So here we are. After a full month and dozens upon dozens of games, we’re finally ready to talk about what our game of the year was for 2015. Reports have varied depending on who you ask, but I think this was a spectacular year for games with both big-budget developers and little indie developers alike pulling out all the stops and giving us some of the most intense and enjoyable gaming experiences of recent memory. That makes this choice all the harder for most of us…but we’ll do our best!
Whether you agree or disagree with what the best game of the year was, all the games below have achieved something great this year – be it in narration or art direction or mechanical innovation or whatever – and deserve to be lauded as the créme de la créme of 2015.
Reid A Gacke, Editor in Chief (@OnlySP_Reid) – We all know it’s Undertale for me, so why should I beat around the bush? A peerless, subversive narrative, lovable characters, an excellent soundtrack, clever (if not revolutionary) mechanics – it is everything video games should strive for. Maybe it’s not the most shiny or flashy game out there, but it doesn’t need to be. Games don’t need more pixels and polygons and bump mapping and bloom and particle effects. We already have enough of that. What we need is games with heart. And Undertale has heart in spades. It’s one of the most brilliant experiences in my almost 30-year video gaming experience and I can’t help but nominate it here, haters be damned. Check out my review here.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention a few honorable mentions. Ori and the Blind Forest is a close second for me. I didn’t quite feel the emotional punch that everyone else reported after the opening tragedy, partly because of your lack of agency in the opening cinematic (whereas being forced to confront Toriel in Undertale put you right in the situation) and the fact that events later somewhat dampen the emotional blow. But it’s still an emotional, engaging narrative…and one helluva “Metroidvania” platformer to boot. I really felt a desire to explore every nook and cranny of this gorgeous world and that is definitely saying something.
And, of course, my sleeper hit of the year was easily Renowned Explorers, which really can’t compete narratively with Undertale or Ori and the Blind Forest (and to me, narrative is king), but deserves much more praise than it got due to its clever use of rhetorical combat and alternative conflict resolution. This is a game that you can beat without throwing a single punch, a game that you’re just as likely to try and sweet talk an old lady out of her priceless historical artifact as you are to try and rob it from her by force. And the mechanics of the game don’t change either way. It’s clever. It’s smart. It’s the future of conflict resolution in video games. Everyone should play it. Check out my review here.
Nick Calandra, Owner (@OnlySP_Nick) – My choice for Game of the Year isn’t an easy one for me to make. I enjoyed quite a few of the games I played this year but honestly, there’s only one that really hooked my attention for the entirety of my playthrough. As surprising as this will be for you to read, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt wasn’t it. I very much enjoyed that game, as well as other experiences I played this year like Wolfenstein: The New Order and so on, but the one game I keep coming back to as my choice for Game of the Year is Until Dawn.
Maybe it’s because I wasn’t expecting much from the game beforehand but at the same time, I was hooked from the beginning to the end and not many other games I played this year managed to do that for me. The characters were all interesting and I actually cared about who survived in the end. My choices felt like they had real weight to them and that made the experience extremely hard to put down. Coupled with some stellar graphics and a fantastic soundtrack from Jason Graves, Until Dawn had everything I was looking for in a narrative-driven experience.
Lance Roth, Editorial Writer (@RPGameX) – This is the time in console generations where the flagship franchises begin to stake out their ground (everywhere except for on Nintendo’s Wii U.) While fans of those long-running series are excited, everyone else is usually left somewhat unimpressed. The annual Call of Duty iteration, a new Halo, Batman, and even the media darling Fallout 4 have left many gamers wanting more. Witcher 3 certainly satisfied a large number of RPG fans, but even that admirable effort isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
For me, a game of the year is a game that changes my views, or at least my expectations for videogames, and the only game that did that for me was Dontnod and Square Enix’s Life is Strange. Like TellTale’s first season of The Walking Dead, 2012’s Game of the Year, Life is Strange is a genre-expanding adventure game. While many have enjoyed TellTale’s newest offerings, in my opinion, the developer has completely squandered their cache as a mature storyteller. The second season of The Walking Dead was unable to achieve emotional weight or match the expectations set by the first season. Their take on Game of Thrones, Tales From the Borderlands, and Minecraft: Story Mode are all more fan service than original storytelling.
