Darkest Dungeon is a 4-slot position-based RPG wherein you are tasked to continuously send frightened explorers and warriors into nightmarish wealds and slovenly brackens, with the sole purpose of rebuilding your ancestral home back up, brick by bloodsoaked brick. Your chosen party members and reserves are not hired and outfitted with the expectancy that they will live for the 90 or more times you dive into another excursion--this RPG is roguelike in nature, meaning death is not only expected, but it it imminent if you wish to fight through most of the tougher bosses. In sacrifice, there is radiance--your stressed-out heroes have equal chance to find either middling madness or courageous zeal.
As a bitesize roguelike, Darkest Dungeon will have you sending 4-person parties consisting of a handful of diverse classes and skills into horrid ruins, with the aim usually to do something like exploring 90% of an area, fulfilling all room battles, or slaying a boss enemy. In battle, there's a quaint selection of status ailments, movement shuffles, debuffs, and heals to be slung about, varying depending on your characters. But, there's also the element of Stress--a value that increases or decreases depending on how dim you keep the torch you bear, how many sickening critical hits you take, or what ailments and entrapments envelop each characters. At the edge of Stress lies the maw of madness; a Fearful hero may skip turns, while an Abusive one may hurt itself or berate others with increasing Stress. On the flip side, some characters will have the chance to rise up, becoming stronger and wiser as the tide of the fight turns. This singular feature alone is a wonderful addition to the RPG formula, and adds a lot of strategy to the scope ahead, as well. It serves not just as a thematic difficulty weight, but to also insure you consistently play with and utilize a variety of different teams and playstyles. it's quite a brilliant way to put forth the idea that each encounter with the unknown and the eldritch has a palpable effect on your poor adventurers, thus necessitating a visit to the bar or an internment at the medical asylums between missions.
When you aren't imploring your mercenaries out to the evil realms, you're constantly upgrading your haven. Early on in Darkest Dungeon, the focus is less about your adventuring roster and more about preparing your former hovel to a battle-ready home. Eventually, you'll be able to not only pay less for cures and heal more people effectively, but outfit leveled characters with better armor, weaponry, and buffed skills. As upgrades grow and characters get stronger/better, so too does the knowledge of how to better tackle traps, examine weakness of each enemy type, and formulate teams with synergy. It's an expertise that comes with both time and effort, since your stronger teams will not likely emerge until a few areas in your town are updated permanently. In this way, I've found this game much more accessible than other roguelikes like FTL or even Binding of Isaac, which gave you more options on each playthrough but did not guarantee what you could carry on. In Darkest Dungeon, even if you manage to wipe out your entire roster, the progress made in your village will ensure that the following adventures you have go by smoother due to the capability to actually upgrade stats cheaper and faster.
Thematically, Darkest Dungeon is beyond excellent; from the initial mood that narrator Wayne June dregs up like a thick fog of horror, the grim resolve permeates everything that is said and done throughout your journey. The notes and quotes of your ancestor litter each major boss fight's foreword, and with every strike and discovery there's a notation of victory--or defeat. Rarely is there something so notably incomprable when it comes to presentation, but the narration here is so enjoyable. Equally enjoyable is the fantastic art style, a kind of Gory/Mignola mashup that isn't quite hyper-real but still manages to be unsettling and shadowed with something sinister. A great many monsters are legit gross and abhorrent, which goes a long way at encountering some of the more disgusting bosses and knowing you're in for quite a match.
I'm not a roguelike guy at all--I've never even come close to beating stuff like Isaac or FTL or even Invisible Inc, much as I love those games and enjoy their mechanics. However, I've clicked with DD mainly because the "failure" of losing characters, even after a great many victories to build them up, doesn't cause me pangs of extreme grief. I am not the character--I am the descendant, and the township is my legacy, not the life of the mercs. This format allowed me to accept that the future excursions would become less fraught with peril, although the threats and stress therein will always consistently provide some sort of challenge. It's that roguelike everyone has where you can put 100 or so hours in, doing convenieently menial or repetitive tasks yet always curious what's next. What team composition can I try next? What lurks beyond that threatening curio on the map? Which quirks and diseases should I heal--or spend a fortune to lock?
When it comes to "that bullshit rng" claims--I have to laugh, as this is no different from any rogue/rpg/etc. The real elements of distress and fear of death are what seperate this from most smaller roguelikes, though this game's really no different in handling RNG-based tragedy than Fire Emblem or XCOM--both games that I love. Sure, there was rarely a boss that I beat without a significant death from my team, but again--this is a slow march towards getting better and building smarter. Death is inevitable as you climb closer to the zeniths ahead. As far as options go, for those who are not a fan of systems like enemy corpses affecting slots or heart attacks making stress potentilaly more taxing, the devs have chosen to give normal runs the ability to switch those features on or off. I admit, at first I found those features a bit overwhelming--before I began paying attention to the upgrades that would even the odds. I've played with all the normal features turned on since and never felt like they hindered me immensely.
Darkest Dungeon has been a pleasure to play, from its early access inception to its ultimate released form. There have been stumbles along the way, particularly nerfs or buffs that made me initially think that the game was on very thin ice. However, Red Hook's willingness to be flexible with toggled options and updates have won my trust, and I've found that there was more advantage given to the player over time when it came to things like debuffs and movement options. That I've played almost nothing else the past few weeks since their latest flurry of updates and upgrades says a lot about how fantastic I think this stress-inducing, mind-melting jewel is. What I love most is that even at the lowest point, I've been able to start again and stronger than before--not just due to the progress of the town, but based on what I learned from each triumph and failure before. That, I believe, is the mark of an outstanding roguelike. I've stood gallant and fearless as my Vestal withered into madness, depending on the Leper messiah to slay the Formless Flesh--and cheering silently as he proceeded to hew through the horrid menace with a much-needed hit. I've seen my entire force slaughtered and boiled to bits my the malignant Hag, cursing my fortune and vowing to return in due time to turn the tables on the morrow.
