We finally picked our 2014 Game of the Year, It will shock you (it sure shocked us)

Game of the Year
For all the games I played and loved in 2014, only one of them consumed 1,026,032 seconds of my life (and counting). It’s my “Game of the Year.” But I’ll get to that in a minute.

2014 was a weird year: I can’t think of any other where so much end-of-year list-making has been influenced as much by what I didn’t play as what I did. There were so many games I didn’t get around to tackling in 2014. And many others that I’d love to talk about at length here, but won’t, because you’d be reading for days.

Here are some of the favorites, the “GotY shortlist,” as it were. Games I played and loved, and ones I’d recommend to anyone that asked:

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order
  • Luftrausers
  • Desert Golfing
  • Framed
  • Jazzpunk
  • Forza Horizon 2
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Hitman GO
  • The Wolf Among Us

Then there are the ones that I really enjoyed, and in some cases outright loved, but haven’t been able to finish yet:

  • Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
  • Grand Theft Auto V re-release
  • Metro Redux
  • Broforce
  • Mercenary Kings
  • The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
  • Thief

And finally there’s the list of shame, the games I wanted to play but just didn’t get to, for whatever reason:

  • Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
  • Shovel Knight
  • Bayonetta 2
  • Alien: Isolation
  • Hyrule Warriors
  • The Talos Principle
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth
  • A depressing number of others =(

But there’s still that 1 million seconds. On a game I tagged with a middling review score. A game that I still discuss with friends on a daily basis, going over everything from strategies to core elements that really ought to be given a second look. If you’ve paid any attention to the video gaming space in 2014, then you already know which rabbit hole we’re about to dive down.

I’m talking, of course, about Destiny.

Destiny

No game in 2014 filled me with more feelings than Destiny did, both positive and negative. I don’t have enough digits on my body to list the things in developer Bungie’s game that I’d like to change or just downright hate. The fiction itself is interesting, but the execution of the story and the way important pieces of lore are locked away on Bungie.net, never accessible inside the game, really chafe at my appreciation for a well-told story.

Then there are the arcane rules that flat-out don’t make sense. Why does wearing faction gear replace your Vanguard reputation gains when turning in bounties, but reward you with Crucible gear currency with every new rep level? What’s with the wallet limits on Glimmer and Crucible/Vanguard marks? Why oh why is the random number generator that determines loot drops seemingly sentient, and hell-bent on making players hate it?

Destiny forces you to like it, despite itself.

Destiny forces you to like it, despite itself. At a very base level, the first-person shooter gameplay is as rock-solid an example of perfectly executed action as I’ve ever seen. It’s just fun to play. Your avatar moves quickly, jumps really high, and attacks with ferocity. Weapons, grenades, and even melee attacks all carry a tangible sense of weight. For all of Destiny‘s universe that is static and unchanging, your physical presence in each alien environment is a real thing that you feel.

This is Bungie’s first foray into massively multiplayer games, and any fan of MMOs like World of Warcraft can see obvious cracks in the design that older, more experienced MMO developers solved years and years ago. But Bungie’s talents are evident in the immensely satisfying gameplay, as well as the studio’s willingness to not just embrace feedback but act on addressing it quickly.

All of these words merely describe what Destiny is: wonderful, infuriating, hobbled, ever-evolving. They’re not the reason it earns a Game of the Year nod from me. Nor is it those 1 million seconds, really. In truth, Destiny is top dog in 2014 for me because it fostered new friendships in my real life. From close pals I communicate with daily to casual acquaintances to people I’ve never even met in real life, Destiny has, against all odds, brought segments of these disparate groups together and turned us all into comrades-in-arms.

Destiny‘s endgame raids really are where the serious stuff begins, just like Bungie promised. I can think of only a handful of games that I’ve played in my lifetime that delivered an experience on par with solving Destiny‘s Vault of Glass raid.

There’s no overstating the feeling of raw triumph that came from working through that sprawling, multi-part quest with a group of friends, after multiple days and well north of 15 hours worth of attempts. Two of them are close friends, people I chat with daily. Another is a more casual acquaintance, an industry insider whom I’d only ever met and chatted with briefly. And two of them I met for the first time as we played, though we’ve never been in the same room in real life. Destiny brought us all together.

No game in 2014 filled me with more feelings than Destiny did, both positive and negative.

That’s a powerful thing. We’re all good friends now, gathering every week to throw ourselves at the mercy of the “RNGesus” and share our delight (or horror) when something big happens, or gets announced. We nerd the hell out in long-running email chains that strain the limits of Gmail’s in-browser display. We swap stories and strategies constantly. In some ways, the lack of designed social elements inside of Destiny helped to foster all of this. We want to communicate regularly and, just like the folks that built party-gathering resources like DestinyLFG, we found other ways to get what we wanted from this game that we love but also have a crazy complicated relationship with.

Destiny isn’t the best game of 2014. But it delivered some of my most impactful gaming moments, of this year or any other. Memories of good times that I’ll carry around for years to come. Not because of the game, but not in spite of it either. It’s all about the shared moments — and that’s where Destiny really wins.

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