Wulfy’s Notable Games of 2016

So we’ve put the lid on 2016. Possibly the worst year I’ve lived through, if we consider personal, social, and political factors. At least there’s been some good entertainment to consume.

I’m not sure I can honestly call myself a games writer any longer. I haven’t posted anything in the games category since March. I told myself at the start of the year that I’d do at least a quick post for everything noteworthy I played, but that fell out quickly. Couldn’t keep up with the Bloodborne DLC series I started either. No use worrying too much about it, though.

I still wanted to do an end of year thing, because there has been stuff well worth talking about. The format of these posts seems to change every year because I don’t remember how I did it last year. These will not only/necessarily be my favourite games, but games I feel are worth pointing out. Hence the “notable” in the title.

Addendum: I can’t believe I forgot to add Pokemon Go. See at the bottom.

I seem to remember I typically start these things with a dishonourable mention, but I didn’t really play anything this year that was especially bad, nor really anything that was majorly disappointing, so I guess some minor disappointments will do.

Minor Disappointments

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No Man’s Sky [PC/PS4]

Yes yes, I know this is a bandwagon, but hear me out.

After all the hype leading up to this game’s release it was inevitable that it wouldn’t live up to people’s expectations. Even so, I quite enjoyed the game we got. I’d hop from planet to planet, see the strange environments, flora, and fauna especially. I loved giving silly names to the animals, and while a lot of them looked fairly similar, I’d regularly find something truly strange. Which seemed to happen more often the further in I got.

There were also strange phenomena that might be ascribed to bugs, but I prefer to think of them as fun mysteries. Like the completely dead planet that still somehow was full of ghost readings for where fauna should be. Together with the rest of the planets in that system it formed an image of a place where a cataclysmic war had happened, with only one planet escaping the destruction and still having animal life. And this planet was now full of ghosts.

I played the game every day for two weeks, until I discovered that was roughly the time limit before the game started deleting your earlier achievements. Looking back at my log, I saw the names I had set for animals on my early planets were gone. Which was disheartening enough that I have not touched the game since, and I doubt I will again.

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Subnautica [PC]

Subnautica is a game still in early access, and as a result is still going through a lot of changes. I discovered it back in late June when it was recommended to me as a survival game that had a more chill mode.

I do not typically get along with survival games, even singleplayer ones, but Subnautica has a mode where you can play with the thirst and hunger meters disabled. You still have to worry about health and oxygen, but you can otherwise experience the game with a sense of progression.

See, I like the idea of survival games. Exploring a strange environment, collecting resources, building things, and discovering/researching new things to gradually expand your capabilities and base camp. I just don’t like worrying about hunger, thirst, temperature, combat etc. And at the time Subnautica seemed to fill that niche.

It’s a vast alien planet with only a few plots of land above sea level, and most of what you need underwater, with creatures that feel suitably alien. You start with basically nothing, survey your surroundings, set up a base, and try to figure out what happened as you learn to construct subs that let you reach ever deeper and further.

When I came back to start over for the next patch to see what was new, I ended up rather disappointed. Suddenly the aggressive wildlife was much more prevalent, and basically everywhere. They also felt more aggressive, which made it harder to get anywhere, and you started with less stuff so it was harder to get to the part I wanted to engage with.

I saw this as a shift in the direction the devs wanted to take the game, and that was towards a game I would no longer enjoy. I much preferred when the wildlife stuck to certain biomes, and generally left you alone unless you got too close. And playing on Creative doesn’t work for me, because if I’m just handed everything, what should I work towards?

I’m the type of player who plays Minecraft entirely on the Peaceful difficulty, and I wish more survival games had something like that. I am trying my best to just accept that this was never going to be a game for me, but I do wish there was an option to play a mode where the wildlife just paid no attention to me. Without me having to resort to cheats, that is.

Games I Never Actually Expected To Come Out

Final Fantasy XV would also fit in here, but as I’ve yet to play it, I’m going to move on to the ones I have.

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The Last Guardian [PS4]

I’m not sure if anyone really believed this game was actually coming out until they had a copy in their hands. I certainly couldn’t get rid of all my scepticism until it had actually arrived.

Q: But is it good, Rita? A: Well, yes. Depending on your level of tolerance and patience for certain clunky issues.

The kid moves about like he’s constantly drunk, getting stuck on things and tumbling over at the slightest provocation, but if you can put up with that you get used to it.

