My Top 5 Games of 2016

One of the things I look forward to most during the last few weeks of the year are the end of year lists, the “best of”s and “my favorite” this and that thing–as you may be able to tell from my posts here recently; what can I say? I like lists. Specifically though, I think what I love most about this end of the year ritual is that often times people that don’t write, people that don’t share their thoughts on much, break out to do so, even if the opinion is on something small: a best movie of the year, best book, best thrift shop buy.

So many people don’t do that enough: they don’t think, they don’t articulate why they like something, especially the small and innocuous things. I suppose when there are more frightening, more troubling and anxiety-inducing things on the docket, we don’t lend much to the everyday loves.  But there’s something to be said for taking the time to think about what your favorite whatever might be.  When you take the time to appreciate the smaller things in retrospect, it can make a year that may have not been so good seem better.

As the title may have told you, this is all about the video games. I made a list on this last year and a lot of what I began that article with still applies: I haven’t played everything. This year, I got married, I moved, I began my webcomic which updates every week. I’ve had a good bit keeping me occupied, though I still have time for games. Not every game that has come out this year was considered simply because I didn’t have time to play them, but I will leave a little room at the bottom of this list for honorable mentions and games that may very well have made the list had I had the time for them.

Without further ado–

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The Witness

The Witness was one of the first games I played this year. I wasn’t expecting much going in, but almost a year after having played it, I still think about the experience. There’s a lot I could say, but then again, there isn’t, because The Witness‘s true charm and wonder lies in its mystery.  Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote for a short-lived gaming blog I started in the spring to better help express what I mean:

The Witness doesn’t provide a narrative.  You don’t know how you got to this island, you don’t know what happened to the people who were here before you, you don’t even know who you are–and that’s okay, because The Witness is a puzzle.  It isn’t about spelling out to the player all of its subtleties and nuances, its secrets and solutions.  It’s about providing an intricate and clever experience that juxtaposes the true and definitive nature of its puzzles with the philosophical and religious musings left behind by the island’s people.  It’s about freedom, something many games don’t truly provide, and while the game can be at times frustrating and mind numbingly difficult, it is a beautiful experience and easily one of the best puzzle experiences to be had in recent memory.

I don’t know a game that has made me more feel and think more introspectively this year. The Witness isn’t perfect, but for lovers of difficult puzzles and beautiful scenery, it’s definitely something to check out.

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Dark Souls 3

There’s a character in Dark Souls 3 named Siegward of Catarina. He’s an odd man wearing a puffed-up suit of armor that looks a lot like an onion; you meet him fairly early on. In a game that is so bleak, he’s a ray of sunshine, an unsure, but optimistic voice on a singular quest of his own. When I met him, he was riding an automated lift, unable to figure out how to go up, and when I ran into him again, after he’d figured that out, he was sitting on a ledge, overlooking a demon. The demon was massive and could kill me with his finger, but Siegward fought beside me. He was strong and sure–so sure in fact that I let him do the fighting. I hid, waiting for Siegward to wear the beast down, but, to my horror, Siegward was killed–flattened by the downward strike of the demon’s forearm. I popped out, fought on, and died right away, prepared to come back to fight once again. Only…

Siegward wasn’t there. All that remained was his onion armor, his sword, and the demon that struck him down, still living.

That is a glimpse at Dark Souls 3 and the message it so often conveys: that this isn’t a world with room for optimism and sunlight, but rather the misery and strife present when those things are gone. As disheartening an experience a Dark Souls game can be, Dark Souls 3 was solid and fun. It didn’t quite enthrall me the way last year’s Bloodborne did but I very much enjoyed my time with it.

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Final Fantasy XV

From the same blog I quoted that excerpt for The Witness, here is one from another article I wrote about why we should be excited for Final Fantasy XV:

Final Fantasy XV is not out yet, but from what we’ve seen so far there is a large amount of attention being paid toward the characters.  Story aside, every trailer highlights the camaraderie between Noctis and his companions, and from what we’ve seen–the banter, the tag-team animations, the juxtaposition between one character and the next–there seems to be enough present already to shine hope on what’s to come.  Much of the game will be spent traveling with your companions, and thus, much of the game will hinge on their relationship with one another.

