Wulfy’s Notable Games of 2015

2015 is over. And what a year it’s been.

For me it’s been a very turbulent year, both on a personal, and on a mental health level. I got into group therapy, which unfortunately ended back in September. I got diagnosed with a variant of bi-polar disorder back in spring, for which I attended a course in the final months of the year. I had quite possibly my most difficult summer ever, which led to me being committed for psychiatric observation for the very first time.

The point being that there’s been a lot of focus on my state of health this year, and how I need to structure my life to get better and learn to live with it, which has meant that the blog has gotten more neglected in 2015 than ever since I started it. I hope to be able to pick things back up this year, but I really don’t dare promise anything.

This also serves as a preamble to stating that I might have more to say on each game in this year’s list, since for most of them I’ve not gotten to write out my thoughts yet. Might be best to skip over any games you’re not interested in.

I can’t really think of any dishonourable mentions this year, except perhaps Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void, so let’s start with my honourable mention:

Elite Dangerous

Most Space Game

*engine humming*

While Elite Dangerous came out at the end of 2014, I only started playing in 2015. And I’ve ended up putting more hours into it than I honestly expected. I still agree with those who say it’s probably a bit too expensive, but personally I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of it.

There might be many issues with the game that more serious players are aware of, but I play the game very casually. I chose to be an explorer, so most of the time I’m way out in the vastness of space, far away from anyone else, and there’s just so much space that the odds of running into another explorer are exceedingly low.

It quickly ended up as my premier “game to play while watching videos or listening to podcasts”. Sure, I take breaks from it, some of which can last months, but eventually I always seem to find back to it.

There’s just something about the way it makes me feel. Early on I fell in love with the whole procedure for docking at a space station, thinking it was incredibly neat and a nice bit of world-building. And the game is also just really pretty, both in terms of fidelity and art direction. The back-drop of space looks suitably awe-inspiring, and looking around the cockpit of your ship can reveal a lot of neat little details.

But I think Elite‘s strongest point is its sound-design. I don’t know if it won any awards for it, but it really deserves to. Just listening to your ship lets you practically feel it. The way it accelerates, the way it decelerates, the way the engine hums while cruising, the way it jumps in and out FSD (FTL) mode, the whooshing as you hyper-travel, the various and distinct alert noises, and so on, and so forth.

At times it feels like you could pilot the ship based on audio input alone, though I don’t think that’s actually feasible. But you can often tab out and rely on the game audio to let you know if you suddenly need to tab back in. So in that sense I feel like it’s a great background game. Though I don’t think it works that well as a game you focus on.

In an unusual twist for me, I actually got really into a couple of competitive multiplayer games this year, and I’d like to talk a bit about them. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know which two I’m about to talk about.

Splatoon

I’m a squid now!

You're a kid now?

I was interested in Splatoon ever since I first saw it revealed, but I must admit I didn’t really foresee it becoming as big of a deal for me as it has.

Splatoon seems like the perfect example of how Nintendo only seem to have a vague idea of what everyone else in the games industry is doing, because they’re too busy doing their own thing.

It’s like at some point, the idea that people like team-based multiplayer shooters, and the idea that post-apocalyptic shooters are a big thing, managed to penetrate into the company consciousness. So they went at it with their usual attitude of “okay, it needs to be bright, fun, and suited for the whole family”, and ended up with Splatoon.

And it is really fun! Part of why it appeals to me in a way other multiplayer shooters don’t, is the shift in priority. The goal is not to get as many kills as possible, but to paint as much of the map as you can. Maybe you don’t manage to splat anyone else, and maybe the others splat you several times, but you might still score highly so long as you do a lot of painting. I’ve seen several times that the team who are the best fighters still lose because they’re too obsessed with hunting down the other team. Even in Ranked matches there’s always an objective to fight over, it’s never a deathmatch.