On the other hand, Life is Strange offered an unusual protagonist: a teenage girl who’s into photography. While there are quite a few games that let players take on the role of teenage girl, they are typically exploitative roles. Life is Strange, however, let players really dig into her life and despite some really terrible circumstances, the character never fell into the typical female victim tropes that video games designers love so much. While bullying, drug use, sexual assault, and suicide aren’t new topics for games, one that actually lets you overcome those issues certainly is.
It’s that kind of authenticity and empowerment that makes Life is Strange my Game of the Year, despite its few shortcomings. Life is Strange, between the second and third episodes, is truly the most honesty I’ve ever seen in a videogame. For me, that earnest narrative more than makes up for a stumbling final episode. After playing this game, my expectations for narrative in an interactive medium are forever changed.
Simon Nash, Editorial Writer (@gaffadin) – I don’t think this has been one of the gaming industry’s best years, and would characterise it as somewhat of a lull in the grand scheme of things. That being said, there have been some standouts. From bigger titles like Fallout 4, to smaller fare like Ori And The Blind Forest and Rebel Galaxy. You’ve also had some very promising Early Access games still percolating (looking at you Darkest Dungeon and Grim Dawn). But for me, the highlight this year is The Witcher 3. CD Projekt Red just get it. They get how to make a game fun; they get how to not look at their customers like talking money and actually reward them for purchasing their products with additional DLC and regular updates.
The Witcher 3 may not be the perfect game, but it is a very fun and very polished game, from developers who clearly do not take themselves too seriously. I cannot wait to see what CDPR have in store with Cyberpunk 2077, and I have no problem with declaring both The Witcher 3 Game of the Year, and CD Projekt Red my (highly unofficial) Studio of the Year.
Rhys Cooper – News and Editorial Writer (@Dizzee_Rhyscal) – In the end, there isn’t much deliberation in my mind for the Game of the Year 2015. Considering I’ve nominated or mentioned it for almost all the previous awards should be a give away, but first I’ll mention some worthy contenders for the Silver medal.
If I knew in January that Fallout 4 would be releasing this year, I would have called this decision right then. I’ve spent more money on Fallout…stuff….than on any other franchise in my life. After a certain game was released in May, however, I thought Fallout 4 had a lot to do to keep hold of that prize and as it turns out, it didn’t quite live up to it. It is a very good game; I enjoyed my 90 hours or so I’ve put into it so far but it does (through gritted teeth) seem stuck in the past in terms of technological advancement. It is really fun, a good start for any game, and includes a variety of whimsical characters and quests as well as improved combat and an advanced companion. The main quest, however, fell very short and afterwards, the ‘big twist’ became almost…pointless. But I’d still put it in my top five of the year, without a doubt.
Ori and the Blind Forest is definitely up there too. A moving story involving unusual characters, a beautiful soundtrack, and magnificent world that looked stunning: there aren’t many things wrong with the title from Moon Studios.
Despite a lot of fan backlash, mainly down to a virtually unplayable PC version, I still really enjoyed Batman: Arkham Knight (on Xbox One). Joker was my favorite character of the year, and there will never be another game that makes you feel more like the Caped Crusader himself. Could have done with a few less stealth tank sections though.
I can’t decide what I liked better out of Life is Strange and Tales From The Borderlands, but both finish off my honorable mentions. Very similar in execution but wildly different in storyline and tone, I would probably opt for TFTB because the finale didn’t render the rest of the game pointless…
However my pick for Game of the Year is most certainly Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It’s been a long time since a video game has dominated my mind so much even when away from the screen. Every quest felt worthwhile and meaningful, each character was unique and interesting in their own way, and the game looked incredible despite its enormous size. Geralt of Rivia as the eponymous Witcher was again as cool as you like, romancing damsels one minute and slaying beasts for a few extra orens/florens/crowns the next.
