No one really does much to commemorate the halfway mark of a year. Well, we’re going to change that. See, everyone loves picking their favorite games at the end of a year. We decided to get an early start.
Alright, admittedly it’s a little silly. But what the hell, it gives us a chance to highlight some of favorite games without having to wait another six months.
Below, you’ll find each of our picks for our favorite game from the first half of 2014. You’ll find a pretty wide range of titles, everything from role-playing games to competitive shooters. In fact, only one game got picked by more than one staff member. And if you click here, you’ll find the games we’re looking forward to later this year.
Enjoy! We’ll see you again in another six months.
Game of the Half Year: Don’t Starve (PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4)
For this “Game of the Half Year” recognition, I kept going over three games in my head: Titanfall, Watch Dogs, and Infamous: Second Son. I had almost decided on one (it would’ve been Second Son), when I remembered what 2014 release I really spent the most time with: Don’t Starve.
This quirky thing was sometimes more work than play: hunt and forage, craft weapons and appliances, stay warm, and scrounge up enough sustenance to see another day. But I was compelled by this mysterious world that gives you no other guidance other than “just live.” I would explore for the best places to trap delicious rabbits, I would do hit-and-run missions to grab the eggs of the mysterious one-eyed giants, I would cheer when I found rare materials, and I would pause the game every 10 minutes to look up another life-saving recipe that I could make from the weird assortment of food that I’ve gathered.
I love this game.
(And yes, technically, Don’t Starve first released in 2013 on PC and Mac. But I didn’t play it until it hit the PS4 earlier in 2014, so I’m counting it for this year for purposes of this award. C’mon, it’s the “Game of the Half Year” — we don’t have to be that strict on the rules, do we?)
Game of the Half Year: Titanfall (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC)
I really enjoyed Watch Dogs. The concept was great, but the game got a little tedious, stretched out as it was across an open world and 46 missions. Titanfall, on the other hand, delivered a great deal of fun in short multiplayer bursts. Respawn Entertainment approached the shooter with a fresh eye, adding some cool features like AI-controlled grunts who were the cannon fodder of the matches. Even if you couldn’t get a bead on a quick human player, you could always count on scoring some points by taking out some grunts. That helped democratize the scores in what would otherwise be lopsided multiplayer contests.
Such features and quick, easy gameplay made the game more accessible than other hardcore games. The only trouble was that the experience was short. After you hit 50 levels, there wasn’t much to do but start over. There’s more content coming, but a lot of the excitement is already dying down.
Game of the Half Year: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (PC, iPad)
I played Hearthstone every day but two so far in 2014, and I was in a casino without my laptop or tablet on those days, otherwise I would’ve (I doubt the Nugget’s staff would’ve approved of that at the blackjack table).
What makes Hearthstone a must-play, every day, for me? I enjoy the daily quests to gain gold, but other games do that, so that’s not the big draw. For me, it’s tinkering with my decks, seeing the strategies others employ, and the competitiveness inherent in the collectible card-battler. I level up my decks, adding gold cards that you earn as you advance. I’m halfway to getting my first gold hero (you need 500 wins with a hero to get that). I laugh as I play my Deathrattle-themed deck, one which I formed before the Deathrattle-themed Curse of Naxxramus was even announced, and trigger off three or four explosions in one turn as cards die. The community (at least though I’ve interacted with) is great, and I enjoy talking with people online and in-person about it.
And it’s just damn fun.
Game of the Half Year: Titanfall (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC)
Fine. I’m that guy. I think the crowd turned on this one pretty quickly. Respawn’s sci-fi shooter had a ton of hype going into its March release, and it burned brightly … for a few weeks. Now, almost no one is talking about it. I even cooled on it myself (after about 100 hours), but then Respawn started churning out updates and adding tiny but significant features. Now, I think it’s definitely my game of the year so far.
