1. "Darkest Dungeon (early access)" (Red Hook Studios) The stark illustrative style and dramatic voice-overs in "Darkest Dungeon" make it uniquely menacing. Turn-based combat isn't for everyone—imagine "Dungeons and Dragons" without the dice—but it gives this bleak game a tension that keeps you trembling with every encounter. Your characters also have a stress meter: The poorer they perform, the more stressed they become and they can eventually go insane without proper treatment. If you're looking for a tense, tactical role-playing game, don't miss the full version in 2016.
2. "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" (CD Projekt) This is the closest you'll come to playing a "Game of Thrones" game without playing that shitty one that came out a while back. A bogglingly massive world, emotional plot, lots of sex (on a stuffed unicorn?), Hollywood-quality voice-overs, hundreds of subplots, and fun combat. "Witcher 3" went big and delivered a gorgeous spectacle for a mature audience. This is the new benchmark for open-world, action role-playing games.
3. "You Must Build a Boat" (EightyEight Games LTD) I couldn't put my phone down once I started. "You Must Build a Boat" drives you to do just that—complete maniacally fast-paced puzzles, upgrade your 8-bit adventurer, and collect pieces of a ship that will sail you to victory. Silly, nostalgic, and gleeful, this game doesn't reinvent puzzlers, it just gives them the nerdy role-playing theme they somehow needed.
4. "Ori and the Lost Forest" (Moon Studios) No game has ever made me teary in the first few minutes. "Ori and the Lost Forest" pulls from the best of Pixar to get you emotionally hooked from the start in order to care about an orphaned creature trying to restore his dying forest home. This is a classic action side-scrolling platformer with puzzles and a simple upgrading system. What makes it special is the stunning environment design and mystical tone that make you long for Ori's absent caregiver. This one is perfect for kids and adults. Keep your tissues handy.
5. "Fallout 4" (Bethesda Game Studios) "Fallout" is officially a phenomenon. I've spotted three people wearing "Fallout" shirts in the past month. PornHub.com even reported a significant dip in traffic the day the game released. Locally made at Bethesda Softworks, this post-apocalyptic open world has you trudging around Boston with mini-nukes and laser pistols that turn road agents to fizzling piles of dander. The learning curve for crafting and creating custom towns is high, but a quick YouTube search can easily solve that. The "ending" I got wasn't very satisfying, but that damn "Fallout" never ends. Downloadable content is on the way. Remember, as the game's mantra repeats, "War Never Changes" and neither do our gaming habits.
6. "Child of Light" (UbiSoft) This came out last year, but I just got around to playing it. Watercolor graphics, a lovely score, and charming characters make this odd fairy tale one to remember. You're a princess looking for her lost father, twisting the stereotype just enough to refresh it. "Child of Light" is another turn-based role-playing game, but it's whimsically written in loose iambic pentameter. Combat is familiar, but with a simple hook—an "initiative meter" clocks your next turn. Attack carefully because a poor choice could knock you back and turn the fight in your enemy's favor. I love this game despite my aversion to whimsy, that's how stunning the graphics, characters, and environments are. If you're interested in strategy RPGs, start with this beautiful tale. It's also perfect for kids.
7. "Phoenix" (Amstar Electronics) I threw in this 1980 classic because it's credited as having the first "boss fight" in all of arcade video games. A friend and I discovered it this year. Now you can play it at Atomic Books and try to kill the stage-five boss, which is kind of a pain in the ass. Cred to local author Michael Kimball for killing two bosses in one play.
8. "BloodBorne" (FromSoftware) This is the game that made me buy a PlayStation 4, dammit. It's a tough, esoteric third-person hacker amid gothic architecture. Sometimes I hate this game. You can die in a split second and ruin hours of progress. And there's no map. But Japanese director Hidetaka Miyazaki's vision is so macabre and weird that I can't look away. If you have the stomach for a downright brutal knee-jerker, play this haunting, blood-soaked night terror.
9. "Rise of the Tomb Raider" (Crystal Dynamix) Years ago, if you told me I'd be gushing over a Lara Croft game in 2015, I wouldn't have believed you. Newly revived and notably less sexualized, the "Tomb Raider" series packs much-needed emotional depth to the origin story of our female protagonist. PTSD themes give Croft a humanism unseen in previous installments. This sequel delivers more of the same combat and grappling, but it's always thrilling. If you want an action-packed third-person adventure with a strong female lead, nonstop action, and breathtaking visuals, this is your franchise.
10. "Mad Max" (Avalanche Studios) Not even close to the best game of the year, but a hell of a lot of fun. It's exactly what you expect from a Mad Max game: barren landscapes, dark humor, sawed-off shotgunning through moving car windows, and some of the most heart-racing vehicle combat I've ever played. You can pick apart enemy cars with a grappling hook . . . 'nuff said. This is worth picking up at half-price if you want to experience a loose side story to the new classic film.