Why wait until the end of the year to rank my favorite games? I want to talk about great games now!
Last year I began doing a mid-year Game of the Year-style list. Since I’m ranking half of the year I only allow myself five games to choose from. All must have released in the first half of 2016. I also include my most anticipated games for the second half of the year.
Last year both my #1 and #2 picks of the mid-year went on to become my #1 and #2 in my final Game of the Year post. Two of the games dropped off to make room for exciting fall releases. It’ll be interesting to see where the games fall this year.
My Top Five Games of the First Half of 2016
I had dabbled with Crusader Kings II but found it overwhelming and borderline impenetrable. Paradox’s Grand Strategy titles always seemed intriguing, but the gameplay a bit too menu-driven and complex. Not to mention the themes a little too dry.
Enter Stellaris, which fixes all my complaints in one fell swoop, creating one of the most intriguing strategy games I’ve played in years. It’s got a great mix of exploration, diplomacy, side quests, and war. The emergent stories that creep up are fantastic, and I love the way all the random alien races are defined by an interesting combination of ethics and governing bodies. The sci-fi theme is fantastic and I’ve lost dozens of hours moving battling star fleets, creating outposts, subjugating uplifted races, and fleeing from ancient star-faring empires.
4) Fire Emblem Fates
I have an embarrassing confession to make. I bought Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest when it first launched in February and I have yet to fully complete it.
I’m about 80% of the way through, but real life just caught up to me and it’s been tricky to find the time. That may be a mark of a disappointing game, but Fire Emblem Fates scratched all the right itches of its 2013 predecessor. The combat updates are a vast improvement, though the story is noticeably weaker. Even an okay Fire Emblem game is still one of the best games of the year!
Blizzard has been on fire in the last few years. Diablo 3, Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, Hearthstone, Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void, and Heroes of the Storm have all graced my Game of the Year lists in their respective years. 2016 is the year of Overwatch.
Overwatch is easily their most accessible game – and they’ve built their entire company over making certain genres popular and accessible. The team-based hero shooter is simple to play yet deep to master, with over 20 unique heroes that all combine and play off each other in interesting ways. This is my go-go online game to play with friends, and very well may climb the charts by my final Game of the Year list.
2) XCOM 2
XCOM 2 was one of my most anticipated games of the year with good reason. I had absolute fallen in love with the first game, spending well over 100 hours in nail-biting tactical playthroughs over the last few years. The sequel is a five star example of how to improve upon a winning formula, adding More Good Things.
I’ve only completed a single run so far, but I spent a total of 60 hours going the extra mile and racking up various achievements. I adore XCOM and XCOM 2 is better in every way. Hopefully I’ll find time to play some more in the latter half of the year.
1) Stardew Valley
Talk about coming out of nowhere. I had no idea this charming farming sim even existed until it launched earlier this Spring. Then it quickly took over my life (and my wife’s).
There’s a unique intangible quality to the pixelated adventure-RPG. It’s just so god damn delightful. The town is like your favorite quaint 16-bit RPG town. The farming mechanics are fun and enjoyable instead of tedious. You can explore a giant dungeon and fight monsters, cook meals, get married, fish, raise livestock, and brew ale.
I’ve spent over nearly 80 hours over the last few months, and my wife has spent even more – making this by far her most played single-player game. We are chomping at the bit for the eventual co-op mode! I don’t know if Stardew Valley will remain #1 at year’s end but so far it’s the game I love the most this year.
My Most Anticipated list has done a damn fine job with its predictions so far. All three games that have released so far on that list made this one.
The biggest shocker is obviously Stardew Valley coming out of nowhere. I love that the gaming industry can utterly surprise me with these fantastic indie titles that make me fall in love with gaming all over again.
The one honorable mention I want to make is Grim Dawn. I’m playing it right now as my backlog adventuring and it’s a pretty great Action-RPG. Very much a spiritual successor to Titan Quest (which I also loved). If I allowed myself a sixth game right now, it would be Grim Dawn.
My Top Five Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2016
Civilization VI was just announced about a month ago. Since Civilization: Beyond Earth has received only one expansion, I was pretty surprised. Yet it’s also been six years since Civilization V, one of my most played games of all time.
It’s Civ, it’s going to be great, and I’m going to play a lot of it. The new City expanding mechanic looks like it’ll do for cities what Civ V’s unstacking did for armies and warfare. This is a Day One Purchase, no question.
Cosmic Star Heroine
It’s been on my Most Anticipated lists for last year and this year, so it would feel wrong to leave it out. This Chrono Trigger-like Kickstarter game Cosmic Star Heroine just recently received a trailer. It still doesn’t have a release date but the PlayStation blog has confirmed a Summer release. This is one of the longer Kickstarter games I’ve had to wait for, and I’m incredibly excited for it.
Dishonored was one of those sleeper games that everyone played later on after it went on sale, me included. We also all discovered a hidden gem, a first-person game that combined BioShock‘s excellent world-building with some Deus Ex stealth combat. The one element lacking was a strong story, and it looks like this sequel will provide that, starting with Emily as a playable character!
No Man’s Sky
What the hell is No Man’s Sky? Nobody seems entirely certain. Sort of a Minecraft/Starbound/spaceship sim? It looks insanely ambitious and may be a bit overhyped, but hell if I’m not incredibly curious. Exploring is one of my favorite things to do in video games, and No Man’s Sky looks like it’ll provide that in spades.
The seventh generation of Pokémon titles were recently announced. We didn’t get a main Pokémon title at all last year, and the year before was a remake of Gen 3. Suffice to say I am very ready to jump back in with the true sequel to Pokémon X/Y, my first and still one of my favorite Nintendo 3DS games. I’ve been a fan of the series since the beginning. Though I’ve wafted in and out of the franchise, I’ve been firmly planted back in since Gen 5. My body is so ready for more Pokémon.