Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 - Year In Gaming

So it's been a literal year since I've posted on this blog, which was mostly unintentional and there were definitely things I wanted to write about but I just got caught up with other things. Things like watching all of Lost, dealing with health issues, or most likely just gaming and achievement hunting. According to my Xbox 2015 report I gained 24,895 gamerscore over 1,277 achievements! I definitely played much more than 2014 though, probably because I dropped the MMORPG that I was engrossed with for most of the previous year. This was the year of being a filthy casual, I tried my hand at much more game wise and I was constantly checking my phone tending to my (and I'm completely aware that these are ridiculous grind fests most of the time) mobile games. This year I'll mostly write about all the games I played (good or bad) and I'll do a bit of a Top 5.

**As always I write this all as a gaming enthusiast and not some official writer or gaming pundit.

Before we really get into the nitty gritty I'd like to just shout out some casual or mobile games I've been spending time on while doing stuff like watching TV shows or load screens.

  • Marvel Puzzle Quest (Seriously the best match 3 mobile game there is)
  • The Walking Dead: No Mans Land (What a dumb title)
  • NEKO ATSUME (Go away Tubbs!)
  • Star Wars Card Trader (The idea of digital trading cards worth real money (and a lot of it) is obscene to me but I'm still playing this)
  • Marvel Future Fight
  • Star Wars: Uprising
  • Clash of Clans (I NEED MORE GOLD AND ELIXIR)
  • Marvel Contest of Champions 
  • Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes (Recently deleted it because of the addition of pop up ad garbage, still deserving of a spot here)
  • Lara Croft GO
  • Time Clickers and Trimps (Thanks, Giantbomb)
  • Crossy Road

Games I Wish I Played Before the End of the Year: (AND THERE WERE A LOT BECAUSE SO MANY GAMES CAME OUT IN 2015) In approximate order
  • Galak-Z
  • Star Wars: Battlefront
  • The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
  • Cities: Skyline
  • Nuclear Throne
  • Destiny: The Taken King
  • Dying Light
  • Splatoon
  • Rebel Galaxy
  • Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
  • Fallout 4
  • Satellite Reign
  • Axiom Verge
  • Downwell
  • Cibele
  • Her Story
  • Undertale
  • Read Only Memories
  • Life is Strange
  • Grow Home
Games I'm Looking Forward to in 2016
  • No Man's Sky (again)
  • Tom Clancy's The Division
  • Mirror's Edge Catalyst
  • Mass Effect Andromeda
  • Dishonored 2
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Star Citizen
  • XCOM 2
  • Halo Wars 2
  • ReCore
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Amplitude
  • Oxenfree
  • Adrift
  • The Banner Saga 2
  • Cuphead
  • Fire Emblem Fates
  • Dark Souls 3 (maybe)
I have to give a mention to Telltale's Game of Thrones and Tales of the Borderlands because they both had great stories and fit well with Telltale's take on point and click adventure type games. My only gripe is how long it took those games to come out in the episodic format. Tales from the Borderlands came out from November 25, 2014 - October 20, 2015 (5 episodes quarterly) and Game of Thrones: Season One was December 2, 2014 - November 17, 2015 (6 episodes bi-monthly). Dear Telltale, we love your games, just don't make us wait an entire year to finish it. That being said I'm very interested to see the Telltale Batman and Telltale Marvel projects.

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (2011). (STARTING OFF HOT). So very recently one of the streamers I follow on Twitch has been playing a ton of Bloodborne (and primarily streamed DS and DS2 before this). Mechanically, the game looks fantastic. It really seems like a game that is 100% focused on precise actions and greatly rewards the player when every attack, dodge, parry, gun blast, and so on lands properly. Inspired, I decided to try out Dark Souls via Steam game share. I plugged in my 360 game pad and made my character. My character which no matter what options I chose looked like she got her putty face smashed with a rolling pin. But this game came out in 2011 so I guess I'll give it some slack. I start the first area/tutorial zone and it goes alright. The movement feels heavy, almost sluggish but I play on. I run through this dark dungeon area killing zombie type enemies with a broken sword. A few more dingy stairwells and hallways I find  this big four legged two armed demon creature with a giant mace. After a detour to the second floor I jump down on the demons head to ambush him with a rusty sword. Several sword strike dodge roll combos later the Asylum Demon falls and I unlock the ability to use Bonfires and I think the Estus Flask, a refillable health potion. Alright! Cool I think I actually progressed and that felt okay. Let's keep playing on.

I find a bonfire outside and level up my stamina or strength and get to save my progress! Then I come across these bony bastard skeletons. First there are two skeletons with a buckler and sword each (picture below). Alright let's try this. I try a mix of heavy and light strikes while dodging but the second one always flanks around and stuns my character long enough for these the other to boggle my brain back and forth with his skelebro. I die. This goes on for at least 10 more minutes. With probably 1-3 minutes of running back from the bonfire to where these skeletons are. Eventually I learn their attack patterns and attack range and defeat them. COOL. I'm already sort of tired of this with a lack of patience. I turn a corner and there's a glowing orb indicating an item pick up. I run towards it hoping it's some new shinier weapon to help me kill these skeletons. It's just a consumable soul item and it spawned two more skeletons. One of the sword and board skeletons from before and another one with a large two handed sword. Queue at least 5 more minutes of trying to defeat the first pair of skeletons that respawn when I die and then trying to learn how to defeat the large sword skeleton. Finally that happens and I continue on through this cliff side graveyard. A terribly oversized skeleton with a sword at least a meter larger than I completely slices me to pieces. About here is where I stop playing.


