Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Ori and the Blind Forest

With its perfectly balanced difficulty, simple but emotional story-telling, and intriguing world, Ori and the Blind Forest is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

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I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Moon Studios

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Release Date: March 11, 2015

rogues adventure

In many ways Ori and the Blind Forest has become the new standard for typical indie games; gorgeous 2D art, hardcore platforming, and a whimsical, faerie tale-like story. It also helps to be published by a giant like Microsoft. Thus it’s easy to initially dismiss a game like Ori. I know I initially felt a been there-done that vibe, even when the great critical reviews started rolling in.

I finally decided to take the plunge when it went on sale during the Steam Summer Sale, and now I’m ashamed at myself for dismissing it so quickly without ever having tried it. With its perfectly balanced difficulty, simple but emotional story-telling, and intriguing world, Ori and the Blind Forest is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

rogues adventure

The story centers on the titular little spirit creature that becomes lost from its parent tree during a great storm. In searching for Ori, the great tree ends up burning through the forest, and the giant owl named Kuro fights back by stealing away its light source. It’s up to Ori and little tree spirit companion Sein to gather together the other elements around the forest and restore the tree’s light.

I’ll understand if that little story causes a hefty amount of eye-rolling. It’s difficult to convey how well the relatively simple tale is effectively told using poetic narration (translated via text on screen by the tree spirit – who sounds like an operatic Jabba the Hut). There’s very little dialogue; Sein is the only one that really speaks to explain about new abilities or tasks, while Ori’s journey and Kuro’s backstory are told via beautiful cutscenes. The presentation is just fantastic.

The gameplay is pure metroidvania. The beautiful forest can be easily navigated thanks to the lovely in-game map, probably one of my single favorite feature of the game. It’s a really great map. If you’re game has a great in-game map, chances are I will love it.

rogues adventure

Ori steadily gains new traversal abilities, allowing it to climb walls, float, bash through rocks, and stomp through the ground, gaining access to new areas and previously unreachable goodies. Collectibles come in just three flavors, life and energy cells that give you more…life and energy, as well as ability cells that are essentially big experience point boosters. These can be spent on three different skill trees to grant Ori various passive buffs and help, like revealing secrets on the map or granting double and triple jumps.

Without any loot or weapons, Ori’s sole means of attack is through the spirit Sein, a constant hovering point of light that fires off a rapid burst of fireballs at the nearest target, not unlike Dust’s companion in Dust: An Elysian Tail. Enemies are auto-targeted once they’re in range, allowing you to focus on avoiding their attacks as well as the many traps and pitfalls that remain a constant threat.

The game is challenging as hell, and it knows it. The biggest innovation comes from the ability to expend energy to create manual save points called Soul Links. In the early game I was quite nervous about hoarding this ability, but by the midpoint I had so much energy it was never an issue. Good thing because creating constant Soul Links becomes imperative if you want to minimize redoing a particularly difficult section over and over. The stats screen ominously keeps track of your deaths; by the end of the game I had over 150.

rogues adventure

Though the gameplay is metroidvania, the actual structure is more akin to The Legend of Zelda. Each of the three main areas you travel to after meeting the tree first has an object you must acquire, followed by a dungeon that must be completed. Each of these dungeons has a unique hook that utilizes a certain ability or feature in all its puzzles and platforming challenges, like the shifting maze of the Misty Woods or the gravity-defying orb of the Forlorn Ruins. It made each area have a really unique spin on top of its lovely aesthetics.

Pretty much the only complaint I had while playing was the complete lack of fast travel. Most metroidvanias have some sort of limited fast travel between certain areas, allowing for some quicker means to backtracking and gaining previously missed collectibles. Ori and the Blind Forest has no such convenience, and the world is just big enough to make me really miss it.

Ultimately it prevented me from going back to some of the more remote areas to gather the last few pick-ups I had missed (I left most areas at around 95% completion). At least one area you were prevented from returning to after beating due to story reasons – an aspect I wish we would’ve been warned about.

rogues adventure

The story ends up being predictably sappy and sentimental but it’s wrapped up in such a beautiful package that I couldn’t help but be swept up in Ori’s plight. The scripted and challenging gauntlet sequences with Kuro are the right mixture of stressful and fun, though the shine wears off when you have to repeat them more than half a dozen times. The final one is especially brutal, allowing little room for error. I found it annoying that I was simply prevented from using a Soul Link to at least create checkpoints for myself.