Final Fantasy XV is a strange game–and it is a game that has a strange spot on this list seeing as how I have not played much yet at the time of my writing this.  Having grown up on the name Final Fantasy, I understandably have a lot of expectations for one of the mainline games in the series, and while much of what makes a game a classic Final Fantasy game–the turn based combat, the linear nature to the narrative–is not quite present here, there is so much, though new, that screams Final Fantasy that it seems to fit right in. That being said, much of what it does that is new to Final Fantasy is new to games too. The road trip, the camaraderie that is so integral to the telling of this story is not a common part of games. Sure, there’ve been open world games for years, but Final Fantasy XV seems to revel more in the journey than it does in its inevitable destination. The car, the world–it seems more a character itself than in many games I’ve seen in the past, and the unique qualities that your companions possess are apparent from the start.

If I were to play Final Fantasy XV more, would its position on this list change? Perhaps, but I believe that this game is unique enough even with the limited amount of time that I’ve played it to deserve a spot here.

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I’m going to be honest for a moment–as excited as I thought I would be and should have been for Uncharted 4 to be released, I was surprisingly lukewarm on its coming out for a longtime during its lead up. I could probably partially blame the window in which it came out: games like Dark Souls 3 and Ratchet and Clank showed up a month before, Overwatch was only a couple of weeks away and I was only a few weeks out from proposing to my wife. But really I think it was the bombardment of gameplay trailers and demos in the couple of years before. Every chance that was given, Uncharted 4 would appear and a good year before the game was released, I was tired of seeing it. I wanted to play it, not watch the entire game being played, so I buried many of the articles relating to the game and all of the new things being shown.  Unsurprisingly though–Uncharted 4 impresses. Not only that, it completely blew me away.

I’ve been a long time fan of the Uncharted series. When I was in college, writing stories, I would play through the games and study the cutscenes, listening closely to the cadence, the tone, the words of every voice. Uncharted may not be the pinnacle of gaming as an expressive and artistic form, but it is, and always has been, a high watermark for character.  Every hero, every villain, has a life, a motive–even the side ones–and Uncharted 4 manages, even in its usual globetrotting escapades to create a story that is so personal and intertwined with its characters that it often makes you forget where you are or what you’re doing–lost in the life of Nathan Drake, his brother, and how they got to what they became.

Uncharted 4 may perhaps be my favorite entry in the series. I’ve played through the second entry a number of times, but the fourth installment manages to provide some of the best character moments I’ve seen in awhile, not to mention–it’s absolutely stunning.

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Overwatch

When I was writing my best of list for video games last year, I included Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, largely for the reason that it felt like a return to form somewhat for a series that has existed for the last 10 years as a steady beacon for the ups and downs of my life. This year, the next installment in that franchise, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, was released alongside a remastered favorite, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. By all accounts, I should have dove into both of those games headlong. If the words I said last year were true, then ever more should they have been this year, but earlier in the year, I began playing a game that still, months later, has cooled me to the idea of playing another shooter, that game being: Overwatch.

There’s something magical about what Blizzard Entertainment has done with this game. For a title that has no explicit story, there is a unique quality to every character, every moment played, and honestly, I couldn’t ask for more. Often times I find myself with these multiplayer only experiences pining for something lonesome, an opportunity to better dig into the lore and character of the people I am playing. Overwatch though doesn’t leave me wanting. It fills every moment of its frantic, fast-paced combat with clever quips and the signature skills of heroes and villains returning to the fray after years spent in silence. I never feel like I am just playing a body or assuming an empty face, but rather that I am filling the role of someone: someone with a voice, an identity, a past and a motive for the future. It’s odd to say that when so little is being presented to us, but that just better highlights how incredible Overwatch is. Plus, the game is just too much fun and it keeps me coming back.

Honorable Mentions

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Enter the Gungeon, No Man’s Sky, Pokémon GO, Pokémon Sun and Moon, Ratchet and Clank, Salt and Sanctuary, Tom Clancy’s The Division, World of Warcraft: Legion.

Games From This Year That I’m Excited to Play But Haven’t Played Yet

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2, Firewatch, Gears of War 4, Hyper Light Drifter, Inside, The Last Guardian, Oxenfree, Stardew Valley, Watchdogs 2, XCOM 2.

Games That I Played That Are Not From This Year But Are Still Just Really Good

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Cities: Skylines, Need for Speed, Persona 4: Golden, Tales from the Borderlands, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

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