Wow, what a weird year that was eh? There were a lot of disappointments for sure. Games with amazingly protracted development times, such as Doom 4, Final Fantasy XV, The Last Guardian, No Man’s Sky, Owlboy and more actually came out, and some were actually good. E3 and the Game Awards showed just how exciting these massive videogame shows were… in 2015 when they actually had interesting games announced in them. The demise of the Toys To Life fad joined the list of everything else killed by 2016, including hopes and dreams. And the rise of Member Berries continued unabated.
But enough of all that, time to talk about the good stuff that happened this year. As per Yuletide tradition the GameWatcher team has got together to decide our GAME OF THE YEAR 2016. Everyone gets one primary nomination, a runner-up choice, and a short explanation of what they’re getting up to over the holiday break (none of that). We’ll then cover a few Honourable Mentions before naming our top game of 2016! Member Cities: Skylines? Member Witcher 3? Oh, I member Witcher 3!
… Damn, they’ve got to me! Quick, roll the nominations!
JOSEPH BRADFORD’S GAME OF THE YEAR:
Developer: Firaxis, Publisher: 2K Games
Joseph says: “Yes, I know, possibly an easy PC choice for this year. But with good reason. Civilization VI takes the series’ many systems and improves upon them in every tangible way. From the way you build cities - thanks to the new district system - to how you interact with rival civilizations and their varying AI, Civilization VI is the successor the series needed. Couple this with it releasing with many of the systems in place its predecessor released as add-on DLC, it really feels as though Firaxis wanted to give the player a true feature-full game from the get-go.
It’s not without its issues, but those are easily overshadowed by all that the game does well. The fresh new art style give the series a much needed style upgrade, and Sean Bean’s superb narration (He doesn’t die!) sets the tone, combined with a soundtrack that evolves and grows with your civilization make “one more turn” an inevitability. Never before has been more satisfying to send your Sopwith planes attacking a rival civilization, laughing at the fact they are still carting trade around with camel-drawn buggies. Civilization VI is a solid entry in the legendary series, and is one that players of the franchise will be heralding for years to come.
Runner-Up: QUANTUM BREAK
“Despite a perpetually delayed development, Quantum Break provided possibly one of the most underrated narrative experiences to grace our monitors this year. While I was hyper critical of the initial port, Quantum Break took narrative risks that paid off in the end: Coupling a game with a live-action television show is an idea from Microsoft’s initial restrictive anti-consumer Xbox policies, yet Remedy’s penchant for storytelling flourishes. Creating one of the most touching narrative moments in 2016 for me (seriously, just play Act 4), Quantum Break also provided some of the most fun game play I’ve experienced all year. The constant need to be moving at all times, using the time powers to overwhelm Monarch’s rent-a-cops, are only shackled by the need to throw in mediocre platforming elements. However, some of 2016’s largest set piece moments for me come from this game. The rousing soundtrack and technical marvel should have this game on anyone’s short list of titles to work through.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “Currently I’m working through Tyranny, the new RPG from Obsidian and Paradox. The idea of playing a valiant, honorable bad-guy has me interested in seeing how far I can push that line of RPing before I’m forced to do something reprehensible in the name of the Kyros the Overlord. Additionally, Watch Dogs 2 on PC has its grips in me, and I’m enjoying running around San Francisco taking in the sights. Although I’m sure there will be plenty of “one more turn” moments in Civilization VI as I continue to keep my body bereft of the sleep it so desperately yearns for.”
SHANNON DOYLE’S GAME OF THE YEAR:
Developer: ConcernedApe, Publisher: Chucklefish
Shannon says: “A one man development team has never brought so much joy to so many people like Concerned Ape did with Stardew Valley. It hits all the right nostalgia points for those who grew up with Harvest Moon while being easy enough for anyone new to the genre to pick the game up. With mystery, customizable farms, and being modern enough to include same sex marriage and adoption, Stardew Valley is everything the modern farmer could want from the comfort of their desk. If there has been one game I’ve gone back to time and time again this year it has been Stardew Valley and with new updates still being released I’ll be going back for more well into 2017.”
