ARK: SURVIVAL EVOLVED
One of the few purchases I made during the disappointing 2015 Steam Winter Holiday Sale was Ark: Survival Evolved. I was familiar with the game, but I have ambivalent feelings when it comes to investing money or time into the glut of survival titles that have flooded the market since the DayZ mod for ARMA II opened the floodgates. I was looking for a title to buy for myself and two of my nephews that we could play multiplayer. What sold me was a Steam review I read. An angry owner was lamenting the destruction of his tribe via subterfuge from a competing tribe on his server after putting 1600 hours into playing the game. 1600 hours? In a an Early Access title that hadn’t been out for a year? I was dumbfounded…and intrigued. So I pulled the trigger and bought three copies, and Ark: Survival Evolved ate up the vast majority of my game time for the remainder of 2015.
We have a policy at Gone With The Win to not review Early Access titles. Many of them don’t get finished, the quality can range from what feels like a finished game to something that can barely be called an alpha. I feel that Ark is in the former category, and millions of people around the world feel the same way judging by it’s position on the Steam sale charts for 2015. This isn’t a review, and I do feel it would be a travesty to not include it in our list of best games of 2015. However, it should be noted that while the core game is in place and much of the content is there, Ark does have major optimization issues, even on high end systems. Getting stuck in geometry, random crashed, frame drops and other problems WILL plague those trying to enjoy the game. On the other hand, it’s a cross between Pokemon, Rust…and you can ride a dinosaur, blazing away with a machinegun while engaging in bloody, persistent conflict with other tribes on a server. And in my book that is pretty damn awesome.
Ark is definitely a time commitment, because the grind is real! But unlike most games that seek to replace content with repetitive, hour-chewing tasks, the grind in Ark is actually enjoyable, because it adds immensely to the survival aspect of the game. The beginning is especially brutal, and it doesn’t get much more forgiving if you survive the first few days and begin to make progress, but that’s part of the appeal. Grinding is also mitigated by playing with a tribe, as taking ability paths for crafting relieves some of the burden of base-building and equipment advancement in the early and middle stages of the game, but you also share experience with other tribe members when working in proximity to one another, an excellent incentive to encourage a cooperative experience.
I still don’t have the courage — or time — to play on an official server, so all of my play time has been spent on a private server. And while I have greatly enjoyed the survival and cooperative aspects, the absolute best part for me has been the taming and capturing of dinosaurs and adding them to the tribe. The absolute joy and feeling of accomplishment I felt after taming my first dino, a phiomia, is difficult to describe in words. Exultation, awe, unrepressed happiness…I experienced all of these emotions and more. Lil’Poopy was not just a digital construct, Lil’ Poopy was my friend, my tribe-mate, a family member! We did everything together. And the only thing that matched that initial rush was the despondence, the sorrow, the utter sense of loss when Lil’ Poopy and I were ambushed by two cravens raptors during a trek for materials not far from our tribe’s camp. Lil Poopy and I fought valiantly, but we both eventually succumbed to our wounds. I literally had to walk away from my PC and compose myself, it was that bad. Lil’ Poopy, I will never forget you! – Zach
Biblical rain pummels the city but the stains remain. The world could empty its oceans onto these cobbled streets and the streets would flush them right back. Nothing would change. This is how one of the classiest games of 2015 begins (full review). I never thought of a game being perfectly paired with a drink, but Calvino demands a classy well aged Johnnie Walker [Blue] whiskey at your side (not even kidding on this one).
Every scene is a magnificent and intricate display of classic architectures. The jazzy soundtrack sets the mood. The thick atmospheric touches, complement the hardboiled writing so well. Lovable classic era characters, feels like Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains have returned to make games. Solving puzzles from multiple perspectives was a creative touch. There’s a well bound synergy with these elements that is undeniable. Calvino Noir is unique, and unlike any other point and click adventure titles I have played.
