For me, like most years before it, 2016 was the year of the backlog. Every year I intend to play every new unique indie release that hits steam and to keep an eye on which triple A titles are worth sinking my time and money into. Instead I just keep playing games from my ever growing log of titles that I need to get to. This year, I made sure to waste less of my free time doing nothing and spent more of it on my favorite hobby. In an effort to bring to some attention to the games of old that I played this year. while having a list that is relevant at all, here is a list (in no particular order) of my top three favorite games released in 2016 as well as the three best games that I played that did NOT release in 2016.
Released in 2016
DOOM is a game that really speaks to me. The fast paced action, the heavy metal soundtrack, and the badass ultraviolence are all right in my wheelhouse. The way that the game mixes bombastic, heart pounding action scenes with quieter platforming and exploration sections (as well as dialog heavy exposition dumps sprinkled in) made DOOM an extremely enjoyable experience. Its 10-ish hour length made it short enough to not overstay its welcome and make me hungry to turn up the difficulty and go back for more.
To be honest, Overwatch was a game that I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. After being disappointed with the balance problems of Hearthstone and the absolutely brain-meltingly boring game that is Heroes of the Storm (sorry to any fans in the audience) I thought that Overwatch would be another ultra-casual unengaging mess like a lot of Blizzard's other recent output. Luckily I was wrong. After reviews came out I saw my friends and the denizens of the internet having a collective blast playing Overwatch so I decided to purchase a copy for myself to play with my roommate Dave. While the game is more casual than my one true love (Dota) as well as other big multiplayer shooters such as CS:GO or TF2 there is enough substance there to keep me engaged and the characters are fun and interesting enough to make me fall in love with the universe. And playing Roadhog is just the most fun shit ever.
Dark Souls 3
If Dota is my one true multiplayer love then Dark Souls is my single-player darling. Everything about the Dark Souls series appeals to me; the dark fantasy setting heavily influenced by Berserk, the obtuse and hard to understand story, and the punishing but fair difficulty are all tailor made to make me love your game. The sped-up gameplay felt like a nice change of pace to keep things fresh, and the graphical upgrades from 2 to 3 were much appreciated. While Dark Souls 3 is not my favorite game of the series, (my number one will show up later on this list though) it was fun and familiar enough to be better than basically every other game that I played this year.
Released NOT in 2016
If Dark Souls 3 sped-up gameplay felt like a nice change of pace then Bloodborne's brutally aggressive breakneck pace felt like the next evolution of the Souls combat formula. I coached my roommate Sebastian through a playthough of Bloodborne in 2015 and I finally made time to play it for myself in 2016. Bloodborne's decision to shrink the amount of weapons and possible playstyles was a divisive one, I believe it was the right one so as to allow the designers to tailor-make the game to an aggressive melee play style that affords the players who care to perfect it the most fun. I hope that FromSoftware will continue to push the envelope with their design decisions and give us more amazing games like Bloodborne.
The Final Fantasy Series
This is a bit of a cop-out but I felt that I had to give a nod to the entire Final Fantasy series, since I finally finished my first entry in the series early this year. As a kid, I had dabbled in the series but after my JRPG fever started up again late in 2014, I've been playing through as many classics as I can find the time to play. In 2016 I played through Final Fantasy VII, IX, and X and greatly enjoyed my time in each one. Each of the FF games I played this year had their own traits that made them unique from one another. The materia system of VII was a very fun way to optimize and customize my characters, while IX had my favorite plot and some of the most fun character interactions. X takes the cake as my favorite Final Fantasy though, due to its engaging and strategic turn-based combat which allows switching characters in and out of combat frequently. This is beneficial because it has the effect of making the combat feel more skill intensive, in addition to making each individual party member feel more useful throughout the game. JRPGs often have the issue of leaving some party members in the dust once you find your optimal party, so it is nice to be able to enjoy the variety of party members throughout (except Kimahir, that guy was useless).
Persona 4 Golden
Persona 4 Golden was a game that I had been meaning to get to ever since I met Dave. He would always sing its praises, and this year a lucky Craigslist find allowed me to get a PSVITA at a reasonable price. With my new handheld finally my last roadblock from playing the game was removed. Over the course of the entirety of December, (somewhat mimicking the game's one year cycle) I spent nearly 70 hours playing through this game's unique mix of slice-of-life visual novel and dungeon crawling JRPG. While the combat was fun, if a little grindy at times, where the game really shines is in its overarching plot, fun side-stories, and memorable cast. Persona 4 Golden has some of the most fun and interesting characters in any game I've ever played, and when my self-insert main character was boarding the train to head home after his year in Inaba, I felt a real sense of longing to spend just a little more time with my group of friends.