I'm fully aware I didn't try hard enough to get through this area, but the 1.2 hours (according to Steam) was mostly spent on learning these few skeleton enemy encounters and maybe just 30 minutes on the tutorial dungeon area. Watching a few YouTube Let's Plays I see a lot of people just sprint through the area, pick up all the items, and then commit suicide to return to the bonfire or just sprint back if they have souls to level up. People also said not to go this route and come back later. In fact this route is so hard that it's the area that ruins the game for most players, I wish I saw this before I spent an hour getting my butt kicked. Aside from that, I saw flashes of moments where my actions came together in enemy encounters, but it is entirely too tough for me or too tedious to learn every enemy pattern for me to enjoy the game right now. Maybe I'll return to the game later when I have a lull of things to play. I salute every single one of those Demon/Dark Souls/Bloodborne players and I will absolutely continue watching my favorite Bloodborne streamer. This experience solidifies the idea that maybe these games aren't for me, but at least I tried it right?

Update 1/5/16: I'm going to waffle here. I tried to not go through the cemetery and now after a few hours I finally killed the first boss, the Taurus Demon. Now I need to figure out how to get past this armored boar and fire breathing dragon. Alright, Dark Souls.

Emily Is Away (2015) is a visual novel I didn't hear of until very late this year. It's free on Steam but has options for you to donate money to to the creator, Kyle Seeley. It's very short, 30-50 minutes depending how fast you can mash your keyboard and read. So if you'd like to experience this interactive story, maybe skip this entire section because it'll be spoiled quickly otherwise.

Once you open the game you hear sounds of a classic computer booting up, beeping and computer fans whirring. The Windows XP welcome sound greets you and opens up into the default Windows XP rolling green grass desktop background. AIM opens up you set your name, create a screenname then choose a pixelated buddy icon, and soon you receive an IM from a girl, Emily. You click one of three response options and to actually send your IM response you tap keys out on your real life keyboard to simulate communicating to Emily. You two are high school seniors on the verge of graduation and discuss college, the future, and who of your social group is a shithead or not depending on what you choose. She asks you if you're going to Travis's party tonight "Are you going? You should!" Naturally, my first playthrough I chose to not to partake in this party. Chapter two begins and you and Emily are both in your Freshman year of college. You catch up about how college is going, what you might be doing that night and then Emily drops this bomb about how she's now in a relationship with Travis, the shithead (your characters words, not mine) who hosted that party last summer. She asks "Why didn't you go to the party?" and explains how since you weren't there she hit it off with Travis and just sort of hooked up with him. However she brings up how sometimes he's very stubborn and fights with her often. I select the option that just says "I just care about you" but your character types out "I just want you to know that I care about you" except he decides to backspace the last bit and replaces it with "people care about you". You can already tell that you're driven to a certain infatuation or at the very least a protective best friend dynamic about Emily. Also at any time of the game you can click on your buddy list on the task bar and view your friends and their profiles. Of course profiles are filled with things like song lyrics from 2002, someone looking for a band mate, or a message mourning their father that passed away. Chapter 3 begins and Emily messages you. As usual you two catch up about whats going on, she asks you what you're up to tonight and how you're going to see a movie with a friend, a girl. Emily responds asking if she's just a friend or if you're interested in her and you truly get that awkward moment of trying to decide what to call this other girl to Emily who you really care for already. Later she confesses that she broke up with Travis because of how much they fight and how he changed as a person. I chose to console her and put off plans with the other girl because of how much I want to be a good friend (or more) to Emily. We decide that Emily should visit me at college to get Travis off her mind. End of chapter.

New chapter and new message from Emily asking "Did you plan on hooking up with me that night I visited? It all seemed very deliberate. You knew I was vulnerable." You're struck with a worry that you might have ruined what you had with Emily and maybe you actually misread the situation even though sometimes things just happen between people. Things get really weird and awkward and she doesn't want to talk right now. You watch this blinking cursor in the AIM response window stuck with a sinking feeling that what ever happened between you two ruined the friendship that you once had.

Finally the last chapter begins. You and Emily will be finishing college soon and you try to start an AIM conversation with Emily. The two of you try catching up with your lives. She says how she's in another relationship. At this point your dialogue options start to become really heartbreaking "Do you miss me?" but when you select that option and start typing on your keyboard your character types it out, but insists on backspacing everything and making small talk in its place. "Will we ever be the same?" becomes "How is the weather?". "Can I see you this summer" becomes "Have you seen any good movies?" Eventually the conversation ends and for the last time you see "emerly35 is now away"

Not only is this game a massive nostalgia bomb of talking to girls you had a thing for on AIM from middle/high school, it really triggers all these emotions accurately. I personally felt anxious for what I was saying to this girl because I wanted it to work out. I wanted it to work out so badly that I played the game 3 times, essentially to follow all 3 different dialogue paths just to try to find that happy ending. I found out online that there is no happy ending and you always wind up heartbroken that your relationship doesn't workout with Emily. Not even your friendship will workout with her and things change too much between you two. This is definitely one of the first gaming experiences where I got to experience such a nostalgic and emotional story in such a concise format. Bravo Kyle Seeley, you made me feel.

Since 2010's Black Ops 1, it's really been a while that I really sank my teeth into a Call of Duty game. I generally play through the campaigns (FOR ACHIEVEMENTS), but for me, and millions of other gamers the real meat and potatoes part of this dish is the multiplayer. I haven't finished Call of Duty Black Ops 3's (2015) campaign mode yet but it definitely uses a lot of really cool scifi cyberpunk elements and has some cool scenes of human transformations with technological modifications after being mortally wounded in a combat scenario. I was also able to choose what my character looked like (gender at least), except they were all still generic white action movie hero archetypes.