I've watched entire parties crumble, only to rally around one lone Crusader who decides to get Focused at the peak of his stress. And I've accepted defeat at the maw of the malicious Shambler, foolish in my confidence that my rank 1 group could possibly outwit the Lovecraftian beast. DD is as much about the stories and failures gifted as it is about slowly accepting your knocks and eventually besting the opposition. It's a marvelous, wicked game, worthy of at least a try if this relatively simple creation interests you.
Red Hook has potentially created a masterpiece of the genre. The match has been struck; a blazing star is born.
Another year, another gluttony of disappointments, masterpieces, and inevitable failed ports. It was a year of growing pains for the home console market, as well as the death throes of yet another Nintendo console that probably is on its way out after Smash Bros stops putting out DLC. We laughed, we cried, and we also argued whether or not MGSV was incomplete by the standards of Slavoj Zizek. The answers lie somewhere between his cocaine-addled nostrils and the asscrack where he keeps all his vintage NES instruction manuals. Philosophical purview aside, let's count down my own Top Ten games of 2015.
10) NEKO ATSUNE (Mobile phones and whatever)
Never before has a stupid mobile game captured my bitter, hate-filled soul like Neko Atsune. Originally out in Nippon last year, the English version for stupid gaijins only recently dropped onto our disgusting mobile computers this autumn. My girlfriend has been playing this for over 100 years now, and I'm quite jealous of the spacious cat emporium she has built in that time. I'm still just a cat newb at this, building up my pitiful yard with rubber balls and socks. It's a very tiny app with very short bursts of activity, but I love this stupid cat-butthole simulator and it has brought me more joy than all the old-school isometric RPGs in the world.
9) MORTAL KOMBAT X (PS4, XB1, "PC")
With the road from the classic arcade games to the low point of Armageddon and then screaming back to relevance with its resurrection in 2011, Mortal Kombat had accomplished a huge feat: finally stepping into the competitive fighting game community. Years and years back, such a notion would have been absolutely ludicrous--but MK9 broke the mold, and MKX built upon the foundation with an even better set of claws. Heralded by the interesting Variation systems for each characters, the roster took an even stranger turn when it came to developing new strategies--suddenly, almost every combatant had at least 2 or 3 viable modified playstyles to choose from. While the end result doesn't always play out for a few guys on the roster, it indubitably made things a lot better. Suddenly, you could learn a core character but still change things up a little for your matchups.
MKX isn't quite Street Fighter, an ArcSys game, or Marvel when it comes to hitboxes and the dialed combos--but it has taken huge steps in terms of reputation, both competitively and in single-player content. Boasting some awesome production efforts and buckets of fanservice--it has Jason Voorhees and the fucking Predator, for god's sake--MKX is tough to ignore when discussing fighting games that offer a gluttony of things to do. Guilty Gear Xrd, while an awesome game in its own right, misses the mark by just a bit when it comes to how much time I've spent just fucking around in MKX, against friends or entombing myself in the numerous challenge modes it offers. Netherrealm Studios has reached the apex in terms of how far this franchise has come, and I can't wait to play as Alien and Leatherface and Taco Bell Triple Meat Robot.
8) XENOBLADE CHRONICLES X (WiiU)
This is more or less a vote of confidence since I haven't even received my goddamn gundam robot yet. At times, XCX can be very fatiguing and sluggish; I'll get frustrated trying to get new landmarks but a level 100 brontosaurus will bite my ass and send me all the way back. The itemization is just as dense and impenetrable as the last game, and the story/characters are so piss-poor that it boggles my goddamn mind that this came from the same studio responsible for Reyn Time and Riki the Incredible Heropon. The gameplay and combat, however, have been taken to an extreme level, pushed to a new zenith in terms of choices and strategy. It's just a shame that this game barely tells you anything and you're going to have to grind at certain junctures to get places. The actual affinity missions and plot points are pretty good, but that's providing you have the ingenuity to get to those points.
It doesn't help that the music in the main world hub is so fucking shockingly bad that I often just mute the whole goddamn game. It's a shame that there's no music volume option; it blares over even dialogue in story cutscenes. Although the soundtrack is a mixed bag at best, it's not as good as the previous game--nothing was as memorable as Gaur Plains or even the big Nopon Tree. That's another thing I hate, which is that we only have one main hub and nothing else. At least in XC for Wii, we could visit spaceman High Entia palaces or half-finished Colony 9 dirtclods. Here, it's just one big city accompanied by the worst fucking theme I'ver heard in years.
It sounds like I hate this game with a passion but in reality, I've just had to trudge through so much dumbfounding crap that I've taken a break from playing this. Like I said before, nothing is explained and I had to figure out the easiest way to go about business myself. Thus, I haven't played enough of this to really formulate an opinion, almost partially because I'm scared I'm going to default with "I'm disappointed in this." XCX does a lot right but right now there's far more it gets wrong in terms of fucking tiring chores and plasma-thin character beats.
7) BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT (PS4, XB1, "PC")
I pick Arkham Knight despite the fact that the last Riddler racetrack segment made me so pissed off that my girlfriend actually thought I would go on a shooting spree or do something insane like buy an Ouya. This is also in spite of the fact that Batman is unplayable on PC and created possibly the most hilarious and inept backlash ever in terms of Steam refunds. And yes, all the fucking challenge maps were only put back in after everyone cried about it (rightfully so.) A lot of negatives there but if you play Arkham Knight in all its beauty on a console--something the developers can't even believe works, as I understand--you can see just how satisfying it is to BE THE BATMAN, AND ALSO HIS CAR. Batmobile puzzles aside, I actually found the Macross Tank segments enjoyable, and the combat+stealth has never been better. The fights are more complex, bringing in new threats constantly, making the old buttonmash aspects less viable than ever. The predator gameplay is even more fun now that the criminals will eventually adapt to your oft-used tactics, doing things like destroying the gargoyles or moving in pairs to nullify weapons and movement options.
