There were a lot of games I enjoyed in 2016, although I did bounce off a lot of stuff I did enjoy. Part of that is that I just felt like most of the best games this year demanded a lot of time investment from the player.
There were a lot of games I enjoyed in 2016, although I did bounce off a lot of stuff I did enjoy. Part of that is that I just felt like most of the best games this year demanded a lot of time investment from the player.
There are times when I want that from games, but in 2016 I just wasn’t looking for that from new games. I also wish there had been more strong narrative experiences in games this year; Undertale for example would have stood out much stronger to me if it had come out this year, distance makes the heart grow fonder with that one for me. 2015 was a year where the breath of game releases meant that there were lots of different games for people to feel strongly about. 2016 was a year of great shooters.
Not quite worth an Honorable Mention to me, these are games that do things I appreciate.
Enter the Gungeon
A rogue-like shooter that sits somewhere between The Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne, but I don’t like it as much as either of those games. I spent a lot more time watching this game than playing it. What gets it here is that it served as a good baseline for me to think about rogue-like game design. It did help me pin down some of the things that makes Issac such a strong game, and I feel like it helped me understand the genre a little better than I did before.
Stellaris is dope, I just can’t dump the time in it requires, I don’t have it in me. I did create a race of extremely xenophobic pacifists that freaked out so hard when they discovered the existence of alien races that a substantial amount of my population snapped and became very aggressive pirates that started attacking me. So that was cool.
Pokkén Tournament is very good at being a fighting game for people who don’t play fighting games. The inputs are very simple and all built around just straight directions. But the single player offering is pitiful, with just a sliver of a hair of story. I’d play this game with other people that wanted to but playing it by myself just wasn’t that interesting beyond the novelty. I wish it just played like Tekken.
Stories: The Path of Destinies
A great idea that’s a little shallow in practice. It also uses a combat that’s similar to the one from the Arkham games, which I just don’t enjoy. The process of playing these levels over and over, and the way the enemy types and upgrades work with the combat, didn’t stand up for me even though it was only over the course of the four hours it took me to get to the true ending. But the idea of playing through a story multiple times, making different choices so that you can acquire the necessary knowledge to find a better way is one I really like.
Darkest Dungeon is neat, and I really like the aesthetic and the narrator, but the gameplay loop just doesn’t work for me. The process of finishing a dungeon, going back to town and having to manage the sanity of all your dudes and resupply all over again, just breaks the addictive quality of this kind of game for me. Also as soon as someone died, I too wanted to die. The game just wasn’t appealing enough for me to have the desire to start again from scratch to get to even the meager point I had worked for already.
Games I Only Watched
A couple games that I never played myself at all that still mattered to me this year.
I actually kind of hated playing Limbo, it just didn’t connect with me at all and the tedium of playing it actually kind of made me angry. So there was no chance I was going to play Playdead’s follow up. And honestly if I had played it I’m not sure I would have been able to stick with it long enough to get to the final sequence, which I think is really cool.
The end of Inside goes for it in a way I appreciate.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
The Xenoverse games honestly seem bad, the core gameplay seems rotten. Like they’re trying to be like a Diablo style loot game, without the loot, and a Monster Hunter game without the dynamic combat and busted online.
But goddamn if I don’t love watch Team Four Star play through them. The fanservice part of allowing players to create their own Dragon Ball character, and the way that ignites the community’s imagination and creativity is something I can’t ignore. It’s led being turned into gold, but it’s a great time I had this year that was built around a video game.
Best 2015 Games
I just want to recognize some games from the previous year that got support in 2016 that kept them fresh and kept me hooked in a way that most 2016 games did not.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
Siege came out late in 2015, and while I did play some of the beta and had some fun, it wasn’t until after I had finished my list of 2015 games that I got into it. Siege is great. I’m terrible at it, and all my normal gaming instincts are at odds with the way it works, which is why I avoided it at first. Siege gets so many points for being a shooter, that’s not like any other shooter. The way the destructible environments work to make the game way more tactical is pretty special.
Ubisoft has been supporting then game pretty well with additional content, but has been pretty bad at supporting the game as a living ecosystem in need of maintenance. There are plenty quality of life improvements they could make, and there are a bunch that they have, but often they change things around just for what feels like the sake of changing it.
Heroes of the Storm
No video game dominated my 2016 the way Heroes of the Storm did. If I put it on my top ten list this year it would be number one. That has everything to do with Heroes of the Storm being a better game in 2016 than it was in 2015. Blizzard’s done a great job of supporting the game in a bunch of ways. With new heroes that don’t feel like anything I’ve played in a MOBA before. The steady stream of balance updates that finds a great balance between allowing the meta to settle without it stagnating. Improvements to the ranked system. And the addition of weekly Brawls, even though I still think they have a long way to go to get that mode where it needs to be, give me a reason to boot the game up every week.
There are plenty quality of life changes I wish they would make with the game. I even know that they want to, but that the team that can do that work just has too much on their plate to get to everything. The nature of the time I spent with games this year, and why I wasn’t looking for experiences that required a time sink, was all defined by my obsession with HotS. I’ve played more HotS than I have Dota 2 at this point. It’s more arcadey nature just fits better into my place with games even though Dota 2 is an unquestionably deeper game.
By the end of 2015 I was kind of tired of Heroes of the Storm but in 2016 I fell in love all over again, and I fell even harder the second time around.
Great Mobile Games
Mini Metro (Mobile)
Mini Metro was a game that probably should have been on my honorable mentions list last year, but it was a little slight for a PC game. As a mobile game though it’s really great. It’s got a great mesmerizing quality to it, and I find it kind of magical. It’s minimalistic take on turning rail management into a game is deeply appealing. The nightmare feeling that builds in me as everything
starts to go wrong and fall apart touches the feelings I felt when playing Cities Skylines last year, although since it’s just shapes and not a mass of humanity stuck at a stop it doesn’t hit quite that hard.
