Don’t forget to visit the awards hub for more information on each award, the winners, and the schedule of what’s next.
Honestly, who doesn’t like a nice surprise every now and again?
While there are plenty of franchises that follow a familiar pattern that fans know and love, there are times when a game hits out of the blue, defying most expectations. That’s what I love about this award category.
Below are the games that just took me by surprise either because I had set low/no expectations for them, or I generally wasn’t following them during development. In the end, they not only completely flew past my expectations, they made me a believer in them.
and the nominees are…
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
I’m a big Ninja Theory fan, having played nearly their entire catalog. When you see their name, you typically understand you’re getting a game high in action as well as high in production value. For Hellblade, the company decided to venture off on their own, using their own funds to publish and develop the end game. I followed along, intrigued by the fact that the lead character was suffering through some sort of mental illness, but ultimately unsure as to how the game itself would play as it didn’t look like a typical game from the studio. In the end, I was blown away by the end product as it managed to continue the studio’s tradition of attention to detail and unbelievable animation, while also delivering an experience that will remain with the player long after their play session ends. It’s haunting in a completely good way.
This is a game that has had such a tumultuous development, it’s easy to understand why people wrote it off. Originally announced all the way back in 2011, Fortnite was a major departure from Epic’s previous catalog of work. Naturally, the game suffered from numerous delays and even disappeared from the public eye completely before resurfacing months before it’s Early Access release this past summer. The game got off to a pretty slow start, though it quickly picked up steam when the free Battle Royale mode was added in September. With consistent updates and seasonal content, Fortnite is actually a really fun game, especially when playing with others, completely blindsiding me in the process. For those who don’t want to pay for early access, the game is launching as a free-to-play title sometime in 2018.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Even though I loved Assassin’s Creed Syndicate two years ago, I felt that the series needed a small break. Ubisoft apparently thought that as well, taking the series off its annual schedule to give the next development team more time, and give fans a breather. In my opinion, the extra time did Origins a lot of good because it completely grabbed me and kept me interested over the long haul. With open world games, I tend to get burnt out after a specific period of time, but Origins kept me going. I have to attribute that fact to a number of things such as the gorgeous Egyptian setting, compelling characters including the main character who was not only very easy to root for but was incredibly engaging as well. Being able to interact with massive historical figures like Cleopatra, Caesar, and more was a highlight and I found a lot of the side content to be thoughtful and not included just to be there. The new combat and RPG mechanics were also a welcomed addition as well, and really freshened the experience as a whole.
BioShock remains one of my favorite games ever and while I’m a bit sad that 2K doesn’t seem to be doing much with the franchise at the moment, Prey became a wonderful semi-stand in. I’ve never played the previous games, so I wasn’t immediately looking forward to this re-imagining, but after first playing the demo and seeing how the game evolved from the first hour or so, I was hooked. This shooter features a very BioShock-esque upgrade system, letting players evolve their version of Morgan Yu, while navigating a strange and hostile location filled with creepy aliens that are capable of morphing into normal looking objects. I had a great time with this one, even if it wasn’t on my radar initially.
The first time Ubisoft unveiled this game, I was on board. I mean, Viking, Samurai, and Knights all fighting one another? It’s like a kids dream! What surprised me about the game is actually how well made it is. Sure, it had some online issues at launch, but gameplay-wise, the game, in my opinion, delivered. It had a fun single player campaign, has tons of unique characters to pick from, tons of customization, and plenty of multiplayer modes that you can play with/against other humans or against the AI. Learned each of the heroes is a lot of fun and almost turns it into a fighting game because each hero plays incredibly different from others. Believe it or not, I’m still casually playing the game and with continued updates from Ubisoft, the experience continues to improve.
For me, the surprise with Mania came from the fact that the Sonic franchise as a whole has been on a downward swing for quite a while. So not only did we get a classic Genesis-era looking Sonic developed in tandem by the community and developers featuring classic and new stages with killer music, it’s a game that actually turned out really well. That’s almost like hitting the jackpot.
and the winner is…
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
With this game, Ninja Theory proved that not only is the studio capable of more thoughtful and smaller experiences with incredible production values but that not everything needs to be AAA or indie. I honestly didn’t know what to expect with Hellblade, but I’m glad I gave it a chance because it certainly exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to see what the studio has planned next.