It's a fun Batman story, even if the ending falls flat--but let's all be honest, if the Joker didn't fucking die in Arkahm City aka "Fanfiction City" then the whole fucked-up cottage pie of a narrative wouldn't have been notable. Batman has to save the world again, blah blah blah but this time, there's even more to do in terms of side missions and more ways to do it. Yes, it's another Batman, but I fucking love Batman and liked this one enough to play it twice over. With Challenge Maps added (ten bux lol) it's finally a complete offering. Now you can play as Fake Azrael and Fake Red Hood and also Shrieking Cosplay Tara Strong. Arkham Knight (on the consoles) is also an incredibly beautiful, stormy starshine of a metropolis to fly over, still one of the most impressive vistas I've walked around this year. It has its warts under the surface, though--
the final Riddler race for Catwoman's segment made me rage harder than any game in years and I thought the lack of actual bosses was a tremendous disappointment. Shit, I can't even remember any boss battles at all, now that I think about it. You'd think they'd learn from Origins. especially when it came to drawing in new and unique villain battles (Deathstroke, Copperhead, Deadshot, Firefly) but instead you get virtually nothing. You don't even fight Man-Bat. Even Arkham City had better bosses.
Even though this was one of my lower faves of the year I have to admit Rocksteady fucked up their reputation royal and the DLC they put out is laughable. I can't imagine being optimistic about what they're doing for the future. We're talking about a company who eschewed QA testing just so they could keep the identity of Arkham Knight a secret (lol)
However, if you are a devout PC gamer and hate this pick, I offer an alternate one for you gearheads:
Alt-?) Guilty Gear Xrd Sign: Guilty Gear Xrd finally came to PC this year. I think all the others also came to PC so there's no excuse not to own the best fighting game in the world. Please delete your Street Fighter games and only play Guilty Gear, a game with 20 thousand technical moves and actual combos.
If you hate fighting games or are incapable of executing a fireball, feel free to replace this pick yet again with Invisible Inc/Galak-Z/Undertale/Dropsy or whatever other indie game is on your Macbook.
6) BLOODBORNE (PS4)
Much like Witcher 3, I came into Bloodborne largely ignorant of the preceding games--in this case, the Dark Souls series. I briefly played the original D-souls game on PS3 but never stuck with it, abandoning it for other things down the line. The setting never grabbed hold of me, either; and so I ignored the DS games for years. Things changed with Bloodborne, which appealed to me largely due to the Gothic horror setting and the more aggressive sans-shield gameplay that evolved from Dark Souls. Turtling endlessly never appealed to me in Dark Souls, whereas the frantic pistol riposte and Rally mechanic in Bloodborne ensures that the most dangerous thing you can do is NOT fight. Pile the now wellknown difficulty on top and you have a very challenging task in navigating the nightmarish city of Yharnam. Bloodborne's taxing request to me, sudden deaths and all, never frustrated me--I knew to expect death and learned from it. With a bit of luck and skill, you'll be able to conquer even the most terrifying beasts, even as they tower several feet above you. Luckily, the game can also afford you the ability to connect with passing Hunters online, providing you assistance in some of the more opaque encounters and travels.
Bloodborne is a very mystifying and old-school thing; it explains just the bare necessities and little else. Everything you do, including deciphering the terror of the moon, is up to you. All that's for certain is that something is quite wrong, and many morbid and celestial abominations will test you. I never felt safe in Bloodborne, and the horror aspect is something I liked even more than the Souls themes; this was more than just a medieval journey, it was a neverending struggle against a possibly celestial menace and its corrupt followers. I've read about the overlaying narrative and I'm convinced it's mostly insane ramblings that just barely thread together something about a fucking church that worshiped a cookie monster that tainted their blood to create a new baby monster but whatever--the point is that it's creepy shit and you're going to be horrified by everything from grasshopper werewolves to ugly spider babies.
Bloodborne deserves credence if only because it's a freaky goddamn game, though I do wish some of the bosses were a bit less annoying and there was a tad less grinding. The complaints for Bloodborne in other areas are very trifling; it's genuinely a very well-done game with many reasons to play again with different styles and tactics. Nothing this year made my blood rush more than the madness of Bloodborne--a pact that giveth and taketh away, but the soul still burns. Bloodborne is the only game this year--and the first in maybe a decade--that I bothered to buy the beautiful strategy guide for, so that counts for something, if only because there's so much content to sift through and analyze. A TOAST TO THE MOON.
5) ROCKET LEAGUE (everything except WiiU)
Rocket League, in my opinion, had the best story of any game this year. You are a rocket powered RC car that must push soccer balls into goals to save the world. It's a fantastic premise with an even better gameplay shelf life, promoting limitless possibilities and variations on the initial plot. I very much enjoyed 4v4 matches of complete moronic chaos, spamming autocorrect messages into the chatbox and diving off the walls of the arena into other cars, hopefully destroying them. Rocket League was initially a free game for its first month of release on PS4, making it The Greatest Deal of All Time 2015. If you didn't pick it up then and you had a PS4 then it's possible you're a nominee for Biggest Dumb-Dumb 2015.
Rocket League is a timeless jewel; a game enjoyed in equal measures through robot AI drivers and disgustingly skilled people online. I love playing with a good group over the net just as much as I like doing Mutation matches with a square zero-g "ball." It is difficult to say why Rocket League owns so hard but the premise of a having stupid cars bop around a ball and do flippy jumps all over with their jet engines is so cool that I shouldn't have to fucking elaborate further. I'm certain I'm terrible at this game but I love it anyway and the whole world should love it, too.