Trico is tricky to handle, as you can’t give very specific commands. You can basically just say “come here” and “go in that general direction”. And at the start they don’t even respond to the latter most of the time. They’ll just stop if you climb on top of them. They only start paying attention to that as your relationship grows a bit. I also repeatedly ran into the issue of how you’d try to tell Trico to do something like lift you up to somewhere, and they apparently just wouldn’t get it. So I would assume we were just in the slightly wrong position. I’d get off to coax Trico into a slightly different position, and as soon as I was off they would do exactly what I wanted them to do. Only I was no longer in a position to take advantage of it.

But if you can put up with that and get used to it (and I totally understand if you can’t), it is a beautiful experience. A moving journey through a fascinating environment as you gradually develop a deeper bond between two unlikely friends. As you progress Trico will increasingly try to help without even being asked to do so. I had several times they would find the solution before me. And if all else failed, I’d sometimes just climb on top of Trico and point in various directions to see if they would do something.

I could also tell that the bond was deepening not only in the game, but for me personally as well. Whenever we were attacked, it is really up to Trico to fend off and destroy the enemies, and at first I was content to just hang back and wait. But as I got further into the game, I just naturally transitioned into trying to help out however I could, since I really didn’t like seeing Trico get hurt. Having to pull out spears from their hide always felt awful.

So yes, assuming you have the patience and tolerance to put up with its quirks and issues, it’s a very good game that takes you on a wonderful and touching journey.

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Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma [PC/3DS/PS Vita]

I truly believed that the Zero Escape series was well and truly dead, so learning that it was not only coming out, but they were also doing a Steam version was a shock.

I had greatly enjoyed 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward, so finally seeing the final chapter to that was like a dream coming true. Except it might not necessarily be the final chapter? Things seem to have been left a little open in that regard.

It still puts together an interesting cast, an interesting and complex narrative, interesting dilemmas to ponder, interesting puzzles to solve, and interesting rooms to explore. And like VLR in particular, it had me willingly doing horrible things just to see if it would lead anywhere. Have to get that 100% completion. … I caused so much death.

I enjoyed it a lot, and Phi is my favourite character.

Interesting Indies

Or just small titles that I’m not sure whether they all technically count as indie. Nothing that really blew me away as absolutely essential this year, a la Undertale, Papers, Please, Valiant Hearts, or Botanicula from earlier years. Maybe there is something I just missed.

Quick shoutout to Pony Island for having one of my favourite depictions of the devil.

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Abzû [PC/PS4/Xbox One]

From some of the people behind Journey, we have Abzû. A game about going on a journey (haha) underwater. You’re a curious little person in a diving suit who initially seems to have no incentive for going on this journey beyond having nothing better to do.

I will state for the record that the underwater environments you go through are absolutely gorgeous, and I’d say it’s worth it to go through just to see all of that. It’s a very peaceful game, letting you take things at your own pace and just paddle around. Well, except for when you enter a stream and get pulled through a fast-moving segment with loads of fish and environments zipping past. You can either engage to try to hit the rings of fish that light up spectacularly, or just sit back and enjoy the sights. Similar to Journey‘s sand-surfing.

I feel it’s also worth mentioning the strange dog-shark statues that let you just watch fish at your leisure.

You could also make an argument for the game having some educational merit, as I think all the wildlife is stuff you can actually find in Earth’s oceans, and you can helpfully check their names if you want to.

I don’t feel it quite lives up to Journey, but I’m not sure it necessarily has to. Just enjoy a pretty underwater adventure and make some fish-friends.

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Firewatch [PC/Linux/Mac/PS4/Xbox One]

I don’t have a lot to add upon the post I did earlier last year, but it deserves a brief summary.

Firewatch sees you taking on the role of Henry, a man going through a lot of personal anguish, and who seeks refuge by becoming a firewatcher in the Wyoming outback, far from anything resembling civilisation or his old life.

It takes you through his entire summer at the place, though with the use of several time skips. His only company is his supervisor Delilah on the radio, and the conversations between the two of them are possibly the most natural I’ve felt in any videogame so far. A very good candidate for the most human game of the year.

I didn’t think it was as great as a lot of people talked it up as being, but it’s still more than good enough to be worth a look. Just don’t set your expectations too high, and I hope you find at least one tortoise.

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Inside [PC/PS4/Xbox One]

Strange little puzzle game by at least some of the same people that did Limbo, I believe.

At first it seems like you’re a kid escaping from something, but it quickly turns out that you’re instead trying to get inside (haha) somewhere.

