I tried not to overthink my gaming in 2016 like I had done in previous years. I wanted a return to gaming as an escape. I found myself sticking with games that I enjoyed moreso over games I thought I "should" be playing for various critical reasons. Co-op and multiplayer gaming did make up a majority of my game time, but getting excited to talk about shared single player stories is what I'll remember the most. After 7 years of Horrible Night, a bit of balance was restored in my gaming diet and with it came a lot more fun.
JDevL’s Top 10 Games of the Year 2016
- Hyper Light Drifter
- Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
- World of Warcraft: Legion
- FIFA 17
- Dragon Quest Builders
- Salt and Sanctuary
- Darkest Dungeon
There's something here
#10 - Darkest Dungeon
Fittingly, Darkest Dungeon got in my head early this year and I couldn't get it out. Even when I wasn't playing, it seemed to linger close by. I've been through a lot of dungeons with a lot of challenges and mysteries. These were different. I didn't fear the specific enemies or their attacks, I feared for the reactions of my individual party members. At any point whether I was in battle or just walking through dark passages, everything could come crumbling down. If by some miracle my party survived, those survivors were never the same. I'd come back to town from a good clean run with different party members and see those terrified survivors barely holding on. They'd be trying to heal, but I knew they were changed. They reminded me of moments I wanted to forget. Moments that made me nervous about going out again. What were we even fighting for? There is no hope. Even if we survive, look at what happens. Still we go into the dungeon, one more time because I have to see what happens.
#9 - Event
I thought I knew exactly what to expect from Event and its AI character, Kaizen. It was easy to put off playing the game, but once I gave it a chance I couldn't pull myself away. Ironically, I think that's exactly what Kaizen wanted.
The environment, story, setting, and puzzle design to Event are among my favorites in the genre. However, I never thought reading through terminal logs would be one of my favorite activities in gaming in 2016. The logs themselves became all the more interesting once I figured out that I could use them to manipulate my interactions with Kaizen. I knew things it didn't know I knew, and then we started playing games with each other. I didn't think Kaizen could keep up with me, but it always had another angle to play. Kaizen is fascinating and I like to think our respect for each other is mutual, but maybe that's what it wants me to think.
#8 - Salt and Sanctuary
For a game as dreary and hopeless as Salt and Sanctuary, it sure did make me happy. First off, Salt and Sanctuary is easily the best game created by one of my favorite independent studios. Secondly, it bridged a gap for me that I had given up on in that it teaches you how to play Soulslikes. While I've enjoyed this genre in the past, I've never gotten out of the opening areas of most games because of how obtuse the games can be. Salt and Sanctuary has all the pieces of a Souls game, but its 2D action feels much more familiar and grounded to me. This foundation quickly taught me what I needed to do to become a stronger character to take on new areas/bosses. All of the character design in Salt and Sanctuary is top notch, but the boss encounters are more thrilling than I thought would be possible. I do hope we get an even better sequel because I think Ska Studios can take this to a whole new level.
Memorable Gaming Moments in 2016
- What action movie move did I just pull off?
- You can buy a t-shirt of that?
- Well, that did not go as planned.
- Rowlet. And also people are walking on dates and playing that game
- Coming out of lightspeed.
- Put down the walky talky.
- I'm going to beat him on the 27th try.
- What a minute, does that design mean something? I'm seeing it all over the place.
- Why do I have subtitles on in a game with no dialog?
- Who has a birthday today?
- Who left hamburger on the floor?
- That's an awesome penguin.
- Portal should have had mechs.
- That epilogue.
- Cock that shotgun.
For me? You shouldn't have
#7 - Overcooked
Stress is fun? There are definitely years of my life where Overcooked wouldn't have been fun at all, but I can't help but feel that its designed so well that that may not be the case.
I can get obsessed with perfect runs or getting perfect ratings in everything in games that offer it. What is so brilliant about Overcooked is that no matter how many people you are playing with, there's always a task that requires one more person. Therefore, you cannot settle into sticking to a plan and only doing X and/or Y. Eventually the map will break or someone will fail and you will have to go do that other task. That's when the yelling starts. Luckily, you signed an agreement prior to playing with your co-op partners that no one can take anything in Overcooked personally. But how could you take it personally? Everything is adorable in this game. Let's ignore the fact that we are making food for Satan for one moment. This is the most brilliant couch co-op game I've played in years. The love/hate is strong. Now get back on the grill or wash some plates. Don't just stand around. Do something!
