Best 5, Worst 5, of 2016

This article could be a video instead. Maybe next year I’ll do that but I’m already behind on stuff for the channel and I don’t know if a Top 5 List is a good fit next to my other videos. Regardless I think it might be fun to look back through the year and take part in this sort of ritual that many sites and reviewers do.

I think the best way to go about this sort of thing is to make it clear that I didn’t play every game that came out this year. I also want to say that I won’t be including games that were new for ME, but didn’t release in 2016. If I did include them, then Bloodborne would be at the top of the Best Games list. SOMA would be on there too for its story alone. Major expansions and DLC for current games do qualify in my opinion, but they still don’t fill many slots on these lists. Early Access games do NOT qualify.

 

Top Five Best Games

#5 – The Witness

I loved this game as much as I hated it, and I think it’s mildly unfortunate that so many comments I get on my video on the game say that it convinced them it’s a bad game. It is, in many ways, an incredible experience. Most of the puzzle sections on the island are worth your time and attention—especially those that use the island’s environment in order to solve them. The mazes in the castle as the strongest example that springs to mind. But it’s the many shifts in perspective I went through as I played the game to the end that have stuck with me. And the benevolently haunted island that I was left to explore how ever I wanted, without any condescending prodding from the game that I wasn’t playing it right.

 

#4 – Stardew Valley

This was like a vacation from the usual stuff I play, and it’s proof that a game doesn’t have to be intensely challenging or mechanically deep for me to enjoy it. Progression systems have their own, occasionally dastardly ways of enthralling players for days worth of playtime. Stardew, while definitely addictive, managed to capture me without empty number loops; it is not a reskin of Cookie Clicker, which is not something every game can say. I remember how impressed I was with how the many progression paths—fishing, farming, mining, combat, foraging, etc—were linked and fed into each other. But it was the quite frankly supernatural attention to detail that the lone guy who made this game managed to achieve that still sticks out for me. The changing art for each season, each holiday, the events tied to each character in the town, the secrets, and the sheer amount of content that really did not need to be in the game for it to be a complete experience. And yet it was lovingly added all the same.

Stardew Valley is one of the few games I played this year that I would like to play again, just for myself. Not for the channel.

 

#3 – Enter the Gungeon

Here we come to the only game on these lists that I haven’t done a video on. I probably will eventually. It’s also the game I started playing recently. It was a Christmas present.

Despite that, it’s already won me over. Its short play sessions are great for when I can’t commit a lot of time for something, but I can still squeeze in some Gungeoneering. Binding of Isaac never grabbed me the way this game has, probably because the core gameplay is too simple. Gungeon only adds a little bit more with a dodge roll, reload function, and some more complicated rooms and enemy types (which, I admit, may now exist in Binding of Isaac’s latest expansion). The other comparison to draw is Spelunky, which I played a lot but can’t say that I loved it. I thought the game relished in killing me in lightning quick ways a bit too often. Whereas Gungeon, while still very challenging, has never crossed that line to sadistic.

I’ve only beaten it twice. I have a lot more to do and see, but what I have done so far has been wonderful. Great core gameplay, good loot progression and unlocks, and I love the puns.

 

#2 – Dark Souls 3

Probably not a surprise to anyone that this is up here. It may bring the least amount of new ideas to the series if you’re including DLC as you look back, but the foundation in these games is so god damn good that it doesn’t really matter. It’s still better than almost everything else out there.

Dark Souls 3 is the most consistently good game in the series as I see it. There are no terrible levels—save for some questionable connecting corridors and bonfires—and the bosses actually get harder toward the end this time! Returning to the estus flask healing system was a great decision and, like The Dude’s rug, really tied everything together… man. It may sound like blasphemy to a few of you, but some days this third entry is my favorite of the Souls-Title games.

It doesn’t quite knock off Bloodborne as my favorite overall though. I’m hoping the second DLC for the game will challenge that.

 

#1 – Furi

It’s rare that a game hooks me as quickly and deeply as much as this one did. Even with games I eventually love, there’s often an awkward fumbling phase to start. Not just in learning what the buttons do or how to unhook a bra, but understanding how everything in the game is meant to come together. Or, failing that, finding a happy point of balance in the middle of everything the game has to offer.

Furi clicked with me in my first attempt of the first fight, and that was me lost to it until I beat it on hard. Which isn’t meant to come across as the usual prowess-peacocking that a lot of difficult games engender—the challenge in Furi is a fundamental part of the experience. As I said in my video review, I firmly believe that Furi mode is training for Furier, and that this loop through two playthroughs is meant to flow naturally from one difficulty to the next. Equally important, however, is that the game wants you to beat it even with all the challenges it presents you.