I could talk for a long time about it but I’ve said plenty in the previous award choices. The game set a new bar for RPGs and arguably for all games in general. No game is perfect, and no game ever will be, but some are in a certain echelon that most can only dream of. Every once in a while, a video game comes along that you completely fall in love with, and Witcher 3 was certainly one of those for me. In my opinion, it’s the best game of 2015 and one of the best games ever made.
Sep Gohardani – News and Features Writer (@SepGohardani) – For previous awards, I have extolled the virtues of Telltale’s unerring ability to wrap you up in the world of a game, mainly by selecting things about their adaptation of Game of Thrones that I liked so much. In this respect, I have to disagree with my colleague Lance and say that in general they have been one of the most consistent developers out there right now, with Tales from the Borderlands also proving a total success. My selection for game of the year, though, is not one of their titles but a different episodic masterpiece that was released this year, the very same one that Lance nominated: Life is Strange.
Dontnod’s expertly-crafted episodic adventure is beautifully drawn and always engaging, but it’s more than just that. The writing on the game is what makes it special – the nuanced, intelligent, realistic conversations and refusal to adhere to stereotypes allow it to develop the setting for a story that is powerful and inventive, always willing to confront the difficulties of the matters at hand with perfectly-executed characters and the sense that your choices have a distinct bearing on the relationships you forge. It’s another example of what the episodic format can allow for if you utilize it correctly, and it is nice to see that the format has proved so successful recently. The ending has been divisive and many have called into question how it ties in with the rest of the story, but ultimately it doesn’t take anything away from a game that plays almost everything to perfection.
Carlo Thomas – Features Writer – (@CarloT3Content) – We’ve all seen it coming, so I’ll be the guy to nominate Fallout 4 for game of the year. The game faced an almost ridiculous amount of hype before its release, and I’m a firm believer that hype can tarnish the perceptions of even the best of games. Of course, Fallout 4 is far from perfect. I agree with my colleague Rhys regarding the game’s technological shortcomings. The game faced its share of bugs upon release.
Nevertheless, it’s quite reassuring when a studio continues to deliver very solid entries in a well-loved franchise. I was immediately sucked into the world of post-apocalyptic Boston. The characters I came across were interesting and complex. I’m a fan of side quests and item hunting (not a day goes by where I don’t see another post titled “Location of every [insert item] in Fallout 4”), and I know I haven’t put a dent in what I’d like to accomplish. My gaming library may have been small this year, but it’s games like Fallout 4 that make me excited for the year ahead.
Alexis Timari, Editorial Writer – (@lexi_timari) Ah, here we are once again: Game of the Year. 2015 was an eclectic year for video games, triple A titles eager to dominate the market and indie games hoping not to fall between the cracks lest they be forgotten in the mystic gaming ether.
Everyone here should know by now how attached I am to the Halo franchise. I’ve followed it with dedicated heart and soul for fourteen years now and, even after the slight mishap that was Halo 4, I stayed positive, praying to the Bungie gods that 343 wouldn’t screw it up. Well, that trust was misplaced. My regrets of Halo 5 aside, I found myself enjoying the point-and-click, decision-based adventures of Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn.
An equally well-known fact about me is that I do not enjoy horror games. I will, more often than not, walk backward through a level just so I don’t have to come face to face with a horrendous apparition. Until Dawn, however, had me following the story with care and stress-induced caution, aspiring to get every last character home with their heads attached. Judge me if you will, but the compelling and emotional plots of Until Dawn kept me on the edge of my seat and, in the end, had me wiping away a few more tears than I’d like to admit. A game that implements the “butterfly effect” and promises to have a vastly different playthrough each time is worth the time and money.
Until Dawn’s exceptionally gore-filled graphics entrap and immerse you into the story, making you think twice before you check that eerie noise coming from that trap door.
A game that makes me happy I spent full price!? I’ll cast my vote for you!
