While 2016 may have seemed like a year of brutal celebrity deaths and political upheaval, the world of video games saw big releases, little engines that could, a few miracles, and some entries that touched pure greatness.
High-definition upgraded re-releases of Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Irrational Games’ Bioshock Series and Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hit shelves, giving a gamer a chance to play them again on his or her new console and publishers an excuse to charge customers again. I’d be more cynical if they weren’t such great games and didn’t come with their downloadable content as well.
Speaking of downloadable content, gamers found new content for other fantastic older releases. Bethesda decided Fallout 4 needed to eat more of your time and released DLC that ranged from the slight Wasteland Workshop to the expansive Far Harbor, in which moody new quests and areas in a post-apocalyptic Maine had been added. Another excellent time sink, Polish developer CD Projekt RED released its final expansion for The Witcher 3. Entitled Blood and Wine, it takes its monster-killing hero to the vaguely French land of Toussaint for the closing chapter of his gaming story.
Big games weren’t the only ones getting DLC, either. Klei Entertainment’s indie darling Don’t Starve. The Tim Burton-esque survival/nightmare simulator got Shipwrecked, a tropical-themed expansion with new land presets, characters, and ways to die horribly.
However, several new titles really stood out, such as Stardew Valley from publisher Chucklefish Games, a soothing, joyful, retro farming-and-life simulator heavily inspired by the Harvest Moon series. Made by one developer, Eric Barone, over the course of four years, it features the friendly characters and calm pastoral life that the series is known for, while also introducing some Zelda-like dungeon crawling and deeper interactions with the townsfolk, including birthdays and multiple marriageable partners. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 2016 also brought gamers the long-in-development That Dragon Cancer, a short, brutally emotional autobiographical game about developers and married partners Ryan and Amy Green, whose son Joel recently passed away after being diagnosed with cancer at 12 months of age.
Venerable franchises also added new installments. Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 brought Nathan Drake’s Indian Jones-like adventures to a close, Infinity Ward took Call of Duty to space in Infinite Warfare, and EA DICE trumped them all by going back to WWI in Battlefield 1. But the biggest surprise for first-person shooter releases may have been the new Doom from Bethesda, which, instead of aping modern shooters, went back to the frantic gameplay of the ’90s, with over-the-top gore and an aggressive attitude that put boots to demonic heads.
The most fun I had this year was with Overwatch, the newest smash hit from legendary developers Blizzard. A superhero-themed multiplayer shooter, Overwatch pits two teams of six players against one another for match modes like capture the flag, payload delivery, and more. Like Team Fortress 2, it has stylized characters with unique powers and playing styles, giving you a chance to play as everything from an angelic Swedish healer to a cackling Australian demolitions expert. Overwatch’s sense of humor contrasts with the serious vibe of other modern shooters. Even while the game was still in open beta testing, players were already forming connections with its colorful personalities and flooding the internet with fan art. The only thing missing is a serious single-player mode.
It says a lot about 2016 that I can’t detail every great game that came out in the space I have here. There were superb sequels (XCOM 2, Titanfall 2, Dark Souls III), the miracles of The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV finally coming out, and the ton of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 games that came out. If you didn’t lose a lot time to some games this past