2016: The year of gaming was pretty good
The year of gaming in 2016 had some definite highs and some disappointing lows. Expectations with new games fell short for some people while franchises expanded into new, exciting territories.
Rather than dwelling on the shortcomings, I chose to focus on the good points in gaming. These choices are by no means objective by any measurement. They are the games and devices that were exciting, innovative, or things I couldn’t put down.
There is only one requirement to be on this list. I had to have first-hand experience with it. So, some of the more well-known titles may not be on here, because I never got the chance to play them.
In no particular order (save one), here is the software and hardware that stood out in the past year.
Every end of year gaming list proclaims a Game of the Year. There are many good selections out there based on different criteria. But the only criteria I used was which game did I want to play if I was just gaming for my own enjoyment.
“Titanfall 2” fit that bill. I was a robust player for the first title in the franchise, and the idea of a single-player campaign intrigued me. What I didn’t expect was how vibrant and varied the universe of “Titanfall” would be.
Learning more about why there is combat, the struggles of both sides, and the expectations of success opened new avenues about the environment. I would have never thought of the Titans as domestic tools, but I also learned they are more than just robots.
The multiplayer was, as expected, as good as I remembered. The addition of different skills, both for the pilot and the Titan, was a wonderful addition to the game. The different modes and maps offered variety, and I never felt like I was repeating my experiences.
According to the in-game stats, I have put in 40 hours, 19 minutes, played 260 games, and killed 1,552 pilots (sorry if you were one of them) and 306 Titans. The game still draws me in, and that is the mark of a good game.
There was another game this year that also drew me back into a franchise I’ve enjoyed for many years. “Doom” reimagined the reason we were on Mars and why the demons were pouring into our world. Without saying a word, Doomguy could convey emotion and desires purely by his actions.
The story was challenging without being over-the-top hard. The multiplayer action was fast, furious, and bloody. It revived the “Doom” franchise that seemed to have lost its way for a bit but retained and improved the things “Doom” always did right.
It was my most played game on the Xbox One, according to the Xbox Gamecrest statistics. It is still my default game when I grab my Xbox controller. I know the story and the maps well, but I also know I can do better.
I have been and always shall be a fan of the turn-based strategy games. I think it appeals to the Dungeons and Dragons player in me, pouring over my options and reacting to what’s going on around me.
While it seems like it would be more of the same, “Civilization VI” is a refreshing take on a franchise that has stood the test of time. Developers at Firaxis Games wiped the slate clean, building new code from the ground up, and produced something that was familiar, yet new.
The most obvious change was expanding the cities. Introducing the concept of districts now forces players to make the domestic vs. military choice when they are using their production. Is it worth it to build that holy site or empower your army with more troops?
The different elements also are interwoven, making it hard, but not impossible, to only concentrate on one facet of the game. You want to go to Mars to get the science victory, but by ignoring your culture, you make it easier for someone else to get a cultural victory.
The tendrils of the game are tangled in a magnificent dance of power, diplomacy, and intrigue. And it passes the ultimate “Civilization” test by making me want to play one more turn.
NES Classic Console
There were a couple pieces of hardware that had an impact on the year of gaming. While Nintendo is working toward releasing a new console, the Switch, they took the time to reach back into their vast history and made the NES Classic Console.
While appearing to be a miniaturized console from days gone by, it is hardcoded with 30 classic games, including many of the Super Mario Bros. games. The controller, not miniaturized, feels small in the hands by today’s controller standards, but the two-button rectangular controller also feels very familiar.
It was the must have item for games this holiday season, and one of the hardest toys to find. The classic console was designed for family fun, providing a memory for adults to share with their children. The games are lovingly reproduced with the bugs we all remember, and multiple display options let you go full retro to enhance the trip down memory lane.
Sticking with Nintendo for a moment, I’ve never been a fan of Pokémon games. I love the characters and the cartoons, but the games never really connected with me for very long. I didn’t want to catch them all as much as I just wanted to see the Pokémon.
The release of “Pokemon Moon” for the Nintendo 3DS handheld console changed that. I enjoy playing the game because of the clear combat, understandable story, and environments that are exciting to play.
My Litten may have something to do with my enjoyment, since I am a cat person. Don’t get me wrong, I like Pikachu very much. But the appeal of a fire cat was too powerful for me to ignore. Litten gets all my attention, and I can just sit and pet it for a while.