A roguelike civilization management game with the mechanics of Tinder. It’s really dope with a great sense of style and very clever writing. What holds it back for me is that there’s also a combat and dungeon exploration section of the game that I just never fully understood or liked, but the core of it is tremendous.
Rhythm Heaven Megamix
Rhythm Heaven is great, but for me it sits right below the WarioWare games. It has a similar sense of fun and weirdness, but because the mini-games are more involved and need to be taught and learned, the game kind of has a slow buildup compared to the immediate rush of WarioWare’s microgames. The game really takes off in the sections that throw multiple games together and just shifts between them quickly, and those sections are phenomenal.
Digimon: Cyber Sleuth
There’s some great story wrappings here, like when you get sucked into the internet and become a tron man floating through cyberspace and become the the assistant to a large breasted detective who keeps her shirt very unbuttoned. Also the setting of real world Japan is fun to run around in with some neat little details, like an arcade full of Tekken 2 cabinets. I was delighted by a lot of the early story stuff here.
However, this is a very grindy dungeon crawler, and the dungeons feel stale and lifeless. Add on top of that bad side quest design that sends you back to dungeons you’ve gone through before. The story and writing weren’t good enough to propel me through the dungeon grinding that I found rather lackluster. And just as a weird coincidence a few too many of the cool trappings fell in like with another JRPG that came out this year, Tokyo Mirage Session #FE, so for me this game kinda got lost in the shuffle.
There are a bunch of small changes, but they were kind of a mixed bag for me this time around. The removal of HMs was nice, but I don’t really care that much. The trials that replaced gyms were occasionally brilliant, but often they just became mini-dungeons that I actually enjoyed less than Gyms of games past. The biggest disappointment is the restructuring of the online functionality of the game compared to X/Y from something simple and very effective to an overly complicated monstrosity that doesn’t work as well and which I just don’t even want to engage with.
What saves Sun/Moon is that the writing is a step up from previous games, not a leap or anything but a bit better. I really like the weirdly dark Pokedex entries in Moon, that was probably my favorite part of the game. The worst part of the story stuff though was how much time it added to getting through stuff; this is the slowest, most brutal start to a Pokemon game to me, and it’s because it takes so long to get going. The writing still isn’t that good.
What really frustrates me though is that the hints at doing something really crazy, when Red and Blue show up in a post-game scene, but what that amounts to isn’t particularly compelling honestly. This was the first time I felt like there could be a Pokemon game with a good story (Although I do actually really like the Pokemon Adventures manga based on the games) but I still don’t think this is it.
This is fine, it’s another Pokemon game that I happily played/devoured, but it didn’t grab me as strongly as previous entries.
StarCraft 2: Nova Covert Ops
A mini-campaign for StarCraft 2 starring Nova. I really like StarCraft 2, and it was neat to get another single player campaign built around the Terran, who really are my favorite of the 3 races. There was some neat experimental stuff here, like stealth missions, and a RTS driving thing where you had to shoot and dodge traffic. The story itself was good but not mind blowing. It’s no Legacy of the Void, or either of the other 2 major StarCraft 2 campaigns. But I enjoyed it all the same and I’m very curious what Blizzard will do next with StarCraft.
World of Warcraft: Legion
Legion is a great expansion that added a ton of new stuff to WoW, but for me, there’s just too much grind. One of the things that actually kept me more invested in WoW has been the reduction of overall grind, that made me feel more like I could get to what I wanted in a manageable amount of time. Legion is just daunting with the grind for artifact power.
And I don’t find their changes to how progression for PvP works compelling either, since it now requires grinding for PvP experience, to unlock extra talents, but also you need to do PvE grinding to get gear again. That’s too much work when there are so many other compelling competitive games out there, even if you’re only looking at other Blizzard games.
And ultimately, despite some very strong moments, Legion never came around to being a satisfying whole as far as the level progression went. The four major Zones were inconsistent, with High Mountain being a lackluster drag, and Val’sharah being the highlight. I ended up doing Val’sharah first, which made all the other zones seem somewhat lackluster by comparison.
For me, Legion was ultimately a disappointment compared to Warlord of Draenor, and my interest drained faster; although I still spent a lot of time playing it because it was still good and fun.
One of the games in Jackbox Party Pack 3, Tee K.O. is both a fun time and evil genius. This is a game built around you and your friends designing T-Shirts and then voting on the best ones. I really like seeing what people come up with using the shitty paint interface they give you, and the pairing of drawings and phrases results in some magical result. The evil genius part is that once you’ve had a fun time making and laughing at these dumb t-shirts, Jackbox is then happy to sell you actual versions of those t-shirts. It’s brilliant, although I do think it’s a well that you shouldn’t tap too often.
Golf With Your Friends
An early access mini golf game that has plenty of bullshit I can overlook because of how fun it is to go through with a large group. Even the bad courses and terrible mutators are fun to suffer through with a group. It’s buggy, it’s broken, and it honestly has diminishing returns on multiple playthroughs, but I had a good time anyway.
AKA “Definitely not Overwatch”, Hi-Rez’s free-to-play class based shooter may have started as its own thing, but it’s clearly taken a lot from Overwatch as its progressed. Which I’m totally fine with, I mean Overwatch took plenty from Team Fortress 2 and other games; and Blizzard in general does basically nothing but take ideas and execute on them better. Having played a bunch of iterations of Paladins over the course of its Beta, I can say that its definitely improved over time, and it’s good… it’s just not as good as Overwatch though. So I had my most fun with it when it was worse, but before Overwatch was out. I feel like people who are into Overwatch dismiss Paladins a little too easily, but I can’t really muster a strong defense for it either. I had a good time with it.
