2015 blew the mediocre 2014 out of the water. This year saw some groundbreaking games that will be looked on as both classics in the and seen as the basis for much inspiration from developers in the future. 2015 featured plenty of smartly designed games given a great deal of care, providing examples that many other developers should study going forward. We had games that emphasized fun in gameplay, challenged our perceptions on what games should be, took us on crazy rides we never saw coming in the wonderfully written narratives, and plenty more. Whether or not you agree with our ultimate Pick of the Year, nobody can deny that 2015 was pretty good for everyone.
Considering we had 10 nominees and this is the pick for what game we thought deserved a "best of the year" or other similar phrase, the voting here was pretty overwhelmingly in the ultimate winner's favor, taking in almost 40% of the votes. This led to our situation with fourth place that you'll see in a moment. Here's a reminder of what our nominees were (find out how we chose our nominees here):
- Pillars of Eternity
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Kerbal Space Program
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
- Rocket League
- Fallout 4
- Super Mario Maker
(Tie) 4th Place – Undertale
By Alex Santa Maria
In 2015, there was one game that was beloved across the spectrum. Gamers and critics alike flocked to it, whether they normally play Gone Home, Halo, or Danganronpa. In an age where Internet spoilers are guaranteed, it managed to stave off the trolls and thrive, even if players knew what they were getting into. The one knock against it is that its fan base is too passionate for their own good.
Where other games stretch and fill with side missions and bullet points, this game remains focused on a single goal. Where other games stick to a retro style soundtrack, this game varies it up with a number of genres and unforgettable tunes. Where other games repeat opponents before the final fight, this game overflows with unique encounters. Where other games struggle to make you care about a singular protagonist, this game effortlessly lets you befriend a cast of characters like it was nothing.
Most important of all, where other games want to carve their name into the landscape and last forever, this game dares to be ephemeral. This game wants you to forget it and move on, bettered for the experience. This game is Undertale, and it’s one of the best games of any year, much less 2015.
(Tie) 4th Place – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
By Andrew Stretch
This year Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was one of our highest rated games. The latest game in the long running series was marked with praise in almost every aspect of development. After the prequel Ground Zeroes was released last March, The Phantom Pain continues on with Big Boss waking up from his coma nine years later. Boss teams up with Revolver Ocelot, who is now working for Diamond Dogs, to search for clues about Cipher. Just like any Metal Gear Solid game there is also a bit of the supernatural sprinkled in, keeping you interested in what will happen just around the corner.
As we would expect from a Metal Gear Solid game, The Phantom Pain also looks absolutely gorgeous. As we move closer and closer to photorealistic graphics, it’s games like this that really show off how close we are. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain also brought the users an enjoyable asynchronous multiplayer with F.O.B’s and a competitive multiplayer with Metal Gear Online. It was great to see Kojima and his team create another fantastic game.
(Tie) 4th Place – Rocket League
By Andrew Otton
Rocket League is both a great success story and incredible stroke of luck. Certainly, there was a discussion and revision process on what game would be placed on the free games for Playstation Plus back in July of 2015. Who would have guessed the game would have exploded from there, selling incredibly well on PC at the same time.
What is so great and appealing about Rocket League is the satisfaction you get from just playing it. You and everyone else can be just absolutely terrible in crashing into each other, accidentally scoring a goal on your own team, having the ball fly away at odd angles, and more without the frustration that comes in other competitive multiplayer games really seeping in. It's just fun to play no matter how good or bad you are.
Rocket League is one of those games that does not force seriousness on you like a MOBA game, but allows you to choose just how serious a player you want to be. Of course, the fun and competitiveness of it is certainly tied to the mechanics, which are easy enough to use but difficult to master. All of this adds up to a widely appealing game that most gamers should fine pretty fun.
(Tie) 4th Place – Splatoon
By Robert Grosso
Is Splatoon the best game of the year? When coming in to face the likes of Witcher 3, Bloodborne, Xenoblade Chronicles X or even Metal Gear Solid V, it does pale in comparison. However, all of the games above, noted for their rich backstory, gorgeous graphics, and even solid gameplay mechanics can’t touch Splatoon in one category at least—Splatoon is fun.
Not to say the other games aren’t fun, mind you, but Splatoon’s own success is completely measured on how fun—how addictive—it is for people. A simple multiplayer game with a fantastic premise, relegated to a console that most people don’t even own, Splatoon is a shining example of a game that emphasizes the ridiculousness of its premise to not take itself seriously. Through a clever combination of gameplay and presentation, Splatoon is able to capture the magic that video games sometimes seem to lack: a reverence for what made them a beloved pastime.
That is no easy task. In a modern era where framerates matter, where the size of your product and the presentation of your world is tailor-made to be huge and time-consuming by investing you into a narrative, Splatoon shirks it and instead invests you into its gameplay. Perhaps because it is one of the few games this year to be successful through gameplay only, like Rocket League; that's why Splatoon stands out so much as an emissary for fun gameplay.
