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If 2014 taught us anything, it’s that Tay Swift’s still got it. If 2014 taught us anything else, it’s that we should never be excited for videogames. The year’s most hyped releases were met with varying degrees of disappointment, apathy, and outright scorn. Some of the fault lies in overzealous studios, who bandied about the word “revolutionary” to describe their giant robot shooters and NSA-inspired conspiracy thrillers, which is a practice we really need to put a moratorium on. “Revolutionary” is word that should be reserved for massive social upheaval. If your game didn’t directly lead to the beheading of at least one tyrannical world leader, then it’s not revolutionary.
Though as much as we’d like to blame public relation carnival barkers and buzzword-laced press packets, the people most at fault are us, the gamers, who year in and year out fall for developers’ sweet lies like the sad suckers we are. We’re not exactly a group known for learning from our mistakes. Whenever met with any kind of let down, we simply dig our heels in deeper and tell ourselves it’ll be better next time, only to fall all that much harder when the next highly anticipated title arrives underwhelming or outright broken. It’s the reason companies still manage to swindle people into buying new consoles at launch, even though everyone knows buying a console at launch is like putting a $400 down payment on having fun in two years.
But this year will be different. After the shit show of broken dreams that was 2014, I’ve shed all lingering traces of hope and have prepared myself for the inevitable disappointment of any game that looks even remotely promising. 2015 is, after all, the year of disappointment. We were promised hover boards and flying cars, and the most we have are phones small enough to carry around in our pockets that are capable of accessing the internet’s infinite wealth of human knowledge at a moment’s notice. Sure, that’s still impressive, but it’s not a fucking hoverboard.
So with that in mind, here are my most anticipated gaming disappointments of 2015.
From a pure gameplay standpoint, Persona 5 will be as good as any other title in the series. Like the Pokémon franchise it shares a few passing similarities with, the Persona games have a formula that’s hard to screw up. You get to play the world’s most inexplicably popular transfer student, who has the uncanny ability to make friends without saying a single word and summon a bevy of erotically-shaped creatures to help you battle against the forces of evil. That blend of social simulation and monster fighting is the kind of stuff that JRPG dreams are made of.
What concerns me about Persona 5 is the huge potential for a disappointing cast. As a series that relies so heavily on forging relationships, Persona games live and die by their characters, and it seems nigh impossible to surpass or even meet the standard set by Persona 4. That game’s Scooby gang of meddling teen detectives is one of my all-time favorite casts, from the ass-kicking Chie to the sexually confused Kanji to the un-bear-able Teddie, and I’m simply not ready to let them go.
Sure, they’ve had seven years in the spotlight, getting to star in their own anime, fighting game, dungeon crawler, live stage show, fighting game sequel, and that upcoming one where you just straight-up watch them dance. But it’s still not enough! What about a Persona 4 cereal? A Persona 4 series of episodic Telltale adventure games? A Marvel-esque cinematic universe? You can hire Scarlett Johansen to play Rise. It’ll be great! There are just so many more convoluted spinoffs to explore!
Basically, I'm bracing myself for Persona 5 to be Persona: The New Class, with a bunch of pale imitations that only make me miss the originals all the more.
The Legend of Zelda Wii U
Everyone is salivating over the idea of an open world Zelda, because “open world” is the bacon of videogames. It’s the ingredient you slap onto every dish imaginable to try and make the meal sound more delicious than it really is.
The thought of a 3D Zelda that captures the roaming, exploration-heavy spirit of series golden child A Link to the Past is certainly enticing, but I have my doubts about the execution. People are expecting Dark Souls Light, with a richly detailed and thoughtfully laid out Hyrule that players have to figure out for themselves. But what we’re most likely going to get is a game that’s 25% dungeons, and 75% traversing picturesque but ultimately meaningless scenery to get to those dungeons.
The actual footage Nintendo released to hype the game hasn’t dissuaded me of these fears. The four minutes the company uses to showcase one of the titles they’re hoping gets the Wii U out of the basement focuses on the fact that it takes five minutes of aimlessly wandering on horseback through vast fields and forests just to get from one point of interest on the map to another, and that you can pick apples. Fucking apple picking. We griped that Skyrim and GTA V gave us massive worlds with not a lot to do in them, and one of Zelda Wii U’s major selling points is that you can pretend to do the kind of weekend activities that yuppie couples do when they’re miserable and bored in their relationship.
