John K's Games of the Year for 2014

2014 was an interesting year for gaming. The big budget, AAA portion of the industry continued to stumble and buckle under the weight of its budgets, pumping out another crop of sequels to recover increasingly bloated marketing and development costs.   The wave of new IPs that usually characterizes the first year or two of a new console generation arrived as more of a ripple than a wave. It was an underwhelming year for AAA gaming, except for the offerings of Nintendo, who released some great titles and pulled the WiiU out of the abyss. Meanwhile, the small and mid-market games continued to flourish, and this trend shows absolutely no sign of stopping. Crowd-funded games continued to grow in number and quality, giving us both brand new experiences and successful returns to genres that were thought to be dead. RPGs and turn-based games had their best year in at least a decade. Steam Early Access, greeted by many with skepticism at first, proved to be yet another asset to the platform, nurturing such titles as Betrayer and Divinity: Original Sin.   We are now in an era where games can get made for $500 thousand, $500 million, or any number in between. The hobby has never been more diverse.

Best game that I played in 2014 from a previous year: Saints Row IV

It's a game that has some flaws, but the superpowers are so fun to use and the side activities are so fun to play that those flaws are easy to look past. I thought after Saints Row III that the series might be going too far off the rails – that it was focusing too much on the satire and the silliness, and not enough on the core gameplay. With Saints Row IV, Volition upped the ante for both the silliness and the gameplay. Rather than try and return the series to its GTA roots, it got even wackier and further away from the traditional drive-and-shoot GTA structure, with most of the game taking place on foot. The side activities made great use of your superpowers. Whether you were picking up enemies and tossing them across two city blocks or sprinting up the sides of tall buildings and gliding across the city, using those powers never got old.   Combine all of that unscripted mayhem with a great licensed soundtrack, and you get the most fun open world action game that I played this year.

5. Shadowrun: Dragonfall

A very enjoyable follow-up to last year’s promising, but still disappointing Shadowrun Returns. It was much longer than Shadowrun Returns and its world was fleshed out with more activities and characters. Thanks to an intrigue-filled story, a great techno soundtrack, and some terrific artwork and writing, this RPG adventure turned out quite nicely. I hope to be playing more Shadowrun in the future.

4. King’s Bounty: Darkside

With a strong dose of humor, quality writing, and story, this series revived itself for yet another quality entry. The ability to play as an evil creature was a nice little twist. Meanwhile, the series continued to provide quality turn-based strategy/RPG gameplay. Who knew that being horribly evil could be so much fun.

3. Wasteland 2

The sequel 26 years in the making. One of the early big name projects on Kickstarter arrived this year, and it provided everything that was promised. Good writing and lots of tough role-playing choices made this 60+ hour epic a memorable one. Wasteland 2 is a great example of how valuable crowd funding was to video gaming this year.  It is the type of game that disappeared from store shelves over ten years ago. Between this game, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Divinity: Original Sin, turn-based RPGs made a roaring comeback this year, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

2. Age of Wonders 3: Golden Realms

After taking 11 years off, this series made its Triumph-ant return this year with its third iteration. A few months after releasing the game, Triumph Studios released a short but great expansion pack, which added all kinds of enhancements to the original game. Age of Wonders 3 is a beautiful game with a beautiful soundtrack that reached its peak with the Golden Realms DLC. The new units and abilities were fun to use, and the campaign was a quality (albeit short) experience. Hallelujah! Turn-based combat has returned to gaming, and it is as fun and addictive as it has always been.

1. The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle is an excellent game with well refined game mechanics and nearly flawless puzzle design. It has beautiful setting with beautiful visuals, and a story with a beautiful ending. I could have arranged games number 3 through 5 in just about any order. Game number 2 is a little better than those three. There is, however, a cavernous gap between game number 1 and everything else that I played during the year. If you stripped out every bit of story and artwork from the game, you would still be left with the best first person puzzle game since the original Portal. The Talos Principle is far and away the best game that I played, and when we do our retrospective on Generation 8, I expect that it will be in the Top 5.

Honorable mention: Mario Kart 8