Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Best and the Worst of 2014!




                This year is almost over, it has been great for some genres and terrible for other. We had a few terrible releases and the usual false advertisement that we should get used with, but overall 2014 was a good year for PC gaming.
                So, in order to celebrate those games that made this year one to be remembered, here is my list of the best and the worst PC video games of 2014. I will focus, mostly, on the positive things of the games that impressed me the most this year with little mentions about what could have been better.
It is worth noting that I skipped a few titles like: Assassin’s Creed: Unity, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, Call of Duty Advanced: Warfare, The Crew, Alien Isolation and a few other.


The Best Shooter

                This year was a bad one for shooters with few titles released and even fewer worth mentioning. In fact my choice for the best shooter only shows how much the quality of this genre dropped in the last years.
                I would have said that Titanfall is the best shooter I played this year because of its partially innovative and fun game mechanics. But for an online only title, it seriously lacks contents and the developers did nothing to expand the game besides adding some community separating map DLCs.
                The best shooter this year is the one I expect the least to impress me and I postponed its purchase until I had nothing else to play. Wolfenstein: The New Order was a nice surprise for me and probably for many other games, especially after Wolfenstein 2009.
                It is a gritty game that takes to the extreme a subject that not many developers would dare to explore in video games. The story of this game is twisted and violent, presenting a world in which Nazis have won the war and rule over the world with the power of extremely advanced war machines.
                The New Order doesn’t excel at many aspects, but it’s a well balanced and enjoyable game. The action takes the player in various places, including the Moon, and provides a variety of enemies with challenging AI and enough weapons for a satisfying shooting experience.
It is fun to play and humorous at times (mostly in a dark way), but it never lets the player forget the reason behind the entire action.
                The game has many issues, but the most annoying ones are the average graphics, the abundance of scripted events and the odd combination of old and new game mechanics. In different times for shooters, a game like this one probably had little chance, but this year was barren and from the few titles released in 2014 Wolfenstein: The New Order raises up to be the best.





The Best RPG

                Of all the categories this year, this one was probably the one that gave me a hard time deciding which game to pick as the best, as 2014 was a great year for RPGs and there were so many good titles I had to weight.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Transistor, Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, Legend of Grimrock 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition and many other, are all great RPGs worth playing. These are terrific titles that should not be missed by any fan of the genre and those that played them know how hard it is to choose between them.
                But in the end the long awaited title won, in my eyes, above all the others. Taking back the players with its old school style to a time when RPGs quality was at the highest point, Wasteland 2 comes after over 20 years of waiting for many of the gamers and while doesn’t manage to deliver everything like it should have it is one of those buggy and amazing games like in the old times.
                Wasteland 2 is picturing a huge post apocalyptical world full of conflicts and puts the player in the middle of them with the freedom to choose the way things should change. There are many choices leading to multiple and different outcomes for each area in the game.
The dialogue system is great, even if not at the level of Fallout 1&2, but has of lots intelligent conversations and tones of funny moments while still keeping the tone with the atmosphere of the growing dire situation.
                The game has a huge attention for details, with each area being carefully crafted to look and feel unique. There are many things to discover and huge areas to explore, all filled with great quests, loot and challenging fights. The amount of everything in this game, from the number of dialogues to the loot, it is insane (!).
There is nothing misplaced in this game, everything has a purpose even if it is not always clear why some things are positioned as they are.
                The combat system is decent, not the best and overshadowed by Divinity’s: Original Sin combat, but still good enough to offer a tactical and challenging experience. There are loads of guns to be used in the game to wreck mayhem in the wastelands.
The skill system offers enough options to create well differentiated characters specialized on multiple and different tasks but it lacks the great perk system that made Fallout skill system so great.
                Wasteland 2 is a labor of love and a game designed for the gamers that supported it. It has many issues, but almost every great title of this genre had lots of bugs, it is something that comes with games that are focused on complexity and a sheer amount of details.
                There were many good RPGs this year, but this one stands out above all the others by reminding us the important features for a game of this genre.
Wasteland 2 makes you fear the consequences of your actions and the outcome is not always so clear to be able to change it in time and that is one of the greatest things in an RPG.