At around 10 hours Ori and the Blind Forest never wears out its welcome. New abilities come quickly and the world is a joy to explore, discovering new secrets and gameplay mechanics. Wondering how the hell you reach an unobtainable goodie, only to smugly return later armed with your handy new ability is par for the genre, but Ori really creates a satisfying experience with its intuitive map design and streamlined experience.

rogues adventure

Pros

  • Beautiful artwork and world design
  • Perfectly balanced and steady ramp of challenge and difficulty
  • Effective story-telling and presentation
  • Streamlined experience focuses on all the best parts of the genre
  • Soul Link mechanic is brilliant

Cons

  • No fast travel or teleportation system
  • Numerous scripted chase sequences are especially difficult, and offer no checkpoints or Soul Link usage

Final Say: Beautiful, poignant, challenging, and fun, Ori is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

Shadowrun 5E “The Bodyguards” Session 5 Report

The runners split up to stealthily infiltrate a Yakuza-infested two-story mansion.

shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “The Bodyguards” Session 1 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 2 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 3 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 4 Report

Building elaborate maps within Roll20 isn’t necessarily my forte, and I constantly worried this last week if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. The concert hall was a very large area full of multiple events transpiring, but that was only the first part of the adventure. After my players got their second mission to steal some blackmail evidence from a mansion, I had to actually build the two-story mansion.

Thankfully I found a pretty great resource at eplans.com, where I could download a lovely palatial floor plan to use as the basis for my map. After that it was a matter of filling in the various rooms using Roll20’s art, as well as creating a large circular driveway outside.

shadowrun

Since the players were tasked with a stealthy infiltration, it was difficult to know how they’d approach the map, and I needed to have all two stories filled out and ready to go by the time we started our session Sunday evening.

I enjoyed the players’ plan to get inside – disguising as the sole surviving member of the kidnappers, and pretending another to be the captured singer. The party split up in some really interesting ways. Saran stayed back at the gated community entrance to get inside the guard house and download information. The rest of the crew met up with a Yakuza crime boss outside the house who took Mauta – whom they thought was the unconscious singer, inside to an upstairs bedroom.

I was playing hardball as the crime boss but surprisingly my players weren’t really rising to the social bait, instead opting to play it safe and willing to turn around and try another method. I softened up by letting their captured and mind-controlled NPC ally speak up with a suggestion to get them into the garage (we need gas!). Thus Falkirk and Ursev began in the downstairs garage.

shadowrun

This lead to a somewhat stressful and haphazard ordeal as everyone wanted to do things at once, and I had to switch between three different scenes in Roll20. Saran knocked out the guard and got the floor plan info (which I quickly created handouts for, but only he had access to), Mauta escaped the bedroom and began snooping around the upstairs balcony. Ursev used Clairvoyance to look into the surrounding rooms, while Falkirk acted uncharacteristically bold and began searching room to room.

Thus far nobody has met up with a guard yet and been found out, and their reconnaissance has been pretty effective. That said they’re also kind of terrible at formulating a plan and working together. The team’s dysfunction has become a bit of a running joke, and I’m becoming more inclined that maybe I do need to railroad them through the missions as I’d done before. Giving them a large map and letting them explore has proved interesting but it’s clear they are used to reacting to events I put in place, rather than being proactive at the task at hand.

Next week we should be able to return to a full length session. This mission is taking far longer than I anticipated thanks to two weeks of half-length sessions, but if anything it’s given me more time to prepare and that’s never a bad thing. I anticipate my players should be able to complete the adventure next week, unless things go absolutely upside down and they have to fight their way out of the complex. Which could always happen….

