I should really cut down on all these annual blog posts. The holidays are busy enough, and in 2015 I expanded my Top Ten list into ten separate posts, followed by my full Game of the Year awards and Most Anticipated Games of 2016 lists.
It’s all done in self-indulgent fun. My annual Year In Gaming post is probably the most navel-gazing thing I write on here. Part journal entries and part gaming calendar, I recap what I played on a month-to-month basis, and what really stood out.
2015 was the first full year of being a part-time freelance writer, and most of that was spent writing about video games. I maintained my blog both here and on Game Informer, appeared on podcasts, and can now say I’ve been published on Playboy. I also played lots of great games!
Though not as many as last year. I mentioned in my last recap of Rogue’s Adventures that I generally have less game time these days.
Since I enjoy recording my play times and my game library, it has helped me cut down on buying new games – which is painfully easy when you primarily play on PC thanks to rampant Steam sales. I played less games in 2015 but overall my “Progress Index” improved this year, so I’m pretty satisfied.
Progress Index is how Backloggery.com measures your finished-to-unfinished games ratio. Currently I maintain a Beaten ratio of about 63%, which has held fairly steady all year.
On to the monthly breakdown!
For last Christmas my wife and I bought ourselves a Wii U, and January was dominated by games like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. Mario Kart ended up being the biggest winner for us, as we could have a blast playing locally and online together. I’m a huge fan of Smash but playing online loses much of the fun compared to local multiplayer, and it didn’t quite hold my interest as long as I would have wished.
I was still knee-deep in Dragon Age: Inquisition as well, and I wouldn’t actually end up finishing until March. I love BioWare’s RPGs and DAI had a lot of neat stuff going for it, but like a lot of long RPGs, it just didn’t hold my interest in the last dozen or so hours. Multiplayer was neat but the grind to getting better weapons and classes was horrendous. My friends and I played it much less than Mass Effect 3‘s similar offering back in 2012.
Rogue’s Adventures: Portal 2
I totally bought into the Evolve hype and convinced all my friends to get it. The asynchronous combat and multiplayer is a neat idea, and the gameplay definitely scratched that cooperative Left 4 Dead itch pretty well (made by the same developers, after all). Sadly it just had no legs. Where Left 4 Dead offered campaigns in addition to survival and versus modes, Evolve‘s gameplay was always central on the hunting of the monster in a large arena map. I enjoyed my time with it but like Titanfall last year it only lasted maybe a month, and was quickly forgotten.
February also saw the release of a massive update to 2D craft ’em up Starbound. I’ve a weird history with Starbound, having played back when it first hit beta in 2014, then again here. I have huge months-long gaps in my play history, but it’s always fun when I return and check out all the new updates. Still, it’s been two damn years, are we ever going to get a final release?
I beat Dragon Age: Inquisition just before the release of one of my most anticipated Kickstarter games – Pillars of Eternity. Going from one huge RPG to another can take its toll, but Pillars was absolutely amazing, and would eventually go on to become my #1 Game of 2015. The old school tactical combat was infused with just the right amount of modern game design, and Obsidian’s captivating writing was on full display.
In March I also started up an online tabletop role-playing group via web cams and Roll20.net. My friends and I previously tried Pathfinder in 2014 and really enjoyed it, but this was the first time I was behind the driver’s seat as the Dungeon Master.
We actually started with Shadowrun Fifth Edition, as I fell in love with the setting thanks to the recent tactical RPGs. We’d run four total missions over the next four months, three of which were written by me. It was a lot of fun (and they’re on YouTube), though Shadowrun‘s rules are incredibly complex and somewhat frustrating, and we’d move on to Dungeons & Dragons in September.
Rogue’s Adventures: Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut
April was dominated by Pillars of Eternity. I’d eventually spend 70 hours over three months, finally completing it in June. These giant RPGs take me several months to complete – but I still love them.
In what has become an odd annual tradition, I also picked up the previous year’s Skylanders game, Trap Team, when it hit a deep discount. Skylanders is a lot of fun, the figures are neat, and they make for fantastic cooperative games. Overall I didn’t enjoy Trap Team quite as much as 2013’s Swap Force, but we still ended up buying a bunch of new Skylanders, and had to have all the traps. We’d actually end up getting this year’s Skylanders Superchargers as a Christmas present for each other – along with way too many new figures. Total number has crawled above 50 now….
Summer’s are notoriously slow for gaming, though May was more of the calm before the storm for a surprisingly busy June.
The 2nd half of Broken Age was finally released – a year and a half after part 1! I actually went through and replayed the first half so I could familiarize myself with the story and crazy cliffhanger. Part 2 was fun but it reused a lot of environments and characters from the first half, and the story ended up being pretty disappointing compared to the exciting lead-in from part 1.
Rogue’s Adventures: South Park: The Stick of Truth
June gave us the annual Steam Summer Sale, where I picked up a crapload of indie games that had released in the last year or so, many of which I would play for Rogue’s Adventures in the latter half of 2015. June also saw the release of several great new games, like Splatoon, MASSIVE CHALICE, and Heroes of the Storm.
Splatoon took over my Wii U (which had grown quiet in the last month or two) and I delighted with its fast-paced, light-hearted combat and infectious 90s aesthetic. Even the single-player campaign was a blast. Sadly it wouldn’t quite hold my attention, mostly as I couldn’t convince any of my friends to jump in (and its friends-matchmaking system was abhorrent anyway). Fun game that really burned bright for several weeks, though.
I started up a game of MASSIVE CHALICE, and I enjoyed its XCOM-style battles and unique generational army enough to rank it as #10 on my Game of the Year list. A great example of a Kickstarter game that delivered on its premise in a decent time frame, and was particularly enjoyable to watch being built thanks to the wonderful bi-monthly “team streams” over the last year.