Battlerite is dope. It feels like if you stripped out WoW’s arena mode, and gave it a little MOBA progression and presentation. It’s just top down skill shot battles. Fast and fun. Like Paladins it’s not officially out yet, only in early access. If I weren’t obsessed with HotS I would be playing a lot more Battlerite.
Stacking blocks that have physics, with some battle style magic and alt
ernate modes thrown in. Tricky Towers works because it does the right thing and just uses the basic Tetris shapes, which are the ideal shapes for a stacking game. (Poor Spaera) I love this game, unfortunately like no one plays it so I was either finding one or no people to play against when I tried. There are single player challenges, but that’s not where the real joy of this game is. The true joy is racing against another person and then seeing someone pull and Icarus, stack a little to sloppily and see all their work come crumbling down. This is a great game.
Nightmare Hellscape Games
A first person shooter that looks like an early Quake or Unreal game, but is structured like an old arcade game. It’s run based and the enemy spawns are deliberate and ordered. You’re in a dark void while screaming skulls and other monstrosities begin to spawn. The game ends up being heavily audio based, with new things spawning in behind you all the time. Because the spawns are predictable, this is not like a rogue-like where you’re trying to learn the systems and manage resources and risk, playing Devil Daggers is about mastering the specific enemy spawn patterns you see every time, fighting to stay alive for extra seconds. And I mean seconds, this game is hard and none of my runs ever lasted particularly long. It’s stressful and unpleasant, but it plays great so it was totally worth engaging with. Also you get to shoot daggers from your fingers, that’s just cool.
Thumper is a rhythm game based off percussion, where you play as a beetle zooming down a track as weird noise rock music plays and psychedelic nightmare colors happen in the background. Thumper builds well, constantly introducing simple new mechanics, and then pushing you harder and harder, faster and faster with the old ones. Stages can be pretty similar from one to the next, but that’s because the game is teaching you patterns, so that it can push you to go faster, to then break those patterns for new ones, and then push you even faster again, and so on. The games gets harder and harder, and it gets fucking hard, but the sense of speed it delivers on is great and undeniable. But where I am now in the game my hand just starts to hurt when I try to play it, I’m subconsciously so stressed that I’m holding the controller too hard and making my hand hurt very quickly in a way no other game ever has. And this is not a unique problem to me, other people have issue with this game. Thumper is not a game for everyone, but for the people it is for it’s a great game.
The ‘Just Cause 3’ Open World Sports Game Award
Last year I talked about how I wished that Just Cause 3 had just been structured like and open world sports game, without feeling the need to have a story and closed off progression. All I really wanted to do was wingsuit around the world.
Well Steep delivered some of what I wanted. It’s not as good as Just Cause 3, it doesn’t have a grappling hook that allows you to wing suit forever and it lacks the explosions and violence that I still want in my vision for the game I actually want. But the structure of this game around challenges, the simple presence of other people online doing their thing, and an environment that is always going downhill make for a good game.
Also held back for me slightly because I had some weird performance issues getting the game to run correctly on PC and had to fiddle with it a bunch. Steep is not an essential game or anything, the mechanics are good but not great, but I enjoyed it.
Kinda Busted Loot Shooters
Shadow Warrior 2
Shadow Warrior 2 was clearly at some point a more standard followup to the previous Shadow Warrior. It’s got huge maps that you constantly revisit, that don’t make sense for this style of game; damage types thrown onto enemies without regard to art style in a way; and a mission structure built around a story that it feels completely disconnected from, and a multiplayer system that feels entirely tacked on and is fucked in certain ways. Also the loot system is an over complicated mess, just too much bullshit and crafting and socketing all built around very slight number increases. It all feels very slapdash, and undercooked. You can see the stitches and seems here. However, it’s a much more interesting and compelling experience as a loot shooter than it would have been as a standard throwback shooter, so I’m not really complaining, just making note of its litany of issues.
The story stuff though is pure garbage. Lo Wang sucks and I was so happy to just skip past every cutscene in this thing.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
The Division is the better loot shooter I played this year. It also has its issues, the loot isn’t great, but I find something charming about how normal it is, I liked getting hype over a normal hat that I would just wear in real life. And like with Steep, this gets small bonus points with me because I just like being in an online space with other player where we’re just doing our own things and not interacting. My enthusiasm for this was a little lessened because I honestly played too much of it in the Beta, and the drag of having to play through all that same stuff again was not the best. The Division works though because it’s so easy to lose time to over the course of the main progression. The rhythms of it are right to just let me space out and keep going. I also just really liked their dumb fake New York: it’s cold and there’s garbage everywhere; it feels authentic although completely fake.
The PvP sections, the dark zone, are a really neat idea that I was really interested in, that really doesn’t work because Ubisoft doesn’t know how to support and online community. Hackers quickly became a problem, and like GTA Online, that ruins the entire thing.
On top of that Ubisoft is only supporting the game through additional paid content, and I’m really not excited to give Ubisoft more money when they’re so bad at fixing their broken shit. The survival mode sounds fun though.
Good RPGs with Bad Loops
Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV makes a great first impressions… OK maybe not great, but it’s a much more relateable opening act that Final Fantasy XIII had. The opening hours of FFXIII is like listening to a language you don’t understand, so many proper names are thrown around without any real explanation (Outside of encyclopedic text entries), and the stakes and character motivations are unclear and bizarre.
FFXV opens with dude pushing their broke ass car down the highway to a gas station. It’s the mundanity of the world that makes FFXV stand out. Even when “Final Fantasy” stuff happens, it’s through montage video of a movie, that crazy overly complicated nonsense still exists here, it’s just off to the side at the opening. I ascribe a lot of this tonal shift to a more low key setting to the success and influence of Monster Hunter. Specifically with the focus on eating food to up your stats, and the fact that you take on contracts to hunt monsters and have a monster hunter rating.
