Witcher 3 is the culmination of every good idea and technical advancement that has come out of the RPG genre over the last thirty years. This could previously be said about Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was released not long ago, but Witcher 3 somehow manages to top even that incredible game. As far as fantasy RPGs go, it is nearly a perfect experience.
Taking place several years after the end of Witcher 2, the final game in the Witcher trilogy revolves around a desperate search for Ciri, once the child ward and apprentice of the main character, Geralt. She has grown into a fierce young warrior in her own right and the keeper of a power that the deadly supernatural force known as the Wild Hunt will stop at nothing to possess.
Your search takes you through several enormous sandbox regions full of some of the most gorgeously rendered environments in gaming. From stony mountain peaks that act as nesting grounds for airborne harpies to toxic, bubbling swamps where witches work their wicked magic, you are free to go where you please and explore every nook and cranny, which is encouraged, as the map is teeming with secrets waiting to be discovered.
There are hundreds of side missions that all somehow manage to avoid the repetitive fetch-and-kill blandness of so many other RPGs.Each one is deep and intriguing, and usually full of surprises and difficult choices.Combat is smooth and fun, the upgrade system is intuitive and satisfying, and the game contains one of the greatest mini-games ever conceived: Gwent. It's a strategy card game not unlike Hearthstone, where you must collect cards from other characters all over the world in order to build up your in-game deck to beat increasingly more challenging opponents. It's almost more fun than the game itself.
I can't speak highly enough about Witcher 3. My only criticism is that the loot system is a bit unrewarding. At around the halfway point, I found that nearly every weapon and piece of armor I found from then on turned out to be inferior to what I already had. It made treasure hunting a bit of a bore. But there is so much else to see and do that it barely dampened my enjoyment. Just be prepared to give up your other hobbies, your social life, your family, your job, probably your health...Witcher 3 is enormously timeconsuming (not that you'll mind). I started the game months ago and still haven't finished every quest.
A PS4 exclusive from The Chinese Room, the talented little company that brought us Dear Esther, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture utilizes approximately the same gameplay elements as Esther. Meaning you don't shoot anything, you don't fight anything, you don't even solve any puzzles. You basically just walk around discovering clues and messages that slowly reveal the answers to the mystery at the heart of the game. Now, you know whether or not you're patient enough and/or appreciative enough of good storytelling to enjoy this passive type of gameplay. If not, go ahead and skip to the next game in the list, because nothing else I say about it is going to matter. It's okay, there's no shame in it ”” these games aren't for everyone.
Still there? Good, because those unimaginative, attention-span-devoid action junkies don't know what they're missing. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture takes place in a small, picturesque English town, where all of the inhabitants have mysteriously disappeared and been replaced by strange, drifting orbs of light. Your task is to explore the town and figure out what happened to them. This is done through simple interactions (e.g. turning on radios and TVs, using motion controls on the light orbs, answering ringing phones) which reveal information about the townsfolk and the incident leading up to their absence. The game explores issues of religion and science, and is written beautifully, with top notch characterization and voice acting. If you like the idea of a game that allows you to relax (without fear of getting shot or blasted with dragon fire) and just take in a thought-provoking tale, this one's for you.
3. Game of Thrones (PS4/PS3/XBOX ONE/XBOX360/PC/iOS/Android)
Telltale is a small independent company that struck gold when they managed to license the wildly popular Walking Dead franchise and then combined that world with their episodic gaming formula replete with great storytelling that shifts based on your choices. They've gone on to spread the love to other franchises, including the beloved and brutal Game of Thrones, and the insanely fun and funny Borderlands FPS games, both now in the middle of their episodic release runs.
I'll start with GoT, because expectations were monumental, while the challenge of maintaining the show's (or novels' if you prefer) incredibly complex fantasy world and host of characters was probably the most difficult in Telltale's history. Rest easy, as the game is fantastic. Taking control of several different members of the previously unexplored House Forrester, the player finds himself in five different pairs of Forrester shoes, dealing with political intrigue in the Red Keep, the icy dangers north of The Wall, Daenerys's bloody campaign against slavery in the East, and a power struggle for the Forrester's very lands and titles at their stronghold in the North.
