With new entries in some of my favourite franchises, this was always going to be a memorable year for me. Not only was there a close to the tale of Nathan Drake, but we also saw the release of a new generation of Pokemon, and a couple of games I’ve been anticipating for a decade. With 2017 on the horizon, it’s time to reflect on some of my favourite games of 2016.
Before beginning in earnest, I have a few honourable mentions that land just outside my Top Five.
Fire Emblem Fates - While I love what little I’ve played thus far, I haven’t yet made my way through enough of Fates to include it on my list. With engrossing strategy RPG gameplay, endearing characters, and a story that begins with a difficult choice between adoptive and blood families, this one is at the top of my backlog.
Monster Hunter Generations - Featuring classic locales for a dose of nostalgia, distinctive fighting styles, and challenging monsters both new and old, Generations is yet another solid entry in the Monster Hunter franchise.
Ratchet & Clank - It may have been a tie-in to a cynical film adaption, but this is a remarkable remake that recaptures everything brilliant about the 2001 original while also reinvigorating the experience with a gorgeous art style and a handful of fresh gameplay elements.
The Last Guardian - While I’ve been waiting on it for more than a decade, I haven’t yet played Team Ico’s latest. It would likely have made an appearance in the list below, but I’m waiting until I can dedicate time to it over the holidays. While it may be cheating to list a game I haven’t played yet, I couldn’t leave its absence unacknowledged.
I don’t play many shooters, and I’m not overly fond of online multiplayer. As somewhat of a gaming hermit, Overwatch should be well outside my wheelhouse. And yet here I am writing about it as one of my favourite games of 2016. While it isn’t a complete reinvention of the FPS formula, Blizzard have crafted one of the most solid experiences of the year.
The colour palette is vibrant, characters are infectious, and maps are built with care in both layout and small details. With no gameplay elements locked behind the levelling system, there is an even playing field. Lucio, D.Va, Mercy, Zenyatta, and Winston are my favourite heroes as they suit my playstyle in a supportive role, but there is a role and character for everyone interested in this game.
I didn’t know Stella Glow existed before I got the opportunity to review it earlier to this year. A low profile alternative to Fire Emblem Fates it may be, but Stella Glow features first class tactical RPG gameplay with an engrossing tale of witches and warriors.
There is also a cast of diverse characters, with gameplay outside of battle involving the development of strong bonds of friendship between the members of the Regnant Knights. This variety extends to the abilities each character brings to battle, with numerous options for team composition. The game’s maps are also praiseworthy, with their verticality and assorted terrain a testament to how carefully Imageepoch built their swansong with every care and consideration.
Naughty Dog’s standards for releasing high quality games meant I was never concerned that A Thief’s End would be anything but another feather in their highly decorated cap. There was of course a lot riding on this game, which marks the last hurrah for everyone’s favourite wise-cracking treasure hunter. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the game’s villains, the core heroes of this tale deliver a brilliant send-off with all the banter and heart I have come to expect of the series.
The game’s blockbuster set pieces also live up to the bombastic standard of its predecessors. There are numerous desperate firefights, collapsing buildings to escape, and an exhilarating chase scene that can proudly stand alongside the series’ best. The greater power offered by the Playstation 4 allowed for a number of small improvements to combat that greatly improve how smoothly Drake moves about his environment. Nothing beats the feeling of nailing a headshot while swinging from a rope.
It puts a smile on my face that I have finally played Final Fantasy XV. That smile turns into a happy (yet awkward) jig with the knowledge that it is an amazing gaming experience. The decade-long wait may have been harsh, but the satisfaction of it now being in the past makes playing the game all the sweeter.
The plot of the game was the the biggest surprise, being told in a mature and refined fashion. I was impressed by Square’s restraint, with minimal exposition that leaves enough room for interpretation. It also has a brilliantly emotional ending that will live long in my memory.
The game’s open world is massive, filled to the brim with monsters, side quests, dungeons, and treasure to collect. Combat breaks free from the series’ signature turn-based roots to deliver a fast and fluid system with immense depth. There is also a great team dynamic, with the story, banter in the field, and heartfelt conversations between the four lead characters delivering enthralling relationships that were a privilege to witness.
I have been a Pokemon fan for twenty years. That number is a little scary, but is also testament to how Game Freak has managed to keep my attention with regular refinements across that time. Sun and Moon are no different, with this year’s effort offering a host of new gameplay features and Pokemon that have me hooked.
The biggest addition with this generation is the new versions of classic Pokemon dotting the islands of Alola. It’s a great way to fold in a feeling of nostalgia while also bringing something new to the table, building off of the previous generation’s mega evolutions. Alolan Raichu is a particular favourite of mine, with Pikachu’s oft overlooked evolution given some added utility.
Sun and Moon also did something very interesting by breaking with the standard gym leader structure, and replacing it with trials. I was wary of this change, but it has turned out to be an inspired one that breathes new life into the game. There are still battles with gym leader-like characters, but the game is also able to inject a new layer of fun. The Z-Crystals earned from completing a trial are also useful in battle, making them something of an upgrade on badges which act as simple decoration.
There are also a number of brand new Pokemon of course, bringing with them some new type combinations and abilities. While I haven’t made my way to multiplayer yet, I can’t wait to train some of these new monsters and take them to the online battlefield.
Sun and Moon have captured my attention, and I don’t imagine I’ll be putting it down any time soon.
Those were some of Mark's favourite games of 2016. What were yours? Let us know in the comments below!
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