Better than ever
Dear reader: Not sure if you know this, but there were some great video games released this year. Seriously, just check our Game of the Year countdown if you don't believe it. And while all those games (and more!) earned our praise, there were a few games that simply didn't qualify for GOTY nomination. We don't consider re-releases or expansions eligible for that honor, but that doesn't mean we respect them any less.
A remaster that makes a classic experience enjoyable again or an expansion that adds new fun to an existing game are no less noteworthy than their wholly original counterparts, so we decided to give them some love with this list. Reader, say hello to the best expansions, compilations, and remasters of 2015.
Destiny: The Taken King
Of all the expansions this year, this is the one that really made us debate the sanctity of our no add-ons for GOTY rule. Because The Taken King, while ostensibly just a piece of big fat DLC, is practically much more akin to a full-blown sequel to Destiny, released within the framework of the original game, and a clean-sweep refresh for the original release, fixing the vast majority of its structural and progression problems in one smart, brave swoop. Its a new game, and a whole new way to enjoy the original game, and as such, expansion feels far too weak a word for it.
The new content? A fresh, complete single-player/co-op campaign which, unlike that of Destinys launch, is paced, designed and executed with all the flair and invention of Bungies Halo work. A completely reworked approach to Destinys characters and personalities, which floods its universe with warmth, humour, and life. A brand new raid, and a real return to Vault of Glass form, after the disappointing meat-grinder of Crotas End. A vast new area, in the form of the Dreadnaut, Destinys most enigmatic, creative, and secret-packed environment to date. New strikes, Seemingly endless mysteries, quests, side-stories, and extra missions, discovered and revealed over the long-term, via all manner of mysterious and organic means. Does The Taken King make Destiny the game it was meant to be? Yes it does. But its also a hell of a game in it own right.
Final Fantasy 14: Heavensward
A massive expansion to an already huge world, Final Fantasy 14: Heavensward brings flying, three new classes and a new level cap to the world of Eorzea. But on top of all of the new dungeons, gear and locations, its the story that sticks out most. Carrying on from a heartbreaking plot twist at the end of the base game, Heavensward takes you to the frozen North and asks you to try to sort out a 1,000 year war between dragons and a city led by a powerful archbishop.
At first your heroic deeds feel relatively straightforward in your quest to help the city, but as you uncover more of the story you start empathising with characters in a way you never thought you would, eventually culminating in an epic boss fight with the famous Knights of the Round summon from FF7. The character performances and writing are excellent throughout and are of a far higher standard than anything youd expect to see in MMO, and are also strong enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of FF10 and FF9. Its also still growing with updates every few months. Go play it, already!
The Legend of Zelda: Majoras Mask 3D
The Legend of Zelda is a series that's stuck by its own rigid formula for years, and Majora's Mask shows Nintendo's biggest attempt at shaking things up. It originally hit N64 consoles a mere two years after the instant classic Ocarina of Time, and rather than offering more of the same, Majora's Mask forces you to repeatedly undergo the same three days like a fantasyland Groundhog Day in order to stop a giant moon from crashing into the earth. It's a bizarre, unconventional tale, and the recent 3DS rerelease shows that it's just as inventive 15 years later.
It helps that many of its biggest issues have been addressed with the update. For one, you now have access to a much better version of the Bomber's Notebook, which keeps track of all of your sidequests and all the various citizens' daily routines. Boss encounters have been retooled, additional save points have been placed to make it more accessible, and it even takes advantage of the New Nintendo 3DS' additional thumbstick for added camera control. Majora's Mask is Weird Nintendo at its best, and Majora's Mask 3D is the best version of an unorthodox adventure.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
These Uncharted games could stand to look a lot nicer, said a few people, maybe somewhere? Ok, so Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection could have gotten away with being a quick-and-dirty 1080p compilation, but the fastidious folks at Bluepoint Games and Naughty Dog dive deeper into the source material than expected. And while the Uncharted games do look and play better than ever on PlayStation 4 - running at an unwavering, vibrant sixty frames per second - its the sensible mechanical tweaks that make it all worth it.
The Nathan Drake Collection almost seems made for the cinephile equivalent of the Uncharted fan - someone excited by the idea of playing all three games in an explosive marathon, and appreciative of all the work done in unifying the stories without going all George Lucas on revisions. Shootouts feel mechanically consistent throughout, trimming away Naughty Dogs learning stumbles and settling on how an Uncharted game is meant to play, even when its the very first one. The collection also goes the extra mile to cater to every kind of fan in offering a robust photo mode, easier and harder difficulties, and a new mode just for the speedrunner. The loss of multiplayer modes is a sad concession, but at least it happens alongside an extravagant preservation of Nathan Drakes escapades that will likely be coveted and guarded in a tomb someday.
Mega Man Legacy Collection
Digital Eclipse's Mega Man Legacy Collection and Atomic Planet's Mega Man Anniversary (originally released in 2004) have opposing philosophies regarding the preservation of classic Mega Man. Atomic Planet attempts to improve upon the originals with an updated HUD, mapping quick weapon swap to the shoulder buttons, and other features. Digital Eclipse has done the opposite. The original Mega Man games have never looked or played better, untouched by any superfluous additions.
