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Oh hi everyone. It’s me, your friendly neighborhood associate editor. 2016 was a bit of a mixed bag, but man, it was undoubtedly a great year for video games. All of my favorite genres, and even some genres I don’t care much for, had standout titles. So let’s get to it: here are my top 10 games of 2016.
10. Final Fantasy XVI have completed two Final Fantasy games in my life. I’ve played most of them at one time or another and they’ve never stuck outside of IX and X. However, XV is such a strange, bewildering game that feels like it’s actually 10 games stuck together instead of one cohesive whole. Normally, that would not be great but nearly everything about XV, even in its worst moments, are compelling in some fashion.
Prompto is still the worst though. The. Worst.
9. Fire Emblem FatesThe worst thing I can say about Fates is that Nintendo’s peculiar release format, mimicking the multiple version releases of Pokemon, really made it hard for consumers to decide which version was best for them. As someone who reviewed both games, they’re equally great in very different ways, with Conquest appealing to hardcore strategy fans while those who just wanted to ship their favorite characters and experience a grand, dark fantasy tale would be better off with Birthright.
In the end, both Fire Emblem titles offer more of what made 2014’s Awakening so good: high-stakes strategy starring characters you care about. Together, Fates is a surprisingly massive refinement of the ideas that made Awakening so good.
8. FirewatchFirewatch is an interactive thriller. It’s a drama. It’s a walking simulator. Whatever. I prefer to think of it is a deftly told story about two very troubled, broken people who meet and try to hash out all their problems, with mixed success.
I played Firewatch for the first time shortly after moving to Minneapolis to take this job. I was still adjusting to the city and rather lonely and uncertain to do, having left behind my old life, and the themes of loneliness and searching for a connection with other people resonated with me in a way that games rarely ever have.
7. Quadrilateral CowboyQuadrilateral Cowboy is a puzzle/adventure game that cast you as a group of thieves and hackers who perform heists. It’s a diabolical little game that has you running across various sci-fi landscapes, using DOS commands to unlock doors or control gadgets, like little bots that can find through environments your character can’t or automated turrets hiding in briefcases.
However, what surprised me about QuadCow (just call it that, it’s easier) was both the humor tucked away in the game’s enviroments, as well as the emotional ending, which I won’t spoil here.
While QuadCow’s puzzles might not be as technically impressive as something like The Witness, to me, the provided enough joy and challenge to make me feel like I had earned my epiphanies and triumphs without having to go mad to get them.
6. DOOMOh man. DOOM, right? How could DOOM not be on this list? I grew up with DOOM, my father and I playing it on a small computer screen at his office. It’s where my love of shooters comes from, and id Software’s most recent stab at the series is way better than I ever expected it to be. The Glory Kill system instills combat with a compelling, consistent rhythm, the bloody humor constantly providing laughs, and the soundtrack. Dear lord, THE SOUNDTRACK.
I have my quibbles. The game’s four hours too long. The boss fights are mostly bad. The multiplayer might as well not even be there for how half-hearted its implementation is. But still, they made DOOM feel new and exciting again while also retaining the classic simplicity of the first game. What an elegant balancing act.
5. InsideI don’t want to write much about Inside because I earnestly believe the best thing I can do is push someone into that game with no idea what they’re getting themselves into. I’ve done that with several friends during the course of this year and each time they’ve come away from wide-eyed and ready to talk about it for hours.
Just play it. It’s worth the time, it’s worth the money. You won’t regret it.
4. VirginiaHoo boy. People have OPINIONS about this game and often have OPINIONS about my OPINION about Virginia, which, by the by, is that I think it’s an amazing game. Virginia takes the familiar tropes of something like Twin Peaks and carves out a special story within them, creating a troubled protagonist wrestling her own demons who comes to a small town in search of a missing child.
I love works that refuse to explain everything to their audience, especially video games that have the boldness to do that and Virginia withholds so much. There is no dialogue, often no text for you to read to help you understand your characters’ motivations or the plot at large. Instead, understanding depends entirely upon reading expressions and movement and navigating the tropes of the police procedural genre.
Virginia is a divisive game and rightfully so. I understand why people don’t like it and I think those reasons are completely valid. However, I find Virginia’s myriad mysteries to be compelling and the experience I’ve gotten from it across multiple playthroughs, each further one reshaping my own interpretation of the story, to be fantastic.
Also: that soundtrack.
3. OverwatchOverwatch is the bee’s knees, isn’t it? Blizzard’s melding of MOBA heroes and strong team-based first-person shooter mechanics has easily made it one of the best games of the year.
A lot of that is owed to the color character roster. At work, we’re always talking about who we’re playing in Overwatch, singing the praises of D.va while lamblasting Reaper. It’s a game that lives outside of itself, having proven to be easily the most inescapable game of 2016 that’s not named Pokemon Go.