The multiplayer is as deep as Call of Duty gets for the most part. There's an entire oceans worth of challenges for you to chase after that reward you special weapon skins, weapon sight reticles, and profile banner calling cards. If you want an unlock fest this is absolutely it. The gunplay of Call of Duty is always solid and this doesn't stray from that strength. Now you don't play some random military grunt but you play a specialist with an ability that charges up (just like Destiny). I've taken a liking for Battery who wields a grenade launcher (the only grenade launcher in the game!) or defensive shield that lets you take way more damage except for headshots and explosives. It feels supplementary to the COD dynamic without negatively affecting other gameplay mechanics. Of course there is the return score streaks which feel extremely rewarding if you start to heat up and continuously keep scoring points, or extremely infuriating as the sky is falling and you die every time you spawn because it feels like there are a billion robotic weapons flying at you.

In addition to the classic multiplayer experience that sports a plethora of game modes as well as the Team Death Match and Domination classics, Zombies mode returns to Black Ops in a big way. This is probably the deepest and biggest Zombies campaign. I've played a few rounds and I still don't really understand what I'm supposed to do because live and where is that random weapon box?! You can turn into this Cthulu tentacle monster and bite the heads off of zombies which feels like something right out of 2K studios' The Darkness from 2007. There are flying green acid spitting bug creatures and hellhound type beasts again. Probably way more enjoyable if you can get some friends and explore the area figuring out how to turn on the electricity to get power ups and hit that gumball machine.

I think the Black Ops series has always been strong and Black Ops 1 is still one of the games I've dumped the most hours into (511 hrs). This is a fairly deep multiplayer experience if you're a fan of the genre and generally how Call of Duty games handle movement. I don't know how much I'll prestige in multiplayer, but I'll keep chasing that carrot and ranking up.

While we're on the genre I tried getting back into the Battlefield series with Battlefield Hardline (2015). Damn it, I really wanted to like this game. It had been a while since I played a game where you run around with guns and aim down sights and rank up to unlock weapons, especially on console. I finished the campaign and got 100% of the achievements. The campaign was OKAY at best. It really followed the tropes classic vice police TV shows, it even had "PREVIOUSLY ON THE LAST EPISODE" at the beginning of every single chapter. There's an element of the single player that gives you bonus points to unlock items to use in other missions when you arrest suspects instead of shooting them all dead. However the the extra points you get only allow you to get more tools to kill people with. This mechanic contradiction just seems really silly in hindsight. Similar to how you hunt animals to get more experience in Tomb Raider just to level up more abilities to ultimately hunt better.

Multiplayer was also just okay. I say that mostly because I think Battlefield at it's best is making you feel like you're some awesome military unit either as infantry or a pilot/driver of all the vehicles in Battlefield 3 and 4. Vehicles that pretty much cut in half in Hardline. There were no tanks, no jets, not even light armored vehicles. Available vehicles were cop cruisers, trucks and some slightly armored trucks with turrets on the back. They made sense thematically, but it didn't feel substantial compared to every other Battlefield title. I played mutiplayer fairly often for about a month and just sort of never had an urge to play it again. I didn't want to try to unlock any more of the weapons as all the ones I had for the classes I played felt viable and fit my playstyle. I didn't want to grind more matches to get money to use on buying ridiculous Battlefield Battlepacks (other wise microtransactions) for a chance at cosmetics and shortcuts to weapon attachments. The entire multiplayer experience didn't seem very deep and the cosmetics available weren't really something that made you want to grind for them or even spend money at a chance at finding them. It really feels like Visceral went for a much lighter mood with the cops and robbers theme. Playing as a cop or a thug of either stereotypical thief goon or a borderline offensive gangster blasting the WOOP WOOP THATS THE SOUND OF THE POLICE song for the 1000th time. Oh yeah the few songs that play on the radio get old really quick, so you can either turn off the music in the game or allow yourself to go insane.

Even the Easter Eggs in the game seem way jokier instead of the community's meme of dinosaurs in BF 3 and 4.

If you're looking for a more substantial military Battlefield experience, Battlefield 4 is probably the proper choice. The community in that game is still very much active and DICE Los Angeles has been supporting the game (see also: saving the game) far beyond the 2013 release date. 

Psychonauts (2005) is one of those cult classic games that you always only hear good things about and it's cheap enough (or been in humble bundles) that most people probably own it on Steam by now. I remember getting this in a Humble Bundle a few years back, trying it out and not getting very far because of how dated it felt. It doesn't play that poorly, but mechanically the camera controls can get pretty wonky and has a super dated feeling target lock on. It definitely plays like a game from 2005 and the humor is very Nickelodeon, but fairly smart and clever at times. The plot of the game is about kids that go to a camp to learn how to hone their psychic abilities, but there is someone stealing the campers brains so it's up to Raz to help his new friends recover them. I've recently played through about 55% of the way through the game and while I'm not sure if I'll wind up finishing it. (though I'd like to) I'm enjoying it much more this second time around and with an Xbox 360 controller. It's also quite exciting to see Psychonauts 2 coming in the near future. The game is definitely worth checking out for the $0.99 ($9.99 USD standard) price for the ticket of entry during Steam sale.

