The votes have been counted; the verdict is in. Here is Gamereactor UK's top ten games of 2016.
10. You'd be mistaken for thinking that Stardew Valley was just another farming simulator, much like Harvest Moon, but trust us, it's so much more than that. Stardew Valley surprised us by taking what made so many other games great, and fusing them all together to create this simple game that was neither too closed nor too open. There was a lot to explore, but it was all fun, with easter eggs hidden everywhere, and a whole world to see (although town is often where you'll want to visit).
It was this variety of stuff to do that really made Stardew Valley feel alive, as you could talk to the characters, which all had detailed backstories, do some cooking, farming, exploring, bartering, riding, and so much more. There's even dinosaurs, and if you're not sold by that then what more do you want? It borders on being an RPG at times with all that it offers, including combat and the ability to build and upgrade your skills, and that's a big reason why we think of it as one of the top games of this year.
9. Civilization VI was released back in October, and there were a lot of changes in comparison to other entries in the series, but Firaxis Games did a great job with the changes they made, the most notable of which being the visual style. With tweaks like improved character animations, a more colourful presentation and a watercolour art style, the game looked better than ever.
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More importantly, though, it played better than ever. Districts were a fine addition to the formula, increasing the tactical choices you had when building things like wonders, and the agendas of world leaders also meant that each game of Civilization worked differently to the last, with leaders constantly at odds with the goals of the others. Basically, these were bold steps, but steps in the right direction, making Civilization VI a great 4X strategy game.
8. Watch Dogs 2 had nowhere near the same level of hype as its predecessor when it was unveiled back in June, and that's mostly because of the divisiveness of the first game. Many felt the original lacked character, and didn't live up to the potential first seen during its initial reveal, but Watch Dogs 2 changed all that, taking feedback on board and pumping the series full of life, making it much more enjoyable than the first. The result was a game bursting with colour, eccentricity, and style, and it never went over-the-top the other way, as some feared it might have done.
Above all, hacking was now a great gameplay mechanic rather than a missed opportunity. There were so many options regarding how you used technology in the world, from making phones ring to moving cranes around, and everything in between. Add to that quadcopters, RC cars, hacking puzzles, and a whole load of gadgets and weaponry, and you have yourself a deep open-world adventure that offers a lot to see and do. There's even multiplayer, so you can join a whole community of hackers ready to take on San Francisco.
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7. People loved the original Doom because it did action so damn well, and its the same spirit that this year's Doom has flowing through its veins, this thanks to relentless pacing and brutal action. Whether you're punching a demon in the face or blowing enemies apart with a shotgun, it's high-octane all the time, and we just couldn't help but feel nostalgic when we played it, despite the many innovations and revisions that bring it inline with more modern expectations.
Visually it boasts extremely polished graphics, and performance-wise it's equally impressive. Considering the heritage of the studio, this is hardly a surprise, but it's impressive nonetheless. Environments are detailed, as are the enemies when you snap them in half. On the audio side of things it works just as well, as the intense music nicely compliments the gunplay, raising and lowering as the action heats up or dies down. When it does heat up, the pumping soundtrack fits perfectly with the gore and violence splattering around you.
As if that wasn't enough, SnapMap and multiplayer round off Doom's offering, the former of which allows creative minds to make their own maps and share them with others (a feature that has already led to a whole load of impressive creations), the latter comprising of an increasingly expansive and polished collection of maps and modes. In short, all of this works to pump life not only back into the Doom series, but into the FPS genre as a whole, and for that we applaud it.
6. To say Final Fantasy XV had a long and rather tumultuous development cycle would be an understatement, however, at long last Final Fantasy XV was released this year, and what a game it was. It aimed to be different from previous games in the series by having "fantasy based on reality", featuring Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto as a group of friends with a refreshingly convincing relationship.
The major difference with Final Fantasy XV was that it featured real-time combat, which is a first for a mainline entry. Gone was the traditional turn-based setup and in came a new combat system that was more action oriented. Of course some old-school fans were upset by the changing of the guard, but Final Fantasy XV's combat is fun, engaging, and surprisingly deep. Enemies are weak to certain weapons and elements, and team attacks and techniques are essential for success during the more difficult battles.
The vast, diverse, and beautiful world of Eos was just as deep as the combat. There's the desert of Leide, the grasslands of Duscae, and the hustle and bustle of Lestallum, just to name a few areas. There are also a number of things to do in this world (fishing, anyone?) and a varied selection of side quests and dungeons to explore. The world, then, complimented the great new combat and protagonists, and all of this worked together to create a fantastic experience for newcomers and existing fans alike.
