Shacknews is preparing to release its selections for 2015 Game of the Year. Before we get to the staff's selections, Shacknews is taking a look back at the past 12 months in video games, spotlighting a handful of major releases, including a few that readers may perhaps like to include in their own personal GOTY conversations. Next up: November!
Now we hit the biggest month of 2015, where the hype for Bethesda's return to the nuclear apocalyse reached critical mass. No game was met with greater anticipation than Fallout 4, but November was filled with the absolute highest-priority efforts from gaming's biggest publishers. And Activision and EA weren't about to surrender this month without a fight.
This was it! Bethesda's long-awaited trip into a post-apocalyptic Boston had arrived. And the trip through the Wasteland was just as players had remembered it.
In fact, it was easy to make the argument that the trip back to the Wasteland felt a little too familiar. Certain aspects of Fallout changed so little that there was a growing sense of this game as more like Fallout 3.5. Of course, given how well-received Fallout 3 was, this was a minor complaint to many, as they were more than happy to dive right back into the complexities of Bethesda's gameplay mechanics and RPG systems.
That's not to say there weren't changes to be found at all. New sub-systems, including the ability to craft for the first time, marked a major innovation to the Fallout formula. And mastering your character was important, because there was an enormous landscape to discover, filled with quests and side quests. Add this to the goal of building a safe space for the Commonwealth and there was never a dull moment or any downtime whatsoever in Fallout 4. Those hoping to escape to the next-gen Wasteland had found their game.
From our review: Fallout 4 is exactly and precisely more Fallout. Its couple of new gameplay elements are well-executed and enrich the experience, but they don't make this feel especially different than the Wasteland we were exploring almost a decade ago. If you enter looking for a heaping helping of the Fallout action you already enjoy, and an enthralling romp through a newly realized portion of the Wasteland, this certainly fits the bill. Just don't hope for another revolution, because like war, the Wasteland apparently never changes.
Star Wars Battlefront
It's hard to talk about hype without touching on another of the most talked about games of the year. Star Wars Battlefront was the long-awaited reboot of the multiplayer FPS series and there was all the faith in the world that Battlefield developer DICE would be able to do the property justice. And on the surface, it appeared they had. Star Wars Battlefront is a marvel, both from a visual and audio standpoint. Star Wars has never looked so gorgeous and the crisp, clear sound design was incredibly immersive.
As for the quality of the game itself, it's a matter of perspective. For those looking for a deep Battlefield-style experience, sadly these were not the droids they were looking for. Battlefront leans heavily towards a more casual audience, with simpler (and some bordering on archaic) shooting mechanics. Loadouts and unlocks were replaced by old-school icons, giving the sense that luck was being favored more than skill. Battlefront was aching for a deeper experience, but many of the design decisions feel shallow. And worst of all, with few maps (for a multiplayer-only game, no less) offered in the package, it feels like EA is holding something back for the Season Pass.
Like Anakin Skywalker, Star Wars Battlefront was the chosen one, but this game didn't bring balance to the Force like anyone had hoped.
From our review: Star Wars: Battlefront is everything a Star Wars fan could want. The game's locations feel iconic, complete recreations of the beautiful settings introduced to us in the movies. But the game's casual attitude towards weapons, and the limited number of locations to explore make Star Wars: Battlefront sizzle out far too early. Top that with an exorbitant DLC offer, which features content that feels like it could be in the base game, and EA has already done a great job of freezing Star Wars: Battlefront in carbonite before it’s even had a chance to live a fulfilling life.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
There's a line of thinking that Call of Duty has run its course, but Treyarch was determined to prove that it was just about to hit its peak. The Black Ops sub-series has its own series of fans and the developer did not want to disappoint, bringing the "Guns up!" philosophy to a whole new level.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was aching for people to play and did not want anyone playing alone. That's why for the first time in series history, four-player online co-op was now available in the game's campaigns. (Yes, that's campaigns, plural!) And while the narrative might have gone off the rails at about the halfway point, there's no denying that the addition of cybernetic enhancements added something new to the campaign formula.
On top of that, multiplayer got a major shakeup in the form of the new Specialists, turning Black Ops into something of a class-based shooter. Players also got to play around with unlimited sprint, new infantry abilities, and a few new game modes, leading to a fleshed-out CoD experience, but one that didn't feel like it was stepping on the toes of the predecessors dished out by Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games.
There's also Zombies, which takes on an interesting new bent with a vast new open world to explore. While staying alive is always a challenge, the addition of these objectives and this roguelike atmosphere made this game mode feel like a breath of fresh air.
This is all without even touching on the slew of unlockables and hidden game modes. It's debatable whether Black Ops 3 is the best game in series history, but it definitely deserves to be in the conversation.
From our review: Treyarch has clearly packed a lot of effort into Black Ops 3 and while not all of it necessarily hits, there's enough to keep both solo players and social butterflies active. While the campaign story itself feels silly, co-op is a marvelous addition and a far better way to experience the narrative for those that don't feel like killing zombies. Meanwhile, multiplayer feels like a huge difference from previous CoD games and much of it is for the better. With a faster pace, more fluid movement, and cool Specialist ablities, it feels like a refreshing twist on the CoD multiplayer formula.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Meanwhile, behind the Wasteland, the future war, and the movie-based mayhem, there was Lara Croft, quietly embarking on the second adventure of her rebooted series. Yet Rise of the Tomb Raider stands out as perhaps the best game of the bunch, with refined mechanics, an open world, some fascinating unlockables, and secrets begging to explored.
