I had a lot of fun playing video games in 2016, even if most of them were a year or two old. In fact, 2016 didn’t seem to me like a great year for new releases, but as with most gamers I have a massive backlog to play and so had more than enough to fill my time. Without (much) further ado, here are the top five games I played in 2016.

Warning: this list is an indie-free zone. No pseudo-intellectual games with primitive graphics here!

My top 5 games of 2016

5. XCOM 2 (2016) (PC)

My score: 8/10, Metacritic 88/100

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XCOM 2 was initially exclusive to PC and Mac, and its launch generated a lot of bad publicity due to performance issues and poor optimization. For good reason: I was shocked at how badly the game ran on my machine, with dreadful textures and myriad framerate and animation issues. Firaxis eventually released a patch which went some way to fixing these problems, and when you got down to the underlying game it was very, very good. XCOM’s combat is excellent, as is its basebuilding metagame, and the greater customization options available in XCOM 2 somewhat distracted from the fact it was all quite similar to the first game. As the game’s troubled launch faded into memory everyone seemed to agree that XCOM 2 is, essentially, awesome, and its release on PS4 and XBOX 1 gives more people a chance to play it. Though I’m not sure buying it for a third time, as we plan to in our household (on PC, Mac, and PS4), sends Firaxis and publisher 2K the right message.

4. Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE (2016) (Wii U)

My score: 9/10, Metacritic 80/100

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Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a celebration of Japanese video game and broader popular culture that also happens to be a well-written and highly polished RPG. The plethora of character-based side quests means the game easily supports its 60-hour play time, and the humour, colourful graphics and outstanding score ensure the game is a feast for the senses and a pleasant escape from the daily grind. It’s a really fun and exuberant game, and one regrets that the Wii U’s low install base means the game is unlikely to get the appreciation it deserves. At least developer Atlus’s next game, Persona 5, should make up for it on that score.

Incidentally, I learned the symbol in the title is not a hashtag but the musical notation for “sharp”. Which makes perfect sense, as it captures the Fire Emblem inflection/flavouring of the game, as well as its musical motifs.

3. Fire Emblem Awakening (2013) (3DS)

My score: 10/10, Metacritic 92/100

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The first game I got for my New Nintendo 3DS, Fire Emblem Awakening is an excellent game. I’ve been a Fire Emblem fan for years, but this is the first to re-capture the magic of Fire Emblem 7 on the GBA. Awakening has the usual great FE turn-based tactical RPG gameplay, but also features an interesting story, likable and varied characters with lots of humorous dialogue, and an ingenious shipping mechanic that really helps you become invested in your party members and their relationships. Awakening’s well-deserved success helped inspire Nintendo to release no fewer than three Fire Emblem games in 2016, in the form of Fire Emblem Fates, and playing through those is one of my goals for 2017. Any RPG fan who hasn’t played Awakening yet really should.

2. The Last of Us Remastered (2014) (PS4)

My score: 10/10, Metacritic 95/100

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Remastered is the best way to experience one of the most poignant stories ever told in a video game. The less you know before playing it, the better. The Last of Us is a masterpiece of storytelling, but also features gripping and visceral gameplay. It’s a spectacular technical achievement with some of the best graphics ever seen. A violent, at times depressing, and often frightening game, but one that anyone who can stomach it should try to experience.

1. The Witcher 3 (2015) (PS4)

My score: 10/10, Metacritic: 92/100

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I’ve never felt as immersed or as emotionally invested in a story-based video game for as long as I did with The Witcher 3. I spent almost half of 2016 playing it: including the expansions, a single complete playthrough could comfortably take you 200 hours. What’s so unusual is that everything you do is distinctive and feels like it has meaning, and every minor quest or activity is part of its own story. Every decision has weight, and almost every incidental character you encounter has their own back story and independent motivations. That goes for the dozens or hundreds of minor side quests, and the main quests and characters have a depth and texture unparallaled in triple-A games of this nature. On which note, The Witcher 3 features probably the best graphics and environments I’ve seen yet on the PS4, as well as a majestic soundtrack.

For me, playing The Witcher 3 felt like playing all three Mass Effect games and Skyrim rolled into one, and like many people, I’ve come to regard it as the best game I’ve ever played.

Honourable mentions

Resident Evil 4 HD (PS4, 9/10, Metacritic 82/100) was a welcome opportunity to return to one of the best action games of all time. The gameplay and pacing are as tight as ever, though it was a bit of a shame that Capcom didn’t do more to really bring the game up to date. For now, it’s still probably the best version of the game available, and one that everyone should play at some point in their lives. Fallout 4 (PS4, 9/10, Metacritic 87/100) provided a large sandbox world with brutal combat, a dizzying range of weapon and armour customization options, and a deep settlement-building mechanic. In hindsight, my review score was overly generous, as the game’s story was poorly paced, undermined by a narrative with an emotional imperative at odds with the core gameplay mechanics.

This year I caught up on two classic JRPGs I missed when I was growing up: Chrono Trigger DS (8/10, Metacritic 92/100), and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D (8/10, Metacritic 89/100). Playing these now for the first time, they were both enjoyable experiences, but more as a result of story, character and setting than the gameplay. Both games are massive internet forum darlings, and I think the hype around games like this can affect the experience of new players who come with inflated expectations.

Resident Evil Revelations (7/10, Metacritic 80/100) was the first game I played on Wii U and a satisfying Resident Evil experience, even if it lacked the polish and scale associated with the main entries in the series. Bioshock Infinite (PC, 8/10, Metacritic 94/100) is something of a poster-boy for videogame storytelling, and I was blown away by its opening stages, and enjoyed its fast-paced gunplay and impactful magic system. However, the story gets caught up in its own metaphysical contortions, and I was put off by the game’s smug vilification of left-wing politics. Other games I played this year which flattered to deceive included Batman: Arkham Knight (7/10, Metacritic 87), Tales of Zestiria (7/10, Metacritic 72), and Divinity Original Sin (6/10, Metacritic 88), all of which started well but went downhill more or less as time went on. Divinity, in particular, felt like a perfect case study of why not to use crowdfunding to build an RPG.

My Game of the Year

The Witcher 3 was the best game I played in 2016, and probably the best game I’ve ever played. That said, it was released in 2015, so as far as 2016 goes, my top game of the year was Tokyo Mirage Sessions  FE. If you have a Wii U, you should certainly check it out!

 

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