Man I'm glad 2016 is over but the games were good...
Some years play rough and 2016 was one of those years and I am very happy for it to be over. On the other hand in terms of video games, and only video games, this was a really great year. From a really solid resurgence in the quality of triple A shooters, to the Juggernaut that was Overwatch, and some really solid indie releases, there were actually too many good games for one person to play. Also there was a massive update to DotA 2 this year which is always welcome. So here we go, my top ten games of 2016.
Honorable Mention - The Final Station
Of all the games I played this year I had the most intense reaction to The Final Station. Upon completion of this game I set aside my controller, turned off my monitor, not the PC, just the monitor, then I went for a walk around the block. I was moved to this act not by any great aspect of the game’s production or by some jaw dropping set piece but instead by the oppressive weight and bleakness of The Final Station’s world. A dangerous world where even the simplest task can expose you to being torn apart by brutal attackers. A world where infrastructure is crumbling and the people normally trusted with protecting everyone have secretly betrayed the trust of the people. After the way 2016 played out, the bleak outlook of The Final Station resonates even more.
10 - Pokemon Go
I am not a Pokemon fan. I fully recognize the good and great qualities of the Pokemon universe, but the games and cartoons have just never done much for me. The runaway success of Pokemon Go demanded that I give the game a shot despite my usual lack of enthusiasm. What I found was a really solid AR experience filled with tons of excuses to get me up and about in the real world and a great new icebreaker to start conversations with people I would otherwise have nothing in common. Oh yeah, and some weak ass Pokemon.
9 - Reigns
Reigns is a truly fantastically simple game. Of the two mobile games on this list Reigns is the one that fit into my life the best. In that way Reigns was the anti Pokemon Go; Pokemon Go was the mobile game that changed my routine and Reigns was the game that fit into my routine. When you’re waiting in line for the movies or whatever you can’t go running after that stupid Zapdos. But you know what you can do? You can live the lives of half a dozen Medieval Kings, you can meet the devil in the form of you dog, you can fight skeletons in a dungeon, and even more cool stuff. Also it’s a mobile game that you just pay for up front and it never bothers you for money again, which is always nice.
8 - Darkest Dungeon
Fun fact: for most of my 2015 Extra Life Marathon I was having internet service issues and about the only game I could reliably stream was the early access version of Darkest Dungeon, so I have more than a little experience with the game. The way that every part of The Darkest Dungeon works together to to create a gothic horror landscape is just fantastic. The way the cartoony artstyle contrasts with the animation and sound design is just dissonant enough to be unsettling. The way that the psychological maladies effect the gameplay and can just straight up end a dungeon run or in some cases even end a game is a risky gamble that really adds a sense of tension that works incredibly well with the tone of the game. Ultimately Darkest Dungeon is a really great, creepy, game. Be ready to grind a bit though because you'll definately need to.
7 - The Banner Saga 2
In a year when the second entry in the XCOM franchise was a disappointment there was a shining star in the turn based strategy genre and that star was The Banner Saga 2. Where XCOM 2 made the mistake of assuming players had maintained their skills from the first game The Banner Saga 2 eased players back into the combat system with a few easier battles before dialing up the difficulty. It also doesn’t hurt the game that it has some of the best hand drawn style art and animation of any game ever. Bottom line: The banner Saga was the best turn based strategy game released this year and I really like that type of game.
6 - Overwatch
I really enjoyed my time with Overwatch this year. Zarya is top tier A-plus defensive tank, and is also just the best. The way that Blizzard has built not just a great multiplayer game but also the UI framework around that game which celebrates every player’s contribution is a great accomplishment. I think that the characters in Overwatch are all really fun as is the game itself. It’s just a shame that there’s really no good single player experience in the game and that the story exists entirely outside the game, and that the community for that game is becoming toxic in spite of some masterful design efforts to combat that. Also shameful is Blizzard's decision to add the worst free to play practice, blind loot boxes with repeats, to a full price retail game. Overwatch is a really great game that is slowly getting worse over time and that’s kind of sad.