The game has great depth in its player options—two different attacks, dash, parry, and charged versions of all of them—and how you can respond to boss patterns. It’s rarely purely about memorization and timing; it rewards creative exploitation of openings and testing for vulnerabilities in those patterns, not just responding to them in the same standard way every time.

The game could be longer. There could be a few more bosses and some more moves for the player to use. But in its current form it’s a refined experience that took me completely by surprise for how much I enjoyed it. Not to mention its soundtrack, which I still listen to almost every day.

 

Honorable Mentions

Doom – Got the game when it first came out intending to do a video on it. Didn’t have enough time between other videos. Only played it for a few hours. Loved what I saw. Can’t comment more than that until I play some more.

WoW: Legion – World of Warcraft is still brimming with questionable design decisions and I am not-so-secretly happy that being a parent means I have a living, breathing reason to never raid again. But I can’t ignore that, after Warlords of Draenor, it’s clear Blizzard really gave a shit this time around and put some effort into it. Lots of content. The artifacts are cool. World quests sort of suck.

Owlboy – I really enjoyed this game even though deep down I feel like I should hate it. Nostalgia can hit hard. I hope I have time to do a quick video on it in January after The Last Guardian.

 

Top Five Worst Games

Or…
Bottom Five Worst Games?
What’s correct here?

 

#5 – The Witness

Yep it’s on both lists.

Despite the genuinely staggering beauty found in The Witness, and the interspersed flashes of genius in its puzzles and environmental secrets, there is a rich vein of frustration and contempt for its audience. I have so much respect for Jonathan Blow and I think that shows in the video I made in response to the game—where I grasp for any reason, even a conspiratorial one, that explains how much this game wastes your time after specifically promising that it won’t. The weak movement speed, filler puzzle panels, bloated video clips, and extending platforms that move so slowly it feels like it was done on purpose as some sick joke.

That the game has some of the worst design decisions I encountered this year, sitting pretty and bright next to some of the BEST, is something I still have trouble reconciling today.

 

#4 – INSIDE

Now before you say I’m putting this on the list because I don’t understand why so many other people love it so much (you’re right, I don’t), let me say that INSIDE is not a bad game. It doesn’t really fit with the other games on this list but that goes to show how few bad games I played this year. The only other candidate for this slot is The Last Guardian and, after thinking about it for at least two minutes, I’m confident that I found more to enjoy in that game than this one. I would say the exact same thing for that game too if it was here: not a terrible game. I just didn’t play a lot of bad games.

INSIDE’s two biggest failings for me were its story that was so light on details that I’m convinced not even Playdead has the answers to the questions it creates, and that it was boring. The puzzles were rarely interesting. And it would be worthy of a spot on this list afterall if it weren’t for the final 10 minutes that brings up the experience—for grin-inducing shock value if nothing else.

Despite what I said at the beginning of this one, I am happy that so many people enjoyed this game. I wish I could see what they do in it because clearly I missed out on something special here. Although some might say the same for the game on this list.

 

#3 – Darkest Dungeon

I’m getting so sick of randomness being used to build entire games instead of being ways to enhance carefully crafted mechanics. I admit Darkest Dungeon doesn’t quite go that far with its randomness but the game is still drowning in it. One of the biggest crimes its dungeon generator tool commits is, despite that randomness, every result it spits out is functionally identical anyway. Boring, bland, corridor simulation.

I enjoyed my first ten hours with this game and then hated every minute after that. I’m honestly too embarrassed to tell you how many hours I felt like I was losing my mind as I trudged through Darkest Dungeon’s endgame grind to finish for the video review. Losing progress to bad dice rolls, random enemy spawns, critical strikes… all to encourage safe, tedious, and monotonous strategies to reduce the chances of setbacks that can be measured in hours.

I’ve heard the game is a lot better now after several patches. But I have no intention of playing this game a second time. I never thought another game would make me more miserable to complete than this one did. But then the next game on this list came along…

 

#2 – No Man’s Sky

This deserves to be #1 but I’m cheating. You’ll understand when you get there. I hope.

No Man’s Sky is the only truly awful game on this list. Even if you had fun with it, the numerous ways that the game is broken can’t really be seen as anything but bad. And I’m not even talking about the bugs here—the gameplay itself is close to non-functional all on its own. It may take a few planets or a few hours to realize it, but all there is to do in No Man’s Sky is to hope the next world you land on is visually interesting. Which it often isn’t. Even then there’s only so much procedurally generated beauty that can be found in the meager amount of variables the game has to work with. I was seeing repetition in the first play session I had with the game.

The more time passes the more I think the game’s price was the biggest mistake made for No Man’s Sky. From what I’ve read it was Hello Games that decided to charge $60, not Sony, but I don’t know if that’s true. Either way it proves what can happen when hype and greed mix like toothpaste and vodka. Hello Games probably got the money they wanted. I just hope that gamers learned a lesson with this one.