I wanted to play Valiant Hearts: The Great War (2014) since the short trailer shown at E3 that one year, that trailer that you knew would already tug at your heart strings. (Spoiler: it absolutely does that). Lucky for me the title was free on Xbox Games with Gold. It's a fairly short side scroller puzzle adventure about about 4 characters of very different backgrounds during World War I Karl, Anna, Emile, and Freddie (And Walt the dog!). During the story you play through very notable settings like the Battle of the Marne, Battle of the Somme, and the Nivelle Offensive. The characters dredge through the mud tunnels, try to race ahead of chlorine gas, and escape from a POW camp. I honestly feel like I learned more (at least visually) about World War I than my lazy high school history classes. Valiant Hearts was really quite a surprise from Ubisoft that I'm glad to have been able to play. 

I was never really that into the Metal Gear series. When I was young my dad got me a bunch of older games from a coworker and one of them was Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I think I spent a week just messing around on the first stage aboard the ship. I was a pretty dumb kid and could never really get into the complexity of stealth games so I think I finished the first stage on the tanker once and could never progress through the Plant facility stage. A few years later I played a demo disk from the classic Official Playstation Magazine (RIP) that had Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I was a bit older and enjoyed the game much more and was able to actually finish the demo. Never wound up playing the game though because shortly after I got into Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft which are MMORPG black holes. 

Anyways I really know very little about the Metal Gear stories other than they're ridiculous,  something about Naked Raiden doing flips (Thanks, X-Play!), something about the La Li Lu Le Lo, and giant robots. So I didn't have predetermined understanding the story in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (2015) even after playing MGS: Ground Zeroes other than Snake (BIG BOSS???) was attacked (betrayed?) and has to rebuild his army that he once had. The idea of recruiting (or stealing people from your enemies) your army and literally building up your base is pretty cool. MGSV plays pretty well. I enjoyed the open world concepts and the controls were exactly what you would want out of a stealth action game. The quirks can be pretty hilarious or intriguing, like knocking out a guy and strapping him to a balloon to fly away to your base. That's entirely amazing and weird. I definitely like the game, but haven't played in quite some time. It's also really hard for me to describe just how filled with glee and confusion I was when D-Dog actually pulled out a knife with his mouth, ran at a guy, jumped on him and actually slit his throat. A DOG KILLED A BAD GUY WITH A KNIFE. 

Quiet is entirely interesting to me (despite her character outfit, honestly) and I hear the explanation for her muteness is well explained later so that's something I really want to personally play out. I'm not sure I understand the placement or need for the multiplayer aspects that were added to MGSV. The online player vs player elements didn't seem like something that should've been there. Judging from the amount of people that actually play it online it seems like most people would probably agree. In the end MGSV:TPP is a game I enjoyed, but never wound up (not even close to) finishing yet this year. It'll be in my backlog of shame for now. 

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014) was a game I meant to play as soon as I heard it was essentially a Batman Arkham series game set in Mordor with swords and mass orc decapitations. The game really lived up to the hype that I built up myself. The nemesis mechanic of dying to orcs in order to level and have them rank up through the uruk army was a really interesting experience. I was able to mind control an orc to have him on my side and make him match up with a rival. Together we could dispatch the rival's underling officers and soon the rival himself to create an ally high ranking warchief. There were a lot of really fun achievements to chase within the nemesis system itself. Shadow of Mordor had the perfect amount of Assassin's Creed movement mechanics and splashes of the Batman Arkham combo counter combat system. The story wasn't particularly strong but you're still driven to play through the game because fighting orcs in this world is just so damn enjoyable. If I played this in 2014 it absolutely would've been towards to top of my game of the year list.

This past year Ori and the Blind Forest (2015) became one of the heavy hitter console exclusives for Xbox and that was pretty exciting as an Xbox owner and fan. The biggest surprise about Ori was how hardcore the game actually is. Just looking at the hand drawn 2D elements of the game you get a bit of family Pixar style feeling, but underneath the beautiful visual assets is a tough spike filled cross of MetroidVanias and Super Meat Boy. Certain segments require button and ability precision that if absent, will have you dying over and over and over. Luckily the save mechanic is pretty lenient and allows you to create save points just about anywhere as long as you have the mana for it. The intro of the game is a gutpunch of feels in the same way that Up was and Ori and the Blind Forest immediately sets the precedence for you to save your forest home. Absolutely recommend this on Steam/Xbox One if you're a fan of tight action platforming mechanics and a wonderfully unique art style. 

Batman: Arkham Knight (2015) would have been my #6 game or #5.5. It was really close with Rise of the Tomb Raider and it was pretty tough to pick one over the other. Batman: Arkham Knight was a lot more of the same stuff seen int the Arkham series. It builds upon Arkham City more so as far as the scale of how Gotham played. The combat is extremely familiar especially with the fairly same enemy types. Dodge combo the enemies with knives and shock rods, cape stun the big dudes and spam X to tenderize his abdomen with a flurry of punches and so on. One thing that felt particularly shoehorned in was the Batmobile. I think it would've been a nice touch if it wasn't in just about every chapter of the game. There are parts where the Batmobile is the only way for you to reach the next area. The game forces you to go through these strange and sometimes awkward platforming puzzles requiring tethering your vehicle to anchor points and rappelling along a wall while you blast walls with the giant gun on it to open up walls. I didn't mind all of them, it just felt unnecessary for Batman to have to depend on the Batmobile like it was just another gadget on his belt. Some people I've spoken to didn't mind the driving elements and some found them overwhelmingly boring or tedious after the first few. Also the way your Batmobile transforms into a tank to apprehend thugs wielding guns in the street was questionable. I'm sure the explanation is that the Batmobile Tank shot bean bags or rubber bullets, but you're really just shooting all these bad guys until they hit the floor (either dead or wishing they were).

