Obsidian had a daunting task before them: to make a spiritual successor to a series of games that are inextricably tangled up in nostalgia, over a decade after the height of those games' popularity. This is not the Baldur's Gate of 2015, it's Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, the best parts of the lot of them wrapped up in something new and brilliant. And before you venture forth, don't forget to gather your party.
South Park: The Stick of Truth feels like it's been 16 years in the making, drawing on the high points from 17 seasons of lewd hilarity. Kenny dies a lot, and those immortal lines are uttered; Jimmy takes five minutes to spit out a sentence, requiring players to press a button to skip it; and Canada is a weird place containing dire bears, farting comedy duos and queefing women - it's all there. This is South Park, and Obsidian's RPG design at their very best.
Sunless Sea does demand a lot from its captains, though. Patience, mainly. It's a slow, deliberate game, where a journey across the map can take an age, and where secrets are unfurled without haste. But the sea offers up a veritable bounty of rewards, and absolutely the best writing in any video game since, well, as long as I can remember.
Perhaps The Witcher 3 could have done with another month or so of extra development to work out the kinks, but even without the extra time it's an enormously impressive game that proves, in case there was any doubt, that gargantuan games don't need to be stuffed with forgettable filler guff. Any worries that, by making the game open world, CD Projekt Red were just following popular trends should be set aside, because The Witcher 3 dances to its own tune. There isn't an RPG like it out there, not even its predecessors, and its uniqueness should be treasured.
When I play Divinity: Original Sin, I'm back in my parents' study, gleefully skipping homework as I explore the vast city of Athkatla. I'm overstaying my welcome at a friend's house, chatting to Lord British. And it's not because the game is buying me with nostalgia, but because it's able to evoke the same feelings: that delight from doing something crazy and watching it work, the surprise when an inanimate object starts talking to me and sends me on a portal-hopping quest across the world. There's whimsy and excitement, and those things have become rare commodities. Yet Divinity: Original Sin is full of them.
The journey through Drangleic needs to be experienced. It's a marriage of phenomenal world design and impressively tight mechanics. And then it probably needs to be experienced all over again through New Game +. It's undoubtedly bloody hard work, but that just makes every sliver of success precious. Hurrah for Dark Souls II.
Her Story is a captivating experiment in stripped down storytelling and the best use of FMV that I've ever had the good fortune to encounter. It's a story that we get to build, and thus, despite the way that it sometimes keeps players at a distance, Her Story becomes Our Story. By obsessing over clips and trying to put them in order, trying to make sense of them all, we become embroiled in the story and can make it fit our own theories. It's unique, singular and will take a long time to stop bouncing around inside my head.
The Journey Down: Chapter Two was worth the two year wait. It's comfortingly traditional if you pine for the old days, but not laden down with overly elaborate multi-layered puzzles that'll keep you bashing your head against the wall for hours. It's an adventure game for the times where you want to just relax, and maybe feel a little cleverer than you really are. Here's to hoping we're not looking at another long wait for the finale.
It's a rare misstep, however, and despite it, Amid the Ruins is another phenomenal episode, building up to a finale where I can honestly say I don't have a clue what's going to happen. All I do know is that it can't be good. I hadn't noticed it until now, but Clem's journey has been mirroring Lee's from Season 1. And like her adoptive father, she may very well find herself being judged come the finale. I'm not looking forward to it.
Cigarette in one hand, and now a whisky in the other, I watch as the credits roll. The climax of the episode is a big one, masterfully presented to ensure the maximum emotional impact and lots of awful regrets. "I've made a terrible mistake," I say as the credits fade. "I'm going to pay for it in the next episode."
While still an RTS, Ardennes Assault takes a lot of cues from wargames. By opening it up and providing countless meaningful choices and random events, Relic has put the war in the players' hands. It's not a directed journey through a bunch of scenarios where winning is all that matters; it's a persistent struggle where failure is always nipping at the Americans' heels, where an entire company can be lost in battle, making the war seem even more desperate. It's exhausting, and the best game in the Company of Heroes series.
I worried that, after years of playing its predecessor and all of its expansions, I would be too familiar with Galactic Civilizations III. I worried that I'd get a bit tired of it too quickly. This hasn't remotely been the case. I'm hooked in the same way I was with the last game, and not because it's stayed the same, but because it's managed to strike that balance between the comfortingly familiar and the refreshingly new.
Cities: Skylines is absolutely the best city-builder I've played since SimCity 4. From macro to micro, from the sprawling transport networks and city-wide policies to the fine-tuned districts and street-level detail, it impresses. Its size and flexibility creates a fertile space for experimentation, making each new map, or even each new plot, a place to try out new plans for a hyper-efficient green utopia, filthy industrial powerhouse or anything in between.
Endless Legend combines fantastic fiction with compelling strategy. Underpinning it all is a strong design philosophy that connects the tenets of the 4X genre together seamlessly, while providing a plethora of options without being overwhelming. Even during a time when we're seeing a lot of 4X offerings, it sets itself apart, promising something different from its contemporaries.