Mike’s Top 3 games of 2014
2014 was quite an interesting year for gaming. It was the year where indie games continued to rise to the forefront, and major triple-A titles continued to ship half finished and broken. That’s right folks, this year has been a weird one for games. There were many moments when I often asked myself questions such as “Is this game really on your top ten list?” and “why didn’t you put this major title on your list?” Nevertheless, I have played some truly breathtaking games released this year.
We’ve also had a lot of controversy in the gaming world. We’ve had mobile titles being pulled due to its addicting nature, major platform companies (Microsoft) releasing discounted consoles with missing components after stating it was essential to the system itself, and the rallying of anti-feminist groups causing the much controversial “GamerGate” incident. This year certainly has been an interesting one, and I hope next year, the industry as a whole, is able to get back on track, and those of us who call ourselves “gamers”, will get back to the purpose of simply enjoying games for what they are.
Below you will find my top three games of 2014. I’ve restricted myself to only allowing games that I’ve played to be on the list, as there were many fantastic titles this year, which I simply did not get to, or have the means to play. Please note that this list my personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect those of Ludus Press, or any of its members.
Anyways, enough banter. On to the good stuff!
3.) Dragon Age: Inquisition
I have to admit, I was extremely reluctant to play Dragon Age: Inquisition. I thoroughly enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins, so naturally I was inclined to pick up its sequel. Boy was I disappointed. The stale and repetitive dungeons of Dragon Age 2 really burned me, not to mention only being allowed to roam one giant city and a handful of empty wastelands. The story just didn’t connect with me like its predecessor. The only thing I liked about the sequel was the combat. It was fast, fluid, and offered a fairly deep skill tree for interesting combinations. I do understand Bioware was under time constraints, but there were more conceptual flaws with DA: 2 that even more time in development could not have prevented. Despite my apprehension I decided to give Inquisition a go, as I really enjoyed the story and setting of the universe. I’m here to tell you that I was not disappointed. In fact, Dragon Age: Inquisition is not only a superb RPG, it’s clearly a statement made by Bioware saying “yes, we do know how to make a great game”.
Dragon Age starts off with a literal bang, as you take the role of a custom hero (or heroine) thrown from a rift in the sky, where all forms of terror begin to descend on the world of Thedas. That bang slowly begins to diminish though as you get deeper into the 50+ hour campaign. While I enjoyed exploring the turmoil between the Templars and Mages, I felt a bit wanting once the main quest line was through. The good news is that the main story line is not where the game truly shines. Inquisition is at its best, when interacting with your travelling companions. Each supporting character comes packed with extensive side content that is far more interesting than the stakes at hand. There is A LOT to do in DA: I, and I found the most enjoyable parts were spent listening to the banter between companions, and learning more about them. Often times, the characters I had in my party were a key factor in determining the decisions I made, to ensure my relationship with them stayed intact.
Combat feels like a mix of the best parts from Origins, and Dragon Age 2. While the combat is fast and fluid there is a strategic element where patience and timing pays off. Inquisition gives you the option of real time combat, or using the new overhead tactical view, that was first introduced in Origins for the PC. I found myself switching between both options quite often, as each provided a new way to look at every battle. Orchestrating flanks, setting traps, and combining spells made me feel like a real general on the front lines, and having complete control over my victories, was extremely satisfying.
The other side of Inquisition is what you do off the battlefield. Just about everything can be upgraded, to multiple degrees. Not only can you make weapons, but you can also find schematics for hilts, and stones, that can upgrade said weapons even further. Crafting armor can provide core attribute bonuses, and herbs can create stronger potions. I’m not ashamed to say I spent more hours hoarding materials than I have any game prior to Inquisition. If that wasn’t enough there is a second way to receives upgrades and bonuses, and that is through your war table. You use your war table to select missions and assign your cohorts to carry out those missions using a specific approach. Each successful mission allows you to gain a multitude of rewards, including extra potion slots, and new dialogue options.
Playing Dragon Age: Inquisition felt like a personal journey. It’s a game that contains very real themes, and often requires you to answer challenging questions about faith, morals, and sacrifice. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every minute of my 50 hour playthorugh discovering constellations, finding secret dungeons, and meeting interesting people along the way. Journeying has never been so fun.
2.) Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
If you truly want to feel like a badass, play Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. “SOM” gives you the chance to kill dozens of orcs in mere seconds, only to disappear into the shadows as a travelling group of Uruk-hai stand terrified, wondering what has happened to their fallen brethren. Although it didn’t start off like this. It took many hours of trial and error to become the “grave walker”, and fulfill my quest for vengeance. What seems like a Batman clone on the outside soon reveals itself to be something much different, offering some truly progressive systems, in an otherwise rehashed formula.
