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Top ten lists in theory should be easy to write. You simply pick ten things and write about 'em. But I had a far tougher time planning this blog than I should have. Part of it was because I enjoyed 2016 far more than a lot of the doom n' gloom preachers seen across social media. Part of it was because plenty of Game Informer members have already wrote lists on their favorite games from 2016, and mine will inevitably have overlap with them. But mostly, it's because 2016 was simply an outstanding year for video game software in general. No matter your preferred video game genres, there was likely at least one release last year that really appealed to your taste. Well, unless your platform of choice was the Wii U or Vita, but that's a topic for another day...
At any rate, let's cut right to the chase. Here are the my favorite games among the respectable amount I played in 2016. As with my 2014 and 2015 GOTY lists, I will also include games that didn't release in 2016, but that I played for the first time last year. Finally, unlike my previous GOTY blogs, I will actually rank all ten of my choices. Despite them mostly being of radically different genres, I'm going to try my best to roughly estimate how much I enjoyed each in comparison to the others. So without further ado, let's review my favorite gaming experiences of 2016!
2016 was a great year for video game characters. I was introduced to many new ones I grew to love, and some of my old favorites were given time to shine
10) Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest
Despite its appearance on this list, I have very mixed feelings regarding the latest installment of Nintendo's trademark strategy RPG franchise. I've previously written about Nintendo and Intelligent System's unique decision to split Fire Emblem: Fates into three branching campaigns, each with a different story and flavor of gameplay, but all starring the same cast of characters. I've also explored in depth why I think that Conquest was the best of these paths.
The problem with Fates is I feel that the writers stretched their resources too thin by writing three separate stories. Birthright is prey to a generic "topple the evil empire!" story filled with rather bland and forgettable characters. Revelation, while a decent narrative on its own, feels like the "true" path, and removes a lot of the heartache of fighting and harming one's family and friends that the other two paths featured. Conquest on the other hand, had great promise, as it was marketed as a game where you'd revolutionize an evil army from within, which sounded infinitely cooler than just shoving a sword into an evil king like you do in countless other RPGs. However, ultimately, Conquest's narrative falls flat and largely revolves around the protagonist Corrin becoming the lapdog of the nation's stupidly evil king, committing unspeakably horrible acts one after another (yet stubbornly refusing to kill) fpr the majority of the game. Corrin is a frustrating character as a result, and almost impossible to relate to despite being designed as an avatar for the player.
Up until now, all I've done is roast Conquest, but it has earned a spot on this list because everything outside of its infuriating narrative is done quite well. Presentation wise, Fates is the best Fire Emblem to date, boasting some impressive sprite and portrait work, and character models that actually have feet! Fates is also among the most balanced Fire Emblem games released to date; it has wisely chosen to keep many of the additions 2013's Fire Emblem: Awakening brought to the table that appealed to a wider audience, such as an optional "casual mode" that removes permadeath, while at the same time tweaking the mechanics so that it is a harder game to cheese or grind one's way through.
Conquest also delivers a satisfying challenge, something that Birthright and Revelation sorely lacked. The maps feature more complicated objectives than simply killing all the enemies on screen, which include escaping the map or holding down a fort for a set number of turns. The enemy placement is also much more clever, and resources such as gold and experience points are limited, forcing the player to strategize and treat every decision like it could be their last. While I would argue that final few chapters of the game do become a bit too challenging (the RNG and reinforcements caused me to adopt a trucker's mouth during the final five chapters), Conquest overall is a game that brings the classic difficulty Fire Emblem is known for into the modern era in style.I'd also be remiss if I didn't add that the final few chapters of Conquest are surprisingly well done. The game does an admirable job of making you care about your Nohrian siblings, who love you in spite of fact that no blood is shared between you. Storming your birthland of Hoshido alongside them as cherry blossoms float in the air and the haunting "A Dark Fall" theme plays is one of the most memorable moments of 2016 for me... Though it was ruined more than once due to an axe man's critical hit slaughtering Elise.
Though Conquest's poorly written narrative got my blood boiling, it was a satisfying strategic experience that redeemed itself at the end with effective atmospheric development and a strong message about the strength of bond being just as powerful as blood. If you've a 3DS at your disposal and are looking to expand your library this late in the game, Conquest is a fine choice. I just hope you don't end up hating Corrin as much as I did!