The Best Action

                The problem with action games is that they are plenty, but not many make it to the PC and many of those that are coming to PC are the yearly releases of some franchises with few exceptions.
                This year was not very impressive when it comes to this genre, many of the action games were full of problems and didn’t deliver what was promised (still waiting for those laws…). But one game that I didn’t expect to be very impressive stood out to save the year.
                Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an action game set in Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe. The game takes some inspiration from Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham franchises with some of the game mechanics used by them. But the most interesting thing about Shadow of Mordor and what made this title be so acclaimed is the Nemesis system.
The Nemesis system generates a never-ending chain of command for the orc armies present in the game, leading up to a continuously shifting army with new bosses taking over areas and new fights all the time. It is an amazing idea that not only saved this game that could have been mediocre, but also made it well known.
                Shadow of Mordor has some other strong suits besides the Nemesis system. The combat is visceral, fast paced and extremely fun, it has multiple combos and lots of special moves that made me fight like a lunatic for hours just for the fun of it. There is even a good stealth system to complement the combat and make it even more enjoyable.
                The graphics in the game are extremely high quality, with detailed models, amazing lighting and all kind of good effects. The world design is not the greatest, but as the action is placed at the black gate of Mordor it is understandable.
                Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a repetitive game with many flaws, but has enough good features to make it entertaining and fun, something that action games should be. With a higher level of details and more unique content this game could have been amazing, but even so it is the most polished and constant action game of 2014.





The Best Adventure

                Adventure games are a dying breed, it seems like players tend to want more frenetic action and less moments when they have to carefully search for clues and solve puzzles, therefore the problem of this genre that didn’t adapt well enough with the passing of time.
There are still some companies that are trying, but the titles are fewer (especially the high production value ones) and not as well received as in Microids golden age. But the genre is not dead yet and for that matter I think it is always worth mentioning. Maybe a little more publicity will make the future better for adventure games, after all to think and be curious about anything is part of our human nature.
                This year had some interesting titles like: The Walking Dead Season 2, The Wolf Among Us, Broken Age, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and some others. Most of them I got to experience enough to form a strong opinion about and some of these games are still in development as part of episodic releases and I think this should keep them out of any kind of award lists.
I based my choice for this category mostly on atmosphere, story and how the game plays, considering as lesser determinant factors the graphical fidelity and the technical part, but not ignoring them.
                Set in the Fables comic book universe in a district 80s New York populated by characters from fairy tales who had to take refuge in our world and are now living among us. The game is using Telltale’s episodic system and artistic style to present a compelling and atmospheric story about the society of fantasy beings that live their lives in the proximity of humans, unnoticed, taking advantage of a potion that gives these fables the ability to take a human form.
                The story has as main character the Big Bad Wolf or Bigby, who’s the sheriff over the Fabletown. The action starts with a crime, what looks like a fable killing another fable, but as the game moves along it progresses into a depiction of the problems of this society and how it is shaken by the current events.
                How much is The Wolf Among Us an adventure game is hard to say, this genre usually implies puzzles solving and all kind of intelligent challenges. But this game removes all those elements and keeps only the detective work, while attempting to make a more appealing game focused more on storytelling and mistery. But this made Telltale’s games a big success and rightly so, despite losing some of the charm of adventure games which sometimes forced me into thinking that I’m stupid because I couldn’t solve a puzzle (no puzzles here!).
                For taking a big step for this genre in a modern era of gaming and for presenting such a curious and twisted world and story I say The Wolf Among Us is the best adventure video game of this year.