Shadow of Mordor sets you on the path of Talion, a ranger of Gondor looking to settle down with his beloved, and live out his days removed from fighting. Things turn bad quickly as you would expect, as Talion is forced to watch his wife and son murdered before being killed himself by the evil forces of Sauron. It is here you realize you have been cursed, devoid of death, and bound to a bitter wraith with a hankering for vengeance. Thus begins your journey into the expanded Tolkien universe.
The combat is directly influenced by the Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham games formula that preceded it. Although, those of you thinking you will be able to mash the X or square button to get ahead will be cut down sooner than you realize. As dozens of orcs close in for the kill, you might be tempted rely on videogame logic thinking you can bludgeon them one by one, but running is an acceptable action especially in the early goings as you are far too underpowered to take them on. Stealth is required in these instances, until you gain enough power and skills to take on multiple enemies. Distractions are also a great way to progress, as releasing a caragor from its cage or dropping a beehive into a crowd of orcs can give you just enough time to gain the upper hand.
A brand new system that informs the core combat comes something called the “Nemesis system”. For those unfamiliar, SOM features a new dynamic enemy system where every battle matters. Orcs and Uruk-hai all have a ranking within Mordor. They are placed on a hierarchy much like any military force and there are multiple opportunities to help not only you but the orc horde as well. The great thing about this system is that something happens at almost every encounter. If you run from a skirmish the orcs will comment on your cowardice. If you somehow fail to kill a captain he will show up next time with burn marks, or a wrapped face depending on what you did during the battle. Should you fall in battle the orc that dealt the final blow will increase his rank within the hierarchy. The next time you meet, he will remember you, call you a coward, and question your ability to fight. Never have I been more infuriated than when I was fighting an orc (for the fourth time) who had started off as a standard enemy, and was now promoted to war chief. He asked me if I would ever give up, and I proceeded to stab him in the heart, and cut off his head….satisfying. The second half of the game allows you to directly influence the hierarchy, as you gain the ability to control orcs, and assist them in working their way up the ladder, eventually to war chief.
Shadow of Mordor didn’t resonate with me on a personal level. The game has a recognizable style that some may even be tired of, but there was one thing that made me keep coming back, the Nemesis system. This system feels tailor made to “next gen” gaming, and I’m not ashamed to say I hope every developer looks at it, and thinks about what they can do with their titles. Only then will we truly be experiencing what 2015 and beyond truly has to offer in the world of video games.
1.) Wolfenstein: The New Order
There was something about playing Wolfenstein: The New Order that I just couldn’t get over. Between the outrageous plot sprinkled with real world locations, references to events taking place in our history and the substantial amount of freedom in choice of play style, this was a 10 hour experience that I believe everyone needs to play, and other developers need to take note of.
At first glance, Wolfenstein might look like a generic first person shooter. In some ways that statement isn’t far from the truth, but there is just enough around the edges that makes it feel like a new and fresh experience. The game stars classic protagonist B.J. Blazcowicz as he and a band of misfits try to take out the evil Deathshead, and land a critical strike to the world occupied Nazi regime. There are some interesting twists on the story here, as we see B.J. 14 years prior to the Nazi takeover then jump into the future to a more battle hardened hero. I very much enjoyed the lapse of time as it provided a more fleshed out main character than we are used to in this genre. Also, the game spans many locations such as Poland, Berlin, and even the moon. Did I mention the cutscenes are fantastic? Providing over the top set pieces, and wonderful narrative exposition, the team did a truly fantastic job here.
Wolfenstein plays much like you would expect an FPS to play, however it provides more freedom in how you approach each encounter. Do I go stealth and silently knife everyone, or do I go in guns blazing with double shotguns, and leave no witnesses? I found myself often taking the stealth approach, as there are captains scattered throughout each area that can trigger an alarm if not taken out. That’s not to say I didn’t have my fair share of gunplay, many situations called for more direct action, as the difficulty tends to ramp up towards the latter half of the campaign. The game also tailors to your play style with a unique progression system. Like to use grenades? Eventually you are awarded with bigger blast damage. Like to hunt down Nazi’s while they aren’t looking? Here’s a silencer for your pistol. Wolfenstein rewards good play, and offers upgrades that you will actually use.
I think the biggest reason why this game made it to number one for me is because I had zero expectations going into it. I did not preorder, nor even consider playing Wolfenstein: The New Order until I received a recommendation from a friend. Not to mention the fact that this series has had major bumps throughout its 30 year history. Wolfenstein however has it all. Superb voice acting, excellent combat, sprawling vistas, and a well thought out story. Needless to say MachineGames has taken a storied but dwindling property, and given it the spark it very much deserved.
[images from pcgamer.com]