Though the Joy of Geek rebranding has brought all manner of pop culture entertainment to the table, gaming remains a special part of the project in our hearts. It’s where things all began with the first episode of the relaunched podcast in 2012, and it’s going to remain a major part of the mix going forward.
However, due to some unfortunate scheduling issues, this year was the first to break a major tradition, as there was no Game of the Year episode. It was a bummer for us to never get to record one of the most fun shows we do all year, but even more important, you never got to hear our thoughts on 2015’s gaming offerings. So, while our now-packed recording schedule makes such an episode unlikely – not to mention a bit dated at this point – we figured it would be fun to take a quick look back here on the site, offering our top five favorite titles of last year. So check out my picks for the best of 2015 below!
5. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
One of the few benefits of having our top games lists coming out so late is that we all had an extra few months to play a few 2015 titles that we hadn’t yet gotten to before 2016 began. In that spirit, we have my number five pick, The Witcher 3. I briefly played this game around the time of release, but the limited prologue area keeps you railroaded to the plot, which can be frustrating in an open-world game, and I moved on to other titles.
Recently, though, I returned to the world of Geralt of Rivia, and it’s amazing how much things open up when you finally move on from the small hub of White Orchard. From taking on Witcher Contracts and chasing down all manner of mythical creatures to interacting with the wide and diverse cast of side characters, The Witcher 3 offers endless hours of terrific adventuring, and that’s before you even start to deal with the intricacies of the main plot.
In many ways, what CD Projekt Red has accomplished here brings together the best of Bioware and Bethesda, combining the character-driven focus of a Dragon Age story with a massive, open world to explore like you’d find in an Elder Scrolls title. It’s a wonderful, rich game, and I’m happy to pop in, hunt some monsters, and play a round of Gwent every chance I get.
4. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
The Assassin’s Creed series has become something of a hit-or-miss franchise, with fantastic titles like Assasin’s Creed II and Black Flag countered by disappointing outings like Assassin’s Creed III and Unity. However, the biggest problem is that the series has become a bit stagnant, not really offering any major gameplay revelations for a while. It was to my surprise, then, that the latest entry in the series, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, managed to make the series’ familiar mechanics feel fresh again.
It’s the simple additions, really, that go a long way towards making Syndicate so much fun. The rope launcher makes traversal far less of a chore, while the horse-and-buggy segments actually prove to be hugely entertaining. Beyond that, the game really does make the most of its historical figures, with Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and Karl Marx all offering unique, themed side quests for players to play through.
The best addition, though, comes in the form of dual protagonists Jacob and Evie Frye, who make for the most likable heroes the series has seen since Ezio hung up his blades. The narrative conflict between taking over the city and seeking out one of the ridiculous First Civilization artifacts works far better when these elements are split between two different characters, and watching the rift between the twins grow makes for one of the series’ best stories. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate doesn’t reinvent the franchise, but it reminds us why we were so impressed with the series in the first place.
3. Crypt of the Necrodancer
I love rhythm games. I love roguelikes. I love deliciously dorky puns. Basically, then, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a game made for me, and while it released in beta in 2014, the official release date makes it eligible for this list. As such, there was no way I couldn’t include this toe-tapping dungeon-delving delight on the list.
Necrodancer can be a hard game to get your head around without actually playing it, but the basic gist is that you have to time your moves to the beat of a song, one that is tied to the heartbeat of main character Cadence through the spell of the Necrodancer himself. The enemies move to the same beat, so gameplay becomes a matter of quickly learning and reacting to all of the threats around you as dive deeper into the dungeon.
Really, the game is just an absolute blast, with creative creatures, wonderful tunes, and challenging boss fights. The addition of multiple playable characters, dozens of items and pieces of equipment, and the option to import your own music into the game are great bonuses, but at its core, this is just a fantastic indie game, and one fans of either roguelikes or rhythm games owe it to themselves to check out.
2. Tales from the Borderlands
Borderlands has quickly established itself as one of gaming’s best franchises. But while the gameplay has made for a solid foundation since the beginning, it was Borderlands 2 that showed the world of Pandora could be home to funny, entertaining, and surprisingly touching stories and characters. As such, the franchise seemed like a perfect fit for adventure game superstars Telltale Games.
And, yeah, Tales from the Borderlands is a wonderful game, one that expands the universe in stellar ways while moving the focus beyond the superhuman Vault Hunters featured in the main games. Instead, the story of Fiona and Rhys looks at the regular people that try to scrape by on the surface of Pandora, giving us a rollicking treasure-hunt adventure starring a pair of morally ambiguous heroes.
And the adventure is truly the focus here, with Tales offering a wonderfully weird road trip that’s all about a group of strangers as they begin to grow closer and form a bit of a makeshift family. On top of that, it’s just a mess of fun, with plenty of humor to be found in references to and character cameos from the main series. The cliffhanger ending leaves us with the promise of a second season, and I can’t wait to see what the mad geniuses at Telltale come up with for these characters next.
1. Life is Strange
The episodic adventure game has been popularized and perfected by Telltale Games – see the previous entry on this list – but it was Dontnod Entertainment that, with only their second game, took top honors, delivering the best example yet of what can be done with this sort of title. Life is Strange is one of the most engrossing, emotionally affecting games I’ve played in a long time, and it’s without question my favorite game of 2015.
I’m not going to spend time here defending the game’s faults, as I can’t entirely argue against them. Sure, the dialogue from Max and her friends can be stilted on occasion, and the graphical limitations that seem inevitable in this genre are on display. But in the end, the final product is greater than the sum of its parts.
Max’s time travelling journey centers squarely on her friendship with Chloe, and the pair make for one of the best relationships in gaming. Beyond that, there’s a compelling murder mystery, a great cast of side characters, and a narrative that focuses in on the dangers of time travel. And really, there’s no moment in gaming that affected me as much as the end of the second episode. Life is Strange just a masterful title, and one that I’m proud to give recognition as the best game of last year.
And those are my picks! An odd bunch, to be sure, but a list I’m proud of. What do you think of the titles I listed? What are your favorite games of 2015? Let me know in the comments below, and keep a look out for future lists!