9) Kirby: Planet Robobot
Despite potentially being replaced by its successor in the near future, 2016 was a surprisingly good year in terms of software for the elder 3DS, as two games for the hardware back to back on the list back to back demonstrate. I've already confessed as much in the past, but despite being an adult, I still have a very soft spot for the Kirby franchise (that's five shameless old blog plugs so far if you've been counting).
Kirby is a franchise that I feel Nintendo and HAL Laboratories is handling quite well. Kirby games don't glut the market as much as some of Nintendo's other franchises, and many of the series' recent installments are among the best in the franchise's almost 25 year history. That being said, I wasn't especially excited to play Planet Robobot, as it seemed to bear many similarities to 2014's Kirby: Triple Deluxe, a game bogged down by a frustrating "Hypernova" mechanic, and a final world that recycled an absolutely shameless amount of content from earlier levels.
Indeed, in the first world of Planet Robobot, I was thoroughly unimpressed, as it largely felt like more of the same. That being said, the more I gave Robobot a chance and continued playing, the more enjoyment I was getting out of it, and by the time I was finished, I was ready to proclaim it one of my favorite games in the whole series. This is because Robobot does a great job of rectifying the two major flaws of its immediate 3DS predecessor. The Hypernova sections of levels (which used to involve Kirby simply inhaling really large objects to occasionally solve puzzles) are replaced with mech segments. That's right, in Planet Robobot, Kirby rides a mech. Just when I thought the puffball couldn't get any cooler! The mech segments are riotously fun, as Kirby trades vertical mobility for raw power, punching through enemies with an absurd amount of strength and opening up interesting puzzle solving and exploration opportunities. Kirby can even copy a few different enemy abilities while riding the mech to further broaden his moveset, which is put to use in increasingly clever ways over the course of the campaign.Planet Robobot boasts some of the tightest level design in the entire franchise, and as you'd expect from a Kirby game, is filled to the brim with deviously hidden collectibles. Despite being a game meant for children to enjoy as much as adults, some of the collectibles were hidden so well it took me far longer than I'd care to admit tracking them down. Unlike Triple Deluxe, Robobot's final world is also its finest hour, and the game closes on a very high note. The challenge ramps up nicely, the game surprisingly switches genres during the final battle, and the story hits a few interesting beats. That's right, I said "story." Planet Robobot boasts a narrative that doesn't involve Kirby simply beating up up King Dedede or rescuing a piece of cake for once, and though it obviously pales in comparison to more narrative heavy games, it was surprisingly interesting, and even a bit sad and creepy for a Kirby game.
Though many of Nintendo's 2D platformers have felt "samey" in recent, Planet Robobot is anything but, as the high quality level design and awesome implementation of the mech make this arguably the finest game in the series to date. Though my interest in Nintendo isn't what it once was, Robobot filled me with hope for the future of the "super tuff pink puff," and I look forward to discovering what crazy situation Kirby is thrown into next.
8) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Deus Ex is sadly a series that has flown under my radar for my entire gaming career. Though it could be qualified as an AAA franchise, it is just niche enough for me to have been oblivious of its existence until recently. That being said, I was intrigued by the world of Mankind Divided that I saw back when Square Enix promoted the hell out of it early last year. In anticipation of the game's release, I played its prequel, 2011's Deus Ex: Human Revolution, roughly around the same time Game Informer did a "Game Club" about it.I was...thoroughly unimpressed. Human Revolution in many ways felt like a Playstation 2 game, with graphics that look outdated even by last-gen standards, horrendous, and I mean horrendous shooting controls, and an ugly sepia filter that overstayed its welcome in spite of its thematic significance. That being said, Human Revolution showed pockets of brilliance. Its complicated narrative explored heavy themes like human augmentation and the growing power of corporations in an interesting and very thought-provoking manner not unlike the best Metal Gear Solid games. I liked protagonist Adam Jensen, whose story arc revolved around being forced to become mechanically augmented against his will in order to survive. And in spite of the awful controls, the game was a great example of the immersive sim genre done right. Human Revolution was either a stealth game or a shooter based on your play style. While you could go the entire experience shooting everything that stands in your way, there is almost always a more satisfying alternative, whether it involve hacking, skillfully navigating conversations, or discovering hidden paths through unlockable augmentations, which included anything from punching through walls to gaining the ability to breathe in toxic fumes.