Plus the ink-diving mechanic is brilliant. It hides you, it lets you move faster and climb walls, and it refills your ink tank. So they’ve essentially bound stealth, sprint, and reload to the same button in a way that doesn’t feel awkward.

It’s also just really cute. The inklings are adorable, even in their scowling squid forms, and they’re really into fashion. Because the various gear acquires random attributes as you gather experience, and you are free to upgrade and remix whatever you want, no one has to look the same. While the shop selection is random every day, if you see another inkling wearing something you want, you could always custom-order it.

And the way the fan community so quickly built up around the game was fun to watch. From the myriad of great Miiverse posts you see above other players’ heads in the hub, to all the fan-comics, art, and memes that popped up online, it’s been a delight to follow. There are a lot of talented people out there.

But since it’s Nintendo that made it, there’s also a downside with the game, and unfortunately it’s the social features and the servers. Servers and matchmaking are notoriously unstable, and even though it’s been over half a year since launch, that’s really not been fixed. Players dropping out due to network errors is all too frequent, and just becomes more so during Splatfests. Last Splatfest I was in, I think 2 out of 3 matches ended up 4v3. Victory feels less sweet when you see the other team was missing members, and it’s quite bitter being on an under-sized team and seeing that you don’t really have a chance.

When it comes to the social features, I have no problem with them excluding voice chat. The internet community has proven it can’t be trusted with voice chat, so best to keep it out of games that also cater to kids. My problem lies with how difficult it is to find and play with friends. It is possible to make a team, or part of a team, to go into Ranked matches, but I think that for the normal mode you can only use the “join player already playing” feature, which means you have to wait for them to be done with the match they’re in, and then hope there’s room in their lobby, and bleh.

Why isn’t it possible to team up outside of the game lobby, and then jump into the normal mode? Feel free to randomise who ends up on what team, but just make it easier to get into the same match.

Rocket League

Vroom vroom!

KABOOM!

This kinda came out of nowhere. I had just gotten my PS4 and set up Playstation+ at the time the buzz around Rocket League started happening. So I was able to get the PS+ copy, and play it. Later I also bought it on Steam, because I have several friends playing there.

Put simply, Rocket League is football, but with cars. Rocket cars, to be precise. That might also be remote-controlled, because no human driver could survive the stuff these cars go through. I’ve never been big on football, and the only car games I’ve liked are Mario Kart and Burnout Revenge ( largely for the Crash mode ). But I absolutely love Rocket League.

It’s just such a silly premise. A bunch of cars wearing various hats just fighting over an over-sized ball while jumping, flipping, boosting, flying, and going up the walls. Anything to get the ball into the other team’s goal, so it can EXPLODE and send cars flying everywhere, which never stops being entertaining.

Then it introduced the Mutator mode, in which you can change the settings of the match to make things even more silly. Enlarging or shrinking the ball, changing its properties regarding bounce and heaviness, making it a cube, turning on low gravity, bullet time, and I’m sure there’s more I’ve not seen.

And a current special going on is the “Snow Day” mode where you get a puck and basically play hockey instead. I actually like that mode even more, I think. The puck is set to be very heavy and bounce as little as possible, which results in some very weird physics. A lot of the time, it will be gliding along the walls rather than the floor, and I’ve even seen it glide across the ceiling at times. Normally it should fall down if it got all the way up there, but sometimes it just glides slowly across the ceiling to come down on the other side. To become good at this mode, you really have to get comfortable driving on the walls.

There is really only one big issue I have with the game, and it is partly the fault of other players. You regularly end up joining matches in progress, because other players left that match. I’ve sometimes joined a match when there’s only about 20-30 seconds left, which always sucks. While the players who leave are a problem, I also wish the devs would put in a limit where new players can’t join a match if more than a minute has passed. If everyone else on the team leaves, and I’m the only human player left, I leave too, because I know how much it sucks to be put into such a match like that when you’re looking to play. Better to spare others the same.

