2015 has come and gone. While soon it will exist only in our memories and the record books, it will be remembered for impacting the gaming industry in tremendously positive ways.
For me, 2015 was one of the best years in gaming ever. It had powerful releases scattered throughout the year, belonging to various genres. It saw the return of classic genres, and beloved IPs. It also became the place of rest for stories that have since come to an end.
Join me as I look back at why 2015 was one of my favorite years in gaming ever.
RPGs Were At Their Best
Bloodborne's epic debut in March showed a glimpse of what was to come in 2015. This year was rich with not just ordinary RPGs, but RPGs that will go down in history as some of the best. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Fallout 4, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Pillars of Eternity, and more. Each of these games had their own style, and their own story to tell. No matter how different they were despite sharing a genre, there was a great deal of consistency in their quality.
Most of 2015's RPGs were fun to play, and had dozens of hours of engrossing content to enjoy. While in recent years content-dense games have become uncommon, they were in abundance in 2015. I must have spent half the year playing through these RPGs, becoming absorbed in their wonderful virtual worlds. I certainly don't regret it.
Rise of the Tomb Raider Advanced the Action-Adventure Genre
It's been six years since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves changed action-adventure forever. Its storytelling, character development, level design, graphics, and audio work came together to deliver something that was unlike anything before it. All action-adventure games that would follow would learn from its successes.
After years of the genre stagnating, Rise of the Tomb Raider has demonstrated where it can improve. Its open-world environments allowed for a great deal of exploration, incentivized by desirable treasures. Its wildlife was vicious, and varied, providing intense combat scenarios. Its wide array of survival tools granted throughout the game would offer Lara Croft new means of navigating its worlds harsh terrain, buffered by an excellent leveling system with unlockable skills. Lastly, its tombs and caves had some of the best puzzle design the genre has ever seen.
The action-adventure genre has had its bar raised, and naturally that means we should expect to see other games improve accordingly.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Became Better Than CS 1.6
Just over a decade ago I was a competitive Counter-Strike 1.6 player. I played the game for hours a day for years, and competed in both online and LAN tournaments. I desired to become better at the game, trained to achieve such, and love the game to this day for its simplicity and precision. It is without a doubt my favorite first-person shooter of all-time.
Counter-Strike: Source soon became the next big thing. Sadly, I never cared for it much, and certainly not enough to spend time competing in the game. Once Counter-Strike: Global Offensive rolled around several years later, it showed tremendous promise. With a couple years of Valve-quality patches, it would become comparable to the greatness of Counter-Strike 1.6.
This year Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was improved in ways that made it better for both casual and hardcore players. It was further balanced, introduced new content, and even had its hitboxes improved. The result is that it has become a 680,000+ concurrent player game that regularly tops the game list on Twitch, and for good reason. The game feels finely tuned, is a blast to play, and has the most reliable shooting mechanics in the world. It is the ultimate competitive first-person shooters, and for veterans like myself it's great to be able to re-experience what it feels like to win rounds and get a high KDR in a game of this level.
Classic Genres Made a Triumphant Return
A few of the best games this year weren't necessarily ones that advanced the medium, but rather relived the golden age of gaming. Undertale's 8-bit visuals may have kept some potential buyers at bay, but those who gave it a chance were treated to a delightful re-imagining of late 80's RPGs. It wasn't just a copy of what had been played before, though. Its writing was top-notch, invoking laughter and keeping players interested. It also had some unique combat mechanics that constantly evolved throughout the game.
Similarly, Pillars of Eternity reminded many why cRPGs can be some of the most interesting games. It had fantastic characters, and RPG elements that made progression an exciting affair.
While dissimilar, Rare Replay served as a great way for me to see why games such as Banjo-Kazooie were praised many years ago, equipped with a wide library of memorable titles.
StarCraft's Story Arrived At Its Conclusion
StarCraft was the first RTS as well as my first online game that I ever played. It goes without saying that the series holds a great amount of importance to me. I remember playing through its campaign mode when I was just 12 years old. Its sense of scale, and iconic factions compelled me to listen to the story it had to tell. It would take 17 years for that story to come to an end.
StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void is the end of the current legacy of StarCraft. It wraps up major plot elements, and even takes the life of major characters. Playing through it was emotional and gripping.
Once its story was over, Legacy of the Void did a great job of making the series accessible to everyone through Archon mode and Co-Op. Now, even older fans like myself can dive in and have fun without fear of being overwhelmed with tasks.
PC Hardware Was More Powerful and Affordable Than Ever
While it's true that in year's past it would cost upward of $1500 to craft a high end gaming PC, that's no longer the case. The introduction of Nvidia's GTX 970 during the last quarter of 2014, as well as optimization of the manufacturing process of nearly every other component has resulted in affordable hardware across the board.
I ended up with my first SSD, which has reduced loading games by more than 200% across my operating system and games. My GTX 970 was able to run just about every game at Ultra settings on my newly acquired 27" 1440p monitor, which was half the price it was just a year ago.
PC gaming is on the rise, and for good reason. For less than $1000 games can be played at a level of realism that was previously only dreamed of. Gaming experiences are becoming more immersive, and all thanks to huge advancements in PC hardware.
Forza Motorsport 6 Was the Best Racing Game Since GT3
I consider Gran Turismo 3 to be one of my top 10 games of all-time. It captivated me unlike any racer before it, resulting in me becoming interested in cars, their specs, and how they work allowing me to share a hobby with my father. It's been a while since that game came out, and while I've had fun with many racing game since then, none have captivated me to the same degree. That is, until Forza Motorsport 6.
Forza Motorsport 6 has everything I've wanted from a modern racing game. It has a huge roster of highly detailed cars, each with a great level of tuning options. It has a wide breadth of tracks, allowing me to master the most famous corners in the world. Its handling model was meticulously crafted, finding a sweet balance between realism and great steering feel. Lastly, it introduced the most thoughtful weather effects in any racing game in history, introducing realistic puddles and rain drops.
It was so good I found myself spending hundreds of dollars on a racing wheel set. I play the game every week, if only to do some laps around Nurburgring in my favorite cars.
I Returned To Final Fantasy XI One Last Time
Final Fantasy XI was my first MMO experience. It holds my greatest and most vivid memories for any online multiplayer game. Sadly, this year the final patch for the game arrived. The game has essentially come to an end after more than 10 years of reign, where it has become the most profitable game in the Final Fantasy series.
Although at this point its presentation and gameplay is completely antiquated, I found myself returning for nostalgia. I would spend two months of my Summer once again captivated by the world of Vana'Diel. I was able to re-experience how far people its players are willing to go to help one another, and become part of a great community, which has become lost in nearly every modern MMO.
I'll have more to say about this in a feature later this month.
Virtual Reality Proved It's the Real Deal
Throughout the year virtual reality headset manufacturers have been doing everything they can to get consumers to come to shows and try out VR for themselves. Oculus Rift ended up at every major gaming and electronics show, resulting in continued hype for its debut next year. Meanwhile, Sony made strong efforts at E3 and Tokyo Game Show.
Next year virtual reality will be a real thing you can go to the store and buy, but before then it's needed to prove itself, and boy has it. It's been a popular discussion topic among gamers, and those who have used it have had encouraging things to say. Revolution is just around the corner.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain wasn't just a big release that made a lot of money and was beloved by many reviewers, it was a game that held tremendous importance. It was the final Hideo Kojima developed Metal Gear that the world will ever see. For all intents and purposes, it was the end of Metal Gear and Big Boss.
All the painstaking hours that Kojima and the team at Kojima Productions put into its game showed. It is regarded as having the best stealth-action gameplay of any title in history, as well as one of the most optimized engines.
The story of Metal Gear has come to an end, and experiencing it as someone who has loved the series since 1998 was something unforgettable. It has evolved so much, and come so far. Thank you Kojima for all the great experiences.