The 2014 video game year was a giant mixed grab bag. There were some truly fantastic, genre-bending titles that we enjoyed throughout the year, but there were also some miserably botched releases. Miserably. Botched. Releases. But, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy — I prefer to celebrate the successes in the video game world. And while there were a ton of awful games this year, the good of 2014 outweighed the bad.
So here are the top 15 best video games of 2014, ranked from 15th best to number one in our hearts this year:
15. Divinity: Original Sin
Developer: Larian Studio | Platforms: PC
If you weren’t interested in the PS4/Xbox One versions of Diablo III, another great top-down RPG adventure was released over the summer by the name of Divinity: Original Sin. Divinity: Original Sin flew under the radar of many gamers this year, but it is definitely one of the most under-appreciated games of 2014. Larian Studios created the ultimate RPG adventure that somehow brought the genre back to its roots while introducing fresh ideas, even allowing players to make their own adventures with the RPG toolkit. If you love top-down RPGs, and are okay with turn-based combat, Divinity: Original Sin is a game that shouldn’t be skipped over.
14. The Last of Us: Remastered
Developer: Naughty Dog | Platforms: PS4
Making a game better than The Last of Us is no easy task, unless of course you’re making a The Last of Us: Remastered. Joel and Ellie’s journey in the post-apocalyptic world tugged at our heart strings the first go ’round, and now Naughty Dog does it again but with some stunning improvements, mostly in the form of updated visuals. There’s also a more consistent framerate, bonus features and the DLC is all included. Yeah, it’s definitely one of the best new PS4 games. The only reason that it is #14 on our list and not #1 is because it is a remastered version of a classic game. But if you haven’t played the original, The Last of Us: Remastered would give our number one game a run for its money.
13. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Developer: Nintendo | Platforms: Wii U
Remember at the beginning of 2014 when Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze hit the shelves? No, of course you don’t, which is why no one is really discussing Tropical Freeze when talking about the best games of 2014. But Tropical Freeze is a top 5 Wii U game, due to its fantastic graphics and challenging fun. It brings back everything we loved about Donkey Kong Country for SNES and adds beautiful graphics, more mechanics and more characters. If you’re not a DK fan, you’re not doing gaming right.
12. Shovel Knight
Developer: Yacht Club Games | Platforms: Wii U, 3DS, PC
I’m not the type of person that believes classic NES games have a place in the modern day gaming world, but Yacht Club Games slightly changed my perspective over the summer with Shovel Knight, a classic action adventure game in the style of classic NES games. Its difficulty is reminiscent of classic NES games as well. It’s colorful and dense, and looks great for a retro game. The game perfectly blends the old and the new, making it the best retro game of 2014.
11. NHL 15
Developer: EA Canada | Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3
If there’s one thing you can definitely say about NHL 15, it’s that the graphics are a major upgrade from last year’s well-received NHL 14. And, the fights are even more badass. There are some minor AI issues, though, as AI players will occasionally dump the puck into their own goal. But in NHL 15, every player is affected by real-world physics that can create an up to 12-man pileup, and it’s all presented through an authentic NBC Sports-style broadcast. It’s tough for us to want to throw a sports game into the hat for being one of the best games of the year, but playing as Sidney Crosby has never felt so realistic!
10. Rayman Legends
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier | Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC, Vita
A cartoony game that isn’t from Nintendo might be a tough pill to swallow, but Ubisoft’s darling franchise, Rayman, got its next-gen debut way back in February with Rayman Legends. Rayman Legends looked incredible and added great, new mechanics to the franchise. It wasn’t just a next-gen graphics upgrade for Rayman, but it felt like Rayman Legends, especially the PS4 version, just one-upped every other game in the franchise’s long history.
9. Bayonetta 2
Developer: Platinum Games | Platforms: Wii U
Bayonetta 2 has fast-paced combat, ridiculous weapons and moves, insane enemies and bosses, and a strong female protagonist. It also helps that Bayonetta 2 isn’t another Mario-related game from Nintendo — that’s always a plus. Witch Time, a slow motion move activated by dodging at exactly the right moment, made you feel amazing. All of that and more is back in a surprisingly robust sequel, but it’s ability to be higher up on this list is hindered by it being a Wii U game (since the Wii U isn’t exactly in every gamer’s home).
8. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Developer: Blizzard | Platforms: PC, iOS, Mac, Android
Blizzard’s original announcement of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft was a giant disappointment back at 2013’s PAX East. Digital card games just didn’t appeal to me. But Hearthstone was much less complicated and much more enjoyable than I could have ever imagined. It’s graphics are good, and gameplay is challenging but enjoyable. There are so many different ways to take down your opponent, and so many different Hearthstone decks that you’re able to build to cater to virtually any play style. Even if you’re not a CCG player, Hearthstone is a highly addictive game that is more than just a free game.
7. Dark Souls II
Developer: From Software | Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
The first thing peoplel notice when first picking up Dark Souls II is that it doesn’t play like any mainstream video game. It’s enjoyably unforgiving, and feels like From Software’s lovechild. The original Dark Souls style is still contained within, but this second round adds quality of life improvements and makes various mechanics and systems more understandable for newcomers. The game looks great, sounds great, and plays great. Dark Souls II is an epic adventure from start to finish, and has a wide variety of environments and enemies. Its only flaw is that it isn’t available on Xbox One or PS4…yet.
6. Forza Horizon 2
Developer: Microsoft Studios | Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360
2014 saw quite a few racing games hit the shelves. DriveClub was an unfortunate flop, The Crew wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, and GRID Autosport was just for last-gen consoles. But Forza Horizon 2 is undeniably the best game in the genre. It is an essential game for any Xbox One owner, and its huge map is three times the size of the original Forza Horizon. So, you and your friends can take to roaming Europe together.
5. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Developer: Monolith Productions | Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Any The Lord of the Rings nerd will tell you just how great Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor truly is, and any gamer that isn’t up on LOTR will tell you how it’s the best Assassin’s Creed game that isn’t actually an Assassin’s Creed game to date. The game is set sometime between The Hobbit and Tolkien’s famous trilogy about Frodo’s quest to Mount Doom as Talion, a Ranger of Gondor stationed near the Black Gate leading into the evil land of Mordor, is forced to watch his family be butchered by Uruks. What follows is a classic revenge action game dripping with Tolkien lore galore. Most impressive about Shadow of Mordor was its nemesis system, which gave you something to complete. Simply put, Shadow of Mordor is utterly badass.
4. Super Smash Bros.
Developer: Nintendo | Platforms: Wii U, 3DS
It’s undeniable that the video game world needs Nintendo. Not every gamer wants to always play something dark or serious in tone, and Nintendo is great for just the opposite: cartoony and lighthearted games. We love Nintendo, especially when Super Smash Bros., a game that borrows characters and elements from Nintendo’s (and others’) best video game series, is a thing. The game sports a huge roster, unlockables and many game modes, all of which are sure to satisfy even the most hardcore fighting games fan.
3. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Developer: Sledgehammer | Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
It’s been a while since we’ve been able to actually place a Call of Duty game among the elite games of the year lists, but Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is undeniably a great game. It somehow brings the franchise back to its Call of Duty: Modern Warfare days while making it more futuristic with the Exo-suits. It plays buttery smooth, although we still don’t have dedicated servers. The new Exo-Suit abilities give the game a completely new feel, so it doesn’t just feel like another sloppily put together yearly installment. I don’t ever see Call of Duty winning game of the year again, but this year’s iteration is a giant leap forward.
2. Mario Kart 8
Developer: Nintendo | Platform: Wii U
It’s usually tough to talk about Nintendo when discussing the best games of the year, not because Nintendo doesn’t make great first-party games, but because their games are generally just rehashes of their best franchises. And, it’s difficult to call something a game of the year candidate when a majority of gamers don’t own the console. But, that doesn’t mean Mario Kart 8 isn’t otherwise worthy. Mario Kart 8 is the best Wii U game for Nintendo so far, and is the best Mario Kart game of all time. It’s innovative and simple, mindless fun, which is a much needed break from games like Dark Souls II or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The graphics are breathtaking, the courses are well-designed and it somehow contains nostalgic charm while still introducing new elements to the franchise. Any game that can sell a console — which is exactly what Mario Kart 8 did for the Wii U — deserves a mention when discussing Game of the Year.
1. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Developer: BioWare | Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
There’s no question that Dragon Age: Inquisition is the best new gen console RPG to date, and quite possibly the best console RPG of all time (yes, I said it). There are over 100 hours of gameplay and a huge open world to keep you busy. Killing dragons is definitely an RPG cliche by now, but Dragon Age: Inquisition makes it the most enjoyable experience to date as you track down 10 ultimate, challenging beasts. Combat is incredibly well-done, “dungeons” are fantastic and the crafting system doesn’t feel like just at time sink, which is a breath of fresh air for the genre. We’re not surprised that Dragon Age: Inquisition won game of the year at the 2014 Game Awards, since we also hold it as the best video game of 2014.