I played 11 games this year. Here's my thoughts on all of them, ranked in order of how much I enjoyed them. Bottom 6 are in no particular order.
I'll preface by saying that I'm not a huge fan of story-focused games, but Firewatch's environments and art style seemed quite appealing, so I gave it a shot. The art and voice acting and writing was quite good and made the first half of the game very compelling, despite its flaws, however towards the end it fell apart hard for me. I'm not going to complain about the "realism" of the ending (like many others have); I think that part was fitting, but it just wasn't paced well. All 3 major plot conflicts were resolved (in an unsatisfying way) over the course of a few minutes during the climax of the game, which made it feel really rushed.
Also, it was quite dissapointing that we were presented with a big beautiful wilderness to explore, but the actual playable area was just corridors with invisible walls. We were given a bunch of dialog choices througout the game, but they had zero effect on the way the plot progressed throughout the game. They gave us a fishing rod at one point, but then trying to actually use it just resulted in you throwing it into the lake. It felt like the entire game was about setting expectations, then failing to meet up to them.
HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER
When I played this, it had some pretty big slowdown issues and was locked to 30 FPS. I know they have fixed this since, but I didn't care enough to go and play through it again. Those issues actually were probably the biggest enjoyment-ruiners of the game when I played it. Like the combination of fast action and chunky pixels and 30fps actually gave me a headache while playing it. But anyway I did play through it all the way. It is a beautiful game. And the music is pretty great too, though it feels mismatched, slow atmospheric disasterpiece music often did not fit well with frantic action and bosses.
The level design left a lot to be desired, however. Way too much of the game involved searching for hidden paths with no tell, and re-fighting enemies in areas you've already been to when you realized you missed a hidden passage in the middle of the dungeon. It felt tedious at times trying to figure out where to go within areas, and at the same time it felt short for what it is. Also, while I like crazy hidden-language runes stuff and wordless storytelling in games, the shops in the hub really felt confusing cause of it (at first).
It's civ. I don't have that much more to say about it. I don't really have the time to really get into civ right now so I just played one game of it (took 2 days) and confirmed that its pretty much just exactly what you expect out of civ.
When I saw the first trailers for this I was worried that they were making it a shitty modern AAA shooter. It actually turned out quite fun and fast paced instead, and it was a really nice change of pace from the current modern shooter game. If I have any real criticism of it, its just that the environments were quite repetitive and re-used set pieces a lot which made it hard to navigate sometimes. Lack of variety in the environments made it feel like an oldschool arcade game a bit, which I don't think is really a good thing. But I guess the original DOOM was similar, so its hard to tell if that was just lack of budget or an intentional decision. Solid game, nothing too special.
What a crazy phenomenon. The whole expierence of this game when it came out is something I really doubt will ever be replicated again. Walking around town in real life and seeing EVERYONE playing pokemon was insane. Crowds of people running towards a rare or powerful pokemon that just spawned, and all the team rivalry and collection insanity... it was crazy. But the game is far, far too bare bones to keep people playing past those first initial weeks, and a general lack of significant updates and odd design decisions squandered most of the potential this game had. Nobody but hardcore fans are going to care when they add the newer generations of pokemon in, and that is, unfortunately, the great tragedy of Pokemon GO. A great experiment and concept for a game, but not enough (or really any) meat to keep people around.
Super polished game, but I expected that considering it took 8 years to make. The art and sound were just amazing and the game was compelling enough to play through without ever hitting any real walls. The first half of it was great, but later on the dungeon layouts just started feeling too repetitive. You'd often repeat the same puzzle a bunch of times without any really meaningful changes to them each time, and it made parts of the game just feel tedious. The ending also felt a bit rushed and not fully thought out, and it was kinda weird for a game like this to only have a single-form final boss. In the end the art and sound is what carries Owlboy though. The rest of the game is just... average.
It's... pokemon. I LOVE pokemon! I've been playing it since I was a kid with the original red and blue. Every pokemon generation seems to just make iterative progress on the previous one, which isn't a bad thing. It means, overall, each generation is better than the previous one. Sun & Moon are no exception. While they changed up the theming more drastically than previous gens, its still pretty much the pokemon game we're all familiar with. I really enjoy the idle methods (poke pelago) they added for EV training, and the ability to defend your title once you're the chamption, and all the other quality of life improvements they added to the game. Z moves are pretty cool for PvP, but make the main game way too easy if you use them considering most trainers only have 1 or 2 pokemon...
I'm kinda dissapointed how few "new" pokemon they added and how many of the new ones are psuedo-legendary. Sweet! A whole new world of pokemon to explore! Wow look at all the ratattas and wingulls and caterpies! At this point theres more than 800 pokemon... they could have sets of 20 in each area to pull from for encounters instead of sets of 5 and the game would feel much more varied. That being said, I do like a lot of the designs of the new pokemon, I just wish there were more of them. All the ultra beasts and tapus are sweet, but you only get them in the post-game. Also, the cutscenes in the game dragged on for WAY too long. I get a lot of people liked the plot in su&mo, but god damn did it drag on at times. I don't play pokemon for its story, I wanna fight shit!
