2014, as a whole, was a year that was more heavily lopsided in favor of the latter half of the year than usual. It began with what appeared to be some heavy hitters ahead of their respective releases. However, as it turns out, many turned out to be colossal disappointments. Games which, a year ago, I would’ve assumed would be on this list aren’t. This includes Ubisofts Watch_Dogs and Sucker Punch’s Infamous: Second Son.
Of course, there was at least one game from the first two quarters of the year to crack my top 10 list, and one is Titanfall, from Respawn Entertainment, a studio that rose from the ashes of a post-Modern Warfare 2 Infinity Ward. Titanfall is certainly a game that has split audiences. Some of our own writers claim it’s flat out bad, while most gamers at the time thought it was decent, despite falling short of expectations. To me, Titanfall was exactly what I was looking for in the first must-have Xbox One release since it’s launch last year.
It featured fast and kinetic multiplayer that felt entirely different when behind the controls of a Titan. Sure, it lacked a strong narrative, but who needs that when the primary draw is competitive multiplayer? Titanfall was, for months, far and away the best first-person multiplayer shooter on the current generation of consoles.
One major release from the first half of the year exceeded expectations by a wide margin. Obsidian’s South Park: The Stick of Truth turned out to be far better than it had any right being. Obsidian went out of their way to ensure that The Stick of Truth resembled the hit Comedy Central television show in every possible way, and they really knocked it out of the park. The voice acting, the writing, the direction… every aspect of it’s aesthetic is great. It also boasts a respectable and very approachable RPG system that harkens back to the turn-based RPGs of yesteryear.
Diablo 3, when originally released on the PC, was considered, by and large, to be something of a disappointment. I decided against picking it up at the time and was later pleased to learn it’d be coming to next-gen consoles. It turns out the next-gen (or is it current-gen now?) version included the expansion (released in April 2014). Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition turned out to be the ultimate version of the game. It does away with the much maligned real money auction house and contains all of the fixes and features Reaper of Souls brought to the table.
Ignoring those games, and a handful others that would crack my top 20, for 2014, the year really kicked into gear come September, with the release of one of the year’s biggest releases: Destiny. Many at the time, myself included, felt the game failed to meet their lofty expectations, and I think that’s a fair assessment. But there’s undeniably been something about Bungie’s first new IP since Halo: Combat Evolved that has drawn players back for months on end, myself included. Destiny is something completely different than what we expected, sure, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. It’s an MMO far more than it is a shooter, which was the exact opposite of what Bungie had promised. It’s a solid MMO with a confusing, though strangely rewarding loot system.
2014 was also a great year for sports games, with gamers getting great NBA, NFL, and soccer experiences. My personal favorite has to be EA’s NFL offering Madden NFL 15. I know that many “hardcore” gamers tend to knock the annualized series at this point, but for those of us who pay attention to this sort of thing, Madden NFL 15 was the biggest step forward for the series in years and arguably the greatest football game since NFL 2K5. It is worth mentioning, however, that NBA 2K15 comes this close to cracking my top 10 list (FIFA just isn’t my jam).
September ended with what many were quick to call the earliest GOTY contender: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Monolith Productions, who previously worked on the F.E.A.R. series, successfully took the best parts of the Batman Arkham games and the Assassin’s Creed series, mashed them together and crafted a really great open-world experience. To say this game came out of nowhere is a massive understatement. If you’re hestitant to try the game based upon the fact that it’s a licensed game, I urge you to move outside of that comfort zone and give the game a shot. It’s absolutely brilliant, and I haven’t even brought up the revolutionary Nemesis system.
Early in the year, October appeared to be the big month, and while there was certainly a wealth of big releases, only a few managed to meet expectations. Sunset Overdrive was far and away the best game I played to be released in October, and by a fairly wide margin. Sure, The Evil Within was pretty great, but Sunset Overdrive absolutely nailed everything that I’ve loved about Insomniac Games’ games over the year. It’s fast, it’s hilarious, and it’s jam-packed with awesome and crazy weaponry. If you own an Xbox One, there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t own Sunset Overdrive. It’s. That. Good.
November ended up being the real whopper of a month and that started, for me, with Assassin’s Creed: Unity. I know… I KNOW! A lot of people loathed Unity and there reasons were plentiful, and most were worthwhile complaints. It had it’s share of absurd bugs, but, you know what? I didn’t experience even one and that allowed me to judge the content of the game, not the quality of the build, better than most. It strips away the sailing aspects of ACIV, which was welcome from me, someone who loved AC2, Brotherhood, and Revalations, and sets the game in a more traditional AC locale, 1800’s France. Everything about it is so great, and if you’ve steered clear because of bugs, now might be the time to give it a shot, as I’m fairly sure Ubisoft has worked out many of the game’s kinks.
The other big release of early November was Sledgehammer Games’ first foray into everyone’s favorite repetitive/annualized shooter. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare seemingly addressed every major concern that was giving fans of the series franchise fatigue. The addition of the Exosuits, along with an added focus on a single-player campaign, made the series feel relevant again following 2014’s disappointing Ghosts.
Finally, perhaps 2014’s last major release was also it’s very best. After stumbling with Dragon Age II, EA seems to have given Bioware a bit more breathing room for Dragon Age: Inquisition and we got Bioware’s strongest RPG since Mass Effect 2 as a result. Inquisition feature’s Bioware’s most open environments ever, and gives the player more freedom to explore every corner of the world. The simple addition of a jump button (yes, a jump button) previously not included in Bioware games, gives the feeling that the world is even larger than it really is. You’re no longer blocked off by knee-high walls, and everything about that means your character is never reduced to a world-saving bad ass who can only be stopped by the work of short mason.
9. Madden NFL 15
8. Assassin’s Creed: Unity
6. South Park: The Stick of Truth
5. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
4. Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition
3. Sunset Overdrive
2. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
1. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Unfortunately, I was without any Nintendo consoles this year, and the PC was laden with Early Access games that I just don’t think made the cut (plus, I’m not interested in considering unfinished products for GOTY). I also haven’t been a fan of the Dark Souls series, and thus, the sequel didn’t make my list.
2014 will likely be a year filled with great games, but will be mostly remembered for the year’s negative experiences. Yes, many games overpromised what they were going to deliver on, and I think it’s safe to assume that some publisher may have learned their lesson this time out (we’ll see…). Pair this with the ongoing hostility surrounding a certain quasi-political movement within the industry, and it’s safe to say that most of us will be happy to see the year in our rear-view mirror. That said, next year looks even brighter with the likes of Batman, Geralt, and Master Chief gracing our presence.