The Legend of Zelda Wii U will have all the scope and none of the charm of a genuinely good open world game.
No Man’s Sky
“Infinite” is rarely used in a positive context. When you think of anything in terms of being infinite, it usually only serves to remind you how soul-crushingly insignificant you are, or how meaningless everything is, or how alone we all are, adrift in this endless sea of forever.
Which is why the near limitless breadth of the upcoming planetary exploration game No Man’s Sky fills me with nothing but dread. Whatever mathematical wizardry the developers devised to make the game possible is an unquestionable technical achievement, but stranding players in a world they’ll never see the end of is a cruel joke. I got stressed out collecting all 100 Jiggies in Banjo-Kazooie, and now you want me to discover more than 18 quintillion planets?
Of course, the point of the game isn’t to see everything. The point of No Man’s Sky is to... well, nobody is really sure what the point is yet. Early reports indicate the ultimate goal is to reach the center of the universe by gathering and selling resources, because even in worlds beyond our wildest imaginations we can’t keep things from boiling down to making dat money. But that doesn’t sound like much of an impetus. Nor do such thrilling side activities as studying intergalactic flora and fauna. I don’t need to spend precious time looking at pretend plants. At that point I could just go outside and experience actual nature.
Again, my concern is the focus on size and not content. As the most hyped game of 2015, No Man’s Sky seems destined to fall well short of our lofty expectations. I’m mentally preparing myself for it to be nothing more than a very big fish tank – pretty to look at, but lacking anything to keep you invested in its universe.
Final Fantasy XV
A Final Fantasy game in the guise of a road trip movie actually sounds pretty awesome. All Final Fantasy games are essentially road trip movies anyway, only this one drops all pretentions of airships and chocobos and lets you cruise around the world map in some rich kid’s souped-up sports car.
There will still be airships and chocobos, of course, because this is still a Final Fantasy game, but why would you want to hoof it on some glorified ostrich when you’ve got such a sweet set of wheels?
But count me among those who think the Final Fantasy series is beyond saving. The franchise lost something in the transition from its turn-based roots, and I’m not sure Kingdom Hearts-style gameplay is the answer to its battle system woes. I’ve always disliked the insistence on turning your party members into AI-controlled puppets operating purely on the fight itinerary you’ve planned for them. Because you’re not actually playing as them, the only connection you have to your party in recent Final Fantasy games comes from how much you enjoy their personalities, which is a tall order because the personalities of modern Final Fantasy characters are uniformly terrible.
Final Fantasy XV’s core of brooding J-pop rejects doesn’t look to buck the trend of ripping characters wholesale from the Official Guidebook to Irritating Anime Archetypes. Maybe I’ll be wrong and the plot will commit to its road trip narrative influences and be about four young men’s coming-of-age journey to maturity and emotional growth, but more likely than not there will just be the stoic one, the naïve one, the bad boy, and the one who wants to be an airship pilot. There’s always one who wants to be an airship pilot. It’s the Final Fantasy equivalent of wanting to grow up to be a cowboy.
The whole thing is going to be 300 hours long and I’m going to spend way too much time getting all their ultimate weapons and I’m going to hate every single goddamn second of it.
The Last Guardian
Because 2015 will be another year in which we don’t hear anything about The Last Guardian, and thus another year in which a little part of me dies from not having a big, goofy bird-dog to throw barrels at.
Now, what's everyone else's 2015 title sure to cement the realization that all hope is a lie and everything always ends in disappointment? Feel free to sound off in the comments! Or not. What's the point?
I’m not sure how I feel about Overwatch, Blizzard’s recently announced take on squad-based shooters. On the one hand, Blizzard knows how to craft a compelling IP, and if the playfully corny, Pixar-esque cinematic trailer is any indication, then the company’s spin on Team Fortress will at the very least have plenty of personality. And considering this is their first franchise in seventeen years, it’s exciting to see them tackle a project that isn’t Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, or some kind of combination thereof.