The chill environment of sitting in the a car with your buddies cruisin’ around doing odd jobs to make enough money to get what you need, or so that you can eat, worked for me here in the opening hours that way I wished that side questing had worked in The Witcher 3, where I felt like everything I did was for experience when to gel with the story I wanted it to be about money.
However, FFXV breaks for me because it’s just not compelling beyond those solid opening hours. The length of time it takes to boot up and get into, ends up making me not play it as much, and I just don’t ultimately really care about the overall story or characters. The tedium of going back and forth to quest gi
vers and the amount of down time means that it doesn’t have that “turn-pager” quality that something like The Division has. That’s just a thing that’s become increasingly important to me in games.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
This was a tough cut, and you could count it as my number 11 game if you wanted to. TMS is Persona lite with some Fire Emblem fan service and more directed dungeon design. These are all reasons for me to love it, which I do, but there are issues.
For one, while the story is pleasantly light, it’s bright and colorful and fun, that also means it never hits the drama as hard as Persona does. It ends up feeling a little washed out, the characters are blander and the threat doesn’t seem that scary. Also I’ve played a lot of it, and I still have no real sense of the overarching plot or villain, other than evil exists. It’s very monster of the week in structure.
The real highpoint, even though I said the characters here are blander than those you’ll find in Persona 3 & 4, are the character focused side quests. They’re not mind-blowing, but at their best they’re charming and funny which is the heart of this games strengths. Besides the combat which is solid Persona style turn-based combat with a bunch of flashy presentation that’s great, if a little tedious once you’re seen it all over and over.
The big issue with the game is the structure, and the loop, and how much tedium they introduced here. In Persona 3 & 4 you’re in the dungeon, you’re in the dungeon, you’re committed to it, you’re using limited time to get as much done there as you can, and the game is built to tempt you to go just too far so that the pressure to choose to go back or push forward feels impactful. In TMS you can both save and pop out of the dungeon at any time outside of a battle. The saving is a welcome help that fits with the lowered stress of this story, but the popping back and forth gets ridiculous and kills the flow. Such as when you get to a boss door that warns you that something strong if behind it, only for you to watch a cutscene that then requires you to leave the dungeon go run around the city for a character to learn a simple life lesson, so that they can earn the ability to get an upgrade, and then you visit the upgrade sanctuary, get the upgrade, go back to the boss, sit through another cutscene and then finally get to fight the boss. It’s just too much. And the load times, while not that long start to really add up.
On top of that I don’t love the dungeon puzzles themselves because while they may be neat in theory then end up just being one more thing that makes everything take a little longer. These are issues that only keep me from playing because I don’t find the main story and characters compelling enough to barrel through it though.
There’s some great monster design here, and I do mostly find this game charming, but ultimately there are other games I liked more than it that came out this year.
Best Narrative to Not Make My Top Ten
An adventure game written by one of the writers from Tales From the Borderlands, Oxenfree follows in that lineage in that it’s an adventure game where the primary mechanics is talking. Obviously it’s a lower budget project, so it’s a 2D side scrolling game.
Oxenfree delivers on some really neat supernatural Lovecraftian horror in addition to having a good dialogue system constructed around its teenage characters. What leaves it off my list is that I personally didn’t love then ending and the character writing and voice acting didn’t connect with me as strongly as it did in Firewatch.
I Love You But Fuck You
These are games that potentially could have been on my top ten, but have some fatal flaw that really kept me from seriously considering them at all for that top ten.
Star Fox Zero
The most flawed of any of these games, Star Fox is probably the worst game in this in this whole post period (Even worse than the Dishonorable Mentions.). I already wrote a whole review about its issues. But I want to recognize that the high points I experienced here I truly loved and pointed to what could have been a great Star Fox game that would have been on my list for sure. However the game we got is so far up its own butt with gimmicks, whether that be the gyroscope controls, or the myriad of other times the game just gives you a new vehicle that has its own new control gimmick, most of which aren’t fun. The dog fights against Star Wolf are so good though, and even show how the gyroscope controls could have been used to enhance the gameplay instead of crippling it.
This is a bad example of game design by engineering, where this game was built specifically to do lots of different things with the gyroscope controls. Which is regrettably the only thing about game design that really interests Miyamoto. Star Fox doesn’t need fixing, although I do think if you could make a great rogue-like out of it, since it already shares some of the same DNA when you get down to what makes it work.
The Witness is a neat open world puzzle game that has one great trick. Some people discover that trick late (or never) but I discovered it almost immediately. It’s something that makes you look at the world in a whole new way, but because I realized it so early it just became a fact about the world, it didn’t have quite the same revelatory power for me.
Also, I really like the structure of the game as like a Metroidvania game where your progress is gated by puzzle knowledge instead of unlockable power-ups. But that impression I had of the game doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, since the game has an actual unlockable that’s required to solve some puzzles, and seeing puzzles that I couldn’t solve, and realizing what I needed the game to give me so that I could solve them was frustrating and kind of breaks what I like about the game.
Also the more time I spent in that world and saw what that game’s idea of storytelling was the more I hated its designer, Jonathan Blow. The design philosophy the game starts with I respect and love, but as I played more of the game as saw what it was and wasn’t building off that framework I became less and less interested in seeing more.
And then I got to a puzzle that was bullshit and I was done.
Dead By Daylight
Dead by Daylight is a really fun asymmetrical multiplayer game, where one killer hunts four survivors as they try to start generators to open the doors for their escape. For me this was a game I only enjoyed playing with friends, and unfortunately all the progression was tied to playing solo. Also the game was incredibly broken when I played it; once I was just restarting the game after every match as a matter of course because it was crashing so much for me otherwise.