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Thunderbolts: Secret Invasion, Burning Down the House

The major status-quo shifting Thunderbolts issues are fun, but sadly feel the abrupt blow of multiple creative team shifts since the exemplary run of Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

thunderbolts coverWriters: Christos Gage (#122-125), Andy Diggle (#126-129)

Artists: Fernando Blanco (#122-125), Roberto De La Torre (#126-129)

Issues: Thunderbolts (2006) #122-129

 

The biggest change in the Marvel status quo after Secret Invasion lie within Thunderbolts. I was eager to jump in with its tie-ins and see just how Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) would go from the leader of his own quirky villains-on-a-leash super team to leader of his own SHIELD-like government security force.

Osborn’s leadership cast a shadow over the entire Marvel universe in 2009, known as Dark Reign. First he had to manipulate events around the Secret Invasion in his favor, painting his team and technology as the main rescuers of the event. He used the Invasion to come out as a hero, and convince the American government that they needed to crack down on security – with Osborn in charge of course. The lead-up events in Thunderbolts are decently fun, but sadly feel the abrupt blow of multiple creative team shifts since the exemplary run of Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato.

The four issue Secret Invasion tie-ins present a much muddier, less detailed art style that immediately made me pine for Deodato’s phenomenal work in the previous collected volume. The story explains how the Thunderbolts crew escaped from the skrull-Captain Marvel attack on Thunderbolts Mountain – basically Norman Osborn just sits down and talks with the already confused and doubting alien.

Afterward the team packs up and goes to Washington D.C., where Osborn correctly presumes they can not only fight lots of skrulls, but do it while on camera and while protecting important monuments. At one point, Osborn actually stabs a skrull with the American Flag.

thunderbolts #123

There’s the usual team tension that’s always threatening to divide them, especially since the insane events at the end of “Caged Angels.” Songbird and Radioactive Man are the few veteran Thunderbolts that predate Osborn’s takeover and really do want to redeem themselves. Moonstone and Swordsman are veterans but also still very manipulative and evil. Venom and Bullseye are completely evil and mostly insane, and present a constant problem for everyone else.

It’s a delicious team dynamic that makes the series fun, and this drama persists nicely during their war with the skrulls. Swordsman’s sister comes back mysteriously and everyone thinks she’s a skrull. Venom gets loose and looks like he’s going to kill a bunch of innocent people – then they turn out to be skrulls! And Songbird realizes that Norman has far grander plans than leader of the Thunderbolts.

thunderbolts #125In the main Secret Invasion story it’s revealed that Norman Osborn gets the final kill-shot on Skrull Queen Veranke, becoming the symbolic hero. Osborn quickly uses the spotlight to denounce Stark, the Avengers, and SHIELD. Eventually he sets up HAMMER, brings together a Cabal of supervillains, and creates a new team of Thunderbolts as his personal hit squad.

What does that mean for the old team? The aptly named “Burning Down the House” has Osborn and Moonstone pulling the switch to burn and dismantle the rest of the team. Songbird has been our primary protagonist since the beginning, and she’s an effective point of view for the dramatic events that explode around her.

Moonstone drugs Penance and has him locked up. Bullseye and Venom are both cut loose. Radioactive Man is deported back to China. Songbird is all alone and hunted, but she still gets the better of them by taking the Zeus plane and escaping in a fiery wreckage with a little help from Swordsman.

It’s a great way for a massive shift in story and roster, and the two-issue event leads into the next one, “Hammer Down,” starring Osborn negotiating for his new position with the President on Air Force One.

Here we really get to see what a brilliant mastermind Norman Osborn is, as he sets up an elaborate multi-pronged mid-air attack on the plane. Once again he paints himself as this grand patriotic hero, and cleverly has someone else wear the Green Goblin suit to further exonerate himself from the events of “Caged Angels.”

Roberto De La Torre’s artwork (which I recognized from his work on Iron Man: Director of SHIELD) is a lot darker and more shaded, a style I really enjoy. The action is explosive, and we’re introduced to the new Thunderbolts team of Headsman, Ant-Man, Ghost, Paladin, and Black Widow II in a pretty fun way.

thunderbolts #129

Despite the fun events surrounding Norman Osborn’s rise and the former team’s complete dismantling, I’m not sure how on board I am with this suddenly all new crew of villains working for the government. I felt like the old team barely had enough time to get some real story and growth before the skrull-shit hit the fan, and now all these big changes may have completely changed what the Thunderbolts series is.