So why I am talking about Human Revolution so much when its sequel is the game that made it on this list? Because its sequel kept everything I enjoyed about Human Revolution, while removing almost everything I did not, becoming the game I wished its predecessor were to begin with in the process. Mankind Divided stars Jensen once more, continues to explore the social implications of human augmentation in fascinating and very morally grey ways, and delivers the same immersive sim experience I enjoyed with Human Revolution. Every story and side quest simply had a refreshingly large number of possible solutions. However, unlike Human Revolution, Mankind Divided is a much prettier game, boasting a color palette that doesn't only emphasize yellow and orange. And more importantly, it controls great. Not just good, but genuinely great. The control scheme of Mankind Divided is a bit different than that of your typical first person game and took some getting used to, but it ultimately and ironically ended up playing better than many other noteworthy 2016 releases as a result, which is quite a feat, especially considering how its predecessor handled.
Mankind Divided eschews the globetrotting premise of its predecessor in favor of just one hub world centered in Prague, and while I initially missed getting to see multiple countries in the same universe, I ultimately feel this was a smart move, as though Prague is much, much smaller than the typical video game open world, it is also incredibly dense, with plenty of hidden paths to uncover, homes to break into, and personal emails to hack into. You monster!
Mankind Divided delivers on the game we were promised with Human Revolution. It explores heavy political and social themes with grace, respecting how complicated and multilayered they are in our own world. And you get to do so while being an augmented super soldier who can turn invisible, see through walls, and has blades in his arms. And unlike its predecessor, it doesn't look or control like hot garbage. What more could you ask for?
7) Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
I have a confession to make. While I certainly liked the first three Uncharted games, I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved any of them. Unlike many of the series' fans, I didn't grow up with the games nor play them upon release. I simply binged the Uncharted Collection that came bundled with my PS4. I put the collection among my favorite games from 2015, citing its jaw-dropping set pieces and hilarious, well written character dialogue and banter as high points. However, while the original Uncharted trilogy made me chuckle and drop my jaw on more than one occasion, I personally didn't feel like they were overall experiences worth writing home about, thanks to an absurd amount of finicky climbing, frustrating bullet sponge enemies, and same-y narratives that had about as much depth as No Man's Sky. Yup, I went there!
Tasteless jabs aside, Uncharted 4 surprised me in that I genuinely think it was a fantastic game even by the standards I would apply to games not within the Uncharted series. This is the first game that Naughty Dog has developed since 2013's groundbreaking The Last of Us, and it certainly shows, as Uncharted 4 tells a richer, more nuanced narrative than its predecessors, boasts even better character dialogue than the original trilogy, and also features gameplay far smoother and enjoyable than what the series showed us on the PS3.
In Uncharted 4, we see Nathan Drake finally settle down and marry Elena Fischer. The writers did a wonderful job of making their romance feel realistic and heartfelt, unlike some of the forced ones we've seen in other games. Yet there's a certain restlessness about Uncharted 4's Nathan. Early in the game, we get to play as him as he rummages his attic, reminiscing over the artifacts he gathered from the previous three games and pretending to engage people in firefights. It's a playful scene full of wonderful references to the previous adventures the player and Drake had embarked on, but you clearly get the sense that Nate truly misses his treasure hunting days, and perhaps isn't cut out to be a family man.
The re-introduction of Nate's long-lost brother Sam provides the catalyst for Nate to risk it all to hunt down treasure "one more time," and the narrative to follow is undoubtedly the strongest one Uncharted has ever delivered. It tests Nathan's bonds with many of the friends he has made throughout the series, and is a wonderfully fitting sendoff to the characters fans have fallen in love with since the original 2007 Uncharted. What's more, the game is a real treat to play. The controls are tighter, options exist to make the (still occasionally frustrating) enemies easier to fight (such as lock-on aiming), and this time around, Nate has...a grappling hook.
It sounds like such a simple, almost superfluous addition, but it cannot be understated how damn fun the grappling hook is implemented in game. The physics are strikingly realistic, and it offers up plenty of exciting new opportunities for exploration, action packed set pieces, and even puzzle solving. The moment I realized you could shoot enemies WHILE swinging from the hook was one of my favorite gaming revelations of 2016.