Rocksteady does a great job at making Gotham City look amazing on console. Of course all the streets are slick with rain because that looks great in media, but the way the neon lights in all the different city districts reflect off the rain and fog work so well, even on consoles. The PC release was quite a mess but if you can tolerate 30 FPS, it worked perfectly on consoles. One of my favorite elements of the game was how visions of characters (no spoilers) appeared and how the game triggered those appearances. There were instances that only showed something to you once you looked away and looked back. I'm sure this is probably something that happens a lot in horror games, but that's a genre I don't dabble with. The side quests in Arkham Knight all had their own story chains and I really enjoyed playing them all through to the end. I wish the sidekick stuff was a bit more common in the game instead of one or two encounters that had you teaming up with Nightwing or Robin. They were well done and the way you juggled street thugs was super rewarding. I won't really go into the story because of how impacting I found certain reveals to be that I'd rather players experience themselves. This title is for sure a runner up for my Top 5 and if you were a fan of any of the Arkham games you should (and probably have/will) play Arkham Knight.

Now that we have most of what I played in 2015 we can finally get into the 5 games that stood out to me the most.

5. Rise of the Tomb Raider

After the fantastic surprise that was the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider, I expected great things from Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015). This installment is definitely a great expansion on how the first game was going. The skill level up mechanic and weapon refining systems are essentially the same as they were, and that's fine because they worked well. Now you can craft a variety of arrow types to fill Lara's quiver such as poison arrows, fire arrows, and explosive arrows. Each have their places in different situations whether they be combat and/or puzzle related. Also new and craftable are different bullet types and bandages to regain health. On the highest difficulty specializing in the health and durability skills really helps as well as crafted bandage quality as you lose all your passive health regen. Lara Croft is as tough as ever and the ton of new skills she can gain nearly make her as flexible and skilled as Batman in Arkham games. I do wish the stealth mechanics were a little tighter. You can sneak up on a fair amount of enemies as the game hands you several moments where some thug will be looking out over a cliff with his back exposed for you to strange him with your bow. There are more puzzles and tombs that are some of the most rewarding segments of the game once you figure out how to solve them. It definitely helps the game overall that it's without a doubt one of the best looking games on Xbox. Rise of the Tomb Raider is going to be an absolute visual power house on PC once it comes out.  Personally I found the story to be decent.You can see a lot of what happens coming before they happen but the end is still fairly satisfying.

4. Shadowrun Hong Kong 

I always thought Shadowrun Hong Kong looked interesting but  I was never particularly experienced with Shadowrun lore/the tabletop RPG or even cyberpunk style universes at all. I sort of fell out of love with turn based tactical games after playing a bit of XCOM and recently Massive Chalice (which deserves a shoutout for being a really cool game). This game sat on my Steam wishlist for a good long while and of course since it was sale season most recently I received it as a gift and couldn't wait to play it. It was a return to a genre that I hadn't felt much for in a very long time and it was in a atmosphere I hadn't really much time with aside from the styles of games like Transistor. Cyberpunk has a nice blend of scifi elements (which I've been fairly in love with for a long time) and the corporate and technological corruption which are themes that will be relevant for a while. The game starts with you creating your character, class, character portrait and then allotting your skill points into stats and abilities in any way you like. The intro tells you a story of how your foster father needs to see you and is returning to Hong Kong. So you hop into transit from Seattle and you're greeted by your foster brother and your father is no where to be seen. You start to unwrap the mystery as a series of intense events with Triad gangs and you delve deeper into the Triad filled city Heoi. You take part in many missions as you further embrace your new life as a Shadowrunner with newly made allies. I spend tons of time quicksaving and reloading saves when I mess up a dialogue option because I want my characters story to work out successfully. The environments are gorgeous with a smattering of neon colors from the city lights and the environmental ambient sounds work into every scene perfectly. From the clattering sounds of mahjong tiles and filling of glasses in a pub, or the constant clinking of coins and tokens in a bleep bloop filled arcade center, every room and area has dynamic ambient audio which really help fill out the world and atmosphere. The game really manages to create this world taking place in Shadowrun. You want to keep playing to find out what happened to your foster father, what's really happening in the city of Heoi, and why everyone is having mysterious nightmares. Thanks for making me really enjoy tactical turn based games again, Shadowrun Hong Kong. I think after I play through these Shadowrun games I'll take another swing at XCOM again before XCOM 2 releases in February.

3. Destiny 

Since I didn't play it last year, 2015 was really the year of Destiny (2014) for me. I picked this game up on sale several months after launch because I heard a lot about the game. Both good and bad but especially from the vocal negativity about it after it was hyped up to be such an amazing game several E3s before. The idea of the original developers of the scifi behemoth Halo making a multiplayer living world pseudo MMORPG experience sounded utterly amazing. Turns out there was a real lack of depth to the story content and players had to grind intensively to really progress their gear. Which honestly is not far from the MMO tree. There were details and lore cards earned in game that told stores and further fleshed out the world of Destiny, but to read them you had to go to and log into the Destiny website app. An in game grimoire implementation would've let so many more people become engrossed. If they were voice acted that would be even better.