The Best Strategy

                Apparently strategy games don’t receive much attention anymore, there was not even a category for best strategy game at the Game Awards, which I found extremely odd considering the titles we had this year.
                The year 2014 wasn’t only a great year for RPGs, but was quite a good one for the strategy games as well, either we are talking about RTS, RTT or 4X. With titles like Wargame: Red Dragon, Age of Wonders III, Men of War: Assault Squad 2, Endless Legend, Planetary Annihilation or even Civilization: Beyond Earth, the enthusiasts of well planning and tactical games can’t complain.
                For a time I thought the best game I’ve played from this genre will be the best game of this year as well, but things changed close to the end. Even so, Endless Legend stands out as one of the greatest titles of this year putting to shame many games and coming only from a small indie developer.
                The innovative combination of turn based strategy, RPG and 4X is what makes this game stand out so much.
Endless Legend took the perfect amount from each genre and put it to great use in their standard Endless Space-like 4X strategy style. The end result is a video game with a lot of content and enough game mechanics to keep the player learning and adapting to new things with each new playthrough.
                The game comes with eight different races, each with its own play style, units and more importantly its own personality. Besides the player’s races, there are multiple minor factions in the game that can be attached to an empire to expand its power and units.
The end goals of the game remain the same as with any other 4X strategy, but with the addition of an impending doom, the winter. The planet of Auriga is dying with winter coming to take all life out. At the start of the game the winter is rare and shorter but as the game goes on comes more often and stays for a longer period, testing the strength of every empire and in the end only one might live to see the eternal winter.
                There is a quests system in the game providing missions which can help expand the empire and give a better understanding of the world of Auriga. The quests are varied and some of them depend on the race chosen to play with and many of them can even expand in bigger chains.
This system works great with heroes in the game which are fully customizable and can be used to lead the armies or the cities of an empire.
                The combat system is totally different from Endless Space and it is for the best. Endless Legend has a rock-paper-scissors turn based combat system based on positioning and target focus. It is not the greatest combat system, but it is a huge improvement over the previous title from AMPLITUDE Studios.
                The graphics are colorful and well detailed with a unique art style based on right angles which gives the game a very distinct look from any other 4X strategy out there.  The interface is clean and in tone with the game and provides the needed information to run the empire without an excess of data.
                What makes this game so great in my eye is the fact that it comes with the changes that 4X strategies so direly need to escape the repetitive loop they have been trapped into for quite a while, changes that not many developers are willing to do.
For its innovating ideas, beautiful design and the continuous content that developers are adding for free, Endless Legend is the best strategy game of 2014 and one title to be remembered.




The Best Graphics

                The quality of graphical fidelity has been going downhill lately (where is that next-gen?!). Usually, in the past years, a shooter would be the best in such a category, but apparently shooters abandoned the idea of good graphics.
                This category is a difficult one, because it is not only the technology that matters, but also the artistic style and uniqueness of the graphics. The clean and painted like graphics of Child of Light, Endless Legend’s unique art style full of right angles, Telltale's games comic book style or the photogrammetry graphics of Ethan Carter are all good examples that a game doesn’t need only the highest tech to be worthy of inclusion in this category.
                To be honest, at the beginning of this year I thought nothing would beat Watch Dogs when it will get released (boy was I wrong!). While the game did look pretty good, it had so many issues in the graphical department and it was so downgraded compared to the initial footage shown by Ubisoft, that it is better left forgotten.
                Truth be told, this year was not the best for graphics, apparently developers switched from forcing gamers to buy a card every other year because of continuous technological advancements to forcing the gamers to buy a card every other year because of poor optimization. I have to name a game that impressed me visually and despite me whining about this, there were a few good looking games.
                The one title that impressed me the most with its visual effects and art style is Dragon Age: Inquisiton. Before stating why, I would like to say that the game doesn’t look the best. Inquisition has quite a few problems with monster models, some of the animations or the cloths and skin wet effects are a little too strident, but despite all these problems the game still looks impressive.
Powered by Frostbite Engine 3 and helped by SpeedTree, Dragon Age: Inquisition offers a unique and beautiful world. The world foliage is rich and the maps are swarming with fauna making the player feel like going into adventures in a living nature. The combination of lighting and shadows give the world even more of a realistic look. The combat effects are spectacular and the animations are visceral and dynamic. But most importantly the world is full of visually unique places asking to be explored, from ancient temples and fortresses to elven ruins and nobles’ houses everything has the style of a different civilization. It is the right combination of art and graphical effects to make a great looking game.




