2014 was the first year of “next-gen” gaming (now current-gen). Because of that, this list was fairly difficult to narrow down. There were dozens of amazing and inventive games this year, and it couldn’t be a better time for gamers, technology-wise. Here are my hard-chosen Game of The Year Nominees.
10. Watch Dogs (Xbox One)
Watch Dogs created something of a conundrum for me. While playing the game, I enjoyed nearly every second, and I even went to complete all the achievements and the DLC. However, online it received mixed (more negative) reactions. People were angry it didn’t live up to E3’s graphical and technological standards. They were angry at perceived sexism. They were annoyed that it seemed like a watered-down GTA. I finally realized that I don’t have to feel compelled to think what other people think, or feel guilty when I enjoy something that people say I’m not supposed to. I enjoyed Watch Dogs with its vigilante crime fighter wielding an arsenal of weapons, trying to rid the city of its most heinous crime. The story was decent, the gameplay was intuitive and different, and listening in on people was a blast. The hacking could have had more depth, but outside of that, I really had an amazing time during the entire playthrough.
Release date: May 27, 2014
9. Wolfenstein: The New Order (Xbox One)
I’m going to say something unpopular: I never was a huge fan of the original Wolfenstein, or its various remakes. I didn’t think they were bad — I just didn’t like the style or the (pixelated) blood when I was younger. I put off playing The New Order for months after its release mostly because I had no interest in playing despite it reviewing well. Finally, I begrudgingly decided to try it out after I had nothing else to play. I’m so glad I was wrong!
This game was absurdly ridiculous (and fun), and it knew it. It had fun with itself, while also being a serious story, and it did it amazingly well. The gunplay was tight and felt good, the characters felt real and downtrodden, and I’m a total sucker for any kind of alternate universe setting. It was extremely challenging without being infuriating, and I was a little bummed when it was over. Wolfenstein: The New Order totally took me by surprise, and those games are especially memorable for me.
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release date: May 20, 2014
8. Child of Light (Xbox One)
Ever since Mario RPG on the SNES, I’ve been a sucker for any type of party-based RPG. The very first trailer I saw for Child of Light reminded me of that, and it was instantly on my radar. While it didn’t share many similarities with traditional RPGs, the changes it implemented were done creatively and well, and the gameplay was simple to learn while being challenging and deep. My favorite part of the game by far was the art style — it was beautifully drawn and animated. The story was cute, fantastical, and just the right tone. I had a great few days with this one, and hopefully its success will inspire some successors.
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release date: April 29, 2014
7. Valiant Hearts (Xbox One)
When the trailer for Valiant Hearts debuted at E3, it instantly caught my attention. It’s exactly the type of game I love: gorgeous style, quirky humor, amazing story, and fun gameplay. The emphasis on story and puzzles instead of combat is always a welcome change, and the way it told some heart wrenching stories about World War I while also displaying some of the better parts of humanity was a great balancing act. Valiant Hearts is an excellent example of how games are most definitely art, and how combat is not integral to a good game even if it’s set during a World War.
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Release date: June 24, 2014
6. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)
Being a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, I anticipated Shadow of Mordor for a long, long time. I can’t explain how excited I was when the review embargo was up a week early, and the critical acclaim came pouring in. If you put the Arkham series and Assassin’s Creed series in a blender, you’d get a rough idea of Shadow of Mordor‘s gameplay. The combat is tight and precise (Arkham), and stealth mechanics make most combat optional (Assassin’s Creed). The Nemesis System was a very creative and rewarding way to create continuity, and having open game progression gave you insane amounts of freedom. The timeline picked for the game gave a lot of leeway with the story so it could intersect and add to the universe without disrupting the established lore. The variety of combat moves and environmental interactions added a ton of fun and exciting ways to take enemies down, and even after completing everything in the game I was discovering new ways to have fun in Mordor.
