewed always-on DRM, and and focused entirely on a singleplayer experience. Most importantly, it was damn good at what it did. The game employs many interlocking systems, but none of them are hard to understand. Its UI is informative while not being complicated, and you can easily sit down and understand what’s going on in just a few minutes.

Developer Colossal Order hasn’t stopped working on the game, either. Not only is there already an expansion (titled After Dark), but there have been a number of patches aimed at fixing issues players are encountering, like the penchant for cars to forget that there’s more than one lane for traffic.

Sure, Cities: Skylines has some flaws, but they’re so minor that you rarely notice them until you’re already having so much fun with the game that you can’t bring yourself to care. It’s certainly one of the top games of 2015, especially if city sims are your thing. Did I mention it’s only $30? Yeah, it’s only $30.


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Fallout 4

(Review)

Josh says: Despite the rumors circulating about a Boston-based Fallout sequel circulating for a while, I was delighted at the official announcement, and even more so at the short wait for the game to launch. After waiting two and a half years for Battlefront, this was a welcome change. I got conveniently – also legitimately – sick around the time it came out, and was more or less down and out for two weeks straight. As you might expect, I joined with the plethora of other gamers who also “got sick” around that time, and sunk dozens of hours wandering the Commonwealth, destroying packs of Super Mutants, collecting Power Cores, and scavenging resources to kit out my gear.

Fallout was a natural inclusion as one of 2015’s best games, and was one of the few that most of us had played and almost unanimously loved. For my part, I thought the moral/philosophical dilemma presented in the main story was a brilliant test of personal values, and it’s proven to be quite divisive amongst everybody I’ve talked to. Each player has their own justification for their faction choice at the end, ranging from strong personal beliefs to projecting their character’s motivations onto the decision. It was fun to experience, and even more fun to argue with friends about the “right” choice.

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Metal Gear Solid V

(Review)

Hayden says: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was one of the most highly anticipated games of 2015. It is the missing link within the Metal Gear series and the last installment that series creator and game mastermind Hideo Kojima will work on. Despite all of the Konami drama that has occurred over the past few years, Kojima still delivered a landmark game that lived up to its moniker.

This time around, the long cutscenes and over-explained game tropes that have been a staple of the series since its inception were dropped. This choice might have made the cutscenes shorter, but it certainly didn’t affect the length of the game. With over 200 missions in the game, the objectives are neverending, each with their own variety and challenge. After playing for 80-90 hours, I am still only around 60% and still discovering secrets.

MGSV‘s longevity wouldn’t be as impressive if it weren’t for the massive open world of Afghanistan and Angola. Both maps feature guard patrols, weather systems, and wildlife activity in real time. I constantly found myself getting sidetracked during missions to go catch an animal or capture a high-ranking enemy soldier to Fulton balloon back to base. Although, when I did complete a mission, the small story bits I did get were enough to keep me plugged into the story. In typical Metal Gear fashion, the story kept me guessing up until the very last moment and even left me with more questions that I had to puzzle out for myself.

The Phantom Pain is a non-stop stealth joyride through a beautiful world that has just enough story to keep you engaged without taking you out of the game. Coupled with the masterful design and story from Kojima, Metal Gear Solid V took a bold departure from what stealth-action games are doing today and created a long, beautiful coup de grace for (his) Metal Gear saga.


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Mortal Kombat X

(Review)

Liz says: While some may dismiss the Mortal Kombat franchise as a series of gory fighting games without any depth, it is nearly impossible to deny the rich lore that is infused into the Mortal Kombat universe. The release of Mortal Kombat X marked a new rung on the franchise’s ladder, utilizing that lore fully with one of the most significant story modes included in a fighting game. Mortal Kombat X‘s lengthy story mode is a narrative-rich introduction to fan favorites and new characters alike, seamlessly expanding on their stories – both as individuals and in their relationships with one another.

Both in and out of the story mode, combat is king. The game maintains the crunchy battles and excessive gore that landed the franchise on the map when it was first introduced, while managing to infuse newer, faster, and bloodier moves. The X-Ray moves are graphic, the finishers satisfying, and the characters versatile, each available with three different iterations and a laundry list of potential moves and combos. Every move, including X-Rays, can be linked in different variations in order to achieve the greatest result. Mortal Kombat X isn’t simply a fighting game – it’s a puzzle, a story, and an experience.

Mortal Kombat X is an excellent franchise entry, but more than that, it is an excellent game in its own right.


Pillars of Eternity

Pillars of Eternity

(Review)

Ron says: Sure, fans of classic isometric RPGs were extremely excited when Obsidian Entertainment launched a Kickstarter for Pillars of Eternity, a new isometric RPG. But the real excitement came later, when they played the game and realized that it was a phenomenal success.

Pillars of Eternity manage to blend classic RPG concepts with new ideas, and do so in a way that feels very good. All of the traditional RPG classes are here, and they work exactly as you’d expect. But once you drill down, you see some new things. Dump stats (a stat you can ignore to be more powerful elsewhere) are gone, because every stat matters now, even if you’re a thick-headed fighter type.