So on you go working to get past security forces, dogs, automated defences, and certain other things, while you wonder just what sort of place this is, why you’re trying to get inside in the first place, and what’s up with the weird homunculus people.

I had fun with it. You might too. It’s certainly fascinating.

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Oxenfree [PC/Linux/Mac/PS4/Xbox One]

The closest thing to a “small game that blew me away” this year. It didn’t quite get there, but it got pretty close. It has some very strong moments.

I’ve already done a longer write-up of this too, so it just gets a brief summary here.

I’m not sure I’d strictly count Oxenfree as a horror game, but it certainly has its fair share of creepy and eerie shit. The radio stuff, the mirror experiences, the glitching, it all did well to unnerve me and make me question what was actually real and what wasn’t.

I played through it once and was happy with the end I got, but quite recently I learned there is some interesting New Game Plus stuff here, so I might dive back into it to see what I can do.

Also makes really good use of dialogue, and has teens that behave and talk like teens, which I certainly count as a marvel unto itself. I wouldn’t say it flows quite as smoothly as Firewatch’s dialogue, but it’s still far ahead of most games.

Positive Surprises

I suppose I could have also included DOOM, but I’m not sure what I’d say beyond “I like it and blowing things up is fun!”

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Overwatch [PC/PS4/Xbox One]

I really didn’t expect an online competitive shooter on PC would ever be something I could get into, but Overwatch (partly) overcame that hurdle.

The large roster of characters is interesting and diverse, leading to a lot of different playstyles. And there are only a few heroes I really don’t like playing. I prefer playing the Mystery Heroes mode, where you just have to deal with what you’re dealt. I do always try to make it through a whole match with the character I’m handed at the start, but I only rarely manage it.

Plus whenever you pull off some outrageous or impressive play it feels really good.

That being said, I only play it occasionally, for a short period of like a week or two, before I don’t play it for months. I like playing it, but not for too long at a time. It’s no Splatoon, after all.

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Quantum Break [PC/Xbox One]

I have to assume Quantum Break bombed pretty hard, since this Xbox One/Windows 10 exclusive somehow ended up on sale on Steam. I stumbled across it at a sizeable discount, and figured “at this price it’s worth a go”.

To my surprise it’s actually good. I enjoyed it a lot. Just the proper amount of sci-fi schlock with a curious narrative. I got utterly engrossed in reading all the little lore bits, and poking and prodding at the story. The live-action episodes are also more fun than I ever thought they might be. Plus I’m a sucker for time-travel nonsense.

I even played through it twice to see what would happen if I picked different choices.

It’s also cute how it’s chock full with references to Alan Wake. I even found a Night Springs audition tape.

The combat isn’t great though… I played through it on Easy the first time, and Normal the second, and it was noticeably less fun on Normal. I wouldn’t say the combat is bad though, it’s just that in spite of all the time powers you get, it still feels fairly standard.

I definitely think it’s worth a go, especially if you find it at a discount like I did.

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Titanfall 2 [PC/PS4/Xbox One]

I completely passed on the first Titanfall, because I have very little interest in multiplayer shooters. Overwatch got a pass because it looked different enough. But I heard they included a decent singleplayer this time, which made me curious enough to get it in the Christmas sale.

I really wasn’t disappointed. In fact I had even more fun than I thought I might. It feels fun to be on foot and in a Titan, maybe even more so on foot because of how free your movement options are, and because you can punch people so hard they go flying. That never gets old.

All backed up by very, very good level design, disposable gimmicks that don’t outstay their welcome, and a vast assortment of weapons that seems to have something for everyone. Not always a lot of ammo for what you might want to use though. I think it expects you to pick up dropped weapons a lot.

As everyone else and their dog, my favourite gimmick was the level with the time travel gadget. It’s not the only clever thing the game does, but certainly the most clever in my opinion. The focus on fast, exciting play that this and DOOM offers feels fresh again these days.

Honestly I think it might have been a mistake to put the 2 on the end. Seems like it had several people go “but what if I haven’t played the first one”. I’m not sure what they should have called it instead. I know something like Titanfall One would have been confusing in a different respect, but it really feels like it should be treated as the starting point of the series.

Handheld Adventures

I was pondering about writing up Pokemon Sun here, but I’ve not played enough to really delve into many words on it. For now I’ll say: A lot of improvements, but fishing sucks now, and Pokemon only catchable through SOS battles is kinda bullshit. Team Skull are nerds. Lillie is cute. I want Wicke to be my friend.

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Bravely Second: End Layer [3DS]

I quite enjoyed Bravely Default, and Bravely Second is basically more of the same. A continuation of the story, set two and a half years after the first game.

