Going into these last couple games is no easy task. The top three on this list especially were so hard to choose. But, I’ve finally come to a conclusion of what my top five games are. To start it off…
The whole philosophy behind this game is that revenge solves everything. Or does it? As the bodyguard for the empress of the steampunk-esque Dunwall, that’s your decision to make. Corvo Attano is a man framed for the murder of his Empress, and worst of all tortured by the men who framed him. To top it off, the princess and heir to the throne, Emily, has been kidnapped, and a plaque that turns those it infects into the undead has besieged the city. It’s only until Corvo escapes execution and joins a rebel militia that he gets an opportunity to brutalize those who wronged him.It’s at this point that he’s visited by a mysterious figure, The Outsider, who gives him supernatural abilities, but with a warning; the fate of his enemies and possibly the entire city of Dunwall, rests in his hands.So what will he do?
I know, a lot to digest right? That’s just the first hour of the game. The only thing you really need to understand is that Dunwall is at a turning point, and if pushed any further into chaos, it very well may fall. What makes Dishonored so special, from a story and gameplay perspective, is that every small action adds up in a big way. The game works on a “Chaos” system; the more people, assassination targets or otherwise, you choose to kill, the greater the consequences. People become paranoid of each other, the plaque spreads faster, and you become less of a hero and more of a necessary evil. So the game gives you the other option of sparing all your enemies, and finding other ways to dispose of those who wronged you. Actually, you can go through the entire game without killing a soul, or even being noticed by an enemy if you’re smart enough. There’s a subtle lesson on morality hidden in the gameplay as well; the more people you choose to kill, the more obligated you’ll be to unlock darker powers such as summoning rats or dissolving your enemies into the shadows. But if you choose to take a peaceful route, knocking your enemies unconscious and finding ways to take care of your targets that don’t involve killing them, you’ll upgrade different powers such as teleportation or the ability to stop time. Dishonored rewards those who choose to take a nobler path; the levels are huge, and taking the time to explore them rewards you. There’s so much about this game that makes it unique, and so many reasons to come back and explore the towering city of Dunwall. And with a sequel arriving this year, it’s not a bad idea to to see why the original game was popular enough to warrant one:
4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
NOTE: Each trailer for this game is so unbelievably good, and I’m now noticing just how long it’s going to take to write about this one game, so I’ll link one beneath each paragraph.
It’s funny, but picking out the top three games on my list was much easier than picking number 4. Because your top three are at least in a general order and always remain fresh in your head. But number four is where you start to question if you left anything out, and unfortunately, of course you did. For awhile I debated between Spec Ops: The Line and Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony, both stellar games in their own right. I’m not lying when I say it took a couple days to mull over this, until I remembered this game. Then it was pretty easy to remember what belongs in number four. Without a doubt, The Witcher 3 is the greatest RPG ever made.
RPGs are supposed to be massive, and Witcher 3 has no issue there, considering it’ll take you from haunted marshes to snow capped mountains and sun-drenched vineyards. They’re meant to present you with difficult choices that test your moral code, and give you the power to change the ending. Well it’s worth mentioning that there are so many different choices to make in the game, you’ll end up with one of 36 different ways to end the game (there are three major endings, with different variations to those endings), which puts those choose your own adventure novels you grew up with to shame. More than that, there’s never a good choice in the game. You’re forced to choose between a bad decision, or a worse one, and worst of all choices that no matter what you choose leave you with a moral and immoral consequence to live with. RPG’s are supposed to have complex characters with enough personality and depth that they keep you guessing. In this game, I saved a deserter left for dead by refugees from grotesque creatures known as “drowners” that were about to execute him. The man was overwhelmingly grateful even though he had no money to give me, so I let him live regardless and foolishly thought I had exposed the game and proven there were good deeds you could accomplish without a bad outcome. Some time later in my travels, I find that same man with a group of bandits and see that he’s taken revenge and slaughtered the entire refugee camp. The most polarizing thing of all was that he was happily ready to pay me for saving his life with the money he had just stolen. In short, the game makes you question your morality, and more than that, how much and what you’re willing to sacrifice when there’s no “right” decision
