The Best PC Games of 2015

Standing in the doorway of 2016 it’s easy to spot a number of potentially great new technologies, new and promising genre defining games, and other gaming advances that this year could bring. While we wait in anticipation, lulls like these are best filled with a look back at what made the last year great.
The face of gaming has changed, there have been years where the best games around were always a list of AAA high budget titles. For years now, thanks to popular distribution platforms, and the bevy of bundles and inexpensive games available on the platform – indie games continue to filter in as some of the most creative and entertaining titles of the year. Also crowd funded games ensure that gamers are getting the games they really want to play, not what a publishing house believes we should play. This has revived old genres and game styles for the better.
GoneWithTheWin began in 2015, so it will always be a special year for us. We’ve learned a lot in the last few months, and know we have so much more to learn and adapt to. We’ve made new friends in the industry. Had a chance to play many games, and some stood out so brilliantly we simply had to list them all for you. These games are in no particular order, but comprise a listing of the absolute best 2015 had to offer on PC. These games are ones we have not let go of, and return to often to either replay or explore missed areas. If you are looking for something new to try out, we hope this article will help. So without further ado, we present the best gaming experiences on PC for 2015:

DARKEST DUNGEON

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Leo’s take:

Beware weary travelers and adventurers, darkness is nigh!  Ancestral tombs hold countless treasures and important heirlooms, but stay your hand – keep it planted on the hilt of your sword. Madness, despair, doom, cruelty, desolation and death are the prize of those that venture too far. Can anyone play Darkest Dungeon, without becoming hopelessly entwined in the the multiple aspects of this game? There can be no bravery… without madness. Should they possibly exist, I’d imagine they are disfigured mobile-exclusive gamers or other such vulgarity.

The game is drenched in a bold, Gothic motif. At times I wonder if Vincent Price was resurrected to lend his voice as narrator, regardless of whomever lent his voice, it is sublime and perfectly suited for the role. Can’t get enough of the narration, it’s a huge favorite of mine in this, or any game. Its distinct aesthetics set the stage, set the tone and without a manual or tutorial you will already know what is to come next. The cues are everywhere. You are delving into a foreboding and unforgiving world.

Darkest Dungeon’s core game mechanics are solid and cruelly dangles options like twisted eyeless harlequin marionettes. Hercules himself couldn’t punch a hole in these unforgiving rogue genre concepts. There’s a duality to the game that will keep you nervously sweating in your chair like a candle. There are many options in your estate to upgrade and invest in. The timing of which should come first is not even hinted at, though if you over invested in one feature you won’t understand why it was folly until your team is dying, but they need to head back. Recruiting adventurers and balancing your teams takes careful thought, not just in their class and abilities but also in their actual positions as your chosen four enter these dungeons. What supplies do you bring to ensure their survival? It’s so hard to know, and if you need to turn a profit, this team of heroes might have just become expendable – hope you weren’t attached.

Spending fifty hours in Darkest Dungeon means you are still a rookie in this robust multifaceted game. Characters have front line skills and long range ones, some specialize in one or the other. Others still have amazing healing and support abilities but only if they are in the back of the line. This could mean losing a devastating attack in exchange for helping poor Wilbur the Plague Doctor from succumbing to his injuries. Monsters and bandits are not your only concern, the greatest enemy of all is stress. Once inside the dungeons, injuries from traps or enemies will begin playing with the minds of your crew. You will watch hopelessly as lack of light, or dismaying strike from a giant, sends stress levels flaring. Will they become infused with courage, or succumb to their fears? It was gut wrenching, sitting there chewing my nails as my favorite highwayman gets pummeled by enemies… pulsating drums from the combat music, and the gongs as he holds onto “death’s door”. That sinking feeling of losing my guy, my buddy. The one who critical hit 18 fish fiends the last expedition, the one who single handedly saved countless missions, and the estate from bankruptcy is about to bite it. That’s just brilliant design. One of the most superb experiences I had all year. – Leo

 

Zach’s take:

Eldritch horrors, blood-mad proxies of the Elder Gods, an ancestral estate tainted with corruption, the only glint of hope shining off the rusted, dulled blades of a band of weary, compromised adventurers. Madness and long-lost treasure await in the fetid passageways and foul, blighted recesses of the Darkest Dungeon!

