Let’s just have it said and done: 2016 was a shit year in almost every conceivable way. Divisive political stances have never been at a higher slant, the right and left are more split than ever, every news link has lead to more and more bad news, and a laundry list of our favorite celebrities have bit the dust in a ridiculous procession of what amounts to some of our favorite humans being snatched away by a very sadistic reaper.
With that said, it’s no surprise that 2016 has been a banner year for gaming. I think we all needed to escape from the harsh truths of reality just a little bit more this year, and we were not wanting for options in that regard. So, without further (depressing) ado, here are the 10 games that most kept us distracted from the encroaching apocalypse in 2016. Click here for the top 20.
May 2017 offer brighter days. (Mike Worby)
10) Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter is the perfect example of style and substance working in perfect harmony. Developer Heart Machine’s action/RPG managed to merge the best aspects of beloved titles like The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls while still forming an identity uniquely its own. Beautiful 16 bit art and a vibrant array of colors helped to capture a dark yet luscious apocalyptic environment.
While the finer details of Hyper Light Drifter’s story tended to get lost in translation due to a lack of dialogue, the overarching themes of genocide, religious fanaticism, and the environmental costs of nuclear war are clearly painted throughout the game. The story of the Drifter itself is a flawed and broken one, highlighted by the character’s quest to find a cure for its fatal disease, no matter the cost. This creates a moody and intense atmosphere as the Drifter fights through hordes of mutated creatures and once-powerful mechanical beings of the past.
Hyper Light Drifter excels at offering an engaging and fluid gaming experience. Sporting a tight control scheme and strong but brutal combat system, the game offers players a challenging yet rewarding gameplay experience. For those looking for a classic take on the Dark Souls formula, Hyper Light Drifter fits right in your wheelhouse. (Carston Carasella)
9) Darkest Dungeon
Anyone that’s ever played pen and paper or tabletop gaming has probably had that DM. The kid that only wanted to be DM so they could screw over your entire group. They throw traps and monsters at your group in endless succession, and because of that winning against them feels so much sweeter, not only overcoming the challenge of the campaign itself, but beating this kid at their own game.
That’s what Darkest Dungeon is about, beating an angry, cynical, and downright mean DM at their own game and looking great doing it. The setup has you attempting to reclaim your familial grounds, guided by the writings of your ancestor, who also serves as a narrator to your adventures (and is voiced by the amazing Wayne June). To clear the lands of darkness you’ll need to hire adventurers from a variety of classes and create parties of up to four to run randomly generated campaigns into the heart of evil below your estate.
Where Darkest Dungeon really manages to deviate from other rogue-likes is the implementation of a stress system. As your heroes delve into the underground their morale will be tested, and when they hit a breaking point they can either power through and become beacons of hope or, more likely, become broken husks that slowly erode the rest of the party. This adds an extra layer of depth and tragedy as you’ll need to contend with your best fighters becoming shells of their former selves after particularly nasty fights.
Darkest Dungeon isn’t for everyone. It’s a game that has no problem beating you down and spitting on you, and the end-game grind gets downright insane. For those who get into it though, this is one of the best representations of proper tabletop RPGs yet, and a definite must for gamers that enjoy a challenge. (Andrew Vandersteen)
8) The Last Guardian
With the release of The Last Guardian, Fumito Ueda has cemented his position as one of the greatest video game directors/designers of all time, putting him in league with the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima, and Hidetaka Miyazaki.
The fact that The Last Guardian shares more with Ico than it does with Shadow of the Colossus will immediately turn away a significant chunk of people, and that’s a shame, because not only is it one of 2016’s best games, but it’s also one of the best action-adventure titles released in recent memory.
Yes, it’s true, the game’s controls can feel unintuitive and downright archaic at times, it does suffer from some technical issues, and its camera has the propensity to be infuriating, but despite its flaws The Last Guardian’s triumphs are monumental. Its setting is both grand and captivating; the sheer size of the environments in combination with how well the areas are crafted create a memorable and awe-inspiring journey. The game’s puzzles and platforming are fluid, at times even ingenious, and the narrative is presented cleverly through the world’s architecture, as lore-drenched hallways give insight into what seems to be the relics of an ancient civilization. And, of course, the game’s crowning achievement, the beast itself, Trico.
