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We’ve had the year of the bow. We’ve had the year of Luigi. What was 2015 the year of?

It can be hard to find yearly trends, since the industry is as bigger and more diverse than ever before. However, we’ve still noticed some movements, themes, and policy shifts that helped to define gaming in 2015.

Nintendo is adding a Web portal to discover levels in Super Mario Maker.

Above: Nintendo made some innovative games in 2015.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Nintendo goes out of its comfort zone

You know it’s a weird year when one of Nintendo’s biggest games is an online shooter. Splatoon was a surprise hit in 2015. It even managed to win The Game Award’s Best Shooter category, beating out the likes of Halo 5 and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. All of this from a company that was once notorious for poor online features.

Super Mario Maker is another big Nintendo game for 2015, and it also focuses on online features. Much of the fun comes from checking out community levels and uploading your own. Super Mario Maker itself is something of a great experiment. We’ve seen Nintendo add creation tools in games like Smash Bros. and Mario vs. Donkey Kong, but Super Mario Maker is all about letting gamers make their own levels.

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The few times you will die in the Witcher 3, it's due to a lacked of preparedness.

Above: The Witcher 3 was a huge game.

Image Credit: CD Projekt RED

Open world games dominate

Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: Three of this year’s biggest games, and they all feature an open world. But it goes deeper. You also have Just Cause 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Mad Max, and Batman: Arkham Knight. Don’t forget about Xenoblade Chronicles X, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and Dying Light.

It seems like open world games make up half of the triple-A market these days. It’s a trend that started with this new console generation, as the extra power in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One gave developers more tools for making massive worlds. Even series that used to be relatively linear, like Metal Gear Solid, have gone the open world route.

Tales from the Borderlands 5 fiona-jack-screens

Above: Tales from the Borderlands was another Telltale hit.

Image Credit: Telltale Games

Episodic gaming

Telltale continued to make notable episodic series in 2015, including Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands. However, we’ve seen more companies embrace the splintered release method this year. Square Enix released the episodic Life is Strange, and Activision started a new King’s Quest series under its Sierra Games branch. Now, even the Final Fantasy VII Remake plans to release in multiple parts, showing us that the episodic trend will likely only get bigger in 2016.

My Vault in Fallout Shelter has some dead bodies in it.

Above: My Vault in Fallout Shelter has some dead bodies in it.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi/Bethesda

Triple-A gaming franchises make worthwhile mobile experiences

Months before Fallout 4 came out, Bethesda shocked fans with the addicting Fallout Shelter. Instead of trying to distill the complicated role-playing game into a simplified mobile experience, Fallout Shelter instead created a fun, free-to-play experience that let players create and manage their own vaults.

The Tomb Raider series also had mobile success. While the main series had rebooted itself with a more realistic direction, Lara Croft Go was a nostalgic platformer/puzzle game that worked surprisingly well on mobile.

Halo 5: Guardians Arena combatants.

Above: Halo 5: Guardians Arena combatants.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Free maps

It looks like the age of map packs might finally be ending. Bungie promised players that every map added to Halo 5: Guardians would be free, and so far its kept its word. Nintendo has done the same for Splatoon, giving away all post-launch maps for no charge. Not only does this give everyone more content, but it keeps the player-base from becoming segmented.

Of course, not everyone’s on board. Call of Duty: Black Ops III still plans to charge players for map packs, and while Star Wars: Battlefront gave away Jakku for free, we know that players will have to buy some of the future levels. Baby steps, guys.

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