2016’s officially in full swing. Most people are back at work. Most little people are back at school. Except for Shaun The Layabout, who even on his busiest day doesn’t do much more than sit at home eating ice-cream for breakfast and watching golf in his undies – but hey, to each their own and all that.
The point is that most people have slipped back into their regular routines and are ready for everything 2016 has to throw at them. As we prepare ourselves for the barrage of games that’ll hit us in this new year, let’s take some time to reflect on 2015’s best games. The games that made us laugh. The games that made us cry. The games that reminded us why we love playing these wondrous things.
2015 was an especially fantastic year for gaming, so we asked some of our writers to engage in the daunting task of choosing three of their favourites and writing a little something’-somethin’ about what makes them special. As an optional “bonus round”, we asked them to highlight something extra (and not necessarily gaming-related) that made last year particularly memorable for them. Today, we unveil part one of NAG’s top games of 2015. Tomorrow, we use an army of mutant pizzas to take over the world. Or we unleash part two, whichever feels most right at the time.
Right, everyone got that? Then let’s go!
A simple concept that is wonderfully packaged, Rocket League is fast and fun. The game isn’t exactly overflowing with tons of content, but the volume of utterly ridiculous moments kept me coming back for more. The free DLC which added mutators and allowed for even more ridiculous custom game modes was a nice surprise. In a year where I just didn’t have the time to play the bumper AAA titles like The Witcher 3, this game stole the show for me.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
At this point I’m sure a number of you are screaming, “What? Scrub, n00b! CS wasn’t released in 2015!” You’re not wrong, but I’m a complete sucker for competitive gaming and for me 2015 was a year in which competitive CS: GO finally realised a lot of its potential. I spent more time than I’d like to admit watching tournaments and saw so many WTF moments throughout the year. This, along with the pretty solid local community, made CS: GO my eSports game of the year.
Just have a look at this:
The only AAA title I forced myself to make time for was Fallout 4. I mean, it’s Fallout. I know that it’s probably the worst game in the series, the main story is a bit underwhelming and the game is just a repackaging of the usual Bethesda RPG – but I still had a huge amount of fun and some pretty outrageous gaming experiences. It’s definitely not a perfect game, but it’s a whole lot of Fallout and that will always be okay with me.
Matthew Vice’s picks:
An obvious choice for me, being a huge fan of From Software’s Souls series. I was already excited about Dark Souls-style gameplay being set in what may as well be London circa the 1800s, with its top-hat-and-tailcoat, horse-and-carriage, cloak-and-dagger setting – but then I played it and it went all Lovecraftian on my ass in the second half, which I wasn’t expecting… and that only made it cooler. Then came the expansion, The Old Hunters, which introduced more content, some of the toughest bosses so far, and took the Lovecraft flavour in a Shadow over Innsmouth direction. If I were the kind of knob to say “best game EVAR!!!!”, this is probably where I’d deign to do so.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Surprisingly, I went from being not particularly interested in this one to hopeful after I played MGS V: Ground Zeroes – and then to thinking it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year. Not only did it fix almost every gameplay niggle I could have slammed it for, but it almost made it so that you spent more time playing the game than watching tacky cut-scenes. After you’ve gotten through the interminable intro I mean.
As if that’s not enough, there’s so much to the game, so many innovative features like the buddy system and the support chopper, that you really feel like you’re heading out on a military mission.
Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition
Finally, I get to talk about this gem of a game. Unfortunately, I can’t claim to be a fan of old-school CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate, the original Fallout and Planescape: Torment because I never had access to them long enough to get into them – and even though I own them all now, I find them impenetrable. Even the recent Pillars of Eternity doesn’t suck me in. But something about the Divinity series’ tone – somewhere between wacky and serious – makes this turn-based, party-oriented, action-point-driven tactical RPG easy for me to get into. The enhanced edition was released this year, on the consoles too, with some unusual features – such as split-screen multiplayer, even in the PC version. I know right? Mind blown.
Since 2015 was the year I finally acquired a bitchin’ PC, I immediately took to Steam looking for a worthy title to test my hardware. One of the most ardently recommended was ARK: Survival Evolved, which packs some hardware-punishing prettiness and allows players to ride dinosaurs in an open world. Hell yeah! But then I played it. Punched some trees. Hit a few rocks. Couldn’t figure out how to make a campfire. Realised that riding even the lamest dinosaur was a long way off. #$%* that noise, yo! If you’re mad enough to like it, be my guest.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Gosh, how obvious is this one? The Witcher 3 consumed me for way over 100 hours, and considering I work two jobs and have two kids, that’s got to be some sort of gaming parent record. The Witcher 3 skyrocketed to the top of my Favourite Games of 2015 list (also the top of my Favourite Games of EVER list) because it handled itself so well. Its scope and ambition are dizzyingly massive, yet somehow CD Projekt managed to make sure the whole thing WORKS. The story is understated and set in a world that is overstated. The characters are some of the more believable and relatable characters I’ve ever seen in a video game, and the actual gameplay is compelling. Sure, it has some clunky menus, and I wanted to murder my stupid horse on more than one occasion, but when the credits rolled I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d likely never experience a game as wonderful as this one again. And that made me all sorts of happy and sad all at once.
THIS will ruffle feathers, but here’s the thing: Arkham Knight is an incredible game… when it’s not being played on PC. I played the PS4 version and was totally enraptured by what was happening. Graphically it’s the best-looking console game on Earth. It’s also my favourite Batman Arkham game by a mile, and that’s entirely thanks to the interactions between – gosh, I can’t say without ruining the entire experience. Let’s just say the Arkham Knight is a red herring.