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release date: September 30, 2014
5. The Walking Dead: Season 2 (PC)
The first season of The Walking Dead was a huge surprise for me. I’ve always loved adventure games, and I was so wary about one taking place in The Walking Dead universe, but it worked out perfectly. Everything about that game was nearly flawless besides the occasional small bugs or glitches. The story was compelling, the new characters had depth, and it’s been a long time since I’ve cared for someone as much as the two main characters. With the second season, I was dubious Telltale could live up to the first, but somehow they kept up consistent quality once again. Controlling Clementine offered new insight to the ravaged world, and directing the dialogue as a growing child gave you insight into where she’ll head if and when she appears in the next season.
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release date: December 17, 2013 – August 26, 2014
4. Destiny (Xbox One)
Once again, I set myself up for crucifixion. Destiny has been both a huge hit and a massive controversy. It’s been called the most disappointing game of the year by many people, and it continues to be criticized after each patch. Despite all that, I enjoyed myself and continue to play Destiny. I play with a good friend in the same room on his own console and we have a blast. There are of course frustrations, bugs, and some questionable design decisions. But despite these occasional annoyances, the game remains fun and challenging with a lot to do. The PvP was surprisingly entertaining, and the weekly and bi-monthly events they hold have kept things fresh and interesting. I don’t think anyone can say Destiny is flawless — or any game ever, for that matter — but it most certainly provided me some of my most fun and challenging moments this past year. Also, the skybox! Check out that skybox! The visuals in Destiny were outstanding, and I could look at the vistas and skybox for hours. (Shout-out to the Moon’s destroyed space station!) It gets an extra picture to demonstrate:
Release date: September 9, 2014
3. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (PC)
I’m a sucker for good card games, and Hearthstone is easily the greatest since Magic: The Gathering was introduced all those years ago. Using the tried-and-true “easy to learn, hard to master” system, Blizzard crafted a game that’s going to be sucking up a lot of people’s spare time for years to come. The creative cards, art, boards, and voice-overs all add depth where most card games fail to, making it instantly comfortable and lovable. The ability to play competitively or casually with the flick of a switch makes sure it’s ready to play regardless of your mood. With a full adventure mode and the first expansion already released, it’s well on its way to being another Blizzard juggernaut.
Release date: March 11, 2014
2. Super Smash Bros. (3DS/Wii U)
I’m going to cheat a little here and combine both releases into a single entry — they’re practically clones of each other anyway, except for the screen size. This game single-handedly made me stop regretting my Wii U purchase, something Mario Kart 8 didn’t even do. Smash Bros. has always been a reliable hit, even on its weaker entries. Nintendo really kicked it up a notch with the latest release, creating a lot of cool inter-connectivity between the two versions, and introducing a mind-boggling number of customizations. You can create your own fighter and outfit them and the original roster with thousands of collectibles and upgrades while playing the standard game and all of its variants. Nintendo also released their own line of NFC figures — in typical Nintendo fashion, inexplicably dubbed Amiibos — that adds a whole new layer of fun and interactivity. The insanely huge roster and crazy amount of levels (not to mention DLC) are going to make sure this will last us until the next iteration.
Release date: September 13, 2014 & November 21, 2014
1. Dragon Age: Inquisition (Xbox One)
I’ve already taken some flak for my review of Inquisition, and it’s safe to say giving something a perfect score will draw that kind of criticism. But I stand by it — I had an amazing time playing through Inquisition, and some days I still switch it on and run around because I miss it. I played through it twice, once with my main character on Hard, and then a new one for Nightmare, and I’m still not tired of it. The characters, the story, the dialogue, the combat, and the gorgeous visuals all combine to make a game that not only surpasses my expectations, but that I’m actively rooting for more of (and it’s not often I champion DLC releases). The Dragon Age world was wonderfully fleshed out, and it’s ripe for more exploration. A game this stunning doesn’t come around often, but when it does, it reminds me why it’s so fantastic to be a gamer.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: November 18, 2014
And there you have it, my favorite games I’ve played this year. Several games barely missed the list for various reasons. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was the best entry in the series in a long, long time, and I enjoyed it immensely. Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition changed my skeptical mind and proved that Diablo is best controlled on a console. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds brought back my love of classic Zelda gameplay. Halo: The Master Chief Collection was quite an accomplishment, despite the setbacks it has suffered. But in the end I found these ten to be a cut above the rest.