I also think it was probably a mistake to have in-game voice chat, and allowing people to freely type in text chat. The short little messages mapped to the D-pad are a good idea, but when it comes to people being able to type freely, I’ve not seen a single instance of anyone typing anything worth reading. Thankfully you can turn off the voice-chat, though it’s enabled by default. Not like you can actually hear what people say anyway.

As stated above: I got a PS4 this year, and that was specifically because of this game:

Bloodborne

So much blood.

Let the Hunt begin.

After Dark Souls II failed to impress last year by missing the point of why people actually liked Dark Souls 1, the original team put out Bloodborne this year. I did a blind diary-style let’s play of it.

Bloodborne exchanged Dark Souls’ medieval gothic aesthetic for a more… would victorian gothic be the right term? It’s closer to modern times, with guns playing a big part in the combat, and it’s also tilted slightly further towards horror this time.

In many ways, Bloodborne feels like a more simplified version of Dark Souls. Where there are quite a lot of weapons to pick from, there is essentially only two viable builds. Either you go for strength, or you go for skill ( basically the same as dexterity ). I guess you can count going for an equal mix as a third build? There are sorceries, but 1) it takes a while to even acquire the first one, and 2) your use of them is very limited. So at best they’re a compliment to your martial prowess. Trying a bloodtinge or arcane build will likely only cause you extra grief, especially if it’s your first time playing. You just won’t be powerful enough to deal with enemies and bosses very quickly. There are arcane weapons, but you are unlikely to get them until well into the game.

However, being more simplified does make it more accessible, I think. But it does not necessarily make it any more easy. Bloodborne‘s combat is much faster than any previous Souls game, which takes a little getting used to, but feels pretty good when you get a grip on it. Hopping around, darting in, and dodging back out. Combining that with every weapon having two different modes, and it makes for a really interesting experience.

It also really likes punishing you for making any mistake, as is tradition in any Souls game.

The gun is your off-hand weapon. There aren’t really any viable shields in Bloodborne, so your choice of gun is your means of parrying enemies. Shooting an enemy at the right point of their attack animation will parry and stagger them. This does not do a lot of damage in and of itself, but it leaves them open for a visceral attack, which does a LOT of damage. While the animation doesn’t use your equipped weapon, damage is still based on your equipped damage rating.

So guns typically don’t do a lot of damage. There are some special ones that can be set up for that purpose, but they tend to eat a lot of ammunition at once. I’ve figured out three main uses for the guns: Parrying, getting an enemy’s attention from a distance, and knocking down enemies that are in ambush positions above you.

It helped my enjoyment that Bloodborne feels more like Dark Souls in key design ways. The world looks cohesive, enemies aren’t clustered unless they’re relatively weak, there’s lots of hidden paths, treasure, and shortcuts to find, bosses are mostly like a puzzle to figure out, and overall it nails that “challenging, but largely fair” sense that I got from DS1. It has its own rules to figure out, but once you understand them, most of the times you die will feel like they’re your fault, and like you can do better next time.

We also had a small expansion towards the end of the year: The Old Hunters, in which you enter the Hunter’s Nightmare to reveal its secret, and put an end to it. My general verdict of it is: It’s okay. Decent, but not great. Not on the level of Dark Souls’ “Artorias of the Abyss”.

It has some extra difficult bosses. That almost feel a bit unfairly so, at least for two of them. They have a large set of attacks and combos, and some of them have very similar wind-ups, making it occasionally hard to tell what’s coming. So you can also get locked into unfortunate patterns where the boss only does attacks that don’t leave any opening to strike back for a very long time.

Most interesting for me was an asylum tower about halfway in that feels like it would fit right in with any Dark Souls area. Unfortunately the story-line of the Hunter’s Nightmare feels a lot less clear than in the main game. I’m still not sure what “secret” I discovered, nor how the pieces really fit together. Souls games have always had more implicit than explicit story-telling, but in The Old Hunters it mostly feels like a disconnected mess.

