One Last Look at 2016
We're nearly a full month into 2017, and we at The Gamer HUD are ready and excited to start looking towards what this year has in store for us. We announced our "Game of the Year" on the podcast last week (Spoiler Alert: it's Overwatch), Cole's posted about his most anticipated games due to come out this quarter, and our reactions to Nintendo's Switch—2017's first major hardware release—should have rolled out to subscribers this past Monday afternoon. But 2016 was a terrific year for gaming, and before my own focus shifts entirely to what's coming ahead, I felt I needed to take one final look back at some of the best games I played last year.
I didn't have nearly enough time to invest into Tyranny before the year ended, but it’s opening sequence, in which players make a whole series of meaningful moral choices rapid-fire and shape the game world they’ll be entering before even having actually seen it, was one of the most compelling innovations in RPG gaming that I saw all year long. Add to that a wonderfully developed world in which Evil has already won the day, and I think Obsidian really came up with something wonderful.
I can’t wait to return to this gem and to hopefully talk about it some more in 2017. If Obsidian fumbled with anything on Tyranny, it’s that they released it during one of the most quality-saturated holiday seasons in recent memory.
Final Fantasy XV
As with Tyranny, Final Fantasy XV launched too late in the year to allow me the opportunity to fully formulate my opinions about it prior to our Game of the Year podcast, but it’s been my go-to singleplayer game ever since it finally hit shelves after nearly a decade of development hell. Just this past weekend, I finished chapter 7, and while I haven't finished the game, I really like what I've played so far. A lot.
Even with its massive departures from the core series, FFXV still feels like the JPRG experience I had been longing for. Better yet, it feels like the Final Fantasy I had been craving ever since I finally shelved FFXII for the last time (I dropped FFXIII after trying to love it for too long and feeling disappointed at every turn). The visuals are hit and miss, varying between breathtaking and last-gen with every degree in between. The story’s crazy, difficult to follow, and over the top. Freakin’ Cindy looks like she was plucked from the brain of a horny fourteen-year-old boy. And yet I still can’t help but love this game.
The combat system is one of the best I've ever seen in a JRPG, the music is wonderful, and the core cast of characters are surprisingly yet undeniably endearing. I love that the game feels like one big, fantasy road trip, because that's exactly the kind of vacation I felt I needed as 2016 was nearing its end.
The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine
On my first ever podcast with the HUD, Cole jokingly asked who among us could possibly find the time to sink 100 hours into The Witcher 3. I shied away from a response then, but the truth of the matter is that far more than I care to admit of my very limited game time in both 2015 and 2016 was sunk lovingly into CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece. I’ve been a fan of The Witcher game series since the early days, and I completed The Witcher 2 three times in full despite the fact that I was a working father, husband and full-time student at the time of its release.
Last year, CDPR said goodbye to their world-conquering series with one last, exceptional expansion pack, “Blood and Wine.” Speaking from a strictly narrative perspective, B&W was maybe weaker than “Hearts of Stone” had been, but only ever so slightly. I’m a sucker for good vampire stories (get it! I'll see myself out), and after seeing how scarce they were in the main campaign (especially after that memorable cinematic trailer that CDPR released last year), I was delighted to see that B&W had placed them center stage.
Even if the narrative of Blood and Wine may not have been as tight as its predecessor, it more than made up for that with a wealth of content. The expansion’s new, fantastical city, Beauclaire, was a beautiful and wondrous change of pace from the dreary environments of the main campaign, and it was filled practically to the brim with new quests, new gear, new character build options, and even a new Gwent faction. I can’t think of a better send-off to such a wonderful series, and even with a backlog of games piling up, I'm eager to return to The Witcher 3.
The sixth entry in the venerable 4X series is quite possibly my favorite, and I had the privilege to review the game last year for The Gamer HUD, which actually ended up being my only true review of the year. I've learned to my great joy that my review managed to convince our own Tina Marconi to pick up the game, and she echoed my recommendation for it on our "Game of the Year" podcast.