The Best Sound Effects, Voice Acting and Soundtrack

                By May I was thinking that nothing can beat the performance of Patrick Stewart, Jason Isaacs and Robert Carlyle coupled with the great symphonic soundtrack of Castlevania: Lords of Shadows 2. But then Transistor came with a more subtle yet touching voice acting and a beautiful soundtrack that I listened for days, but that wasn’t it.
Dragon Age: Inquisition got released, a game with production value through the roof and while the main music didn’t impress me like the one in Origins, it is still great and the voice acting is top notch.
But things wouldn’t end here, in December Elite: Dangerous was released and it let my ears experience some of the greatest sound effects I’ve ever had the chance to hear in a video game.
                I had a hard time picking the winner for this category, I factored in the amount, the quality, the style, the sound effects and the voice acting. I’m not a sound specialist, but I do have a musical ear (or so I’ve been told), but a choice like this can be considered poorly subjective and I’m fine with it.
                Dragon Age: Inquisition’s production value makes the difference with probably millions spent on this feature of the game alone. The game is fully voice acted at the highest quality with many good actors, some reprising their roles from previous games only if it was just for few moments on the screen (with the possibility to not be present on every player timeline).
                The music is engaging and inspiring and varied for every situation in the game. But probably the most impressing things about the music itself are the songs in the tavern. Unlocked while completing various things in the game, these bard songs present actions or characters in the game, they are simple but beautiful and really capture the character or action they describe.
                Inquisition’s sound effects are great the weapons and spells in battle are terrifyingly realistic and the sound of the nature made me feel like I was really out there exploring the world.
                Dragon Age: Inquisition might not be as good as Elite: Dangerous in sound effects or not the entire soundtrack is as impressive as the one in Lords of Shadow 2, it is the overall quality and quantity of this game with a style fitting for the world of Thedas that impressed me. The sound is not perfect, but it is on par with this immense and high quality game and for this it deserves all the praise.



The most disappointing game

                Considering all the problems, lies and false marketing that have been pulled off this year in the video games industry, this category could be shared by multiple titles. But I picked one, probably the most obvious choice, but for me one of the games I expected the most in 2014 and one of the biggest letdowns and not only of this particular year.
                After being delayed twice, the second time for almost 6 months, few would have thought that Watch Dogs will be released in the state that it did (I’m pretty pessimistic and not even I saw this one coming).
                Promising a huge world to explore with loads of activities and hacking (!!), Watch Dogs sounded like Ubisoft’s big hit in 2014 (it hit them in the head) and possibly the start of a new franchise. In reality the release was a huge fiasco. The game was heavily visually downgraded compared with the footage shown at the first E3 presentation and this was a huge blow, since PC gamers were expecting this game to be a new standard for the next-gen graphics. But if this was the only problem this game had, maybe I would have been softer on it.
                Watch Dogs’ story is full of clichés, predictable and not very entertaining, it lacks character and good characters at the same time. The protagonist, wants to be a vigilante, but plays the role of a total douche that has the power to steal from everyone and do all kind of cr*p and still gets away with it. He can’t even be classified as an antihero, he is more of a thug set on doing his own justice for a mistake he made in the past.
                The gameplay is repetitive and gets old quickly, with a map and missions in the style of Assassin’s Creed, the game doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The innovative hack it resumes mostly to pressing one button and hacking everything in sight, gaining money and everything you need like this (including beating the last boss).
                The AI is terrible in this game, while in combat it does act pretty well, outside of it is a total mess. NPCs run into your car, cops don’t react to what you do and there are so many issues on this particular topic that it is easier to watch a youtube video about them than writing all down (internet is full of funny moments from this game).
The physics are unrealistic and go inexplicably crazy most of the time, it is an immersion breaker, and unacceptable from a game that should have been top notch on the tech part.
                Watch Dogs was a repetitive and riddled with problems experience that I forced myself into in order to write a review and complain about the game. To make matters worse, Ubisoft didn’t manage to get their servers working this release either and many players couldn’t get online for days and the multiplayer was bugged for almost a week (not that it was playable after that considering the horrible rubberbanding).
                The game has some pluses, but I did emphasize the problems I’ve met with when playing this game and the entire masquerade that went on until the release day.
                This game could have been something amazing, but instead it was nothing more than a disappointment, Ubisoft’s attempt to do as much as possible with as little money as possible and lying to gamers about it in order to score big sale numbers and their marketing scheme worked as Watch Dogs was sold very well (…).