Rogue’s Adventures: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
I jumped into Heroes of the Storm toward the end of June, after it had been released for several weeks. I’ve always particularly loathed MOBAs, but never played a Blizzard game I didn’t like. The latter won out, and my friends and I got completely sucked into HotS.
The faster-paced style, team leveling, and multiple maps with varying objectives all helped elevate the genre into something I could really sink my teeth into. Like Hearthstone last year, my multiplayer gaming time was nothing but HotS for the entire rest of the year, and I awarded it my #2 Game of the Year slot.
In July I also received an iPad for my birthday. Not only could I stop having to borrow my wife’s to use Marvel’s digital comic service, I could finally play my own tablet games. I’m a big board gamer so being able to play my favorite games like Small World online or versus AI was absolutely amazing. Many of them are available on PC, but something about the tablet’s handheld, tactile nature make board games much more enjoyable.
Rogue’s Adventures: Ori and the Blind Forest
August was a pretty slow month. I was still playing Heroes of the Storm just about every evening, and I wouldn’t be buying a new game until next month. I used this opportunity to play through yet another run of XCOM.
Thinking XCOM 2 was just around the corner in November, I wanted to finally play through the Enemy Within expansion pack. I’d played over 100 hours of XCOM, but hadn’t played since the expansion’s release. I normally play on Classic, but dialed it back to Normal for fear of my rusty skills and new mechanics. Those fears were unfounded, and I blazed through with flying colors, customizing all my soldiers after characters from Agents of SHIELD. XCOM is so damn great, and I’m crazy exited for the sequel in another month (my #3 Most Anticipated game).
Rogue’s Adventures: UnEpic
If you said Diablo 3 would become one of my most played games of the year, I would have…well shrugged probably. Blizzard has done an amazing job with the post-launch updates over the years, and September saw a big patch come in that made their Seasonal play even more interesting. It also awarded a HotS mount if you made it to 60, so lo and behold my friends and I fired up Diablo 3 again, and it was still a blast. Diablo 3 now sits as my most played game of all time at just over 300 hours over the last three years.
In newer game news, I got Super Mario Maker on launch and couldn’t have been happier. It was everything I had hoped – a wonderfully intuitive editor, and a 2D Mario game with endless content and variety. It also used the gamepad and touchscreen really well. I’d often simply sit at the couch watching football while making Mario levels. My #6 Game of 2015.
We started playing Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition using the published adventure included in the Starter Pack, “Lost Mine of Phandelver.” Using a published adventure helped cut down the extra work I had to do building maps and writing scenarios.
It worked incredibly well for my group, and the relatively new 5E rules were great for us. Many rules were simplified and streamlined in smart ways, and I had plenty of freedom while still rarely needing to consult the rulebook. At the time of this writing we’re just now at the very end of the four month long campaign, and we definitely plan on doing more in 2016. You can watch us on YouTube and read my weekly recaps.
I don’t normally buy platformers at launch but I was asked to review Yoshi’s Woolly World. It ended up being an incredibly fun experience. The yarn aesthetic was fun and meshed well with the world and mechanics. Unlike the frustrating difficulty of Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, cooperative play was light and fun. I’m pretty sure my wife ended up playing it even more than me.
The holiday season is always crazy busy for gaming. November was especially grueling with awesome big game releases, three of which would make my Game of the Year List – Yo-Kai Watch, Fallout 4, and Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void.
Trying to play all of them simultaneously was futile, though Yo-Kai Watch definitely won the battle by having my 3 year old daughter adore it and love watching Daddy play. Might be a big reason I loved that game as much as I did – but it also scratched that Pokémon itch in some fun and unique ways.
Starcraft and Fallout were tricky to balance – remember I’m still playing Heroes of the Storm this whole time as well. Sadly we never really got back into Starcraft‘s multiplayer, it was pretty much just the single player campaign that held my attention. My time with Fallout 4 would continue to be spotty throughout the year. Now in January I just passed the 30 hour mark, despite having it for over 2 months!
Remember how I wasn’t even going to play Yoshi’s Woolly World, then got it at launch to review? The exact same scenario played out with Xenoblade Chronicles X. I’ve been super down on non-handheld JRPGs in the last few years, and shocked myself when I not only enjoyed Xenoblade, but consider it one of the best games of the year. I even enjoyed it more than Fallout 4, which is absolutely insane given my love of that franchise.
Otherwise December mostly came down to finishing games, like Starcraft‘s campaign and Yo-Kai Watch. The only new games I’d get for Christmas were that year’s Skylanders and Disney Infinity games. Basically if a game offers great couch co-op, it’s an easy sell for me. This is our first Disney Infinity game and mostly I’m fairly unimpressed. I was hoping for more built-in game, but it really emphasizes building and customizing. Skylanders remains a solid experience, but mostly I’m still playing Xenoblade!
Rogue’s Adventures: Tales from the Borderlands
I played a lot of great games in 2015. More importantly I had a lot of fun experiences I could share with friends and family. I’m continually thankful of gaming’s power to keep me in touch with best friends that live hundreds of miles away, as well as an outlet for my wife and I to sit side by side and goof off together. And recently it’s yet another way I can bond with my young daughter.
I hope gaming continues to mature and evolve as an industry and a culture. Right now we’re in an awkward transitory phase with lots of embarrassing push-back. I love seeing new game concepts that grow beyond Games as Entertainment, and pushes them into Games as Art or simply emotional experiences. That being said, I’ll always love blowing shit up with buddies. Here’s to blowing more shit up next year!