At first leveling was okay but I had time on my hands and will probably always carry the habit I developed playing MMOs to just grind things until I reach my goal regardless of how mindless it can be. I leveled and leveled until I was almost near raid level. I grinded out Vanguard Marks from strikes every week and made sure to try to get some PVP gear in there to speed up the process. Eventually I get to level 28 and my friend gets me into trying to Vault of Glass, the first 6 player raid. The first time I entered, I vaguely understood the boss encounters because by now I've seen many streams and YouTube gameplay videos of how the area at least looks. There are some cool raid mechanics drawn from other games like positional elements, when and when not to DPS the boss, and how occasionally one raid member had to perform certain tasks to even allow damage to be done to targets. Of course my first raid completion I don't get any weapons. Instead I got Chatterwhite (SICK SHADER) and the Sparrow vehicle with a nitrous like boost. Sooner or later that same friend that got me through Vault of Glass soloed and carried me through Crota's End (the next raid) because of all the cheese strategies you can perform to get through boss fights and skip random trash mobs. Eventually I start getting into pick up groups for raids week after week to get those shots at getting Exotic and Raid gear because I was pretty driven to continue progressing my character and getting better stats. In that aspect it really started to feel like an MMORPG. There were missing elements that differentiated it from fully being and MMO though. There isn't really crafting like a traditional MMO. You don't pick up a craft like Blacksmithing, Leatherworking and so on. You do have to farm materials at times, (generally before you get to raid level to level up your blue gear to get to a high enough gear score "Light Level") but only to level gear and nothing else. 

After you've finished your raids for the week (you get locked of out certain content once you've completed it until the weekly reset) there isn't that much to do aside from grinding PVP or Strikes (similar to regular instanced dungeon runs). So I reached the inevitable point that it seems most Destiny players get to, and that is leveling alts of each class. After I did that and I was still hooked I started doing all my weekly lockout content on all three characters. That's triple of the content I was doing before. This let me at least get rarer materials to upgrade high tier gear even if I wasn't getting armor or weapon drops I particularly needed. I could level my main character faster or at the very least get a new piece of loot for one of my alt characters. Around May 19th the new DLC comes out "House of Wolves" and I was really excited for this one because instead of a traditional 6 player raid, it featured a 3 player horde mode style arena. It was first described to essentially be horde mode meets Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. I unapologetically loved Mass Effect 3 multiplayer even though it was got mindless and just allowed you to open card packs to get more weapons to play the same thing over and over again. (Okay that's pretty much the concept Destiny) Turns out the Prison of Elders horde mode got dull pretty fast. The community sort of backlashed at Bungie because they were stuck with Prison of Elders instead of having a true raid. However the story missions were a big improvement over the standalone Destiny story experience and for that I could appreciate this DLC expansion. 

Around September the new massive DLC expansion "The Taken King" comes out. New subclasses for each of the 3 classes, new weapons armor, new planets and zones, many many much needed quality of life improvements, and most importantly for most players a new raid. Well I never wind up getting it at the price tag of $40 and neither does the friend I game share on Xbox with. So the downfall of this is that most of the content that really matters is now gated behind that expansion wall. I can't level up to the new level cap, I can't get any of the new armor and weapons or see the new planets and settings. So with the launch of the biggest and the best DLC with many improvements that positively transform the game from what it used to be, it's also the end of my experience with Destiny. 

Over all it evolved into a pretty good game, even before the release of The Taken King. It was absolutely fantastic visually and every aspect of audio and visual design was amazing. I love Bungie's design of just about every single gun. 

Designs by Mark Van Haitsma. Senior Artist - Bungie
Destiny was definitely my most played game of 2015. The Xbox One game hub says I have 20 days, 1 hour, and 38 minutes logged in the game. Sure some of it was idling, but a lot of it was also playing through the content many times as well. It's nice to see the game still thriving to this day. Every bit of DLC and major content update really improves the game and keeps it breathing. That being said Destiny is still not without it's flaws. The core story was very problematic and lacking. Whether or not content was removed and cut by Activision (which is something that is rumored) to be sold as DLC later, is true or not is yet to really be seen. The launch experience seemed like it lacked depth and real feeling. From the shoddy voice acting, to lack of meaty game story, something felt like it was missing. It played well, looked great, and sounded amazing. The polish was very much so there but the underlying soul of the game felt missing. Another issue that it was really hurt by was the absence of any attempt for a Looking For Group system or Matchmaking for content like Raids and Nightfall (hard mode weekly dungeon). If you wanted to play this content and didn't have anyone online to run with, you had to go on your computer to external applications and websites to find random people to play with. I personally used the Subreddit /r/fireteams, but there are other sites to insert what you what to run and what your gear might be like and class. You're already grouping up with random people, why not have some function of this within the game? Cooperation between random strangers will be essentially the same thing. 

It seems with the installation of cosmetic (and level boost) microtransations Bungie is stepping away from the having several paid DLC expansions in a year so far as they've just been releasing free event content like the Halloween and most recently the Winter Sparrow Racing League event. While I feel like seasonal events should be a regular thing like other MMO games, there should still be substantial gaming content coming out. By December 9, 2014, The Dark Below DLC expansion (including more quests and a raid) was released which we're already beyond the equivalent and in January. Even though I no longer play there are times that I get an itch to pick up Destiny again. Maybe at a future date I'll try to return, or possibly when Destiny 2.0 rolls around. 