Transformers: Devastation

Actually Quite Good

Gen 1 Goodness

The news that Platinum Games were doing a Transformers game probably surprised more people than me, and even with Platinum developing it, I don’t think many people expected much from it.

So it became a bit of a surprise when it turned out the game was actually quite good.

I’m on record of saying that I love both of the High Moon Transformers games, and this actually gets pretty close to them in terms of enjoyment for me.

The art style is very faithful to the original models from what is now known as Generation 1, and the animations for them are great too. Sometimes I would stand still and transform back and forth between robot and vehicle mode a few times, just because it looked so good. And they got the proper transformation noise from the cartoon!

The combat and movement are pretty good too, as expected from a Platinum game. It doesn’t quite make sense to have Bumblebee beating up Megatron, but the way you’re flying in and out of vehicle form while fighting is really fun, and they managed to fit it in so it doesn’t feel awkward. I probably didn’t make as much use of the combos as I should have, but that tends to be standard in Platinum games for me.

Of the five Autobots you can play as, four are ground vehicle bots: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Wheeljack, and Sideswipe. While they’re a little different in what weapons they can equip, they seem to handle pretty much the same as far as I can tell. I ended up sticking with Optimus for most of it. And then I unlocked Grimlock.

Grimlock doesn’t become a car, he becomes a robot T-rex, and the mechanics work a little differently for him. His weapon selection is very limited, but he can do more in his dino mode than the others can in their vehicle modes. I also discovered that his charging headbutt move, which is his version of the full-speed charge, does a ludicrous amount of damage. It also triggers the option to do a “Dino attack”, but you’re actually better off just tapping the button to get up to charge speed and headbutting again. Even bosses seem to only take 4 or 5 hits of that.

So yeah, if you like Transformers, or just want another good Platinum brawler, this is well worth giving a look.

While I mostly fell out of playing open-world games this year, simply due to not having the time to invest into them, there are two I got a lot of enjoyment out of, even if I’ve not finished either yet.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Most gruff RPG!

Real-time beard growth!

I liked both Witcher 1 and Witcher 2. I even played through Witcher 2 twice, to see both main paths. There’s just something about the Witcher world and mythology that draws me in. Though I can also see why they put people off.

When they announced that Witcher 3 would be a huge open-world RPG I was apprehensive. Earlier in the year I had finally sat down with Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game which annoyed me immensely in a lot of ways, so I wasn’t sure how Witcher 3 would do with such a set-up. I was still willing to give it a chance though, since I liked the Witcher series so far.

It was like a revelation to me. The world felt more vibrant than ever, there was stuff to find everywhere, villages and towns felt like real places, practically all the quests felt well-written and interesting, the combat was a lot less clunky with you being able to dive around freely and have easy access to spells, and even though it was decidedly not a nice world, it was still a joy to ride around and explore stuff. Even if Roach occasionally gets stuck on things.

This is basically what I wanted out of Inquisition. What I wanted from Oblivion and Skyrim. This is my new high bar for open-world RPGs. This is what they have to reach for.

It even managed to capture people who hadn’t liked the first two games, and people who had never heard of the Witcher series before. You really don’t need to play either of the previous games to play this one. It works just fine on its own.

Plus trolls are awesome, and Geralt just seems to be a snarky old man now, which is great.

Xenoblade Chronicles X

Free-running JRPG!

Aliens!

Considering how late in the year it came out, and how busy Yule-time tends to be for me, I wasn’t sure I’d get around to playing it before I got to writing this list. Now I’m already 40 hours in and having a blast.

I will admit I have probably not made as much progress as would be expected in those 40 hours, because I faff about so damn much.

It seems to have as much connection to the previous Xenoblade Chronicles as the various Final Fantasy games have with eachother. Which is to say: Bugger all, except borrowing some general ideas and concepts. It’s entirely new characters, in a new setting, on a new world.