5. As April rolled around, so too did Dark Souls III, a game which built upon the successes of the original Dark Souls and Bloodborne and fused them together to create an experience that reflected what was great about both. Lothric offered a world that was not only true Dark Souls in the sense that it was hauntingly mysterious, but it was also incredibly punishing, and as any Dark Souls fan can tell you, that's the true spirit of the series.
The theme of Dark Souls III was embers and flames, and construction of this throughout was magnificent. From the little sparks that showed under your character's armour, to the ash that surrounded the central bonfire, the whole game was beautifully crafted and, despite being a touch more linear than other titles, the level design matched this beauty, being filled with the same twisted monsters as in previous entries, not to mention huge devastating bosses that made it their personal mission to destroy you.
The expansion Ashes of Ariandel only strengthened the game by introducing even more luscious worlds for you to take in. Not only this, but PvP was also thrown into the mix as well, meaning you could turn your hobby of invading other player's games into an actual activity where you compete against others in an arena. Although the expansion didn't quite reach the heights of the base game, it did bolster what was already an enjoyable experience, cementing Dark Souls III as one of the best games of 2016.
FromSoftware is leaving Dark Souls behind as the studio looks to new horizons, and with that in mind we think this trilogy closer is a fitting conclusion to one of the finest, most ruthlessly brilliant action-RPG series of all time. What the studio does next is anyone's guess, but we can't wait to find out.
4. Inside reminded us a lot of Limbo when it came out this year, and that's a good thing, because we adored Playdead's last game. Just like Limbo, Inside was dark and mysterious, and revolved around 2D platforming that was neither too easy nor too challenging. Difficulty wasn't the goal here, but instead it was about the journey, and what a journey that was.
Set in a dystopian future full of menacing spotlights and faceless masses, Inside has very little in the way or narrative or even dialogue to go on, but that's the beauty of it. Even without the trimmings that usually guide us through similar adventures, it still managed to captivate us. In fact, sometimes it's about what's not said, and instead of being spoon-fed a story, you have to come to your own conclusions about events, your curiosity being the very thing that keeps you moving forward; after all, the world around you is extremely mysterious and open to interpretation.
While gameplay doesn't stray too far from what we saw in Limbo, the atmosphere Inside offers is certainly its own. There's a constant feeling of threat in the air, complimented brilliantly by the bright whites of the spotlights that cast the shadows that you're forced to hide in. This stellar use of darkness worked very well, and we'd struggle to name a game that was able to evoke so much emotion while at the same time saying so little.
Playdead has crafted a puzzle-platformer here that will stand as many people's game of the year, such is the quality of its execution. Simple and subtle in equal measure, Inside also boasts great depth, imagination and heart, and it's a game that we very much enjoyed playing through. Short it may have been, but it's also oh so sweet. It's a stunning video game and a memorable experience that you shouldn't miss out on.
3. We had Dishonored 2 down as a potential game of the year, and it didn't disappoint. The fact that it only made third place stands as a testament to the overall quality of the games released this year. But don't be fooled by its lowly top ten placing, Dishonored 2 is an incredible video game that offers so much to any player that's willing to explore its many possibilities.
First up we'd like to lavish praise on the art direction of the game, which for our money was second to none this year. There's artistry to be found in every nook and cranny of the world, from brilliantly designed buildings through to the macabre enemies that you'll encounter on your way. Even the pictures hanging on the walls of the many buildings you slink through are thoughtfully and brilliantly done.
In some cases beauty can be skin deep, but not here. The two playable characters - Corvo and Emily - each offer vastly different playing experiences thanks to unique abilities that had a very real impact on how you approached each challenge you encountered in the world. To get the full of measure of Dishonored 2's quality it needs to be played through twice, seeing each level through a different set of eyes, and interacting with the levels via different magical abilities.
The overall level design was best in class, thanks to some superb sandbox areas that players were free to explore as they progressed. Heading off the beaten path is to be encouraged, and this is one of those games where you'll want to explore everything single room of every building if you're to get the most of the experience.
Perhaps the only thing holding it back from a slightly higher podium finish is the story. It's good, we've no complaints on that front, but it doesn't stray too far from the themes first explored in the brilliant original, and perhaps it could have been given a little bit more room to grow. But with criticisms like that we're picking holes in an otherwise brilliant game. Dishonored 2 rewards experimentation and ambition in a way so few manage, and thanks to a series of brilliantly interlocking systems, there's so many possibilities open to the player.
2. The Uncharted series has always been consistently good, and so has developer Naughty Dog, who quietly and confidently deliver hit after hit. Building on the brilliance of The Last of Us, we weren't all that surprised then when it turned out that Uncharted 4: A Thief's End was yet another show-stopping classic. It's an amazing entry into the already glossy Uncharted series, but we were nevertheless blown away by the quality it showed throughout.