On the other hand, I’m a hot mess when it comes to tactical shooters. As a gamer raised on consoles, teamwork is a foreign experience for me. The explicit lack of a deathmatch mode means the most I can hope to ever get out of Overwatch is fifteen minutes of miserable failure, all while being yelled at by more experienced strangers for sucking at something I never played before.
But my opinion of the game itself isn’t what matters right now. What matters is getting in there and being the first to establish a hierarchy for Overwatch’s cast of international Super Friends. Because this is the Internet, baby, and there’s nothing we can’t distill down to a few basic components to be ranked in a superficial and meaningless list, and that includes videogames that haven’t even released yet. Hell, especially videogames that haven’t even released yet.
So, using nothing but kneejerk reactions and roughly twenty minutes of actual gameplay footage, I present to you...
Overwatch Characters Ranked from Worst to Best
Allow me, if you will, to imagine the creative process that produced Widowmaker:
Director: [Smoking a cigar] Alright, you bums. We need a gimmick for our sniper character. What d’you got?
Designer #1: Well, I was thinking maybe some kind of cyborg cowboy that –
Designer #2: What about, like, a steampunk –
Designer #3: What if we do a sort of alien hitman who –
Director: No, no, no! What do I pay you people for? We need something that’ll sell! We need something that’ll really grab people by the balls! We need... we need...
Designer #4: ... what if we turned sideboob into a character?
[An awed silence falls over the room. The director’s face lights up like a man who has seen the face of God. His eyes fill with joyous tears.]
Director: You magnificent son of a bitch.
I’m not sure how a character like Reaper gets made in the year 2014. He looks like he escaped straight out of the pages of a middle schooler’s notebook circa 1996. He wears a trench coat with a hood. His face is hidden behind a skull mask. He’s always talking about death. He fucking bleeds shadows.
Countless character concepts were no doubt rejected during the game’s development, so I want to know how Skeletor’s manic depressive cousin managed to crawl out of the discard pile.
Admittedly, the duel shotguns are cool, but I don’t want to give them too much credit because they’re probably powered by darkness, or the terrible poems he wrote when his girlfriend left him, or the tears of everyone who’s ever watched the opening montage of Up.
We’re only on the third entry, but I think we’ve already established that Overwatch’s combatants aren’t the subtlest bunch. But even so, a healer character named Mercy? Who has angel wings and a halo? I’m sorry, but I’ve watched YouTube fail compilations with more nuance than that. Literally, videos of skateboarders falling face first into handrails that have contained more breadth and artistic complexity than ol’ Touched by an Angel over here.
Religious and cultural imagery are incorporated into a few of the other fighters, so obviously Judeo-Christianity has to get its shot in, but the end result is inevitably the most boring, white bread member of the roster.
Pharah is the blue one.
While I’m docking the power armored Kraut originality points for fitting a very typical mold, I do appreciate the selection of a rocket-powered hammer as his weapon of choice. I can get behind any guy who models his fighting style after King Dedede.
Plus, the lion crest on his arm sort of makes him look like a ‘roided up Voltron, so he has that going for him.
Bastion’s a good middle-of-the-pack character not only because the sensitive battlebot represents the tenuous crossroad between humanity and technology, but also the crossroad between a concept I sort of love and sort of hate.
On the plus side, everybody likes a robot with feelings. Wall-E, Johnny Five, R2-D2 and C3PO – there’s nothing audiences eat up more than a heartless machine that thinks it’s people.
But they imbued Bastion with a personality in the laziest way imaginable. It’s like they spent five minutes brainstorming ways for players to connect with the one class that’s just a walking gun, settled on “Eh, he likes nature or some shit,” and called it a day.
If game designers are going to go the sympathetic droid route, they’re going to have to try harder than “doesn’t immediately crush a small bird in its steel death grip,” because a glorified trash compactor already taught the world how to love again.
Tracer is the cheeky one, which you can tell because her personality boils down to “has an English accent and a pixie cut.” And while the game’s trailer saddled her with an insufferable catchphrase, I’m willing to withstand a thousand shrill cries of “The cavalry’s ‘ere!” because Tracer looks so much fun to actually play.
