3. Titanfall (Respawn Entertainment / EA)
They were new on the scene and desperate to make an impression, but that's exactly what Respawn Entertainment achieved when they launched Titanfall on Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC earlier this year. The critical response was pretty unanimous; this is a multiplayer shooter that deserves to sit beside the genre heavyweights. Players obviously agreed too, and it sold well across all three platforms.
Titanfall came to the table with a good pedigree, their success didn't come from a standing start. Studio co-founders Vince Zampella and Jason West both left Call of Duty creators Infinity Ward and started out on their own, and this is the fruit of their refreshed vision. It certainly has a COD-esque feel to it, that much has to be acknowledged, but to call it a clone of their former IP would be to do Titanfall a disservice.
The titans that fall into every round are the obvious difference, but more subtle changes in regards to player movement outside of these hulking mechs are arguably just as important to the formula. Controlling the nimble pilots is as much fun as calling down the titans, and the battlefield crowded with expendable grunts makes for a more chaotic experience. Overall this was a great debut, and we can't wait to see what Respawn comes up with in future iterations.
2. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (Blizzard)
Hearthstone started as something of a pet project for a few Blizzard employees, but when members of other internal teams (Diablo, WoW, Starcraft...) were becoming distracted by it during work hours - either playing or watching - they knew it could be something big. And it is.
Hearthstone launched as a free-to-play game on PC, coming later to iPad and now to Android tablets. Despite being a (quite fair) free-to-play game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft quickly reached 20 million players and was the most profitable title from Activision Blizzard in their May financial report. Not bad for a 'pet project'. This is not a matter of chance. Truth is, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is an amazing game, and one of the best multiplayer experiences of 2014.
Following the Blizzard mantra, Hearthstone is a game that's easy to pick up, with a simple concept and simple controls, but hard to master. The game works wonderfully on all platforms and despite a single-player add-on, Curse of Naxxramas, it's mostly a multiplayer game, where two players go head-to-head in a card game. Its success is mostly due to it being a very polished experience, with well-balanced cards (and Blizzard is not afraid to tweak potentially overpowered deck combinations) and an amazing matchmaking system, that almost always finds a opponent with the same range of skills or cards. Add a simple monthly ranking system and you have what is easily one of the most addictive games of the year.
1. Destiny (Bungie / Activision)
Bungie really nailed the concept of the social shooter with Destiny, and for our money, it was the best online multiplayer game of the year. Strange then, that it disappointed so many people, but then it's likely that most people were expecting a story-based shooter akin to the studio's previous offering, Halo. This is not that.
Instead what we got was co-op focussed missions and some incredible PvP matchmaking. Let's talk about the co-op first. The Raids (there's two now thanks to the recent DLC) are stern challenges, and while that challenge dissipates with time, the first outing will test even a well-oiled outfit. Six players must band together for these standout missions, whereas the main story missions and Strikes require only three (although they can be tackled alone for an increased challenge). Bungie has done a fantastic job in creating missions that are very replayable. This comes at the expense of story density, but the moment-to-moment gameplay is outstanding, and when played with similarly minded friends, it makes for a great social experience.
Then there's the PvP matches of the Crucible. Our only criticism is the relatively low number of maps (with the expansion there's now a dozen - thirteen for PlayStation gamers), but this isn't a major issue, as the ones that are there are nearly all top quality. We've spoken with some players (mainly while waiting in the lobbies on Halo: The Master Chief Collection) who actively despised the super-charged specials that each player takes into battle, but for us it's these over-powered abilities that make the game. No matter your skill level, there'll be moments in battle where you make the difference, where you can change the tide. The most skilled players will always sit atop the leaderboard come the end, but in amongst all the streaks and melees and explosions, every player will have a chance to shine. Destiny might not have been the perfect game in many respects, but as a multiplayer experience, as far as we're concerned, it wasn't bettered this year.
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