Playing this game is just like curling up with a good book, or watching an amazing classic like Casablanca. Each character you come across has their own unique skill. Working each together, while playing cat and mouse with alert guards was as enjoyable as it was challenging at times. Calvino is an often overlooked artistic gem, it’s many beautiful sides are worth appreciating.
While we did start off by saying this list is in no particular order, who are we kidding? This IS the clear cut best game of the year, the reasons why are as numerous as the unique NPCs in this game. Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has received so many Game of the Year nods it borderlines no longer being a matter of opinion. Facts are that you will not find a larger more detailed open world game in 2015. Nor will you find a better more complex fantasy adventure with as many plots and subplots. The Witcher 3 world is roughly the size of the Byzantine Empire to play in – redefining the meaning of “world” in “open world”.
One would expect that making a game this size you would come across considerable repetition. “Oh look its the tenth yellow shirted ginger peasant walking with the same bow-legged limp I’ve seen in this town!”, and that sort of thing. Or perhaps coming across the same town square in blue instead of red, green, and yellow, or the corner cutters who give you a cave that’s just “the rock texture room”. Well Witcher 3 does none of that. CD Projekt Red must have hand designed thousands of NPC people and ensured that no town, peasant, soldier, citizen is an exact duplicate of the other. Is this not a true labor of love? Going way above and beyond to give gamer’s the ultimate fantasy RPG experience?
If you dissect further you will note the lush meadows and how they sway in the wind. The changing weather, detailed sunsets. Ice cliffs. Snowy mountains. Glistening mysterious caves. Wheat fields. Staunch castles. Fetid swamps. The list is endless, each environment is lifelike in much the way you’d expect. Fabrics, hair, armor, all of it rendered in such great detail. Enemies both human and mystical, are animated superbly, and when you spend 40 minutes battling a magnificent spiked dragon-esque creature on a picturesque country side setting, complete with windmills, flowing waves of grain, and wooden fences; is surreal to say the least. If you believe video games are art, then the Witcher 3 is the new digital canvas personified. It’s sceneries are poetry, and its digital populace are notes in a symphony.
I haven’t even mentioned the writing, which gives the game purpose. Side quests, and sub plots are as intriguing as most other games main quests. However, Witcher 3’s main quests are fantastic, with satisfying length and far reaching consequences. No corner was cut in this game. No detail was spared. CD Projekt Red have beyond a doubt, redefined open world and action RPG gaming standards. I expect that the only game that will meet, or exceed these daunting levels of merit will be their own upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 – a game that they’ve promised to be bigger, better, and more detailed than Witcher 3 (mind = blown). – Leo
Darkest Dungeon might be my favorite game of 2015, but there is no zero doubt in my mind that Witcher 3 is the best game of 2015. I can’t think any game in 2015 that has equaled the greatness that CD Projekt Red produced with the latest addition to Geralt’s adventures. I knew within the first few hours of playing that I was a witness to one of the greatest feats of gaming to date, but the extreme scope and massive amount of content actually intimidated me…yes, intimated me! When you have a career, are working on the side on a gaming website and have multiple hobbies, the timesink and scope of Witcher 3 can and will introduce such feelings into a lover of rpgs such as myself.
Full disclosure: I can and do appreciate what CD Projekt Red has done since their initial release of the first Witcher. Each game has been a movement to the next level when it comes to gameplay systems, content, writing, presentation and size. But I am not a fan of the combat mechanics, and it’s always kept me at a distance from the series, despite the overall excellence of the games themselves. That’s ALMOST changed with the Witcher 3, but not completely. I would still prefer a first person presentation over the third person view, but that’s my own personal issue, and the combat, rpg elements and other parts are intricate, expertly polished and represent a level of craftsmanship that surpasses anything Bethesda has released in their entire history.
The morally complicated nature of the characters, including Geralt, the amount of choice given players, the beautiful, detailed world, some of the best quest creation and writing I have ever seen in an rpg…all of this and more combine to create a game that could fairly be considered the absolute pinnacle of rpgs to date. This isn’t one of the best games of 2015, it’s the best game of 2015, there isn’t anything else that comes close. – Zach