2015 was a defining year for video games, and not always in good ways.
The quality and entertainment value of many titles reached new heights, owing to gorgeous presentation and
sophisticated story telling. But the avalanche of recycled tropes and bug-ridden releases also buried us in disheartening industry trends.
Here are five of the year's top-selling video games that illustrate the best and worst about modern gaming.
Batman: Arkham Knight
The good: This third (or fourth, depending on how you're counting) game in the Arkham series gave the Dark Knight a sumptuously detailed open world to explore on foot, by air or via new streetwise addition the Batmobile. At its core, developer Rocksteady Studios truly gets superhero role-playing — the thrilling sense of power and motion, the all-important vulnerabilities and limitations — and their influential combat mechanics were refined to perfection here. A greatest-hits-style narrative topped things off nicely.
The bad: An embarrassing amount of software bugs during roll-out made the game unplayable to PC users. Pricey "Season Pass" content was slow to appear, and weak when it did.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The good: The scale and complexity of The Witcher 3's dark, alluring fantasy world — which leaned more toward "Game of Thrones" than "The Hobbit" — was stunning and unprecedented. Gamers easily could spend 100-plus hours exploring this epic, imaginative, improbably detailed sandbox, which always seemed to grow a bit more just as players reached its borders.
The bad: Buying the game now is a great idea, because early adopters paid $60 for the game only to be assaulted with numerous patches, updates and add-ons that fixed what should have been standard features at release.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
The good: Slick, colorful, multi-tiered environments found a balance between the grit of a "Blade Runner"-style dystopian future and a more fast-moving, "Terminator"-esque action flick.
The bad: Mindlessly pushing out another military shooter that asks zero intelligent questions is the most cynical kind of button-pushing there is, especially because it's impossible to ignore the extent to which real-world gun violence has become intertwined with popular culture. As a longtime defender of gaming who thinks censorship has no place in the industry, Black Ops III still left me wondering how many more of these macho titles we can endure before drawing direct connections to real-world attitudes and events.
Destiny: The Taken King
The good: The Taken King, the first major content update for this big-budget franchise, got nearly everything right in terms of presentation and story, adding value to an already-slick, appealing sci-fi shooter set in an alternate Earth reality. Creating a world that players truly want to revisit is increasingly difficult, but Destiny sails through it.
The bad: The Taken King update cost nearly as much as the original game. Not buying it locked some players out of content for which they had previously paid.
Star Wars Battlefront
The good: As far as movie marketing tie-ins go, EA's latest action shooter set a new bar for graphics and aesthetic faithfulness to the Star Wars universe in advance of "The Force Awakens" premiere. Role-playing bliss for fans of the original trilogy.
The bad: An overwhelming emphasis on the multiplayer experience gutted single-player appeal, robbing the expertly rendered graphics and gee-whiz sound effects of deeper resonance and meaning.
Super Mario Maker
The good: Few games would blow the minds of vintage gamers more than this one, which allows players to painstakingly (but easily) craft their ideal version of a Super Mario Bros. game — whether it's using the graphics of 1985's Super Mario Bros. (on the original Nintendo Entertainment System) or 2012's New Super Mario Bros. U. The enjoyable rabbit holes are everywhere, including in the ability to publish your own levels online and play ones created by others. It's also, brilliantly, a game within a game that unlocks more level-crafting abilities the longer you use it.
The bad: We'll let you know when we find them (likely hiding in a golden box with a flashing question mark).