A peace has been reached between Eternia and the Crystal Orthodoxy, but all that is threatened when the Glanz Empire shows up to ruin everything. So it’s up to Yew, Magnolia, and returning characters Edea and Tiz to save the day (and the world) this time.

I liked being able to visit this world again, seeing how things have evolved, both in familiar locations from Default, and new locations for Second. Some of the old jobs don’t show up in this game, and a bunch of new ones have been added.

They also have an OP now. It is amazing.

Otherwise not a huge amount has changed, but it does overall feel like a tighter experience. I know that’s very vague, but I’m not sure how else to explain it. It doesn’t faff about as much, I guess. So on the one hand that would be good for people who lost patience with the first game, but on the other hand if you didn’t finish the first one you might get confused playing this one.

If you liked Bravely Default, I think you should definitely get Bravely Second. Though you probably already have in that case. If they do another one, what would they call that? Just Bravely Third, or do they have something else in mind?

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Fire Emblem Fates [3DS]

Fire Emblem Awakening was supposed to be the swan song of the series. The popularity of Fire Emblem had waned, so they wanted to do one final send-off. Then it exploded.

Ironically Awakening might have taken off so hard that in response the devs took off too hard in the creation of Fates. Though I’m sure some meddling from Nintendo themselves was involved in the decision to split it into three campaigns sold as three different games. I bought the special edition with all three games included, so I’m part of the problem, I suppose.

That wasn’t even the only controversy about the game, but I don’t really want to get into that now. Just felt it was worth mentioning.

I have only played through Birthright and Conquest yet. I’m halfway through Revelation, so I’m not yet sure how it all ultimately ends. After the initial huge blast through Birthright, I’ve found myself playing the game in spurts, going back to it for a little while every so often until something new distracts me and I take a break. My aim is to see all the supports, but grinding those gets a little tedious after a while.

So while I like the improvements they’ve done to things like the weapon system (now feels like there’s a point to forging), and the re-balancing of the weapon triangle, I do feel like maybe on a whole it doesn’t quite live up to Awakening. Fates aimed to do so much that I can’t help but feel it bit off a bit more than it could chew, so certain parts of the game feel rushed and not thought through enough.

Yet I still love it, and feel it definitely deserves being on this list.

PS! I overall like the Nohr siblings better than the Hoshido ones. Except Hinoka, she’s great.

Simply Good Games

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Dark Souls III [PC/PS4/Xbox One]

I love the first Dark Souls. I do not like Dark Souls II, which I have said on many occasions, even on this blog.

So even with the knowledge that it would be the original game director returning for Dark Souls III, I was worried about which direction it was going to take.

You can maybe imagine my relief when I got to play it, and it felt good again. Sure, it kept the DS2 nonsense of tying stamina and equip load to different stats, but otherwise it felt like it only kept the good stuff from 2, and recaptured much of the feel from the original. And incorporated the speed of Bloodborne without completely breaking things.

There’s so much lore and flavour infused in it too, not just in the environments you travel through, the enemies you fight, and NPCs you meet, but in the very basic mechanics of the game. The flame of humanity from the original is now reduced to mere embers. Where once bonfires could rise high, now at best you can find cinders. What once was plentiful is now hard to acquire and assemble. The flame is dying. You’re just ash. Even going hollow takes actual effort.

I will grant that it definitely feels like a more linear experience than Dark Souls or Bloodborne. There is the sense of a connected world again, yet at times it feels smaller and more limited, in spite of some of the vast areas like Irithyll. And it seems like there is more you are forced to do before being able to progress. The original Dark Souls let you go pretty much wherever you wanted from the start, so long as you were good enough to survive.

I like playing it though, that’s the important thing. I like wandering the areas, going up against enemies and bosses while trying different builds and different weapons. Pyromancy has never felt as fun or satisfying to me as it does here. I like setting things on fire. Everything. All the things. Dark Souls III let’s me really indulge in that.

I even got into the PvP a bit, which I never expected before I started playing.

Having played as much of the original as I have though, it seems I am completely fucked when it comes to learning parry timings in this game. Bloodborne experience isn’t really helping, either.

Great game, even if it won’t have the same impact as the original did. No one expected it to, I think. I’d say it’s a worthy end to the Dark Souls series.

PS! Fuck Aldrich. He’s the worst. Probably most evil character in the game.

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Dishonoured 2 [PC/PS4/Xbox One]

I was actually deliberating whether or not this would go onto the list for a while.