4) FALLOUT 4 (PS4, XB1, PC)
Fallout 4, although it is surprisingly based around the same game engine as its predecessor, manages to upturn the table that FO3 once sat at, putting an ugly horse out to pasture and breathing fresh air into Bethesda's flagship game. Although not a perfect revitalization, Fallout 4 is an incredibly satisfying upgrade that builds upon what Bethesda's been trying to create since Fallout 3. I have to admit: in the first few hours of FO4, I was not impressed at all. It took another day or so to reach the inner cloisters of the postapocalypse; the secret societies, the grand garbage cities, the army zeppelins, and the underground railroads. The joy of Fallout 3 was always in discovery and feeling a part of something after escaping from the Vault--here, not only can you establish a permanent home, but also create more meaningful alliances than in the past. In terms of the writing and story, FO4 can stumble but eventually finishes far ahead of FO3's straight-arrow plot. Some of the bigger twists and turns make mincemeat of the previous efforts, though you'd be forgiven for still thinking New Vegas was comparable (it was and still is.) FO4 makes more significant change to its guts, though--this comes not only in the form of a rudimentary Minecraft grab bag, but in exhaustive weapon mods, very fleshed out Companion system and characters, better gun controls, and a streamlined Perk system that may or may not be a negative for you. Overall, it looks a great deal better than the green and brown tinged garbageworld of mannequins, as well; it probably won't win any awards for graphics with people, but I thought Bethesda did a good job considering how godawful the previous games were.
In some ways, FO4 feels like the effort that FO3 should have been--better looking, better written in areas, better realized through its various knickknack features and AI improvements. It's a logical leap forward, even if it's not a radical evolution coming from DC to Boston. It's a bit of a soft reboot, taking into consideration what you like about the past and scaling it up within reason. Despite the flaws of repetitious actions and quests, janky physics, expected Bethesda-esque bugs and grungy limtations of the housebuilding simulator, Fallout 4 can be deliriously fun to probe around in. I've had a hell of a time with the new story's eccentricities and oddball characters, and even more fun discovering all the new landmarks there are to investigate. It comfortably takes Fallout 3's place in my all-time list, which is a steep order even with FO3's endless ability to piss me off with crappy bugs, ugliness, and stupidity. There's nothing quite like these Fallout games, and FO4 is a worthy entry in this batshit crazy series of kitchen robots and cola-hoarding. It is a stupid game that you will love if you enjoyed the other games in the Bethesda: Stupid Games Anthology.
3) HELLDIVERS (PS4/3, PC)
One of the first big PS4 exclusives for the majority of 2015, Helldivers kicked off the year beautifully alongside Bloodborne later on in March. Helldivers has been one of the coolest surprises in recent memory, coming out of nowhere while continuing to be relevant through a barrage of small yet fun DLC packs full of new ways to blow up bugs. It's always been engaging firing up with a 4-man team and experimenting with different loadouts, which seem to be endless in the ways they promote hazardous yet stupidly fun vigilance. Helldivers basically takes the essences of isometric topdown games like Diablo and Gauntlet and smashes it together with squad-based missions, all the while ensuring you always have a new tool to earn or upgrade from your excursions. That it is still a marvelous joy to play with multiple people is a triumph, probably only overshadowed by Rocket League's breakthrough this year. Even with the spotlight being taken by the high-octane car combat, Helldivers is still one of the best goddamn multiplayer experiences in years, and one which will only grow on Steam. It is one of the best multiplayer games ever created and if you don't think so too, choke down a cup of liber-tea, you CYBORG COMMIE.
2) METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN (Everything except WiiU)
This is the story of a grizzled, older veteran and his neverending "take your daughter to war day," training a young superhuman sniper who can't stop humming 80's tunes. It's about a wetworks agent who somehow finds himself doing rescue missions for endangered animals by way of a flying balloon extraction system. It's the tale of a brainwashed illuminati trying to stop a younger version of itself--a version that has cropped up as a cult of personality, an army of many ideals and languages, most of the volunteers being men who were forced into accepting the love of their impudent, embittered Christ figure who routinely tortures his former friends. It's a spy flick involving Gundam mechs, psychokinetic hallucinations, and genetic engineering. It is emergent gameplay that reacts to your style, sometimes unintentionally but always entertaining. It is the legend of Big Boss, a man who cloaks himself in smoke and leaves nothing but inflatable decoys of himself surrounding a frightened and confused hostage and engages in long awkward staredowns with a burn victim who thinks he's a cross between Stephen Hawking and Zorro. This is how a fallen war hero undertakes a mission of retribution through cardboard box technology and it owns.
I'm sure everyone and their mother has their own opinions about MGSV but the most pressing is addressing the nature of it as an incomplete game. However much content has been cut, I would actually rather say it is a "shattershot story" instead; the gameplay doesn't suffer to a grandiose level because of certain omissions to the narrative. The highs are high, especially with the more well-constructed stealth missions and encounters--and while the lows get tiring and boorish in terms of grinding for GMP and fighting horrid Skull bosses, the overall bell curve of the story and missions dragged me back to mainly praise in the end. Lastly, I would also say that for an incomplete product, MGSV offers much more than a grand majority of so-called complete games with shoddy framerate, poor support, and $40 DLC that has been piecemealed from the basic experience. MGSV offers itself as-is, and what it is will definitely be remembered as one of the best stealth-op action games ever conceived.
And, if you're one of those pitiful fucks that really can't let go of the story being disappointing then go ahead and play MGS4 again and tell me that you wanted more of THAT shit in your current-gen MGS, you insane fucker.
1) THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT (PS4, XB1, PC)
It's difficult to summarize something that isn't just the best game of the year, but also crosses into the threshold of one of the Best All-Time when it comes to RPGs. Having never even played the previous Witchers is testament enough for how well CDProjekt Red immerses you in the characters, the history, and the subtle politics therein. It's refreshing when your actions carry a weight that only you bear--a world of grey morals--yet still affect the land at large. The greater part of Geralt's journey is filled with humor and pathos that dumps all over BioWare's Good/Bad moral scale and brings a staggering variety of stories to finish with it. Some of the most harrowing, difficult, and poignant decisions in any RPG of played came from Witcher 3, and a majority of them came with consequence--to myself, someone else, or a nation. The core of how the game has been written, along with the reactions, goes against so many fallacies in many RPGs for the better, enabling you to feel even more attuned to how chaotic the world is. Not every feat will result in happy endings, and no failure promises oblivion. The combat, while methodical and agreeable, is but a portion of the greater scenery and awesome scale that this universe offers.