Within just the first few hours of gameplay Trico establishes itself as the best animal companion in gaming history, bar none. Animated to the point of near perfection, the giant bird-cat-dog moves so realistically, and behaves so naturally, that it’ll remind you of your real life furry friends. But the way Trico moves isn’t even its most impressive trait; the way it thinks, the way it reacts and emotes, the way it analyzes and understands, to sum up the creature’s artificial intelligence in just a couple of words: it’s simply astounding. The bond between boy and beast is forged through a realistic series of events and interactions, creating a heartfelt and emotional experience. There will be times where Trico ignores your commands, instances where you’ll spend minutes trying to convince him to perform a certain action, and you’ll get frustrated, but that feeling of frustration is an essential part of the experience. Unlike the vast majority of animal companions from other games, Trico isn’t simply a tool, it’s a living creature, and like any relationship you form with another independent being, there will be hardships, but it’s through those hardships and frustrations that a special friendship is born. Trico’s authenticity alone is reason enough to play this game. (Matt De Azevedo)
7) Pokémon Sun and Moon
Every iteration within Pokémon’s 20 year long history has brought small, subtle changes to prevent the franchise from getting stale. No generation of games has done quite so upstanding a job as Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon and, from the outset, Pokémon Sun and Moon celebrates that twenty-year history while distinguishing themselves as something different. For starters, the experience is far more cinematic, allowing for moments of quality, subtle character building while frequently raising tension and excitement with brief action sequences. Likewise, the setting of the game, the Alola Region, is far more realized than previous regions. Based on Hawaii, Alola is comprised of four unique islands each exuding their own atmosphere. Despite taking place on islands, the game is fairly landlocked; so don’t worry about too much water. In game, Alola is described as being a far stretch away from the original Pokémon region of Kanto, and that’s exceptionally demonstrated. Unlike other regions, Alola doesn’t have gyms. Instead, players embark on an Island Challenge in which they go on a series of trials. While similar to gyms in that they culminate in a fierce Pokémon battle, each trial sets the player on a completely different task that teaches and celebrates the history of Alola. Gone also is the linear, X-axis, Y-axis, top down, grid style map. Alola is a free flowing, 3D world where the variety of Pokémon changes for each section of tall grass, even on the same route.
Pokémon Sun and Moon are as notable for their quality of life improvements. Quick access to Poké Balls amidst wild Pokémon encounters, move effectiveness listed for Pokémon previously battled, and fully customizable menus are just a few. That’s not to say the games don’t have outstanding new additions. Poke Pelago and Festival Plaza are welcome distractions from the main game, but represent the typical, expected additions to a new Pokémon generation. Unprecedented are what fans are calling SOS battle encounters where wild Pokémon can call for aid resulting in two on one battles. On top of stacking the odds against the player in exciting ways, these SOS encounters can result in rare Pokémon encounters including evolutions, Pokémon with hidden abilities, and shiny Pokémon. In fact, some Pokémon can only be encountered this way, resulting in some thrilling, unexpected discoveries. Sun and Moon also include Z-moves, powerful moves that can only be used once per battle between all Pokémon in the party. While often overpowering the player, when battling enemies capable of Z-moves, these powerful moves can actually shift the tides of battle in interesting ways. For all that is new, Pokémon Sun and Moon are also a celebration of twenty years of Pokémon. Some of this takes the obvious shape of Alolan Forms of original Pokémon, some of which are cool as ice while others are intentionally laughable. At other times it’s as subtle as a Cubone calling on a Kangaskhan for help in battle, a call back to Pokémon lore and a legend of the original games. Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon represent the best Pokémon has to offer: some brilliant new Pokémon, celebratory riffs on the originals, countless quality of life improvements, and an abundance of character and charm from the cast within, both villains and heroes alike, and even the region itself. Do yourself a favor and take a vacation to Alola and the wonderful world of Pokemon Sun and Moon. (Tim Maison)
6) Final Fantasy XV
After a long and tumultuous design cycle, one so long that it actually became a running joke for fans and industry pundits alike, Final Fantasy XV emerged this year to a surprising chorus of almost universal acclaim, though that acclaim did come with a laundry list of certain caveats.
Despite FFXV‘s echoes of praise, the game does have some troubling elements, including parts of the game that seem to either underperform or fail entirely (I’m looking at you Costlemark Tower). However, the many problems with Final Fantasy XV are actually badges of pride when you look at the scores it’s garnered from publications big and small.
How, you ask? Well, only a truly exceptional effort could overcome the sometimes game-breaking flaws of Square-Enix’s latest to become one of the best games of the year. Whether through the bonds of the characters, the unconventional approach of the narrative, the mix-and-match of a dozen ideas from a dozen games, or the simple splendor of it’s jaw dropping environs, Final Fantasy XV clears the gates as what would be the surprise success story of any other gaming year, but in 2016, of course, must share that honor with DOOM and The Last Guardian.
Still, as the best Final Fantasy in years, despite its flaws, credit must be given where credit is due. (Mike Worby)
While it wasn’t in the oven for as long as Owlboy, and certainly not scrutinized as much as Final Fantasy XV, 2016’s DOOM is another title that spent the better half of a decade in development, yet rose to not only meet, but exceed expectations.
Similar to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, id Software’s rebirth of DOOM succeeds not through innovation or excess, but via refinement and respect for the series’ roots.
From the legendary Chainsaw to the fabled Super Shotgun, DOOM’s classic weapons feel as long time fans would expect. The game is bloody, visceral, and intense. Levels are filled to the brim with Hell spawn, but the DOOM Marine has never been known to back down from a challenge. The constant feeling of being overwhelmed is counterbalanced by the sense of power instilled in the player by their arsenal of weapons and their ability to rip and tear through demons at a breakneck pace. Gameplay is fast and frenetic; kills can be stringed together seamlessly either with bullets or via gruesomely animated melee finishers known as “glory kills”. The game’s level design further emphasizes its focus on kinetic and fast-paced encounters, as airlifts and double jumps quickly propel the player around each zone, keeping the pace at a near constant 100 miles per hour.