It says something that we stuck with playing it through all that bullshit. Ultimately my time with it is entirely colored by it being a busted mess though. Also, it’s a little shallow, but I still got plenty of fun out of it.
Speaking of broken games, XCOM 2 is another one I already wrote about extensively and everything I said there still stands. XCOM 2 is game I should love, it should be at the very top of my list, it speaks to me at a deep animal level… but it’s fucked. The way missions are designed, the way the difficulty spikes mostly just because the game doesn’t ever properly inform you about how it works, and the fact that the game was incredibly and unforgivably broken when I played through it.
And customization, while much improved was still pretty bad, which kills me because making your own squad is the big draw of this particular strategy game.
For the core of the game to work for me there needed to be more variety in how the procedur
al missions built themselves, and they needed to try at least a little with the few missions that were handbuilt, instead of just using those same shitty tools.
Street Fighter V
Street Fighter V plays great, I like the core gameplay better than Street Fighter IV, but as a product SFV could not be more rotten. This is the price of pushing your game out to meet the needs of your competitive scene without regard to your general audience. The lack of a story mode at launch is ultimately a minor detail, mostly because the story mode is garbage. The more damming thing was the lack of an arcade mode, There just was no accessible way to just jump in and have some casual fighting game fun.
And the experience online was pretty rough, with long queue times and not particularly compelling matchmaking. My experiences with online SFV matches were mostly of either crushing people who clearly didn’t have my level of skill, or being crushed by people who were clearly better than me. When I spend more time sitting in queue that playing, and games aren’t satisfying, that’s when I walk away.
And part of why it was so hard to find people, even though there is only one player base for this game (PS4 and PC players do get paired with each other), is because very few people bought it, because it was empty of features at launch.
And then Capcom put a fucking rootkit into the PC version of the game to try and stop people from hacking in costumes, even though the in game store was one of things that was not game at launch. So I uninstalled it and haven’t really looked back. The idea that they’re selling additional characters on-top of that mess is just insult to injury.
One day I’ll probably go back to it, because I love the core gameplay, but fuck.
Worst Gaming Experience of 2016
People Whining about Overwatch
Look, Overwatch is good, great even, to me it’s a game of pure joy, but apparently most other people have a much different experience with it, because so many times playing it with other people, or even talking with people about it outside the game, was just a constant stream of complaining.
I got really fucking sick of it, and it made me not want to play the game with people, when usually there’s nothing I’d rather do then play games with people. Now, I’ve come around a bit, and I’m in a better place in terms of understanding how other people engage with Overwatch and what I want out of it. But for a while I had turned on Overwatch in a way I never would have expected last year.
To me, people whining Overwatch was a much worse blight on 2016, than the overhyped fanbase of Undertale was to 2015. At least those people were getting joy out of something instead of working themselves into a miserable fervor.
You can play competitive games, competitively without getting up your own butt and pissy about it in a way that makes everyone miserable. I’m telling you, it’s possible and preferable.
These are game I feel the need to talk about specifically because of something they did wrong.
Two games I really enjoyed and wrote about in my 2015 Game of the Year post even though neither had released yet. (Spaera was an honorable mention, and Duelyst made my top ten) However, both games received changes and reworks that dampened all my interest for them in 2016.
Spaera reworked its gameplay entirely after the developers attempted and failed to get the official Tetris license for their game. However that reworked gameplay did not properly mesh with the powers that existed in the game, and it just fucked with my head in general in addition to it being less interesting to me now. I like Tetris a lot more than I like other similar puzzle games like that. It’s still in early access and they could turn it around again, but I’m much less interested.
Duelyst did release in 2016, but that release came with a very simple change that broke the game for me, which is just that now you draw one card instead of 2 every turn. The goal was to increase deck variety and increase the viability of the high cost cards. For me in practice this just makes the game much closer to Hearthstone. The faster pace and constant hand refresh was the thing that made that game for me, it’s what made it stand out. It’s just more like another one of those games, although I’m sure the serious players all felt it was a needed change. Bleh.
Batman – The Telltale Series
This is the first post-Walking Dead Telltale game to use a property I actually cared about beforehand. Before this, Telltale had been managing to create adventure game stories I engaged with in a way I never engaged with the source material they were based on. Even their Game of Thrones game that I have major issues with, is still something I like more than actual Game of Thrones proper. But man I did not enjoy their take on Batman. I still kind of can’t believe how wrong they got this.
Here’s an except from the story bible for Batman: The Animated Series:
By the early 90s, stories about the origin of Batman were overdone and unnecessary. And soooo much of this game is built around the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. It’s done in a way that’s trying to be shocking and clever and it’s just nooooooot. Mostly the way this game handles Bruce Wayne and Batman makes this character not feel like Batman. Every choice I made just felt wrong, every line of dialogue felt off.
This story makes the mistake that most stories about The Joker make, digging into his psyche and trying to humanize him, both makes the character not read correctly and makes him less interesting. Batman is ideal, a symbol, more than he is a character. Batman shows up and declares an end to crime. That’s who he is and that’s what makes him awesome.
It’s inherently a childlike empowerment fantasy, that’s why it works and that’s why it’s powerful. Trying to make it something else only reduces that power. Most of the versions of classic characters aren’t interesting; the tension they introduce between Bruce and Alfred is cringe worthy and a stupid waste of time.
Actually the one thing I really thought they did well was The Joker, they use him really well. We don’t learn anything about him, there no contrived way of tying him into Bruce Wayne’s life, he’s basically just a bystander who wants to see this all plays out. Thumbs up.