2. Rocket League

ROCKET LEAGUE (2015). If you've been living under a rock or at least not paying attention to video games. this is the game where you're playing Soccer (Football if you're like the rest of the world) WITH A CAR. The controls are so simple to pick up, LT to Reverse/Break, RT Accelerate, B to Boost, A to Jump and a double tap of A lets you jump again and depending on your Left Stick direction you can control your angle of impact. Combine all that and you can even pretty much make your car jet through the air to perform amazing aerial moves, bicycle kicks, and amazing defensive saves. This is a perfect example of easy to pick up and hard to master. The 3v3 4v4 dynamic is perfect and as you're just a single player on a field of other players it more accurately feels like a sport than any other sports game can simulate. You have to play off of your teammates actions as well as your opponents. Compare to FIFA or NBA 2K where you control your entire team based on who is in possession of the ball. In Rocket League you can sit back and play a defensive goalie position or push forward as a striker, but you'll be reacting to the flow of the game and where the Soccer ball goes. 

Let it also be known this is a game that debuted on Playstation Network for free as a Playstation Plus title. Rocket League also features dedicated servers with crossplay between Playstation players and players on PC. Psyonix is also really supporting this game with regular releases of cosmetic DLC packs like the Delorean from Back to the Future, Sweet Tooth exclusive for PS4, and soon for Xbox One the Warthog from Halo and the Armadillo from Gears of War. For the Winter season they added a Snow Day game mode that ditches the soccer ball for a hockey puck and modifies the bounce and slide factors. This game is an absolute blast, even when solo matchmaking without friends on your team it stands out in a multiplayer experience. Games aren't too long so you can hop in to a match or two or play an extended session over a long period of time. I haven't even touched the ranked mode yet because I feel like there's so much for me to keep learning. Within the first few hours I felt like I was learning approximate angles of how to hit the ball to where I want it to go, when I should jump to get that extra 'oomph' on the ball, and I still feel like I'm learning with mid air strikes and failing every aerial I attempt. Every gaming media outlet I follow talks about how Rocket League took over their office with shouting filled tournaments at the office and how it's taking over their actual production hours. This game is a testament to the simplicity of the concept with perfect execution. I can't wait to play more Rocket League and I'm so glad something like this came out this year, an absolute treat.

1. Halo 5: Guardians

To people that follow me on social media or know me in real life, it's not a big secret that I'm a bit of a Halo fanboy. I've loved Halo since it's 2001 release even though I didn't have an original Xbox. I pleaded to my father that this was something I really wanted and one Christmas he got it for me on PC. At the time we had an eMachines computer with an awful integrated graphics card that didn't display colors properly in Halo, so the colored textures of spartans in multiplayer weren't even red or blue. They were all grey. I had to aim at them to see if their name was blue for friendly or red for enemy. Ultimately a disadvantage but I was still able to experience multiplayer (with bonus maps and weapons on PC!) and the stellar campaign. Halo 3 was my first game for Xbox 360 that was the first game I really chased after collectibles, the hidden skulls of Halo. I played the campaign over and over on each difficulty until I finally got Xbox Live so I could get destroyed in multiplayer because all experienced players had already developed their strafe gunfight mechanics and knew where all the power weapons were. 

A few years later and Halo Reach released and this was my Halo. The campaign in Halo Reach still stands as my favorite Halo campaign and I played the hell out of multiplayer. This was where I truly developed my understanding of the Halo meta and finally got strafing in gunfights down. (At least enough to stay alive longer in more fights) Halo 4 lands and after several playthroughs the dying relationship due to rampacy between Master Chief and Cortana grew on me and it became my second favorite campaign. 343 sort of molded some concepts in multiplayer based on the FPS meta that had been strongly influenced by the likes of yearly release Call of Duty titles. There were perks, weapon loadouts, and kill streak ordinance drops? Those are concepts directly out of Call of Duty and this didn't sit well with the core Halo community. They sat incredibly poorly with the community actually and people still complain about it. 

343 tried something different and it didn't hit the mark, but with Halo 5 I think they've nailed a proper modernization of the Halo multiplayer formula. Movement plays a big role in how Halo 5 feels, and you could even say this is influenced by the likes of Titanfall, Call of Duty: Adanced Warfare and now Call of Duty Black Ops III. Now you have a thruster pack, allowing you do directionally dodge. Players can spartan slam when you jump into the air and hold the melee button soon you come flying down on an opponent similar to Destiny's Titan Slam Super. Also new is a clamber on to to ledges allowing you get to higher parts of the map without depending on wonky jumps, super jumps and crouch jumps. Last, if you jump (or fall) and aim down sights (Oh yeah you can aim down sights now, but you get "descoped" when you're hit by any enemies) you float in the air via spartan stability thrusters to get a few more extra or final shots into a fleeing opponent or obtain some visual recon for your team. Combine all this and spartans are faster and stronger than they have ever been. These are all fantastic steps towards actually allowing the player to feel like a powerful super soldier the spartans were meant to play like. Arena multiplayer feels like classic Halo 2 and Halo 3 but faster than Halo has ever been. There is much more of an emphasis on map control than Halo 4 and reacting to power weapon spawns, which are now called out by an announcer which removes the former necessity of timing weapon pick ups. Strongholds is a new game mode which is a variant of point domination game modes where the team controlling 2 out of 3 points scores points, and the single capture point team stays at a stagnant score and must fight back for a second capture point. It becomes a battle of tug of war where you need to decide whether offense or defense is more important. Shoudl you be protecting bases you already have or do you want to be greedy and go for capturing a third to gain 2 points per tick instead of one.

