Game of the Year: Far Cry 4 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
Far Cry 4 hosts some interesting characters, especially the crazed, oppressive dictator, Pagan Min. But the real star of the first-person action adventure sequel is the living, breathing world that Ubisoft created and named Kyrat. The fortysomething hours I spent exploring the mysterious, mountainous Himalayan region were simply my most entertaining gaming hours in 2014.
I climbed insanely high peaks, soared over poppy fields, discovered lost treasure in long-forgotten hillside caves, and witnessed the wildlife of Kyrat in its primal glory. With bears fighting it out in isolated valleys, eagles terrorizing the local population, and elephants idling on riverbanks, the animals of Far Cry 4 are incredible. Well, except for the damn honey badgers. The less said about them, the better.
Small, game-changing decisions by Ubisoft, like the addition of a nimble but flimsy helicopter and the option to ride into battle on elephant-back, grenade launcher in hand, elevated Far Cry 4 way beyond its predecessor.
Sure, the vehicles are a little clunky to control, and the dialogue can get a bit repetitive. But in terms of sheer pleasure, Far Cry 4 totally delivers. Its lengthy single player campaign, diverse range of side-quests, cooperative gameplay, and selection of multiplayer modes — diverting enough, but unlikely to rival the big MP draws — also made it one of the best bang-per-buck titles of the year.
Heck, I even stuck around long enough to get the Platinum trophy, and I thought I gave up collecting those a long time ago. I can’t think of higher praise than that.
Runner-up #1: Bayonetta 2
Runner-up #2: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Game of the Year: Bravely Default (3DS)
Bravely Default is like a delicious meal that I never want to finish. It starts off in a really bland way: Four heroes must awaken four crystals to restore the world to its former glory. I thought I knew where it was heading — years of playing Final Fantasy and other Japanese role-playing games have made me aware of every “save the world” cliché there is — but it subverts the genre in small, ingenious ways. I’m still blown away by how it gives you the option to fast-forward through the turn-based combat (I have the medium setting turned on all the time). That’s basically developers Square Enix and Silicon Studio saying “We know how tedious grinding for levels can be, so here’s something cool to get through it.” I’ve used it so much that normal speed just feels like everything is moving in slow-motion.
The characters are refreshingly different as well. The numerous conversations they have add so much flavor to their personalities, and I feel like I’m watching them grow and mature throughout this journey. The voice actors behind them are also fantastic: They deftly move between comedy and tragedy (how could you not love Ringabel?).
I’ve been savoring the experience, with about 60 hours spread across the last six months, but it looks like I’m only halfway through the game. That’s the thing about Bravely Default — it never stops surprising me. I don’t think I can ask for anything more out of an RPG.
Runner-up #1: The Walking Dead: Season Two
Runner-up #2: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Game of the Year: LittleBigPlanet 3 (PlayStation 3)
My 2013 Game of the Year was Tearaway, the other project from LittleBigPlanet creator Media Molecule. And I know I’m repeating myself, but 2014 is no different: It was nice to take a break from all of the bleakness of the major releases and play something that celebrates fun and inspiration.
Developer Sumo Digital took over for Media Molecule this time, and its contributions include a handful of new, playable characters, full voice acting, and huge expansions on what was already one of the most comprehensive level-creation systems around.
And even if you don’t feel like making anything, the community area contains millions of player-created stages for you to check out, and with the new tools, some can even be big enough to qualify as full games.
But beyond all of that other, mechanical stuff, LittleBigPlanet 3 is a game with a single, noble purpose: to make everyone who plays it smile. It’s a soft, woolen island of happiness in an ocean of bullet-riddled cynic-fests, and like last year, I appreciated the change in tone.
Runner-up #1: Road Not Taken
Runner-up #2: The Wolf Among Us
Game of the Year: Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
BioWare is one of the only developers that has given me the chance to experience time travel. Whenever I pop Dragon Age: Inquisition into my PlayStation 4, I suddenly get transported many hours into the future. That’s how immersive this game is. Everything about Inquisition is epic — from its expansive levels to its captivating cast. It has a sticky, addictive quality that is just too good.
While offerings like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim give players unprecedented freedom to explore, Inquisition is more intimate. It makes you care about its characters and the chaotic world they inhabit. As the Inquisitor, you’ll make decisions that will impact your journey. And you’ll act as confidant to a diverse group of memorable allies who will become more important to you as the battles rage.
You get quality and quantity with Inquisition. It gives you a ton of stuff to do. If you want to ride around the countryside on your armored steed in search of herbs to make potions with, you can do that. If you feel like slaying some dragons, you can do that. And if you want to obsess over the decor of your mountaintop stronghold, you can do that, too.
I don’t just play Dragon Age: Inquisition. I savor it. This is a special game, and it’s getting my vote for the best game of 2014.
Runner-up #1: South Park: The Stick of Truth (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Runner-up #2: Titanfall (Xbox One, PC)