All rankings are biased, and these are no exception. But based on a synthesis of reviews and personal gaming experience, we’ve compiled a must-have list for the average gamer. After Grand Theft Auto V defined 2014, it’s time to take a closer look at 2015’s most desirable video games—just in time for the holidays!
10. Star Wars Battlefront
At time of publication, this one is still to be released (later this November). But rest assured, there’s been plenty of anticipation among most gamers and fans of the Star Wars franchise. There’s plenty to like about the smooth graphics and wide-open battlefields, but be warned: there’s no single player campaign. So if multiplayer-only titles (e.g. Titanfall) aren’t your thing, you may be disappointed with Battlefront.
9. Mortal Kombat X
In a world where video games may seem increasingly frustrating to the casual gamer, we almost certainly need a diversion that allows us to take out some of that frustration. That’s the central appeal of Mortal Kombat X. Released in April, the 10th installment of the fighting series is much like its predecessors conceptually—this time with the improved graphics and gameplay you’d expect from a next-generation title. Your character of choice does hand-to-hand battle against another character, bloodiness ensues, and—when successful—you enjoy the reward of inflicting a unique “Fatality” move. It’s the kind of mindless violence to which many games aspire, replete with an old-school arcade vibe and improved environmental interactivity. And as you might have guessed, this is still one of the great games to play with friends.
8. Madden NFL 2016
It’s a classic, and yes, it just keeps getting better. The yearly installment of Madden NFL arrived this time with improved passing and receiving mechanics that allow the user to perform a specific type of catch while the ball is in the air (e.g. an “aggressive catch” or a “catch and run”). Though these kind of innovations are less than revolutionary, they’re the kind of wrinkle that keeps a game like this fresh. More importantly, the graphics are as realistic as ever, and there’s no shortage of satisfaction associated with pulling out a hard-fought victory—especially if you’re playing the full 15-minute quarters. Yes, individual games can be frustratingly unrealistic at times, but far less so than in past iterations. The human endeavor to replicate the complexities of American football remains a work in progress, but an undeniably enjoyable one at that.
7. NBA 2K16
There may be no better video game in the world of professional sports. Between the consistently stunning realism (graphically and otherwise) and supreme attention to detail, the NBA2K franchise has become an undisputed industry leader. It’s no small miracle that NBA Live—the chief competition—remains in existence. New to 2K16 is a MyCareer mode developed by none other than famed director Spike Lee—a unique perk for those who already own previous installments of the franchise. As expected, there’s a sprawling (and bumping) soundtrack curated by a trio of top-shelf DJs. And, of course, there’s plenty of fast-paced fun to be had for any hoops fan.
6. Halo 5: Guardians
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Halo franchise. When it comes to shooters, Call of Duty has always seemed more relevant. And when it comes to science fiction, an RPG-heavy shooter like Mass Effect has always seemed more rewarding. That said, the fifth installment of Halo (released in October) has already attracted plenty of attention. The game received an 8/10 from GameSpot and a 9/10 from IGN, so there’s surely something to like here—namely, perhaps, some sweet graphics and intense gameplay.
As usual, however, there are real qualms concerning the central story.
“The lack of a hero with a cause to root for costs Halo 5’s bigger story dearly, which wastes some good potential,” writes IGN’s Brian Albert. “Though the plot is overly complicated and unclear at times, it’s interesting that the new threat is less black-and-white in its motives than the Covenant, the Flood, or the Forerunners.”
Many won’t care much about that story, instead preferring to engage friends online via multiplayer competition. If you fall in that category, this is definitely the game for you.
5. Call of Duty: Black Ops III
You’ve probably seen an ad or two for this game, including the excellent commercials featuring The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” If smooth promotional campaigns are any indication of the actual product, this should be a pretty good one. If you don’t follow gaming all that closely, you might feel a tad lost when it comes to the Call of Duty franchise. It wasn’t long ago that we were graced by Advanced Warfare (starring Kevin Spacey himself), and there’s a long line of related games that have rolled out over the years.
