Posted Thu Dec 24, 2015 at 02:00 PM PST by Brian Hoss
The pervasiveness of an open world.
For Game of the Year, it's only natural to focus on the biggest and grandest games, which is why some of the smaller titles that deserve recognition have already been featured in High-Def Digest's Outstanding Games of 2015 (That You May Have Missed).
If you've come for the Game of the Year, then head straight down. Before tha, there are few special games that deserve some categorical recognition.
As with many early access titles, 'ARK' has its challenges, and yet the stream of features for the genre bender keeps players coming back. 'ARK: Survival Evolved.' This is a game with an endless stream of dinosaur and prehistoric type creatures, for forming tribes, and for a very sandbox online experience. It's worthy not only on its own playable merits, but for the games that will try to follow in its footsteps.
This is for sure another genre straddle. 'Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance' doesn't just reflect the success of a franchise and some (niche) sub-genres, it also reflects in a positive manner a post PS4/new-gen movement for Japanese developers.
Here again, Telltale titles have practically become their own genre. More episodic than adventure, but still with several good choices in 2015, it's hard to pick just one. Even so, it's worth noting how well 'Game of Thrones: A Telltale Series' has managed to do with capturing that special 'GoT' fire. (Check out the first episode, 'Iron From Ice' review here.) It's nice to have a game that can be shared with non-gaming types, and the trials and tribulations of House Forrestor do this so well.
And now it's down to the many candidates for High-Def Digest Game of the Year 2015. It almost goes without saying that openworld games dominated the year, and thus, that theme carries through here. These are games that were in the last big cut down list, which speaks well of them.
The significance of 'Life is Strange' really has a lot to with perspective. The game captures a setting and a group of characters that really isn't featured too often in gaming. That gameplay is entirely designed to deliver those aspects even when uncomfortable.
'Super Mario Maker' can appear to be an easy to dismiss game, but the response from the community has turned a fun toolset into an every-impressive wonder, a grab bag of Mario-themed creations from the world over.
Every Wii U owner who enjoys a deep experience needs to fall into the big, beautiful world of 'Xenoblade Chronicles X.' To be completely honest, the very late release of this title has made it harder to give a fair shake.
I consider the timed Xbox One exclusive, 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' to be part of very popular sub-genre, and this first new-gen representation of that sub-genre looks and plays the part. In one of those interesting turns of the industry, this is a game that might not get its due until that other big franchise hits in 2016.
Not unlike 'Life Is Strange,' 'Until Dawn' seems like the kind of game that we should expect more often. It's fun, it looks great, and it's short enough to make the most of its play/watch nature. In many ways, it delivers where the stunning 'The Order: 1886' falters. Perhaps a sequel or similarly styled horror game will take up what 'Until Dawn' has started and see if that sort of game can work again.
'Satellite Reign' is worthy of both Outstanding Game of the Year and GotY consideration. At the very least, it delivers in an area which PC gamers used to take for granted. Plus, there is so much well-done cyberpunk.
If you've just been skimming up 'til now, then know that these next games are basically the runners-up.
'Guitar Hero Live' is easily the game that I found to be the most surprisingly fun in 2015. The six button guitar design, the live sets, and the ever-growing GHTV all work like home runs. The post-release content stream has been great as well. That this not an action game, and that its content model is so new has held it back from GotY, but not by much in my eyes.
There's no doubt that 'Fallout 4' has the ability to grab the player. It's interesting how the game jives with everyone's individual idea of a 'Fallout' game, but make no mistake, this a worthy GotY candidate. In my eyes, it's only held back by certain last-gen trappings (like frequent load screens).
In a world of third-person games, the 'Souls' series has managed to provide a combat experience second to none. But with 'Bloodborne,' From Software proved that radical changes could make for something unexpected, but just as voracious. Oh, and there can be a game world that is steeped in Lovecraft, and feels vast without having to go openworld. This is certainly the exclusive of the year, and post-release has even benefited from certain additions and fixes (multiplayer).
This past year has been tough for us 'Metal Gear' fans. Still, when thinking back to the PS3 days pf 'Metal Gear Solid IV,' it's startling to think that the series that would go on to give us 'Peace Walker,' 'Ground Zeroes,' and now 'Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain' was "over." Even with its radically different structure, 'The Phantom Pain' is GotY material for sure, and I expect "Diamond Dogs" to live on in our lexicon for years to come.
Finally, it's time for the winner. This has been a good year with many strong candidates, but one game managed to crawl its way to the top.
While many games resonated here with the staff, none could equal the impact of 'The Witcher III: Wild Hunt.' While certain systems in the game can drive me crazy, there's no ignoring how beautiful the game is, how effective the per quest writing and design is, how specific the dark fantasy tone is delivered at each turn, how excellent Gwent is, and so on. With 'Hearts of Stone' on the horizon, 'The Witcher III' will likely carry on its 2015 impact well into 2016. Of course, between patches and DLC both free and paid, an unfamiliar person might think that the 'The Witcher III' was a typical modern incomplete game. Far from it, the game is neither brief, slight, nor filled with content-sized holes. Geralt stands up as a Witcher without any town or base-building, without microtransactions, and without even needing to be online.
And that's it. Again, a very strong year can make for a tough choice. Game of the Year is always ripe for debate, so feel free to let us know in the comments below how it should have played out.
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