Developer Naughty Dog is known for creating extremely detailed and very realistic looking visuals, and with Uncharted 4 they turned up the visual quality to 11. A Thief's End hasn't just got the best graphics we've seen in a PS4 game to date, but some of the best we've seen in a game overall. Character models look more real than ever before, especially those of the main characters, with each one brought to life thanks to a dizzying level of detail. The locations look wonderful, vibrant and exotic, with everything from realistically animated foliage through to heart pounding set-pieces that unfold from behind the wheel.
The gameplay has been refined and gunplay has been tightened and improved to provide the best experience in the series so far. Guns have a bit more weight to them now and the recoil is more realistic too, although there's also an emphasis on stealth in Uncharted 4. We've seen it in previous Uncharted games and it hasn't worked brilliantly, but Uncharted 4 does it rather well. Naughty Dog seem have taken what they learned from The Last of Us and applied their knowledge to Uncharted 4, and the result is intuitive and accessible stealth. The game also has multiplayer which is quite a bit of fun, especially when played with friends, with players swinging between platforms while playing as customisable characters drawn from the solo campaign.
It's Uncharted 4's story that steals the show, though, and in it we get to see more of Nathan Drake's past; the additional insight being something that fans of the series have long been asking for. The main story primarily focuses on Nathan Drake after his brother, Sam, shows up out of the blue. Series regulars show up and do their bit to help add depth to the game's story, and of course help the Drake brothers on their adventure. The story that plays out is deep, emotional, well-written, and well thought out. Despite it having a more serious tone than its predecessors, the clever and witty humour that the series is known for is still there, this time adding more depth to the cast of characters. A Thief's End is a fitting title, and it serves as an equally fitting conclusion to one of the best series in gaming.
1. What more can be said about Overwatch that hasn't been said already? Despite only being out for just over half a year, Blizzard's multiplayer launched to plenty of fanfare, with fans loving the combination of MOBA-like heroes and first-person shooter staples. This, merged with a unique and colourful art style, meant Overwatch set itself apart from the opposition.
A big part of the appeal of Overwatch is the heroes. Despite not having a campaign to flesh out the story or give characters additional detail, each character in Overwatch has a distinct personality, and this is created through a mixture of excellent visual design and funny, lovable voice work. When you talk to anyone about Overwatch, they always talk about their personal favourites, and Blizzard has been pushing this further by releasing comics, artwork, and more to give the characters even more depth.
Each hero is just as unique in terms of gameplay too, being split into four distinct categories, and no two characters are the same. Everyone has their 'main', whether you like tank, support, offence, or defence. This is also being constantly improved, added to, and balanced by Blizzard, ensuring that each hero has a fighting chance in the battle, which is also achieved through skill matching, keeping things fun and fair for all players across both casual and competitive playlists.
Exemplary visual and audio design is just the icing on the cake, and canny players can read the battle thanks to subtle but well-placed cues for each character. This easy to play yet hard to master gameplay has quickly turned Overwatch into a competitive game, and with Blizzard's backing there's no reason why this can't be a mainstay on the esports scene for years to come. The structure of the matchmaking and the way it encourages players to work together means that it's a great fit for esports, and almost all players find themselves getting sucked into the competitive side in one way or another.
Colourful and nicely designed graphics have also helped turn this accessible shooter into an iconic phenomenon, a game that people love to emulate the world over. All across the internet you can find cosplayers, artwork, merchandise and more, all riffing on the distinct, almost cartoon-like style that Overwatch nails, much like other titles from Blizzard such as Hearthstone and World of Warcraft.
As if all this wasn't enough, Blizzard has made clear that they are nowhere near finished with Overwatch yet. More content is always being added - Sombra being a recent addition to the roster of heroes - and Blizzard are always working on more. In fact, the developer has just revealed that a brand new map should be coming early next year, as well as a new hero, and no doubt there'll be more thereafter. It's this commitment to keeping the game fun and fresh that keeps fans loyal and coming back for more.
Overwatch has it all, and in terms of multiplayer experiences you can't beat it this year. It's practically taken over the world, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who has played it and didn't revel in the unique experience it offers. In short, it's a hugely enjoyable shooter that has helped breathe fresh air into the genre. And in a year that has seen fantastic shooters in the form of Battlefield 1, Doom, Titanfall 2, Call of Duty: Infinity Warfare, Killing Floor 2, and Superhot, to say that Overwatch is head and shoulders above them all says something of its overall quality. This is our Game of the Year for 2016, and what a worthy winner it is too.