Runner-Up: CIVILIZATION VI
“Never have I been on such an emotional rollercoaster like I was with Civilization VI. I’ve been a fan of the series since the original Civilization came out in 1991. There was so much hype when 2K announced Civ VI I could barely sit still. But then came the images. I wasn’t a fan of the art style, I wasn’t sure about the changes they were announcing. But I was still going to give it a try. Fast forward to August, I’m at Gamescom getting my first chance to play. From then on it’s love. I bought the Anniversary edition and I’ve not stopped playing since the game was released. It’s everything you could want in a 4X game and well worthy of the Civilization name.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “I’ll be bouncing between Planet Coaster, Stardew Valley, Guild Wars 2, and Cities Skylines. The trouble with playing neverending games is that you keep going back for more, which is exactly what I’ll be doing with my time off. I’ve got a custom fantasy theme park I’m building, the epic farm of my dreams to put together, and I’m working towards another legendary in Guild Wars 2. So many little projects, I won’t get them done but at least I’ll get a good chunk of work done on them.”
MICHAEL BROWN’S GAME OF THE YEAR:
TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER
Developer: Creative Assembly, Publisher: SEGA
Michael says: “Creative Assembly and Sega got almost everything right with their Total War and Warhammer crossover. The game was a massive hit and rightly so. From its unique factional mechanics, great unit variety and multiple story campaigns, Total War: Warhammer was everything I wanted out of a Total War and Warhammer blend and more.” [Short and to the point! Not like Joseph “you wanted a review, right?” Bradford -Ed]
Runner-Up: ATLAS REACTOR
“A lesser known multiplayer gem of the year, Atlas Reactor is a multiplayer turn-based strategy game with simultaneous turns and competitive play. It’s what would happen if you put Overwatch’s team based gameplay into a turn based strategy and it’s bloody glorious.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “The new Wood Elves expansion in Total War Warhammer of course, pointy ears, giant tree beings. I’ll have plenty to be doing.”
T.J. DENZER’S GAME OF THE YEAR:
Developer/Publisher: D-Pad Studio
T.J. says: “Once in a while a retro-style game comes along and does everything to remind many of us of why we got into video games in the first place. Owlboy is a lush and colorful world chock full of pixelated charm with gameplay and story to match. Its nods to Metroidvania-style exploration and twin-stick shooter mechanics alongside Zelda-esque puzzling brings so many good feelings of nostalgia without delving into the obnoxious things that retro games often do in order to keep a certain vibe. If that wasn’t enough, its story is so full of good and memorable characters that pull you in and make you part of their growth that the credit roll feels like an incredibly bittersweet goodbye. Owlboy builds a world and tells a story so good, you’ll be upset you can only experience it for the first time once.”
Runner-Up: CIVILIZATION VI
“In Civ V: Brave New World Firaxis had finally seemed to make Civ V the full and balanced experience it was supposed to be, but it was a long time coming. Beyond Earth was a special sort of sci-fi distraction that took new chances, but it never really hit the same levels of fun. Civilization VI by contrast came out of the gate swinging, with lessons learned to ensure that it would be the 4X game we all wanted it to be. The civilizations are fantastic and varied, the visuals are charming and appealing, and the civics tree may be the best thing to happen to the series for the sheer depth of flexibility it provides. This is the gold standard of the series, and it will only get better.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “In a year of pretty good releases, I’m going back to a fantastic old friend with The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim Special Edition. Having not played since the Dragonborn DLC was released in 2013, it really does feel like re-exploring to a fresh and exciting journey. Spending so much time in Fallout 4 and the Commonwealth wasteland of Philadelphia really drives home just how lush and varied the land of Skyrim is and the overhauled visuals and systems make all that environmental variety and life pop so much more. In between my questing, I’ll probably be making time for League of Legends too. Season 7 just started and I’ve got a rank to build. If you catch me in mid, you’d best be wary. My bomb hamster bro Ziggs is delivering explosive gifts far and wide this season.”
EMMA MATTHEWS’S GAME OF THE YEAR:
Emma says: “I’ve spent many hours playing Overwatch with friends and have loved every minute of it. Whether I’m trying out different characters in Quickplay or playing more seriously in the Competitive mode, Overwatch always pushes me to try to improve. With the recent introduction of the Arcade mode, it feels as though there is now a mode for every kind of mood and even more of an incentive to play with many more Loot Box drops. It’s a great feeling when a team works well together and so satisfying when players time their Ultimates to compliment each other. As I’m also an avid CS:GO player, the fast pace of Overwatch compared to the slower, more calculated play in that game feels incredibly refreshing. On many occasions, Overwatch has proven that it’s the best way to round off an evening after a few stressful games of Counter-Strike. Sometimes, I even skip Counter-Strike altogether!”
