Although we can have a discussion about there being far too many reboots, sequels, and spinoffs, 2015 was a banner year for big-budget AAA-tentpole games. This year, many of the big games didn't just have huge production budgets and elaborate marketing campaigns, but solid content and gameplay, too. It's not that the indie scene languished in 2015, but the major players really delivered in an exciting way.
Favorite Games Released Before 2015, Played In 2015: Dishonored
Dishonored (2012) received a lot of critical praise when it was released, but not nearly as much attention from gamers as it deserved. A FPS a little in the BioShockInfinite mold, Dishonored had an intriguing story, well-crafted setting, and flexible combat that allowed for stealth or a more aggressive run and gun approach. I played through the game this year after its re-released for current gen consoles, and while the graphics look slightly dated, it's still an incredibly well-made product.
5. Destiny: The Taken King
I know that many people were disappointed or confused by Destiny when it was released late in 2014, and it was until the Taken King DLC that gamers really took up this sci-fi shooter in more dedicated numbers. Obviously, comparisons with Halo 5 are both appropriate and instructive. To me, Destiny's combat, weapons, settings, art style, and multiplayer are all more interesting and less formulaic than those of Halo. As a fan of MMORPGs in general, I enjoy this aspect of Destiny's story and quest-based missions, its crafting, and character progression. As a multiplayer shooter, Destiny is more welcoming to the casual player who doesn't have hours to devote to a game like Halo 5.
4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Open world games that somehow strike a balance between freedom and a compelling story arc are rare, but this is something that The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt really nails. While there's endless -- and very well written and voiced -- secondary content to explore, the main story line is equally deserving of attention. The characters are multi-dimensional and there is real depth, emotion, conflict, and the promise of redemption in Geralt. The game looks fantastic and it boasts one of the best and most varied musical scores of the year.
3. Rise of the Tomb Raider
It's almost disparaging to call a game "cinematic," because that implies a focus on set-pieces and effects over story. In addition to incredibly well-designed levels, beautiful and elaborate art design, and lifelike and believable character animations, Rise of the Tomb Raider has amazing moments of action and discovery while still delivering a superb script and a limited open world with a huge amount of interesting things to see and do. The Tomb Raider reboot was a great game. Rise of the Tomb Raider is spectacular.
2. Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
The Assassin's Creed franchise has seen some high points and some low. It has gone from being an innovative stealth-action game to an eye-rolling, "what, another one" joke amongst gamers. To me, at least, Syndicate is a return to form and maybe the second best entry in the series. The dual protagonists, siblings Evie and Jacob Frye, are well written and engaging and the setting of 19th century London is absolutely rich in detail and atmosphere. While the main story arc is a bit predictable and underwhelming, in the moment, and scene by scene the voice acting is fantastic, and composer Austin Wintory (The Banner Saga, Journey) delivers an unexpectedly intimate and colorful musical score.
I don't enjoy "difficult" games simply for bragging rights or some macho challenge, but when it comes to "Souls" games, I'm all in. Most people misunderstand From Software's approach. The games always teach the player how to overcome whatever difficulty they're having. The Souls games teach patience, persistence, and reward rationality over rage. Bloodborne makes some significant changes to the Souls formula: it requires assertive action over defensive play, and it rewards risk over excessive caution. The vaguely Victorian werewolf story that gradually morphs into a Lovecraftian horror and sci-fi tale is unnerving, effective and typically obtuse, but most critically the weapons, enemies and combat are exciting and visceral. The Old Hunters -- recently released DLC -- amps up the difficulty, gives the players a lot of new weapons, and five supremely challenging bosses to bring down.
Honorable Mention: Star Wars Battlefront, Forza 6, Disney Infinity 3, Call of Duty Black Ops 3, Lego Dimensions, Metal Gear Solid 5 The Phantom Pain