I haven’t even gotten to the core story yet. Geralt of Rivia, professional monster-slayer takes on his greatest contract of all: to find his adopted daughter and save her from a supernatural force threatening the entire empire: The Wild Hunt. It takes a long time to pick up, but that’s totally ok, because if the two previous paragraphs weren’t any indication, this game is chock full of things to do and choices to make. I honestly found the side-quests to be of more interest at points: you’ll hunt a serial killer stalking the city of Novigrad, take on contracts to hunt down hideous monsters, assist in civil wars that can rock the entire empire, or search for long lost treasure hidden in elven ruins. All of it feels meaningful, and there’s, I mean this, NEVER a bad story in the game. Every character has a past, and every choice can lead you to a rare victory or a cruel consequence. This is a harsh world, where you are always making a choice to see who the real monsters are. This might be the only game that will make you feel sympathy for a zombified fetus. If that last sentence unnerves you, that’s the goal of the game. This is a harsh, war-torn world, but it’s one that makes you appreciate it’s small moments of beauty that much more. Without a doubt, it’s one of the most endearing, most thoughtful, and most groundbreaking RPGs in years. It’s a title not to be missed. And with the Game of the Year edition releasing this month with the somehow even better extra content and expansions, (link to the trailer for one below), prepare to take a piece of yourself away when you play this classic.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It’s getting that much harder to keep these games in a specific order, because there’s a great argument as to why some should be higher than others. But here’s hoping I can justify these next three. Skyrim is a game that’s more controversial than I realized. When it first released, it received enormous acclaim for it’s massive world, and all the rich content inside of it. Now more than ever, I hear more from people who believe that previous entries in the Elder Scrolls series are much more superior, but there’s something magical about Skyrim that forces me to keep returning to it almost five years after it’s release. You play as The Dragonborn, a man about to be executed until dragons attack and you escape in the frenzy. You then learn that you are actually part dragon, and must save the world from Alduin, a dragon set on destoying it. The story’s ridiculous, and it’s so much less interesting than everything else, that it took me about 30-50 hours in to finally complete it. With such praise for a game like The Witcher and much less for Skyrim , it might sound like I placed these in the wrong order but that’s far from the case. What makes Skyrim just a little better than The Witcher is just how involved you can be in the world.
You can choose to start a family, adopt children and be a simple woodcutter who goes into town to trade his wood for an ample amount of money. You could join a faction such as the Companions (legendary mercenaries), The Dark Brotherhood (a group of bloodthirsty assassins who serve a dark god), or a Thieves Guild that will push your breaking and entering skills to the limit. You can attend the Mage college, and learn powerful new spells, and you can search for undead Dragon Priests and collect their ancient masks for a powerful treasure. I’ve listed about 40% of what you can do in Skyrim, and haven’t even touched on joining in the civil war, searching ancient ruins, etc. Witcher 3 has a much better story and characters, no doubt about it. But the sheer amount of fun things to do here is incredible. About four years after first playing, I found a bandit cave I had passed over in the 300+ hours I had put into the game.Time will tell if Witcher 3 is still that much fun to play a couple years from now, but make no mistake. If you’re looking for a videogame that (mostly) anyone will enjoy, you can’t do wrong by a game that takes all the right influences from Tolkien. And with a remastered edition releasing this year, it’s a great gift to give to one of the few who haven’t experienced the game yet, because they too will likely lose themselves in this wonderful and mysterious game.
2. Batman: Arkham City
It’s not as big as Skyrim, and it won’t leave you with conflicting moral choices like Dishonored or Witcher 3, but it does something better; it finds a way to make you, “Be the Batman.” Some time after Arkham Asylum is shut down, the new Mayor of Gotham petitions to ward off a section of Gotham, and throw every inmate, sane or otherwise, into this section of Gotham, dubbed “Arkham City.” Bruce Wayne campaigns to shut it down knowing full well how poorly this will end, but in a series of unexpected events, Bruce is kidnapped and thrown into Arkham City by a man named Hugo Strange. Not only does Strange know that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one and the same, he’s threatening to enact something referred to as, “Protocol 10,” which Batman has less than 12 hours to stop. As if the stakes weren’t high enough, a gang war has broken out between Penguin, Two Face and Joker. The Joker is in the process of dying, and in an ingeniously macabre move, poisons Batman with his blood forcing Batman to work with Joker to find a cure for both of them. With all these separate plot threads, it’s hard to imagine all of them finding a way to work together, but somehow they do. Arkham City never misses a beat, and leaves you with a mystery that will grip you all the way to it’s jaw-dropping conclusion.
