It’s Loresworn Games of the Year Week, and the main event is finally here! This is our definitive list of the best games we played in 2015. Something missing that you expected to make the countdown? Chances are, it’s one of our Games We Didn’t Get To in 2015 (But Wish We Had).
And don’t forget to swing back by tomorrow for our Most Anticipated Games of 2016.
Let the countdown begin!
T.J.’s Picks, #10 – #6
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’re probably shocked to see a sports game on my Top 10. So was I. This might actually be the first sports game I’ve purchased since NFL Blitz for the N64. I’m not really a sports guy, and never have been. But being roommates with D.M. Schmeyer will do odd things to you. And I’d heard a lot of good buzz about the series from other gamers I trust for years.
2K16, to me, is really just a basketball roleplaying game. Iffy Spike Lee prologue aside, my monstrous Center (7’3″ Gregor Cle-Game, “The Mountain That Dunks”) is currently wrecking his way through a sophomore season with LeBron and the Cavs, and I’m having the time of my life. I actually know the names of some NBA players who aren’t from the 90s, too, which is useful when I have to have a conversation with someone at a bar who doesn’t follow pro-level StarCraft.
The mechanics are spot-on, the character customization is deep, and the career mode is rich and nigh-endlessly entertaining. Who knows? Maybe this will even get me into the real life version of the whole “sports” thing everyone keeps talking about.
Cities Skylines is like a lion on the savanna. It saw the abandoned carcass left by the dismal reception to the latest SimCity, and pounced on the opportunity to fill what had become a glaring hole in the market: A true, quality city-builder in the spirit of player freedom present in SimCities past. Skylines fills the niche ferociously and admirably.
Colossal Order made its mark with transportation sims that weren’t quite city-builders, and that DNA is apparent in Skylines’ complex traffic systems and public transit schemes that have spawned several-page dissertations from the fan community on how to get your simulated people from place to place most efficiently. And with the colossal size allowed by the engine (especially when the buildable area is unlocked with mods), that becomes quite the in-depth and rewarding task.
Speaking of mods, they are another reason Skylines soars over its contemporaries. There’s even a third-party utility that will generate a terrain map from real-world satellite data of just about anywhere. It’s a poster child for what big publishers are missing out on by stupidly refusing to include player-created content support in their games. Skylines isn’t dependant on mods, though. I could play it blissfully for days on end with only the stock bits and features.
There are plenty of reasons to criticize Legacy of the Void. Particularly if we’re talking about the campaign, it’s been met with less than universal acclaim. But this is one of those times where I just have to speak from my heart and not from my head. Witnessing the end of a saga that began when I was nine was an uplifting, nearly spiritual experience. Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan have been pillars of my media universe since before I said goodbye to the concept of recess, and I wasn’t let down at all by their final chapter.
Blizzard storytelling is never going to be cerebral or mind-blowing or win any awards. What it does really well, consistently, is getting me freaking excited to see awesome characters doing awesome shit for the sake of being awesome. Legacy of the Void is that cranked up to… whatever the Protoss equivalent of the number eleven is called. It’s a fitting grand finale to a saga almost 20 years in the making. You don’t get to experience that too often.
On the multiplayer side, I’m a bit concerned that the game is becoming too much about harass and drop play. I’d like to see an SC2 pro environment where you do get deathball vs deathball brouhahas every once in a while. But it’s still very early, and we’ll see how the eSports scene shapes up over the course of the next year.
Wasteland 2 is nothing less than crunchy, classic RPG goodness. The combat is really the star of the show here, unlike a similar game that’s a little further up the list. The ability to gradually develop your team of Rangers into a deadly, diversified force wherein at least one member is capable of any given challenge thrown at you is extremely rewarding. It’s like playing the post-apocalyptic A-Team. And it reminded me of XCOM, in that being smart about where and how you start an engagement, and which tools you bring to the fight, allows you to turn a tense encounter into a one-sided blowout. It doesn’t feel too easy. It just forces you to think and plan, moving the difficulty to the pre-battle phase.
I couldn’t say the story was stellar on an Obsidian or BioWare metric of comparison, but it was still interesting enough and filled with complicated, no-right-answer decisions that it didn’t cause the rest of the game to sag. More important than the plot itself was how story elements interfaced with the world and the combat. Traversing a canyon full of kamikaze monks with nuclear bombs strapped to them was a brilliant example of how to weave narrative and mechanics, and it was far from the only place where the game hit that pairing out of the park.
We really need more games like Wasteland 2 in the current era. Smart, slick, balanced, and truly diverse in the available options to build a team of characters and interact with its world. It upholds pillars of great RPGs past that have nearly fallen into ruin in favor of production value and accessibility.
I’m a huge George R. R. Martin fan, and Telltale’s episodic Game of Thrones adventure sated my Westeros craving more than anything else this year—including the TV show. As a matter of fact, I think it’s Telltale’s best work to date. And that’s high praise coming from me, as I was enthralled by their Walking Dead series and The Wolf Among Us.
I underwent a transformation trying to lead House Forrester through the trials before them. It wasn’t just a transformation of falling in love with most of the cast, either. I went in knowing how the world of Westeros worked, and resolved to play by its rules. I wasn’t going to be naive or idealistic. I was going to make the world bend to my scheming whims. Except, it didn’t work out that way.
At the 11th hour, I realized certain decisions before me were things I wouldn’t be able to live with if I did the logical thing. I had to lead from my heart and do the right thing, even if I knew just as well as Ned Stark that there would be consequences. It’s hard to call the ending I got anything but a defeat. It’s one of the proudest defeats I’ve ever suffered. And I want more games to make me feel that way.
Iron From Ice.