5) Path of Exile (PC)
Grinding Gear's Path of Exile was an interesting experiment when I first tried it out back in 2011 (or was it 2012? I can't remember), but after sinking numerous hours into the beta and a few more since the official launch, I can safely say that Path of Exile is my favorite post Diablo II action-RPG.* The game's incredibly deep, flexible customization system is utterly intoxicating, and I've spent plenty of free moments thinking of crazy builds and pondering how I could make them a reality. Even if I couldn't figure it out, the developers' drive to constantly (verging on weekly!) add new skills and features ensures that any kind of character is possible, as long as I can think of the idea. A super-fast lightning mage? Check. A high risk/high reward blood mage that also clubs people with giant swords? Check. Clumsy ninja that misses every agility-based attack? Sure, why not? This is a game that begs you to invest hours and hours into it, and it has the mechanics to back that potential investment up. And even if Wraeclast's opening beach areas aren't the most colorful, the game quickly becomes a showcase for some fantastic locales, great combat, and solid music.
Should you try it? Of course, it's free. The microtransaction system allows players to purchase cosmetic upgrades like glowing heads, weapons, and other such things that allow you to spend a couple of bucks making your character look cooler while still ensuring that player choices and time spent playing are king when it comes to combat efficacy.
4) The Wolf Among Us (PC)
This one snuck onto my list at the last minute — but oh man, is it a doozy. Inspired by the Fables graphic novel series, the tale of Bigby "The Big Bad" Wolf takes place in a neonoir-styled part of New York in which fairy tales struggle to make a living as the lowest class of citizenry, forced into poverty by the necessity of expensive magic called glamours — a necessity for maintaining a human appearance. Telltale's trademark whip-smart writing and dynamite pacing are on full display here, and I was absolutely immersed in the experience for the duration of episode one. As someone not a fan of The Walking Dead's setting but utterly in love with Telltale's signature style of gameplay, The Wolf Among Us scratches many of my favorite itches, and it'll be one I eagerly continue in 2014.
3) The Dark Eye: Memoria (PC)
Memoria's predecessor was one of my favorite games last year, and it was to my great surprise that its sequel was not just good, but remarkably better. The puzzle design is excellent, the two-character mechanic works well both as a gameplay conceit and as a narrative one, the music and artwork are gorgeous, and the storyline is head-and-shoulders above Chains of Satinav. Geron's sophomore journey is entrancing, and newcomer Sadja is an incredibly interesting and amusing new lead character with her own unique powers for puzzle-solvin'. If you like adventure games even slightly, play both of these games.
2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
I absolutely adore 2D Zelda titles, but I'll admit I was quite apprehensive about some of the purported changes that would be taking place in A Link Between Worlds — item rentals sounded as though they'd take away much of the game's magic of discovery. Once I got a chance to play it at E3 2012, though, the speed of the game and the great use of 3D had me changing my tune. The final game has now dropped, and it's the very nonlinearity of the item system that has infused the series once again with the magic of exploration and discovery that was lost for so long. The pacing is stellar, the dungeons are fantastic, and my glob is the music gorgeous. While I hesitate to say this too soon, A Link Between Worlds could become my favorite Zelda experience once I've had some time to mull it over.
1) Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC)
We've already written pages and pages on Square Enix's (so far) incredibly successful reboot of Final Fantasy XIV, so I won't fill this blurb with reasons why. Suffice it to say, A Realm Reborn is my favorite Final Fantasy in several entries, and offers all the gorgeous vistas, unforgettable music, and exciting battles that the series is known for. That it's jam-packed with excellent (and often hilarious) writing, tons of great references to classic games in the series, and Magitek armor is just icing on the cake. As a person who categorically despises MMORPGs, my love for this game shocks even me — this past January I wrote something along the lines of, "There is literally no way Square Enix could make me care about this game," and today I'm sure I have over 200 hours logged on it. It's practically being given away these days, and it comes with a free month — so really, there's no reason you shouldn't give it a chance, even if you too dislike MMOs. Eorzea awaits.
The Last of Us (PS3)
I love every game on my list, but if I were writing my overall Game of the Year picks and was not limited to RPGs, The Last of Us would handily take the crown. Naughty Dog has been one of my favorite developers basically since they existed, and it astounds me how they can continually make games that appeal to so many of my own sensibilities. The Last of Us is a meaty experience that takes a tired convention and uses it to tell a human story that shows, rather than tells, the player about its world and characters. The writing and acting are outstanding, story and character are conveyed more often by what is not said rather than what is, and Gustavo Santaolalla's soundtrack is straight-up incredible. The violence is upsetting and disconcertingly visceral — by design — and as a result it makes the moral grayness of the struggle to survive that much more palpable. It helps that it has some of the best crafting and resource management this side of classic Resident Evil, of course — but I could go on for ages. The Last of Us is easily my game of the year, one of the best games of the generation, and one of my favorites of all time.
Final Fantasy Type-0
This is an excellent action RPG with a lot of unique ideas, beautiful art design, and great music. It's a showcase for the kind of creativity we all want to see in our Final Fantasy games, and it's my sincere hope that 2014 brings with it a localization announcement, either as a digital PSP game, HD console version, or some sort of upscaled Vita port. This game makes me glad Hajime Tabata is involved with Final Fantasy XV (and confident in that game's future), and along with A Realm Reborn has reinvigorated my love of the franchise.