But what rounds the game out so well is the way it plays. In combat, Batman’s unpredictably fast, and you’ll be encouraged to take down 12 thugs at a time, using everything from batarangs to explosive gel. As a predator, you hide in the shadows from armed enemies, jamming their guns or taking them down quietly from behind. It’s a feeling that never gets old each time one criminal sees his allies picked off, only to see the perpetrator vanish with a smoke pellet and hide among the shadows. Even without combat, the game’s extra content keeps things interesting enough that you’ll get sidetracked more than once. Solve all of Riddler’s 400 (440 if you include Catwoman) puzzles to rescue a medical team he’s kidnapped and prepared to execute. Search for a mysterious figure claiming to know a mysterious prophecy involving the Batman. Fight for your sanity when Mad Hatter attempts to rip it from you. You can even visit Crime Alley, to see where it all began for Batman. There’s a huge amount of fun in running through the rogues gallery of The World’s Greatest Detective. Take it from someone who’s replayed this at least five times, it’s not a story to be missed. And with an impending remastered edition, there’s never a better time to be the Batman.
Of course, there can only be one game that earns the number one spot. Who can say if I’ll disagree with this decision later, but considering I’ve bought it on three different platforms and played it a good five or six times, I think I’ve earned the right to defend this as my favorite game of all time. So without further ado…
How do I even start? I guess some context couldn’t hurt. Originally intended as a sequel to the True Crime series, True Crime: Hong Kong ended up being cancelled by Activison for fear that it wouldn’t be a success (keep in mind, these are the same people that release Call of Duty, a series infamous for staying the same for the past nine years). Someone at Square Enix very wisely decided that the game had potential to be great, and published it under a new name: Sleeping Dogs.
Undercover supercop Wei Shen returns to Hong Kong after moving away at a young age to take down the Triads that corrupted and indirectly ended up killing his sister. The game takes it’s inspiration from Hong Kong cinema, which is known to be all style and no substance. Not the case with Sleeping Dogs. At first, Wei is more than determined to take down the entire criminal enterprise and will do anything to take revenge, starting at the bottom with The Water Street Gang and working his way up to the leader, The Dragon’s Head. But the more he bonds with his old best friend Jackie Ma and his boss, Winston Chu, he begins to find the one thing he lost long ago: a family. As Wei gains more power, the police force begins to notice and question whether or not Wei is truly on the right side of the law. What makes the game’s storytelling so incredible however, is that you’ll go through the same roller coaster of emotions Wei is. You start off more than ready to demolish the Triad, but there comes a point when you begin to question, like Wei, if, despite all the violence and crime, there’s more purpose among the Triad then the law. You’ll bond with each character and by the action-packed end, you’ll learn how much of the law Wei is willing to break to uphold it. Between some witty humor and some intense action, there’s a real heart to the story, which is something very few crime novels, movies or games have been able to acquire.
As far as gameplay goes, it’s still a blast years later. The plethora of kung-fu moves at your disposal from broken limbs to rising kicks encourages you to mix up your attacks and stay on your feet, and with a gun combat only gets better. Wei’s free running abilities are cool on their own, but add a gun and you’re beholden to a truly cinematic experience. After vaulting over an object, Wei can slow down time to take out rival gangs that much faster, disarm and kill someone with their own weapon, or grapple an enemy and use the environment against him. For instance, if you’re fighting in a warehouse, you may see a refrigerator with the door slightly ajar. If you’re so inclined you can grapple an enemy, drag him towards the fridge door and proceed to introduce the door to an enemy’s head. You can put their head in a furnace, lighting them and nearby rival members on fire, or best of all, slam an enemy into a fish tank, and then use one of the fish that’s fallen out of the tank as a weapon to beat everyone else into submission. Combat masterfully walks the line of both ridiculous and realistic well enough to keep it consistently entertaining.
Sleeping Dog’s greatest feat though, is in it’s world design. It’s seriously the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. Whether you’re walking along the beachfront or shopping in the Night Market, you feel like a part of the game’s world. You’ll help T-shirt vendors by scouring Hong Kong for a great photo, participate in fight clubs and street races, take undercover cop missions that regular police can’t go near, go on dates, help a (very) high film student shoot his movie, expose underground fighting tournaments and much more. It’s a world that you feel welcome in, and one you want to explore every wonderful part of because you feel like a tourist. It’s a game that should be missed by no one for it’s powerful story, intense action, and beautiful world design. Sleeping Dogs is my favorite game ever, and as of right now, it’s staying that way. Here’s hoping it gets a great sequel.