Sunday, December 21, 2014

No Game to Rule them All? - 2014 Game of the Year

A bit over a week ago I summed my opinion of 2014 in PC gaming as good but not great. What I was aiming at was that while a lot of high quality titles came out over the last year, there weren't any that stood out; there was no 'must-have' game. I feel that my opinions from the PC translate fairly well to gaming as a whole. The titles that had people pumped for 2014 (Titanfall, Destiny, Dragon Age) turned out to be pretty good but didn't quite live up to the bloated marketing hype. With this in mind, I consider that my pick for game of the year is more a nod that it's the best of the bunch rather than a truly seminal title.

Most of my long term readers will know that I'm primarily a PC gamer and I must confess that I haven't had a chance to play every console title released this year. More specifically, I haven't played a single WiiU release and am unable to comment on the latest entries in the Mario Kart, Donkey Kong, and Bayonetta franchises. For the record, I'm a big fan of Nintendo and I mean no disrespect by not including them in my considerations. Also, I'm not counting re-releases (Grand Theft Auto 5) or expansions (Reaper of Souls) because I feel that GOTY honours should be bestowed on wholly new titles. Finally, my considerations will naturally include my personal bias and I make no claim to objectivity when choosing my favourite game of the year.

The Runner-Ups
Wait... didn't that game suck? Yeah, I guess it sort of did but it's making my list because it introduced the perennial Call of Duty player to the idea of MMO style raid progression and anything that can potentially break the CoD mould deserves recognition in my book. Destiny will probably make a bunch of people's lists for biggest disappointment but it sports a more active player base than WildStar and it's servers were actually stable from day one (*cough* Halo). Still don't like this as a runner-up? Take solace that it's not my GOTY winner (I'm not that crazy).

I have a lot of praise for Hearthstone, the annoying card game from Blizzard that favours blind luck and egregiously unbalanced cards, simply because it has achieved the seemingly insurmountable task of appealing to players from all ends of the casual to hardcore spectrum. Now on Apple and Android tablets, I can only see this game getting bigger over the next year and hopefully indoctrinating even more players in the fabulous Warcraft lore.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
I didn't really like this game but I appreciated the experience it was trying to create. The plot is thin, the puzzles are too easy, and the supposedly amazing graphics have been matched by many titles using the Unreal engine before it. That said, the key mechanic of recreating past events moves the narrative quickly and I feel that (aside from the mine sequence) the developers haven't tried to pad the gameplay. Like Gone Home last year, I expect opinion to be divided but I'm glad to see smaller developers continue to make unique titles; it's good for the industry as a whole. 

Shadow of Mordor
I mention this here mainly out of surprise that it took home Gamespot's GOTY award. Not that Shadow of Mordor is bad (far from it!) just that I felt that it was more of a token nomination than anything. Perhaps it's a deserving candidate this year because it aptly embodies the gaming climate of 2014 by not pushing the boundaries but still being fun to play.

The Winner - Dragon Age: Inquisition
I doubt many people will be surprised with my choice here. It's the best Bioware RPG in a decade and shows that the magic is still there. With it's clunky combat and plethora of bugs, it's far from perfect, but the well-written characters and epic story can't be oversold. If  you are a fan of RPGs for grandiose plot and deep emotional discovery, Dragon Age: Inquisition is the obvious GOTY. If, on the other hand, you're like me and find greater satisfaction in min-maxing characters, Inquisition for GOTY isn't such an easy choice - though it is the choice nonetheless.

Just to make sure that I don't come off as a hopeless cynic, I want to make it clear that I really do think 2014 was a good year in gaming. Just because there wasn't a slam dunk choice for game of the year doesn't mean that everything we played will be soon forgotten or was a waste of hard drive space. It's okay that the greatest game of all time didn't get released especially when you consider how many solid games did come out. If anything, it might just be a signal that we are becoming more discerning gamers or that the overall quality of games has risen to a point where it's more difficult to produce something astounding. In any case, I'm looking forward to 2015 and won't be disappointed if it plays out just like 2014.