Or maybe I’m worrying for no reason, as the series would last for nearly fifty more issues, all the way into 2012! If anything the series has been able to successfully adapt to the craziness that is the constantly shifting Marvel Universe, and made Songbird one of my favorite heroines.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Guardians of the Galaxy: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

By successfully crafting an Avengers-style cosmic team, Abnett and Lanning create a memorable and fun comic series.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 1Writers: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning

Artists: Paul Pelletier (#1-7), Brad Walker (#8-10), Wes Craig (#11-12)

Issues: Guardians of the Galaxy (2008) #1-12

 

“This is your team?”
“Yeah, great aren’t they?”
“Is one of them a tree?”
“Uh-huh.”
“I hate cosmic stuff.”

If there’s a single Marvel thing I can point to that primarily motivated my resurgence back to comic books, look no further than the 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy film. I absolutely adored it, from its wacky world, amazing casting, and wonderful balance of action and humor. I was also completely lost on who these characters were.

Now I’d never paid close attention to the Avengers or Iron Man comics either, but I was at least aware of them. The Guardians were completely new to me, and strikingly highlighted the fact that I really hadn’t read a comic book in the last ten years.

Thus I was super stoked to dive into their very well-regarded run that spanned 25 issues between 2008-2010. Of course when I began reading comics in December of 2014, I started back in the era of 2004, so it’s taken me awhile to finally catch up. I’m very glad I did, as both major cosmic events Annihilation (’06-07) and Annihilation: Conquest (’07-08) are close to required reading to really get the most out of these characters and where they come from.

Guardians of the Galaxy begins with Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (WHO??) having already assembled his titular team. The initial active roster is introduced with fun reality show-style talking heads, and include Gamora, Rocket Racoon, Adam Warlock, Drax the Destroyer, and Phyla-Vell as the new Quasar. Groot is still growing and recovering from his explosive events at the end of Annihilation: Conquest, a nice nod to continuityThe telepathic Mantis is also an important member of the team, though her role is more like Professor X – to hang back and provide mental support and information.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

Although this 12 issue collected volume collects two six issue trades, the stories are actually much more segmented than that. The first three issues, for example, has our team exploring and battling against the Universal Church of Truth. They’re a powerful cult that believe Adam Warlock to be a false prophet, since they have their own Warlock-like cocoon that’s waiting to be reborn.

It mostly comes down to lots of fantastic battles against giant armored guys called Cardinals who use their faith as a power source. At the end, Gamora nearly sacrifices herself by exposing herself to a star to save the rest of the team. She heals slowly over the next few issues, even sporting shorter hair when she’s fully healed – another nice nod to continuity.

We’re also introduced to the Guardians’ home base of Knowhere. As seen in the film it’s the hollowed out skull of a long-dead celestial being, and considered neutral grounds by many alien races. Its head of security is one of my favorite characters ever – Cosmo the telepathic Russian space-dog. He’s the best, and his dialogue is written just like how Chekov from Star Trek speaks.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4

Knowhere becomes the focus over the next three issues, which are also technically Secret Invasion tie-ins. The tie-in portion just means it references the invasion of Earth and involves skrulls, but otherwise doesn’t have anything to do with those events. The storyline is all kinds of cool as we focus more on the team’s inner-drama, and drama with other staff at Knowhere. I was hoping we’d get into some The Thing territory as they all start accusing each other of being a skrull while trapped in a small area, but Drax manages to supersede that by temporarily killing everyone on the station with a brain damage bomb. Yeah, he’s Drax, he does that.

While I do love the writing and dialogue, the artwork was a huge reason I instantly fell in love with Guardians of the Galaxy. Paul Pelletier has a classically exaggerated, dare I say Jim Lee-esque quality about his characters that I just adored. Action scenes were bright and flashy while still being easy to follow, and every character just leapt off the page in memorable fashion. Even the random aliens were fun, like the gigantic, chameleon-eyed Delegate Gorani.