Runner-Up: DARK SOULS III
“After playing Dark Souls earlier this year, Dark Souls III felt like the sequel that I really wanted. I appreciated all the Dark Souls references littered throughout the game and revisiting Anor Londo in its new state was an equally heartbreaking and amazing experience. The bosses felt varied and interesting and wandering around such a familiar world felt comforting - even if it had changed quite a bit! Crafting my Lightning Zweihänder and donning my leather armour felt like coming home and after losing my save when I built a new PC, I’m looking forward to playing it all over again.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “Over Christmas I’ll be playing a lot of Street Fighter V. I’ve only put a few hours into the game so far but I’m really eager to practice hard and improve. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game so far and can’t wait to perfect my Ryu.”
CHRISTIAN VAZ’S GAME OF THE YEAR:
STREET FIGHTER V
Christian says: “ I know Capcom got a lot of flak for releasing Street Fighter V in a barebones state, but I’m one of those people who think the game is brilliant as it is. This version of Street Fighter feels like the true sequel to Street Fighter III: Third Strike – it’s fast, it’s super aggressive and, most importantly, it’s so much fun. The character roster features sixteen characters, with an extra six available to purchase or unlock using the in-game currency. Sixteen characters may seem low compared to other games, but each character in Street Fighter V truly feels unique. A lot of the issues people had with the game have been addressed through free updates, and the updates should keep on coming as Capcom are looking to balance the game until at least 2020. Street Fighter V is not only my game of the year, it’ll probably end up becoming the best fighting game of this generation.”
” I never expected Blizzard of all developers to create one of my favourite FPSes this year, especially when you consider what else launched after it (Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare). Blizzard absolutely nailed the single player experience of Overwatch, and by that I mean you don’t want to quit immediately when you aren’t playing with your friends. Overwatch hooks you in and then it keeps you playing with the constant updates throughout the year. You don’t see yourself as someone that cares about loot boxes until you become that guy who spends £36 looking for Witch Mercy during Halloween. I’d tell you to play Overwatch already but the fact is that you probably already own it. [Enough already, I’ll buy it - Ed]
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “Hearthstone is a bit of a cheat pick considering it is also a mobile game, however I do play it on my PC when I’m at home so it counts! The Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion may not have buffed by two classes (Rogue and Paladin), but I’m going to keep playing anyway. Oh, and if you are playing Hearthstone over the break like I am, please don’t play Mid-Range Shaman or Pirate Warrior. No one likes that guy who picks those builds.”
KRESIMIR KOLUMBIC’S GAME OF THE YEAR:
HEARTS OF IRON IV
Kres says: “While Hearts of Iron 4 was my entry into the series so I can’t make valid comparisons with its previous releases, the game took 200+ quality spent hours off of me and had to be my main choice for GOTY in 2016.
While the AI was improved in recent patches and made the game a bit more of a realistic challenge there’s still work to be done, most notably with suicidal AI naval invasions which I’d personally prefer in the form of general looming threat rather than a steady ineffective annoyance.
Yet managing research and industrial capacity of your nation, making diplomatic and ideological choices, focusing your progress tree and building up a functional setup for your army divisions, all in preparation for the war that will inevitably come mask the flaws of the AI and give plenty of fun hours of gameplay.”
“It took a game like Factorio to get me over the shallow disinterest in the lower indie level of game graphics. The culprit wasn’t just Factorio but Prison Architect and Rimworld as well. Those three games have made me love the ugly. Still there’s cuteness in their styling, especially if you force yourself to believe that you’re liking it. What I’ve discovered in Factorio is my foolishness in letting it almost slide off of my radar and almost not discovering the complexity and love that the developers put into the game. There is so much to do in Factorio that most of the year’s other survival games, RTSs or not, I can only take half seriously.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “I’ll be playing Europa Universalis IV, Hearts of Iron 4 and XCOM Enemy Unknown - Long War. Doing another XCOM run is pre-planned already! I would also love to continue playing Subnautica, The Forest and The Long Dark, but only once they get a few more updates and content.”