What’s really impressive about Pillars of Eternity is how much the player can affect the story. You have lots of agency here, although at times the best choices are locked away behind skill checks, which again makes skills important for everyone.

Another interesting mechanic is that combat does not give any experience points. Instead, you advance by exploring and completing quests. In this system, avoiding a fight and still grabbing the quest item you need is just as rewarding as stomping the monster. This is another way that Pillars of Eternity gives you plenty of choices in how you approach the game.

In short, Pillars of Eternity is a must-play for fans of isometric RPG’s, for people who love lots of player agency, and honestly, for anyone who’s just looking to have a hell of a lot of fun with a videogame.

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Splatoon

(Review)

Ron says: When Nintendo announced Splatoon to the world at E3 2014, everyone was more than a little surprised. Not only was Nintendo working on a shooter, they were working on an online multiplayer shooter. Of course, since it was Nintendo, it would have a more family-friendly twist. Instead of firing bullets at your foes, you shoot paint at the landscape. The team that has covered the most of the map in their color paint when time expires is the winner. It sounds simple, and it is, but there are also some important things to note.

Unlike many of Nintendo’s offerings, you won’t find a single familiar character from their library here. Instead, you play as a bunch of characters that can transform into squids at will, allowing you to move quickly through your team’s paint color, as well as reload your weapon of choice. What’s also interesting is that you can still contribute even if you don’t like taking on other players. Just hang back in the safer areas and paint them, and you’re bringing your team closer to victory.

In short, Splatoon feels like it could only have been made by Nintendo. It doesn’t have voice chat or complicated setups, and it’s super welcoming to new players. It feels like a cross between decorating your house and playing a shooter (and there’s even a paint roller weapon you can get). If this is the future of Nintendo games, we’re all in for a treat.


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StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void

(Reviews: Single-Player / Multiplayer)

John says: When Blizzard announced that it was turning StarCraft 2 into a three-part game, with each part focusing on the various races, I’ll admit I was skeptical. It took more than five years to bring the saga to a close, but in the end the Protoss campaign and story line of Legacy of the Void was arguably the best of the trilogy. Following leader Artanis, the game brings some depth to his struggle to save his people from Amon, while at the same time offering RTS players strong choices on unit selection throughout the varied and interesting campaign and subsequent challenging epilogue missions.

Even if the game had no multiplayer, the single-player game would have been stellar on its own. But StarCraft 2 is synonymous with multiplayer and Legacy of the Void provided exceptional gameplay there as well. The new Archon mode and Automated Tournaments provided something new for beginners and advanced players, while also adding a co-op mode so friends could get through the campaign together.

Put the two together, and Blizzard delivered one of the best RTS games of the year, and perhaps even better than the prvious SC2 standard Wings of Liberty.


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Undertale

(Review)

Angelo says: Undertale is good for many reasons. It has a fantastic soundtrack, emotional writing, a tendency to break the fourth wall, and an interesting gameplay system that melds the JRPG with the bullet hell genre. But what stands out most about Undertale is the way it handles morality. As an RPG protagonist , it’s clear that you can easily murder your way through wave after wave of monsters. But Undertale asks “why?” Why is an arbitrary increase in a number worth killing for? If you had a chance to go through an entire game without harming anyone, would you? Would that even be fun?

Undertale accomplishes this by making you genuinely care about the game’s cast of quirky but lovable characters, who all start out as your enemy. Then, it breaks your heart by offering you a “complete” game, with all questions answered, and ultimate power obtained. All you have to do is slaughter all those you have come to care about. Is it worth following a path of self-destruction just to say “I beat the game?” The answer to that question may haunt you far after the game is complete.

Undertale is good for many reasons, but it’s remarkable because it does something to so few other games do: It makes the player care about who they are.


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Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

(Review)

Ron says: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the conclusion of the story of Geralt of Rivia, the monster slaying Witcher. This series has come a long way since the first game released in 2007, going from a somewhat clunky RPG produced by a small studio to a hugely popular, polished open-world title that much of the gaming world was anticipating.

The Witcher 3 drops you into a massive world filled with things for you to do, and tasks you with (eventually) finding Geralt’s adopted daughter, Ciri. I say “eventually,” because you can’t help but get sidetracked exploring the world and the quests within it.

Every quest feels important, and even the majority of the side quests are more than just “go here and kill a thing.” Most of them have their own mini story arcs, which makes them feel less like busywork, and more like something worth doing. Hunting crafting, and making potions will also distract you from the main quest (not to mention the in-game CCG, Gwent), and The Witcher 3 manages to make those distractions feel fine. The main quest is important, but you aren’t out to save the world on a limited time budget, so side quests don’t feel so out of place.

Most importantly, The Witcher 3 tells a compelling story, and populates its world with believable characters that serve to draw you in and make you feel like you’re living it. This is the best storytelling we’ve seen in RPGs, and it has set the standard that games should be judged by in the future.

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We’ll have our genre and category awards next week, followed by game of the year to close out 2015. If you can’t wait, check out our staff favorites below and see if you can figure out our winners.

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