2016’s top games are a crowded field and you, dear reader, want not for bloated paragraphs filled with wistful remembrances of the year that was. I’ll save us all a bit of time and get to the chase.
Here’s the Backlog Adventures GOTY ground rules: I only put what I’ve played on this list, so just keep cool when games like Uncharted 4 don’t make an appearance.
I also consider DLC to be fair game if the content is robust and meaty, like a fine Italian red sauce cooked all day by a mafioso’s grandma. HD Remakes and re-releases don’t qualify.
For those interested, this be last year’s top five:
5 – Rocket League
4- Heroes of the Storm
3 – Bloodborne
2 – Super Mario Maker
1 – Life is Strange
As I do every year, I now proudly bring forth my top games of the year.
5. Pokemon Go
Pokemon Go isn’t necessarily the best Pokemon game of the year and I more than hesitate to call it a “good game.” Yet, here I am seven months after release, still playing and nearly crashing a vehicle into my house because my wife shouts that a Lickitung is in the nearby park.
I went back and forth between Go taking this spot and the actual mainline Pokemon game that came out this year, Sun/Moon. That said, I found the latter lacking in innovation and narrative pacing, leaving Sun and Moon the least engaging or interesting Pokemon titles ever released.
Pokemon Go is a simplistic, but daring attempt to get the average person out of their Pokeball and to go out into the world to catch ’em all. The first two months or so of the game’s release was breathtaking, as I saw people and families who never even considered gaming all going out into the world, together.
Developer Niantic may have lost that momentum with bungled updates and a lack of developer to player communication, but Pokemon Go’s sheer affect on how people play, even for a brief moment, cannot go unnoticed.
As I said last year in regards to Heroes of the Storm: Blizzard has an annoying, filthy habit of taking beloved genres, polishing them to a blinding degree, and changing how players think about those genres forever. Overwatch is so much more than a Team Fortress 2 clone, rising up out of the ashes of the cancelled Project Titan to change the First-Person Shooter genre for the better.
I know a game has deep claws if it manages to get Rachel not only playing games again, but kicking me off the computer multiple times per week to do so. Underneath the charm and bright colors there’s a smooth and refined tactical team-based shooter with a wealth of depth and stylish moments.
I bring up the Team Fortress 2 comparison since that is usually what gets levied against Overwatch. Yet, TF2 lacks a balance and thoughtfulness to each playable role that Overwatch manages to balance, all while packaged into a finely-honed product that players besides the most hardcore will actually care about.
That last part is the big thing: Overwatch got the average person playing team-based shooters again, something larger series such as Call of Duty and Battlefield haven’t done in years. People come for the Disney-Pixar quality characters, and stay for moving the payload.
I’m kidding. Nobody moves the payload. Jerks.
3. Dark Souls 3
For the second year in a row I’ve played a FROM Soft game in my number three position, and Dark Souls 3 receives this honor for almost the exact same reasons that Bloodborne did in 2015.
The final chapter in the Dark Souls series is a true return to form, creating a dank, dark, skittering world to explore and delve. While I’m one of the few that will defend Dark Souls 2 as a worthy entry in the series, Dark Souls 3 feels like the actual successor to a game I consider the best title of the past decade.
FROM took some lessons they learned with Bloodborne and applied them to Dark Souls, leaving this broken world all the better. I once again suspect that many folk forgot Dark Souls due to coming out so early in the year. The biggest negatives against Dark Souls 3 is that, while fantastic, it is still just more Dark Souls.
While I am more than okay with that, it was as much of a safe and sure thing as you’ll see in current games development. All said said, don’t sleep on Dark Souls 3 and miss out on one of the best experiences of the year.
2. Enter The Gungeon
As I said in my review for the Toledo Blade, Enter the Gungeon was the first legit surprise for me in 2016. The past few years have seen my obsession with twin-stick shooters and Rogue-likes grow at a tremendous rate, and in many ways Enter the Gungeon takes all the best things from the likes of The Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne, and Helldivers to create an impressive, charm-filled experience that just loves kicking players in the teeth.
