You played as many games in 2015 as you could. You really did. But you probably missed some good ones.
That’s because this year was jam-packed with some incredible titles. Now that the fall rush of new game releases is over, we can take a moment to look back at the entirety of 2015. With blockbusters like Fallout 4 and Metal Gear Solid V on the list, it would be really tough to pick a single favorite game of the year. It’s just as tough to try to provide a ranking. How do you measure something with the emotional impact of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture with something that’s as purely fun as Splatoon?
So, instead, we’re just going to give you a list of our favorites from 2015. The best will depend on your personal preferences, but all of them are worth adding to your playlist as we close out an incredible year in gaming.
No game in 2016 was hyped as much as Fallout 4. The game was announced only five months before it was released, which only helped to fuel the immediate excitement. After years of anticipation, beginning with the first rumors of developers from Bethesda Softworks visiting the nuclear reaction under M.I.T., Bethesda didn’t have to do much to sell this game.
It turned out that the confidence was warranted. Fallout 4 holds with Bethesda’s penchant for creating open-world games where the player is given tremendous freedom to do what they want, when they want. It had some marked differences from Fallout 3, like a voice protagonist and a new focus on narrative, that surely had something to do with a lack of karma system and not really being able to play a bad guy anymore.
What narrative freedom was removed from the player was offset by the ability to actually shape the world of Fallout 4 by building settlements, establishing trade routes, and helping the citizens of the Commonwealth rebuild their lives two centuries after the bombs dropped. The combat systems were improved, and a deep item crafting system was added. Fallout 4 is not precisely what everyone expected, but it still blew away lofty expectations.
Elegy For A Dead World
Writing isn’t easy. Sometimes you just need a little push, like a spark of inspiration, or some structure to your idea. Elegy For A Dead World provides both. It’s a game about pretending to be an archeologist exploring a long dead, alien world, and telling the story of a civilization that used to live there. All you have to go on are the sights and sounds of the ruins you find.
It also helps, when you’re trying to write, to have a community of other writers around you, perhaps inspiring you with their ideas. Elegy not only delivers a rich canvas upon which to produce your own stories, it compiles stories from the rest of the Elegy community, and make it easy to find the best work out there.
The action-RPG Bloodborne borrows from the punishing design of the Dark Souls games. The people of Yharnam blame you for a mysterious illness destroying their world. While they are trying to kill you, you are hunting down the horrific monsters that may actually be responsible for Yharnam’s woes.
Dark, gothic art direction is paired with labyrinthine level design to create a game that is challenging to navigate and satisfying to conquer. Unlike in the Dark Souls series, Bloodborne rewards going on the offensive, which makes the combat fast and exciting. You still have to measure how many risks you take during a fight, however, because Bloodborne is an experience that sharply punishes failure.
Project Cars is a community-funded racing sim, developed with feedback from a former Top Gear driver, that gives you tremendous freedom in choosing what type of racing you’re interested in. Want to drive go-carts? Done. Want to skip the little stuff and go straight Formula One racing? Have at it. Project Cars isn’t concerned with progression schemes and point scoring. It wants you to have fun driving, and that’s it.
The flip-side of making a pure racing sim game is that it’s unforgiving. Games like Forza cater to a wide audience. Project Cars is made for people who love the challenge of driving, without any aid to fall back on. It may have a sharp learning curve, but the benefit of having to learn how to drive the hard way is the satisfaction of mastering the game, and learning how to handle racing games better than any watered-down arcade racing game could.
Nintendo’s strength as a company lies in innovation, and a rich stable of beloved characters. Splatoon therefore stuck out as an odd duck among the games Nintendo showed at E3 this year. It was a multiplayer shooter—a genre so saturated we can barely keep track of it. It also featured not a single recognizable character from Nintendo’s lineage.
What a wonderful surprise it was when Splatoon turned out to be one of the most enjoyable multiplayer games of the year. Two teams of four players face off to cover more of the map in their color of ink than the other team, using squirt guns, paint rollers, and exploding balloons, while racing against the clock. You can “splat” other players and knock them out of the game for a few moments, but killing the other team isn’t actually the point.
Weapon and skin unlocks, map rotations, ranked battles, it’s all the language of “serious” multiplayer shooters, but Splatoon is Nintendo’s way of tackling this genre, on its own terms. Splatoon perfectly represents the spirit of what Nintendo stands for.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is an adventure game about a quaint English village where everyone has gone missing. An alien entity that follows you everywhere as you explore the village seems responsible, and the only clues you have to discovering the truth are echoes in time where past events play out before you.
The developers of Dear Esther—the Source mod that helped establish the return of adventure games to the forefront of the industry—and the developers of Journey—one of the most emotionally engaging games ever—collaborated on Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and produced an experience that’s accessible to anyone, not just experienced gamers.
The village is beautiful. What happened there is horrific. The experience of learning the truth is unforgettable.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain takes the venerable espionage series into the genre of open-world games. Infiltration is still the name of the game, but now you choose your own missions, where and when you want to execute them. Ambushing enemy convoys, destroying enemy bases, and gathering intel for new strikes are all activities set on huge maps to explore. Your enemies will learn from your tactics and adapt to counter them, which forces Metal Gear Solid V players to constantly evolve their approach.
