Paddy's Highlights of 2015 - HighrezGaming

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The Witcher 3

Right, straight up top, I didn’t review The Witcher 3, I was way too busy playing it, Gordon did and he’s categorically wrong about most of his complaints and probably played the PS4 version. It IS the best game this year, and it’s sure as hell the best game of the console “generation”. What the shit else is better? Splatoon? More like Shatoon. The Order 1886? More like “Better order 1886 more newbie game devs so we can make a decent looking game that’s more than 15 minutes long”. Metal Gear Solid V? More like Metal Gear Squalid shite. Actually I really liked MGS V, but it doesn’t make it to my top 3 because the longer you play it the worse it gets. The Witcher 3, however, came out and even people who didn’t really like the first two literally ejaculated with glee. It’s such a well-made game.

Sure it was buggy, but can you name me a AAA title that wasn’t buggy this year? Sure it looked “worse” than it did at E3, but that’s because the technology involved to make a game of this scope look like those demos just wasn’t going to work. And sure, the controls were a touch fiddly/floaty, until you find the walk button.

But for each of those negative points, there are legions good things.

The Witcher 3 is a smartly written game with strong combat and visuals where any single moment in the game looks like a concept painting. It’s moment to moment gameplay hits it’s beats almost perfectly in terms of pacing, and the innovations here make me wonder what the actual fuck Bioware and Bethesda have been doing for the past decade. The only way you could possibly think this isn’t the future of RPGs is if you never played it, or you’re such a Bioware fanboy that you think every single biped in the galaxy should animate identically and slide off camera post-conversation.

Scratch that, this isn’t the future of RPGs simply because CDProjekt RED is a smallish company that makes roughly two games a decade and none of the big companies can be arsed to go so far as making a side quest interesting, or writing a nuanced female character (and no, your “femshep” not being able to decide if she wants to have sex with Kaiden or Liara doesn’t count, because the answer should always be Kaiden). The only way I can fault the writing is that some characters returning from the Witcher books do some very out of character things.

So, there’s The Witcher 3, a game that’s overwhelmingly beautiful to look at, features some of the best writing in games, has wonderful gameplay and is the best game that came out in 2015. Oh, and the first paid for DLC “Hearts of Stone” is wonderful, and if you didn’t like the controls, there’s been an alternative control mode patched in.
Pillars of Eternity

I will never stop bringing Pillars of Eternity up when I mention how shit Fallout 4 is. Pillars just does all the things that old CRPGs did right and then some, and Fallout and Fallout 2 were old CRPGs. Fallout 4 is so far removed from these games (but so was Fallout 3) that I can barely abide it.

Pillars isn’t The Witcher 3 level beautiful, but it is beauteous in its own way. Back in the old days, before we had 18 squillion polygons to throw into each and every rock, games had pre-rendered backgrounds, because you could make them look amazing for a limited technical budget and Pillars pulls this off magnificently. It looks absolutely gorgeous and would look as good running on a TI-86 calculator (if you’ll excuse my hyperbole).

It’s a real technical achievement, and that’s not even the good part of the game. This is a big, finely crafted game with likeable characters, set in a unique world that’s almost wholly original. Yet again, this is full of interesting quests and side quests and optional challenges (Jesus, I really do have a type don’t I?)

I can’t praise the game enough for feeling lovingly made, and for fixing all those old RPG niggles that makes them tough to pick up and play, but as expected of Obsidian Entertainment, it’s a wonderful RPG in spite of the numerous bugs. Now it’s been patched up a bit and can be frequently found on sale on various digital distribution platforms there’s really no excuse to not play this, it’s deep and engrossing and I love it. I really need to find time to play that damn expansion.
Elite Dangerous: Horizons

Now, Horizons is technically just an expansion, however, purchasing it gets you the whole base game too (I’m hoping that selling each expansion for £40 doesn’t become a habit for them, or at least that greater discounts are offered to folks who already own them).

I’m in a love-hate relationship with Elite Dangerous, in my prior review, I slagged it a bit for not respecting my time, and for giving you surprisingly little to do in a to-scale model of the entire bloody Milky Way. But c’mon! It’s a to-scale model of the entire bloody Milky Way, while it’s not lovingly hand-crafted it’s a triumph of software engineering. Elite games have always been WAY before their time technically, and this is no different.

I think, to be fair to the game, I was absolutely looking at it the wrong way though, there’s LOADS to do when you learn to play it, and it has that wonderful Dark Souls-like system of not really telling you how to play it, and rewarding you for exerting your abilities, or PUNISHING YOU SAVAGELY for overexerting them. It’s absolutely the best space flight sim that’s available, and if you’re the kind of boring bastard who thinks Eve Online is good, you can even play it in boring ways like just running endless trade routes for money.

Horizons adds a sizeable chunk of new stuff, most of it isn’t even in space. A smartly implemented system now allows you to land on a lot of planets, and perform tasks down there from searching for missing persons to sabotaging planetary installations for wads of cash, and you do all these things in your very own moon buggy. It’s tonnes of fun, even if it does feel a bit like a side-show to the main space bit.

Most importantly, since I reviewed it, Elite: Dangerous has had several major updates to make it more understandable, better balanced (including increased difficulty on some tasks that really should be difficulty) and an all new arena combat mode where up to eight players can duke it out in multiple and varied fighter ships in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag.

And to top it off, all of the above works marvellously well in co-operative play, so it’s my top pick for “games to play with an old friend who you kind of miss playing games with”.
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