The end of the year, of course, means it's time to reflect on the best games we've played over the past 12 months. These days, the standard categories for year-end awards don't really seem to work—it's hard to designate the best of a genre or platform when most games cross genres and ship on numerous systems—so instead, we've come up with broader, more topical categories.
Everyone at USG put their heads together and voted on 10 individual categories as a group, and each team member has nominated their own pick for the category. Rather than argue long and loud about personal opinions, however, we've taken a scientific approach: We voted on each category through an anonymous survey in which we weighted each nominee from "most" to "least."
This means, in theory at least, that a game that gets nominated by more than one person won't necessarily sweep the category—it's entirely possible for a dark horse to take the prize if it receives enough second- or third-place points from everyone. We'll see!
We'll be publishing a different category each day through the end of the year, leading up to our final vote for best game of 2015. This has been a strong year for games, so anything's possible!
Most Rewarding Game: The Nominees
2015 brought us a bumper crop of great games, but which of these masterpieces left players with a profound sense of accomplishment? It's all well and good to spend hours doing mundane chores in a big open world or master a shooter on the highest difficulty level, but at the end of the day, we want to feel good about the time we've invested. These six games did the trick.
Bill: The Witcher 3
The most rewarding game for me was definitely The Witcher 3. It made me nervous any time I had to make a decision, whether it was a seemingly insignificant conversation, or a choice to let someone live or die. I was engaged from start to finish, and that emotional journey was a very satisfying experience for me.
I'll admit the feeling of pride that comes from defeating some of Bloodborne's most harrowing challenges isn't all that different from what's found in From Software's previous RPGs. Still, that doesn't make it any less effective. The tough-but-fair obstacles From's developers throw in your path offer a luxury that's rarely encountered in gaming: the chance to figure things out for yourself. And, until any other developers come close to having From's level of confidence, their series of brutal RPGs will remain the most rewarding games I've ever played.
Jaz: Destiny: The Taken King
From its high-octane introductory mission through to its climactic battle with the eponymous arch-villain, the progression of Destiny: The Taken King's storyline and post-storyline quests is exceptionally well designed and executed. Playing through them is a highly enjoyable adventure, and along the way you acquire plenty of interesting loot to gear up your character - which helps make the game feel like a great investment of your time.
Jeremy: Super Mario Maker
Super Mario Maker's kind of like the Dagobah cave in that you find in it only what you take with you. If you approach with an earnest desire to learn and design, you'll eventually find yourself creating greatness. If you just want to play wild or cruel levels by other people, you'll find that in spades as well. A game, a tool, and a gamified tool, Super Mario Maker rewards the curious and the creative with a marvelously usable and intuitive interface.
Kat: Steamworld Heist
Out of all the games that I played this year, Steamworld Heist was the most addictive. That's because it's one of those games where there's always something new just over the horizon - new guns to buy, a new crewmember to recruit, or a fun new challenge. It's packed to bursting with fun and interesting things to find, and I could barely put it down until I was done. In that light, Steamworld Heist is definitely my most rewarding game of 2015.
Mike: Disgaea 5
There's nothing like the feeling of your chosen crew and strategies working out for the best. When you coast through the enemy and all of your plans, squad compositions, and endless grinding pay off. Disgaea 5 is a game about building to the crescendo, surpassing it, and doing it all over again.
Nadia: Super Mario Maker
I can’t think of a game that encourages experimentation as much as Super Mario Maker. Playing it is like being handed a lump of clay and being told “Here -- nothing you make is wrong.” Obviously, some people are better level designers than others, but the building process itself offers so much to do, and it rewards you for poking your nose here and there. Tap this. Shake that. You receive a surprise nearly every time you perform an action.
The Winner: Super Mario Maker
Perhaps not surprisingly, the game centered around the idea of creating and sharing levels left the USgamer team with a satisfying sense of accomplishment. The game's ease-of-use combined with its numerous means of swapping content with friends and strangers drove us not only to become better players, but better creators as well.
Runners-up: Bloodborne, Steamworld Heist
Tomorrow: 2015's Best Open World