AAA Co-Op GOTY
Winner: Dark Souls 2 (PC, 360, PS3)
Dark Souls 2, and perhaps the Souls series in general, might not be for everyone. It feels as though Dark Souls crawled out of a previous era, where crucial mechanics weren't explained, but figured out through multiple playthroughs. It is reminiscent of experiencing Zelda for the first time, only with much more punishing gameplay. Dark Souls 2 fights you the entire way, from the brutally devastating enemies, to the bizarre controls, even other players which are encouraged to invade your world and murder you. Underneath the punishing systems however, lie a labyrinth of amazingly realized concepts and ideas. Delving into these systems. Exploring these brutal dungeons, experimenting with the bizarre mechanics, and communicating with others are all crucial components of what makes Dark Souls 2 great.
Some may argue the first Dark Souls, (and even Demon's Souls) may have been a better game. However, the second installment introduced a radically improved summoning system to get you and some buddies together more efficiently. You and a couple of pals can be trudging through the darkest of dungeons in only a few minutes, as opposed to messing around with summoning signs for half an hour. There's really no better feeling than teaming up with some friends to waste a shockingly difficult boss, and Dark Souls 2 has plenty of those. It exists to test your friendships through a trial of fire, where one wrong move could leave you, or one of your buddies, a red stain on some boss monster's rug. Though it's a terrifying slog the whole way through, there was not a more rewarding experience of this year.
Runner Up: Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC, Xbox One, PS4) and Destiny (Xbox One, PS4)
We ended up with a tie for our runners up, and honestly, all three of the games listed here in our AAA category were a close call. While Dragon Age Inquisition is a monstrous single player game with an additional co-op mode, Destiny is a monstrous co-op game with something of a single player mode.
Dragon Age Inquisition stands in its own right as something that could be fully fledged downloadable title, four player online co-op with almost a dozen different classes to experience a Diablo meets Mass Effect 3 like loot scenario. It's obviously built with replyability in mind, and the longevity of it has rivaled the length of the single player game for some.
Destiny on the other hand looked like a sure in winner earlier this year, but several decisions within the game design itself make it hard to sit on top. If every section of the game played like the two available raids, there's no doubt those are some of the best co-op experiences one can have. But that same quality and craftmanship is somewhat missing from even the co-op strikes. While they are still fun, most don't find them as replayable.
Overall we thought the year was incredibly strong for indies, but a bit on the weak side for AAA. Our AAA vote was incredibly tight with the three games on our list coming within just a few points of each other. What's interesting is how the community vote tended to favor established franchises, games that the core experience haven't changed all that much over the years. Hopefully 2015 is a banner year for co-op games, both AAA and Indie.