5 - Dark Souls 3
Dark Souls 3 is my first Souls game so I was unprepared for the absolute savagery with which this game assails players, even in the tutorial. Once I played for a while, though, patterns began to reveal themselves and a game that seemed ferocious at first became simply challenging but fair. The appeal of Souls games was lost on me for a long time. I couldn’t understand why people were so excited to play blatantly unfair games. Now that I’ve played one I understand that these games aren’t really unfair or even onerously difficult. Souls games simply operate at a different tempo from other games and learning that tempo is the really difficult part of mastering them.
4 - Stellaris
Just. One. More. Turn.
Getting you to say that after 8 hours is the ultimate goal of all games like Stellaris. What Stellaris offers you that others like it don’t is freedom. Freedom to design your own civ, freedom to find your own way to win the game, freedom to be weird. Games like Stellaris, most notably the Civ series, tend to force players into a few basic strategies. Sure you can try a pacifist playthrough in a Civ game but good luck actually winning or even surviving very long that way. Stellaris has a way of making all playstyles viable by making them all just flawed enough that really drew me in to an extent greater than any other game I played this year. That said I tend to be fairly biased in favor of this type of game in general so it’s not a huge surprise that it affected me this way.
3 - Doom
Doom is a game about momentum which is important because that is the way it is different from practically every other game this year. The new hotness in games lately has been agility; letting players flit about the environment hither and thither. Doom ignores this trend, almost with disdain, forcing players to keep their feet mostly planted on the ground but letting them move at unheard of, in recent years, speed across it. What this means is that Doom isn’t a game about not getting blasted so much as it is a game about blasting things. The whole point of the game is to treat enemy encounters the way the Kool-Aid Man treats walls. This isn’t just a return to form to the series because this year’s DOOM added a new piece to the old formula; storytelling. In DOOMs of yore story was an afterthought for the most part. This DOOM, though, actually has a story with a plot and everything and actually interesting supporting cast members. This game even managed to give the “Doom guy” a little bit of a personality and for that alone it will go down as maybe one of the best shooter campaigns ever. In a year where the most popular game is often about five opposing team members finding ways to keep you from killing the sixth Doom is a breath of fresh air, letting you really cut loose against a horde of angry demons released by the worst kind of short sighted corporate greed.
2 - Hyper Light Drifter
I’ve said this a lot this year and I’m going to keep on saying it, because apparently it needs to be said. Everyone, play, Hyper Light Drifter. As a medium video games are often criticized, occasionally correctly, for being too over the top. With that being the case Hyper Light Drifter is possibly the exception that proves the rule. Which is to say sublimely simple and quiet but also incredibly fun and engaging. It doesn’t hurt that the game has the what is probably the best pixel art and sprite work in a game since Fez, an amazing synth heavy soundtrack and great sound design overall. The real beautiful aspect of Hyper Light Drifter, though, is the gameplay, specifically the combat. Few things this year have been more satisfying than mastering the combat in Hyper Light Drifter. The combat is just different enough from other similar games to be challenging while being familiar enough to not be off putting. But more than anything about the game it is the quiet tone of Hyper Light Drifter that impressed me. So what are you waiting for. Go play this game!
1 - Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 is a truly magnificent accomplishment in game design and execution. Every bit of the game is impeccably well done, it looks and sounds amazing, plays like a dream and most importantly is a joy to play. While a lot of games have the kinds of traversal mechanics that Titanfall 2 has, nothing feels like Titanfall 2. That is what makes this the best game of the year, the way it feels. More than any other aspect of the medium, feel is what defines and differentiates games. In a year where great games were built to make you want to gamble on a loot box or increase accuracy of your favorite GPS app, the relative purity of Titanfall 2 makes it stand out. Instead of trapping players in a restrictive character class Titanfall 2 lets people customize almost every aspect of their multiplayer loadout. The game is even more distinctive on account of its campaign, remember those, which is a masterclass in how to pace mechanics. Titanfall 2 is constantly introducing and discarding new, interesting gameplay mechanics and consequently never gets dull or repetitive. When the mechanical brilliance of the campaign is put together with Titanfall 2’s solid “A boy and his robot” story and one of the year’s standout new characters, BT 7274, and you get, arguably, the best campaign of the year.
As parts of video game industry more and more often leave out parts of their games so they can sell them to us later or add sleazy free to play hooks to games they also expect us to pay for up front, it becomes important to celebrate games for simply being complete experiences on release. Unlike some games on this list Titanfall 2 is at that and more, the best game of the year.