I played a lot of games in 2016, and as someone who loves strategy titles, it was a very good year. So drawing a line in the sand like this is always tough.
Ah, who am I kidding, half the fun of these end of year lists is pitting your favourite (and often entirely unrelated) pieces of electronic entertainment against each other in a bloody cage fight. The more good games there are to pick from, the harder these decisions are to make, the more fun the list ends up being.
Despite my status as “Kotaku’s guy who reviews PC strategy games so nobody else has to”, I played and enjoyed a lot of stuff in 2016, from sports games to shooters. And at the end of it all, in no particular order, here are the ten I enjoyed the most.
HEARTS OF IRON IV
I couldn’t get into Hearts of Iron III, yet Hearts of Iron IV absolutely consumed my 2016. It still suffers from Paradoxitis, in that there must be a better way to arrange its buttons and menus, but once tamed is absolutely breathtaking with its possibilities and control. You are fighting the entire Second World War here: from weapon design to production lines to army movement to diplomacy. It’s suffocating how good this game is.
Didn’t really do much but tighten some loose bolts, streamline some progressions and clean up after Spike Lee’s mess, but that was all this series needed. Despite FIFA’s best attempts this is still easily the premiere singleplayer sports game experience in video games.
THE WITCHER 3: BLOOD & WINE
Ending aside, this is easily the weakest content out of the entire Witcher 3 saga, with a main storyline that drags and doesn’t really deliver much pop until a certain transportation to another world and its choice-laden finale. Yet it still comfortably makes this list. God bless you, Witcher 3.
I was expecting a good video game, duh, but after Civ V’s initial missteps I was wary of Civ VI being this good right out the blocks. But it really is this good. The art is delicious, and the new district system is a masterstroke.
Forget all the bad bits (ungh, Scotland). Uncharted 4's ending didn’t just make it one of 2016's best games, it salvaged the reputation of an entire series.
THE BANNER SAGA 2
After not really feeling the first Banner Saga, everything came together for me in the sequel, with better writing and some tweaks to the battle system resulting in the only 2016 video game that I played all the way through twice. And I’ve worked to its soundtrack almost every week since.
HOMEWORLD: DESERTS OF KHARAK
Absolutely nails the tone and feel of the original Homeworld games, while also managing to make combat control feel similar as well, even though this game was practically 2D and starred desert tanks, not spaceships. About as perfect as video game prequels can get.
My colleagues will tell you I was very down on XCOM 2 in the lead-up to its release. I wasn’t feeling the approach it was taking, and thought its “stealth” introductions sounded naff. Joke’s on me, because they were amazing, and really rounded off XCOM’s own brutal take on turn-based tactics.
This is why people wanted a campaign with the first game. Because everyone figured, hey, a game where I can blast around on foot like a Nintendo platformer and also climb into a giant war machine sounds like fun if you could just plod around a campaign doing it instead of having to worry about shooting other humans. And real talk: I enjoyed my relationship with BT more than Trico’s in The Last Guardian.
Me in 2015: I hate multiplayer shooters, they’re stressful and too reliant on a meta and me practicing which I don’t have time for and everyone just acts like an asshole.
Me in 2016: Mercy speaks to me on a very personal level.