2014 was a big year in video games for me, due in large part to the fact that for the first time in my life, I have a current-gen console. This coupled with a long overdue PC upgrade meant that I was eager to fit in as much gaming time as I physically could.
Luckily, 2014 was happy to oblige, and I got the distinct feeling that developers were finally warming up to the new hardware. It was tough narrowing this list down to just five, but if I had to pick my favorite gaming experiences of the year, they’d have to be:
5. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Rumor has it that Shadow of Mordor got its start as an Arkham spin-off, and I believe it. Channeling some of the best bits of those Batman games (alongside a healthy helping of some Assassin’s Creed), Mordor doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it is one hell of a good time.
The stealth and action elements blend seamlessly, and the open-world is so packed with fun side content that I found myself skipping the main story missions for hours at a time.
4. The Walking Dead: Season Two
The bulk of Telltale’s second run at The Walking Dead was released this year, and while I’ll admit that it didn’t have the same dramatic ‘oomph’ as the first time around, it’s still a remarkable progression of the studio’s ability to craft an engrossing narrative.
A sequence very close to the end of the final episode in particular is probably my favorite gaming moment of 2014, and arguably one of the finest bits of interactive storytelling ever.
3. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
I take a lot of flak for being this site’s resident Call of Duty fanboy, but even I was completely let down by last year’s Ghosts. After that disappointment, I was genuinely wary of picking this one up, especially considering Sledgehammer Games is a relative newcomer to AAA game production.
It turns out this was exactly what the series needed to shrug off some of that franchise fatigue though, with Sledgehammer bringing a refreshing new perspective to the genre. Advanced Warfare certainly has its share of hokey moments (press X to be sad), but it’s one of my favorite multiplayer experiences of the year, and in my opinion, the best CoD singleplayer campaign since the first Modern Warfare.
2. BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea – Episode Two
BioShock Infinite was one of my favorite games of 2013, but despite that, I did not enjoy the first half of Burial at Sea at all. In fact, I found both of the DLC releases that year to be incredibly disappointing, and I openly regretted that pre-ordered Season Pass.
Then Burial at Sea Episode Two arrived, and I ate my words with a side of “sorry Ken Levine” pie. Against all odds, the second installment of Burial at Sea not only improved upon the first half, but it somehow made every single BioShock game retroactively better. Yes, even BioShock 2.
1. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
I never would have expected that a game I primarily play on my tablet while watching TV would be one of my top games of the year, but Hearthstone is just that good. In terms of pure hours, it has everything else on this list beat by a mile.
Hearthstone basically taps into all of the right spots in my nerdy heart, especially when it comes to compulsive collecting (my Magic: The Gathering collection is more than a little out of hand). The gameplay grind itself might be repetitive, but it’s never dull, and considering how well Blizzard has been supporting the game post-launch, it’s a free-to-play title that I’m happy to drop a few bucks into (or many, many bucks, if we’re being honest).