Watch Dogs Review!



Game of the Year!

                Until November I thought the game of this year for me will be Endless Legends and I was excited about the idea of having a strategy game up there. But things changed with one of the November’s releases and while I love Endless Legend and I consider it one of the best games of this year, I’m glad how things turned out.
                I’m a huge fan of RPGs and Bioware was one of the top developers for this genre, but things changed in the past years and their games started to go offroad. While advertised as RPGs, some of their titles became action packed games with small areas to explore and huge walls of text and I started to lose my hope in this studio. After Dragon Age 2, I kind of stopped following their work so closely and didn’t hope much for the next installment in the series. When Dragon Age: Inquisition was presented at E3 2014 and I saw Morrigan, Varric and other familiar characters, I started to follow the game and pondering if I should give Bioware another chance. So I waited and followed the game with hope in my heart and the end result exceeded many of my expectations.
                Dragon Age: Inquisition is far from a perfect game and clearly not the best RPG of this year, but it is a game that combines multiple ideas into a genre that can suck them all in, creating something impressive.
                The world of Inquisition is huge, has tones of quests and a lengthy story with some really epic moments.  Completing everything in the game can take over 100 hours and the adventure can continue even after completing the game.
                The characters are well written with good dialogues with the style that Bioware accustomed us with. The party members are varied in personality and easy to attach to and some of them are better than most of the characters seen in the latest Bioware games. The party banter can go on for hours and is extremely enjoyable and amusing as it was in Origins.
One of the biggest focus points of this game, when it comes to its RPG elements, is the choices system. Starting with dragonagekeep.com where players can set their actions from previous games and important those into Inquisition, changing some of the moments in the game based on the past choices. The game is full with difficult decisions that will have an impact on the story (more ore less, sometimes at all) of the game and of the future games as well.
                The gameplay tries to find the balance between console and PC gaming and for the most part it succeeds. The PC did suffer as the camera controls and some of the combat features can be quite annoying with mouse and keyboard. But the combat is dynamic and fun, the new exploration quests are repetitive but quite addictive and overall there is a lot to do in the game.
Sadly the balance between filler content and meaningful content is not at equality, but even so, the game manages to trick the player in not noticing this.
The War Table is a new addition to the game mechanics which allows a strategic control over the Inquisition, providing all kind of operations which expand the Inquisition power and open up new missions. It is a great tool to immerse in the world of Thedas and I liked it a lot.
                Dragon Age: Inquisition has many problems, with a slightly pay to win multiplayer and questionable PC controls being some of the worse, but even so the game covers them up with insane amount of content, huge production value and the awesome things that Bioware did in their good years.
This is why I think this game is the best one I played this year. It made me feel like in the old days, playing Origins and Mass Effect, getting attached to the characters and trying my best to keep my party alive and together while saving the world (obviously).
                The game is a combination of many features and tries to be more than just an RPG and for the most part it succeeds. The Dragon Age series is again on the right track and hopefully it will continue like this, because if it does, the future of this franchise looks very interesting.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Review!





                This is the summary of the best games I’ve played in the year 2014, there are other titles that I wish they would have been on this list, but from various reasons they aren’t. It is worth mentioning that I don’t play auto or sports simulators and that’s the reason there is no category for such games.
                There isn’t a category for online games or MMOs either, because I’ve played most of the big titles from this genre released this year and none of them impressed me in any way. I’m looking for something more in MMOs than just recreating the same atmosphere and using the same game mechanics that most of these games used since the beginning of this. I did give The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar a chance and I didn’t enjoy them, I felt like I was trapped in the past playing the same old MMOs.
The year 2015 sounds like a more promising year for this genre with games like Armored Warfare, H1Z1, Skyforge, Everquest Next, Albion Online, Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade, The Division and many other.
                Such tops for best games are always controversial, this is my weighed opinion (it took me weeks to make a decision) about the PC video games of the year 2014.
                 



Nodrim

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