3. Monolith Productions
Prior to launching Shadow of Mordor, Monolith Productions made it clear in not so many words that this was their last shot. They needed a success after struggling to find big audiences for their last few games. It's rarely a good position to be in for a game developer. But backs-against-the-wall Monolith managed to not only create a great game based on Lord of the Rings, but they also brought innovation to the open world space that is likely rub off on many future genre entries.
The Nemesis system transforms what could have been mundane combat with grunts into something meaningful and unique to your experience. It adds a narrative to what otherwise would have been meaningless filler and it also offered great variation in terms of the gameplay. On the whole Monolith did enough to earn a spot on our developer of the year list, but more importantly they proved their worth to Warner Bros. and we cannot wait to see what they have in store for us in the future.
2. Creative Assembly
2014 was a big year for the Sega-owned studio, and Creative Assembly made a huge step up, with big announcements and updates regarding their strategy series - Total War - and with the release of Game of the Year contender Alien: Isolation.
The studio's achievement was magnified considering their end of 2013. The release of Total War: Rome II was a troubled one, and in the months that followed launch they had to face up to a lot of criticism, but they did so admirably. By early 2014 it had become clear that despite its issues, Rome II was the studio's most successful launch, and then CA spent most of the year updating, patching and improving on the game. That push culminated in the Emperor Edition of the game, which was fully tweaked and updated, and offered a whole new campaign board. For Free.
That alone would be considered admirable, but the studio also released one of the finest games of the year, and it wasn't a strategy game. Alien: Isolation was a huge statement of intent from Creative Assembly, and it showed that they're not just a one franchise studio. The quality of Alien: Isolation points to a new tripleA studio rising in the wilds of Horsham, West Sussex. CA has had a great year, and we can't wait to see what they come up with in 2015.
It's hard to see past Blizzard for 2014's studio of the year. There lineup of games has been truly remarkable. Not only that, but they've also made a series of announcements that have their fans chomping at the bit, including their first new IP in years, Overwatch.
But let's focus on the here and now. First there was the Diablo III expansion Reaper of Souls, and the subsequent Ultimate Evil Edition of the game that launched on PS4 and Xbox One too much critical fanfare. Then towards the end of the year there was World of Warcraft expansion Warlords of Draenor. While this latest update my have had a few teething issues, it has been roundly praised as the best expansion for the MMO in years, possibly ever.
Then, finally, there's the studio's biggest and best game, and it's one that came out of nowhere. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is, as most of you know already, a hugely addictive CCG game set in the Warcraft universe. Simply put, it's digital smack, and several members of the GR editorial team have developed serious addictions.
Blizzard has had a phenomenal year, and with the standalone expansion for Starcraft II on the way, their entry into the MOBA space Heroes of the Storm hitting closed beta early in the year, and with the aforementioned new IP Overwatch, there's every chance that 2015 is going to be just as fruitful.