December is just about at an end, which means that it’s time to take stock of the year that was or in this case, the sheer bounty of great games we received in 2015. This was a year that not only saw a number of long anticipated sequels to huge franchises finally see the light of day, but also a surprising number of brand new intellectual properties that went toe-to-toe with the more established brands in terms of quality. Trying to condense a year that saw dozens upon dozens of excellent games down to only ten is a difficult task to say the least, which is basically our way of saying that if you don’t see one of your favorite 2015 games on this list, just know that it could have easily included 25 entries and still missed some contenders. When taking the whole year into account though, it’s hard to think of ten other games that highlight this year in gaming as well as these and for that reason, we had to go with the following picks as the best games of 2015.
10. Batman Arkham Knight (PS4, Xbox One, PC – Sort of)
Although it had its fair share of technical issues on the PC, Batman Arkham Knight was still largely a knockout title and a fitting end to Rocksteady’s time with the series (if this indeed their last). The thing about Arkham Knight is that underneath all the negative publicity surrounding the wretched PC version and the mediocrity of its Batmobile segments, there’s still an awesome Batman game to be had that features a storyline that’s arguably the strongest in the series. Featuring the most well-realized Gotham City environment yet, the same winning mix of stealth and combat gameplay, and killer production values, Arkham Knight may have had some platform-specific troubles, but overall, it was a fine addition to the critically-acclaimed Arkham series and the best superhero game of the year (not that there was much competition). And really, the Batmobile wasn’t as bad as everyone made out; it was actually kind of, dare we say it, fun…for the most part.
9. Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One, PC)
AAA games took most of the spotlight in 2015, but as mentioned before, this year also saw a fair number of excellent indie titles that could easily stand beside their big budget brethren. One of the best in this category is Ori and the Blind Forest, AKA the game that made PlayStation players jealous thanks to its Xbox and Windows PC exclusivity. Ori and the Blind Forest is easily one of the most beautiful games of the year, but its challenging 2D platforming remains fluid and rewarding long after the novelty of the visuals wears off (but lets be honest, they never really do). Throw in one of the most emotionally-intense and affecting openings in recent memory and you have not only the best platformer of the year, but one of the very best games of 2015.
8. Splatoon (Wii U)
Leave it to Nintendo to put a totally new spin on shooters. The Wii U may have had a pretty dismal year overall, but it did get the rare gem here and there, with Super Mario Maker and Splatoon leading the charge. While Mario Maker is an important achievement, enjoyment of what it has to offer really depends on having an affinity for sharing and designing user created content. For that reason, we have to give the nod to Splatoon as Nintendo’s best game this year, as it brought some fantastic new ideas to the arena shooter genre with its all-ages aesthetic and novel use of ink-based gameplay. Splatoon is the rare shooter that de-emphasizes killing in favor of scoring points for objectives. And while the third-person shooting mechanics are solid enough, it’s Splatoon‘s clever use of traversal and original character designs (“I’m a kid now! I’m a squid now!”) that make Splatoon truly memorable. Hopefully its success and Nintendo’s dedicated post-release support lead to this being a new franchise in the company’s already impressive catalog.
7. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Although the publicity surrounding the game’s troubled production and the falling out between its publisher Konami and lead designer Hideo Kojima arguably made more of an impact than the game itself, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is still a heck of an accomplishment. By merging the espionage series with open world design for the first time, Kojima and his team at Kojima Productions took Metal Gear to the next level, delivering arguably the deepest, most engaging entry in the series to date, at least from a pure gameplay level. Admittedly, the story elements feel a bit lacking this time out, taking a backseat to the Mother Base building elements, but it’s not a deal-breaker by any means. Somehow, Metal Gear Solid V is the most accessible and yet, deepest experience in the series so far. If this truly is the last Metal Gear game Kojima ever makes, he sure went out on a high note.
6. Destiny: The Taken King (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360)
Technically, The Taken King is an expansion and not a new game, but considering it turned one of last year’s most disappointing games into a rich, rewarding experience, Destiny: The Taken King absolutely deserves to be recognized as one of the year’s highlights. The first year of Activision and Bungie’s $500 million experiment was largely a bust, as the game was criticized for having too little content, next-to-no story whatsoever, and pretty dismal content updates, especially for a game that was trying to be the “MMO” of first-person shooters. Then The Taken King came along in September and fixed almost all of these problems while adding a number of other improvements that no one saw coming. Destiny still has a ways to go before it can legitimately be considered a modern RPG classic, but it got leaps and bounds better in 2015, and Bungie should be proud of what they achieved with The Taken King.
