The Witcher 3 feels like the culmination of everything CD Projekt has been trying to do for nearly a decade. You can tell these guys and gals want to create worlds that feel real, complex, and offer a great deal of player agency. The two previous games in the franchise featured fantastic highs but also suffered under the weight of their insane ambition. Wild Hunt marks the turning point, however; a moment when technology, writing and gameplay all come together to make an experience that feels unique and immensely immersive.
From the moment you take your first steps in Geralt's shoes, you are a witcher and your job is killing monsters. You hear the cries for help from villagers facing death every day, and you stand as their only guard against the darkness. But there's always more to the story than a beast that needs to be put down. A simple werewolf contract quickly spirals into something more sinister and compelling, and soon you'll be faced with a difficult decision. Sometimes you'll make mistakes, choosing a side that seems theoretically correct but ends up causing more damage than good. Such is the life of a witcher, though. All you can do at the end of the day is collect your payment and continue on The Path.
The Witcher 3 washes over you, begging to be explored and properly devoured. Roaming the land and slaying monsters (both human and inhuman, of course) starts to feel like a virtual vacation, while the swordplay and various RPG systems in place help to make everyone feel like they get a unique version of Geralt to drive through their own version of the story. With stunning setpiece moments and a uniquely poignant tale, The Witcher 3 is our RPG of the year because it's the rare game that manages to meet its high ambition and serve up something decidedly original and utterly amazing.
Writeup by Robert Steinman
Monolith Soft's latest epic slipped in right at the end of the year, but it was well worth the wait. Mira is one of the most impressive open worlds ever created, and the monsters roaming its wildernesses are as fun to fight as they are interesting to look at. You'll meet a lot of characters — both human and alien — as you explore and take on quests, and learning their stories fleshes out the world and the anemic but still interesting main plot. The music accompanying your adventures is different from what you might expect, but it's incredibly catchy and quite fitting for the world. The online features are pretty cool too, blending with the single player experience in a way that can be as involved as the player wants it to be. All in all, the game can be quite overwhelming — so much to see, so much to do — but it's the best kind of overwhelming: the incredibly fun kind.
Writeup by Caitlin Argyros
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC nearly took second place, being shy only half a dozen votes from that of Xenoblade Chronicles X. But with more votes than both titles combined, nothing came close to dethroning The Witcher 3 as your choice for Best RPG of 2015.
And the winner is...