DICE started 2016 by supporting Star Wars Battlefront, their release from last year that still had content coming. The Outer Rim, Bespin, and Death Star DLCs all released this year, along with Rogue One: Scarif to accompany the release of the spin-off film, and so their hands were full with developing and testing those.
In May, however, they announced that they were working on Battlefield 1, another shooter, but this time the theme wasn't Star Wars, it was WW1, a setting that came as a surprise since it has never been particularly well represented in video games. People were keen to see what DICE were going to produce, and they impressed when October rolled around and Battlefield 1 released.
Not only this, but DICE and EA also committed to building a competitive platform around the game, ensuring its longevity. There have been livestreams, Battlefest events, custom games, and more rolled out to try and get the community on board, who have taken to it well.
Oh, and they released Mirror's Edge Catalyst this year as well, and while not a runaway success it was nice to see DICE focus on a smaller project, and pull it off after having worked exclusively on shooters for many years, once again proving their versatility.
We've included DICE as third on this list then because they simply haven't stopped, always having releases whether it's been in the form of expansions or big releases, and the work won't stop any time soon, as a Battlefront sequel is scheduled, and more content will no doubt be put into Battlefield 1 next year too.
Blizzard is a colossal company who consistently manage to bring out top-quality releases year on year, and 2016 has been one of their biggest years yet. Overwatch, the latest game from the developer, was released to massive success, but that doesn't mean that's all they've been doing this year, as they've managed to provide content for each and every one of their games.
Blizzard's biggest game over the last decade, World of Warcraft, got its latest expansion a few months back, and fans of the MMO are pleased, touting Legion as one of the best expansions released for the game to date. On top of this, Blizzard has been constantly releasing world bosses and new content on a weekly basis, meaning players are staying hooked to the game and never running out of things to do.
Hearthstone saw a big year as well. Major format changes were introduced early in the year with a standard mode, along with a new expansion named Whispers of the Old Gods. This would've been enough for us, but One Night in Karazhan, a solo adventure, was also revealed. Then earlier this month we saw the year's second expansion, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, making 2016 a major year for the card battler.
Blizzard's other IPs, Heroes of the Storm, Starcraft 2, and Diablo 3 also received new content, but to a lesser extent, although all of these were updated and tweaked. You don't see many companies as big as Blizzard managing to juggle regular content between so many games, but as a developer that truly cares about the games they make, Blizzard Entertainment is one of the best there is.
Firaxis has come in at number one on our list because they've produced not one, but two amazing strategy games, both of which are huge in scope and possibility - which is no small feat these days. The first of these is Xcom 2, released in February, which is an incredibly good sequel to Xcom: Enemy Unknown. As you can tell from our review, we liked it, a lot.
Xcom 2 is nothing short of a masterpiece, adding new features to make a good game even more exciting. It didn't matter that at points it felt a tiny bit unpolished, because overall it added so many new features that all worked, and we couldn't help but love it. Customisation was possibly the best feature, as you could really personalise your characters and experience the way you wanted, and who doesn't love that?
Then in October Firaxis released another sequel, this time for the Civilization series, and again they were successful. The new art style was a breath of fresh air for the series, and each leader now had even more flair and personality than in previous instalments. The 4X game was made deeper, more accessible, and tweaks like city states and districts were welcome changes that improved and changed the overall experience.
These two releases together demonstrate that Firaxis cares deeply about the quality of their releases, and consistent updates to both since launch only reinforce that. Two great games, with well-thought and welcomed improvements from their predecessors, meant that we had to give Firaxis the top spot and make them our studio of 2016.