CDProjekt Red deserve nothing but praise for crafting such an incredibly interactive and beautiful place to explore. More than many other games, this is a true sellsword experience; Geralt ever the drifter that comes into contact with hundreds of people who need help, whether it be ghoul extermination or simply assisting the destitute. It says a lot about the game that it reserves bigger combat scenarios, feeling comfortable enough to let the writing carry the weight. When the time comes to actually clash, some of the more exciting fights against mythical creatures are very enjoyable and something to behold. From skyloft griffins and dank hellhole fights with demogoblins to tagteaming a demon in an attic and going 1v1 with a rogue Witcher, the gameplay from combat more than holds its own when it needs to.
I've poured over 100 hours into Witcher 3. It is the intoxicating "one more quest, one more excursion" that binds, but with even greater value and choices. It is nearly flawless--a masterpiece of this generation and all others before it, and will surely become the new standard for every open-world RPG that will come after. Witcher 3 now holds that enviously nigh-impossible title of raising the bar, and the future of RPGs is now better for it.
SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS: "THE SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS!"
Not everything can be in the hallowed Top Ten---and not everyone can win a special "Special Extra Award" award! Here are some fun little awards for extra fun special categories like Coolest Macaroni, or Lamest Sock Drawer in a JRPG.
BEST WASTE OF TIME: Marvel Heroes 2015/2016
Marvel Heroes is a huge waste of time, and my Steam account says I wasted 120 hours or so on this stupid fucking game. It's basically Diablo but with Marvel shit, and 60 different characters along with 300 different item systems. It's extremely newbie nonfriendly so good luck trying to understand what every currency and artifact even does. I've basically spent about 50 or so bux on this otherwise free game, mainly because I loved buying new heroes and didn't want to wait to save up my ingame currency for them, and I also loved taking advantage of 2 for1 deals or stupid worthless costumes for my make-believe Spiderman. Over time, Marvel Heroes and David Brevik (former Diablo 2 head honcho) have added even more shit, and with the 2016 update that allows controller support (finally, a solution for my chronic carpal tunnel pain from all clicky games) the game will be even more widespread. God knows adding a controller with Reaper of Souls did Diablo 3 wonders, too. If you love to waste time with clicky Diablo shit but always wished your Necromancer character was Dr. Doom instead, then get Marvel Heroes. You'll be glad you did!
BEST COMEBACK FROM ILL INTENT: Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
Ubisoft did itself a huge disservice by refusing to name this game Blackjack Limey Syndicate, because the AC surname is more a bane than a boon. After a lifetime of open-world retreads and a horrific entry in Unity last year, Ubisoft really had its work cut out for them in their next yearly installment of Everyone's Favorite Assassin Game. But, could it even be salvaged, when Shadow Of Mordor ate its lunch last year and Phantom Pain escalated the stealth genre so much? Surprisingly, I've had loads of fun with Syndicate so far, and a lot is owed not only to Ubisoft's Quebec studios wresting control from their Montreal-based Unity brethren, but the rollicking good time of industrious Londontown. The stealth gameplay has actually reached an apex now, making it necessary to actually be careful about your location--and if all fails, the combat is the most intense and brutal the series has ever been. Not only that, but the traversal's new grappling rope system is very fun to utilize, and doesn't completely invalidate your standard parkour and freeform climbing around the smoky rooftops of England.
In terms of how this looks and performs compared to Unity's glitchfest of pop-in and chugging frames, the world of late-1800s London is beautiful and remarkably consistent; I can count maybe 2 seconds of slowdown while racing on busy streets with my GTA horse and buggy in several hour of playtime. To tell you the truth, I'm stunned at how smooth the experience is, even when I'm gouging some poor fucker's eyes out.
Sure, it looks good, but what about the bog-standard Ubisoft content and presentation? If there's one thing we can be thankful for, it's an utter abberation of Uplay bullshit or DLC reminders. Ubisoft clearly wants to play the sad puppydog eyes at us after Unity's massive failings, leading to a purer sense of immersion--one not broken up with "buy 100 helix points, you twat." As far as the content goes, I'm having fun just leading my gangs of Rooks into dragout fights, ascending clock towers for fucking Alexander Graham Bell, and exploring all the little nuances that new assassin and infiltration missions offer. It's AC stuff, sure--but it reminds me more of the magic I felt way back in AC2. I've only ever played Ezio's first adventure, along with maybe half of AC4's pirate sailing sim, so maybe I'm far less burnt out on this whole thing. Even so, I did miss the old atmosphere of AC2, and this feels like a huge reformation--the way Assassin's Creed should have progressed in terms of locomotion, battles, skillsets, and scaleof the world. It's been a year of a great many open world experiences, with Witcher 3 being the top of the heap and things like Batman, Mad Max, and Xenoblade bringing up the rear. AC Syndicate, though, brings quite a different scope from the stormy ransacked metropolis of Gotham or the endless void of Mad Max. It's easy, as always to be fatigued by open-world checklists and useless hubs--but after not visiting this zone of gameplay for years now, Syndicate scratches an itch for an atmosphere of being a secret idiot ninja assassin in an otherwise realistic world of dumbbbells that I have missed for a long, long time.
BEST SOUNDS: MGSV: The Phantom Pain
Although I loved all the music from Witcher 3, it didn't have the option to chop goblins in half while Kids In America blared in the background. Finally, a game where I can shoot up a base to the tune of The Final Countdown, or descend from a chopper as Rebel Yell squeals over the speakers.
Additionally, MGSV has the best sounds largely due to most of the story being played on cassette tapes. If you ever felt like the narrative of previous MGS games ate into your gameplay time, fear not! Now, you essentially have MGS5: Books On Tape Edition! Just listen to groundbreaking plot twists and important insider info at your leisure while you infiltrate bases and take showers with your weird parasitic teammates. In all seriousness though, the work done on the tapes--especially the "Truth Tapes" at the tail end with Major Zero--are extremely well produced. It's a bit of a shame so many were relegated to merely audio tapes, but for what we got, it was very well done.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Evolve
Please see the enclosed review in my previous post for a wonderful review!