Gungeon is more than just gun-based puns and cute sprites. Each in-game asset is lovingly crafted with character and purpose, boiling the genre down into the essence of what makes this randomly-generated style of game so good. The in-game Ammonomicon provides a wealth of sharp, clever writing that fleshes out the game world while also providing actual information on the items, monsters, and areas of the Gungeon.
Too often these games run into the problem of withholding information as a form of fake difficulty, but Gungeon arms players will knowledge and an expectation to work harder than other similar games would want. That aspect, combined with the multiple layers and unlocks that come at a proper pace gives the game a depth that cannot be matched.
If ever there was a game to embody “one more turn” in 2016, it’s Enter the Gungeon. I imagine a ton of people slept on this game, and if you did I beg you to run out and correct this error immediately.
Watching Bethesda’s 2015 conference presentations, I couldn’t but think that DOOM looked like the worst thing in the world. Each reveal video was filled with generic metal, sprays of blood, and a complete lack of anyone explaining why such a game needed to exist in the modern gaming era.
I’m not alone in writing the game off before even playing it, but I’m so glad that I was proven wrong. DOOM is that rare game that knows exactly what players want and never stops to overthink the small things. A wealth of words can describe how fun and clever DOOM is, but what stands out for me are the classic FPS contrivances that DOOM uses in new ways and with the utmost precision.
Movement and speed are second nature in DOOM. Never before in a first-person shooter have I not stopped to complain about things like platforming, reloading, weapon-swapping, and all the other nuances of the FPS genre that often feel like things added to games that just get in the way.
DOOM doesn’t care. DOOM doesn’t have time to worry about whether a jump needs to be on-point or if the player should stop and think about what weapon works best. DOOM’s approach is “just go do it, idiot.” The systems here are so refined that they’ve combined in a way that makes DOOM feel like a tactics shooter and a bloody runaround of destruction, all at once.
The strategic decisions of how to attack a room flooded with beautifully disgusting demons combines in a natural way with the sheer destruction and rampant violence that the series has made a trademark for decades. DOOM does all of this with the perfect amount of speed, never leaving the player waiting impatiently for an animation to finish or trying to line up a shot just right. Everything in DOOM feels perfect while still carrying the weight and “YES!” excitement of shoving a shotgun in the face of a demon and feeling like a wonderful, gory ballet.
This is all to say, in the most long-winded of ways, that the controls, shooting, and movement in DOOM are the best I’ve ever experienced in an FPS. Hands down. Game over. No contest.
The story, characters, settings, and writing all come together with those perfect controls to create a game that never feels like a chore. DOOM doesn’t outstay its welcome and strings together one awesome moment after another, leaving a game experience that feels like the pure essence of why we play games. There’s a rare combination of strategy, horror, humor, and awe in DOOM that other games in 2016 could never hope to compete with.
Go play DOOM. I don’t care if you don’t like shooters, or gore, or think that DOOM is just an excuse to paint the walls red. DOOM is exactly what gaming, and the world needed in 2016: a reason to sit down, do cool stuff, and just play games again.
Games that missed the cut
Civilization VI: This was a tough call, but is basically 6th place. I love Civ, and Civ VI will be a worthy successor to V at some point, but this base version of the strategy game is a little too bare-bones and had far too many technical problems to ignore.
Street Fighter V: If ever there was a complete dropping of the ball. Capcom not only managed to ruin a ton of good faith with their core fans, but created this bizarre, half-baked experience that was never going to bring in new players. Instead, they released something that didn’t — and still doesn’t, even after multiple updates — appeal to any one specific base of player.
Darkest Dungeon: There’s a lot to love about this game’s foreboding style and the way it grinds players down into dust, but ultimately that grind is what keeps it off the list. Especially towards the end, Darkest Dungeon boils down into this weird hamster wheel of mix/maxing and grinding for the sake of grinding. If I wanted to do that I’d just go play a D&D campaign by myself.
Destiny: I still don’t think that’s a video game.
Will Harrison is a writer, game critic, and reporter now living in Austin, Texas. He’s been in VGW, Venture Beat, Unwinnable, Dialog Magazine, and is still the gaming critic for the Toledo Blade. He’s also recently began writing as a staff writer for Twitch and Curse Network’s GamePedia. Get at him on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.