JAMIE DAVEY's Game of the Year:
TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER
Jamie says: “I’m still playing Rocket League like crazy after picking it as my GOTY for 2015, but there’s been a couple of titles that have been able to sway me away from it this year, and one that did it most of all is probably Total War: Warhammer. It’s been a bit of a dream for me to play a Warhammer version of Total War, as it’s probably the closest I’ll get to a modern version of Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat, which is actually one of my favourite games of all time. Unfortunately I’ve never been great at the Total War series, and I actually find Total War: Warhammer to be incredibly difficult once you get to a certain point in the game, but hopefully I’ll have a good run with it over the Christmas Holidays. SEGA and Creative Assembly have crafted something truly special here, and I’ll look forward to seeing how the series progresses as the trilogy moves forward. [I’m only allowing Jamie to also nominate Total War: Warhammer because he’s only played two games this year - Honest Ed]
Runner-Up: PLANTS VS ZOMBIES: GARDEN WARFARE 2
“PVZGarWar2 is going to be my runner-up this year, because EA Games and PopCap have improved upon the first installment in almost every way with this release. I’ve been a big fan of the series ever since my nephew introduced me to it back in 2014, but the second entry has way more classes, maps and other game modes that’ll keep you playing for absolutely hours. If you haven’t played it yet I would definitely recommend it.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “I recently picked up a copy of DEX, which is an indie cyberpunk Action RPG that has a real Blade Runner feel to it. It really is a lovely little game, but I’ve heard it’s quite short so it might not take me too long to finish, but that’s perfect for me because I plan to fit in time for the Wood Elves faction in Total War: Warhammer, some XCOM 2 and Cities: Skylines - Natural Disasters.”
CHRIS CAPEL's Game of the Year:
Developer: id Software, Publisher: Bethesda
Chris C says: “Whenever trying to think of my GOTY nomination I tend to aim for the game that both impressed me and I had the most fun with. On both counts id Software’s new Doom wins. The buzz was negative all the way but I held the faith, and boy was my faith rewarded. Doom is home to some of the greatest firefights I’ve had in gaming, but it’s also amazingly and surprisingly tactical in the way it forces you to get up-close-and-personal with the demons to get health.
Most importantly though, as I said in my review it wholeheartedly supports my Three Pillars of Great FPS Gameplay – Tight Compelling Level Design, Superbly Satisfying Enemies, and Not Letting The Story Get In The Way of the Gameplay. In a year where the FPS genre continues to be swamped with cutscene-first shooters Doom always puts gameplay first, and furthermore it’s got one of the best learning curves I’ve ever seen. And that’s without even mentioning the monster designs, or the secrets, or beating an imp to death with his own arm, or…”
Runner-Up: DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED
“The latest Deus Ex game was probably, ironically given the title, the most divisive. Some people like myself loved the focus on making Prague the best and most detailed city hub in the series, the improvements to Human Revolution’s gameplay, the excellent missions, and the wide variety in pure gameplay choices. Others bemoaned the rather atrocious PC performance (which luckily didn’t affect me), the unnecessary microtransactions, or the less epic or globe-trotting story. Me? I thought it was a worthy fourth core game in one of my favourite gaming series. Unfortunately the other fourth core game in one of my favourite gaming series (see above) was better.
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “I never thought I’d say this, but I’m in the mood to play some Final Fantasy. I’ve picked up both IX and XIII and am fully prepared to give them a try over Christmas. Beyond that I’m planning to finish off Watch Dogs 2 and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. I’d also planned with the release of Star Wars: Rogue One to get back into Battlefront, maybe even picking up the Season Pass to get the new maps, but then I played a match and remembered why I hadn’t touched it for months. It’s now uninstalled again. Ho hum. Maybe I’ll carry on with The Old Republic instead.”
RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER – Everyone remember this came out this year on PC? Rise of the Tomb Raider was a beautiful, involving Uncharted-beater with interesting environments, great action, and excellent tombs. And yet we all forgot about it. Shame.
DISHONORED 2 – Maybe it’s too recent, or the performance issues turned a few people off, but Dishonored 2 doesn’t seem to have lit the world on fire like its predecessor did despite being a far superior game. With Stephen “Garrett” Russell voicing Corvo though we were always going to love it.