After spending just a few minutes with DOOM’s multiplayer you may think to yourself “this feels like it was developed by a completely different studio”, and that’s because it was. Unfortunately, Certain Affinity’s work fails to make the grade, as the game’s multiplayer is both shallow and easily forgettable, but don’t let this blemish turn you away from the game entirely. DOOM is a fantastic single player FPS, with engaging environments, solid shooting mechanics, and a surprisingly entertaining narrative. It’s hard to believe that Doom 3 came out well over a decade ago, but the gates to Hell have finally been re-opened, so suit up and jump in. (Matt De Azevedo)
2016 might have been an appalling year in terms of celebrity deaths and political facepalms, but for gamers it’s been a stellar year packed with quality titles. You’ll find fantastic games from back to front throughout our Best Of 2016 list, but there’s likely no other game released this year that was as impeccably designed as Playdead’s Inside.
The true beauty of Inside lies not in the spectacular attention to detail in the environments, or the engrossing narrative it manages to convey without uttering a single word, but in the finely crafted puzzles that are difficult enough to make you think for a minute but never hard enough to disrupt the flow of the game for any longer than that. You’re always moving, whether you’re being chased by ruthless guards or just trying to get to the next area hoping to find out what the hell is going on here, and that sense of urgency coupled with the disconcerting feeling that something is very wrong in the world Playdead has created, results in a palpable sense of tension.
It’s got top notch animation, an unnerving, minimalist soundtrack, a dystopian future setting that oozes atmosphere, and a constant sense of impending doom that should keep you glued to the edge of your seat for the three or four hours it’ll take to see the game through to the end. And the end? If there’s a more surreal, horrific, jaw-dropping finale to any game other than Inside in 2016, then we’ll eat our collective hats. (John McCormick)
3) Dark Souls III
The community of From Software’s now infamous Souls series is known to be home to some of the most die-hard, dedicated and sadomasochistic fans in the realm of gaming, and as such the purported “final entry” in the Souls franchise had a pretty high bar to clear in order to impress them.
Lucky for us all, it was mission accomplished from the aces over at From. Dark Souls III was well received by critics and fans alike, providing an excellent send-off for the series, loaded with a metric ton of fan service, while offering enough new twists and turns to the scheme of things to keep things fresh for even the most stalwart of Souls fans.
The level design is gorgeous, with From Software clearly taking a page from the eerie, haunting locales of their previous effort, Bloodborne, and incorporating them into their already varied satchel of tricks. In addition, there are enough layers of the other three preceding titles interspersed in the final product to make this the ultimate Souls game in a lot of ways. No matter which of the previous games is your favorite, Dark Souls III has something to offer, and if you’re a virgin to the series then, well, you’ve got a lot to learn, but the loose narrative of the game will leave you right at home with the rest of us, having no idea what the hell is going on until you’ve done a bit of research.
All jokes aside, as sad as this writer is to see Dark Souls taking a break, it’s better than the alternative of it being run into the ground (see Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, et al) and fans could do a lot worse than this absolutely stellar, and exceedingly memorable tribute to what might be the best new franchise of the decade. (Mike Worby)
Games like Overwatch only come around once in a blue moon. Blizzard has created a masterpiece that takes the team-based shooter formula and transforms it into so much more. The gameplay is perfect across the board, but what makes Overwatch a truly incredible title is the amazing and diverse cast of characters. Every single character offers up a unique and engaging gameplay experience that requires hours of playtime to master. Spending so much time with these characters is made more enjoyable through Blizzard’s treatment of their respective stories. It’s hard not to get attached to these characters, with each of them having their own backstories and personality traits to discover.
Overwatch is the perfect multiplayer experience. While the game can certainly be played in a highly competitive fashion (just look at its growing esports league), there are plenty of casual modes for gamers looking to just have fun. The icing on the cake comes in the form of free updates for years to come. No season passes, no dlc, just new maps and characters all at no cost to the player. It really doesn’t get much better than this. (Zack Rezak)
1) Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Naughty Dog has once again crafted a breathtaking adventure that can stand alone as the best game on PlayStation 4, yet. A Thief’s End may not have that big, iconic set piece moment found in previous Uncharted games but it succeeds as a collection of smaller sequences that help set a new benchmark for the way video games can communicate a narrative.
A Thief’s End is a fitting send-off for Nathan Drake and one that perfectly balances the action-packed extravaganza we’ve come to expect with the slow and heavy emotional toll of Naughty Dog’s other hit title, The Last of Us. Uncharted 4 might just be the best title developed by Naughty Dog, and not just because of the stunning graphics, but because of how the sum of all it’s parts come together in a brilliantly cohesive whole. Everything from the dialogue, character actions, visual motifs, audio cues, art direction, sound effects, artistic presentation, tone and setting help create a breathtakingly efficient, immaculately constructed game that is a sheer joy to play. (Ricky D)