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Top 10: The Bottom Five

2011 was the last year I was able to do a full compliment of 10 games that would qualify as “the best of the year.”  Granted, I took a couple of years off from doing this, but the only year that came close to getting all 10 might have been 2013.  This year, as has been said many times throughout the year, has been a hell of a year when it comes to video games.  There are so many games that could have made it, I actually had a hard time coming up with a definitive list of games.  Hell, there were so many games that I forgot to put two of them on my Honorable Mentions.

Dead_cells_cover_art

Copyright Motion Twin

Dead Cells is a roguelike Metroidvania like every other indie game that came out this year.  Unlike the others, however, it’s fucking great with gorgeous graphics, great systems and some really kick ass bosses.  However, because it’s still in Early Access, I can’t give it a nod.  It would have made the Top 10 had it done so.

Hollow_knight_title_large_black

Copyright Team Cherry

Possibly one of the best games of the year, Hollow Knight is a complex, challenging Metroidvania with some deep platforming and excellent combat.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to play more than a few minutes this year, so I can’t in good conscience put it on my list.  I still loved what I have played of it, though.

Okay, that’s all of the Honorable Mentions.  The rest of the rules work like this.  I’m going to count down my bottom 5, starting with the 10th best and working my way down to the 6th.  I’ll do a short write up of each one, then move on.  Meanwhile, numbers 5-1 are going to get full write ups in the upcoming days.  I can’t promise I’ll have a new one each day, since I’m pretty deep into novel writing right now, and this school year is a long and arduous one.  That said, we’ll start with number 10

Metroid_Samus_Returns

Copyright Nintendo

10.  Metroid: Samus Returns

Metroid II: Return of Samus was the only Metroid game I’ve never played, except for Other M.  I’ve pretty much beaten every single one of them, and all of them had been pretty good.  The remake of Metroid II, Samus Returns, lives up to the rest of the series, and marks a return to form for the series after Other M nearly destroyed seven years ago.  Gone is the shrinking violet from Other M, and instead we get the stoic bad ass that Samus has always been.

Like any other Metroid game, there are plenty of environments to see and explore, matched up with some of the most mood appropriate music in gaming.  Once again, Metroid feels like being stranded on an alien world with a mission to complete.  Samus gets her upgrades at a good pace, and each of the eight environments don’t leave the player in there for too long.  Since it’s a mobile game, the developers did a good job of keeping everything easy to pick up and put down, placing save points at regular intervals.

The only major issues the game has is that the over all mission of finding all the metroids and killing them is really repetitive, but Nintendo has mitigated this by mixing up the metroid types, giving us five major variants, not to mention the Metroid Queen, and each of those variants have subvariants.  The only real issue is that some of the bosses hit too hard, with one boss taking a full Sub tank and a half for each hit.

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Copyright Square Enix

9. Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

I’m always sort of wary putting an expansion to an MMORPG on this list, since I’ve done it twice before and both times I would quit the game not soon after, but I’ve had a great year with Final Fantasy XIV, and it’s been better than anything World of Warcraft has ever given to me.  I feel like I can play the game at my own pace and I can pursue the game, and everything in it, at my leisure.  I took two months off to play a whole bunch of games at the end of summer and came back like I didn’t miss a beat.  The new expansion, so far, is a bit less of a compelling narrative than Heavensward, but that’s also an extremely high bar to clear, since Heavensward might be one of the better fantasy RPGs I’ve played in a long time, as far as story and character is concerned.

Stormblood also brought the Red Mage, one of my favorite Jobs, back and it’s so much fun to play.  Casting, healing, stabbing monsters with a rapier and my character gets to look damn awesome while doing it.  It also gave us the Samurai Job, which is okay, I guess, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable a time to backflip while summoning spectral swords to kill giant monsters.

To be fair, part of the reason this got on the list is because of how good the rest of the game is, but it deserved recognition.  It’s the game I played the most this year, it put out a great expansion and it’s an excellent way to show what MMORPGs can be when they’re not super competitive grinds.

Wolfenstein-ii-the-new-colossus-cover

Copyright id Software and Bethesda Softworks

8. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

At the start of the year, I really thought this would make my top five.  In its defense, it’s a fantastic game, but a few short comings hold it back.  Mostly, it’s really hard to tell when I’m getting shot, and from where.  Also the story gets weird and it’s less “rah rah let’s kill Nazis” when I want it to be, and a little too weird when I don’t want it to be.  Still, it’s follows with id Software’s seemingly recent commitment to start making first person shooters that are more than hallways with targets to shoot.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2, but so many FPS games lately have been multiplayer shooters or shooting galleries, and until Wolfenstein: the New Order, it had been years since we saw real first person shooters, with maps and health pick ups and weapon lists.  Or at least games like that that weren’t trying to ape Halo, without the charm and development of Halo.

The New Colossus also boasts some of the best gamefeel I’ve had in a game this year, because the shooting is top notch.  Mission design is great and when the game hits the right notes in the right order, it feels sublime to kick down a door and blast a bunch of Nazis to death with dual assault rifles.

Divinity_Original_Sin_2_cover_art

Copyright Larian Studios

7. Divinity: Original Sin II

I’m not a big fan of isometric RPGs.  Actually, that’s a lie.  I hate them.  I didn’t like Fallout in the 90s, I never got very far into Baldur’s Gate II and even the much vaunted Pillars of Eternity was just a slog to play.  This, however, was a hell of a lot of fun.  The mechanics were great, the combat was complex with plenty of variation and the encounters were set up in ways that required me to actually think about my next move.  The fact the game embraced that it was turn based, like a table top RPG is one of the best things about it, making it one of the best tactical RPGs I’ve played in a very long time.

Plus, it has a really well done quest system.  A lot of people talk big about the quest systems in other games, but they’re still mostly just fetch quests with some extra cutscenes added to them.  This gives quests with multiple pathways, rewards and outcomes, and they’re generally multitiered, so in one game I might start one quest the same way as a previous one, but have a totally different outcome because I went a different way later down the line.

What kept this from nabbing the top 5 spot, though, was that Act IV is where everything falls apart.  Bad encounters, really stupid quests and a lot of really badly designed map work makes it just not feel like a complete experience.  I’ll give them a bonus for attempting to set an entire chapter in an urban environment, but that doesn’t make up for the stupid and unfair final boss fight.

Nier_Automata_Cover_JP

Copyright Platinum Games and Square Enix

6. Nier: Automata

I need a smaller picture.

Surprised?  Some people might be after the somewhat scathing review I  gave it, but I also wrote that review about thirty minutes after the final ending, so I was pretty mad at the time.  I actually loved Nier: Automata almost the whole way through, and the only reason it didn’t get number five is because Horizon Zero Dawn is a brand new IP, and that gets an extra point.  Also, Horizon does the open world a little better.

Sure, Nier was pretentious, and it had 9S in it, but other than that, it was still a solid title.  There was so much to do and see and the combat made for some very awesome combat encounters.  Plus, it would interweave in some bullet hell sections to add in the variety.  Plus, the game would grow more complex with each playthrough.  Plus, it was a Platinum game, it played better than almost anything I touched this year that wasn’t made by Nintendo.

Look, I had a few issues with Nier, but it’s a game that stuck with me, and I really loved playing.  It’s a game I can’t recommend enough, especially for the beautiful soundtrack and great monochrome graphics.  Hell, the fact the game made me as mad as it did has less to do with the pretentiousness of the message and more to do with the fact that I loved the game a whole lot.  It’s rare for a game to make me that emotional, and that’s worth the money I paid.  I just wish they would patch the PC version.

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