I thoroughly enjoyed 2015 in games. We had a lot of major releases deliver but also had several letdowns. For my top 5, I decided to focus on titles that really left their mark on me. While each has its quirks and flaws, the following titles represent the five most memorable gaming experiences I had this year. You can read our Editor In Chief’s pick for 2015 HERE.
Hand of Fate by Defiant Development is a unique action-RPG with Roguelite elements that utilizes deck building to essentially “build” dungeons. It all plays out at a dimly lit table where players contend with a mysterious dealer.
Using a mix of players’ growing deck as well as his own, the dealer lays cards face down to craft dungeons. As players travel along, cards are revealed one-by-one, detailing quests, treasures, and troubles. The dealer is well-voiced, searing, and clever, taking notice of when players repeatedly insert specific cards into their decks, for example, or teasing players over poor decisions and failures. Event cards allow players to collect power ups, weapons, and resources by completing challenges or taking risks. Is it worth diving to the bottom of a lake to investigate a shiny object? Should you deliver the gold entrusted to you or keep it?
Certain cards prompt aggressive encounters, throwing players into an arena to fight off monsters and traps in a weak Arkham-combat impersonation. While at least functional, the fighting system but leaves most fights feeling drab and is probably the weakest part of the game. Luckily it isn’t prominent enough to dull the game’s delightful card-based gameplay. Despite never leaving the dealer’s table, Hand of Fate really managed to immerse me in a fantastical world every time I sat down to play. It’s really unlike any other game and scratches an itch I didn’t know I had.
Arrowhead Game Studios really surprised me with their Starship Troopers-inspired, twin-stick, top-down shooter Helldivers. Prior to release, I’d only seen bits of the title which I’d admittedly brushed aside, telling myself I wasn’t into the genre. Then, day one, for not much reason at all, I dropped what would easily become my best spent 14.99 of the year. Helldivers not only convinced me of the genre’s appeal but quickly became one of my favorite games of all time.
Four players must take on the role of grunts called “Helldivers” and help defend their home of Super-Earth against giant Bugs, militaristic Cyborgs, and the sleek, Apple-future-like Illuminate. While enemies numbers pile high during their wave attacks, it isn’t good enough to flat out unload onto them. An unforgiving friendly-fire lives at the core of co-op play, demanding constant mindfulness of your team. Coordinating gear before launch, helping the team resupply on the field, and navigating firefights can be difficult requires some discipline but makes every victory savory.
Missions are rated by multiple difficulties – from “Very Easy” to “Hell Dive,” offering up the ease of a pick-up-and-play and the challenge of a hardcore onslaught. Nine months after its launch and I still find myself returning to a strong online community of veteran and trainee players and the same sweet, nerve-wracking thrills. Helldivers: Super-Earth Ultimate Edition is now available, bundling together the game’s Masters of the Galaxy, Democracy Strikes Back, and Turn Up the Heat expansions as well as eleven DLC packs for just 39.99. Absolutely worthwhile.
Splatoon Wii U
Among Nintendo’s recent experiments in online functionality was this year’s colorful, third-person paint-shooter Splatoon. Without diminishing the edge of competitive online play, Splatoon managed to shift focus away from K/D ratios with its creative, objective-based contests and creative ink warfare.
An arsenal of giant paint-rollers, Lysol-spray cannons, and squirt rifles as well as the ability to quickly swim through pools of ink round out colorful Super Soaker-esque battles with gameplay that’s as fast-paced as it is tactical. Criticized at launch for its limited content and counter-intuitive matchmaking system, Splatoon has since been updated to include match-making with friends and feature a multitude of new weapons, stages, and modes completely free of charge. This games-as-a-service model supported a strong online community throughout 2015 and kept giving me reason to check back in for more.
Splatoon absolutely delivered on its promise of unique online competition and, in my opinion, came at a time desperate for new IP. Furthermore, it brought me warm certainty in my decision to pick up a Wii U at all, which is always nice.
IguanaBee’s Monsterbag successfully charmed its way onto my list. While arguably plain in design, this 2D, puzzle-adventure featured enough colorful character designs, beautiful animations, and sheer bizzarreness to be one of the most memorable titles I played this year.
Players must help Monsterbag, a self-explanatory school bag that just so happens to be a monster, reach its owner on her way to school. Doing so involves sneaking past violent students who’ll mash you into the ground, soldiers that’ll fill you full of holes, and violent robots and monsters eager to kill. Every time it seems you’re about to reunite with your owner, some unworldly event or other interrupts, unraveling this early-2000s-inspired cartoon into an unexpectedly Lovecraftian epic. Thanks to delightfully creative visuals and a zany yet refined tone, save for a few elongated puzzles toward the end, there isn’t a single environment or scene in Monsterbag that I don’t remember.
Understandably, “memorable” might not be enough for some. Gameplay involves a mixture of touch-screen and directional arrow controls that are counterintuitive and can be frustratingly difficult to coordinate, especially during later stages during which precision is required. Furthermore, the logic behind some puzzle solutions can be obtuse; more than once I found myself interacting with every object on the screen, hoping to bump into a fix.
Most importantly, Monsterbag feels like playing through a twisted cartoon, somewhat reminiscent of Fosters Home For Imaginary Friends or The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, which is why I love it. Sadly, I do feel its current $9.99 price tag outweighs its value, however slightly. Definitely consider picking this one up during a price-drop if you enjoy the darker side of cartoons.
Pillars of Eternity PC, Mac OS, Linux
Obsidian Entertainment proved there was still an audience for the old-school, isometric, fantasy RPG with their crowd-funded Pillars of Eternity. Developers modernized the foundations established by 1998’s Baldur’s Gate and 2000’s Icewind Dale with a modern HUD, the ability to run, and several more contemporary, user-friendly elements. But Obsidian didn’t simply set out to bank on nostalgia; PoE contains a marvelous, fully fleshed out world, colored by complex characters, unique lore, memorable side-missions, and unforgettable set pieces.
Through and through, PoE is a heavy duty. There are encyclopedias, letters, and history books to read, hundreds of spells to understand, original races to explore, and an overwhelming catalog of spells, abilities, and perks to master. A real-time-with-pause fighting system makes room for abundant variables like party formation, buffs, weaknesses, etc. It does, however, take some study to really grasp how stats and equipment subtleties affect performance.
Character creation alone can easily eat up a few hours, given the amount of substantial customization offered when determining background and origin. I was so fascinated by the Godlike race, I had to read every detail about every background story before I could finally and comfortably set off on my journey.
It also takes a while before you begin to comprehend the proper names thrown your way in conversation and even longer before they begin to connect; however, the game is so thoroughly immersive and enjoyable, chances are you won’t put PoE down until you find yourself speaking its language. And that’s when the game really begins. You might need more than a few hours a day to fully appreciate Pillars of Eternity, but the love and inspired effort behind Obsidian’s masterpiece shines so brightly you won’t regret taking the time.
Written by Oscar Rodriguez