January 19, 2015 by Paul Curtin
With budgets for triple-A games getting bigger and bigger, each year the industry’s top game developers end up taking less and less risks. As a result of the over-saturation of big-budget sequels and remakes, this year more than ever, gamers looked to smaller downloadable titles to deliver new and more unique experiences that they couldn’t physically buy in stores.
2014’s best downloadable games weren’t just from small indie studios though; top developers and publishers like Blizzard and Ubisoft surprisingly took risks by tasking smaller dev teams with creating niche indie-like projects — a trend that’s likely to continue on into 2015 with the growing popularity and success of these smaller games.
And then there were even some games that broke the mold and challenged the very idea of what it means to be a “game” by creating a new genre or experience that we haven’t seen before. These are the best downloadable games of 2014:
Valiant Hearts delivered on an emotional level that we rarely see in games and challenged players just enough with interesting puzzles involving one of the best uses of a dog ever. This War of Mine, Transistor, Banner Saga, and Child of Light all featured a similar level of emotional depth but with even more intense strategy and role-playing elements.
Games like Shovel Knight and Super Time Force went the modern retro route and brought back nostalgic feelings for anybody who grew up playing games in the late 80s’ and early 90’s. While games like Divinity Original and Loadout were simply the best valued games in their respective genres.
2014’s biggest surprise however had to be Sony’s PlayStation 4 exclusive P.T. Back in August during the typical summer gaming drought, gamers looking for something new stumbled upon the game on the PlayStation Network. Having no idea what it was, players were in for a huge shock to find that this free demo from an unknown developer was one of the most frightening and difficult games ever. P.T. had everyone talking this summer and only grew in popularity after players finally beat the “Playable Teaser” and the revelation that the demo was to promote the upcoming Silent Hills game, from Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro and starring Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead.
But while P.T. was 2014’s biggest surprise, there was another risk that paid off even greater for its developers. Blizzard had a huge year releasing massive expansion packs for their most popular games, but their new Warcraft-based collectable card game, Hearthstone, quickly surpassed the number of World of Warcraft players by hitting 20 million players in just its first year. Hearthstone is constantly among the top three highest viewed games on Twitch.tv, and with plans for the game to be released on iPhone and Android smartphone devices in 2015, its popularity is only going to keep skyrocketing.
Blizzard’s free-to-play digital player vs. player card game is the perfect example of why triple-A developers should take more risks on smaller games that focus on quality over quantity and how an industry leader should lead by example. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is 2014’s Best Downloadable Game.