It feels great to control, the battles are always dynamic and crazy, and it’s difficult to go through a match without at least one “Xbox, record that” moment. I don’t know if it’ll still top my list at the end of 2014, but it’s given me more enjoyment than anything else so far in 2014.
Game of the Half Year: Bravely Default (3DS)
Last year, I picked Fire Emblem Awakening, a role-playing game for the 3DS, as my favorite game. So far, another 3DS RPG is taking my top spot for 2014.
Bravely Default is a fantastic callback to the sort of epic adventures I loved playing on the Super Nintendo, like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. It also introduces some innovative battle mechanics that add layers of depth to the traditional turn-based battle system.
Oh, and the soundtrack is fantastic. A few of the tracks have earned a permanent place in my video game music playlist.
Game of the Half Year: Dark Souls II (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
I had avoided the Souls franchise in all of its incarnations out of fear of being proven weak when it came to my gamer skills. But fate brought a copy of Dark Souls II my way just when I was feeling masochistic enough to give it a try. My misconceptions about myself and the action-RPG were delightfully disproved. It was the biggest surprise of the year until E3 told me I was going to be playing Grim Fandango on my Vita soon.
Dark Souls II is a game that doesn’t hate the player, it just trusts their intelligence. Each death comes with the awareness of the specific failures you can and will overcome. The game manages to draw you into a sort of trance, fully entrenching you in the world without needing to hit you over the head with exposition every ten minutes. Sixty hours flew by in a way I haven’t seen since my time with Final Fantasy VII or IX.
Dark Souls II is at both a tough but forgiving old school adventure and a wholly unique way to leave the rest of the world to its own devices for a few hours. Nothing else this year has come close.
Game of the Half Year: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3)
I didn’t play a lot of new games in the first half of this year, and this was a title I liked more for its intent than its execution. This conclusion to the Final Fantasy XIII saga is an open-world title in a realm approaching Armageddon that was vague at times and makes the player a servant to a draconian clock mechanic (and a strategy guide). I also get the feeling that the biblical-themed story would be better as a stand-alone tale rather than contorting it into FF13’s already complex universe.
But hear me out.
I did like that Lightning was more than a monster-killer for hire — she has to save the world by actually helping people as completing subquests was necessary to earn stat boosts and each mission attempts to focus on different ways that people handle death and find closure to their lives. Lighting Returns also reimaginges its battle system as a highly customizable affair based on meter management, timing attacks, and selecting the best classes to exploit enemy weaknesses. Plus, the game isn’t afraid to put the pink-haired heroine in challenging situations that force you to keep an eye on your lifebar. Lightning Returns is a game of ideas that’s messy and confounding but also interesting in its own way.
Game of the Half Year: Smite (PC)
Just over a year and a half ago, I watched a video of the Greek God of the Sea, Poseidon, releasing the Kraken on Ra, the Egyptian Sun God, utterly engulfing him in an explosion of water and scales and teeth. I’ve played Smite nearly every day since.
As a guy that made several earnest attempts to enjoy the click, click, clicking of the genre’s traditional archetypes, limping away from each experience unsatisfied and confused as to why they just didn’t grab me, Smite’s control scheme (W,A,S,D) and skill shots (you have to aim every ability, melee and ranged attack) answered those questions. On paper, all games of this sort share the same necessity for strategy, cooperation, and tactics. But Smite, to me, has that hook factor that just keeps me coming back day after day. The excellently visualized and themed Gods from various pantheons speak to the kid in me who grew up devouring mythology; the third-person view, personal controls, and skill-based attacks play on my competitive desires; and the innumerable moments in every match that contribute to the final outcome beckon to the strategist in me. Smite is a MOBA for people who don’t know they actually like MOBAs.
Granted, Smite enjoyed a lengthy open beta, but the third-person, action-based MOBA only just officially released this year. And while some might look at that as cheating, Smite is a radically different game today than it was when I first caught sight of it in 2013, and it’s evolving every day.