#6 - Dragon Quest Builders
This has been a long time coming. I don't know how long the genre has been around at this point, but Dragon Quest Builders is my kind of creation game. Apparently, the formula was simple. Give me all the building blocks a game world can offer, but give me objectives to complete and people to please. Adding a dose of simple JRPG action is a nice touch, too.
I could not put Dragon Quest Builders down. It survived the wall that others have failed to climb when after about 20 hours in one week I start asking myself what I was doing with my valuable gaming time. The answer was simple, "I'm upgrading my town for the 4th time because everything that's wood needs to be turned to stone now." The mere idea of having a level rating for a town was the kicker for me. After I maxed out the town level, it meant I had a full grasp of what my building options were and could really start something awesome. Come over sometime so I can show you my blueprints.
#5 - FIFA 17
It's still soccer to me, but I really do love soccer. I'm finally comfortable in my own sports fan skin now, and it feels wonderful. It took a few close friends to drop some knowledge, but once I found my team, my long time the barrier to entry to FIFA was eradicated. I could sit back and enjoy some video game soccer. FIFA 17 did not disappoint and multiplayer matches with friends were as fun as ever.
All of that normally means a sports game doesn't make an end of the year list. It means the game is fine for what it is and great at what it does, but it's nothing really new or exciting. I bought FIFA 17 because I like soccer games and I had friends to play with. That's happened every couple of years like clockwork.
FIFA 17's Journey Mode is a different animal entirely. Story modes in sports games have historically been terrible or the uncanny valley and writing made them laughable. The Journey is one of my favorite video game stories in a year where I was obsessed with narrative games. The heartstrings are pulled right of the gate, and I knew I had to be a part of Alex Hunter's rise to soccer glory. The friends and enemies I met along the way were almost as dramatic as the finishes to my favorite matches. In the end, we did pretty well for ourselves, Alex. Soccer is only going to get better for us from here.
Most Honorable of Mentions (in no particular order)
- Final Fantasy XV
- Stardew Valley
- Gears of War 4
- Titanfall 2
- The Last Guardian
- Batman: The Telltale Series
#4 - World of Warcraft: Legion
Haha. Oh man, we're back here aren't we? I just have to say, I had zero intentions of playing WoW Legion after my experience with the previous expansion, Warlords. I enjoyed Warlords, but I got my fill and thought I was done with WoW entirely. A few glowing reviews later while seeing WoW friends getting obsessed like the Lich King had returned, kept Legion in my periphery.
Truth be told I resubscribed just to log in for an anniversary event so that I could get the corgi pet that came with it, but once I got in I couldn't leave. Over 100 hours+ later, I have my second ever max level character and I'm joyously bouncing between the amazing new content and crushing older content that I have never seen before. There's just too much for me to do here and I'm ok going through all of it at my own pace.
Legion, itself, gets the nod because I think the new character class, Demon Hunter, is fantastic and plays very differently than other classes. It also includes a cool new take on weapons where you level up a specific artifact weapon like it was its own character or skill tree. Finally, I can't say enough about how far WoW's storytelling has come. It's easy to ignore the details, but the major scenes that play out in engine always make you feel like an integral part to the universe. The scale and fluidity of the play experience continues to be incredible even after 12+ years.
I Wish We Could Have Spent (More) Time Together
- Dishonored 2
- Watch Dogs 2
- Mafia III
- World of Final Fantasy
- Forza Horizon 3
- Grim Dawn
A note about Rocket League in 2016
This placement is merely to break up the article and has no bearing on where it might fit on this list, but I also have to say a something about Rocket League.
There's no game in 2016 that I played more or with more people than Rocket League. As enamored as I was with the game in 2015, I only love it more today in 2017. I don't understand the how's or why's of its perfection, but its my favorite thing in video games right now. I want to play more. I want to get better. I want our team to be the best. I'm watching eSports. I'm watching livestreams. I'm studying strategies about a video game for the first time in 15 years. Rocket League is an incredible phenomenon that I fully expect to appreciate even more in 2018.
Now back to business.
#3 - Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
It's not that I doubted Uncharted 4, it's just that I thought it was kind of unnecessary. I knew Naughty Dog would do a decent job of making another sequel, but I thought we had all moved on. As is the case with most surprises on my list, I know when I'm wrong. Uncharted 4 is the most necessary of Uncharted games.