BEST DOG: D.D. from MGSV
It's a tough call between Dogmeat from Fallout 4 and the random dog NPCs from Witcher, but DD is clearly the best dog of them all. Marking all known hostages and enemies in a map? Fultoning people from afar with his mountain-dog balloon pouch? Having the most adorable puppy paw pads!? DD has it all. You can even change his fur and fake eye appearance, which doesn't bother DD in the slightest. WHAT A GOOD BOY. The fact that he was raised by Revolver "Shalashaska" "Adamska" "Liquid" Ocelot just makes him even cooler. Thank you, Kojima....thank you for your dogly goodness.
BEST NEW CHARACTER: Bart the Rock Troll, Witcher 3
Honestly, all the rock trolls from Witcher 3 could have made this list--from the 3 that wanted to have new clothes, to the childlike dumbbell who just wants to paint pretty pictures and help the army. I love rock trolls so much that when on a mission to discover what happened to lost miners, I outright told the mayor "yeah they bothered a rock troll and died and it's your fault idiot, should have not bothered a troll." Man, the mayor was fucking PISSED and called me good for fucking nothing. But you know what, I was safe in the knowledge that I had protected the GOOD AND INNOCENT ROCK TROLL. Rock trolls are great, but you never forget your first Rock Troll, and mine was Bart. The simple-minded guard for Dijkstra's vault, he won hearts and minds alike with his gentle demeanor and honest hard work. If you killed Bart later on in the encounter with Phillipa, then you're a piece of shit who deserves all the maladies available in the modern world.
MOST/LEAST DIRE DECISION MAKING: Witcher 3 + Fallout 4
Both of these games have major arcs that require you to make some important choices. One of the longest amounts of time I've ever spent on a game choice was early in the Witcher 3 (or early by lenient standards, since this is like 100 hours long). Deliberating whether or not to permit a colleague's vengeance on a seemingly innocent, reformed man was compounded by all the facts that had been offered and the journey I'd been on to reach this point. There were many more situations that followed this one, due in part to Witcher 3's stellar writing and characters. On the other hand, when I accidentally agreed to betray one faction in Fallout 4 and join the neo-natiolist Brotherood, I shrugged and said "oh, well." My girlfriend was pissed the entire night as she watched me slaughter the Railroad friends who had put their faith and trust in me. In Fallout, one well-meaning faction ultimately has to suffer the most, so it's really a crapshoot when deciding how to go about the endgame. Surely I could have reverted back to a previous save, but I figured fuck it and froze Deacon into a popsicle with my Cryo gun. The characters and storylines in Fallout 4 are good, but overall this is still a classic Bethesda sillyworld full of goofy logic and incomparable morons. I felt immersed, yeah; but I also never really pondered many things more than a few seconds.
BEST BOSS: Father from Fallout 4
Sure, I could have put any random shmuck from Bloodborne and called it a day, but that'd be too easy. Instead, I'd like to note the intense satisfaction I felt as I infiltrated the Institute and confronted this helpless fucker. Don't bother telling me how disappointed you are in me, dude--keep your worthless platitudes and eat shit. The nerve of this kidnapping, robot-implanting fuck to throw shade on me while I've got the nukes? I shot his face off and then stole his clothes, leaving him not only dead but possibly full of postmortem embarrassment. That's #fallout, baby.
BEST ENDING: MGSV: The Phantom Pain
I'm sure this will boil quite a few pisspots, but when you take into account the themes of identity, of creating a cult of personality and a legend, the definition of the "player" role in games and how YOU have literally created the legend that has now come to an end, there was no better way to simultaneously kick you in the balls while thanking the playerbase for helping to bring the Big Boss to power. It remains one of the biggest fuck you moments in quite some time for me, and I loved that. Maybe Witcher 3 has a better ending but as of this writing, I haven't even seen it. (lol) If this is the last breath of Kojima's Metal Gear, then this was the final step needed to happen--the unmaking of the legend.
BEST MULTIPLAYER: Helldivers
Helldivers is a game where you can "accidentally" kill your teammates while driving a giant ED-209 and calling down constant carpetbomb runs and barbedwire traps. It is also a game that lets you pistolwhip a random pubbie to death at mission's end in revenge for his imcompetence, leaving him behind to die as you fly off in your dropship. Pure bliss.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PART DEUX: Just Cause 3
So confident was I in my crowning of JC3 as this year's "dark horse" for super secret GOTY that I preordered it, DIGITALLY, on the PS4. Much like all the lucky kids who bought Batman on PC, playing JC3 on a console guarantees naught but frustration with load times, online leaderboard spam, and godawful framerates when explosions happen. Explosions; the very crux of the whole fucking game. Imagine my displeasure when most of the fun mods in the game are also locked behind boring, janky challenges that ever-so-slowly build up your gear mod levels. For a game that was insistent on bumping up the fun dial, it sure gated a lot of that fun behind unneeded busywork and then slathered it all with a thick coat of Not-Done-Yet. JC3 is a huge fucking disappointment to me in limitless ways, most of all because it's such a sign of the times. Games can just get released with shit framerate and unfathomable load times in the year of our Lord 2015, with almost zero repurcussions. Even a studio like Avalanche can just get away with fucking us all over. Videogames are sometimes just a shit hobby with a shit community and a shit plethora of shit developers, and JC3 was one of those experiences that turned up that cynicism to 11. Worst of all is that I can't return a digital copy, so fuck you JC3 for putting one over on me and renewing my desire to sell all my consoles.
BEST ALMOST-FINISHED EARLY ACCESS GAME: Darkest Dungeon
I wrestled with whether or not I should put this game on my initial top 10, but figured I'd play it safe and part with an "almost got 'em" slot. Darkest Dungeon is an RPG with some amazingly unique qualities, not to mention a spectacular presentation and atmosphere. Its initial build was to die for--but as time waned on through the year, the developers tinkered with a great many values that have left some out in the cold. Originally billed as a very punishing and grim engine, Darkest Dungeon has waffled between challenging and just plain bullshit at times. Deep down, there is a truly fantastic RPG here; a month away from its official release, things could change for the slightly better, as well. Darkest Dungeon toes a very thin line now, one that expects you to accept that your characters can and will lose their minds--and perhaps their lives, eventually. There is a cycle of new recruits and new wars that I have indeed accepted, and it just makes the triumphs all the more exciting when your team (or most of it) comes out of a battle intact. Look for Darkest Dungeon's official release in Jan-Feb for how this turns out. I remain cautiously optimistic that the final build will still be a wildly chaotic ride, but not obnoxiously so.
