Top 10 Games Of 2014: The Filthy Casual Edition - Steve's List

By Steve Buja , Updated Dec 09, 2014 08:03 PM EST
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In looking over the landscape of the video game industry in 2014, the only real takeaway I have is this: I did not play that many games. Despite working for a games journalism website - or perhaps because of - the time spent engaged actually playing the games was woefully small compared to my time spent writing about them.

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Now, when I say ‘Games’ (with a capital G) the default is ‘Sony or Microsoft’s AAA FPS sequel’. I don’t know when that became the standard for what a ‘Game’ is, but somewhere along the way it did. So, no, I did not play many Games in 2014, but I did play many “games”. My schedule is such that the best time for me to play anything was in-between the other matters of my life, be it work, school or commuting. It is amazing what you can do when you don’t have to drive a car to get work.

Yes, friends, my name is Steve and I am a filthy casual. I spend my time Clashing Clans or Rushing Kingdoms. I play at five minute intervals. My preferred color palette skews to the bright and cartoonish, as opposed to the brown and post-apocalyptic. I could make a top 10 or top 25 of the games I didn’t play this year (Assassin’s Creed, Wolfenstein, Dark Souls II, Shadow of Mordor and on and on). But we could talk of hypotheticals until the cows come home. Here is my list of the Ten Best Games This Year.

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10. Ascension: Darkness Unleashed - (App Store /Google Play) (review HERE) though not technically its own game - it is in fact the fifth solo expansion to Ascension - Darkness Unleashed is the game I have returned to the most this year. I play a lot of Ascension and all its expansions, but DU jolted the game back to life with the honing of the Energy mechanic introduced via Rise of Vigil, the fourth expansion also released this year. The pace of the game has never been better and I can see it being my go-to standard whenever I open the game up. In fact, I’m probably playing as you are reading this sentence.

9. World Of Tanks Blitz (App Store / Google Play) - Wargaming managed to successfully translate its immense and, at times, intimidating World of Tanks into a fun, deceptively simple mobile title with an insane amount of depth to it. Players can get as deep or as shallow as they want, and the gameplay remains the same. Spend money or don't, play a lot or a little, but rest assured, you will be playing this; while the steady stream of updates featuring new tanks, maps and bonus rewards ensure that you will be playing it for a long time to come.

8. Hitman GO - (App Store / Google Play) the Hitman series has always been fun for its copious violence and strategic elements. What Hitman GO does is do away with the violence almost altogether - characters are ‘knocked’ off the board, but there is no blood - and instead reimagines everyone’s favorite bald assassin as the main piece in a an isometric game of strategy and planning. Recently, games have been becoming more like movies, telling dense stories backed with history and characters; Hitman GO, though clothed in a modern polish, is decidedly un-modern. The objective of every map, be it elimination, escape or recon, is immaterial. The path you choose to get there is what matters.

7. The Banner Saga (App Store / Google Play / Steam) - it is worth noting that turn-based strategy RPG titles are not my wheelhouse, and yet I am in love with The Banner Saga wholly and completely. The world is vast, fantastical and yet strangely familiar. Sure, the sun may have stopped in the harsh frozen world, but at the core is a story of survival. With Vikings and giants, two flavors that go great together. The indie game - created by ex-Bioware developers and funded through Kickstarter in a matter of hours - is the, well, Bannerman for the indie revolution currently happening across all platforms. The art is sumptuous, the soundtrack ethereal and despite the violence and the cold, there is a warmth here that boldly declares ‘We have arrived.’ No longer do you need a big studio to create a game that will last.

6. Diablo III: Reaper Of Souls / Ultimate Evil Edition (PC/Mac/consoles) - when Diablo III launched in 2012, we played out of obligation. However, there was something rotten at the core of sanctuary. Was it the auction house? The characters? The pitiful amount of loot? Perhaps all of the above. Diablo III felt broken, a step backward from the near-perfection of Diablo II (and its expansion, Lord of Destruction). Reaper of Souls fixed all of that, and is still improving. The real money auction house is now gone. Loot that your character actually drops off of difficult bosses. Nephalem Rifts keep the challenge alive and it’s once again become the pre-eminent dungeon crawling experience. When the game hit major consoles, it was like a completely different experience. We joked in 2012 that it felt like they made the game for console players; but after playing it, you realize ‘Oh yeah, they absolutely did make this for console players and I don’t care, this is awesome.’ So what if I’ve cleared Act I half a dozen times or more already? Time to go do it again.

5. Kingdom Rush: Origins - (review HERE) Tower defense games are all very similar. More than most games, their necessary characteristics leave little room for overt reinvention. So, if you have to do something unoriginal, you better do it damn well. Ironhide Games Studio’s third Kingdom Rush title may be its best one yet. The game does not mess with the formula, but it doesn’t have to. A tweak there, a new Hero power here and suddenly, you’ve lost an hour or two a game on your phone and you really, really need to charge it. Origins is my favorite example in 2014 of a game that breaks no new boundaries, it simply gets everything perfect.

4. Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft (App Store / battle.net) - ever since I quit World of Warcraft about three years ago, Hearthstone has been my methodone. It offers me a quick little fix into a world I love without all the crippling social dysfunction and severe loss of time that accompanied me on my roughly eight year journey into darkness. But before WoW, there was another obsession: Magic The Gathering. So when Hearthstone combined the two into one insanely addictive card game, I knew my time would be spoken for. It’s easy, it’s fun and it bears the high quality we’ve come to expect from Blizzard. I’m just glad that it’s not available on phones.

Oh wait, it will be? Well, it was nice knowing you all.

3. Super Smash Bros. For Wii U - it’s not all mobile games and 3DS titles. The Wii version of Smash left a lot of us cold, so when Smash for Wii U came out, it felt like Nintendo was overcompensating. The sheer amount of creativity and technical prowess that has gone into this game is mindboggling. You can play it on your own, but the true power of the game is the social experience. Only one game this year surpasses Smash Bros in terms of bringing a group of friends together, and we’ll get to that. There are fighting games aplenty, but there will only ever be one Smash.

2. Monument Valley (App Store / Google Play) - the only criticism I can level at ustwo’s beautiful and sublime puzzle game is this: it’s too damn short. When the Forgotten Shores DLC hit, offering up eight new levels, I had to deliberately stop playing to prolong the experience. There is no violence, no death, just a series of physics-defying puzzles culled straight from the mind of M.C. Escher. Any game recreate something that exists in this world, the real untapped potential of the genre is showing us things that simply cannot be.

And after many long hours of consideration and rearranging, the number one game of 2014 is...

1. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) - forget Halo, Destiny, GTA V or any other game with multiplayer support. When my friends and I get together, the choice of what to play could not be more obvious. Nintendo might not make the most “mature” games or the “grittiest” games, but Mario Kart 8 is case and point that they make the most fun games. The game practically single-handedly saved the Wii U and with Nintendo’s commitment to DLC this generation, adding new tracks, karts and racers, expect your buddies to fire this up at every opportunity. And I’ll be right there, ready to take you down with a red shell.

I look forward to spending 2015 catching up on all the games I missed in 2014. Got some words about the list? Am I too lacking in major releases? Does this whole thing strike you as #collusion? Tell us below.

See you next year.

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