2014 was a strange year for games. 2014 was supposed to be the year that would highlight the true power of the next generation, however most of 2014’s anticipated titles were delayed to the following year. Not only this, but the year was also filled with games that weren’t playable day one and riddled with post-launch patch support. And personally, there were a few anticipated games that just didn’t live up to my expectations. But fear not, all is not lost, for there were still some fantastic releases this year that certainly made up for 2014’s mishaps. If you don’t see one of your 2014 favourites on this list, it can mean one of two things: I either didn’t get the opportunity to play the game or I just didn’t enjoy it as much as you did. So here are my top 10 games of 2014.
10. Valiant Hearts: The Great War
War is synonymous with video games; these desperate struggles of violence and loss, whether they be fictional or historic, play a prominent role in the modern gaming era. War games are usually successful because they can warrant their violence with relative just cause. Pumping in doses of adrenaline and immersing players into bombarding set pieces, war games house some of the finest action that gaming has to offer. Valiant Hearts, however, slows the pace quite a bit, instead focusing on the emotional trauma that war evokes and how it affects the front line soldiers and their brokenhearted loved ones back in the homelands. Valiant Hearts is a beautiful experience that shows you what few other games ever will: war is not fun. Utilizing the gorgeous UbiArt Framework, Valiant Hearts is a visual marvel; its hand-drawn visuals add a personal, heartwarming element to the calamitous atmosphere of World War I. Heavily inspired by the point and click adventure genre, Valiant Hearts’ requires players to complete puzzles in order to progress to the next segment. These puzzles aren’t necessarily hard per se, but are charming and satisfying nonetheless. The game was inspired by letters written during the Great War, and tells a tale of sacrifice and friendship, and finding a way back home. Alongside Destiny and Dragon Age: Inquisition, Valiant Hearts composes some of my favourite gaming music of 2014. The music is hauntingly beautiful. Its soft piano melodies are exquisite but evoke that eerie sense of loss and melancholy. As someone who didn’t study up on history and the Great War, I learned a fair amount through Valiant Hearts: the struggles, sacrifices, tragedies, but most importantly, how the war impacted everyone. Valiant Hearts is a game for awareness and change; war is not fun, and Valiant Hearts helped me better understand the personal struggles and sacrifices of the soldiers who fought for our freedom.
9. The Wolf Among Us
Thematically slower and less emotionally captivating as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us still manages to shine brightly amidst Telltale’s brilliant adventure repertoire. The Wolf Among Us houses a phenomenal setting and idea, based on the DC/Vertigo Graphic Novel “Fable”, and tells an engrossing story, a story which is arguably better than the Walking Dead in terms of over-arching narrative. The Walking Dead, as remarkable the series is, told a minute-to-minute story. Each episode focused on a relatively different goal, focusing on the relationship you build with these characters, but leaving the over-arching story slightly disjointed. The Wolf Among Us doesn’t focus on characters quite as much as it does with mystery, after all the story is a murder mystery at heart. The Wolf Among Us focuses on a bigger picture, and that picture is relatively the same throughout the course of its five episodes. And once that final episode finishes and those credits drop, you’ll be left with an extremely intriguing mindset, a fantastic plot twist that will have you recalling events straight from the beginning of episode one. As I previously noted, the setting and the overall idea of the game is downright brilliant. Plucking the fairytale characters we’ve grown up with and placing them in a modern-day universe of murder, poverty, and corruption. Each significant fable has a “Book of Fables” entry regarding their past life, their desperation during the exodus, and their state of survival in this non-idyllic world; the attention to detail that has gone into the lore is staggering. The action segments are extremely well done, taking the role of Sheriff Bigby Wolf and bashing heads with the childhood monsters we were once so terrified of. The first season ended on such an open-ended note and could possibly go in any direction, and I can’t wait for the next murder mystery in Telltale’s noir series.
8. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Compared to others, I fell on the Hearthstone bandwagon fairly late as I started building my deck in December. I personally had no interest in playing a card game, and I also don’t own an iPad, so I was extremely apathetic towards the title. But seeing how it attained such critical acclaim and over a dozen game of the year nominations, I had to see what the fuss was about. After losing many nights of sleep to Hearthstone, I personally can warrant the game’s critical reception; it is so damn addicting. Building your deck to the playstyle of your choice is so much fun, and unlocking new card packs honestly made me feel like a child on Christmas morning. There is a slight learning curve to the game’s rules but once you overcome this initial stump, you’ll see how it’s a complete blast to compete in battles. Battles are extremely competitive and are really challenging for the most part. I’m not particularly good at the game, but surprisingly enough, I keep striving to improve and increase my rank. And might I add that this game is completely free. Yes free-to-play has become a daunting game model this generation as many developers shove micro-transactions down gamers’ throats, but Blizzard somehow manages to avoid this completely. Every item that can be purchased with real money can alternatively be purchased with in-game currency, and attaining that required amount is not quite as daunting as we’ve come to expect with free-to-play games. My one complaint about the game is that it requires a constant online connection, regardless of whether you’re battling online opponents or computer controlled bots. I would’ve liked to practice and battle against bots and/or collect more packs and reorganize my deck while on the subway for instance. Although Hearthstone feels more at home on a tablet, playing it on a PC or Mac is equally addicting. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to love Hearthstone as much as I do and I know, without a doubt, that I will continue to build my deck for the years to come.
