Daniel’s Top Five Games of 2016

Take a look at a list of this year’s releases and realize how spoiled gamers are. Even if I just look at the games I didn’t get a chance to play (Battlefield 1, Doom, Final Fantasy XV, Dishonored 2, Civilization VI, Uncharted 4, Stardew Valley, Far Cry Primal, and more), I have to think that 2016 was a great year for games.

And so without further ado, here are my top five games of the year.

hld

  1. Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter is a great example of how simplicity doesn’t have to mean boredom. Its 2D graphics and camera view remind one a bit of older games such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, while on the surface its combination of sword and gun combat looks as simple as can be. However, Hyper Light Drifter has more going on under its hood. First, the fact that successful sword strikes reward ammunition for your gun means that you are never out of options for how you want to attack a group of enemies. It also means you can pull off some bad-ass combos. Second, each gun type has its own advantages and disadvantages for combat. It’s a lot of fun discovering what combination of gun, sword strike, and dashing leads to success.

The art style is awesome, its saccharine colour palette living in stark contrast with the bloody, surreal, and sometimes disturbing scenes it depicts. The story unfolds ambiguously through short cutscenes and a few vignettes, and although the lore never struck me as particularly good or bad, there is a lot of symbolism and guesswork to dive into for those who enjoy that sort of thing. That goes for the world too, which has multiple upgrade points, costumes, and areas hidden everywhere and anywhere. Hyper Light Drifter borrows a lot from past 2D action games but still delivers a polished experience that leaves you feeling like you played something special.

xcom2

  1. XCOM 2

Oh XCOM 2, how I love you, how I hate you. I give you so much. I diligently give each soldier the best weapon, armor, and grenades before each battle. I sit and analyze what would be the best research to complete and which buildings I should construct. I sweat over the worry of having made a mistake either during combat or with resource management. I often sit mouth agape during battles, wondering how the hell I am going to get my soldiers evacuated from the area without one of them dying. And what do you do? You send more alien reinforcements. You force me out on a mission when half my soldiers are wounded and not available for training. You murder my highest ranking soldier.

XCOM 2 is a strategy game where failure lives right next door to you. Or maybe, more like it is your roommate. The game throws obstacle after obstacle at you. It requires thoughtful strategies and clever management in order to succeed. The game’s two halves (turn-based combat and resource management) play off one another constantly throughout the game and come together to deliver an addicting strategy title.

ds3

  1. Dark Souls 3

What is there to say about Dark Souls 3 that hasn’t been said about its two predecessors or their spiritual siblings Bloodborne and Demon Souls? There is the brilliant level design with areas that stretch both horizontally and vertically, the areas’ pathways wrapping around themselves; the unparalleled art design that depicts, often simultaneously, beauty and horror in a decaying world; a collection of weapons, many with their own sets of moves and physics; the subtle but deep story that is told through every item, enemy placement, environment, and loot drop; a variety of bosses and means by which to take them down; and of course, the franchise’s calling card, it’s difficulty that demands the most from players yet is completely fair and accurate in how it beats you into a pulp.

Dark Souls 3 is the polished pinnacle of the trilogy. It’s a love letter to the series, its weapon and armor selection calling back over and over to Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. Dark Souls 3 exemplifies to a tee what the series is all about: challenging yourself to learn, explore, and fight in a gorgeously detailed and designed world.

overwatch

  1. Overwatch

Admittedly, my time playing Overwatch has fallen to the wayside of late, but I still greatly appreciate the incredible amount of fun that I can have playing the multiplayer game. As a cast, the characters are a varied collection that simply could never lead to a balanced game. Yet somehow, Blizzard has pulled it off. Individually, the characters play and handle differently from one another, and discovering their strengths and weaknesses is half the fun of playing the game in the first place.

Where Overwatch really succeeds, better than maybe any game before it, is in how characters’ strengths and weaknesses interact with teammates and enemies alike.  Every character is strong against some other characters and weak against some others, but it still comes down to skill and tactics to decide who wins a round. Even with so many variables in play, Overwatch remains a balanced multiplayer game with so much to offer that it doesn’t matter that there is no single player. Oh, and Blizzard continues to give out free characters and maps to all players.

thewitness

  1. The Witness

The Witness is insidious. Yes, all you are doing is drawing a line from one part of a grid to another and, as is puzzle game tradition, new constraints are introduced one by one that increase this challenge.  But the Witness includes such a variety of clever constraints and solutions, beginning with basic logic and pattern recognition and extending to the player’s visual perspective and sound, that it immediately becomes one of the best games this year as well as one that seeps into your everyday life.. Not every puzzle idea works, but most do, and the way the game combines solution concepts is often a bit mind bending.

The game never uses words to explain the rules of puzzles. Instead, each puzzle is a test of what you already know as well as a lesson that expands the rule set.  The Witness gives little bites of knowledge to the player and expects them to extend their neck further each time. And just when the player thinks they have the ruleset nailed down, The Witness lays one set over the other and asks whether the player can manage to see things in a new way.

There also happen to be gorgeous visuals. The realistic take on cell-shaded graphics makes the game’s brightly coloured and varied environments shine with an unhealthy beauty. As for the story, there isn’t one. The game instead delivers a thematic presentation that incorporates the idea behind the puzzles as well as including the player themselves. While most people didn’t like it, I thought the theme was as satisfying as any story could have been.

In any case, The Witness is an amazing puzzle game that finds its way into your brain and, this year, into the number one slot for my games of the year.

Daniel Podborochynski

A Canadian who loves video games, soccer, sandwiches, reading, cats, dogs, Aphex Twin, bike rides, Fallout, Daft Punk, barbecue, and beer.

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