2015 was a fantastic year for video games, and there were several that I personally gained a lot of enjoyment from. So here are a couple of what I consider the top games of 2015.
Note: for brevity, the consoles “Playstation 4” will be shortened to “PS4,” “Xbox One” to “XBO,” and “Nintendo 3DS” to “3DS.”
Developer: Bethesda Games Studios
Platforms: PS4, XBO, PC
To the best of my memory, the first video game that I can remember playing that would be classified as “violent” was Fallout 3. The Fallout series (the first game having been released in 1997) takes place in a world that technologically is far more advanced than our own (the military utilizes plasma and laser weaponry and has highly advanced suits of power armor), but culturally hasn’t progressed past the 1950s. In the year 2077, a nuclear war primarily between China and the United States, though involving the rest of the world thanks to “mutually assured destruction,” occurred, leaving the world in a horrible, irradiated state. Several people across the U.S. survived in underground fallout shelters, called “Vaults.” Often, the protagonists of Fallout games are people from these vaults, or descendants of them.
Fallout 3 was an incredible introduction to the series. The games do not have a large amount of continuity; Fallout (released in 1997 and set in the year 2161), and Fallout 2 (released in 1998 and set in the year 2241) took place in the ruins of California. Fallout 3 (released in 2008 and set in 2277) took place in the ruins of Washington D.C. So, beginning with the third main installment wasn’t an odd experience. The atmosphere, the adventure, and the characters of Fallout 3 quickly put it on the list of my favorite games.
This is a very roundabout way of saying that Fallout 4 (set in 2287), when it was announced, was my most anticipated game, well, ever. It takes place in the ruins of Boston, in “The Commonwealth” (a fact that doesn’t seem to be widely known is that Massachusetts’ name is officially “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” After nuclear fire ravaged the world, the state’s name was shortened to “The Commonwealth” by survivors). The protagonist, whose sex, appearance, and personality is determined by the player, is a resident living in Massachusetts in the year 2077 with their spouse and their young son, Shaun. After a tutorial sequence which includes gaining residence in the conveniently nearby Vault 111, a news report informs the player of several nuclear strikes in the U.S. After a brief run to the Vault, the player, their spouse, and Shaun are cryogenically frozen, much to the player character’s surprise. Awaking many years later, the player witnesses their son being forcibly taken by a mysterious assailant. Exiting their cryogenic pod shortly thereafter, the player sets out into the wasteland to find their son.
Fallout 4 is the first game in the series to feature a fully voiced protagonist, regardless of gender. This affords the player character to be more brought to life, at the cost of less roleplay ability. However, personally speaking, this is a welcome change. The trope of the “silent protagonist” is a tired and somewhat pointless thing. While it can be nice for role playing games, therefore allowing the player to imagine what they sound like, it oftentimes falls flat and makes the player character seem more like a cardboard cutout than an actual protagonist. While you can no longer imagine what your character sounds like, you still get to decide what your character says in interactions with other survivors, having several dialogue choices when dealing with people. These allow the player to act as a selfless savior, a sarcastic wisecracker, or several others.
Another fantastic mechanic of Fallout 4 is settlement building. In contrast to prior games in the series, Fallout 4 only has two major towns at the beginning of the game, where people live, shops sell items, and quests can be given. So, it’s up to the player to find pre-determined locations that a town could prosper in, and then build houses, beds, and shops, set up crops, water purifiers, and generators, and recruit settlers to populate the town. Many resources are needed for these endeavors, such as wood and steel, which can be salvaged from junk found around the Commonwealth, or bought in bulk from merchants. Besides just creating these towns from scratch, the player must also monitor the resources of the settlers, lest they become unhappy and restless, and defend the town from attacks by raiders, mutants, and many others.
I would be lying if I said Fallout 4 lived up to my every expectation, but it is by far one of the best games I have played in my history of gaming. With a myriad of things to do besides the main storyline of finding your son, a large cast of characters that can hinder or help the player (shout out to Curie), and a rich, beautiful-in-a-destroyed-sorta-way setting, Fallout 4 is a must-play for even the most casual of gamers.
If you’re even a little interested in video games, you may have heard the name “Dark Souls,” developed by FromSoftware. Further, you may have heard about the high difficulty of Dark Souls. Bloodborne, developed by the same company, is a spiritual successor to the “Dark Souls” series. While Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 are set in a medieval-era world, Bloodborne takes players to the nightmarish, Victorian-era Gothic city of Yharnam. Ravaged by a plague that turns men into wolf-like beasts, Yharnam was once the center of “blood healing,” a method of blood ministration that was said to be able to cure any disease.
The player takes control of the “Hunter,” a person (sex, appearance, age, etc. determined by the player) who wakes up in a blood ministration clinic in Yharnam. With the word “Paleblood” and being afflicted with an unspecified ailment (hence the trip to Yharnam) being the only memories the Hunter can recall, the player sets out into the nightmare to discover the meaning of “Paleblood,” and how to return to their homeland.
