You came to this site for Freelancer’s favorite games of 2015. They were nice. They were purty. That Rebel Galaxy looked pretty sweet, amirite? But then you asked yourself, “What happened to that Inquisitive Loon fellow? That guy who always went apeshit over dense story-oriented RPGs? I wonder what he played in 2015?”
So here I am, slinking out of my dank cave to answer your call. In no particular order, let me regale you with a few of my favorites.
First off, we’ve got Bloodborne. This immediately gets the nod for being the best possible realization of the Dark Souls games in a grand multitude of ways. Here’s a few examples. In Dark Souls, you wield swords, maces, bows, etc. Bloodborne takes one look at that, says, “Fuck that noise,” and gives you a cane that can be cracked into a chain whip. A big sword that snaps into an even bigger warhammer. There’s a freaking gunblade. A holy blade whose sheath you can use to bludgeon the shit out of people with. The weapons and the combat are just an endless joy.
Sealing it all together is an atmosphere that was incredibly appealing to me. Let me put it this way: Dark Souls portrays you as the last knight trying vainly to save a world gone horribly wrong. It’s an interesting but ultimately lonely experience. But in Bloodborne? Though the world is falling apart, you do not stand alone. You are a Hunter, member of an elite order of warriors, humanity’s last stand against the waves of monsters and insanity forcing their way onto the streets of Yharnam. Though, on a gameplay basis, the games remain functionally the same, being able to interact with fellow Hunter NPCs and to have a better story explanation for linking up with other players turned the game from simply enjoyable to something truly legendary.
Second on my list is, believe it or not, Telltale’s Game of Thrones. Though it was inexplicably panned when reviews came around, I can attest that this latest Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style game just totally nails it. You control the family members of House Ironrath, minor vassal to the famous House Stark from the book and TV show storyline. Your task? To do your best to keep Ironrath together and strong as the Red Wedding occurs, the Starks lose their power, and events turn against you. And good luck with that. This game is rough.
Though not all of the Telltale games are amazing, in this story they managed to perfectly encapsulate the intrigue, danger, and any-character-can-die feel of the show. I nearly lost my shit over so many of the decisions I was faced with. For example, let’s say you are the head of House Ironrath, and House Bolton comes knocking at your door. They demand that you give them money and resources or else risk their wrath. You want to keep your House intact as you ride out the war, so what is the best option here? If you give them money, then maybe that buys you temporary peace, but what guarantee do you have that they won’t come back and just keep demanding more since you gave in so easily? On the flip side, standing firm and telling them to fuck off helps you project strength, but if that pisses them off and prompts open war, then you are totally screwed.
Decisions like this were constant, and really spoke to that Game of Thrones feel where every choice is difficult and a happy ending is always out of reach. The way it played out for me made this especially memorable. After two episodes of trying to maneuver around the edges of the power players and to get through the war unscathed, I finally reached my limit of what I could put up with. I ended up playing the rest of the game utterly defiant to those who wanted to take advantage of me and the House I controlled. The result? The total destruction of my House, the death of most of the main characters, and a last stand that, as good as it felt, showed that I had utterly forgotten how to properly play the titular Game. Holy. Shit.
Third on my list is Pillars of Eternity. This is that game you started up one time, saw all the crazy bizarre fantasy words in the character creator, and then never touched it again. Well, masochist that I am, I memorized all that shit and played through the entire thing for you. And I can confirm that it is a damn fine game.
First off, the gameplay. If you ever played the Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale series, you have a sense of what exactly this game is offering. I worried at first that I wouldn’t get into it after all the years since I played those games. But it turned out that I had nothing to worry about. The amount of spells and interactions that you can work with are staggering, allowing you to bounce balls of light, flame, and electricity off the walls, shoot beams of lava around willy nilly, literally sing giants and dragons into being to fight for you, and more. I could see this being overwhelming to some, but to me it made every new fight addicting as hell. I couldn’t wait to try out combinations of new spells or chants and, for those character classes I had less interest in, the AI was spot on in taking care of them so I didn’t have any bother at all.
To go with this more tactical squad-based sort of RPG, you have a really captivating world with fully realized cultures, empires, and religions. Especially the religions. Pillars of Eternity actually represents the first game I can think of that has tackled the idea of believing in God (or gods) in such detail, and it asks a lot of truly fascinating questions about whether faith is a good or bad thing for you, the individual, for society, and for the world as a whole. It’s impossible to go into with more detail without venturing into spoiler territory, but it speaks to the potential of storytelling in video games that a triggering topic like this can be handled with such detail, daring, and end in the way it does without prompting a freaking real-life crusade against the game. This goes to some crazy places, that’s for damn sure!
Last, but not least, we have The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It’s funny… Given how much this game has been talked about in other quarters, I barely feel like I need to go into it here. Let’s just say that this game, for me, manages to do what no other open world game has done before. The gameplay, though initially clunky, quickly reaches a place where every fight feels like a deadly dance where you are always just skating out of a monster’s reach. Every sidequest feels meaningful, with the narrative of these optional adventures rivaling the quality and length of entire other games. Finally, you have characters and an overarching story that feels realistic and mature, written in a way that makes it feel like every RPG prior was written by some zitty teenager aspiring at fanfiction. From its unique Scandinavian influences, to its references to Nordic and Slavic mythology, and more; The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is incredible on so many levels, and I look forward to playing all the DLC when it eventually gets released!
So there it is. I got the fanboy out of me and, hopefully, I might have encouraged someone out there to check out any one of these brilliant games and stories. 2015, you had some really fine games, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that 2016 gives us more of the same!
- Life is Strange
- Tales of the Borderlands
- The Beginner’s Guide