The story also ties together all the previous titles in Hideo Kojima’s epic Metal Gear series. For long-time fans, The Phantom Pain wraps things up. For anyone new to the series, Metal Gear Solid V might become a motivation to explore earlier chapters in the story and delve deeper into Kojima’s strange and imaginative world of Metal Gear.
Super Mario Maker
Dozens of Mario-themed games have been released since the lovable plumber was introduced in 1983, but Super Mario Maker is the first Mario game designed by you.
There may be no game designed perfectly for the Wii U GamePad than Super Mario Maker. The GamePad is like your canvas, and you use the stylus to drag and drop Mario course elements like pipes, blocks, and enemies, where you want them. It’s easy to edit and save your courses, and you have to access to pretty much every type of item and enemy you’ve ever found in a Super Mario game.
Designing and running your own courses is only half of the experience. Sharing your courses with the entire Super Mario Maker community, and running and rating other players’ courses, is ultimately what the game is about. There may never have been a more dynamic and engaging online community on a Nintendo game console, than that created by the legion of Super Mario Maker designers.
Destiny: The Taken King
The Taken King felt like a de facto reboot for Destiny, even though technically it was an expansion for a year’s worth of previous content. Destiny started with a very rough launch in September, 2014, lacking content and featuring a very unpolished loot system that left players wanting. Two expansions shored up the game, but there was still something missing.
With The Taken King, developer Bungie provided the final piece of the puzzle that completes Destiny. The storyline of the Hive, an alien species that infested the Earth’s moon shortly after humanity was almost wiped out, is now complete. Quests with guaranteed, high-level rewards are part of the equation. It’s easier than ever to recommend Destiny to a new player because they finally have plenty of things to do, even if they still need to make sure they have plenty of friends to do them with.
Rock Band 4
Harmonix Music Systems took Rock Band back to its roots with Rock Band 4, stripping away everything extraneous and focusing on what made the original game great: high-quality controllers and a rich music library.
There are so many genres of song represented, pulled from decades’ worth of music, that there has to be something on the track list for everyone. It’s easy to rotate new people into the next song without having to stop and restart the game. Rock Band 4 is the perfect party game for people who really don’t play video games.
Yoshi’s Wooly World
Yoshi’s Wooly World is the fifth game in which Mario’s sidekick Yoshi is given the starring role. This time Yoshi lives on Craft Island in a world full of amigurumi characters, and has to save his friends who’ve been unraveled and hidden among the game’s challenging platformer levels.
Novice players can turn on Mellow mode for an easier time, while more experienced players can focus on the challenge of finding all the myriad collectibles. Yoshi’s Wooly World is short, but it’s sweet, and belongs in the collection of everyone who owns a Wii U.
Tales from the Borderlands
Tales from the Borderlands may be the finest game that Telltale Games has ever developed. It taps perfectly into the madcap humor of the Borderlands series, while adding meaningfully to the world of Vault Hunters, evil corporations, and backwater maniacs created by Gearbox Software. It may not have as many guns, but Tales from the Borderlands has all the spirit of the Borderlands games, and that’s the important part.
That such an unlikely pairing of a first-person shooter universe and an adventure game could be so successful just goes to show that Telltale’s magic can be applied to just about any kind of story. Anyone who doubts the value of the modern adventure game should try their hand at Tales from the Borderlands.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate pleased franchise fans as much as last year’s Assassin’s Creed Unity let them down. The game design is more refined, sloughing off some of the bloating of game features introduced by annual sequels. This time the historical conflict between the Templars and the Assassins is set in 1860’s London and boils down to a confrontation between a wealthy English industrialist and a street-smart pair of killers named Jacob and Evie Frye.
Syndicate is about losing yourself in the moment. The city of London is a character in its own right, begging to be explored. Entry points for assassination missions are clearly marked, so you can enjoy the subtleties of planning. Being handed a pair of main characters means more opportunity to experiment with different techniques as you level up two different people.
The combat system is more intuitive and fluid than ever, and instead of depending on random passers-by for crowd distractions, you can recruit and run gangs to provide muscle. There’s no multiplayer component in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, but the depth of the single-player game will be more than enough to satisfying series fans who’ve been waiting for the next, great entry in the franchise.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider is the second game in the reboot of this long-running game series. Archaeologist Lara Croft is still embarking on her historical adventures, but she’s presented in a more mature and, in many ways, a darker fashion that’s fit for modern audiences.
Both the main character and the game design are more complicated and satisfying this time around, as Croft follows her father’s trail in the search for an artifact that supposedly grants immortality. Collectibles add world-building context. Eavesdropping on conversations while infiltrating locations leads to valuable information. Relic-hunting locations are less about fantastical civilizations, and more about real, forgotten places.
Croft is vulnerable and therefore sympathetic. She’s not the perfect stealth operator, the perfect acrobat, the seasoned killer. Even if Croft is in better fighting form than in 2013’s Tomb Raider, she’s still learning and growing, which continues to make her an interesting character.
Illustration via Bethesda