As usual the competitive battling is still surprisingly deep and interesting, yet even with the new idle EV training methods I'm still more compelled to play on pokemon showdown instead of grinding out a team in-game.
(Runner Up): OVERWATCH
Overwatch was super fun and I played way too much of it. It's the TF2 successor we've all been waiting for, complete with your expected Blizzard level of polish and charm. I don't think there's any other praise I can give to it that hasn't been said elsewhere though. As for criticisms, really my only complaint is the maps. They need way more maps and they need more symmetrical game modes. I want payload races and symmetrical capture point maps! Or at least custom/modded maps. That was a huge part of the fun of TF2 for me. Hopefully we'll see that from Blizzard in the future.
(#3): DARK SOULS 3
Oh man I fucking LOVE Dark Souls 1. Its probably the best game of the 2010s so far, and certainly the most influental one (other than minecraft). It just revolutionized so many aspects of action RPGS, from the combat to the world design to the respawn system to the sound design to the storytelling to the weird online stuff. It took no aspect of its genre for granted, and carefully rethought every part of it that it could. My favorite part of it was the world design, so I do feel a little bit annoyed that 2 and 3 decided to back off on the craziness of that. But 3 was definitely an improvement over 2 in that regard, and the combat and online is improved over 1 and 2 for sure.
The weird thing about such innovative games as dark souls 1 though, is that you can't really top them without innovating to the same level that DS1 did. 2 and 3... didn't. But that's okay! Dark Souls 3 was still an amazing game, and I enjoyed pretty much everything about it. It was a flat improvement over 2 in every regard, and a fitting end to the series. I am looking forward to whatever From Software does next. As I always do.
(#2): SHENZHEN IO
Zachtronics games fill a niche and fill them well. The problem with most other programming games from other developers is they often feel more like educational games. I'm already a programmer! I don't need to learn how to program with a game! Zachtronics cuts the crap and just makes games about programming, for programmers. He's done this before, with TIS-100 (which I also loved), and to a lesser extent with infinifactory (my favorite game of his from a mainstream standpoint) and spacechem (which, while not themed as such, are still pretty much programming games). Shenzhen IO is something special though. It's themed as you getting a job for a chinese microcontrollers company, and the manual you get (which is a 20 page PDF) is badly google-translated and partially in chinese. The virtual PC you're playing on has a weird version of solitaire on it. There's undocumented assembly instructions you learn about from an in-game email. Its possible (and even encouraged) to build crappy solutions with obvious security flaws (cheap chinese things!). Its just fascinating how strong the theme is in this game... a game where you are just writing assembly code and hooking ports up with circuitry.
As with any Zachtronics puzzle game the best part of it is always competing with friends on the scoreboards. Its an awesome feeling getting an idea that cuts 1 cycle off of jon blow or sean barret or notch's score. I guess part of the enjoyment for this from me is just having a steam friends list full of good programmers to compete with on the scoreboards. So who knows, that aspect of it may not be as enjoyable for an average person. But again, Zachtronics knows their niche, and nobody does programming games better than they do.
(GOTY): THE WITNESS
Here it is, my Game of the Year! The Witness is the Dark Souls of puzzle games! Yeah go ahead and cringe at that, cause most people only use the comparison to refer to its difficulty. That's not why I make the comparison. Much like, as I mentioned earlier, Dark Souls rethought every aspect of the action RPG genre and took no enshrined mechanics for granted, so did The Witness, for puzzle games. Most puzzle games are content with providing a linear series of puzzles that you can just whack at until you find a solution, but the witness forces you to *understand* the solution. Never before in a puzzle game have I wanted to replay already solved puzzles to get a better understanding of the mechanics and learn why my solution worked, and yet this was a regular and required thing in The Witness. Once you *fully* understood what each symbol meant, none of the puzzles were particularly hard, which meant getting stuck was often a result of you having incorrect assumptions about how a symbol worked so you had to go back to earlier puzzles to figure out where your assumption was wrong. It was an absolutely amazing experience that mirrors learning a programming language, or really learning *any* skill, and a feeling I've never seen replicated in any puzzle game before it.
On top of that, every other aspect of the game was polished to perfection. The art was wonderful (you could probably write a whole post just about the care put into the art in this game). The sound design was great, and the lack of background music meant the one spot in the game with music really stood out. Figuring out the monolith puzzles for the first time was an absolutely amazing feeling (though fairly dissapointing that completing them pretty much resulted in nothing). The sheer variety of the puzzles was amazing for what seemed, at first glance, couldn't possibly keep my interest for 500+ puzzles. Yet it absolutely did. And I wanted more.
I read a bunch of criticisms about The Witness when it came out. And often times I can read criticisms and agree with them even if I dont think they detract from the overall experience. But the fascinating thing about The Witness was, all the criticizms people had with the game were exactly the reasons I loved it. I loved coming across a puzzle with a symbol I didn't recognize yet, and having to go find where it was tutorialized. I loved having to redo puzzles to get a better understanding of their mechanics. I loved how difficult the later puzzles were. I loved how different the overall experience with The Witness was compared to a typical puzzle game.