I liked it a lot, and playing as Emily with a new set of powers was really fun. It really captured what I liked about the first game and gave me more options and ability to do more of that. And I like Megan as a support character more than Samuel. Sorry, Samuel.

Yet it basically just did what I expected it to, and is that enough to make it notable? Then I remembered something, which really is why I ended up adding it.

See, at some point in the game you run into a puzzle door you need to get past. The mission objective says to go get someone to help you, or to uncover some clue in the area. But the riddle is there, right by the door. For fun I sat down to see if I could figure it out. I grabbed my notebook and pen and set about puzzling it out.

I had to start over twice because I realised I fucked something up along the way, and altogether it probably took me like half an hour, but I got it! I was able to puzzle it out all on my own, and the game accepted that answer without me having to jump any further hurdles. I felt so pleased with myself for figuring it out, too.

And that is more than reason enough to count this game as notable in my book.

I still went into the district to loot everything I could find afterwards though. I’m not about to pass up good loot.

Game of the Year

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Xenoblade Chronicles X [Wii U]

Yes, this was also on my 2015 list. I remember. But it was in January 2016 I played the vast majority of this game. And nothing has truly topped it since. I did a fairly big write-up on it too.

The devs did a great job at making Mira feel like a genuinely alien planet, with alien wildlife. Alien species that looked and felt alien. It was a delight to explore.

I really enjoyed the feeling of building up a community of assorted alien lifeforms all trying to work and live together, pooling resources and knowledge to make it all a home worth living in and fighting for.

Acting as peacebroker and diplomat to make sure people get along, and having to step in when they definitely can’t.

Also the freedom of just being able to go wherever you want. Or at least try to. Sometimes there would be beasties far too strong, and sometimes the thing I was trying to climb just didn’t have enough purchase, but it was always fun to try!

Getting the Skells (mechs that turn into tanks and motorcycles) just increased that enjoyment a lot. Getting the flight module was almost a letdown, since now I could actually go anywhere without any effort. Though that also let me see the truly giant beasts that roamed the land and skies. The scale was literally out of this world.

I hope it gets a Switch port so that people might actually be able to buy and play it. I really want a sequel to this, because there’s still so much mystery to Mira to explore.

They could also fix some of the issues I did have in a sequel. Like it would be nice to save multiple armour sets. Or at the very least be able to set up not just combat armour and cosmetic armour, but also have separate set-ups for when on the ground and in a Skell. That maybe switched automatically went you boarded or exited. Having to manually change my gear was a huge pain.

In my 350+ hours of playing this game, I enjoyed almost every moment of it. I’m not sure if any other singleplayer game can ever match that for me. Even all the time I’ve put into the original Dark Souls hasn’t reached 300 hours.

Actually it’s probably just as well I don’t have a steady supply of games that long. I’m not exactly made of time.

A Healthier Life

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Pokemon Go

I can’t believe I forgot to add Pokemon Go after the impact it’s had on my life. I guess I don’t fully think of it as a game.

Because as a game, it’s not much to talk about. You find pokemon, tap on them, throw balls at them, and collect candies to evolve them. There’s not a lot of depth there, even if they’ve added some stuff since release.

However what it has done is get me to go outside on a regular basis. Like many nerds (for various reasons) I have problems getting myself to go outside a lot. The motivation just isn’t there, and often anxiety wins out over the knowledge that it’s good for me. Pokemon Go changed that.

Suddenly I have a reason to go outside. Something to keep me engaged as I walk. At the start it was basically just exploring all over the city and its outskirts, but now I have a set route of a little over 5 km I walk as often as the weather and health allows.

My stamina has increased, I get less stomachaches, I walk straighter, I’ve lost weight so that clothes I had outgrown now fit again, I have more colour in my skin, I generally just look healthier. It’s a very simple app, yet it’s had a large impact on me.

And I still use it. Even though I live somewhere which means I have to spend money on buying more pokeballs twice a month because there’s not enough pokestops, and I can’t go as often now due to bad winter weather, I still go as often as I can manage.

So it’s really not that the game itself is very good, it’s that it provides just enough motivation to get me going. It’s the little push I needed when nothing else managed to. So you can say it was the most life-changing thing for me in 2016.

And now it’s time to look forward to 2017. Let’s hope it’s a better year than the last one. Off the top of my head I can’t remember what I’m looking forward to except the Switch and Horizon: Zero Dawn, but I’m sure I’ll find stuff.

~Wulf

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Posted on January 3, 2017, in Games and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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