Josh Atkinson, Video Editor (@Noir_Proxy) – It’s no secret that 2015 has been spotty for potential modern day classics but everyone always finds their diamond in the rough.
For me it has to be Bloodborne. I’ve grown up on the Souls series since my early 20s. I’ve played every title, pulled my hair out with every death, and fist bumped the occasional imaginary friend when defeating a boss and celebrating within a dark room filled with silence. Not many games have made me stay up till 4:00 a.m. determined to beat it, to give a wolf beast the size of GhostBuster’s Marshmallow Man the finger while laughing in its face for proving its mocking antics of turning me into a bloody puddle wrong and giving it a taste of its own medicine.
Bloodborne is the pinnacle of From Software’s crafting and learning on how to make a great game. The previous titles had issues in fairness and technical problems sure, but Bloodborne is proof that developers do listen, that they want to improve and they definitely want to have fun, while doing it.
The past titles set themselves in lands of Knights and dragons. Bloodborne took us to Lovecraftian/Victorian horror and then brought its world to life with mysteries of its inhabitants, creatures and lore. It also smothered us with a deeper combat system, multi-tooled weapons and a stat system that hardcore fans are still trying to understand.
If a game keeps you coming back to learn everything about you. You are definitely doing something right, and Bloodborne is just that.
Andrea Giargiari, Feature Writer (@UndineAndrea) – I know many people will be giving Game of the Year to the Witcher 3, and for good reason; it’s a rich and enchanting world with interesting side characters and compelling villains. Sadly, one crucial detail prevents it from making my list: I just can’t get behind Geralt. In a story-driven game, it is so important to have a protagonist that you can empathize with, and Geralt just feels like he’s made out of cardboard (but women inexplicably love him).
So let me shift my focus entirely to a game that, by most players’ accounts, isn’t about the story: Fallout 4. I’ve already talked a whole bunch about how immersive this game is, making it my best setting of the year. But there’s a lot to like outside of the general aesthetic. I’ve spent so many hours building up settlements and making the wasteland livable for its inhabitants, and I’ve really been made to feel that I have affected and shaped this world. It’s a shame that the dialogue system has been watered down from previous iterations, but I still feel an enormous amount of agency and this year, agency is king.
James Schumacher, Lead Reviewer (@JamesInDigital) – After looking at and writing for the other categories, the choice for Game of the Year became a lot easier. In the end The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt wins the category, and does so fairly easily. It’s the most consistent title across the board. It looks and sounds great. Mechanically it’s solid, particularly on higher difficulties. It had a good story that falls off a bit near the end, but it’s a good one nonetheless. CD Projekt Red are excellent developers and do a terrific job interacting with their community.
Fallout 4 and Bloodborne both deserve consideration. I will and have undoubtedly spent more time with Fallout 4 than I will with the Witcher 3. The open world of Fallout, the evolving, player-driven narrative that sets itself apart from the developer-created one, and the future of modding, make it an excellent game. Bloodborne continues the stylistic and gameplay conventions of their Souls series and makes it slightly more available to players. For the true series faithful, this may be a negative. Having played and finished Demon and Dark Souls, I have no problem with the game being more accessible; there is still plenty of challenge and discovery for the hardcore player.
Life is Strange was on the list for a long time. I’ve said it before, but it fell off too greatly in the final moments for me. Still an excellent game and I begrudge no one that chooses it. Having finally gotten a crack at Her Story, I can see the love for the game, it’s highly compelling. Until Dawn is an excellent choice as well when it comes to heavily story-driven titles. I considered The Order 1886 to piss off the haters. It’s got a good story, great audio and visuals, and the gameplay is fun. There’s not enough of it though, and we don’t get enough time to experience the most fun and interesting parts.
Again, at the end of the year, The Witcher 3 has enough of all the ingredients to make the best final dish. All hail the year of the Witcher! Can’t wait to see what CD Projekt Red does with Cyberpunk 2077 and any other title moving forward.