Friday, January 2, 2015

Best of 2014: Part Nine and Ten

Well damn, isn't this just peachy? Here I was, all on schedule to get this list done in time for January 1st and what happens? I forget to schedule the update to automatically post. Brilliant, Nick. Well done.

Happy New Year, by the way!

No matter! Lucky for the rest of you, the final four spots of the list are all rolled up into one big super-update, the likes of which the world has never seen before! So buckle up and hang on because we're taking this list into overdrive. Here come my top four games of 2014!

Miss out on the previous entries? Never fear, hyperlinks are here!


4. Transistor (Supergiant Games)
The game also has an amazing aesthetic that really can't be denied.
It's just gorgeous, honestly.
Bastion is one of my favourite games of all time, and was my pick for Best of 2011. Supergiant Games came out of nowhere, basically, and delivered a unique and compelling experience the likes of which the gaming world had never seen. It oozed character and held admirably entertaining gameplay, and managed to stand a head taller than the other releases that year because of it.

Three years later, Supergiant Games gave us Transistor, its sophomore effort and, while they did not strike quite the same blow, the managed to give us another title that will stand the test of time and showcases how games can be more than just controls and graphics.

You play a character named Red, a female singer whose voice has been stolen. The world you live in seems to be entirely digital -- a city called Cloudbank where all the denizens are implied programs -- and it is being attacked by evil programs called the Process. It is up to you, and a talking sword that looks like a USB drive, to find the leaders of the Process, defeat them and ultimately save Cloudbank. Combat is played in a hybrid of turn-based gameplay and real-time, and you can pick and choose different Functions to suit your playstyle.

The big thing that you need to know about Transistor is that it had the best soundtrack of 2014. It's a bold claim to make, especially in the face of such blockbusters as Destiny and Alien: Isolation, but it's true. Don't believe me? Just take a listen to any of the tracks from the game. They are sublime. Of course, it's more than just the music itself that makes the soundtrack so memorable -- it's the use of music in-game that has set Supergiant Games, and Transistor, apart.

There's a button included in the controls that will stop everything you are doing and have Red hum along with the soundtrack. The game actually allows you to stop and take some time to listen to the music, simultaneously showcasing the brilliant composing and showing you that Red was the best singer in Cloudbank and wishes to have her voice returned.

It's a beautiful and tragic tale, one that needs to be experienced, and one that I really can't do justice to in explaining. Supergiant Games knows how to create a compelling experience, both in gameplay and in music, and their games simply must be experienced to be understood. Go and play Transistor right now. You won't regret it.

3. Magic: The Gathering (Wizards of the Coast)
To establish how much of a nerd I am, I have already admitted to playing tabletop miniatures games and superhero board games. How much nerdier could I get?

This year I started playing Magic: The Gathering again. Hell, I even managed to get my wife playing -- on our honeymoon, no less! That's how nerdy I am.

I'm not really sure what sort of pictures to put for this entry.
So here are some people playing Magic. They are not me.
I had played MtG a long time ago -- I had first gotten into it around when New Phyrexia was the new set of cards -- but I had never given it much import, nor had I delved into the deeper recesses of the game. But in 2014, on a whim, I grabbed a box of two decks from a hobby shop while we were on our honeymoon and brought the cards back to the hotel. And I taught my wife (and myself, a bit) how to play Magic.

Here we are, several months later, and both my wife and my best friend were gifted new Magic Commander decks to play with. I have constructed a Standard-legal deck that I am eager to take to the next prerelease in January. I have collected cards from both the last set (Theros block) and the newest (Khans of Tarkir). I have plans on constructing my own Commander decks. I have plans on doing an ongoing article for the blog about my Magic exploits, complete with commentary from some of my friends.

Needless to say, Magic is my current big hobby. And why not? It's an endlessly fun game, one that can be equal parts frustrating and rewarding, and one that scratches so many itches (like collecting, playing, planning, et cetera). All in all, I am glad I got back into Magic -- and at such an excellent time as well! The story behind the latest set is quite intriguing and I am eager to see how it resolves.

