I love video games. Over my eighteen years of life, I've accumulated a substantial collection of games and consoles, engaged in several dialogues about my passion for the medium over the internet, and shared the hobby I love with friends and family alike. I love video games.
However, lately, it's been difficult to be excited about them.
The Birth of a Gaming Cynic
I'd say that the last year that I truly enjoyed euphoric enthusiasm for the medium was 2011- a banner year for the previous generation of consoles and one packed with a multitude of amazing AAA titles. Portal 2, Gears of War 3, Batman: Arkham City, Skyrim- these games single-handedly created some of the greatest gaming memories I can recall, and perhaps more importantly, played a large role in facilitating my survival of my junior year of high school. I can still remember Wheatley's biting wit, the tragic death that lay at the emotional crux of GOW 3, collecting every single Riddler trophy in Arkham City and, of course, getting lost for hundreds of hours in Bethesda's latest epic. I treasure this year in gaming as one of my all-time favorites, right up there with 2007, and it left me even more excited to see where the next few years would take this interactive medium.
Then came 2012. There were highlights, to be sure- Telltale's Walking Dead Game was a game I didn't expect to love as much as I did, and the Doom 3 BFG edition took me back to childhood memories I had long since left behind. But my three most anticipated games of the year all faltered in some way or another. Mass Effect 3, while an amazingly compelling trilogy-closer for 99% of its duration, failed to stick the landing at the very end. Assassin's Creed III was a boring mess of a game which fell apart in both presentation (I wasn't a big fan of the drab, snow-ridden nature of Ubisoft's colonial era) and narrative (don't even get me started on the way Desmond's storyline concluded). And even my most well-received game of the three, Halo 4, a game that succeeded in rebooting a franchise that most thought should have ended with the third installment, executed said reboot by ignoring most elements of the fascinating universe Bungie spent nine years building.
2013 was just a dull year in general, mostly because there was very little coming out that I was interested in, and I was already conserving money to prep for the next generation. The one 2013 game I played was BioShock Infinite, a game with an amazing story but boring gameplay mechanics. Besides that, I supplanted my appetite with games released through Xbox's Games With Gold program. Fable III was a game I enjoyed much more than I thought I would, having never played the series before. Crackdown was a bit dull to me, although I can see why people love it. All of these were distractions, though- I was waiting for the new consoles at this point.
Then we reached 2014- our present-day. I picked up my Xbox One at the start of the year, and due to a dearth of games, kicked off with an entry in a series I never wanted to play again- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. You can read my full thoughts here, but suffice it to say, Ubisoft might have actually won me back if they had placed more of an emphasis on Assassin combat and less of one on sailing around the Caribbean. Titanfall came out in March- I enjoyed it for about a month and a half before I lost interest, although I do want to go back and pick up the Expedition DLC. Then my most anticipated game of the last few years, Watch Dogs, released in May- a game I came extremely close to loving, but was turned off from by the narrative focus on gang warfare and an overall soulless feel that pervaded the open world- Ubisoft had essentially squandered the chance to deliver a compelling story about hacking in the information era. In retrospect, I wish I had picked up Wolfenstein: The New Order instead.
So, after disappointment after disappointment, I was heading into E3 2014 a cynical man. I knew that some of the games I was most excited for- Quantum Break, Kingdom Hearts III- wouldn't be there, and that others, namely Batman: Arkham Knight, had been delayed to 2015. The rest of what I knew was being shown seemed like the latest in a string of endless sequels developed cross-generationally for the sake of profit, a necessity that I understand from a developing standpoint, but am less fond of from a consumer one.
But if I walked into E3 2014 a cynical man, I came out a hopeful one.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
I'd say my excitement began not with the announcement of a fascinating new IP, but with the reveal of a collection of classic titles that immediately evoked a powerful sense of nostalgia.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a compilation of the four numbered entries in the series, instantly sent chills through my spine the moment it was announced. Boasting Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3 and Halo 4, a new webseries accessible from the game's user interface, access to the Halo 5 beta, and the original multiplayer components of each game playable over Xbox Live, it seemed as though my childhood was returning to me- in the form of glorious 1080p, 60 FPS HD, which certainly doesn't hurt. The prospect of replaying one of my favorite game series of all time with so many added perks certainly kicked off E3 on a high note.
