It seems that every month brings with it at least one video game that delivers a worthwhile thrill, even if it amounts to little more than a half-dozen hours of highly-directed action. But less often, a game comes along that sets its hooks into droves of gamers, and refuses to let go. As AAA genres continue to learn from the competition and blur the lines between story-driven narratives and online player progression, the year's best games are only getting more and more addictive.
As our list of games that demanded endless play sessions show, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Ranging from games that simply overwhelm players with open world content, to those that offer limitless progression or complex and unpredictable game systems, the games most played by the Game Rant staff show that 'time sucks' are now as varied as the game industry itself.
Without further ado, here are selections for Our 6 Most Played Games of 2014:
Mario Kart 8
Few game franchises are as steeped in the annals of console history as Mario Kart, and with Nintendo's first HD console came the franchise's first truly stunning installment in years. It didn't take long to see that (for good reasons or bad) Mario Kart 8 was a must-own title for Wii U owners, but when all was said and done, the game may have played a key role in righting Nintendo's financial ship.
In hindsight, Mario Kart 8 taking up endless hours of our time - thanks to being one of the few dependable couch co-op experiences - should have been expected, but the blend of old and new tracks, and the emergence of 'The Luigi Death Stare' kept more of the series' heritage and tradition intact than many may have thought possible. And even with a banner year of AAA releases... it's still at the top of every Wii U owner's stack.
"After what felt like several rehashes and stagnant design, Mario Kart 8 felt like a return to what made the series one of the most formative in my early gaming life. Add the fact that it's the best looking and most-ambitious in terms of design to date, and it's as close as Nintendo gamers will get to a time machine - even if the lack of a classic Battle Mode still stings." - Andrew Dyce
Dragon Age Inquisition
It's arrival may have come late in the year compared to some of the others on our list, but there's no question that Dragon Age Inquisition gained ground quickly. BioWare's reputation for sprawling, engaging, narrative-driven open world adventure may have taken a bit of a beating in recent years, but the company put all its ducks in a row before unleashing its first next-gen RPG on the unexpecting masses.
It isn't too often that a game this high-profile winds up exceeding hopes of its fan base, but as one of the most universally acclaimed games of 2014, it offered enough content to keep players (and reviewers) occupied for what felt like months. With a critical path story line spanning more than fifty hours, Inquisition's place on our list is a given; that we're still hungry for more proves just what the developers accomplished.
"Having never played any of the previous DA games, I was a little wary of Inquisition. But after it set things up and let me loose, I was way into it. It's basically Skyrim mixed with Mass Effect 2; a combination I can fully support. The combat is great, it has a massive world to get lost in, great characters - and one time I stumbled upon a dragon fighting a giant (which never gets old)." - Kyree Leary
This War of Mine
At this point, a 'war game' is about as far from surprising as you can get. But This War of Mine from developer 11 bit studios attempts a unique goal: to tell the story of a military occupation not from the perspective of those waging war for either side, but from the perspective of the everyday civilians struggling to survive. Based on the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War (1992-1995), the subject matter - and the decisions the game posed to the player - were predictably sombre.
Challenging players to survive in a more accurate sense than most games even attempt, and define just what is acceptable in the process may not sound like a particularly 'enjoyable' experience, but it didn't need to be to make This War of Mine a game that is sure to stay with most players. And in turn, most players will spend more time interacting with its difficult questions for far longer than they realize.
"The first time I played This War of Mine I started in the evening and didn't stop until the sun had come up, something that hasn't happened since I played the first season of The Walking Dead. It's a hugely absorbing experience with the kind of atmosphere, gameplay and stories that you can get lost in for days - and I did." - Hannah Shaw-Williams
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
The odds were largely stacked against Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor when it was first announced, given the overwhelming amount of underwhelming games set within J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world (along with a few worthwhile ones). But there was enough in place to make it a curious project: coming from the developers at Monolith and clearly more adult than prior Lord of the Rings games, it had the potential to surprise. And boy, did it.
Delivering on the promise to simply drop players into the world of Mordor and seek whatever path they liked to vengeance, even amateur adventurers soon realized how much Shadow of Mordor had changed the formula. With the power to scar, promote, or dispatch enemy warlords, the game more often than not ended up as a symphony of chaos - and one that was hard to step out of because of it.
"I spent hours and hours and hours playing Shadow of Mordor and I barely touched the main campaign. The Nemesis system was just that fun to me. I'd spend forever making certain orcs more powerful (including dying to them on purpose) or creating fueds between two different parties or terrorizing the orcs I didn't like. Usually, the funnier their names were, the higher in rank they became." - Christopher Gates
Super Smash Bros.
Another somewhat obvious entry on our list, but nevertheless, Super Smash Bros. put a dent in our playing time on both the 3DS and the Wii U. Knowing just how high hopes were for the next entry in Nintendo's all-star fighting game, the developers didn't disappoint (aside from a lengthy wait), delivering an instant multiplayer classic for any and all current Nintendo fans.
Nostalgia and a devoted fan base certainly helped make both Smash Bros. a financial hit for the company, but the inclusion of nostalgic or oddball fighters like the Duck Hunt Dog or Wii Fitness Trainer ensured the series would turn even more mainstream heads than ever before. Not to mention the bottomless pit awaiting those who simply must unlock all the game has to offer.
"Aside from eight-player battles that resulted in cramming all my friends into a single living room for hours on end, the game is also a holy grail of sorts for Nintendo fans. The real catch, however, is collecting trophies and completing challenges. Completionists will find themselves spending countless hours in a bid to unlock characters, stages, music, alternate moves, gear and Mii outfits." - Riley Little
It's impossible to overlook the fact that exactly what Destiny turned out to be was a disappointment to many of Bungie's existing fans - but that doesn't mean the game's actual strengths were diminished in the process. A polished shooter MMO in its own rite, Destiny welcomed a brand new audience into the painful (but oh-so-satisfying) grind to better loot, harder missions, and an ever-rising level.
Thankfully, the time devoted to reaching the game's highest levels was punctuated by some unexpected twists. The infamous Loot Cave debacle, the arrival of Sparrow-Surfing, and now the exploits that make it possible to complete a Raid solo, the popularity of the game has been almost as satisfying to watch as it has been to play. Sure, the game's foibles may be easy to criticize - but that doesn't mean we're not prepared to drop dozen more hours into it, or eagerly await what Bungie has in store.
"Destiny may be repetitive and short on content, but the grind of loot is more rewarding than climbing the ranks in first-person shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield." - Denny Connolly
"There's little story and no characters, but Destiny has the best shooter gameplay mechanics of all-time and an amazing co-op challenge system with raids and weekly in-game events that go hand-in-hand with an addicting progression and loot system. I can't stop playing." - Rob Keyes
Not every gamer's motivations for dumping dozens of hours (or week, or months) into a single game are as... voluntary on the surface. And as the neverending grind to hit an incrementally-raised level cap goes on, disputes over just how healthy certain gaming addictions may be are sure to continue. But this list of the games that demanded the most of us in 2014 shows that a game you simply can't put down may not be ground for criticism, but the highest compliment the developers could receive.
Which games did you find yourself playing more than any other in 2014? Let us know in the comments below.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.