From the second the game starts, you are drawn into the best distillation of the core elements of Lovecraftian horror and excess to date. The narration, writing, soundtrack and art style are carefully intertwined to create a foreboding and palpable atmosphere that pulls you inexorably into an environment of despair and encroaching doom. The writing, art and sound in Darkest Dungeon are exemplary, and testimony that a carefully designed and lovingly crafted game does not have to max out a high-end video card to create a user experience that immerses you…or in this case, entombs you…fully into the designer’s world. Darkest Dungeon’s bleak, Victorian setting and flawed, damaged inhabitants draws inspiration from Lovecraft, Mike Mignola (Hellboy’s creator), and Warhammer’s Fantasy setting, among some notable examples, to create an original universe that boils over with madness, horror and the slimmest chance of redemption found this side of a Takeshi Kitano movie.

Darkest Dungeon compels you to delve deep, a theme that runs to the core of the excellent gameplay systems.  Permadeath is an ever-present threat, with autosaves oblivating any sort of deus ex machina courtesy of a reloaded save or hard reset. Your characters WILL die, and as the game explicitly asks: what sacrifices will you make to keep your heroes alive? Darkest Dungeon creates the same sense of urgency, attachment and impending dread for characters found in the original X-Com. I’ve killed so many games and started over when a favorite character dies, not because there wasn’t a way to continue, but because I was too discouraged to press on without them.

The tactical combat is complex, perfectly paced and balanced between the focal points of overall group formation, individual positions, upgrades, ability choices, class choices and the fickle, arbitrary whims of RNG.  The most compelling original mechanic is the stress system, which captures the sense of madness and fear your characters endure as they face the grim challenge of vanquishing the unspeakable horrors and labyrinthine passageways of your corrupted estate. Pyhrric victories are the norm, as a map is conquered, difficult battles overcome, your characters exiting the dank catacombs, alive but afflicted by various forms of madness, some more extreme, infectious and detrimental than others.

The RPG management segment of the game perfectly balances out the rigors and tension of combat, forcing you to decide who will find release from madness and fear, who will be relieved from negative personality quirks, who will get upgraded abilities and equipment, what new members will fill your party roster to replace those fallen in battle. Your ancestral village offers a number of structures that require careful management via upgrades, as do your characters, which are pulled from a spectrum of classes available to recruit. Who will join your party and what skills do you need? The veteran wiles of the Man at Arms, the ranged damage of the Arbalest, the reckless abandon of the Leper, the necrotic science of the Plague Doctor? Every choice you make, every upgrade you take, every character you heal means there was a character you had to forsake, an upgrade you desperately needed but couldn’t afford, a class you could not add into your roster. The wealth of options is directly countered by the paths you can’t take, and it creates a perfect tension that elevates Darkest Dungeon to one of the finest roguelikes ever made and my overall favorite game of 2015. – Zach

STASIS

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Leo’s take:

My first look at STASIS (full review) and I thought for a moment, that this game had slipped out of 1998. It’s isometric view and graphical style, almost FMV movements overlaid on static photographic backgrounds is a dated approach. Ignore any apprehension, when I did I was in for quite a ride. From the start it asks “who are you without your family?”; then builds on that premise with meticulous pacing and climactic buildup. STASIS was clearly influenced by various science fiction horror works. Ridley’s impressive use of pacing and control in the original Alien, the insane “what the hell just happened” ending in Event Horizon, and other past games; the best of these elements are grafted together into a wholly terrifying story that felt new and fresh when completed.

Here’s how you know if a game has great writing, when you can’t help yourself but reflect on what just happened. In truth weeks after reviewing the game I found myself in web forums, reading comments and discussing in detail story aspects with other players. When you are left lingering about what you had seen and felt, when there is actually something meaningful to discuss when it is over then you transcended simple block pushing and nazi shooting to something much more laudable: art.

Being a father myself, I found the central character John Maracheck instantly relatable. With the game’s central theme resonating with my own values, and towards those I hold dearest. As he progressed into this nightmarish place, with each disturbing new element of what happened aboard this derelict space station, my heart sank with his. In between bleak clues, were intermixed well thought out and provoking puzzles. A few jump scares, but its more about keeping you on edge; the expectation of something horrific is just as bad as actually seeing it. The devil is in the details they say, so the methodical pacing, the low humming ventilation, shifting shadows, the occasional groaning of machinery (or was it a person?) builds up expectation. From there the story plummets over the edge, sliding down into a bleak chasm. It’s frantic final moments flying by at dizzying speeds, it will undoubtedly leave most gasping for air. The game drew out considerable emotions from me as I played, at one point my wife leaned over and asked me to close my mouth; but I just couldn’t. If you are looking for an experience in PC gaming, STASIS fits the bill in spades.

UNDERTALE

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Echo’s Take:

Ever since its release back in September, Undertale has been an instant hit. As of now, 97% of 30,000 (and counting) user-submitted reviews are favorable, giving the game an Overly Positive rating on Steam.  However, this almost-unheard of reception doesn’t answer why this gamer’s must-have has risen in popularity: only the player can find out themselves.

