Here are some games what I really liked this year, in no particular order.
- Dota 2
Yeah, this again.
Dota is insane. It’s a world-devourer. It’s too much for a single person to learn, far too much. It’s arcane and inaccessible and has a community that runs the full gamut from scum-of-the-earth to nicest-folks-around.
And you never stop learning. And because there is so much stuff, you’ve never seen it all. And it’s free. And it has a free-to-play system that really works well. And it’s really the most fun with friends.
Essentially, dota is one of those games you can just keep playing forever and ever amen. I just had a bad game a few hours ago and I’ll still play another thousand hours. Yikes.
- Dark Souls
Sometimes a game clicks with you instantly, and sometimes it doesn’t. Dark Souls took me three attempts to really get into. Now I’ve spent well over 100 hours with it, and I want to play more.
For all that people go on about Dark Souls’ difficulty, the appeal isn’t really in that. The appeal is the atmosphere to me. The fact is, if you move forward carefully, very carefully, then you can get through the game without dying. People have done it – not many, but people have done it. The world of Dark Souls is a world where everything is out to get you and noone is out to make your life easier. You aren’t given an objective marker, a bit of floor that’s going to set a trap off isn’t glowing red in front of you, and that first boss you face with a broken sword and no shield seems like a pretty tall order. But when you look closer; maybe the morose man at the firelink shrine can give you some information about where to go instead of just talking about how awful you look when you’re hollow, perhaps that raised bit of flooring with an opening in front of it will result in a poisoned dart being fired at you, and perhaps you don’t need to fight that first boss so ill-equipped, but run into a passageway that’s far too small for it to chase you.
Dark Souls is a subtle world, where the lore is more implied than narrated, and mechanics are learned by error instead of by unskippable tutorial. To be honest? I’m a big fan of both approaches. But in a world where the way round Dark Souls does it is a rarity, I’m so glad it exists. And I’m so glad Dark Souls 2 looks amazing. And sooooon. March-soon.
- Cook, Serve, Delicious!
I’ve talked about this one before; but I’d really never expect to like this game. It looks like a “casual game” (for all that term is worth, which is to say not a lot), but my goodness it’s anything but. It’s a simple management sim meets a hardcore rhythm game. You better learn how to use two dozen keypresses with a dozen different permutations in order to make the type of soup being ordered. You’d better not get one out of place or God-forbid wrong. You’d better do that 40 more times per in-game day. You’d better do about seven at once during rush hour! This game is madness, and it makes you relieved every time a day is over. But it feels so rewarding. Who needs to know how to cook really?
- Tomb Raider
I think this is one that divided people a fair old bit. Personally, I really liked it. I think it was a totally solid third person shooter with a story that kept me compelled enough to finish the game in a scant few days. I don’t finish many games, even short ones, so I think that’s an accomplishment inandof itself. I think the new Lara worked fairly well, although I could have done without the ridiculously gratuitous death scenes where she gets impaled on everything that looks sharp and painful, and the character did seem to get over her qualms about killing people very quickly in a way that I think could have been handled a little more gracefully.
However, at the end, when she’s unabashedly turned into a warrior and saving the damsel in distress (by the way, as far as I’m concerned – undeniable lesbian subtext between those two. Really had to have been intentional), I found myself practically punching the air. Real fun.
- Mortal Kombat
I’ve never really done fighting games apart from Soul Calibur 2 back in my Gamecube days. The amount of time needed to learn the characters strengths, weaknesses, special moves, how to avoid ’em – it all seems a bit much (although you are talking to someone who plays entirely too much dota so maybe I’m just crazy now). I tried Street Fighter 4 not too long ago and found it unable to hold my interest.
Mortal Kombat does a couple of things amazingly; firstly, it has the best suite of single-player features in a fighting game I’ve ever seen – decent tutorials, a compelling (if cheesy) story mode to go along with the traditional ladder you get, a whole graveyard of unlockables, a skill tower with hundreds of challenges – it really goes a cut above any other fighting game I’m aware of for the single-player experience. Secondly, it’s really quite accessible; I’ve had a few people round to play this game and after a handful of matches we can get very close, down to the wire fights. Really satisfying.
Now, the game is not without it’s flaws for sure – the netcode for online play is balls; don’t buy this game if you want to play a good online fighting game. It suffers from the traditional fighting game disease of having almost all it’s female characters being practically naked. The ludicrous-hyper-gore may put people off. But underneath all that, the core is a great fighting game which beginners can really get into and has a whole lot to offer for single player folks. Also my multiplayer game of choice when people are in my house in real life.