 

#1 – Hearthstone

This game received several major expansions this year and qualifies for this list because of that. It’s number ONE because, even though it isn’t worse than No Man’s Sky, Blizzard should be so much better than this. In that sense, it is relatively worse than any other game I played this year by a massive margin.

Hearthstone has gotten even worse since I did my video on it last year. It’s a game I fire up and play once every 3 months or so to see if things have changed and finally gotten better. I keep my eye on it for a lot of reasons: to keep track of new changes, I might do another video on it one day, and most importantly I want the game to be good. I want to like this game. It has so much potential.

Instead of fixing problems in the game, Blizzard has fully committed to milking their players for as much money as possible, while doing the least amount of work possible. Expansions and adventure releases are dropping in quality, but the far more damning evidence of this are the optional cash grabs that feel like they crop up every month or so. An alternate portrait for heroes, heroic tavern brawl, a promotional set of cards. Without a word of exaggeration: more effort goes into these real money purchases than updates and patches to the game.

The mobile client is still a bloated mess. There are inconsistent rules and card descriptions still in the game more than a year after being acknowledged by Blizzard as something they want to fix. Earlier in the year half of the card pool was removed from the new standard format to promote new, creative decks when new expansions came out. In reality this led to people having to spend more money to stay relevant with new cards which ended up being repeated concepts from the cards that were just removed. There’s still so much filler and “bad cards” being added to this new pool. And unbalanced cards remain in the game unless the Hearthstone community stirs up enough of a riot for Blizzard to respond. Even then, their decisions are questionable at best with some classes staying on top for months at a time, while others barely see play.

Matches themselves are in the worst place I have ever seen them. Playing on curve is more important than ever and has led to a more frustrating time than I had when I played the game for the video last November. It’s so bad that I wonder if Hearthstone is some sort of experiment by Blizzard to see how much money they can make while providing the least amount of support for the team behind the game, or if one of the project leaders is obsessed with keeping the profit to cost ratio at a fraction of every other team at Blizzard.

Or maybe it’s their intention that the game is a random slot machine where the coin flips over and over again after inserting it. Because Hearthstone today is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a multiplayer game that’s full on masturbation. Because the game plays its fucking self.

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4 thoughts on “Best 5, Worst 5, of 2016

  1. cool read, i especially like what you wrote on hearthstone, it completely describes my feelings toward the game. the best thing that came out of that game for me, was the link to your HS video which got me subscribed. keep making awesome content and i wish you a happy new year!

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  2. I fell that some your points are bad. From 3 expansions of this year – Whispers of the Old Gods and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan had good inpact on the game. One Night in Karazhan was probably rushed and was disapointing.

    Curvestone will probably always be part of the game. Being mana efficient is simply to good to don’t be considered. If playing on curve was very weak all deck would be a control decks.
    Playing in control mirror takes ages ~ 20-40min. And huge part of winrate will be decided simply by who’s deck is more “greedy” ( in simplify has a bigger number of late game cards) or having some good rng.

    Probably to ends days of Hearstone there be a aggro decks that will be live on winning matches versus control deck that are simply to slow stop damage bleeding. And aggro deck will be outvalue by midrange deck that have similar minions on start of the game and have much better late game.
    And that midrage decks will loose to late games of control decks.
    That is circle of life in Heartstone and it will be forever. Sometime will be some exception in form of combo decks but Blizzard usually nerf it after half year.

    “It’s so bad that I wonder if Hearthstone is some sort of experiment by Blizzard to see how much money they can make while providing the least amount of support for the team behind the game, or if one of the project leaders is obsessed with keeping the profit to cost ratio at a fraction of every other team at Blizzard.

    No – this is strictly free to play norm. That is point of this business model. And you probably don’t play heroes of the storm or didn’t try to get all skins in overwatch. “bad cards” in new cards are mostly to balance economy and balance effect with summoning random minions.

    New format was needed. You simply can’t adding new cards infinitely and want everthing to be somewhat balance.
    In example – after one year in HS were 500 cards. After 3 years over 1200 cards. After next 3 years will be over 2000 cards. Let’s make assumption- in first year designing and testing card took 30 hours.
    After 3 years you must design and test a new card in environment that is over bigger so it will take more time. So it would take 60 hours if assumption of linear growth. So simply making new to forever growing card pool is economically unprofitable or super unbalance and making balance changes would take forever.

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  3. Hey Joseph, if you liked Doom I would recommend checking out Titanfall 2. It’s a sleeper in terms of popularity, since it was released alongside several huge names (Battlefield 1, COD IW) to compete, but I think it’s a fantastic shooter worth playing. I hear the campaign is good too, something which modern FPSes usually fail at. Would love to hear your take on the game (in the form of a video of course). Keep up the great work!

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