5. Bloodborne (PS4)
From Software, known for making brutally difficult, but immensely rewarding third-person action games such as Dark Souls, turned out arguably their crowning achievement to date this year with the Gothic horror masterpiece Bloodborne. Eschewing the dark fantasy template of the Souls series for the Lovecraftian creepiness of the fictional land of Yharnam and its blood-cursed mysteries, Bloodborne may look like a carbon copy of Dark Souls with a different thematic template, but it changes the core gameplay experience up enough to set itself apart.
From Software introduced one of the most intriguing combat systems of the year, replacing the sword and shield defensive style of Dark Souls with an offensive melee and gun combo. To survive in Bloodborne, you need to be fast and aggressive, which is a shock to the system after the more methodical approach found in From’s other games. Although Bloodborne may be a punishing experience, it’s one that’s absolutely worth getting a taste of, as you may find that this PS4 exclusive sinks its hooks into you early and doesn’t let go.
4. Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)
Lara Croft made one hell of a comeback statement with 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, but no one knew if Crystal Dynamics would be able to follow it up with a worthy sequel. Although its limited time Xbox One exclusivity and the fact that it needlessly came out on the same day as Fallout 4 definitely hurt its ability to make a statement, Rise of the Tomb Raider absolutely deserves to be praised, as it’s one of the year’s very best games. Rise takes a page from Gears of War 2‘s infamous “Bigger, Better, and More Badass” development philosophy by taking everything that worked in the first game and simply making it better in every way. The gameplay is tighter and more varied, and the environments are more interesting and packed with things do.
Most importantly though, Lara herself is much better realized this time out, being a much stronger and confident character than she was in the first game. If nothing else, Rise of the Tomb Raider is the true coming out party for one of gaming’s best female protagonists. While it sadly didn’t light up the sales charts, Crystal Dynamics deserves every bit of praise and success that comes their way because of this game; hopefully once it hits more platforms next year, Rise of the Tomb Raider will find the bigger audience it deserves.
3. Rocket League (PS4, PC)
While the two titles that rank higher on this list deserve every accolade they can get, the real 2015 success story has to be Rocket League. Here’s a game that was on nobody’s radar when it was released back in early July, but thanks in part to its inclusion as a free PS4 game on Sony’s PlayStation Plus service, it took the gaming world by storm with its ingenious pairing of rocket cars and soccer. Much more than just a novelty product, developer Psyonix essentially created an entire new sport with Rocket League. It’s an example of addictive gameplay stripped down to its simplest and most accessible form and yet, Rocket League never seems to get old. This is a game that can be picked up and understood within five minutes of playing, but can still reveal new tricks hundreds of matches later. In many ways, Rocket League is the best game of 2015 and if it wasn’t for the next two games on this list. we’d have no problem declaring it as such.
2. Fallout 4 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
In many ways, Fallout 4 is a disappointment: It’s buggy, ugly, and has some pretty significant design flaws that are hard to overlook. But Fallout 4 is also so deeply rewarding and exquisitely detailed that, even with all its warts, it still stands firmly above most other games released in 2015. While they didn’t give us the prettiest world to explore, Bethesda may have given us one of the most compelling, as its fictional rendition of a post apocalyptic Boston (refereed to here as the Commonwealth) is packed with so much to do and see, it’s mind-boggling. Every square inch of the world that Bethesda has created feels lived in and tells a story, and it’s easy to get hopelessly lost in it all. Add in the addictive new settlement building mechanic and one of the most compelling RPG storylines we’ve seen in quite some time, and Fallout 4 is a deadringer for Game of the Year. Unfortunately, the competition was stiff this year, especially in the open world RPG category, and one game in particular just narrowly edges out Bethesda’s creation…
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
2015 is the year CD Projekt Red hit the big time, with the Polish development studio deserving a spot right alongside other Western RPG legends like Bethesda and Bioware. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is not only the best entry in The Witcher series, which has quietly been one of gaming’s most interesting RPG franchises for some time now, but is so overwhelmingly impressive that it quite justifiably should be considered the best overall game of the year. The Witcher 3 is ambitious and that’s putting things lightly. It not only tells a captivating story filled with all manner of fascinating characters and incredible fantasy locations, it delievers it all in one of the most beautifully-realized open worlds we’ve ever seen.
The Witcher 3 also happened to be a breath of fresh air when it came to its business model, as CD Projekt released a number of post-release DLC packs and only asked players for more money when they released the massive expansion Hearts of Stone (and even then it was moderately priced) Although many likely ignored The Witcher 3 due to having no previous knowledge of the series, it is absolutely worth your time and money regardless of your affinity for the franchise. The Witcher 3 showed everyone how it’s done this year and it’s a game we’ll still be enjoying well into 2016.
Honorable Mentions: Super Mario Maker, Halo 5: Guardians, Her Story, Undertale, Sunless Sea, Until Dawn, Dying Light