I don’t think I ever felt like I was as connected to any Pokemon game as I am to “Pokemon Moon.” That is a great achievement to pull someone into a long-standing franchise without making them feel like a newb.
Continuing stories are an easy way for a franchise to advance. Most story ideas are never wrapped up fully when the credits roll at the end. “Dishonored 2” not only advances the story, but it lets the players create a new path with a new lead character and unique powers.
Emily has become ruler of the lands, but there are those who think she is a pretender to the throne. After being confronted by an older half-sister, the game lets the players choose who they want to be. Is it Corvo, the familiar protector of the realm, or do you want Emily to take matters into her own hands?
Playing as Emily provides for a new experience with new powers and an original storyline that traces her family’s history, and lets the queen see for herself how her subjects fare under her rule. Of course, it wouldn’t be “Dishonored” without the additional choice of stealth vs. strength.
The game is overflowing with hidden buildings, secret passages and level designs that are more expansive than players could imagine. One level, the Clockwork Mansion, is exquisite in its intricacies and forbidden areas. When you think you’ve found a way to break the level, the designers show they were expecting you to go there, with enemies and traps waiting.
Virtual reality for home use has been on the blocks for years. The promise of an immersive, exciting experience, while still maintaining some semblance of a budget, seemed a pipe dream until Sony brought the PlayStation VR to the market.
The results of the efforts are astounding. While hooking up to a PlayStation, instead of a powerful PC, the PSVR manages to frighten, amaze, astound, and feel very real. The initial release of titles varied from the touristy, where players get to tour amazing environments, to the intense, where you can don the cowl of Batman to solve a major crime in Gotham City from his eyes.
Previous released titles also took advantage of VR to add bonus material to their already popular games. “Rise of The Tomb Raider – 20th Anniversary” not only provided additional skins and modes, they added a new VR experience, taking players inside Croft Manor and exploring the decaying mansion from Lara’s perspective.
For me, the pinnacle (so far) of VR was sitting inside the cockpit of a X-Wing fighter in “Star Wars Battlefront” and flying to the rescue of another ship besieged by the Empire. My heart was pounding. My hands were twitchy. My face could not stop smiling.
It is still a work in progress for developers, but the promise of the PSVR and how well it fits into major titles showed that VR may not be a fad for only early adapters. The price and ease of use make it something that could start showing up in many homes in 2017.
Super Mario Run
Mobile games have never been my forte. Whether it is a pay-to-win format or a small screen size, I’ve never developed an attachment to them.
“Super Mario Run,” Nintendo’s first venture into the smartphone world, takes familiar characters and environments and puts them into a speed run experience that was more fun than I expected. Twenty-four different world offer challenges, and coin collecting means more than just extra lives.
There is also another mode, Toad Run, that lets players challenge their friends in a battle to gather coins and impress the residents of your kingdom.
Of course, the object of the game is to rescue Princess Peach. Just don’t fall for that old cake promise. We all know that’s a lie.
The Witcher 3
Finally, 2016 was a time to say good-bye to a legendary character, with the franchise reaching a conclusion and his time at an end. Geralt of Rivia, the man known more commonly as the Witcher, monster hunter and wooer of women, completed his final quests and settled down to a more leisurely life in a downloadable add-on to “The Witcher 3,” called “Blood and Wine.”
“The Witcher” franchise amazed players with its variety of monsters, detail to battle preparation, and interactivity with non-player characters. The world of Geralt was alive in all its glory, both good and bad. Geralt, himself, evolved from a brash adventure seeker to someone who saw the world as more than black or white and still found his unique place in it.
Through all the trials, tribulation, and women he experienced, there was a sense at the end that Geralt found peace. As the final quest ended around a campfire, with Geralt ruminating about his future, there was a moment when he looked directly at the player and smiled as one who knew he had a good run.
Geralt will be missed. His abilities were formidable. His humor was unexpectantly witty. His romantic adventures were the stuff of legend. Good luck, White Wolf, and thanks for the ride.
As we close 2016, those games we enjoyed will still be played. But with a new year will come new experiences and adventures. I hope we can all come together and have fun in whatever platform, franchise, or genre we choose.