Given my immense love of Halo, you can probably guess that I'm a huge fan of Bungie in general- which is why I've been heavily anticipating the launch of Destiny ever since it was announced, although I'm skeptical to see whether it'll actually bring anything new to the table in the realm of first-person shooters. However, the sheer excitement that seemed to surround it with every piece of E3 coverage I read or video I watched helped reassure me that, innovation or no innovation, this is going to be an entertaining game nonetheless. The news that you can create multiple characters tied to the same account (which may have been common knowledge beforehand that I wasn't aware of) left me extremely excited to test all of the different character creation and customization options the game has to offer. Competitive multiplayer, which has never really thrilled me in any game, seems to run quickly and smoothly, although I'll likely spend more time playing co-op strike missions with friends and exploring Destiny's massive universe. I'm still excited to see how the more MMO-esque gameplay elements come into focus as time goes on, but Destiny seems like it'll be a fun way to kick off the fall.
However, of the remainder of the games releasing this year, Dragon Age: Inquisition is likely to defeat Destiny in the category of time spent absorbed in the universe. I was one of the few who genuinely loved Dragon Age II, not for its narrative, but for its fast-paced combat, as I found Origins a bit too slow for my liking in that department. With their third installment in the franchise, however, BioWare seems to be melding the beloved grand-scale adventures of Origins with the ability to choose between both Origins' more tactical approach and II's fast-paced action. Add to that the fact that the game looks unmistakably beautiful, and it seems that BioWare is on the verge of releasing their most ambitious title yet, and one that could single-handedly redeem the tarnished names of both the Dragon Age franchise and the BioWare brand. BioWare knows how to tell a story, and I have no doubt that they'll knock it out of the park with Inquisition.
Those titles will be enough to sustain me until the end of the year, I'm sure, and from then on, 2015 is looking very promising.
In Anticipation Of The Future: 2015
Batman: Arkham Knight looks like the Batman game I've been waiting for since Arkham City. Rocksteady's returned to the franchise after letting Warner Bros. handle Arkham Origins (a game that I never played but, by all accounts, was at least decent), and appears to be setting up the Arkham franchise to conclude with a stellar finale. Kevin Conroy's back in the titular role, the Arkham Knight looks like an intriguing, original villain, Gotham looks as beautifully haunting as ever, and, to top it all off, you can drive the Batmobile. While much still isn't known about the game's overall plot, it seems as though Scarecrow, having been missing since the events of Arkham Asylum, is the main antagonist of the story this time around, which excites me, as I felt he was imposing yet underused for most of the first game. The Batmobile appears to control well, and the battle tank-esque combat mechanics slightly resemble the Batmobile of the Dark Knight trilogy, which is by no means a bad thing. I'm excited to see how Rocksteady closes out their hallmark franchise.
A game I previously had no interest in stood out to me at E3 2014: The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. While I'm hesitant to jump into the franchise without playing the previous two, I just might risk it- because the game looks phenomenal. The world looks massive and incredibly detailed, the combat system appears to be incredibly intricate (a close friend of mine who just picked up the Witcher 2 during the Steam Summer Sale has actually told me that it's almost too intricate for him), and the story, at least from what I've seen, sounds rather intriguing (and Charles Dance, A.K.A Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones is voicing the King in the game, so that's a plus). Plus, with every indication being that the next Mass Effect and Kingdom Hearts III aren't hitting shelves any time soon, I could use a new RPG in my life.
Details on Halo 5: Guardians are still scarce, but the game appears to be reintroducing the universe that I previously bemoaned the lack of in Halo 4. The trailer for the Master Chief collection appeared to foreshadow an Arbiter appearance in the game, which immediately raised my hopes for 343's next Halo title. I already can't wait for E3 2015 so that we can finally see a gameplay reveal.
And then there are the games without dates pinned on them: Kingdom Hearts III, Mass Effect's next chapter, and the fourth Doom title are all great reasons to be excited for the future of this industry. (Particularly Doom- if ID can do for Doom what MachineGames did for Wolfenstein, this could be my most anticipated game title of all time.)
The Future Is Bright
Many of the games I listed above are sequels to games I've played before, with the exception of the Witcher and Destiny- and yet, I couldn't be more excited. It isn't about new IP's for me, although those are great- these games impress me because after years of sequel fatigue, these appear to be sequels that are building on their predecessors. After a long transition period, it seems as though the gaming industry is finally going to embrace the next generation in an astounding way that could breathe new life back into some of gaming's most played-out franchises. I see the massive open worlds in DA: Inquistion and the Witcher III, the graphical power of Arkham Knight, the sheer potential of everything Destiny's promising- I see these things and I feel... enthused again.
There are others I didn't mention. MGS V looks incredible. Mirror's Edge 2 is sure to mark the grand return of a cult franchise. Alien: Isolation looks terrifying. Assassin's Creed: Unity, despite my jaded attitude towards the series, at least looks impressive in scale. I see these games and I feel like our medium is finally making that shift back towards innovation again.
IGN's talk show, "Game Scoop", recently had a viewer pose the question: "Could 2015 be the next 2007?"
You can see the panel's thoughts above, but mine?
God, I hope so.