She’s Overwatch’s Scout, focusing on speed and offense. While the Scout favors the savage thrill of bonking people with a baseball bat, Tracer prefers that most exquisitely humiliating of first-person shooter weapons: the sticky grenade. There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting stuck by a sticky grenade. It’s like getting food on your face at a fancy dinner party, only your face explodes as soon as someone points it out to you.
Being able to blink in, slap someone with a pulse bomb, and blink out is a rich, multilayered sort of pleasure that no number of irritating catchphrases can ruin.
The Hunger Games franchise has made bows and arrows cool again, so naturally there’s a member of Overwatch’s coterie of gun-toting mercenaries that’s repping the archaic – yet currently in vogue – instrument of death. Though, Hanzo is the stoic, semi-shirtless badass of the bunch, so maybe he’s just above something as dishonorable as using bullets.
He’s essentially the guy bringing a knife to a gunfight, which is usually frowned upon, but I’ve never bought into the philosophy that the opponent with the primitive stabbing tool is the one at a disadvantage. The one with the knife or bow and arrow or spear is the one you want to run the hell away from, because that dude straight up does not give a fuck. He knows he’s going to murder his enemies no matter what they use against him. And as you can see from his gameplay video, the wall-scampering assassin is a Legolas-level death-dealing machine.
And honestly, what kind of list would this be if the ability to shoot dragons didn’t at least break you into the top five?
Symmetra earns her high ranking because she’s one of Overwatch’s few wholly original creations. While the others on this list fit typical roles or utilize ideas that have already been seen elsewhere, an Indian architect who bends reality and provides portal support can’t be so easily put into a box.
Honestly, I think Overwatch could have avoided a lot of the unfavorable Team Fortress 2 comparisons if more of its characters were like Symmetra. Understandably, a game like this needs its standard classes – its snipers, its heavies, its healers. But Team Fortress 2 already took those roles and turned them into living, breathing personalities. If you’re going to do a squad-based shooter now, then you have to do something different than what Valve did, and Symmetra proves that the capacity for repackaging typical characters into new and compelling creations was there, but not necessarily applied to everyone.
Still, if sideboobs and angsty shadow bros are the price we must pay for the faintest hint of progressiveness and innovation, then at least we got one ass-kicking lady scientist out of the deal.
Zenyatta slightly edges out Symmetra as Overwatch’s most interesting fighter, mostly on the strength of his unique “killer Tibetan monk robot” hook. Sure, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that a self-aware machine that spouts pseudo-Buddhist nonsense would float around slaughtering people with spirit orbs, but maybe Zenyatta’s personal concept of transcendence just involves transcending a phantasmal sphere straight into someone’s skull. And Lord knows I’m in no position to begrudge anyone their beliefs.
But incongruent phisosophies aside, just look at him! He looks so cool! He floats around in an unflappable yoga pose – coasting along purely on what I assume are good vibes – and enlightens the masses by pelting them with balls at dangerously high velocities. If Jehova’s Witnesses adopted that sort of conversion method, I think they’d be a lot more effective at spreading the good news.
If you’ve made it this far and haven’t already realized that this ranking is based upon the most suspect of criteria, then let me make that fact explicit for you: Torbjörn is the second-best Overwatch character because I love his name.
The whole Viking engineer angle certainly boosts his appeal, but really, it’s all about that name. I don’t even know if I’m pronouncing it correctly, but I don’t care, because the way I think I’m pronouncing it is awesome. Torbjörn! It’s like the name of the party animal character in a Scandinavian ‘80s frat movie. He’s the one who chugs the keg the fastest in the keg-chugging contest that saves the Alpha Delta Ragnarök house from expulsion. Torbjörn!
Engineer classes aren’t my thing, but I’ll play this guy just for the privilege of yelling his name every time I score a kill. Torbjörn!
A hyper intelligent primate who can talk isn’t exactly groundbreaking. If I recall correctly, there was already that entire planet full of them. But there’s no questioning the sheer majesty of a bespectacled gorilla in a battlesuit. He’s the perfect blend of sophistication and raw, primal brutality. With those glasses and a yuppie name like Winston, you know he’s as capable of discussing Chaucer over fine wine as he is of ripping out your throat if you make eye contact with him.
Now feel free to offer your own rankings in the comments! So long as you understand that your opinions are inherently wrong, because I established my ranking first, and thereby my word is law.