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Best of the Rest: Sam's picks of 2014

S. Prell, @SamPrell

I grew up during what I'd consider "the golden age" of MMO games. I was there for the launch of World of Warcraft, as well as earlier titles like EverQuest and Ultima Online. The genre has a very special place in my heart, and WildStar felt like the last, major, "true" MMO (as opposed to games like Bungie's Destiny that possess MMO-like features) release that we would see in a long time, possibly ever again. A last hurrah, if you will.

And what a hurrah it is. We don't really "review" MMOs here, but through a series of postcards, I chronicled my time with a game that is in no uncertain language a fantastic piece of craftsmanship. The visuals are bright and colorful, with a Pixar-esque personality evident throughout. The gameplay is fresh and fast, requiring constant focus instead of hotkey rotation memorization. And of course, the housing. Oh, how I could spend hours simply customizing my plot of land with various wallpapers, decor, even mini-quest objectives. WildStar is a thoughtfully-constructed game with a wealth of content.

True that it relied a bit too much on large-scale endgame raids and the promised monthly updates fizzled shortly after launch, but I don't regret a moment spent on Planet Nexus.

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor
I like MMOs. Have I mentioned that I like MMOs? Because I do. And as far as many are concerned, World of Warcraft is the MMO. I'd played since vanilla WoW back in 2004, but after the conclusion of Wrath of the Lich King, my interest waned and I never seemed to last more than a few weeks after an expansion's release.

Enter Warlords of Draenor, an expansion full of interesting, new content that reinvigorated my love for WoW. For one, the release of Warlords also meant a patch that brought 10-year-old character models to modern standards, making everyone look just a little bit cooler in their spiffy new armor. (Though come on Blizzard, Worgen females still look like heroin-addled chihuahuas.) And speaking of new armor, Blizzard wisely made Warlords feel inviting to newbies and lapsed subscribers alike thanks to a complimentary boost to level 90.

Beyond the niceties, Warlords pays homage to Warcraft fans with tons of references to past events and games, as well as gameplay that mixes in classic RTS flavor with the MMORPG formula. More than any other game this year, Warlords felt like coming home.

Rogue Legacy
I missed Rogue Legacy's original release on PC, but I was positively hooked once it came to PlayStation 4. Much like Shovel Knight - one of our picks for best games of 2014 - its simple controls and retro graphics mask modern sensibilities and style.

By changing the traditional use of multiple lives into a line of heirs, Rogue Legacy was able to turn genre conventions on their head and provide a game that was at once challenging and accessible. Also, funny! I definitely giggled more than a few times as my lineage of Sirs and Ladies of varying size would let loose a fart cloud, spout random curse words or become terrified of cooked chicken as they ventured forth through a randomly-generated castle.

Rogue Legacy took me by surprise. I'm sure glad it did, even if the friends and family I forsook for "just one more run" might not be.

Fantasia: Music Evolved
I have never played a game quite like Fantasia: Music Evolved. I honestly don't even know what I would call it.

I suppose "Rhythm/Music" comes the closest, but that brings with it connotations like Parappa the Rappa or Amplitude, where the goal is to press buttons in time with various tunes. And sure, you certainly move to the beat in Fantasia, but it doesn't feel like you're following prompts; it feels like you're Mickey Mouse, using gestures to shape and control music itself.

A niche game to be sure, and one that was sadly made more niche when Microsoft ditched the Kinect as a requirement for Xbox One, but one that gave me a sense of fun and fulfillment unlike anything else. If those "Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul" books were a game, they would be Fantasia: Music Evolved.

Hyrule Warriors
I don't really like the Legend of Zelda games. (I know, I know, feel free to take away my nerd card.) I also don't much enjoy the Dynasty Warriors games. For some weird reason though, I'm positively charmed by Hyrule Warriors.

It's intensely satisfying to cut through hordes of moblins and send them flying with any of the game's colorful cast, and I honestly don't think I could pick a favorite because they're all so different from each other both in appearance and fighting prowess. The dungeon crawls are gone, but their spirit remains intact thanks to light puzzles throughout and boss fights that require you to correctly utilize your weapons and target specific weaknesses.

Crossover projects rarely seem to work out favorably, but if it was Hyrule Warriors' goal to get me curious about either the Warriors or Zelda games, mission accomplished.
[Images: NCSoft, Blizzard, Cellar Door Games, Disney, Nintendo/Koei Tecmo]

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