- Europa Universalis 4
I played so much EU3. So much. Hundreds of hours at least – and when it’s a game that has had 4 expansion packs and was pretty dang big to begin with, you can see why. So really, EU4 has a lot to live up to. And I think it does. It’s a bit overloaded with pointless DLC, but the new additions to the formula – such as a much more interesting trading system, new systems for national ideas and technology, a better way to handle advisors and just the general bits of polish really help make the 4th EU a worthy successor. The first expansion coming in January which is going deeper into native American states and colonies (as well as having the option to play with a fully randomised American hemisphere) is hopefully going to amazing – I can’t wait for it!
- Crusader Kings 2
I never really got into the original Crusader Kings, which makes it unlike most other paradox grandstrategy games – I’ve enjoyed at least one entry in Hearts of Iron, Victoria, and Europa Universalis, but the original Crusader Kings never really grabbed me at all. But people started raving about CK2 – people whos opinions I really respect. So I bit the bullet and I’ve not looked back since. Numerous great expansions later, numerous playthroughs later, I haven’t regretted it a single bit. CK2 is a game that just generates amazing stories. It’s a Game of Thrones simulator (also there’s a Game of Thrones mod that’s pretty well-regarded), making you point your characters towards awful acts of depravity to just make sure your kids inherit another county. It’s really evocative of the time it’s set. I just love it.
- Trials Evolution
Another game I didn’t really expect to get into – Trials is basically stupidity combined with really well balanced game mechanics. The concept of making a game inspired by dirt bike trials isn’t really too out there, but the courses they’ve made are totally bananas, especially the further into the game you get. The thing is though, the controls are perfect (with a controller, naturally you need analogue controls for a game like this) to the extent that I’d say every error made is the players fault in this game. It’s a game where if you fail you want to just start again and get it right.
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within
I loved XCOM last year, and the expansion this year made me love it again. Enemy Within adds a whole lot of stuff which is almost all really fun to mess around with, along with more enemies and challenges to screw you over.
- Total War: Rome 2
When this game came out, it was pretty buggy, and lots of people really didn’t like that. I agree, I didn’t like the bugs. However, I think this games reception is a classic case of the internet going overboard; at the core of Rome 2 is a solid entry in the Total War series, and if you buy it now it’s stable and polished. A wonky launch is bad, but what’s worse to me is people getting drenched in hyperbole by the screaming maniacs who seem to dominate areas of the internet. I spent dozens of hours in Rome 2 and enjoyed them.
- Civilisation 5
Similar story to XCOM; I loved Civ 5, and I love it more with it’s new expansions. It’s a game I keep coming back to.
- Dwarf Fortress
Another game I keep coming back to. Dwarf Fortress, I wish I knew how to quit you. Actually that’s a lie – I wish I played more really. DF is the pinnacle of ambition, and that peak keeps getting higher as time goes on. The game is richer in mechanics than almost any other I can think of, and those magnificient crazy brothers who make this game are really heroes of mine. I’ve been playing this game for years, and I’ll keep playing for years more.
- Bioshock Infinite
This was a game where the opinion seemed all over the place. It comes out, everyone loves it – a few weeks later, everyone hates it. I’m grossly oversimplifying of course, but the discourse surrounding this game was weird. Well anyway, I loved Infinite, despite several caveats. It was a really fun shooter, it had a story that I found compelling (albiet one that didn’t go where I expected it to at all), it had art design which was beautiful, and it had masterfully executed musical choices.
Personally, I think lots of people were expecting a discourse on American exceptionalism, racism, and classism, whereas Infinite ends up being a commentary on game design and those things which were previously seen to be big important themes of it were really just flavour to it’s world. I think I’d have liked it more if it focused on the former, not the latter – especially because it treads on some pretty dodgy territory by doing so – but I still loved Bioshock Infinite a lot.
- Gone Home
I really like linear games with a narrative I find compelling – I may have mentioned that before. This really gave it to me. I’d suggest the initial price is a bit costly for an experience that lasts maaaaaaybe 3 hours at a stretch, but it’s a condensed and meaningful experience. I think at least some elements of the story will resonate strongly with anyone who’s ever been a teenager too.
I liked lots of other games, too!