Also despite all that story talk, I also just think this game is full of too much action, and even by Telltale’s standards the QTE action segments here are bad. It’s just bland and devoid of emotion, and really undercuts the already stupid decision to focus a bunch of player choice on how much of a violent dick Batman is.
I just think they took the wrong approach with how to handle a Batman story. I just didn’t a love triangle story where Harvey Dent catches Bruce Wayne sleeping with Selina Kyle behind his back. The Batman needs no kiss on the cheek!
The Top Ten Games of 2016
10. Dragon Ball Fusions
Dragon Ball Fusions exists purely as a vehicle for fan service, which does play a big factor in my enjoyment as I do really like Dragon Ball, but the Xenoverse games are also built around that and I think I made it pretty clear that I think those games are ultimately rotten.
So what got Dragon Ball Fusions into my top ten?
The best Pokemon game of the year, one that streamlines the gameplay loop well and has a bunch of neat twists to standard turn based battles without getting away from what makes them work in the first place. Since I’m such a fan of turn based tactics games it shouldn’t come as a surprise that RPGs that find a way to integrate manipulating positioning into the battles really resonate with me. (This was a
trick Radiant Historia, one of my favorite RPGs, pulled) The battles in Fusions are 5 on 5 affairs that kinda mixes in the mechanics of Pool, with successful attacks resulting in knockback that can cascade sending all of your enemies flying around the map and bouncing off each other and your dudes for fun times and bonus damage. This also helps enhance the feeling of power that the special attacks, they have wide areas of effect and can completely reshape the battlefield positioning. This game has a simpler chibi art style, but it ends up doing a better job at delivering on spectacle than the recent console games based on the same stuff.
There’s also a blocking system based on on predicting which direction the enemy will attack from, the ability to counter special attack with your own in button mashy beam struggles, and simple real time fight sequences that you initiate to boost the damage on large attacks; again all built on top off traditional turn based RPG combat.
On the collection front much is streamlined here for the better. For one, each character only needs to be recruited once (The roster is a mix of real Dragon Ball characters and a whole host of original characters built from the character creator assets who also help to populate the world and story and each have their own simple backstory.) but also every character you have earns XP regardless of whether they’re in your team or not (they solve the issue of learning skills by making that something else to collect in a system that’s honestly kinda a mess but its another carrot to chase).
Dragon Ball Fusions just feels like it respects you time better than this kind of game usually does. There are no random battles, you just go and track down fighters in the overworld that also show you their level from a distance. And even when the game does gate you, it never feels oppressive about it. And that’s just all on top of a game that’s really about fusing together characters into fun, goofy combinations.
There are plenty of nitpicks though: the story is light and not great, there are dumb open world fetch-quest missions and missions that just have you flying through rings on the overworld in sequences that just make everyone think of Superman for the N64 (although the flying here is at least simple and fun). I wish every character could fuse with every other character (only your created character can really fuse with anyone, although there’s an arcane, limited use way of fusing any characters through Streetpass, which is just more frustrating that those fusions are possible but not really in the game).
This is just a fun game, although you really do need to be a Dragon Ball fan to get anything out of it.
Everything about my love of Firewatch has to do with the interactions between its two lead characters (Henry and Delilah) and the performances their respective actors (Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones) deliver. I love good dialogue and characters interacting and playing off each other and Firewatch is frankly stunningly good on that front.
Firewatch stands out from other narrative first person adventures that are light on gameplay (like Gone Home) because the story the game is about is currently happening and we get to experience it with the characters; instead of it simply being narrative archeology, which is what these games often end up being. The story itself isn’t really anything special, its important in that something is happening to upend the way the main characters act towards each other. There is still some of that uncovering of other stories but it’s all in service of the interactions between Henry and Delilah, which makes all the difference.
That’s not to give it a pass, if the plot had been better I would have liked the game more, but as is I still loved what it managed to deliver.
DOOM probably makes the best first impression of any game this year. I just love how much anger you can feel from the Doomslayer even though he never says anything. That’s just great storytelling through only hand animations. This is a great example how very small, brief moments can do so much heavy lifting for a narrative.
But DOOM’s biggest strength is that its mechanics are fucking tight. Shooting and melee both feel great. You’ve got a really good ability to run and climb around the combat arenas, the game does a good job of compelling you to just always be moving The resource management it introduces, with glory kills granting health and limited chainsaw kills restoring ammo is brilliant.
DOOM has one fatal flaw to me, and its that once you’ve seen all the weapons and enemy types, the game never has another gear to get to to wow you again after that initial high and so I got kinda tired of fighting through combat scenario after combat scenario that were basically just the same. For me, DOOM was just too long for what it was. It needed to be shorter, or preferably there needed to be something else to make me go “Oh shit” all over again in the final act. I was just ready to be done before it was over.
Also, as good as the storytelling in that intro is, particularly the way it plays into the way that players of DOOM are generally not gonna give a shit about the story beyond “kill demon,” the game doesn’t really follow through on that philosophy throughout its run-time, and does ultimately get a little too bogged down by story that doesn’t matter. In particular a scene where your in a room with Samuel Hayden (The closeness of S. Hayden to Satan is not a coincidence) and have to listen to him without being able to shoot I think should have been reworked.
DOOM is good stuff though, it’s a shooter that goes back to the principles of what made shooters work, and then finds new answers for how to modernize and better execute on those ideas in a way that results in something that feels authentically DOOM and also brand new.
7. N++ (PC)
I’ve loved this series since the original N and honestly this is just more of the same, but it’s still so good. Super Meat Boy beats out the N series on the presentation front easily, but I appreciate the simplicity and elegance on N’s design; the more gimmicky sections of Super Meat Boy, like the wind turbine stuff only feel worse with age. The N games also deliver on something I desperately wish Super Mario Maker had: with each level having its own full leaderboard for each level, and more importantly the ability to immediately watch any of those playthroughs directly off that leaderboard. N++ even has a full level editor.
