Blizzard’s handling of Overwatch is one of my favorite things in gaming. They have the intimate feel of an indie developer mixed with the resources of a powerful AAA developer/publisher. The willingness to experiment and admit mistakes mixes beautifully with the slickest coat of polish this side of Naughty Dog. It’s how every game should be treated.
Watching pre-release trailers for Battleborn and Overwatch I was struck by how “PC” they looked compared to console shooters. The focus on teamplay and the cartoony/goofy style was a refreshing switch from COD and Battlefield’s grisly realism we had seen since GTA III made other games feel dorky for being fun.
Overwatch delivered on that promise of playable Saturday morning cartoon. The sights and sounds are as enjoyable to drink in as they are useful at delivering useful gameplay information. It shouldn’t be understated how difficult it is to walk the line of providing visual/audial stimulation while avoiding the pitfalls of clutter and distraction.
This wouldn’t count for much if the game didn’t play so well. The controls are intuitive and tight. The mechanics are easy to learn, impressive to master, and also provide a wonderful sandbox of discoverable actions.
The crux of the game is its huge and balanced roster. Which is vitally important for three reasons.
1) The incredible variety allows gamers of various skill levels and interests to find multiple characters they feel useful with. Hardcore FPS players can snipe, while those that can’t aim can enjoy support (that isn’t boring) or just use Bastion 😉
2) Every Hero offers a unique way to deal with a problem and the ability to switch characters mid-round offers a deep layer of strategy that will only grow in time.
3) It prevents fatigue. Sniping with Widowmaker is a vastly different experience than leading the charge with Reinhardt. Even Heroes in the same class (tanks, healers etc) play different enough to provide a fresh experience and avoid burnout.
No perks or progression!
I hate starting an online shooter and losing a duel because my opponent has upgraded their DPS.
I understand many gamers and developers love the addictive nature of “progression” that comes from leveling up countless bars. Play ten more games to get the better gun/sight/ROF/damage/ etc. Personally, I think if you need progression to have a good time then the game is fundamentally flawed.
Overwatch Heroes play the same way the 1st and 10000000000000000000000th time, and I love that. Skill is everything, the way it should be.
If you need the dopamine rush of progression you can fill up your bars and open blind loot boxes that only affect aesthetics. Blizzard did a great job with the pacing of the loot drops and the vibration+fireworks are sure to get your neurons firing the right way. Overwatch’s beautiful balance is retained by the absence of gameplay-affecting upgrades. If you want to feel ‘progression’, progress your skill or go outside and mow the lawn. Both will feel great.
Blizzard refined the team shooter into the feel-good experience of the year. Ridiculous amounts of polish permeate every aspect, from tearing up the waiting room to a post-game summary that only highlights the good.
The great news is that this feels like only the beginning for Blizzard’s FPS masterpiece.
The final Uncharted upped the emotional ante in a surprising way. Naughty Dog forced Nathan Drake to grow up and deal with mundane responsibilities. He had to juggle his love for risky adventure with obligations to loved ones.
The usual set pieces are here, this time with a thrilling vehicle chase that looks straight out of Mad Max. You can also count on inspiring vistas and a new level of performance capture that allows for subtle facial movements to tell their own story.
It fails to take my top spot because so much of this is the Uncharted formula I’ve played before. It’s still a masterpiece, but I wanted to award Overwatch for the new ways it delivered a team shooter. (Those that refer to Overwatch as Team Fortress 2 are probably clawing their eyes out right about now.)
If I had played through DOOM earlier in the year it probably would have taken my #1 spot. Unfortunately I came to the game too late and haven’t yet played enough to wholeheartedly give it the award. (It did win our Best Action)
Even without reaching the end, I can easily say this is my favorite shooter experience in years.
The swagger of this game is remarkable as every element of the game pulls in the same direction. iD Software managed to extract the best parts of DOOM I & II but present them in a way that makes sense in 2016.
The move away from regenerative health is my favorite design choice of the year and I hope it inspires copycats to embrace speed and aggression in their shooters moving forward.
The goofy heavy-metal insanity of DOOM is what modern Duke Nukem would have sold its soul to achieve.
Painstaking craftsmanship, mind-warping themes, and surprisingly exciting platform puzzles make INSIDE a must-play for every gamer. Every scene is worth staring at and there are countless memorable moments jammed into a 3-4 hour game. A worthy winner of our Indie Award but I find it hard to give such a short experience the nod over how much time I’ve spent and will continue to spend with Overwatch.
This game hit me hard. From the opening sequence, the perfect blend of music, visuals, and storytelling enraptured me. I enjoyed a roller coaster of emotions and felt perfectly satisfied with an ending many criticized.
I want more games like this.
Games that function as a platform with continually released content may force us to rethink our games of the year.
Hearthstone easily took the most time from me. I was heavily addicted to the strategies and became obsessed with turn-by-turn analysis of card performance in order to craft the perfect deck. I wrote a piece detailing my obsession, culminating with playing it one handed in the shower. If only for that moment alone, it deserves a place here.
Pulled me in as hard as SNES Harvest Moon but kept me far more interested in exploring relationships and secret areas. I love the design of this game. It feels like every element was thoughtfully fleshed out to a natural conclusion.
It’s rare to see new ideas and Superhot wowed me with a simple twist that transformed an FPS into a puzzle game that creates bad-ass film moments. The sandbox quality ensures fantastic replayability and the cyberpunk storytelling adds a great layer of engagement.
Like DOOM, I hope other publishers copy Titanfall 2‘s clever campaign. Unfortunately, it’s terribly timed release and subsequent poor sales render that unlikely.
I adored this campaign. Dishonored 2 is a clever-ass game but I daresay Titanfall 2 surpasses it in terms of ingenious mechanics.
The movement is a joy and the first-person platforming is intuitive. The campaign is paced brilliantly and although shortish, packs an impressive amount of tricks into its bag while not allowing any element to outstay its welcome.
The biggest compliment I can give is that it feels like a classic PC shooter in terms of originality and execution. Everyone expected a tacked-on Call of Duty solo mission and that would have been perfectly acceptable considering the astounding multiplayer.
The multiplayer sustains the momentum after throwing you from a dropship and never lets up. The titans and pilots offer distinct playstyles and although I occupy the bottom half of the leaderboard, I still have consistent fun and feel exhilarated nearly every time I play.