7. Child of Light
Utilizing the tech of the gorgeous UbiArt Framework, Ubisoft have crafted a sublime visual and gameplay experience. Child of Light, from a visual standpoint, is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. The hand-drawn art style is breathtaking and literally looks like a fluid water painting. The touching story is told through the rhyming likes of a children’s fairy tale, and tells the coming of age story of a little girl named Aurora. Aurora starts of as a timid girl, trying to escape the mystical world, in search of her father, but gradually becomes a strong independent character who wishes to protect Lemuria from the malevolent witch, Umbra. The game is absolutely gorgeous, boasting a vibrant fantasy-esque art style, the music is melodic and tranquil, and the gameplay pays homage to old-school traditional JRPG’s. The turn based combat has your typical JRPG flare, but Ubisoft have integrated a plethora of varied elements and player interaction to innovate the legendary genre. Battles are not necessarily difficult and the game is relatively short, so Child of Light is a fantastic gateway drug to JRPG’s for newcomers and is recommended for anyone looking for a bite-sized experience. Child of Light is a beautiful, tranquil experience that mirrors the like of childhood bedtime stories; endearing from start to finish.
6. Mario Kart 8
The king of kart racing made its HD debut when it drifted its way onto the Wii U last year and boy does it make its 23 year old franchise proud. Somehow, after 23 years, Mario Kart still manages to stay relevant and the 8th iteration introduces new gameplay elements to stay fresh. The introduction of new items, anti-gravity and flight segments on tracks, a robust and seamless online integration, and its gorgeous 60 frames per second visual fidelity help Mario Kart 8 build on the franchise’s core foundation, while not stripping out what made the series so fantastic to begin with. With the addition of Mario Kart 8, the Wii U continues to satisfy my local multiplayer itch. Yes, the online features work extremely well and are, for the most part, silky smooth, but Mario Kart was created and meant to be played as a local multiplayer game, and it still shines as one. The unfortunate removal of the arena based battle mode is the games only downfall. The idyllic close quarter’s arenas are replaced with modified racetracks, which are honestly tedious and forgettable at best. This mishap is a dire shame as I absolutely loved the chaotic gameplay of battle mode in the previous Mario Karts. Overall though, Mario Kart 8 is a fantastic addition to the aging, but still thriving, franchise and alongside Super Smash Bros, it is enough to warrant the purchase of Nintendo’s struggling console.
5. The Walking Dead: Season Two
The first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead is one of my favourite games of all time, so expectations were extremely high for season two. I am happy to report that although it is not as good as the first season, season two does meet most expectations and provides an enthralling, albeit, uncomfortable experience. The Walking Dead was always about encompassing morally grey choice, and in this department, season two manages to best its original. The choices this time around are more difficult to make and may lead to dire repercussions, putting yourself and those you love in harm’s way. And the finale, although the stakes weren’t as high as the original finale, puts your group in a chaotic mess and some of the decisions are downright gut-wrenching. So do not fear, Season Two still boasts that iconic uncomfortable immersion that the original built so impeccably. Unfortunately, a couple of episodes feel disjointed as the larger goal is unclear and your group heads aimlessly to a destination unknown. But when the story and motivation is focused, it showcases some of the best moments of the series as a whole. The inclusion of a villain is brilliant and just beautifully adds to the direness of the world. Telltale have successfully met my expectations and delivered an amazing experience yet again. I eagerly wait for Telltale’s next fantastic installment to The Walking Dead.
4. South Park: The Stick of Truth
So much could’ve gone wrong with this one. Licensed game have a synonymous tendency to be downright awful. I honestly didn’t know if this game would fall captive to this trend or rise up and break the cycle. Thankfully, South Park: The Stick of Truth is an exception to the role and is a fantastic game and a damn good RPG as well. Without a doubt, The Stick of Truth is the funniest game I’ve played and this is thanks to the games authenticity to its lore and the exceptional writing done by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The game is so authentic, that it looks identical to the show and plays like an exclusive season to the South Park series. The attention to detail and stellar voice acting also help recreate the crude, hilarious world of South Park. On the gameplay side, The Stick of Truth plays as an interactive turn based RPG, similar to the likes of Paper Mario. Leveling up your new kid “hero” while rolling with one of the iconic kids of South Park is extremely entertaining but the real treat of the Stick of Truth is the hilarious references to the beloved show, and the Stick of Truth is chock full of them. Just like the fantastic Arkham games, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a fine example of a licensed game done right and showcases the result of when a development team gives the license the proper respect and treatment it deserves.
3. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age Inquisition is easily the best RPG available on current gen platforms, benefiting greatly from The Witcher 3’s delay to 2015, since both titles are massive open world fantasy RPG’s. Dragon Age was received with critical acclaim and won multiple Game of the Year awards; not many games of 2014 could match the epic scale of Inquisition. There is no deny that Inquisition is a phenomenal game and it’s easily the biggest game of the year in terms of scope and replayability. I’m not particularly a fan of the Dragon Age series so my expectations weren’t relatively high. And for the first few hours, those expectations weren’t met. The gameplay seemed slightly repetitive, I felt extremely under powered, and the convoluted story was underwhelming. But after a pivotal story moment, every little thing that bothered me somehow fixed itself. The combat system began to truly shine, as I constantly upgraded my character’s expansive skill tree. Building my assassin and equipping her with the right gear made her a force to be reckoned with. Inquisition also has some of the most epic set pieces that are currently unparalleled in this console generation. As someone who was extremely underwhelmed by Dragon Age II’s efforts, Inquisition managed to remove the bitter taste that its predecessor left in my mouth. The music is absolutely beautiful, composing a melodic tranquility and boasting a superlative forte similar to the scores of The Lord of the Rings. The games landscapes are stunning, the voice acting and writing are superb, and that iconic RPG strive to find rare gear is simply addicting. Easily sinking in over 50 hours, Dragon Age Inquisition is worth every penny and is an experience that cannot be rivaled on current generation platforms at this point in time.
2. Bayonetta 2
As a person who skipped out on the original Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2’s initial reveal and its Wii U exclusivity controversy didn’t really interest me, not only until it received its universal critical acclaim did it really peak my interest. After playing this phenomenal title, I can simply say that it is a near-masterpiece, an impeccable action experience mirroring the likes of the excellent Onimusha and Devil May Cry series. Heavily influenced by the traditional Japanese action formula that thrived in the PlayStation 2 era of games, Bayonetta 2 relies on the nostalgia that we action fanatics hold so greatly and it does so tremendously. Bayonetta 2 is completely ridiculous, in the best way possible, and the combat is crisp, fluid and ever so satisfying, arguably having one of the most easy to learn, difficult to master combat systems. The inclusion of different weapons compliments different play styles, longevity and variance to the gameplay experience. The story is extremely outrageous and nonsensical but does prove to be fairly interesting at times since certain character encounters, primarily those of the Masked Lumen, boast an epic sense of scale. But the true beauty of Bayonetta 2 is its fantastic action hack n’ slash gameplay, encompassing some of the most epic boss fights of this generation. This game, in terms of difficulty, can be downright brutal and never fails to present a formidable challenge. The set pieces are enthralling, the action is unparalleled, the combat is immaculate, and the pacing is impeccable. For those, like myself, who missed out on the original game, fear not, every copy of Bayonetta 2 includes a hard disc (not a download code surprisingly) copy of the original Bayonetta. Bayonetta 2 is one of the best action games of the last decade; if you’re a fan of old school PS2 action games, you would be hard pressed to find a better action experience.
1. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
The Super Smash Bros series has always been critically received by fans and critics alike. That signature Nintendo charm is undoubtedly present, and the series acts as a fantastic collection of beloved Nintendo characters and their retrospective franchise; a virtual, interactive history of Nintendo’s contributions to the gaming industry. The fourth entry to the series, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was on most people’s anticipated 2014 games lists, and expectations were certainly high since the series had garnished such a monumental fan base over the last decade and a bit. Hell, people even purchased a Wii U solely to play Super Smash Bros; a console selling gem at its finest. Luckily Nintendo continued using their black magic and managed to once again succeed in meeting and surpassing expectations, mine included. The game is colourful and gorgeous, the iconic hectic brawling gameplay is present and more fun than ever, and the ability to partake in this chaos with up to 7 of your friends is absolutely mind-blowing. The game is pure chaotic fun and there is nothing more satisfying than screaming and yelling with your friends as you beat the snot out of one another, a successful homage to local multiplayer and proof that it can thrive in this online saturated gaming industry. The character roster is robust, the plethora of game modes are well varied and diversified, and there’s an insurmountable number of challenges and trophies to complete and collect. I’ve honestly only scratched the surface on the sheer gameplay goodness that Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has to offer. One of my most memorable gaming moments of 2014 was, without a doubt, the pure unadulterated fun that I shared with my friends.
Sorry that the list was fairly late, it took me a while to finish Dragon Age but I wanted to completely finish it as I knew it would be one of my favourites of 2014. Honorable mentions are in order: Infamous Second Son was a great game, but the story was extremely disappointing. Far Cry 4 is a great game and I am still playing it constantly, but it’s practically Far Cry 3.5; it looks and feels nearly identical to its predecessor. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was great and extremely fun, although a bit too repetitive for my liking, but what can I say about the nemesis system that hasn’t been said already? Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is an excellent visual novel and tells a gripping murder mystery; the game would’ve been on my list but unfortunately, the other games stood out more and had more of an impact. Sunset Overdrive is also a phenomenal game that didn’t make my list for the same reason, and the forced humor and mediocre story also held it back. So those are my top 10 games of 2014. What were your favourite games of 2014? Feel free to comment down below 🙂