The Secret Invasion story leads to a surprising end, involving an underground railroad of pacifist skrulls just trying to escape. Unfortunately the seeds of distrust have been sown, and it’s soon revealed that Peter had Mantis “slightly brainwash” each member to get them to initially join the team. Everyone is understandably upset about this, and everyone parts ways.

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

Issues #7-10 take on an interesting multi-tiered arc as our separated teams go on their own various adventures. Peter Quill returns to Hala where he’s quickly arrested by Ronan the Accuser and thrown into the Negative Zone. Gamora accompanies Adam Warlock to continue their pursuit of the Universal Church. Phyla-Vell helps Drax on his search for the lost kid from back in Annihilation, which eventually leads them to Heather Douglass, Drax’s daughter and Phyla’s lover that was killed by Ultron during Annihilation: Conquest. See how happy I was that I read those events first? I mean you should read them because they’re awesome anyway.

Surprisingly Rocket Racoon keeps the Guardians going with his own team. Joined by a newly rebuilt Groot, he brings Mantis to active status and adds in former teammate Bug and new recruit Major Victory, a future Guardian of the Galaxy lost in time that wields Captain America’s shield. Wait what?

Major Victory’s discovery was actually made back in issue #2, though his ongoing plight always took a backseat to current events and situations. He and teammate Starhawk both end up in our time, and we get a cool dystopian view of the future where they’re part of the last team of resistance in the universe against a conquering race. Starhawk believes there’s an anomaly coming up that fractures the timeline and screws everything up. Can you say foreshadowing?

Peter Quill’s odyssey becomes the most interesting, as he runs into Blastaar, now self-appointed King Blastaar of the Negative Zone. Blastaar tasks Quill with helping him take Prison 42, the superhero prison that was built in the negative zone during the Civil War, and importantly includes a portal to Earth. Quill meets up with Jack Flagg, who’s wheelchair bound after his run-in with Bullseye and the Thunderbolts (yet another awesome nod to previous continuity) and a handful of random minor villains. There’s some fun desperate moments as they try to hold off the forces of Blastaar’s army before Quill can contact Mantis and Rocket’s team teleports in to bail them out.

Guardians of the Galaxy #9

All four stories happen intermittently over the course of four issues, but that method is dropped for the final two issues of the Volume. Issues #11-12 focus solely on Phyla-Vell and Drax, recently “killed” by Mentor and wandering a limbo-like world. They fight a dude named Maelstrom, meet up with the old Quasar Wendell Vaughn, and rescue Heather from inside a giant dragon. It’s kinda neat but very weird to focus two entire issues of the main trade on just their straightforward story.

Sadly Pelletier only worked on the first seven issues. Brad Walker’s work is close and a reasonable facsimile. I can’t say the same for Wes Craig’s work on the final two issues, where the characters looked too childish for my tastes. Anytime the artist changes so often is cause for cringing, but credit to the creative teams involved that everything still retained a very consistent tone and style to it.

By successfully crafting an Avengers-style cosmic team, Abnett and Lanning create a memorable and fun comic series. They were able to effectively plant the seeds for future conflicts like Starhawk and Major Victory’s future time-crisis and the Universal Church of Truth’s mystery cocoon, while still putting their new cosmic team through their own fun stories and adventures.

Splitting the team up halfway through seems crazy but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a lot of fun, and a chance to see different characters interacting together. Guardians of the Galaxy also helps bridge together the next cosmic event – War of Kings, while the second Volume does the same with Realm of Kings, then finally to the Thanos Imperative. Basically the Guardians are Marvel Cosmic, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

New Article – LEGO Jurassic World Review

By combining some pretty tense PG-13 movies into the humorous slapstick LEGO style, LEGO Jurassic World creates a fun if occasionally awkward experience.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

lego jurassic world

Platforms: PC, Mac, 3DS, PS3, PS4, PSVita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
We played on: Wii U

LEGO Jurassic World is the latest in a long line of franchise-ready tie-ins crafted in LEGO form.  LEGO Jurassic World continues the trend of breaking and building objects, unlocking and using a wide variety of characters, and offering a large amount of replay value through hidden items and puzzles. By combining some pretty tense PG-13 movies into the humorous slapstick LEGO style, LEGO Jurassic World creates a fun if occasionally awkward experience.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Shadowrun 5E “The Bodyguards” Session 4 Report

