Does two years make a tradition? If so, my annual trip home for Christmas and the new year is now my game review week. Last year I did it on a whim, and it's interesting to look back and see how some things have changed. I spent overall a little more time playing games this year, but less time playing video games. Some of the notable trends, Guild Wars and Counter Strike moving from mentions last year to big players this year and Hearthstone leading to my current obsession with my number one game......
Hearthstone was on my list for last year, but in the end Hearthstone inspired me to go back to return to paper Magic for the first time since I was 14 (I didn't specify this was a video game list!). As someone who generally enjoys mastering games, formulating plans and then precisely executing them the draw of Magic is strong. You probably played Magic in high school, or saw/beat up people who did but if you're unfamiliar, Magic is a collectible card game that plays like poker crossed with chess. It's like poker in that you play with the cards you draw and chess in that you have to manipulate your pieces (cards) to victory.
Magic can be played in a variety of ways, with an even wider variety of strategies. I started off fairly casually, but at this point I've investing in powerful cards to play Modern, a competitive format, and relishing articles about tempo, card advantage and other lingo of the competitive player.
For all the enjoyment I get from winning games, I think the casual, quirky side of kitchen table Magic is also a lot of fun. Putting together a goofy array of cards to pull off an over the top combo or discussing the phenomenal art and lore with other players, I haven't readily dived so deep into a game in years.
I was late playing Ori and the Blind Forest, only picking it up in October. But it swiftly climbed into my favorite games of all time list. It's an incredibly well polished platformer with incredible music, visuals and a compelling narrative. The atmosphere is lush with detail and ambient glowing lights that allow for superb art direction that characterizes each of the games major zones.
I was reminded of some other excellent short games, like Guacamelee and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The action is good, the Metroid style overworld is fun to travel through and did I mention the incredible music? Overall, it was pretty easy to name Ori as my top video game I played in 2015.
The first major expansion for Guild Wars 2 (not a Living World story patch) brings us new zones, story, weapons and armor, a class, mechanics, raids and the promise of more to come. The expansion brought me back to the game for a number of months, where I ran through the jungle, battled raid bosses and crafted my first legendary weapon (Frostfang). Heart of Thorns excels at brining a map full of people together to conquer groups as a pseudo-army, while also providing challenges for smaller groups and individuals. ArenaNet have learned from the lessons of their first story and focused the expansion's story more personally on characters we meet through the Living World seasons. I'm not playing currently, but I'll surely be back when Living World Season 3 kicks off.
Counter-Strike is another late entry to the best of list, I've started playing more seriously with a regular group of friends now and we shot, laugh and cry our way through competitive matches a couple times a week. Truly the skill-based FPS to be playing, Counter-Strike rewards my patience and practice like few other games I played.
I was introduced to Rocket League by a coworker saying "You have to go download this game from PS Plus, it's ridiculous. And ridiculous it is, rocket powered car soccer. It's fast paced, smooth and incredibly easy to drop in and play, a surprising rise to become one of my favorite laid back games.
The Witcher 3 is the first of massive story RPG that's grabbed me for 50+ hours in a long time. Everyone has already talked about how good the story is and I feel the same way. I never was able to get into previous Witcher games due to how clunky I felt the combat felt, but the third iteration set some deep hooks in my and I rode around for hours, clearing out witches and bandit camps, exploring ruins and at some points playing the politics of nobility. I didn't 100% the game, but I certain left with my fill of monster slaying.
Primarily a puzzle game that feels like an extended Portal game, The Talos Principle really shines with both it's level design and morality based story, questioning the nature of robotics and if a robot can ever gain sentience. Explored mostly through text files and journal entries found on scattered terminals, I fully recommend digging deep into the experience beyond the well-crafted puzzles.
Destiny makes the list mostly because if I spent so much time on something, I had to enjoy it right? In all seriousness, Destiny is the MMO-lite of choice for a number of my coworkers, and I have fun zipping around the planets and coordinating for raids. At this point I don't play on my own and really only am enticed by raiding but the amount of positive changes made to the game from launch to Year 2 are really great.
Cities: Skylines: Cities: Skylines seems to have taken up the mantle of chief city simulator from the defunct Sim City franchise, and Paradox Intersctive have continued to pump updates and features into the game. I had a good time playing it this fall, finally growing a city above 30,000 residents. Keeping it in the roster for games to play on casual afternoons.
Bloodborne: Ok so I know I should have played more of this, and am planning to finish it this next year but it sort of fell out of my rotation. That being said, defeating the first boss was one of the most gratifying gaming moments I had this year.
Super Smash Brothers: Good old fashioned party fun. Was my subway game of choice for a while.
Diablo 3: As much as I try to deny it, I love clicking on things. I actually had to switch mice at work because Diablo was giving me some Repetitive Stress Injury symptoms in my right wrist. It's better now, and just in time for a new season.
Hearthstone: Still casually fun, but the barrier to having fun for me is having competitive cards which are more or less completely RNG dependent.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes: Great little asymmetrical party game where one person has to describe a bomb to the other players and figure out how to defuse it.