We’re In a Golden Age of Space Strategy Games [Pixelkin]

Read the full article on Pixelkin

Not long ago the strategy genre was struggling when it came to the final frontier. Fans of endlessly replayable strategy games and galactic empires frequently cite 1996’s Master of Orion II as the pinnacle of the sub-genre. Nearly two decades have gone by without much competition.

Fast-forward to 2017 and suddenly we have a myriad of excellent space games all vying for your star-faring gaze.

Between 2015’s Galactic Civilizations III, last year’s Stellaris, and the recently released Endless Space 2, I’m officially declaring it the Golden Age of Space Strategy Games. But which one is right for you, O Conquistador of the Cosmos?

Read the full article on Pixelkin

My Top Ten Games of 2016: Full List and Awards

Ten days of counting down (or counting up I suppose) my Top Ten Games of the Year has lead to this. This is my full year-end post in which I recap my Top Ten 2016 list, compare to previous lists, give out some personal awards and dubious honors, and wax poetic about the year in my gaming life.

Refresh on my previous gaming years:

I think I speak for most folks when I declare 2016 to have been a pretty awful fucking year. The UK voted to withdraw from the European Union, the US voted to put a racist, misogynistic idiot in the White House, and we lost numerous beloved celebrities and artists.

The world seems to be growing more divisive and cruel with each passing month. Yet gaming, despite numerous road blocks, seems to be evolving.

Last year was marked by a bunch of AAA games that fell flat (which won my Worst Industry Trend Award). This year my Top Ten list is dominated by successful sequels and follow-ups. Indie gaming becomes an even more nebulous, but robust category. Kickstarter is not quite as prevalent, yet Fig finds success. Nintendo officially announced their newest console, the Nintendo Switch, while Sony and Microsoft offer incremental upgrades that provide 4K resolution.

20-nintendo-switch

For another year I resisted the lure of the big consoles, sticking to some PC upgrades and my waning Wii U. After a lull last year I did get a ton of playtime out of my Nintendo 3DS, with a few making my Game of the Year list.

I played less games overall – thanks in large part to selling our old house and moving to a new one over the Summer. But many games I played I sunk well over 50 hours into, with my online game-time dominated by one of my favorite games of the year from last year.

Before I recap my Top Ten 2016 list we have some fun comparisons to make: My Top Ten Most Anticipated list, published back in January, and My Top Five Most Anticipated games of the second half of the year, published in July.

Here was my predicted Top Ten as of January 2016:

  1. Mass Effect Andromeda
  2. “Zelda Wii U”
  3. XCOM 2
  4. Divinity: Original Sin 2
  5. Overwatch
  6. Torment: Tides of Numenera
  7. Fire Emblem Fates
  8. Cosmic Star Heroine
  9. No Man’s Sky
  10. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Hooh boy. I lamented that I didn’t do a great job last year, but I seem to be trending downward in my predict-abilities.

xcom2 announcement

Out of those ten games, five of them wouldn’t even release this year. Mass Effect and Zelda were both long shots, and both are expected to release in the first half of 2016. They’ll roll over to 2017’s Most Anticipated list and I’ll feel much more confident about it (though it’ll make Zelda’s third appearance on that list!).

Likewise Torment and Divinity both just missed releasing this year, and should also release early next year (Torment has a Feb release date). I believe it’s the same for Cosmic Star Heroine, which has frustratingly been on my Most Anticipated lists two years running. Gimme!

That leaves us with five games. Deus Ex I literally just bought on the Steam Winter Sale, and haven’t played it yet. I did play the other four, and three of them made my end of the year list (you can probably guess the odd man out, which you’ll find in another category). That’s actually better than last year, when only two games made the final list.

 

My Top Ten Games of 2016

10) Pokémon GO

pokemon go

Pokémon GO isn’t even much of a game, but to many (including me) it was a fascinating introduction to the concept of augmented reality. Being able to go out in the real world and ‘find’ and capture Pokémon is brilliant and fun, despite the crushing lag and server problems the game suffered from its unprecedented popularity. Pokémon GO has been the definition of a fun, casual experience, and well-deserved among my Top Ten Games of the Year.

9) Skylanders Imaginators

top ten

As a veteran of the series who’s been mildly disappointed in the last two offerings, I was very pleased with Skylanders Imaginators. I’m not sure if the series can continue along this trajectory given how much the Imaginator concept changed the gameplay for the better, but for now Skylanders Imaginators is easily the best of the series.

8) Stellaris

stellaris

Stellaris wins my award for game I most need to return to, and Paradox does a great job updating and supporting their titles. I’ve dabbled in other space strategy games like Galactic Civilizations and Endless Space to varying degrees of success, but none were able to really suck me in like Stellaris.

7) Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun

shadow-tactics-banner

The tactical stealth gameplay is pitch-perfect, and to actually weave a compelling historical drama on top of that is incredibly satisfying. Don’t sleep on Shadow Tactics just because it sneaked up on you in December. If you’re at all a fan of tactical strategy, it’s one of the best games you’ll play this year.

6) Fire Emblem Fates

top five 2016

Fire Emblem Fates took me a solid six months to actually finish. I had to bump the difficulty down to Normal and grind through one of the DLC maps just to get experience (apparently Conquest is the hard version because there’s no ability to grind). But I still sunk over fifty hours into it.

Despite my harsh complaints I obviously loved the combat improvements enough to still rank it on my game of the year list. Even a mediocre Fire Emblem game is still one of my favorite games of the year. All the combat improvements were a big step in the right direction; I just hope the next game can improve on the story side as well.

5) Overwatch

overwatch heroes

Overwatch is easily the most popular game on my list. The “hero shooter” blending of MOBA and FPS exploded this year. But leave it to Blizzard to once again take a genre and perfect it into an easily accessible, yet highly competitive format.

Overwatch is an incredible game. It takes all the best team-based shooting elements of Team Fortress 2 and multiple unique heroes of MOBAs into a complete and amazing package. I definitely plan on playing it off and on continuously for the foreseeable future.

4) Pokémon Sun and Moon

pokemon sun and moon

I was incredibly excited for Pokémon X and Y back in 2013, and played through all of Pokémon Black and White just months before its release. X and Y definitely made my Game of the Year list that year, and I’m here to tell you that Sun and Moon may just be the best Pokémon game I’ve played yet.

Now in its seventh generation, Pokémon Sun and Moon represents a first real shake-up of the traditional formula – and it’s all for the best. They keep everything that makes the series so endearing while improving on everything else. If you’ve been sleeping on the series or waiting for a chance to jump back in, Pokémon Sun and Moon is definitely the way to go.

3) XCOM 2

xcom 2

The XCOM: Enemy Unknown reboot made me fall in love with the series and its unique emergent gameplay. XCOM 2 is better in every way, and a great example of a direct sequel done right.

I still only have my first playthrough under my belt this year. But I did spend extra time getting achievements and playing with late game goodies, so I still sunk over 60 hours in my battle to take back Earth. I plan on spending a lot more time and playthroughs in XCOM 2 over the coming years.

2) Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

top five 2016

When Civ V came out I remember specifically feeling that it was good, but not as great as Civ IV + expansions. Civ V had a ton of balance issues, but Firaxis did a phenomenal job over the years between free updates and paid expansions to make it the best.

Vanilla Civilization VI is already better than all that. It’s the most impressed I’ve ever been with a Civ game on launch. Assuming Firaxis keeps up with their amazing post-launch support (where’s team multiplayer!?), Civilization VI will easily stand the test of time.

1) Stardew Valley

top five 2016

There’s no reason Stardew Valley should have worked for me. But I absolutely fell in love with the charming world. The music is lovely, the character interactions are well-written, and the amount of content is staggering.

While I’m not sure how much more I’ll play (as oppose to games like XCOM 2 and Civ VI), the time I did spend with Stardew Valley were my most cherished gaming moments of the year. Stardew Valley represents the best of what indie gaming has to offer: one person crafting their dream game and sharing it with the world.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Song of the Deep, Planet Coaster, Starbound, Grim Dawn

song of the deep pic

Beginning last year I began doing a Top Five Game of the Mid-Year list. I like lists. Here were my Top Five as of July:

  1. Stardew Valley
  2. XCOM 2
  3. Overwatch
  4. Fire Emblem Fates
  5. Stellaris

All five games made my final Game of the Year list, proving that the first half of the year was quite strong. It’s even more impressive as many of these games I hadn’t played in months.

Included in the list are my Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2016. I like lists, remember? Here we go (alphabetical):

  • Civilization VI
  • Cosmic Star Heroine
  • Dishonored 2
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Pokémon Sun and Moon

Not quite as good. Games often slip out of their Fall release into early the following year – but I can only claim that from one of them (Cosmic Star Heroine).

We were all holding out hope for No Man’s Sky, whose launch was such a highly publicized disaster that I’m not going to go over it here. Suffice to say I was one of the many that were disappointed with the game – but in fairness we really didn’t know enough about it. Boo on the them for being cagey with details, and boo on us for buying into the hype.

no man's sky

That leaves Dishonored 2. I never bought it! The Fall was busy with lots of big games and I just couldn’t find room. I really enjoyed the first one, but I also paid like $10 for it on a Steam sale. Right now it’s only discounted to $40 on the Steam Winter Sale, so I may wait a bit longer.