What is this, 2009? I got hopelessly into Minecraft this year for one reason: my son. My three-year-old became obsessed with a LEGO Minecraft set I have on my shelf. While he was pulling it apart and smashing little LEGO Steve into little LEGO Creeper, I thought I’d better give him some context. So I popped him on my lap and booted up a new world in Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition. That was that. He became hooked in seconds. We spent HOURS building stuff, fighting zombies, getting jump-scared by spider noises, and NOT GOING INTO CAVES BECAUSE THEY’RE “TOO SCARY, DADDY!”
What else tickled my nerdy fancy this past 2015? Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Like you even needed to ask. I saw the movie the day it launched just over a month ago, and I’ve thought about it every day since then. That’s normally the sign of a good film/book/game, isn’t it? You can’t get it out of your head. I’ll admit that I’m a massive Star Wars nerd to begin with, but I really cannot overstate just how much I adored this new film. Plus it meant a surge in merchandise, which meant I finally (FINALLY!) got my Force FX Lightsaber. Best. Year. Ever.
ARK: Survival Evolved
Six months and 911 hours of play time later and I’m still playing ARK. Yes, it’s that good. I’ve survived a server wipe, built three bases from scratch and have an army of tamed Gigas (Giganotosaurus) and Rexes (T. rex). The thing with Ark is that I never get bored – if I’m not building, protecting or expanding my base, I’m taming and breeding dinosaurs, hunting for Alphas to kill or exploring caves. There’s just so much complexity and diversity to this game and, despite it still being in Early Access, I have to give it a top-secret Must Play award.
Infestation: Survivor Stories
ISS is what I spent most of the first half of 2015 playing. Farming for guns, ammo and supplies on normal servers, filling up my lockers with all my loot, and then jumping onto a PvP server and attempting to stay alive while avoiding being attacked by a zombie. So. Much. Fun. And. So. Damn. Frustrating. Special mention must go out to the Super Zombies in this game – they are legend!
Yes, I know this game didn’t come out in 2015, but regardless of what other games I’m playing, there’s always time on any given day for a quick (or not so quick) game of LoL. Its evergreen qualities – along with my maddening attempts to get into and stay in silver in the ranked ladder – secure this game’s spot in my most-played-games-over-the-last-four-years list.
Last year was the year of the zombie. I spent a massive amount of time stabbing, head-shotting, evading, driving over, fearing, dying to, running away from and blowing up zombies. I binge-watched every season of The Walking Dead, failed miserably at getting past level 16 in Call of Duty: Black Ops III‘s zombie mode, ragequit the end boss level many times in Dying Light and got a triple letter score in Scrabble using the word “zombie”. I think I’m ready for the zombie apocalypse.
Set in the same eldritch underplayground that clasps the dingy wit and derring-do of Fallen London, Sunless Sea is a real wonder of world-building. We’re talking spider-worshiping weaver colonies, death-less islands awrithe with tombwalkers, treacherous pacts with Lovecraftian horrorgods and the odd pleasant luncheon – all clad in some of the finest black-neon prose I’ve seen in or out of gamedom. Failbetter’s masterpiece will haunt you like a plague pie. But, um, in a good way.
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut
I’m one of those old grinchy types who think civilisation peaked with the isometric viewpoint. One day – one day, mark my words – I will walk around my padded cell wearing an Oculus Rift that dribbles life at my eyes beautifully free of vanishing points. Until that day I will play the director’s cut of Wasteland 2, which is what Fallout 3 might have been if those whippersnappers at Bethesda, with their fancy “first-person” head-simulation doohickery, had come to their senses.
Ancient Domains of Mystery
That’s not a roguelike – this is a roguelike. Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM to its mates) is basically an inalienable member of the grand council of roguelike amazingness, and my mind quails at the prospect of explaining just why, because by god, human, have you not heard? I don’t care that this game first saw the light of release in 1994; its Steam-powered remaster has plenty enough update magic and sparkly hooraybangery to qualify as one of 2015’s finest works.
Matthew Fick’s picks:
From Software shook up gaming with its Souls franchise for a simple reason: it gave players an experience they didn’t know they wanted. Bloodborne followed suit and adjusted the formula with faster gameplay, an emphasis on aggression and bravery, and a healthy dose of Lovecraftian cosmic horror.
Bloodborne improved on the series by changing its mechanics for the better and as a result has become one of the best PS4 exclusives. I think I said it best in a message I wrote to Delano: “I love it so much I’m going to name my firstborn Bloodborne. If it’s a girl, she’ll be Bloodborneé.”
It was between this and The Witcher 3, but I’ve had Fallout 4 for longer, so it’s had more time to make a good impression.
Some games come as a surprise, others deliver exactly what you expect and want. Fallout 4 is the latter. It gave me an experience similar to Fallout 3, but expanded and updated. While some may see that as a downside, I don’t. Fallout 4 is a huge and beautifully crafted game that’s easy to get engrossed in.
I’m not a horror fan. I don’t like scary movies and games. I don’t even watch scary let’s plays on YouTube. However, Until Dawn has a certain kind of magic that turned it into one of the most enjoyable and engaging games of the year.
Yes, it’s an interactive movie. Yes, the characters are all mostly flat stereotypes typical of horror films. Yes, the storyline has some plot holes and general wackiness. But those all come together to create a game that’s as fun to play as it is to watch.
In 2015, I finally acted on years of built-up wishes and fantasies, and bought a compound bow. As an impressionable lad growing up with archer influences like Legolas, Link, Robin Hood and eventually all my Skyrim characters, it was only a matter of time before I took up the sport. Using a bow is great fun, and I’m slowly getting better at it. I’ve also started making my own arrows to save money. My goal for 2016? To buy a nicer bow and improve my skills before Halloween, so I can dress up as Hawkeye or Green Arrow and do trick-shots at parties.