The story is marvelous, further fleshing out Lara's quest to follow in her departed father's footsteps and finish his work. And while that may lead to the debate of whether she's a character with daddy issues, it does open the door to interesting mechanics that play up her intelligence as an archaeologist. The language proficiency mechanic is superb, as is the encouragement to find as many pieces of lore as possible.
Then there's hunting, which is a thrill. While Lara can go wild with her bow and firearms, there's a greater intensity that comes when finding an exotic animal. These are adrenaline-pumping encounters, whether it's finding a pack of wolves or getting jumped out of nowhere by a jaguar.
Ms. Croft's latest adventure is a superior adventure to her reboot in just about every way, whether it's the refined mechanics, the thoughtful puzzles, or the story that's filled with surprisingly three-dimensional characters. It may be an Xbox One exclusive at the moment, but those that own a PC will be well-served to pick this up as soon as it becomes available.
From our review: In fact, like its predecessor, growth is the central theme of Rise of the Tomb Raider. However, while the 2013 reboot was growth for the sake of survival, Rise is more about growth on a more personal scale. Between a fantastic story that introduces some fascinating characters, its vast open world filled with hidden elements and wild game, and a greater emphasis on solving problems with brains as much as bullets, Rise of the Tomb Raider proves to be a remarkable follow-up to Lara's origin tale.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Series
If there's one thing Telltale has excelled at, it's been paying respect to the properties it's been given. Game of Thrones is certainly no different, proving to be a tremendous tie-in to the HBO series, and offering up some of the most tense action in a Telltale game so far.
What's particularly fascinating about this game is that it takes on several different points of view, somewhat emulating the feel of the show and allowing players to relate to all of the game's characters. Another homage to the show: There's action and bloodshed across six episodes, bringing along the sense of dread that viewers get week-after-week. The characters are easy to get invested in, which makes the sense that they could be killed off any second that much more gripping. It's part of the magic of the show and Telltale picks up on that wonderfully.
Unlike Tales from the Borderlands, which has an uncertain future, Telltale will be addressing any lingering plot threads, having officially confirmed a second season of Game of Thrones, which is expected to begin soon.
From our review: At the same time, the season does end on a strong note, with plenty of bloodshed, and a special mystery with what Gared finds in the North past the wall. It's too bad that the some of the season's highest points are little more than a setup for the next season. I admit that there were a few intense situations, like poking a guy's eye out, but they are overshadowed by the fact that my choices generally didn't much matter in a game with the primary focus on decision making--underscored by how the same one eyed-man still talked crap to the cripple that beat him up. Let's hope that the second season makes for a stronger showing.
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void
It's hard to imagine saying goodbye to the characters from Blizzard's galactic space opera, but StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void marked the official end of their story. Along with an unforgettable story, Blizzard also refined many of the game's RTS elements, hopefully giving it life for years to come. There are still a few side stories coming soon, but that still made it no easier to say farewell to Raynor, Kerrigan, and the rest.
Need for Speed
Somebody out there was (apparently) clamoring for a Need for Speed, so here it is. EA and Ghost Games offered up a gritty reboot to the original series, bringing players further into the world of underground racing. While there were plenty of missions to engage in with different vehicle types, the bombardment of distractions gave this game a distinct lack of focus. Still, Ventura Bay was a nice-looking setting and some of the missions felt pretty good, so there's something to build on for the future.
Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash
Of all the sports Mario has played, it feels like he loves hitting the tennis court quite often. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash follows up on Mario's previous tennis games, but it's hard to get the sense that it's improved on any of those previous efforts in any substantial way. Mega Mushrooms attempt to add some wrinkles, but ultimately, the Mario Tennis formula doesn't really move forward, making this more of an effort for fans only.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: A new gaming IP involving battling small creatures captures children's imaginations in Japan, it gets the full marketing treatment, right down to an anime series that's exported to America. Yes, Nintendo is hoping that lightning will strike twice, releasing Yo-Kai Watch with the same fanfare that Pokemon got 20 years ago. What's intriguing about this effort is that the battle system is done in real-time, leading to some surprisingly complex mechanics and a far quicker pace. Yo-Kai Watch is much more than it appears to be on the surface and anyone willing to look past the fact that it's aimed at children will find a satisfying and deep experience.
Developer Chainsawesome Games has been refining its local competitive multiplayer game, Knight Squad, on Steam Early Access for about a year and has improved it significantly since then. The top-down atmosphere with power-ups popping up everywhere leads to some intense battles and a wild atmosphere. Not all of the game modes work so well, but battling for supremacy here is a blast.
Join us at Shacknews as we continue our look through the year 2015, month-by-month. Coming up next, we wrap up the year by visiting New Los Angeles and tearing things up in Medici.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, The Games of 2015 in Review: November