Civilization was already a brilliant series of games, but when it took its first steps into the furthest reaches of space some would argue that it became even better. Rising Tide is the latest addition to Beyond Earth and it expands upon the game's content and offers up a bit of player-driven narrative via new human factions arriving from Earth.
Rising Tide adds a series of features allowing you to expand even further on the alien planets that you're sent to colonise. One of these new features is the ability to construct settlements on ocean tiles, with the ocean itself providing new resources, strategic advantages, and deadly enemies. This adds a whole new dynamic to the game, and more possibilities as to how you'll play against and conquer your opponents.
New leader features have also been added, with four new faction options available to choose from, each with their own unique perks. On top of this, new traits have been added for both player and AI leaders, allowing leaders to activate new responses to developments within the game. Fear and Respect attributes are also a new addition, making you more aware as to whether you're stepping on your opponents to reach your goal, or co-operating with them to get there together.
These are only some of the elements that Rising Tide brings to Beyond Earth, and it gave players a whole new take on the Civilization experience. Both the game and its expansion are worth a look; they can provide hundreds of hours of tactical fun and offer a new twist on the classic formula that has served the series so well through the years.
It's not as if The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt needed more content. This is one massive game, an epic solo campaign that can last you several dozen hours. But then again, when an expansion brings so much quality to the table, there's just no way to say no. The content in Hearts of Stone revolves around a new story campaign, a self-contained adventure that starts and ends inside the expansion.
Players don't need to finish the main story to play the new adventure, but they do need a level 30 Geralt. You can go with your own character, or create a default level 30 Geralt specifically for the new story. Most of Hearts of Stone happens in old locations, but many of them were underused during the main campaign, so it creates a nice chance to visit other parts of the world. As for the story itself, Geralt will have to oblige three wishes from a new character, including ensuring a dead person has "the time of his life." We can't really go into detail without spoiling something, but it's a great new story with multiple standout moments, balancing a lighter first half with a seriously dark conclusion.
Quest design is amazing, the new characters are great (and they're realised via some stellar voice acting), there's quite a bit of side content to engage with, and the storyline is packed with great moments. You will be attending parties, breaking into fortified mansions GTA-style (complete with choosing your own crew), and you adventure off into a world of art. Oh, and there's a new opportunity for some romance... Hearts of Stone is a must play for every The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt fan.
As a footnote to that glowing recommendation. On top of that we also need to mention the roll out of free DLC that CDPR delivered to players in the months following launch. The studio did a great job in terms of patching and updating their game; at the end of 2015 it's in great shape.
We loved Destiny during its first year, but even when viewed through a rose-tinted filter, there were problems with the game that Bungie delivered. Most notable among them was the storytelling, but there were niggling issues here and elsewhere. Many of them were addressed over time, and the game that launched last September was certainly quite different to the one that we were playing in August, not least because of the two expansions that dropped during the first year. These content drops - The Dark Below and House of Wolves - on their own are not the reason that Destiny makes this list. Far from it. Both were solid continuations, welcome injections of content, but neither blew us away.
The same cannot be said for The Taken King, which launched in September and changed the whole complexion of Destiny. Bungie reworked the whole Light system, updated the questing element for the better, mixed up existing locations with new events, and introduced a ton of new gear. And we haven't even mentioned the best bits yet. Where Destiny fell flat before was in story, its delivery botched somewhat thanks to the wooden delivery of the otherwise excellent Peter Dinklage, along with lacklustre cutscenes and confusingly presented mission briefs. The Taken king remixed everything, replacing Dinklage with Nolan North, adding in more meaningful story (via cutscenes that were actually rather entertaining), and generally rubbing in some much needed character to the whole affair.
But the expansion went much further than simply writing wrongs, and there was also a huge injection of content. The Dreadnought is the new location for players to explore, and as we noted when we praised Destiny's visual design, it looks great in a macabre, twisted kind of way. There's a real sense that evil lives within the confines of its walls. The new Taken enemies, riffing on the designs of previous opponents, offered up new challenges for players to battle, and the boss fights - whether they were encountered during the campaign or the Raid - were more memorable and better constructed than ever before.
We've not really touched on the Raid, but it represents another great challenge for players to push through, and there was great variety in its composition. The story campaign was entertaining in a way that put the original story to shame. The new multiplayer maps were all very good. The introduction of timed events (at the time of writing we're racing Sparrows) should ensure a regular top-up of varied activities. Late game progression might have taken a slight knock after changes to the Light system, but when the rest of the offering is as good as it is in The Taken King, it'd be rude to complain, especially considering the new system is actually more welcoming to new players.
Destiny was very much at a crossroads, and Bungie needed to deliver with The Taken King. The studio surely did, and with their first major update they corrected some of the game's most significant flaws, and put in place a new way of working that will most definitely put the game in a healthier place in the months (and years) ahead. The Taken King is our favourite expansion of the year because it does what all great expansions should: it not only builds on top of the base game, it also enhances what's already there.