5. Pokemon GO
You should always start the show with a show-stopper and I have no doubt that putting this game on this list will cause many of you to shudder in righteous indignation and that’s not entirely unintentional. No: Pokemon GO is not a great game. Yes: many other, better, and/or more important games came out this year. But the fact remains that I have played this game almost every day since it came out and the benefits are far more than just entertainment value. I’ve burned a meaningful amount of calories. I’ve visited way more state parks and historic sites. My wife and I are constantly texting each other about our Poke-encounters when we’re apart and embarking on Poke-safaris when we’re together. This game has improved my marriage, fam. How many games can say that?
4. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada
The Warhammer 40,000 license certainly got around this year and no one would blame you for thinking Battlefleet Gothic: Armada was going to be just another one of its lackluster suiters. It’s an RTS in a universe where Dawn of War is king, it was based on a discontinued tabletop game, and it launched at a budget price-point. This game had a lot of things going against it and yet managed to be one of the most satisfying RTS experiences of the year. This due largely to how different it is from the vast majority of games in the genre. Battlefleet is more akin to games like World in Conflict and the real-time sections of the Total War games in that there is no base-building and matches are quick, often between 10 and 15 minutes. The campaign does a good job of getting players ready for the real meat of the game: the persistent multiplayer mode. This mode has RPG elements rarely seen in RTS games with fleets growing and gaining skill with each battle. It’s also extremely easy to reroll new fleets and start from the beginning, encouraging experimentation and adding legs to the multiplayer. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a real-time strategy game in the streets and an action RPG in the sheets.
3. Planet Coaster
What’s most impressive about Planet Coaster aren’t the updates to the management mechanics. This game isn’t a tycoon experience aimed at relentless capitalists. It is, instead, a digital sandbox that walks a fine line between approachable, easy to understand tools and robust, complicated ones pulled straight from a game engine. With the inclusion of the Steam Workshop tools allowing players to upload and share their creations, Planet Coaster feels closer to experiences like Minecraft or Garry’s Mod with their focus on creativity and community. It’s a game that will finally allow players to create their perfect rendition of Dante’s Peak in amusement ride form.
2. Total War: WARHAMMER
I’m as surprised as anyone that somehow Games Workshop managed to take two spots on this list but I think much of what’s great about Total War: WARHAMMER is due to the continued refinement of the Total War formula by the Creative Assembly. The latest entry marries the digital cocain of Civilization’s turn-based strategy with the spectacle of Real-Time battles. Smother that in a heaping helping of self-serious, tolkien-alternative fantasy of the Warhammer universe and what you’ve got is a serious threat to your free time.
Campo Santo assembled an all-star cast of veteran game designers and legendary graphic designer Olly Moss in order to...well, make one of the best designed games with some of the most stunning visuals of 2016, maybe even ever. While some might knock the game’s relatively shallow mechanical depth, I praise it. Firewatch is more interested in paring everything down to its absolute necessities, and doing those few things very, very well. The writing is some of the best in the business, finally succeeding at the subtleties and nuance we’re used to in cinema but rarely get in games and backed up by expertly done performances. While some accuse the game of being a “walking simulator” it’s a game about hiking through the wilderness. Never has a focus on walking been more appropriate! Not to mention they’re leaving out all the exploring you do and how much you interact with the story through the dialog trees. By truly distilling the experience down to its core elements, Campo Santo managed to compress the lump of coal of overwrought design into a diamond of truly great interactive entertainment.
Unfortunately not everything can be in the top 5 but here are a few great experiences that just couldn't squeak in:
- Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
- Mafia 3
- The Witness
- Stardew Valley