Mega Man 1 - 6 are all perfectly realized - including any limitations the originals possessed. If too many sprites are on the screen at once the game will slow down and certain images may flicker. In the interest of presenting these games in their original form, Digital Eclipse leaves most of these issues unaddressed, and the Collection is the better for it. They also retain several glitches and exploits from the originals, which is nice to see as goofing around with glitches - or utilizing them in a speed run - is a valid part of Mega Man's history.
Rare Replay is ridiculously good. Not only do you get to play decades' worth of classic titles from Rare's 'Ultimate Play The Game' incarnation on ZX Spectrum to the likes of Viva Pinata and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on Xbox 360, you get new ways to play them, too. 'Snapshots' turn sections of the games into high score challenges in their own right. There are achievements to unlock for every game, and even 'making of' documentary footage. All presented with a coherent, theatrical art style.
But even if you only care about the games, this is still the best way to play a lot of them. The N64 titles have been cleaned up and given HD resolution (but no new textures, which can make it all look too cleaned up), but so too has Grabbed By The Ghoulies. There are also some very welcome emulation features, like save states and even a real-time rewind option on the Spectrum games - invaluable in the likes of Sabre Wulf. In short, this is amazing, and the low retail price means you have no excuse not to pick it up.
Resident Evil HD
Theres a cynical urge to write off Capcoms latest remake of Resident Evil, a (sigh) visual update to an older remake of the real original Resident Evil from 20 (!) years ago. Were two layers into remake here, and yet this version remains the most appealing and accurate presentation of Resident Evils creepy puzzle-box heart ever.
It couldnt have been that easy to get right, either, given Resident Evils strange mixture of visual techniques - and its only gotten stranger in 2015. While Capcom updates all of the character models and lighting, it also upgrades many of the pre-rendered background images where it can, and even offers widescreen versions alongside the original 4:3 aspect ratio. It comes out as the ideal $20 mix of visual refinement, with a dedicated effort to preserving the games original artwork. As much as youd like to think so, making Resident Evil HD probably wasnt as easy as just digging up spencer-mansion.jpg and sharpening it a bit in Photoshop.
The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is already a massive undertaking as it is, easily able to take you over a hundred hours before you even make a dent in the main storyline. A substantial expansion to The Witcher 3 seems nothing but superfluous, but it's a testament to the quality of Hearts of Stone that it feels just as necessary of any of the base game's content.
Hearts of Stone finds Geralt begrudgingly completing a series of 'impossible' tasks requested by a bandit known as Olgierd Von Everec, and this set-up provides a wealth of highly entertaining short stories to experience. Over the ten hour run-time, you'll crash a wedding with a lecherous poltergeist in tow, perform a heist that changes based on who you bring along with you, meet citizens from the far-off land of Ofir, and so much more. In a game already filled with fascinating stories, Hearts of Stone stands as some of the best tales The Witcher 3 has to tell.
Bloodborne: The Old Hunters
Playing through Bloodborne: The Old Hunters is like experiencing the base game in overdrive mode: it's familiar yet different, full of everything you loved (and a few things you hated) from vanilla Bloodborne, plus more than a few new surprises. The new enemies are fearsome, the new weapons are a delight, and the new locales haunting. And of course, like the game it expands upon, The Old Hunters is brutal.
But more than anything, what The Old Hunters nails is a brisk pace and sense of player reward. Gear hides around every corner, secret passageways are plentiful, and creatures you've never seen before routinely make their presence known. You're never stuck in one place or fighting the same foes for too long before it's time to move on and experience something new, whether that's a new article of clothing added to your wardrobe or toy to play with. The Old Hunters succeeds because it does what Bloodborne does, wrapped up in a tighter, more densely-packed adventure.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Xenoblade Chronicles' ambitions were already firmly pressed against the glass ceiling of the Wii's capabilities when it launched late in the system's lifecycle. Thanks to stellar art direction and the use of sprawling open spaces, the massive JRPG looked absolutely breathtaking, even on ageing hardware. Then Nintendo took that game, crammed it onto a cartridge, and threw it on the latest iteration of its popular 3DS handheld - and surprisingly little was lost in the translation.
In some ways, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a downgrade from the Wii version, with muddier textures, a reduced draw distance, and tinny sound effects and voice clips. But then you have to remember - this is a massive, 100+ hour game that once fit on a dual-layer DVD that you can now fold up into your pocket and take with you wherever you go. It's an amazing technical achievement, and the best justification for owning a New Nintendo 3DS. Now, it can always be Reyn Time.
Driveclub was already the best racer you can buy on new-gen so far, but its focus on fast cars is comparatively narrow for a modern racer. The addition of bikes (which can also be bought as a standalone package) adds some very pleasant variety, thanks to the very different handling model. Crucially, the bikes' handling is as easy to pick up as the cars', and it's almost impossible to fall off if you play properly. That means - unlike every other realistic-looking bike racer - you're free to have fun without worrying about high-siding on every corner.
The structure of Driveclub Bikes is essentially the same as the cars (and you can't yet mix the two vehicle types), but it feels very different, especially in multiplayer. The cramped online races on four wheels are turned into spacious, cut-and-thrust affairs thanks to the bikes' diminutive width. The result is far more enjoyable in a closely fought race with collisions switched on. The cars side still offers the most satisfying experience, but the bikes are almost as good, which is better than most. And yes, that does make this the best bike racer on new-gen.