The physics of platforming in these games is one that requires a little getting used to, but having learned the keys to that long ago, this game is pretty impeccable mechanically to me. Also you get to have a scarf now so 10/10.
6. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4
CyberConnect2’s sendoff to Naruto, this game covers the final endgame of that series, one which CyberConnect2 has completely covered through video game adaptations over the years. Which might be the way to do it honestly? I dunno, I sure feel like I made the right choice of playing this game instead of watching the end of the anime, the pacing here was just so much better than that show usually is.
Okay, but why is this game on the list? Because it’s the Asura’s Wrath sequel we’re never going to get. I mean, Asura’s Wrath itself was just CyberConnect2’s attempt to tell its own story with the tools and style they’d developed after making Naruto games for years. Asura’s Wrath is one of my all time favorite games so I have been wanting to play one of these games for a while.
What made this one completely appealing though is that is picks up right where I had dropped the Naruto manga. I simply lucked out into that coincidence. Also this Shonen anime endgame, the spectacle is out of control, the move “planetary annihilation” is used like 8 times, which is exactly what you want from this kind
of game. This is the benefit of making a successful fighting game that barely iterates on its core mechanics from game to game, they get to spend all their time and money on building a crazy and varied campaign that’s constantly pulling out new unique shit.
It has its issues, particularly early on where it uses unanimated still shots from the show for scenes where characters are just talking being the low point really. But as the game gets deeper in, and it gets to content where there isn’t anime footage to pull from and instead they’re fully animating everything with their 3D models it really comes into its own and looks great. The story isn’t incredible, it’s certainty no Asura’s Wrath, but it has its moments and the spectacle is spectacular. So much is gained by the pace though, segments (like the Team 7 reunion that ask you to believe that Sakura matters) that would’ve been insufferable if they’d been dragged out over weeks of manga or anime releases read as just a blip as this game just continuously barrels forward.
CyberConnect2 is just better at handling QTE stuff, incorporating that with other forms of gameplay and delivering on it all in a way that still feels satisfying if not particularly complicated or deep gameplay. I’ll put them above Platinum for delivering on spectacle is a way that’s fun and compelling; they’re so much better at delivering on everything around the edges that it doesn’t really bother me that they don’t incorporate intricate combo trees into their combat.
But that might just be me.
As I said, to me, Overwatch is a game of pure joy. It’s all about good varied mechanics interacting in interesting ways. It also taps into the same thing Street Fighter II and the team from Giant-Size X-Men #1: there’s power in a multicultural lineup from around the world even when you’re leaning on stereotypes. Blizzard did what Blizzard does and just outdid everyone else who’s been trying to make a character team shooters since Team Fortress 2.
Blizzard’s done a decent job at building out the game since launch: Arcade mode is certainly a much improved, varied thing, ranked mode has consistently if slowly improved every season. But there’s so much fan pressure to make the game more samey and like other games (Like how you can no longer pick multiple instances of the same hero in Quick Play). What I really want is more crazy, exciting shit, but that’s just not the way this game has been going really.
I still want more PvE content in the game. The Halloween event gave me a taste of what could be, but that isn’t even in the game anymore and nothing like it has come along to replace it. Blizzard’s current kick of making temporary content that’s only available for a short time is one I’m not too keen on, Heroes of the Storm does this too and I just feel like I’m being fed content as a test until they can figure out the actual right way to integrate more modes down the line.
I do find Overwatch a little slow, I’m sure that’s on purpose as it also helps make the game more accessible; which is key to it’s appeal. More than any other game, Overwatch benefits (and maybe suffers) from having THE player base. (Man, I wish Blizzard would surface their player numbers the way Steam does.) But the important thing is that it’s fun and it”s so easy to just hop in and play for a bit without getting too amped or stressed out. I find Overwatch the most relaxing shooter out there.
Also I’m sot sure how much I like playing Overwatch as much as I just like playing D.Va.
4. Fire Emblem Fates
Fire Emblem Fates almost didn’t make this list, but that’s mostly the result of disappointment because of overhype. And I did the same thing with Awakening at first, where I had worked myself up so much for it that I ended up a little disappointed. (Part of that, in both cases, also had to do with the frustrations of playing on Lunatic difficulty because I’m a Lunatic) But while I fully came around on Awakening, to the point where that’s my favorite game in the series, I’m not as high on Fates. I’m also nowhere near to being done with Fates, as it’s basically 3 games in one, and I haven’t even finished one after spending around 60 hours with it. Also, I got a little butt-hurt after losing my copy for months (I have since recovered it).
Fates makes a bunch of balance changes that fix/prevent easily exploitable elements that allowed players to tear Awakening apart. And there are two sides to that, on one hand that makes sense and makes this game fresh and challenging all over again; on the other hand that shit was fun and made me feel real strong in the endgame after suffering through the brutal early game. Ultimately those are healthy changes though.
I’m also mixed, and a little more negative on removing durability from weapons in favor of giving stronger weapons other downsides, like a worse ability to follow up when attacked. I get that managing limited use items could be frustrating to players, but it was a key part of the series. I ultimately liked the resource management of it, and I liked it made me hesitant to rely on stronger weapons, without making those weapons feel weaker, which is what Fates basically does. In Awakening there was also a skill that let you basically prevent durability loss for a wide variety of characters, which was ultimately the only way I was ever gonna use most of the rarer weapons, so this idea isn’t coming out of nowhere.
