This was also the year I started my professional career in game development. Being a programmer and web developer for over a decade, I always knew how they were made, but actually getting the chance to be involved in the process has made me think about them differently now. Whether it’s the beautiful skybox Destiny has, or the way hair or grass blows in the wind of The Last of Us, details that once seemed insignificant are now impressive feats.
This list may not necessarily reflect the most fun, or even the games Ive spent the most time with, but they are the ones that have affected me the most.
10. Bravely Default
Okay, so technically it came out in Japan in 2012, but Bravely Default didn’t see a western release until 2014. And while not technically a Final Fantasy game, it sure felt like one. Besides it’s unique Brave/Default combat mechanics of letting you gamble future turns or store them, it’s a pretty standard J-RPG, but that’s okay. It’s been years since I played a good one, let alone a good Final Fantasy title (even if it wasn’t one). It scratched an itch I didn’t know I still had. Even Pokemon X/Y didn’t keep me glued to my 3DS as much as Bravely did, and that’s why it made it onto the list.
9. 80 Days
Like a lot of kids of the 80s and early 90s, I loved reading the choose your own adventure books. 80 Days turns the classic Jules Verne book into just that: a choose your own adventure story. Combining that with inventory and money management, with a dash of dating sim thrown in, 80 days kept me occupied well after I managed to successfully navigate my way around the world the first time.
8. South Park: The Stick of Truth
This was the biggest surprise of the year for me. Given Obsidian, the developer’s history, and the fact it’s publisher, THQ, went bankrupt and sold the property to Ubisoft mid-development, there were plenty of reasons to doubt the game would be good, let alone see a release.
However you feel about South Park, The Stick of Truth represents an achievement in video game story telling. The entire game captures the feeling of playing an episode of the show to a near flawless degree. Even the the humor is spot on, whether it’s fighting gnomes while watching a couple having sex in the background “finding Jesus” or the retro look of the Kingdom of Canada.
7. The Last of us: Remastered
There really isn’t too must to say about the Last of Us that wasn’t already said the first time it was released. The only reason Last of US: Remastered makes the list is I somehow avoided playing the original PS3 version and reading too many spoilers, despite sitting through a panel at PAX about it. The only thing I cant really stress enough is just how gorgeous this game looks. When you play a game and can no longer tell if youre watching a pre-rendered scene or actual gameplay, you know you’re finally playing a true next-gen game…Even if it was already released for a previous console.
6. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
Let’s face it, Diablo III was underwhelming. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with the game; it just wasn’t very fun. The lack of leader boards or a ladder system combined with easy difficulty levels left the game lacking, and forced the player to rely heavily on RNG for item upgrades. After completing the game on it’s highest difficulty at the time, I had done everything there was to do in the game. Enter it’s first (and maybe only) expansion, Reaper of Souls. Besides a new fifth act, RoS also added new play modes and harder difficulties to keep players engaged to grind new loot in the same manner of fashion Diablo II’s expansion, Lord of Destruction did.
5. Divinity: Original Sin
Ironically, as developers are given more and more tools to bring their creations to life, RPG’s have become more and more streamlined and limited in terms of what you can, or can’t do. Divinity throws all of that out, and returns to the roots of PC roleplaying games and what made them so great. While Divinity: Original Sin wasn’t with out some pretty serious bugs, it was refreshing to play an RPG that let me create my own story with out holding my hand, allowing me to often times improvise situations unsure of what was about to come next.
4. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Tucked away somewhere inside Shadow of Mordor there’s a story. I’m not exactly sure what it was, but it doesn’t really matter. One doesn’t simply play Shadow of Mordor for the story. The intuitive “Nemesis” system provides hours of fun by creating intuitive and sometimes hilarious experiences that allow you to almost roleplay your own story. And if I’m being honest, it’s the sole reason it makes the list. With the combative styling of Batman: Arkham City and the parkour like running and climbing of Assassin’s Creed, the game play is just dumb fun, but nothing ground breaking.
3. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Inquisition is proof that Bioware’s formula for creating RPG’s still works. Packed with more quests, dialogue, locations and characters, it stands to be the most expansive game in the series yet. But, it’s also proof bigger isnt always better. The amount of characters are a little too overwhelming, to the point I dont remember if some were new to the game or introduced in a prior game, and the main story itself falls a little flat. Then again, the same could be said for most of Bioware’s games. The real fun lies in the side missions; whether it’s clearing out the Red Templar presence or trying to romance the Iron Bull. Seriously, go look up the Iron Bull’s sex scenes. If that alone doen’t make you want to play DA: I, I dont know what will.
2. Monument Valley
2014 saw a lot of great mobile games. But none as engaging as Monument Valley. Monument Valley makes a very short list of games that prove mobile games are a completely viable platform and can stand side by side with other devices like the Nintendo 3DS or PSP…If they’re done right. And Monument Valley gets everything right. Sure, the puzzles could have been a little more challenging. But the puzzles are merely a side affect of the story telling, much like Portal was. And just like Portal, I wish there was more of it.
1. Kentucky Route Zero
At any point in Kentucky Route Zero, if you were to take a screenshot, you could frame it and it would be a beautiful piece of art. But Aesthetics aren’t the only reason it’s number one on my list. There is just something so mystifying, yet so familiar about the game. Every twist and turn is a new and pleasent surprise. Just when you think you have a handle on what happens next, the game throws you for a loop.
The most beautiful part about the game though? I'm not entirely sure what, or even if any of my choices have consequences. And I love that. Typically when a game provides a choice of what to do, it’s of varying degrees of good or bad. Paragon or Renegade. Light or dark. On the Zero, not so much. Your choices aren't even shades of gray. Instead, they define your personality, who you are. Do you play with your dog? Are you cynical to everyone you meet, or care about others? With two acts to go, it’s not finished yet, and I cant even begin to predict what comes next. That just means there's more I have to look forward to.