Brand new to Halo is what 343 is calling the biggest Halo multiplayer experience ever, Warzone. 12 vs 12 on comparable or larger than Big Team Battle maps we've seen in the past, Warzone is similar to domination base defense. Each team starts at their initially neutral base and needs to clear out enemy NPCs to capture it. After both teams push out to capture the bases closest to their core base both teams clash over a 3rd base in the middle of the map. Over the duration of the game additional NPCs will spawn, either special Covenant enemies or special ranking Forerunner enemies. Killing these neutral enemies scores points for the team that delivers the killing blow. In addition. player kills score points and holding bases scores points. If a team captures all three bases the opposing team's core is exposed and destroying that wins the game. So it can create amazing comebacks if the team down by several hundred points can manage to capture three bases and destroy the core quickly. As you score more points you level up within the game as well, a higher level allows you to call in weapon or vehicle requisitions which can be quite powerful. 343 has made special variants of weapons or vehicles with unique modifiers more powerful than the standard stuff we've seen before. A SAW machine gun with a slightly slower firerate, but the rounds explode on impact, a plasma pistol that creates a black hole vortex then delayed explosion, and many many more. All these variants are exclusive to the Warzones game type as well so classic arena modes are kept just as you like them. 

The game mode variant that really stands out to me though is Warzone Assault which features an attacking and defending team. It ultimately plays very similar to Rush from Battlefield 3 and 4. The attacking team must capture the bases the other team is defending. If captured the map is pushed back to another base, once lost the defending teams core is exposed for the final stand. These matches are generally much shorter than the ~20 minute standard Warzone games and really have the attacker defender dynamic that I loved so much from Battlefield's Rush mode.

Now we come to the campaign. There are many firsts in the Halo 5: Guardians campaign. You get to play as another spartan, 7 other spartans in fact depending on if you play coop multiplayer. Similar you how there were missions to play the Arbiter in Halo 2, Halo 5 allows you play several (the majority) missions as Jameson Locke (solo campaign) leading Fireteam Osiris made of Spartan-IV's Edward Buck of Halo 3: ODST fame, Holly Tanaka, and Olympia Vale. The other side is Master Chief and Blue team who you might have read of in extended universe books such as First Strike, Fall of Reach and many more. Following Master Chief's leadership is Frederic-104, Linda-058, Kelly-087. It's amazing to see these characters in the game for the first time as well as the brand new Spartan-IV team. However players that didn't read extended universe books might not have the same affinity for Blue Team as those who did.

The flaw of having two playable teams on different missions is that we didn't get enough of Blue Team as we would've liked. There are many more missions that have you play as Locke instead of Master Chief. It doesn't help that the entire marketing campaign was about how Chief betrayed Oni and the UNSC so now Spartan Locke needs to lead a team to apprehend him and bring him back. While not entirely false, the plot is much less about Master Chief betraying his own people, instead it's just him going on an unauthorized mission. Locke's team is tasked with bringing Chief back but it's really not nearly as hostile as we were lead to believe from commercials and posters. I'm sure the marketing ruse lead to sales though. In the end you could remove every single mission where you play as Jameson Locke's team and the game's plot stays just about the same. The chasing missions start to feel like fire fight filler that don't advance the story at all. The campaign story that didn't sit particularly well. It had a few good moments, but (without spoiling anything) it wasn't great. Towards the end there is a bit of a big reveal, but it's not rewarding. And that boss that returns several times during the story? Dispatched with a wave of a hand. (Okay that's a spoiler) This really removes the agency and power that the boss should have. I've heard people considered that character the worst boss fight of the year. Technically the campaign was fine because of the new movement and gunplay system. Story wise it was lacking and unremarkable. Of course 343 still does a fantastic job pushing the Xbox visually. There are times where the game down scales resolutions and sometimes it does a good job of hiding flaws while maintaining 60 frames per second, which I appreciate. It can also do a poor job of that, Digital Foundry did a great job showcasing the dynamic changes that keep the game running smooth.

Halo 5: Guardians is not a perfect game. The campaign is severely flawed and remains a point of contention for some, but it seems like arena and Warzone multiplayer is where the real heart of the game is and will remain for months to come. With the improved implementation of the ranking system on just about every arena playlist you are constantly matched with players in your skill range and essentially forced to improve. 343 has added weekend playlists that switch out, like Rocket only game modes or the fan favorite Shotty Snipers. Halo multiplayer is the best it's ever been while remaining just as rewarding when you can go on a killing spree against players. 343 is also supporting the game each month with new multiplayer maps and cosmetics via optional microtransactions that allow players to buy more chances at cosmetic items and Req cards to use in Warzone.. I'll likely be playing this game for a long time if the content can keep me interested and so far is mostly has. I've spent 7 days, 5 hours, and 32 minutes in of Halo 5 so far and there's plenty more to come. This is the Halo multiplayer experience that gamers have been long for since the departure Halo 2 and 3 with tasteful additions from modern FPS iterations.

So there you have it. My personal game of the year list. 2015 was a really good year for games, all sorts of games. Indies. AAA. mobile and yearly reiterations all did well. Assassin's Creed Syndicate seems to have made up for the disaster that was Unity, Halo 5, Rainbow Six: Siege and Call of Duty Black Ops III offered very different and good FPS multiplayer experiences for all sorts of gamers. It was really great to see smaller games like Her Story and Cibele get some spot light too. FMV also made a return in a big way is a surprising amount of games. Her Story, Cibele, Guitar Hero Live, Contraction! Spot the Liar, Missing, An Interactive Thriller, even Cradle had a mechanical character that used FMV eyes. I think 2016 will be another strong year for gaming. We get to see more advances in VR technology. HTC Vive, Playstation VR, and Oculus are all looking better and better already. I do worry about the price point for some of these devices for everyday gamers though, especially on a budget. Also, No Man's Sky and The Division might actually come out this year.

Here's to a good 2016, in gaming, and in life. Thanks for reading if you made it this far.