The runners concoct an elaborate plan to infiltrate the mansion of some Yakuza leaders.

shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “The Bodyguards” Session 1 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 2 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 3 Report

Due to an annoying bout of illness we had to have a shorter session than usual. Tabletop role-playing can be a lot of fun but can also be quite time-consuming. When we originally started with Pathfinder we had lengthy four hour sessions every week that went late into the night. Since I took over as GM with Shadowrun, we do 2-3 hour sessions, and while we still get a lot done, combat can slow things down considerably. As can only going for an hour because I was running a fever.

Of course the advantage for having a shorter session is it allows me more prep time. This adventure particularly requires three very large, carefully sculpted scenes in Roll20. Unlike the previous mission where I shepherded the players along a series of small scenes, I’ve given them much more freedom on how to approach these areas.

In last night’s session it was fun for me to mostly sit back and watch my players formulate the best plan for infiltrating a mansion. They’d received a new mission after preventing singer Lana Grace’s capture at the concert performance – a snatch and grab of blackmail-able evidence from her parents’ villa. My players had discussed things a bit toward the end of last week’s session, so I knew they wanted to try and use their newly captured foes to their advantage. I thought of just straight up denying them that path with a myriad of ways, but wanted to see where it would lead.

As one player pointed out, it did unfortunately lead me to do some of the work for them. After their troll shaman cast Control Thoughts on the one captive that was willing to work for them, I set up the plan going forward. I did get some instruction from the players on how to handle things, so it ended up being a fun bit of collaboration.

shadowrun

The plan was to have their team’s face dress up in the full body uniform of the would-be kidnappers, while another teammate pretended to be the unconscious Lana Grace. The others would hide in the back of the van. I was impressed with the plan so I generally let it go without a hitch.

Well there was one little hitch. I introduced a third party that also wanted their hands on some hard evidence of the Yamotos’ Yakuza involvement. The players readily accepted the aid of a “Ms. Johnson” and agreed to help bring her back the information she needed. It’ll be interesting to see whom the players ultimately end up helping, as well as how they handle a stealthy infiltration.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Centra

My Top Five Games of the Year (So Far)

I rank my top five games from the first half of 2015, and also list my five most anticipated games for the second half.

Why wait until the end of the year to rank my favorite games? I want to talk about great games now!

I’ve done a Top Ten list at the end of each year for the last four years, but this is my very first Top Five for the first half of a year. It’ll be a fun way to highlight some games that may be pushed out by year’s end, as well as reminding me of their greatness when it comes time for the final ranking. I’ll also list My Most Anticipated Games for the second half of 2015.

For reference, read my Most Anticipated Games of 2015 (written in January 2015).

 

My Top Five Games of the First Half of 2015

 

5) Evolve

evolve

I’ll admit that overall Evolve was a disappointment in total staying power, but for a good month when it came out it was all my friends and I played and talked about. Made by the Left 4 Dead developers, it was the closest game I’ve played that emulated that great co-op and survival aspect of those classic zombie games. Unfortunately the emphasis this time was on PvP, and the asymmetrical style and game modes made the experience grow a bit repetitive.

 

4) MASSIVE CHALICE

massive chalice wallpaper

I was a big fan (and backer) of MASSIVE CHALICE’s Kickstarter campaign, and absolutely loved how Brad Muir and Double Fine handled production. Bi-monthly live streams were fantastic and the Early Access beta was superb. Now I’m finally playing the final release and couldn’t be happier with this unique XCOM meets Rogue Legacy’s Traits. The breeding metagame is fun and challenging and the tactical combat scratches all the right itches. A real treat that perfectly delivered on its promise.

 

3) Splatoon

splatoon

Splatoon wasn’t even on my Most Anticipated list and really came out of nowhere for me. I’d only just recently aquired a Wii U and wasn’t sure about this quirky team shooter from Nintendo. Fear not, as Nintendo really struck gold with an amazingly simple but brilliant concept of covering arenas in paint. The short three minute matches ensure a steady stream of fun, and the post-game free additions and updates have been impressive. The only thing keeping this one from being nearer the top is the terrible local co-op mode, where it loses out big time to last year’s Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.