[Update: right as I finished this, Darkest Dungeon had in fact put forth a huge holiday update that not only offers more options to toggle on or off in terms of difficulty, but also puts forth a bounty of fixes and tweaks that are going to greatly improve the combat. A good number of things I've mentioned, included the Death's Door debuff, has been addressed and now we're looking at a much better--but still thrilling--adventure into decrepit misfortunes. It's already on my shortlist for 2016's Top Ten, for what it's worth.)
BEST MARIO MAKER: Mario Maker
BEST WEAPON/ITEM: Inflatable Decoy from MGSV
The ability to fool enemies from afar with a weird inflatable mimic of you--complete with voice capabilities--is incredibly emblematic of how delightfully insane MGS really is. I loved surrounding entire squads with phantom (heh) representations of my character, confusing and frightening all the other militia. If only I could do this in reality.
MOST LETHAL MURDERER: UNDERTALE
Undertale is perhaps the most savage game on the list if only because it kills off all those shitty RPG games you held dear. I backed off a bit on this game because people would never shut the fuck up about it, to be honest; it got to the point where I deliberately held off on playing for a while because I was fatigued hearing about the wonderful and charming rpg battle system where you give peace a chance and make friends with everyone happily ever after and here is my personal headcanon about skeletons. It's probably definitely an unfair way to judge something but what can I say, I'm a bitter fucker by nature. I applaud the bullet hell combat and the wacky writing but it's a first that I can stop and question "why do I want this random thing dead" instead of hammering an Attack button. The puzzles are awful boring things to simply squirm out of and there's still a lot of boring random ecounters, but the characters and bosses still make it a shitload better than "INCREDIBLE RETURN TO FORM RPG, BRAVELY DEFAULT" which is saying A LOT. So, my congratulations to an RPG that actually did something new instead of catering to the whims of people who want to simply go for that "old school" appeal, which is a euphamism for "a colossally bad fucking game involving random encounters and endless grinding of newbie fodder enemies." We need more games like this, which offer alternatives to the constant tedium of grinding for levels so your autoattack does more points. That you can finish this game without any levels and still get by with a modicum of skill and brains is better than FF7 ever offered. Shit, if you can make Final Fantasy look bad, then I'll buy Undertale 2, as well. I won't tear up and write a 5000 word essay about how this made me think of my childhood or made me believe in Jesus Christ again but I welcome any and all diversity in the "classic RPG" scheme of things. Thank you Undertale for helping kill off lesser RPGs with a great deal of DETERMINATION.
BIGGEST X-FACTOR: The Narrator, from Darkest Dungeon
Sometimes, that little extra dash of spice and salmon salts can really bring out the flavor of an already-great experience. The narration by Wayne June in Darkest Dungeon brings an unbelievable feel to the story and the circumstances. In my lowest of lows, he expressed gloom and inevitable destruction; but when a hero is about to stress out and instead becomes Virtuous, his words of triumph brought out such elation and confidence. "These monsters CAN be fought. They CAN be beaten" at the fall of every invading force is the rallying cry that spurns you on, even as countless heroes die off and leave behind only an echo of their purpose.
WORST PUZZLES: The Riddler Riddles in Arkham Knight / All of Undertale
I'm fine with puzzles, but most of them in games these days really suck. None of them are as obnoxious or overcooked as the fucking Riddler shit in Arkham Knight, because this is the 4th goddamn time we've had this pop up. These were sort of novel in the first game, but it was taken to an obscenely annoying level for the next 3 iterations of Batman. You'd have to be fucking insane to keep tracking and collecting all these things; by the latest game, I just said "fuck off, Riddler" and did only the base riddle sections to free Catwoman. Even those were the worst part of the game, and there' no way I'm going to sit around with a GameFAQ like a dickhead trying to collect all these stupid trophies. What do you get for your troubles? An actual boss fight with Riddler's big mech. Fuck that, and fuck you Rocksteady for giving us the same insanity litmus test 4 times in a row.
On a minor note, I'd also like to say the "puzzles," for Undertale are so rock bottom that they might not even qualify as such. The first wonderful example is early on in the game, wherein you keep falling down holes for 8 or 9 times in random spots in the floor. I wanted to strangle the developer for this. Whatever else comes after is the most bare-bones shit that I have to wonder what the point of them even were. Every puzzle section could have been replaced with more cute dog bosses or wacky hijinx that permeates the rest of the story. Instead I have to push buttons for 2 minutes and then find some other button a minute later. Please do not put puzzles in games with random battles, either, you fucking clowns. That's like trying to play checkers but repeatedly needing to take out an overflowing garbage bin every 30 seconds.
WORST ENDING: FO4
People have already talked about the weaknesses regarding story and narrative in this game. Welp, hope you didn't think joining one of the factions actually had a giant effect on the ending, which is like two fucking minutes long. It might actually be the worst ending I've played in years. Good thing it's more about the other incidental storylines and journeys within, because god damn what the fuck, man.
BEST 2-DAY GAME: Until Dawn
I'm legit happy that Supermassive's big horror game got the chance to shit all over David Cage's nonsense and show everyone what a real cinematic quicktime-event laden game should be. Until Dawn surprised me with how beautiful the graphics were, as well as how truly entertaining the experience was; however, there was no way I was going to buy it full price, especially after I had rented and finished it in 2 nights. I know there's technically other choices you can make but I felt satisfied with the path I had taken. If you get the chance to play this at a reduced or rented price, I highly recommend it.