In Undertale, the player takes the place of the Fallen Child, a human child (whose gender and race are undetermined) who fell from the top of Mount Ebott. The fall is the only entrance to the Underground, where the world’s population of Monsters has been banished to. Unfortunately, there’s no way to leave except by breaking the seal. This is only accomplished by obtaining seven human souls, 6 of which are already possessed by the King of the Underground. After the fall, the player meets Toriel, a kind-hearted, motherly Monster, who offers to give the child a home. What happens next is solely up to the player’s decisions.

The playstyle is similar to that of Touhou Project’s: a sort of bullet hell, though given the option to “Spare” and “Act”. Acting is needed to Spare most enemies, through doing simple actions such as hugging or petting, usually accompanied by cute dialog. However, acting in some cases will cause the enemy to get angry, or in some cases, transform into something completely different (i.e. Moldsmal into Moldbygg). Sparing is exactly what it sounds like: ending the battle through mercy. However, Sparing won’t give you any EXP, which is the only way to increase levels and survive longer.

First things first: if you want to enjoy Undertale to its fullest, you’re going to need to invest plenty of time in it. See, a common trait amongst RPGs is giving players multiple endings and routes to play on. Usually, there aren’t a lot of these said ends; some of them have even been reduced to easter eggs (like Dangan Ronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc’s “bad ending”). But Undertale takes this concept and expands on it almost infinitely. Most of these playthroughs are quick and simple, though the most well-known ones can be painfully hard, time-consuming, or a mix of the two.

At the end of most runs, the player is rewarded with a phone call from a certain character (their name unlisted to avoid spoilers) telling them about what happened after they retreated to the surface (the goal of the game). Even neglecting one simple task can change the course of the rest of the route. If you were aiming at the affectionately nicknamed Genocide run, for example, and spared one single target, you’d have to start all over. Speaking of the Genocide run, if you attempt it before the Pacifist route, it’ll highjack the game and prevent you from correctly finishing it.

Another reason for players to love Undertale is the interactions. The characters are easy and simple to understand: not entirely complex, but they’re certainly realistic. Plus, characters breaking the fourth wall isn’t entirely uncommon. In fact, the game even goes so far as remembering your choices. At the beginning of each run, Toriel asks you which you prefer: cinnamon or butterscotch. Depending on which you choose, she’ll remember your choice when asking you in future runs.

Going back to where we started, the story line is superb. It’s complex to the point that players will need to datamine to put everything together. Let’s just say that a knowledge, however limited, of Webdings font is needed.

Finally, the music is another thing to love. Toby “Radiation” Fox, the game’s creator, is highly experienced with composing music. Working on the webcomic Homestuck has earned him fame and made him known among the internet. In fact, his alleged masterpiece “Megalovania”, introduced in his Earthbound hack (becoming widespread in Homestuck) has earned a place in Undertale. Even when working with simple sound fonts, Toby’s compositions can almost always be guaranteed a success.

But what’s not to like about Undertale? A large amount of players are nonplussed with the graphics, however, upon learning that the entire game was made by one guy (with some help from a character designer), many changed their mind. Some are dissatisfied by how short the game is (in their opinion), which most wouldn’t say is exactly true.

Undertale has been a success thus far, among all ages. Anyone can learn to enjoy it. From the storyline to the playstyle, every single bit of it is more of a reason to like it. If you haven’t played it, try it. You definitely won’t regret it. – Echo

Zach’s Take:

This is where I make an embarrassing dad disclosure: Echo’s my 13 year old daughter, as well as a GWTW specialist on certain games. I asked her to write the Undertale review because, while I do not disagree with her summation that Undertale is a game that can be enjoyed by every age, I think there is more to it when you consider its meteoric rise up the Steam charts and the very vocal fan base it has attracted, and I think most of its fan base is under 25.

I think Undertale represents one of those “changing-of-the-guard” moments in gaming; Undertale is a phenomenon where Echo’s generation has found a game truly their own. It’s themes of acceptance and alienation, the fierce possessiveness that various sub-fandoms have shown towards it (furries, Homestuck folks are two that come to mind), the way it seems to have become a banner for a very vocal group of gamers between the ages of 12-20…there is something special here that an old, veteran gamer such as myself can recognize but can’t truly be a part of…and that’s ok. There has been a public divide between Undertale fans and a backlash from those seemingly resentful of the lavish praise its fans heap up on it, and I suspect the detractors are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Give it a chance, it’s loved for a reason, and one of the best PC rpgs of 2015, regardless of your age.