That has to be crazy talk, right? There is no way Uncharted 4 tops one of my all-timers in Uncharted 2. Uncharted 4 makes every other Uncharted game better. It gives all of us the foundation and motivations to all of our favorite (and new favorite) characters that I didn't think we ever needed before. Now that I think I actually know Nate and Elena, I want to replay all of their old adventures. In that regard, I think Uncharted 2 is a better and more pure action video game than Uncharted 4, but you have to play Uncharted 4 to get the most out of Uncharted 2. Let me make it simple, if you can only play one Uncharted game, Uncharted 4 is the only choice.
All of that (important to me) aside, beyond the amazing character work, what really stands out about Uncharted 4 is how cohesive and engaging the actual treasure hunt is this time around. Following the story of the glorious pirate captain Henry Avery is just as interesting as keeping up with and getting to go on the adventure with my favorite Uncharted characters and villains. Usually the hunt itself is forgotten in the spectacle, but Uncharted 4 finally pulled everything together. You don't have to have just one exceptional piece in an Uncharted game. You can have great spectacles, great characters, a great story, and a great treasure hunt seamlessly combined. I didn't think it was possible. I didn't think anyone could really pull it off. Naughty Dog is only getting better though. How scary is that?
#2 - Hyper Light Drifter
Let's just keep this theme going with a different twist. I kickstarted Hyper Light Drifter based on a gif. I thought it looked gorgeous and its promise was high. Thanks to that Kickstarter, I got to play the beta prior to release. Hyper Light Drifter looked gorgeous, it sounded just as good, but it bored the hell out of me. I was worried. My mind may have been playing tricks on me though because once I got my hands on the final release of Hyper Light Drifter it was even better than the hyped possibilities I built up in my mind based on that single gif.
Hyper Light Drifter is impossible not to love. Every pixel and every scene just oozes soul and craft. Everything in its game world exists with purpose while shrouding itself in mystery. I wanted to go over every detail like it was a piece of art. I was in awe from beginning to end.
In between being lost in its beauty, Hyper Light Drifter treated to me a classic video game adventure reminiscent of the games that made me fall for the medium in the first place. It only ever gives you enough information to move forward, it never holds your hand, but it never feels out of reach either. It had been a while since I had played a game that didn't treat me like I had never played a game before. It gave me that sense of discovery that I want from every game, but rarely receive.
Hyper Light Drifter is already on my all-timer list. It will be revisited alongside my favorites for years to come. It's a world I want to get lost in all over again every time I'm near it. I can't wait to see what I discover the next time I play it.
#1 - Doom
I play video games to Doom. It can't make it much simpler than that. I want to be breathless after each session. I want to ask myself what I just did after every victory or failure. I want replays of my last session to echo in my mind until I get to play the next time. I've known that I've wanted this feeling for a long time from video games. I just never knew Doom in 2016 would be the game to fucking nail it.
Doom does so many things well and its well documented (and literally documented) at this point, so let's just see if I can nail down what nuances surprised me the most.
I was so pumped up from that best intro level of all time, that I just wanted to tear through Doom as fast as I could. I wanted to sprint without stopping until the game was over. I had zero interest in looking at the map. It took 3-4 levels before I realized that I needed to catch my breath after major battles. At that point, I started finding myself wandering around and stumbling into some secrets. I began to appreciate the hidden areas of the game and then noticed that they were unlocking other hidden areas on the map which in turn unlocked even more to Doom. Which made me realize that I was barely scratching the surface of what these levels had to offer. Suddenly, I had a whole other way to play Doom and I had to see all of it.
I never want to reload again. Reloading is for chumps. Cocking a shotgun is only acceptable because it looks bad ass and gives demons an "oh shit" moment before their extremities are blown off. However, I never thought I'd see weapon upgrades in a Doom game. I also never thought I'd juggle so many awesome upgrades while circle strafing for survival because a different type of demon just showed up that changed my entire strategy on the fly. No time to stop, but we really need to get those missiles in play so take off that damn scope.
Finally, this is more obvious, but Doom does not work without glory kills. It's a feature that I thought existed just to look good on trailers to build hype for the game and I assumed it would get old after the 12th one. Glory kills keep Doom from being any other shooter. Glory kills make Doom focus on action rather than tactics.
When demons start spawning in, you better come up with some tactics on the fly. You don't know what combination of enemies are coming at you and you don't know what combination of weapons you need to fend it off. You are going to need to get up there and tear some demons apart with your hands just so you can get some health, armor, and ammo because that gun you wanted to use just ran out and you are about to die. That's right you have almost no health and you need to get as close to that demon as possible while other demons surround the both of you. That's the only way you are going to win. And hell yes, you are going to win.
I am still shocked by the purity of Doom. I'm shocked that Doom can matter again. I'm excited to see what happens now that Doom has changed everything again.