2014 Favorites: Video Games

We're at the dawn of a new year, so let's do a teensy bit of reflection on the past before we toss it all aside for the future.  I'll be making this into as regular of a series as I can on JiH for the first few days of 2014, so be on the lookout for them. 

Let's start with gaming.  Although I was pretty exasperated with the medium as a whole last year, they still managed to churn out quite a few gems that I was excited to get my hands on.

Banner Saga

When developer Versus Evil put this game on Kickstarter back in 2012, I took one look at the concept art and said: "looks great; too bad there's no way the actual game will resemble that."  Well, it's roughly three years later and I'm proud to eat my words, as Banner Saga's gorgeous hand-drawn characters and world succeeded in perfectly replicating their initial teaser art.   A few hours playing Banner Saga and I instantly got why people want the indie revolution to succeed so much: it felt like I was playing one of those 70's and 80's cartoon films from Ralph Bakshi (Lord of the Rings) or Don Bluth (Secret of Nimh), and I couldn't pull myself away from this group of Vikings trying their best to survive in the wake of Ragnarok.    (Come to think of it, that gorgeous artstyle is probably why I played it--Banner Saga actually has quite the grim world.)

It didn't help that the game's combat system reminded me of Final Fantasy Tactics, one of my favorite games of all time (and IMO the best FF).  Stripped of magic though, the level of difficulty reminded me more of SNES-era Fire Emblems, with each battle a struggle for survival, making them all memorable and keeping you on the edge of your seat with each victory you drag your weary protagonists through. 

This game is meant to see a re-release sometime early this year on the PS4, and I have every intention of double-dipping to have a second chance of experiencing this game's excellent story, which not only folds your victories, but also your losses, into it's narrative.   There's also supposed to be a second chapter, which I'm hoping also sees a release on console this year. 

The first chapter is available on Steam right now though, so if you can't wait, go pick it up.

inFamous: Second Son

Say whatever you want about the beanie, but Sucker Punch's jaw-dropping (though entirely inaccurate) re-construction of Seattle finally made me feel like I'd gotten my money's worth out of my Playstation 4.  I'd bought the console in January, only for the thing to spend the next two months as "that one system next to my Playstation 3". 

But this late March release dragged me completely into Delsin and Reggie Rowe's world of Conduits, family drama, and evil government agencies.  Sure, I'll admit the game leaves something to be desired in terms of content.  There's really not much to do in Seattle's open world besides some collect-a-thon side missions that, fortunately, you can usually finish before it wears out its welcome.  But it's to be expected with a launch window game, and I'd honestly rather have a polished but short title over a buggy, mess of a game that outstays its welcome.

This was the first game I'd played in months where the hours just kind of seemed to fly by.  One second I'd bought the game after getting out of class early in the day, the next it was eight in the evening and I was wondering why it was so dark outside.  That's the real sign of a good game; one that leaves you so consumed you lose track of everything going on around you.   Can't wait to see what Sucker Punch has planned for the second installment.  (Hopefully a larger Seattle and many, many more powers...*cough cough*)

Dragon Age: Inquisition

I kept telling myself: I'm not hyped for this game.  I played the first Dragon Age and wasn't terribly impressed, and even though the visuals for this game have looked amazing each time Bioware showed them off, I kept repeating to myself that I wasn't hyped for it.  And then suddenly there was less than a month left before it was released and it was all I could think about.  So far I've sunk 90 hours into Bioware's massive open-world RPG, and I can probably squeeze another 30 out of it before I'm done.

To be sure, many of the complaints about this series are true: the tactical camera is nigh-on useless aside from pausing things, the animation needs some serious tweaking, and there's way too many collect-a-thon quests.  (I haven't finished it, but no one can tell me collecting shards is a thing they wanted to do.)   But most of the characters are well-written, nuanced individuals with their own back stories the game allows you to discover over time, the environments are generally enormous and varied--and you can slay a fuckton of powerful dragons.   I never got to do a review on this thing, which is probably good because I'd spend far too much time gushing about how much I enjoyed playing it.  Y'know, like now.

But seriously, if you can get past the flaws (which I personally find minor), you'll find a gem of an RPG that you can lose dozens of hours to just doing the story alone, nevermind the exploration, lore discovery, crafting, and dragon-slaying.  

Honorable Mention: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

I may, or may not have had the opportunity to tell this story before.  About two weeks before Destiny came out, I was hanging out with a group of my friends and I randomly asked them: "I need something to play: Destiny or Shadow of Mordor."   Unanimously, they told me to buy Destiny.  I did, and we all know how that turned out.   After twenty hours with the game where I completed the story mode and dicked around a bit exploring, I returned the game just in time to get full store credit at my local GameStop and picked this up for $20. 

Although I recognize they're both completely different genres, the gap in my enjoyment levels was truly monumental.  I'm a pretty big LotR fan so I had to throw most of my knowledge of how the universe is supposed to work to the winds in order to enjoy it, but once I did I found no small amount of enjoyment in the game.    It's an honorable mention because the story's not great and the majority of the focus is on orc-killing and not much else, which is more than a bit depressing considering it's got the original high fantasy book's lore to pull from.   Still, if you've ever wanted to feel like an overpowered bad-ass capable of taking on entire orc armies (and who hasn't), Shadow of Mordor is for you.

There you have it, folks.  My list for 2014.  A bit slim, but the quality more than made up for the quantity.   And while I don't think it'll be a problem, 2015 has some big shoes to fill if it's going to measure up to these games.


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