It'd be redundant to recap my review here when it's still available for you to look over, but the one thing about the game that I only really learned to appreciate in the months following its release was just how much fun it is to play with other people. Civ 6 easily grew to become one of my favorite multiplayer releases of the year, and I don't foresee my replacing it any time soon in 2017.
Speaking of multiplayer titles, here's one that managed to not only improve on practically everything that I loved about its multiplayer-only predecessor, but actually included one of the best singleplayer campaigns I've played in a shooter in a long while. Titanfall's campaign is a relatively quick play, even on the game's hardest difficult setting, but it's a roller coaster ride from start to finish that feels perfectly paced and never really stops toying with its own game mechanics in new and interesting ways. The highest peak of the campaign sees players shifting between two different periods of time on the fly in order to wall-run, double jump, and gun their way through the mission, which ends with an adrenaline inducing plummet through spinning fans and raging infernos.
On the multiplayer front, Titanfall 2 builds on everything that made the original so novel and enjoyable with greater Titan diversity, a grappling hook that enhances your ability to traverse the game's humongous maps quickly, and a "kill and confirm" styled game mode that's pure joy to play.
As with Tyranny, the only major flaw with Titanfall 2 is that it launched in the holiday season when even dedicated gamers were already be spread thin, even going toe-to-toe with EA's other premier shooter of the year, Battlefield One. I can't say that Titanfall 2 is an underrated classic, because it's been well received by critics and players alike, but it certainly wasn't the financial hit that it deserved to be. EA promises that they're not giving up on the series, and I hope for all of our sake that they stay true to their word on this one. I'm crossing my fingers for some quality DLC (which the devs have promised will be free to all players) to launch in the near future because I'm simply not done with this game yet.
When our crew at the HUD began our discussions about what our collective choice for "Game of the Year" should be, the decision was made unanimously almost immediately and with little to no debate. What more can be said of this little shooter that managed to capture the hearts and imaginations of gamers around the world? It's the first original IP Blizzard's released in nearly two decades, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the late "Project Titan," and it was 100% worth the wait.
I was enamored with the game from its initial cinematic unveiling, which I included above. The game's world and the cast of heroes that inhabit it veritably ooze charm, and Blizzard's obsessive attention to even the most minor of details make for an experienced that is better polished than any other shooter I can think of in action today.
I've not been a serious multiplayer gamer since the Halo 3 days (unless you count my brief stint as a legendary hopeful in Hearthstone last year). Having been a singleplayer gamer first for nearly all my life, I simply don't have the time to invest into honing and maintaining my skills at an even relatively competitive level.
But I haven't been able to keep myself away from Overwatch since it launched last May.
It's fun, pure and simple, whether you're trying to cram in a few matches before bed on a work night or signing in for the long haul on a Saturday night. It strikes the perfect balance between accessible mechanics and difficult-to-master tactical nuances, and it makes for a multiplayer experience that always feels worth your time.
And while the game's community is already beginning to receive some criticism for toxicity, particularly at upper competitive play levels, it's plainly apparent that Blizzard went out of their way to construct a positive and uplifting experience for gamers of all levels, eschewing built-in stats like K/D in favor of team-focused metrics, an innovative (if flawed) Play of the Game system, and a post-game report that encourages players to praise one another. These measures don't always work as intended, but it's refreshing to see a developer make such a concerted effort towards crafting a welcoming game space, and the result of their efforts was a game that's worth so much more than the sum of all its parts and so vastly outclasses its own sources of inspiration on virtually every front that it's already made a noticeable and lasting impact on the industry.
I know I'm not alone when I say that I can't wait to see what Blizz does with the game in 2017. Oh, and if you needed an excuse to start playing it again, the Year of the Rooster seasonal event kicked off this week and features a capture-the-flag game mode along with a slew of new skins, emotes, and other unlockables.