So no, it is not game of the year in the fullest respects, but to deny Splatoon is not in that conversation is a mistake as well. Splatoon is great because it stands out in contrast to the modern conventions of gaming; it is fun because of how it plays, not because of the whole game coalescing into a memorable experience—a master of one versus a jack-of-all trades. For Splatoon, that is all it really needs to be memorable.
3rd Place – Fallout 4
By Robert N Adams
When Fallout 4 came out, I'd wager that a lot of employees called in sick with the Bethesda Flu. Fans pour dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of hours into a Bethesda title and Fallout 4 will be no exception.
Fallout 4 made some controversial changes to the formula, such as the removal of skill points, changing how VATS works, and the addition of a Settlement building mechanic. The usual (jusitified) complaints about Bethesda's writing and buggy code all surfaced and are all still very much relevant even after there's been a couple of major patches. And while there are plenty of fans and detractors alike with legitimate complaints, there's an equally large group of people who are simply enjoying the game for what it is—one of the finest Jack of All Trades on the market today.
There are plenty of titles that have a better story and better writing that Fallout 4 does. There are games with better weapon crafting and games with better building systems. Fallout 4 does not necessarily excel in these individual areas, but it is unique in that it has all of these things in a singular title. It has something for nearly everyone.
Despite its problems, Fallout 4 has made some significant improvements as well. The graphics look better, of course. The gunplay is much better than previous titles. The AI, while still a bit derpy, actually makes use of cover and blind fire. Fallout 4 is by no means a perfect game, but it has greatly improved on Fallout 3 and New Vegas in many respects. With DLC (and more importantly mods) just around the corner, Fallout 4 will prove to be a mainstay in the library of many gamers for years to come.
Runner Up – Bloodborne
By Matthew Byrd
There is a lot that could have gone wrong with Bloodborne. It could have been too similar to Dark Souls, and it could have been too far from it. It could have been too punishing for new players, or too easy for veterans. In fact, for a game that is essentially an independent property, it had the kind of expectations typically reserved for anticipated franchise sequels.
That Bloodborne managed to surpass nearly every one of those expectations is a testament to its nearly airtight game design. Nothing feels out of place in Bloodborne. Every inch of the gothic horror environment feels like it was contemplated over for years, and each bizarre level they form flows seamlessly into the next. Its gameplay is so smooth that it often feels as if your every action is being coordinated by a maestro, and completing some of the game’s more notable challenges inspires a sensation of accomplishment that few, if any, other games are quite capable of.
The rarest quality a game can achieve is for the final product to feel like it features as few compromises as possible from the designer’s vision. With seeming effortlessness Bloodborne accomplishes that feat, which almost feels like a challenge to the rest of the industry. A challenge that, much like those found in the game, only the very best will be able to meet.
Winner – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
By Andrew Otton
From pretty much the moment you play The Witcher 3, you know it is something special. Even writing up my first impressions after only about eight hours with the game told me that this would be one of those games that, while maybe not a turning point, would certainly be recognized for pushing the boundaries on designing a great game, particularly what open-world games should be.
One thing I said in my review was that The Witcher 3 doesn't really do a ton of new things we haven't seen before, but it does do what we are familiar with just about better than anything else. That's its achievement. Questing, emergent gameplay while exploring the world, points of interest on a map, and more are more than familiar to just about all of us. The Witcher 3 pushes them beyond the boundaries of "well, these need to be in the game so that they are in there and give players something to do."
Nothing seems to be in The Witcher 3 just ... because. Everything has a purpose, and CD Projekt RED was seemingly interested in making a game using the framework of a familiar formula—not making a game of that formula. What I mean by that is that The Witcher 3 doesn't feel as though they just went down the checklists of what just about every open-world RPG seems to have. They picked and chose what they thought was good, added or changed it, and then placed it contextually within the game they were creating.
The Witcher 3 is masterful in its spurning of what is essentially filler and "busywork" for players. There are certainly fairly pedestrian things in the game that aren't all that exciting, like just stumbling on a sunken treasure and looting it. However, The Witcher 3 usually doesn't just let it end there—there are of course plenty of less exciting or engaging ones—often sending the player on some sort of treasure hunt for something else with a storyline in both notes and things in the world to tie it together.
Ultimately, The Witcher 3 is a game of purpose. There's no fetch quests, no busywork, no filler—everything is there to engage players. It's not a passive game in that the player just goes along experiencing these nodes of story or gameplay self-contained in one area, but just about everything leads you somewhere else or gives you an insight into another part of the game. For those reasons, and many more, it's no surprise to me that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was our Pick of the Year.
Readers' Choice – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The vote from our readers was nearly as overwhelming, which is no surprise as The Witcher 3 has taken the gaming awards scene by storm recently. There's no doubt this is a game of substance, importance, and quality as more and more people realize it. The best thing about it is that both us and our readers have some more quality content (well, I assume so considering their last bit of content) from the developers.
With how great a year 2015 was for gaming, let's hope 2016 continues!
What games should have been nominated? What was your favorite of the year? What was the "best" of the year? Why isn't Renowned Explorers on this list?