However, beyond those wonderful heroes, is the impressive balance in nearly every facet of Overwatch. Everything just feels so well-designed, with every character being useful in some way to the team, while Ultimates can change the course of the battle in an instant, helping a team snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
I’ve got about 60 hours plugged into Overwatch, and I’m on the lower end of hours spent with that game in this office, and I feel like I’m not even close to being done with it. It’s a comfort game, for sure, one that I can return to constantly and I can’t wait to see how it expands in the coming years.
2. Dishonored 2The original Dishonored is one of my favorite games of all time because of how its world constantly adapts to your actions, and the flexibility it gave you in letting you decide how you wanted to play as you sought revenge on those who had wronged you.
In my eyes, Dishonored 2 is a slightly lesser game than the original. Karnacka lacks the luster or intrigue of Dunwall. The writing is often overwrought. It also feels a couple of hours longer than it should be. However, these are all niggles. The worst thing I can say about Dishonored 2 is that “it’s more Dishonored.”
And it is. In spades, offering players a plethora of choices, from selectable protagonists to a whole new arsenal of tools and powers to put to use. Everything that made the original game so great is here and, good lord, The Clockwork Mansion level alone is enough to make this game meritorious enough to get on here but the vast majority of Dishonored 2’s levels are well-designed, offering plenty of options for players of all playstyles.
In the short time that Dishonored 2 has been out, I’ve played it to completion six times, and I’ll be going back whenever more content is added just because it’s so much fun. It might not be quite the masterpiece its predecessor was, but its still a quality continuation of the best immersive sim of the past decade.
My Game Of The Year: Titanfall 2Titanfall 2 has the best campaign in a first-person shooter since Half-Life 2. Not DOOM. Not even my beloved Wolfenstein: The New Order. Titanfall 2, a sequel to a game that had no singleplayer mode to speak of. Titanfall 2, a game that tries to convince you to feel things for a giant robot (and kind of succeeds?)
I expected many things when I sat down to play the game for the first time: a refined version of one of 2015’s best multiplayer experiences, maybe a decent campaign. However, I did not expect such a lean, constantly innovative six hour experience, filled with puzzles and epic showdowns. And just how often is the relatively simple act of moving in a game an exciting prospect?
Titanfall 2’s campaign is fantastic because even though it embraces a hardcore traditional early late 90s to early 2000s first-person shooter design, it does so with gusto, and everything from beginning to end feels exciting, whether I’m playing it for the first time or the eighth. And multiplayer is great too! It’s rare to play a multiplayer game that can trick its players into working together even when they prefer to be lone wolves, but Titanfall continues to do that with its sequel. Oh and giant robots and stuff.
This game is such a zany experience. It’s delightful and funny in a way that’s often on the line of being corny but manages to pull back. Titanfall 2 is magic. I don’t really know any other way to put it. It captures my imagination and attention in a way that no other game this year, or most years, have accomplished. And that, my friends, is why it’s my game of the year.
Honorable Mentions2016 had a lot of great games but there isn’t enough room for them on this list (such is the nature of lists, really). However, here are some worthwhile titles that almost made it on and are worth your attention regardless.
Reigns – I didn’t get to play Reigns before the year was over, so it wasn’t a contendor for my list. However, if I had, I’m pretty confident it would be in my top 10. Reigns uses the mobile app language of programs like Tinder but in the context of you ruling over a kingdom, making choices that affect your population as you seek to please everyone. It’s grim and funny and totally worth downloading on your phone.
Mafia III – Mafia III is a rough, rough, rough game but I think it tells a hell of a story and does interesting things with systemic racism, which, there aren’t that many games you can say that about. Just be sure to play it over a long period of time and not a week. Otherwise those 30 hours will feel like hell.
The Flame in the Flood – I adore roguelikes and particularly appreciated The Flame In The Flood for offering accessibility options for people who are new to the genre or hesitant about throwing themselves head long into such a punishing game.
Stardew Valley – What a charming little game. And we need more of these during such dark times, huh?
Dark Souls III – I actually like Dark Souls 3 the most out of the Dark Souls series. I think it’s the tightest, most well-designed of any of them. Also, I watched Reiner fall down an elevator shaft in it like a dope and got to laugh at him. A+
Hyper Light Drifter – Brutal, with a fantastic aesthetic, this Zelda-inspired title kept me up for several long nights, working through its mysterious, captivating world.
Batman: The Telltale Series – Telltale’s Batman is not the strongest Telltale game in existence but it does the impressive task of presenting a unique take on the Batman universe.
Email the author Javy Gwaltney, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.