While XC seemed to be going for a bit of a mix of sci-fi and fantasy, XCX fully embraces the sci-fi side of things, as you are the survivors of your crashed space-ship on an alien world, trying to emulate life back on Earth as much as you can while exploring your new surroundings.

So what have they carried over, you might be wondering. Well, you’re still free to run and jump around as much as you want, finding your own paths if you so desire, and possibly trying to climb every mountain in sight, just to see if you can. You can do even more of it this time, because your character can run and jump worthy of a super-human. And you even get robots that jump even higher, and eventually fly! I’ve not gotten that far yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

There’s also the affinity chart, which feels like it’s a bit less impenetrable this time around. I’ve probably still spent hours working on filling it out, but I’ve felt more relaxed about it contra the previous game.

The combat system also largely works the same, but it feels freer than last time. You can still stagger and topple, but that’s more of a bonus now than an absolute necessity.

It also comes with a fair share of problems. The one that’s annoyed me the most is probably how the map is just a little short of actually being properly useful. You can’t zoom in far enough, and though it divided into hexes, they aren’t properly labelled, so you can’t really use them to give directions.

I also take issue with how you have to level all team members separately. My party limit is four, and with the ones I don’t use not levelling to match the rest of us, I feel much less inclined to switch out members.

I’d also say the menus feel a bit too convoluted and poorly designed. You just have to do too many button presses and screen-switches for certain things.

And the collectible system can be outright frustrating.

But for all that, I still really enjoy playing the game. Exploring Mira is a blast. There’s so many great things to see, and the art direction is fantastic. It could do with a better and larger sound-track, but most of the time I barely notice it anyway.

I’ve just gotten used to, and made my peace with, all the various problems because I have so much fun playing the game. I want to go play more of it right now, but instead I’m here writing.

I’d also like to mention a couple of short indie games that I’ve found interesting.

The Beginner’s Guide

Food for thought.

Lamp posts.

Made by one of the guys behind The Stanley Parable, The Beginner’s Guide is a short and interesting game about how people might interpret someone else’s creations.

It is one of those artsy games that tries to make you think, and I feel like it might be worth giving a look. It won’t take you very long to get through it.

Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

Very long title.

RAWR!

Made by the other guy behind The Stanley Parable, this is a very short, and free, game that explores a silly idea for pretty much exactly as long as the joke holds up. As I said, it’s free, and you can find it on Steam, and it takes like 20 minutes to get through. I thought it had a pretty good sense of humour, and a good voice actor.

And finally the game I feel is most worth playing this year:

Undertale

Game of the Year

A lot of heart and determination.

I wrote a thing about Undertale a few months back, and I still don’t really want to openly discuss spoilers about the game. I went in unspoiled, and I think that’s the best way. I’m sure a lot of people have missed this game, and I don’t want to ruin anything for them.

But when it comes to games worth checking out this year, this tops the list for me. It’s not perfect, it’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s the game that had the biggest impact on me this year, and one I would be quickest to recommend to anyone else. Give it a look. Maybe it won’t do anything special for you. But maybe it will…

I’ve also greatly enjoyed seeing the fan-base that sprung up around the game almost immediately. Like with Splatoon, there’s so much great art, great comics, great little stories, fan-fiction, etc. This game spawned so much love and enthusiasm, and I think we need more of that.

All in all, I think 2015 was a great year for gaming. Sure, there have been better, but it’s still a damn good year, and compared to 2014 it’s essentially miraculous how good it’s been.

Of things I wish I’d played this year, I mostly wish I’d completed Life Is Strange. I still might, but for whatever reason I seem to have just stopped playing episodic games this year. I’ll play the first episode, and then just not continue with the later ones. Which is a shame, because I’m sure I’ve missed very good stuff.

Considering what I’ve seen as upcoming games for 2016, it could be another great year. We have some very interesting titles on the horizon, and I won’t be surprised if any indies pop out of nowhere and become huge sensations. There always seems to be at least one.

~Wulf

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Posted on January 3, 2016, in Games and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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