Prestigious GOTY Awards 2K15

GOTY, Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

While I certainly didn’t do too much writing this year, I definitely still played a lot of games. Rather than organizing a half hearted Top Ten or Top Five list that doesn’t always accurately convey what made each game truly special, I’ll do some more specific categories.

Light spoilers ahead.

Prettiest Game

Bloodborne

It may be my least favorite of the “Souls” franchise overall, but damn, it easily has the best art style of them all. From the gloomy stonework of the decidedly gothic streets of Central Yharnam to the maddeningly nonsensical cliffs, valleys, and lakes of the Nightmare Frontier, the environments of Bloodborne have the intense beauty of an extremely unnerving painting, but it’s even better in motion. Vicar Amelia’s flowing hair and serene glow as she tries to horrifically maim you inside of a dreamily lit church cathedral stands out in my mind as the moment in which I realized that Bloodborne’s visuals were something truly special. Too bad they had to absolutely murder the frame-rate to achieve such incredible visual design but whatever.

Favorite Multiplayer Game

FFXIV: Heavensward

Picking an MMO as my favorite multiplayer game is a huge step towards me finally admitting that maybe I’m not as sick of them as I once thought. After the incredible experiences that were Star Wars Galaxies and Burning Crusade era WOW, I became pretty fed up with the fact that MMOs never seem to truly progress as a genre. But, dammit, I started playing Final Fantasy XIV earlier this year and didn’t stop until I had cleared most of the content up thru Heavensward… Almost 200 hours later. The formula mostly remains the same as always; quest, grind, loot, and dungeon runs until you’re ready for the big leagues of raiding. But FFXIV has awesome aesthetics, a surprisingly engaging plot to follow, and a number of quality of life player conveniences that make it feel fresh enough to keep even the most jaded MMO hater enthralled.

Plus, most of the dungeons are really fucking good.

Favorite Soundtrack

Undertale

This was a tough decision for me considering that MGSV and Bloodborne both came out this year and have absolutely incredible soundtracks.

Undertale is nothing if not interesting and this particularly shows in the game’s eclectic mix of tunes. From melancholic, folky guitar riffs to silly and upbeat chip tune tracks, Undertale’s music is both extremely varied and highly affecting. I can call to mind each in game moment when I hear its accompanying song. I can’t think of a game from 2015 whose identity is so intrinsically tied to its music.

Game I Played The Least Before Deciding I didn’t Like It

Mad Max

Sticky driving, tired hand to hand combat, innumerable open world game design tropes and some developer’s Dad doing a horrible Max impression all caused my patience with this one to run out in about two hours. It’s too bad because the visuals are stunning and there is likely some good buried deep within this game, you just have to do far too much scavenging to find it.

Most Disappointing Game

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I was saving this category for Fallout 4’s stark mediocrity but, honestly, I can’t seem to get over the depressingly empty feeling that the “conclusion” of Metal Gear Solid V left me with. Perhaps that was the whole point of it, and if so, congrats to them for fucking up my entire life. I mean, the fact that the story meandered around awkwardly for forty hours before just deciding to wrap up with a twist that most of us saw coming from the first big trailer is pretty upsetting to me. Venom Snake barely saying a fucking word and a distinct lack of stupidly long cutscenes were just the icing on the cake.

Oh well, at least it was fun to play I guess.

Favorite Game

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 likely makes my top ten games of all time list. The combat is vastly improved from The Witcher 2 which immediately fixes my biggest problem with that game. Throw in an exceptionally designed world that, in all its beauty and horror, actually feels like a real place despite the inclusion of mysticism, and some of the best character writing in the past few years of gaming, and what you have is an open world RPG that feels truly special. Many of the side missions in The Witcher 3 could be the main storyline in a number of lesser RPGs. Not once in my 100 hour playthrough did I feel like I just wanted the game to be over.

I mean, I really fucking like it.

Images courtesy of giantbomb.com

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Bloodborne’s fukkin easy, fam

Opinion, Video Games

Just kidding. Sort of.

Jeff mentioned in the last two Bombcasts that he felt like Bloodborne was much easier than he’d anticipated. In the discussion that followed, the bombcast crew briefly touched on the idea that perhaps this was because the Souls series’ reputation for being completely impenetrable was inaccurate to some degree. This definitely has a lot to do with it. Thanks to a combination of overbearing Bandai/Namco ads talking about how “OMG UR DEF GONNA DIE BCAUSE ITS SO HARD” and many mainstream gaming journalists consistently falling in line with this marketing ploy to some degree, what you have is a series that is unfairly passed over by many people because they just think that they wouldn’t be able to handle it.

The truth is that Souls games just value observation and patience over any form of raw skill, mechanical comprehension, or character build quality. Obviously having any or all of these things can make your time with a Souls game even easier but someone with the ability to patiently observe and calmly react to situations could make their way through the game without ever having to understand any of the admittedly sometimes overwhelming systems that are at play in these titles. And I think this is where the disconnect is for many people. Few other games ask players to be so consistently careful and even fewer games punish players as harshly for their carelessness.

This is where some of the changes in Bloodborne come into play and why the newest FromSoft title is the easiest in many ways.

From has, pretty smartly, made the initial playthrough of the game a bit easier when compared to past titles, but left the difficulty there for those that want it, locked away in chalice dungeons and NG+.

The biggest change has to be the health regain system that allows players to partially regain their health by striking an enemy after being damaged. This effectively lessens the punishment of player mistakes and somewhat encourages sloppier play. This, in turn, ensures that fewer blood vials will be used which, considering that players can now have 20+ healing items on them at any time, makes it quite easy to not have to use too many vials prior to reaching the boss. Being forced to use some of your valuable healing items on the run to the boss was a major point of difficulty in the past.

Healing is also now extremely fast, occurring in roughly a single second. Compared to the absurdly slow animation for drinking an estus flask in Dark Souls, this makes healing while in immediate danger actually feasible. Not to mention that the new dash makes backpedaling your way out of a fucked situation that much quicker, after which you can just quickly pop off 2 of your 20 blood vials. Combine all of this with the new ranged parries that are just as easy to pull off as shield bash parries in Demon’s or Dark Souls, except you can stand outside of melee range to do them. Or stand in melee range, potentially take a hit, and still regain your health off of a parry.

From aren’t stupid, though. They’ve been pretty aware of what aspects of the Souls series their fans love and these changes are, of course, intentional. They even took steps to balance them out. Armor now does little to protect you from physical damage meaning large enemies hit you harder than ever. They’ve added more random flailing to bosses which ensures that their movesets can’t be memorized as easily. NPC hunters can really take you out to pasture, too. Not to mention that the final (human) boss is one of the most challenging and enjoyable fights of its kind that the series has ever seen.

Bloodborne is certainly still quite a challenging game at times and has all of that Miyazaki “charm” in shiny new wrappings. It’s a great game and will easily be in my top ten at the end of the year, but it is far less punishing and much more accessible than what series veterans may have become used to.

The difficulty of Souls games is DEFINITELY oversold by many but, make no mistake, Bloodborne is definitely the easiest one of the bunch.

Images courtesy of Playstation.com/en-us/