We don’t really do “site picks” here at IncGamers. For the diplomatic consensus on annual awards, we prefer to hand over to our readers. Then if anything embarrassing happens, like Dragon Age: Inquisition winning Best PC Anything, we can blame somebody else.
But that doesn’t mean passing off all responsibility to someone else. For the past couple of years, we’ve run articles covering individual staff picks. 2014 is no exception, so here are my personal best-of-the-best titles for this side of the new year.
Had to be, really. Any regular readers (and/or regular podcast listeners) will know that Tim and I both love this game.
Since Dark Souls II is one of those games which generates more writing, talk and debate than almost any other, it’s just about impossible to say anything new and profound about it. Instead, here’s a personal anecdote. If you don’t like cat stories, you can skip to the next game.
Dark Souls II basically kept me sane for a couple of weeks. I know that’s an unusual sentiment to express about a series which requires considerable perseverance to succeed, but these were unusual circumstances. My wife and I were looking after a post-surgery cat, who needed to be confined to a single, supervised room for about a fortnight to prevent him jumping around and ripping apart his stitches. Having a 70+ hour piece of Souls action for us to alternately play in between bouts of cat-surveillance was incredibly useful to our sleep deprived brains. By the end of two weeks our Dark Souls II skills were pitiful (I even found Nashandra difficult,) but the game had just about propped up our mental health.
That was actually the (earlier) Xbox 360 version. Getting to play it again on PC a couple of months later was like revisiting an old, wise therapist who’d guided me through turbulent times. Except now he seemed especially spry, as if rejuvenated with a new lease of life. 60fps, slightly fancier graphics and loading times so fast I could barely read the item descriptions.
Thanks to a properly functioning multiplayer system (on both versions), I was able to get far deeper into multiplayer than the Games for Windows Live-gated Dark Souls had ever allowed. Few games offer the seismic satisfaction of dropping a “very good!” stone after helping someone overcome a boss through several failed attempts, or such vivid interpretive dance communications. An inferior sequel? Not in that respect. Not for me.
Three pieces of splendid DLC followed, with more potential extras in store in Scholar of the First Sin. Do the right thing, Namco: give the Dark Souls II owners on Steam a nice hefty discount.
IncGamers review policy trends a little on the harsh side. It’s not that harsh, but we do make sure that “ehh, it’s okay” equates to a 5/10 rather than a seven. Someone has to balance out all the writers doling out powder-puff 9/10s to anything with a budget behind it, so it may as well be us.
I rarely have regrets about this (overly high scores at the end of tepid review are far more likely to make me wince,) but in the case of Endless Legend I may have been slightly on the tough side. A bit. Just a tad.
To revisit my own words, Amplitude’s 4X game was “almost sublime.” It was so close to getting everything right: distinct factions, smart research ‘wheel’ system, interesting city choices, an absolutely gorgeous sense of art direction and decent-enough battles. Unfortunately, the AI was pretty bunk at launch. I stand by my decision to warn people about that and score accordingly (after all, AI interactions are a hugely significant aspect of the game); but I also want to give Endless Legend due praise for being the best sprawling-4X-strategy-type-thing I played all year.
I mean, it’s not like 4X AI is ever that great. It’s rarely (if ever?) playing by the same rules and assumptions as the player, so its failings can be quite transparent. How come that faction is so far ahead of me in science, but isn’t really utilising that advantage at all? Oh, because it’s basically cheating, so hammering me with late-tech stuff would feel a bit unfair and shit.
If you can get over the computer opponents being a bit dozy, you’ll find a strange, wonderful tiled world of cultists, dust, science-fantasy technology, industrial elves and absorbing strategic decisions. Lovely stuff.
Ubisoft had an atrocious end to 2014 on PC, but Valiant Hearts serves as a reminder that they do sometimes manage to get things right. Usually when they say “hey, small internal Ubisoft studio, go away and do something interesting.”
The something interesting in this case was an unusually decent attempt at “doing” World War One in videogame form. When companies have tried this in the past, they usually stick to biplanes or (in the case of the gloriously loopy Necrovision) adding vampires. Valiant Hearts takes more of a light puzzles and driving minigames direction, but succeeds because it keeps the game focused on characters.
There are some slight tonal problems between the graphic novel style, sombre PBS-style narration and occasionally quite silly activities the revolving cast get up to, but it’s not like World War One was lacking in absurdity. In capturing the camaraderie, labours and futility of the most idiotic of wars, Valiant Hearts does history proud.
I was a bit unsure about including Original Sin, because I never actually finished it (which is why there was no full IncGamers review.) But I did play it for more hours than most games take to complete, so you can probably trust what I have to say. Or not! It’s up to you.
Freedom of action. That’s what Divinity: Original Sin offered in abundance. I think Larian was trying to channel the early Ultima titles, but since I only really know those by reputation I’d instead compare the design to other ‘emergent’ titles like Deus Ex. The game gives you tools, it sets out the rules and then pretty much says “off you go, then.”
Your first major task is to investigate a murder, and rather than being given a bit flashing quest arrow to follow, your party duo is left to their own devices to figure things out. Maybe you’ll want to chat with some suspects. Perhaps it might be wise to distract a guard and snoop around some buildings. Or, hey, why not make use of your “Pet Pal” perk to engage the forensic nose of the deceased’s dog?
That kind of non-linear approach extends to Original Sin’s turn-based combat, where thoughtful, logical use of your skills can give you a distinct advantage. Got a wizard in your party who can make it rain? Sounds like a great opportunity to set up a chain-lighting spell. Or how about just dragging some explosive barrels into the combat arena to set up a fire screen?
In both questing and combat, Divinity: Original Sin handed the tools of progression over to the players and let them freestyle their way to RPG nirvana.
An absolutely packed end to the year meant I wasn’t able to find time to finish this innovative, alt-WWII anime spectacular. But the hours I did put in were a treat. A great PC port, and a fascinating turn-based-meets-real-time approach to strategy.
I’m a sucker for games with some thought behind their melee move-sets, so the combination of ACE Team’s always-evocative art style and a light, side-on Fighting Game style combat system kept me coming back. Which is handy, because the Rogue-ish mission to repeatedly beat up a snoozing Warlock was intended to be done multiple times.