 

2) Heroes of the Storm

heroes of the storm

Another game that sprung onto my radar. I’ve hated MOBAs for as long as they existed. Even when my friends were super into DOTA 2 I just couldn’t get into it. Leave it to Blizzard to draw me in with their streamlined gameplay, much shorter match lengths, and awesomely familiar characters. I’m super addicted to HotS and my friends and I practically play every evening. I easily see it as becoming this year’s Hearthstone (which I sunk over 140 hours into last year).

 

1) Pillars of Eternity

pillars of eternity

It took me 70 hours and two and a half months but I finally completed Obsidian’s latest Mangum Opus. I’ve always been a huge fan of computer RPGs but only just played and finished the highly revered Baldur’s Gate II last Summer. Pillars of Eternity is both a lovely spiritual successor to the golden age of cRPGS (late 90’s/Early 2000’s) and a great game with tons of wonderful innovations in its own right.

The intricate yet accessible combat system is wonderful, and the writing is absolutely top notch. For someone that went back to back to back with 70+ hour RPGs (Divinity: Original Sin, Dragon Age: Inquisition), Pillars still managed to completely enthrall me. Another title I was super proud and satisfied to have backed on Kickstarter, and a tough one to dethrone in the second half of the year.

 

Both Batman: Arkham Knight and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt were on My Most Anticipated List, but I still haven’t played them. Neither was probably going to be a Day One purchase; my gaming plate is consistently full and I have the luxury of waiting for most games to be deeply discounted before jumping in (and patches/updates to fix the game).

I definitely see myself playing both games before the end of the year when I have a bit more time. I’ve heard great things about both games. I’ve also recently acquired a few indie darlings in the last Steam Summer Sale, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer and Ori and the Blind Forest that I still need to play.

 

My Top Five Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2015

(alphabetical order)

 

Cosmic Star Heroine

cosmic star heroine

The only game on here without a definite release date, Cosmic Star Heroine is another Kickstarter game being made by a developer I love (Zeboyd). Zeboyd understands old school JRPGs like no one else, and crafting a game in that SNES-era style using their subversive and funny writing and innovative mechanics sounds just peachy. Everything I’ve read and watched looks like it’s shaping up wonderfully and I hope we get a chance to play it this year.

 

Fallout 4

fallout 4 dog

Fallout 2 is one of my all time favorite games, and the franchise in general is one of my most beloved in gaming. Fallout 4 was an inevitability but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. I already know I’m going to love it and drop dozens (hundreds?) of hours into exploring another post-apocalyptic wasteland.

 

Just Cause 3

just cause 3

Just Cause 2 was an amazingly fun open world action game that eschewed any real characters or story-telling for pure mayhem and freedom of destruction. I especially loved the fun ways Rico could traverse the world, using his infinite grappling hooks and parachutes. If JC3 is just JC2 but more, I’m totally on board with that.

 

Super Mario Maker

super mario maker

This one has kept me attention for a while but it wasn’t until E3 and the Nintendo World Championship that I really set up and said, “Whoa.” My wife said we had to get this game and I swiftly agreed. The ability to make your own Mario levels sounds simple on the surface, but the incredible amount of tools and freedom to manipulate each object looks astonishing. I trust Nintendo to make it incredibly user-friendly and fun. As long as the online and sharing components are up to snuff, this could be a huge hit.

 

XCOM 2

xcom2 announcement

Despite being a big fan of tactical strategy games, I was late to the party with XCOM. I jumped on with Firaxis’ excellent remake back in 2012 (my #4 game of that year). Since then I’ve put 150 hours into XCOM over several playthroughs. I adore XCOM: its brutality, its emergent story-telling, its trend-setting UI and turn-based combat. My wife even bought me the XCOM board game for an anniversary present. To say I’m super excited for XCOM 2 would be a pretty big understatement. GIVE ME MORE XCOM!

 

There you have it! Can’t wait to revisit this list when it’s time to make my final top ten list at the end of the year. Will my anticipated predictions hold up? Will these Top Five make it to the final round? Stay tuned!