Top Ten Games of 2015

This was an incredible year for one of my favorite pastimes: Video games.

2014 was described by YouTuber Superbunnyhop as “the year games got stupid” in reference to a slew of games bursting with spectacle and a sense of fun about them. If that’s true, 2015 is the year that games got epic. Epic has lately been used synonymous with fun, but I’m talking about epic in terms of scope, scale, and ambition. This felt like a very ambitious year for gaming as different developers crafted some of the most vibrant open worlds I’ve ever seen, broke new ground with genre mixing and took older genres and applied new lessons from the past 10 years to them.

Given how incredible this year was, it only seemed fair to compile my top ten, which was a difficult task in and of itself. So here goes nothing, and this only applies to games I’ve played sufficiently.

10. Shadowrun Hong Kong

Harebrained Studios has consistently amazed me. After putting out two very good Shadowrun cRPGs with the aid of Kickstarter and managing the campaign like pros, they’re reaping the rewards of their own success with another Kickstarter that massively expanded the scope of Shadowrun: Hong Kong and, just recently, they revived BattleTech with an explosively successful Kickstarter campaign.

As much as Shadowrun: Hong Kong represents the professionalism, integrity and all around great nature of Harebrained as a studio the game more than stands up on its own merits. It takes the first two reborn Shadowrun cRPGs, builds upon their foundations and refines the wheel to a polished shine. The atmosphere, the combat, the dialogue, the composition and the narrative all weave together to create a memorable cyberpunk experience more than fitting for this list.

9. Cities: Skylines

It’s tempting to say that I’m putting Cities: Skylines on this list to spite Electronic Arts for their disastrous launch of SimCity 2013. The truth is that the game more than stands up on its own merits and Colossal Order has established its game as the new king of city simulators. It returns to the ideals we knew and love about SimCity games of old while expanding and refining them. The entire process of carefully planning, building, and managing of cities evokes the same sense of creativity and wonder on a level that few other simulators manage to do.

8. Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest is one of those games that strikes a balance between challenging and accessible. Between the tight controls and the simplistic combat it does feel like a game the developers designed for everybody. The variety of skills Ori uses encourages creative thinking without coming across as too obtuse or needing a strategy guide on another screen.

What really catapults Ori onto this list is the atmosphere. The thoughtful storytelling, breathtaking and mesmerizing environments and general sense of wonder that comes with exploration is what separates Ori from most Metroidvania style games. Moon Studios is off to a great start with this one.

7. Life is Strange

Life is Strange is extremely rewarding on two levels. On one hand, it encapsulates perfectly the fantasy we’ve all entertained about mercilessly teasing someone while using a convenient time rewind tool to make sure we don’t have to deal with the repercussions of it.  On the other, the very same mechanic is a thoughtful reflection of the ideas and consequences behind the “what if” situations we’ve probably all thought about.

Life is Strange also deals with taboo subjects that I doubt most AAA games would ever touch, including teenage pregnancy and bullying. Big props to Dontnod for being another studio experimenting and testing boundaries.


Frictional Games has been in the vanguard of survival horror’s resurgence with Amnesia and they’ve delivered another winner with SOMA. Psychological horror is tricky but executed magnificently here. It’s not ‘conventional’ horror in a way that’s comparable to something like Outlast but the way SOMA gets under your skin delivers a thought provoking and unique experience bolstered by an extremely strong narrative.

5. Tales from the Borderlands

“S’up ladies? What ‘cha been doing? Talking ’bout boys?”
“Nope. Just discussing casual misogynism and how it manifests in corporate executives.”

I think that’s all I need to say here. It’s another reason to love Telltale.

4. Pillars of Eternity

What happens when a veteran studio takes the Infinity Engine cRPGs of the early 2000s, streamlines the clunky interfaces and scales back the difficulty to a point where it’s not quite kicking your ass in every fight? Pillars of Eternity is born, the game that literally saved Obsidian Entertainment from closure.

Pillars of Eternity could have been content trading on nostalgia and providing Baldur’s Gate fans with a fix, but it goes above and beyond. It’s as much an evolution of the cRPG genre as a love letter to it, and the incredible care and detail put into this game is apparent within minutes. The game is steeped in complex lore as complicated and rich as Lord of the Rings and the game’s challenge means that overcoming bosses feels triumphant.

That same article quotes Obsidian programmer Adam Brennecke saying that “We [Obsidian] own something now.” If I were Obsidian, I would be extremely proud of owning this.

3. Bloodborne

It’s easy to rag on Bloodborne as being Dark Souls: Blood EditionBloodborne may channel the spirit of its elder Souls siblings but very much has an identity of its own. As always, From Software demonstrates the idea of “showing, not telling” beautifully in its complicated mythology, Lovecraftian horror brought to life, and frantic approach to combat in keeping with the thematic ideas of hunts. Even with the third game with the souls formula, From has managed to make Bloodborne feel fresh and new.

2. Witcher 3

Witcher 3 is the bar for which all other open world video games will be measured. The very instant I entered Geralt’s world, even with limited experience with the previous two games, I knew I was in for something special and I was right. Everything from the complicated and thought narrative, to the well rounded characters, to the vibrancy of the game’s world and the variety of detailed quests, is polished to levels far beyond most so-called AAA games.

1. Undertale

It was a very, very close battle between Witcher 3 and Undertale and both deserve my Game of the Year spot for 2015. Undertale gets it simply because it came out of absolutely nowhere. Whereas there was a well deserved amount of hype and publicity behind Witcher 3Undertale just sprang onto the scene and captivated everyone. The sheer uniqueness of Undertale is something that words can’t justify; just go onto Steam and cough up the ten bucks. It’s worth it.

Honorable Mentions: Until DawnSuper Mario MakerKerbal Space ProgramInvisible Inc., Elite: Dangerous.

Games I haven’t played enough yet but look interesting: Rise of the Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid V, Splatoon, Her Story, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Just Cause 3.

Games that didn’t make the cut: The Order: 1886Halo 5: GuardiansFallout 4, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Evolve, Star Wars Battlefront.

So I still have quite a backlog, but at least 2016 doesn’t have a huge list of games I’m looking forward to-oh. At least when I retire I’ll have plenty to do.