Popular characters, such as Dany, Tyrion, and Jon Snow make digital appearances, and are even voiced by the actors from the show. It's a trip to bandy words with the Imp or try to put one past the queen of duplicity herself, Cersei. And the game maintains the franchise's policy that no character is safe from the world's routine grisly deaths. This translates well to the gaming medium, as every danger you encounter is all the more exciting for the possibility of your own character's death, the story continuing on without that character. This one is a must-have for any GoT fan.
4. Tales from the Borderlands (PS4/PS3/XBOX ONE/XBOX360/iOS/Android)
Regarding Tales from the Borderlands, this may be Telltale's best series yet. I like the original Borderlands games, but I'm nowhere near the fan of them that I am of GoT or The Walking Dead. Yet, the characterization and story beats at play here are so strong, and the gameplay so exhilarating, that all other games fall by the wayside for me with each episode's release.
If you've played any of Gearbox's Borderlands games, then you know the story takes place on Pandora, a rocky wasteland of a planet inhabited by trigger-happy lunatics dressed in BDSM gear. Everyone is obsessed with finding and unlocking Vaults ”” ancient alien strongholds containing uber-powerful weapons and riches. This includes the two characters you control: Rhys, a rogue employee of the all-powerful Hyperion corporation, and Fiona, a con artist native to Pandora. They're both brimming with personality, but even more entertaining are the host of outlandish NPC's that eventually gather to them and form their crew. The game retains the signature Borderlands brand of ultra-violent, irreverent humor, and contains much more elaborate action set pieces than any other Telltale games. It's just a whole lot of fun.
Another outstanding PS4 exclusive, Until Dawn is a horror survival game unlike any other that has come before it. You take control of eight young friends that gather at a secluded lodge on a snowy mountain to party and procreate. Also, the only landmarks nearby are an old mine and an abandoned insane asylum. Sound like a conglomeration of every teen slasher movie you've ever seen? That's because it's supposed to. Until Dawn is a love letter to the genre, taking everything good about it, satirizing the cheeseball tropes, and delivering what might be the best slasher fare in decades.
Most of the gameplay takes the form of exploration and story-altering decision-making. If you're looking for Resident Evil-style running and gunning, look elsewhere. There's plenty of danger, and many thrilling action sequences, but they're mostly controlled through quick-time button presses, which works well for the format. Every choice you make or quick-time mistake can end in the death of one of the characters, while the story continues without them. And there's no rewind button here ”” the game autosaves over itself constantly, so when the jock everyone likes gets hung from the ceiling by a meat-hook through the throat, he's gone for good.
You might recognize some pretty famous digitized faces amongst the cast, including Hayden Panattiere of Heroes fame, and Brett Dalton from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was a bit disconcerting to see Ward wearing flannel and trying to bang the cheerleader, but he winds up kicking quite a bit of ass by the end. If he lives.
If you were a fan of graphic adventures back in the eighties and nineties, chances are you know how awesome the original King's Quest was, and have already scooped up the first episode of this reboot of the franchise. Good for you; you've made a wise decision.
For those not in the know, King's Quest was a series of games featuring King Graham of Daventry and his family, who quest through magical lands, overcoming obstacles, facing down mythological beasts and basically kicking evil's ass, wherever it stands. This new version is a retelling of Graham's adventures as a young knight, as told by Graham himself, now old and bedridden, to his little granddaughter. It's a very cute concept, as Graham mercilessly peppers the story with terrible puns, vexing the sharp-witted girl to no end. The story itself is hilarious, full of absurd characters and situations, although danger still lurks around every corner. And there are still a few heavy themes and emotional punches to the game, for those who like some sour with their sweet.
Utilizing an updated take on classic point-and-click adventure gameplay, your progression through the episode occurs by finding objects and using them in the right places to overcome impediments. It works wonderfully, and doesn't suffer from the exasperating illogic that many adventure game puzzle solutions used to employ. As a result, every problem is a delight to solve.