BEST GAME I WISH I COULD PLAY BUT I SUCK SO GODDAMN MUCH AT IT SO I CAN'T EVEN RECOMMEND IT FOR ANYTHING: Invisible, Inc
I fucking love Klei. Hell, Mark Of The Ninja is one of VERY few games I'd consider nearly flawless. You'd think my love of tactics, stealth games, and Klei would mean Invisible Inc is a shoe-in for a GOTY, right? Not quite. It's just really too bad that I have the worst luck imaginable in every mission, somehow fucking up even in early stages. I did in fact reach the last mission just once, and was promptly fucked up due to only having 1 bullet in one gun. I'm going to keep trying and bumping the difficulty options down because I REALLY want to enjoy this awesome stealth-tactics games, but ho boy I cannot catch a break no matter how many rewinds I endure. Invisible Inc is an awesome game that would have otherwise made my Top 10 easily based on the mechanics and aesthetics--it's just not a game I've have tons of fun with yet due to my ineptitude, shit luck, and whatever else is cursing me to really bad runthroughs.
BEST ENDING TO A GAME I REALLY DIDN'T WANT TO PLAY: Soma
I have zero interest in games like Amnesia, Penumbra, and Soma--something about hiding helplessly in a corner from clumsy antagonists bores the shit out of me and makes me wish I could have just experienced the great story of Soma unfettered. Knowing fully well that I'd get fatigued by this gameplay in Soma, I spoiled the plot and ending for myself and oh boy, is it a doozy. If you actually like that sort of gameplay, then knock yourself out because the narrative in this one looks to be well worth the ride.
UNLUCKIEST GAME IN 2015: Mad Max
Mad Max: Mad Max is the unluckiest game in the world. It was bad enough that a game in-development now had to live up to the sudden expectations from a brainmelting film revitalization, but to come out on the same goddamn day as Metal Gear was the kiss of death. Add to this that the supposed "better" Avalanche game, Just Cause 3, was coming in December, and you have a recipe for "best purely average game of the year." Mad Max, to be fair, is a very honest and brutal depiction of a complete fucking wasteland: it's a world of swirling dirt, sparse living space, clanky junkyard kingdoms, sparse ammo, and murder. It's a very sparse game littered with "Ubisoft-lite" checklist objectives; crush this sign here, collect a thing here, invade and completely fuck up a base for influence, wash rinse repeat. We've seen this formula before, and we've even seen the combat before, too--from another Warner Bros release, the Arkham series. But unlike Batman or Assassin's Creed, Mad Max is just hopeless and brutal.
The combat is definitely a great deal more dependant on real momentum and the weight of your body--you aren't Batman and you will pay dearly for thinking you can buttonmash. Fighting is a dogged, determined, and sloppy. You will break necks with German suplexes and stomp faces into crud. Everything from the grind of driving against enemy vehicles to falling deep into some kind of nightmarish Zelda dungeon of despair is a fight against rabid followers of Rictus Erectus or some other fucked-up gaslord.
And yet, under the brutality is a beautiful wreck, as the optimization and graphics options for Mad Max are fantastic. Not only does it look and feel great, but you're able to change the filters in gameplay to some incredible shades of bloody sunsets and backwashed orange.
I only ever play Mad Max in bursts, mostly when I want to relax and experience a chilled-out world of dust devils, blowing through some strongholds and screaming through the white-spackled desert at midnight in the Magnum Opus. It's a strangely endearing game, one which borrows bits and pieces from other open world experiences but gives itself plainly as an utter tribute to what a grim apocalypse is really like. While Fallout expresses this time period as one of art deco robotics and bizarre mutated monsters, Mad Max is more of an exposed bone, yellowed over yet fascinating to examine.
BEST FAKE DIABLO: Victor Vran
If Diablo 3 was too complex for you, I have good news: Victor vran is a PC game that condenses all that shit to 3 basic skills per weapon, plus the odds and ends of various potions, an equippable Overdrive attack, and passive boosts to whatever else. Victor Vran is more or less the bitesize Diablo, complete with bounties and quests for each area you're dipped into. Did you ever wish you could pointlessly jump around in Diablo, or even walljump on a few things??? Victor Vran has you covered there. Wished that Diablo 3 incorporated the smooth, sexy sandpaper voice of Geralt into your character? VICTOR VRAN HAS DOUG COCKLE AS THE VOICE OF VICTOR VRAN. All in all, this is a fun little hacknslash morsel that keeps you interested, even if many enemies are skellytens that keep getting up after you put them down. If you accidentally bought Victor Vran in the Steam holiday sales, NEVER FEAR: This is A Good Game.
Welp, that's it for 2015! Sorry if I missed out on a few things--stuff like Dying Light or Tomb Raider escaped me for a good long while. Splatoon is probably the biggest glaring omission here; I'm embarrassed to say that although I love it I only got the chance to play a few times, and for some reason my WiiU fucking refuses to connect to the internet for Splatoon, which makes me sad and angry. Otherwise I'm sure that would have been #10 instead of a fucking cat simulator.
Just for laughs, let's quickly recap my Top 10 of 2015 predictions earlier this year:
2) Mortal Kombat X
4) Xenoblade Chronicles X
5) No Man's Sky
6) Codename STEAM
8) Batman: Arkham Knight
9) The Witcher 3
10 MGS 5: the Phantom Pain
Not too bad, though I really overshot with Zelda/No Man's Sky and boy did I strike out with Codename STEAM. What a stinker.
Let's try this again and put one down for 2016:
1) Mirror's Edge Catalyst
2) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
3) Fire Emblem Fates
4) Uncharted 4
5) Final Fantasy XV
6) No Man's Sky
7) The Last Guardian
10) Dishonored 2
Shit, this doesn't even cover XCOM 2, DOOM, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Mass Effect Andromeda, Star Fox Zero, and Hyper Light Drifter. 2015 may have been the year of 3rd-person open world games and RPGS, but 2016 looks like a strong pushback for 1st-person games of wildly different calibers--DX, Mirror's Edge, and Dishonored leading the pack, being sequels to 3 of my all-time favorite games. I think 2016 is going to be even more incredible. Games are fun, consoles are hitting their stride, Steam refund is our savior safeguard against shit, and Fire Emblem is coming back. HERE'S TO 2016, COMRADES.
Amazing and topical!