The 20 best games of 2014, as chosen by the Ars brain trust

From polished sequels to surprising new franchises, 2014 was a weird year in gaming.

Before we dive in to the list, a reminder that Ars Technica’s annual charity drive sweepstakes is still going on. Don’t miss your chance to win some great prizes while giving to a good cause.

2014 was a difficult year to pin down in gaming. A number of highly anticipated AAA blockbusters ended up letting down both critics and many players with horrible narratives (Watch Dogs), broken design (Assassin’s Creed: Unity), too-punishing difficulty (Alien: Isolation), or underwhelming repetitiveness (Destiny). A lot of the best games of the year actually came out in some form in previous years (Hearthstone, The Last of Us Remastered, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Grand Theft Auto V’s re-release) and thus didn’t feel like they belonged on a list highlighting what was truly new in 2014.

On the independent side, there were a lot of interesting experiments but few stand-out, bona fide hits that will stick with us the way Papers, Please or Gone Home have in years past. In the middle were plenty of games that were endearing (Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker), well-constructed (Shovel Knight), enjoyably brutal (Dark Souls II), or just plain silly (Goat Simulator). But most didn’t stand out enough to really represent the year.

So after much debate and discussion among the Ars editor brain trust, we’ve come up with this list of 20 games that we feel represent the best and most interesting titles of the year. It’s a bit of a mish-mash of titles with only a top few that really stand out above the rest as true classics. Still, these are the games we think people will look back on and remember when they think about the muddled past 12 months in gaming.

20) Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Developers: Gearbox, 2K Australia

Publisher: 2K

Platforms: Windows, Xbox 360, PS3

Release Date: October 14, 2014

It’s easy to write Borderlands: The Pre-sequel off as just more of the same, a rehash of the two collect-a-ton-of-weapons shooters that came before it. I’d argue this wouldn’t be that bad even if it was the case. The Borderlands series has always joined solid shooting action with interesting, RPG-style level-up skills and mechanics, pithy one-liner dialogue, and an engrossing loot reward loop that’s constantly throwing out bigger and better weapons as a carrot to push you along. The Pre-sequel is no different in this regard.

But the latest Borderlands also brings its own twist, in the form of some intriguing low-gravity gameplay. The game’s new moon setting not only means you have to keep an eye on oxygen levels, but also that you can traverse the environments with long, languorous, floaty double jumps. Add in a powerful butt-slam attack, and you have a mechanic that completely changes the way gunfights play out compared to the first two Borderlands games, allowing for more aggressive, three-dimensional attack strategies that are extremely satisfying. It may not be the most original game on this list, but it was one of the most pure gaming experiences we had all year.

-Kyle Orland

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