Each game has something unique to like—while sharing a basic commitment to fast-paced, shoot ‘em up combat. This one is set futuristically in 2065 and adopts a special forces identity, basically a more forward-looking version of Black Ops II. Better yet, there will once again be a “Zombie mode”—raising the gore and fright factor for those of us who tire of shooting at mere mortals.
4. Batman: Arkham Knight
If you like looking at video games almost as much as you like playing them, welcome to one of the most gorgeous titles we’ve seen since GTA V. The open-world rendition of Gotham City is truly a sight to behold, a colorful but appropriately gothic and detailed playground that’s much larger than the franchise’s previous renditions of the city. At times, I wished the campaign would slow down so that I could simply wander around and enjoy the environment.
Beyond Gotham itself, the graphics are outstanding. Batman himself is glossy and lifelike. His villains are detailed, and Poison Ivy has never looked hotter. In terms of gameplay, the big change this time is the introduction of the Batmobile and the many driving (or battling) tasks associated therewith. If anything, the game takes things a little too far with its road-warrior ambitions, taking away from the sheer enjoyment of gliding through Gotham at a more deliberate pace. So-called “tank” battles can also be quite tedious. But setbacks notwithstanding, this game is a lot of fun to look at and play. There’s also loads of rich story and dialogue for those of us who enjoy a little respite from the action.
3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I still haven’t made my way to The Witcher 3, but I’m told by a reliable source that it’s absolutely amazing. There’s a huge open world. There’s ample beast-slaying. And there’s even some adult content if that’s what floats your boat. This is a fantasy RPG, pure and simple. It sets you down in an immersive story that fans of The Witcher will especially appreciate. But with the undying popularity of medieval narratives, the game’s appeal certainly extends to anyone who likes to imagine himself swinging a sword and dishing out some magical ass-kicking.
GameSpot’s Kevin VanOrd gave Wild Hunt a 10/10 and an enthusiastic endorsement.
“And make no mistake: this is one of the best role-playing games ever crafted, a titan among giants and the standard-setter for all such games going forward,” VanOrd writes. “Where the Witcher 2 sputtered to a halt, The Witcher 3 is always in a crescendo, crafting battle scenarios that constantly one-up the last, until you reach the explosive finale and recover in the glow of the game’s quiet denouement.”
The Witcher 3 may be a “standard-setter,” but it isn’t quite the highest ranked RPG on this list.
2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
This is what happens one combines stealthy action and a gigantic open world. The Phantom Pain has been a magnet for perfect-score reviews, and that hasn’t been by accident. It’s one of the most intricate games ever devised, a masterpiece in terms of depth and scope alike. From your enormous home base to the field of action, there’s enough here to keep you occupied for countless hours. From that perspective, The Phantom Pain is unquestionably a better investment than your average game—one of the reasons we’ve ranked it No. 2.
Choices matter in this environment. In turn, intellect is rewarded, and decisions take on significant meaning as the game progresses. Whereas most shooters plop you down amid an unavoidable firefight, The Phantom Pain offers you the discretion to either go in guns blazing or take a more subtle approach. You’ll be outfitted with a wide array of helpful gadgets and weaponry, all of which can be improved and diversified over time with a little research and development back at the base. By many accounts, this is a virtually perfect game. If you’re down for some action in the Afghan desert, don’t miss out.
1. Fallout 4
If you’re a fan of Fallout, November 10 has been circled on your calendar for some time. This game is reportedly massive and even more intricate than it’s wildly popular predecessor, Fallout 3. The franchise has brilliantly capitalized upon a cultural preoccupation with all things Post-Apocalyptic. And it’s done so with a rarely matched sense of humor.
Though the Fallout series has come to epitomize the very notion of an open-world RPG, there’s still plenty of action to keep one occupied as he explores the Wasteland and its various remnants of civilization. Developers have improved the gunplay this time around, and the main character is now voiced, adding to the realism and emotional investment in the immersive world. The other big development (that we know about so far) is the ability to build your very own home base. Fortify at will with turrets and, if the mood strikes, add some decor while you’re at it.
The Fallout universe has always presented us with freedom-inspiring open worlds, but this version has apparently taken things to an altogether new level. Collect things, destroy things, buy things, and talk to an endless array of intriguing characters while you’re at it. This is escapism at its absolute best.