The bigger issue is that the Story in Fates (As far as I’ve seen of it so far) just isn’t as compelling to me as the story in Awakening. For one Awakening had a great hook that reinforced the gameplay loop of the the games (namely the reloading of levels to save characters) and Fates just doesn’t tap into that at all from what I can tell. Instead it has Awakening’s marriage and child system as a holdover because it was so popular and clever, instead of how it informs the story. Awakening was a series entry that pushed everything forward, Fates is just the next iteration of that. But that’s still really good.
The missions might drive me crazy (Again because I’m playing on Lunatic) but there’s a structure to all of them that’s devious and clever, even if too many missions involve more and more units spawning in late. The power of handmade levels works so much in this game’s favor compared to the way XCOM 2 works for me. Sure this is the same thing again, but that’s okay because there’s nothing inherently bad or broken about the core thing. Again I was more down on this game not that long ago, but coming back to it after some distance gave me some fresh eyes.
For example, I don’t like most of the dudes in this game, and their character designs, but that’s also party in contrast to how many cool women there are in here. I actually really like plenty of characters on the roster, unfortunately it’s just not in a way that feeds into the game’s system of pairing them up to get married and have children to add to your army.
The story isn’t as good as Awakening’s, and the writing is also weaker, both dramatically and in particular this game just isn’t nearly as good at funny moments. But there is still an interesting idea at the core of this, and the idea of the big piece of player choice spinning off the game into 3 wildly different directions, is compelling design (if undercut by each path having a price point attached).
Fire Emblem fills an animal need within me, but unlike XCOM 2 it does so without also being a dumpster fire.
3. Hyper Light Drifter
This is another great example of minimalist storytelling. There is zero dialogue or text within Hyper Light Drifter, but there’s still a lot of world building and storytelling done here. What we do get is so stylish and intriguing, not having everything spelled out just adds to the cool, melancholic vibe of the game.
On top of that I love both the design and actual mechanics of this thing. I love that you can tackle 3 of the 4 areas in any
order at your own choice with no restrictions. I love the combat dance of melee, dodge range attack. I love the way resource management works with you refilling ammo by attacking, and only getting health from health packs or at save points. I love that you can get all the upgrades in any order and that one of them allows you to dash indefinitely.
That infinite dash being the thing that changes this from a good game to great game to me. Because it’s power is so great, but it also requires a particular skill and rhythm to exploit properly.
This is a game with an intriguing world, an amazing visual style, a fantastic moody OST by Disasterpeace, and a great challenge that is technically demanding but not unfairly punishing.
This is just a good fucking video game.
Hitman is video games.
It’s strength are its intricate clockwork levels full of bespoke designed moments on top of a host of other systems and patterns that also allow you to just work through and exploit those to achieve your murderous goals. But what makes this entry really stand out is how polished and good the mechanics of playing it are. It just feels good.
I really appreciate the way the game makes guns a less compelling weapon than just normal objects like a soup can or a hammer. Any throwable item with just lock onto a targets head if you’re close enough, and the impact and animation with that is goddamn incredible, making them not only more fun but more effective than guns most of the time.
The game is very good at pointing you to the ridiculous designed kill moments that are built into it, these serve as signposts to help you learn the levels and make sure you can easily find the fun dumb designed moments the game is filled with. These are large intricate levels, designed to be replayed and worth replaying and sinking deep into. It also allows for new content to be built on top of these maps to provide new challenges, most notably in the form of the elusive targets, timed event kills that you only get one chance to complete.
The story of Hitman isn’t really that important, and while there’s intrigue here the overarching narrative barely exists and certainty doesn’t come to a real conclusion; there’s going to be a season 2 for this game and the story feels like a season of TV. But I want to point out that the writing here is very good, and as self serious as the overall story can seem, there’s so much humor written into the levels themselves (both in the kills and through incidental dialogue). Hitman was the funniest game of 2016.
When I say Hitman is video games it’s because it’s about systems and learning them so that you can exploit those systems to do things cool and well and fast. Sure there’s a progression through unlocks and achievements just from doing stuff in the levels, but there’s also progression through knowledge and understanding of the rules of the game and the structure of the levels. The key part though is that this game then gets the next part right too, in that it also has additional ways to challenge and test the knowledge and skill progression, and that’s all there right upfront for you to consume (or not) and consume at your own pace.
Also I got to crush a live human heart and throw it into a garbage can, that’s pretty great too.
1. Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 had the best narrative of any game in 2016. Sure it’s just an action packed roller coaster, but it’s a good one that’s driven by the friendship of a pilot and a his mech. The big draw is the spectacle, but the writing is good and the characters are charming. The stakes are high, but it’s still a fun adventure that finds room for humor. There’s always a new thing around the corner for its run, just one great sequence after another for the full runtime.
Nothing got me as hyped in 2016 games as the highpoints of the Titanfall 2 campaign.
But really Titanfall 2 is a game all about feel, everything about how it plays just feels good, more so than Overwatch or even DOOM. The speed, the maneuverability (wallrun, hop, knee slide) the melee, it’s all fucking incredible. Titanfall 2 is invigorating. The diversity of tools available at the core, the variety within the gameplay with the mix of pilots and Titans either as something you’re playing as or as enemies and allies it all adds up well.
I could go through the campaign beat by beat and break down why it all works so well and how it builds and pivots in smart ways so that nothing ever outstays its welcome. The crazy confidence to introduce a great mechanic, fully explore it and then be done with it and movie onto to something else is something I can’t help but admire. It works because they do always have something else around the corner to run you through, right up until the final moment. If you haven’t seen it you should go see that stuff on your own.
I do wish there had been one more thing, I think if there had been this game would have a better claim at all time greatness instead of just within the context of this year. Titanfall 2 gets here by being the sum of its parts, with a great campaign and great multiplayer that’s only held back by a player base that can’t support more than one mode on PC.
Titanfall 2, my game of 2016. (Y’know, not counting Heroes of the Storm.)
Thank You For Your Time.