Anyway. Let's continue, shall we?

2. Dungeons & Dragons (Wizards of the Coast)
Go back into the archives of this blog and you'll be able to read the exploits of my gaming group as they have gone through the trials and tribulations of my biggest D&D campaign to date, Return to Ravenloft. An adventuring party that numbered five to begin and has since dwindled to three still manages to put up a valiant fight against the evil vampire lord Strahd and has very nearly managed to free the valley of Barovia from his maleficent presence.

I am always impressed by the artwork for Dungeons & Dragons. It is almost always excellent.
I have led the party through worlds of pure nightmare. I have led them deep into forests, seeking the aid of werewolves, only to fend off encroaching hordes of undead. They have delved deep into the heart of a volcano, fighting a dragon as the mountain erupted around them. They dove to the bottom of a lake, battling ghosts and spirits while entirely underwater. They climbed to the highest summit and solved the puzzles of a mad mage. They have gone into pure darkness to seek the light within. And now the group sits at a precipice, the calm before the storm, as they gather their strength to siege the castle Ravenloft and bring Strahd to heel for his crimes.

In all seriousness, though, this year has been the greatest year of RPG gaming I've ever been a part of -- and it's largely thanks to the group I have managed to acquire. Dallas, Nick and Dave are all fantastic guys and, though the adventure started with a number of other people, they have been consistent throughout the year and have formed the only remaining members of the party. It has been a pleasure and an honour leading Paelias, Jack and Gustav through this campaign and I will be ecstatic to see them bring it to a close.

One session away, boys! Let's get cracking!

1. Dragon Age: Inquisition (Bioware)
This game is simply amazing. It is gorgeous, meaningful and,
most importantly, fun. What more could you ask for?
If you were legitimately curious as to what my number one pick is, I'm not sure you know me well enough.

From the minute I booted up Inquisition and delved into the incredibly deep character creation process, I knew Bioware had created something special. The endless customisation was followed closely by meaningful and compelling characters and a plot that was simply intoxicating. The combat system, completely overhauled from Dragon Age 2, certainly took some getting used to but after you have spent some time familiarising yourself with the controls it becomes rewarding and exceptionally complex -- or, at least, as complex as you want it to be.

Players have always known that the world of Dragon Age is huge but it took until Inquisition to fully realise the potential. Origins only gave us a taste and DA2 was a major step back in that regard but Inquisition has you venturing to every corner of both Orlais and Ferelden, two enormous countries in Thedas, and spending countless hours exploring the world around you. And yet the game never feels stale. Every landscape, every region you explore, feels fresh and new. You are exploring parts of the world you have never seen before and it is thrilling.

Bringing the hammer (or axe) down on the competition!
A confession: in the first week Inquisition was available I managed to rack up around 80 hours of gameplay. In the first week. This game has hooks and it drew me in so deep I spent more time playing it than I did working at my job. Hell, I actually took time off work just to play it! I was excited about the game before it came out but it took actually playing it to fully realise its potential, and it just would not let me go back to a normal life until I had finished my quest.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a game like no other. The scope and grandeur of this game are enormous and, though it suffers from some pitfalls in the final act, there were no other games that even came close this year. It rightfully gets my Best of 2014 award -- and will mostly likely be getting another playthrough out of me in the next month or two.

And there you have it, folks! My Best of 2014 list has finally been completed -- a bit late, perhaps, but better late than never!

If you managed to stick with me through the whole thing, I thank you; this was a nice exercise for me and I am very proud that I managed to stick it through to the end. There were delays, of course, but it still managed to reach its conclusion -- a far cry better than my previous attempts, I definitely have to say.

I have been planning things for the upcoming month but I am unsure when I will be able to get them to fruition. Nevertheless, keep an eye posted on this blog because, though I promise no set schedule as of yet, I do have plans for the future!

Until next time, my friends: keep well, happy new year, and good gaming!

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