Bronze: Destiny by Bungie
The initial beta of Destiny, and what turned out to be the beginning sections of the final retail product, was pretty fantastic. It gave the player a good look at what Bungie's shooter was, much better than any press preview or E3 demo tried to tell us. We got just a taste of the incredible production values of Destiny, its large, sprawling levels, and some of the strange new alien enemies you'd be gunning down. It was an intoxicating introduction to the game that is soured quite a bit by the realization later on that the first couple hours of Destiny is fundamentally all that game is. The staggering lack of content in levels, weapon types, meaningful RPG systems, combat scenarios, and more wasn't anything we saw coming, and when it hit us, hit us hard. But that doesn't take away from the fascination and thrill of our experience with the first moments of Destiny, where we were naively starting to believe that Bungie may have made the Game of the Year of 2014.
by: Isaac Wagner
Silver: The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games
The first episode of The Wolf Among Us is the best piece of content that Telltale Games has ever made. There's a lot of reverence for the first episode of The Walking Dead, but in retrospect that pilot episode is actually pretty shaky and got by at the time because of its novelty. In comparison, after having gone back to Episode 1 - Faith almost a year after it's release, I can safely say that The Wolf Among Us' opening salvo is the best story set-up, character introduction and design that Telltale has accomplished. The Wolf Among Us burned neon with personality and atmosphere in its initial first episode, and even had me buying the Fable comics that The Wolf Among Us is based on to satisfy my wolfish hunger until the next episode. Ending in an incredible cliffhanger that rivals the best in actual television, The Wolf Among Us knocked it out of the park with its breathtaking premiere.
by: Isaac Wagner
Gold: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor by Monolith Productions
So many games nowadays take forever to get going. It's a combination of just how complicated modern game design is and how much developers and publishers disrespect the intellectual capabilities of their audience to understand their game until the player is hours deep in cutscenes with only minutes of gameplay linking it all together. Open world games seem to be the biggest offenders of this, with games like Red Dead Redemption, Sunset Overdrive, every Asssassin's Creed game ever, and more taking far too long to get you into the meat of the game. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is the first open world game in a long time that gives you a quick, thoughtful and creative tutorial on the basic mechanics and systems of the game, then throws you into the deep end of its open-world adventure. It was not only refreshing at the speed at which you got into the substance of Shadow of Mordor, but how strong the opening gameplay moments as you figured out how the moment-to-moment gameplay operated while getting destroyed by the surprisingly tough orc captains, giving you the opportunity to fail, learn and conquer which few games do anymore . Shadow of Mordor is an incredibly complex game, but Monolith Productions thinks you're smart enough to figure it out.
Isn't that a breath of fresh air?
by: Isaac Wagner