Lastly, it has to be said that Uncharted 4 is simply gorgeous, arguably the best looking PS4 game to date, and indeed one of the most beautifully made video games in general. There were several times when playing when I simply had to stop and take in the absolutely gorgeous visuals, and thankfully, Naughty Dog has provided plenty of "quiet time" in the game where you can take a break from shooting people in the face and admire the breathtaking scenic views they've constructed.
It took 4 installments to truly win me over, but I loved my time with Uncharted 4, slowly savoring every chapter, and ultimately ending up sad it had to end. All the praise I just heaped out it is thankfully supplemented by a wonderful ending to Nathan Drake and co., and though I lamented Nathan's final journey coming to an end, now that it's over, I'm fully content if we never get another Uncharted game thanks to the series' outstanding final installment.
6) Telltale's Batman
Telltale Games is one developer that I have a love-hate relationship with. This is because the majority of their "games" (Telltale themselves prefer to call them "interactive stories") all suffer from the same problems, and the developers have only made minor efforts to fix them. These include a choppy framerate, an over-reliance on QTEs, and some player choices not having as large of an impact on the overall narrative as they are touted as. That being said, it's impossible to deny that Telltale is currently employing some of the best writers in the gaming industry at the moment. They've tackled numerous IPs from the years, from graphic novels like The Walking Dead to video games like Borderlands, and they never fail to tell an engaging story that successfully captures the spirit of what made the source material so great.
With Telltale's Batman, the company got the keys to arguably their most prolific and popular franchise yet. I mean, sure The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us have their fans, but Batman is Batman. Few pop culture icons have endured as strongly as Batman has, the character having been in the public's eye for over 75 years. Telltale had a lot riding on them with their take on Batman - if they played it too conservatively, it'd be a wasted opportunity, but if they strayed too far from the source material, loyalists would arguably cry out. Thankfully, Telltale delivered, and their take on Batman is arguably their finest game since the first season of The Walking Dead.
The astonishing thing about Telltale's Batman is that it made me care about Bruce Wayne far more than Batman, and every time I had the option to approach a situation as either persona, I always chose to leave the Batsuit behind. Telltale's Batman is a wonderful character study of Bruce Wayne, exploring the question, "who is he really?" Is Batman a symbol? Does Bruce done the mask as a means to protect his identity? Or is Bruce Wayne the true mask? Is Batman who the character truly is on the inside? This is a question the choices you must make constantly have you asking, and the final decision that must be made will ultimately force you to reach your own conclusion to this tricky question.
Telltale's Batman also avoids a mistake that far too much Batman fiction has made as of recent, which have largely depicted the hero as possessing near god-like amounts of strength and having absolutely no emotion whatsoever. Telltale reminds us that Batman is not Superman, and though he possesses great strength and intelligence, still has his fair share of limitations, and even emotional weaknesses. Without spoiling anything, Telltale has twisted the Batman mythos in shocking ways, but these changes don't exist for mere shock value. They genuinely re-contextualize everything Batman stands for, and even fans that have consumed every bit of fiction starring the Caped Crusader will be surprised by both the changes and implications on display.
Moreover, Telltale remembers that The Joker isn't the only villain in Batman's rogue gallery, a mistake the Arkham games fell prey to towards the end. Instead, the game relies on Oswald Cobblepot, Harvey Dent, and a brand new villain. The new face is a compelling one, but it's Oswald and Harvey that ultimately steal the show. As much as I'd like to state the reasons why here, for the sake of not spoiling anything, I'll just say that Telltale wasn't afraid to alter these character's backstories either, and ended up creating my favorite incarnation of both villains to date. I ended up loving to hate one, and truly pitying the either.
If I say anything more, I run the risk of spoiling more of this take on Batman's surprises for you. But I ultimately ended up loving this Telltale's twist on the Dark Knight; I'd go so far as to say it's one of my favorite Batman depictions of all time. While it is prey to the usual "Telltale problems" (seriously guys, fix that damn frame rate!), Telltale's unique take on the Batman mythos and character study of Bruce Wayne has become one of my new favorite pieces of Batman fiction, and is one of my favorite gaming experiences of 2016.
Check the next page for my top five favorite games of 2016!