On to my awards!

Best Multiplayer: Overwatch

Most Disappointing: No Man’s Sky

Biggest Surprise: Stardew Valley

Most Played: Stardew Valley, 77 hours (though overall it’s Heroes of the Storm with another 200+ hours)

Best Early Access/Beta Game: We Happy Few

Best Original Music: Stardew Valley

Best Soundtrack: The Flame in the Flood by Chuck Ragan

Best Art Design: Overwatch

Best World Building/Atmosphere: Stardew Valley

Best Writing: Stardew Valley

Best Cooperative Game: Skylanders Imaginators

Best Game Nobody Else Played: Epistory – Typing Chronicles

Favorite New Game Mechanic: Building cities in Civ VI

Most Innovative: Epistory – Typing Chronicles

Best New Character: Merryn (Song of the Deep)

Favorite Moment: Civilization VI: Barely winning a Huge Island Map on Domination and Emperor difficulty, three turns before the end (2050). Nukes ftw!

Best Industry Trend: Lots of great strategy and tactics games

Worst Industry Trend: Where the RPGs at?

Didn’t Have Time to Play: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Too Long; Didn’t Finish: Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past

Favorite 2015 Game of 2016: Shadowrun Hong Kong (ironically won my Didn’t Have Time to Play award last year)

stardew valley farm

The Wii U suffered a down year for me. Only Skylanders Imaginators made my Top Ten list, and that’s obviously a non-Nintendo, multi-platform title. Much of my Wii U time was actually dominated by one of my favorite games from last year, Xenoblade Chronicles X, which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’m still working on to this day.

The Nintendo 3DS on the other hand got a whole lot of love this year. The first half was slower with only Fire Emblem Fates catching my attention. But the second half had Yo-Kai Watch 2, Dragon Quest VII, and Pokémon Sun and Moon. It was an embarrassment of riches, and I’m looking forward to DQ8 in January!

For me this year was dominated by strategy and tactical games. We got both an awesome XCOM and an awesome Civ game this year! Unfortunately that put an even further strain on my gaming time, as I sunk over 50 hours into at least half the games on my Game of the Year list.

alolamap

I also had to temporarily suspend Rogue’s Adventures, my social backlog group. Between hosting a D&D campaign, expanding my freelance writing, and moving in the Summer, I just didn’t have the time to devote to backlog gaming. Yet I still bought new games! I’m hoping to find a better balance next year and tackle some of these smaller titles I’ve been sitting on.

That’s it for me! Expect my Most Anticipated 2017 list to hit early next year. Here’s to hoping we all have a much better 2017. Happy Holidays!

My Top Ten Games of 2016: #8

 My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Pokémon GO
#9 Skylanders Imaginators

#8 Stellaris

stellaris banner

We officially crack into my Top Five Games of the Mid-Year with Stellaris. Though it ultimately fell a few places in my final ranking, that’s more a testament to the incredible line-up from the second half of the year than any failing on how much I enjoyed this grand strategy space game.

Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy titles were always a cut above what I could enjoy, steeped in deep complexity and complicated interfaces. Stellaris rises above all that with an awesome sci-fi theme to create a surprisingly accessible grand strategy title. Continue reading “My Top Ten Games of 2016: #8”

My Top Five Games of the Mid-Year 2016

I rank my top five games of the first half of 2016, and list my most anticipated games for the second half.

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 Mid-Year 2015

My Most Anticipated Games of the Year 2016

My Top Five Games of the First Half of 2016

5) Stellaris

stellaris

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

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!

 

3) Overwatch

top five 2016

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

top five 2016

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

top five 2016

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

(alphabetical order)

 

Civilization VI

top five 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

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 2

top five 2016

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

no mans 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.

 

Pokémon Sun/Moon

top five 2016

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.

Stellaris Review [CGM]

Stellaris captures the craziness and fun of sci-fi in an engaging, infinitely replayable strategy game.

Read the full review at CG Magazine

Grand Strategy games have been around for awhile – a genre coined and perfected by Swedish developers Paradox Interactive. Previous Paradox titles dove headfirst into Medieval and World War history, and Stellaris finally takes us to the stars.

Managing European provinces is trite compared to large-scale galactic conquest, allied federations, and playing god to lesser beings. Stellaris isn’t just Paradox’s most accessible title; it’s also the best space empire management game I’ve ever played.

Read the full review at CG Magazine