XCOM 2 – Speaking of sequels to games from 2012, how did this miss out on a nomination? Enemy Unknown won our GOTY that year, so where did the sequel lose people? Maybe it was the annoying map, or the new focus on stealth? XCOM 2 was still great, but obviously it wasn’t memorable enough.
THE WITCHER 3: BLOOD & WINE – The only time we ever considered nominating an expansion pack as a GOTY nominee. Blood & Wine reminded us just how great CD Projekt has become at making RPGs, and why we’re sad to see Geralt ride into the sunset. Roll on Cyberpunk.
HOMEWORLD: DESERTS OF KHARAK – One of the better RTS games out this year, the latest Homeworld got somewhat overlooked for not being set in space. Nevertheless it successfully transitioned all the great things about the series to the ground and is well worth picking up.
NELLY COOTALOT: THE FOWL FLEET – In a year packed with great adventure games, from Special Editions of classic LucasArts titles to the big budget Silence, it was this humorous and deeply British title that pleased us the most. Yes it’s a comedy pirate adventure, but it totally distinguishes itself from the Monkey Island series by feeling like a classic British kids cartoon. Was nearly Chris’s GOTY, except we couldn’t pry him away from Doom.
BATMAN: THE TELLTALE SERIES – Another year, another Batman game that doesn’t quite get a GOTY nomination despite being excellent. Telltale gleefully subverted Batman lore and twisted classic characters to create a truly surprising tale that you need to play if you’re a comic book fan. We already can’t wait to see what they do with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
TYRANNY – So is this Obsidian’s thing now, knocking out classic isometric point-n-click CRPGs every year? If so great! After the amazing Pillars of Eternity didn’t quite make our GOTY 2015 list the amazing Tyranny doesn’t quite make our GOTY 2016 either. Which is a shame.
TITANFALL 2 - A surprisingly amazing single-player campaign pared with a predictably amazing multiplayer leads to… no nominations? Wow. Guess everyone was still playing Overwatch.
BATTLEFIELD 1 - This didn’t get nominated either, so Titanfall 2 doesn’t feel too bad. Overwatch again, probably.
Right then! No more prevaricating! The final counts have been tallied and…
THE GAMEWATCHER GAME OF THE YEAR 2016 IS...
It was a very close one once again, with both Overwatch and Total War: Warhammer nearly claiming the top spot, but in the end the venerable grandfather of PC 4X strategy games won out! T.J., Shannon and Joseph all championed it, and the rest of the staff are probably going to play it, so in the end there was only one choice.
In general we all agreed that everything that could’ve been added to the series Firaxis did so with VI. With the new districts and civics city-building became far more involved, the introduction of Envoys and the Agenda System made interactions with rivals more engaging, the at first maligned art style was actually the boost it needed to feel fresh, and most importantly for once a Civilization game was launched feeling content complete.
And that’s just what’s new, since Civilization VI also has the weight and pull of the entire series behind it. For sheer amount of fun gameplay Civilization is less a game, more of an addiction, and it’s one we would never want to be cured of. Civilization VI is a worthy winner of the GameWatcher Game of the Year 2016, keeping everything that made the series great while updating and adding features that make it feel modern and fresh again. Which, er, makes it doubly embarrassing that we forgot to review it. Whoops. Oh well, consider this the review: buy it, 11.5/10.
Well, that’s that then! Do you agree with our choices? Anything that we left out? How about that Game of the Year decision then? Sound off in the comments below and let’s get debating!
Happy Holidays and New Year all, and I guess that’s the end of 2016 at long last! Let’s try to be optimistic about the future now despite the mess this year left us with. I wonder what Game of the Year will be in December 2017? Will Mass Effect: Andromeda be the kick the series (and Bioware) needs? Will Prey do what Dishonored 2 couldn’t for Arkane? Will Resident Evil VII or Outlast 2 fight over the horror crown? Will Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera leave us room to play any other games? Will South Park: The Fractured But Whole bring back those dreaded Member Berries? Or will an indie cutie like Night In The Woods or Yooka-Laylee just sweep the entire awards, which I can totally see happening?
Guess we’ll all find out! Member 2016? NO WE DON’T GO AWAY.