Bloodborne focuses on very fast-paced gameplay that often greatly punishes players for making mistakes: an accepted part of games in the “Souls” series is that death is going to happen many, many times. From these deaths, however, the player must learn enemy attack patterns, item location, etc. Defeating enemies rewards the player with “Blood Echoes,” which can be spent both on supplies for the Hunter, or to level up, strengthening inherent abilities. While previous “Souls” games allowed players to have shields or wear armor to weaken attacks, Bloodborne largely removes both of these features, opting more for players to dodge incoming attacks rather than deflect them.
The player also has a large selection of weapons with which they can dispatch beasts. “Unconventional” is the perfect word to describe Bloodborne’s arsenal, as it includes weapons such as a solid walking cane that can break into a segmented whip, or a large curved sword that, when joined with a handle carried on the Hunter’s back, becomes a large scythe. With the additional content “The Old Hunters,” this selection of weapons is almost doubled, now including a sword that can be split in two to become a greatbow, or the arm of a great monster that seems to flail about on its own.
The story of Bloodborne is not presented to the player in an obvious way. If one doesn’t search for it, the game can be completed without much of an idea of what the plot actually is. However, should one read the descriptions that accompany every item in the game, talk to other survivors of the plague, and find areas that are off the beaten trail, players can unravel a story that not only has many references to the ancient and occult (including an area heavily based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula), but also includes elements of cosmic horror that were inspired by (and could rival) H.P. Lovecrafts Cthulu mythos.
When I discovered that Bloodborne was going to be a PS4 exclusive, that sealed my choice to purchase a PS4 over an XBO or a good gaming PC. And I have to say, I don’t regret that decision in the slightest. Bloodborne is one of the most enjoyable, most horrifying, most invigorating game I’ve played. While my Hunter has died countless numbers of times in my adventures, I have never seen that as a defeat, but as another spark that drives me to destroy whatever stands in my way. For this, Bloodborne deserves some of the highest praise available.
Developer: Toby Fox
I want to preface this section by saying that both Fallout 4 and Bloodborne are tied for 1st place for my favorite game of 2015, with Undertale a very close 2nd. That being said, it is incredibly hard to put into words how much I love Undertale.
The player takes control of a “fallen human,” whom they get to name (but has an unchangeable appearance, being that of a young child of a non-discernible gender). This human has fallen to the Underground, a massive subterranean region where an intelligent (equivalent to humans) and incredibly diverse race of beings referred to as “Monsters” were banished long ago, after losing a war against the humans. It is quickly established that humans are not welcome in the Underground, be it because of monsters hating or fearing them. However, there are several exceptions, whom the player will meet along their journey to leave the Underground.
The 8-bit game has relatively simple mechanics. The movement is just up, down, left, and right. The combat with monsters is turn-based. The player attacks their opponent by timing a keyboard press on a board, with a hit closer to the center doing more damage. On a monster’s turn, the player’s SOUL (represented as a red heart) is placed on a “bullet board,” where the opponent will shoot “bullets” that the player must avoid. These bullets change in appearance depending on the monster that’s being fought. For example, a vegetable monster shoots small bullets that appear as carrots, peppers, etc, while a knight’s bullets take the shape of large spears.
However, not every conflict has to be solved with violence. Every monster that is encountered in the game can be discouraged from fighting or otherwise spared. This allows for several different ways to progress through the game. One could defend themselves with force only when necessary, go through the Underground as a benevolent visitor, or go on a genocidal rampage and all but wipe out the inhabitants. Any of these choices will drastically change the story that pans out for the player, allowing for a lot of replay value.
I have a good friend who has never in her life been interested in video games. However, after I showed her a video of Undertale (warning: heavy spoilers and strong language, but who gives a shit) made by my favorite YouTube uploader, videogamedunkey, she was hooked, and we bought and began playing the game with a few other friends. Since beginning, we have completed the game several times. Just hours before writing this, we beat a boss that we had been stuck on for (and I’m not exaggerating) hours. Defeating this boss is, without a doubt, one of my proudest moments in my gaming history.
And all of this does not even cover the humor in the game. The creator of the video above relies mainly on his fantastic sense of humor to amuse viewers. However, in the video for Undertale, a large amount of the laughs are directly from the game itself. Undertale draws a fantastic line between gut-busting laughter, moments that made me need to stop and try to justify what I’d just done, and genuinely scary moments. The characters in Undertale are far and away some of the most colorful, hilarious, and memorable personalities I’ve had the pleasure to experience.
I truly love Undertale, and the simplicity of it allows people who don’t play video games to begin playing it without feeling too overwhelmed. I struggle to really say how much I enjoy this game, because all I can really think about is when my friends are coming back so we can continue our newest playthrough.
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