2016 was, as I see it, a tough year for games. While there were plenty of good to great games, there were few that really blew me away. However, after I went back through my library, it was easy to see all the great games I had played in 2016. Additionally, this time of year is when I usually capitalize on the sales and pick up a few of the games I missed out on from earlier in the year. One such game completely surprised me and landed right on this very list as I was writing it.
5. Dark Souls 3
While not my favorite Souls game, there’s no denying Dark Souls 3 is still a fantastic experience. All aspects of the combat feel faster and this makes the third entry the easiest entry point for new players. Not that the game is a pushover by any means.
I think Dark Souls 3 retreads past locales and themes in an extremely boring way, but there’s more than enough new stuff to appease long time fans. In particular, the final third of the game is a phenomenal ‘storming of a castle’ moment the series hasn’t quite had since Dark Souls 1, or even Demon’s Souls. The area bloat of Dark Souls 2 isn’t as prevalent and this allows many locales to reach their true labyrinthine potential. This is especially true of the DLC. Dark Souls 3 as a whole also features some of the best boss battles in the series.
4. Hyper Light Drifter
I played a lot of action games this year, but this is the one that I’ll remember for years to come. A pitch perfect soundtrack, precise and punishing combat, and wonderful exploration combined to create a game I could not put down. After spending a couple of hours in the world, I was able to weave my way through enemies that once halted my progress and begin to notice the subtle markings in the environment that led to secrets. There are very few things like exploring a world with so many new and exciting things to discover. In fact, the closest comparison would be if the first Legend of Zelda was built for the SNES and had a large emphasis on combat. HLD would be right at home as an excellent entry in the Zelda series. I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful boss battles, or the hours I spent hunting for upgrades. Hyper Light Drifter was a joy and I’m extremely glad I played it.
3. Quantum Break
I started playing Quantum Break a week before I started writing this list. I wrote this section minutes after finishing it. Before playing, I wasn’t even sure if I’d like Quantum Break. I was very, very wrong.
Mixing two of my favorite things, time travel plots and bullet time combat, Remedy Entertainment created a game that seemed to speak directly to me. The story is complex, interesting, and the closest I’ve had to a videogame ‘pageturner’ in quite some time. Multiple times during the campaign, I’d stop to think about timelines and character motives, and it was so much fun to piece everything together.
The gameplay is no slouch either, featuring flashy time-powers and several tricks up its sleeve. I think the best compliment I can give to the combat is that I wish there was more of it. Every encounter left me wanting more enemies to conquer using my powers. However, Quantum Break frequently stops the action for extended periods to focus on the story and I loved those bits as well.
I think one this is clear after beating it: I just wish there was more. I wish it didn’t have to end. Sure, there are some technical issues, plot weirdness, and a less than stellar live action show portion but I couldn’t care less about those faults.
2. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
I’ve always found the Uncharted games to be overrated. They way people talk about Uncharted 1-3 (and specifically the later 2) makes me think they played entirely different games. The platforming ranged from great to incredibly frustrating; the shooting had multiple random difficulty spikes that infuriated me; and the puzzles were not only obtuse, the method in which to solve them was often overly time intensive– turning a simple sliding puzzle into a long-winded affair involving two separate in-game apperati. I saw flashes of pure brilliance in the Uncharted trilogy, I couldn’t help but ignore the pile of frustrations and problems with them.
That being said, Uncharted 4 is exactly the game people had told me Uncharted was for all these years. I love everything about it from the pacing, to the new stealth mechanics, to the story. Almost every single moment is perfectly executed.
While there aren’t many amazing set-piece moments, I was glued for the entire ride in a way I never was in the previous entries. Uncharted 4 is unbelievably good and I never thought that be something I’d say. If you told me I’d think that a year ago, I’d call you the craziest person on the planet.
Honorable Mention: Nioh
Hands down, Nioh was the best game I played this year. The way its gameplay made me feel like the scrub I was when I first played Demon’s Souls was exquisite. Bloodborne was a fantastic deviation from the Souls theme and Nioh represents yet another. These thoughts just so happen to be based on an alpha and a beta though. Because the final game won’t release until early 2017, I can’t allow this game to be number 1 on my list. Even though I really want it to be.
Honorable Mention: Salt and Sanctuary
This game is a great marriage of Symphony of the Night and Dark Souls. Fans of either would be foolish not to play it. It’s also worth mentioning it would have been number 6 on my list. Go play it.
Honorable Mention: Let It Die
So this game came out of nowhere. Basically, it’s a Dark Souls-esque experience in a rogue-like wrapping. And it completely hooked me in a way few other games did in 2016. I’ll never beat Let It Die and that doesn’t matter, the experiences I’ve had with it will stay with me for a long time to come.
1. The Witness
I have a lot of complaints about a few of the types of puzzles in The Witness, but if I ignore those optional aspects, I love, love, love the game.
Sometimes I’d wake up out of a Witness-fueled gaming binge four hours later and surrounded by post-it notes formed into Tetris shapes and think, “I might have a problem.” That’s pretty much how my entire 40 hours with The Witness went and I loved it. When it was presenting me with ‘my’ kind of puzzles, I could hardly contain myself. It certainly isn’t a game for everyone, but puzzle nerds like myself will have more than enough brainfood here. Drawing lines on a grid never felt so good. The Witness is a game I will never forget my time with. Even now, I want to go back and start it all over from the beginning.
And you know what? I just might.