2016 was supposed to be the year of the MOBA, the year every game under the sun would try to adapt the mechanics of games like League of Legends and DOTA II to other genres, the way Call of Duty injected RPG-style progression into a first-person shooter.
As a trend, that concept fizzled. But only because one game did it so well that was no room for competition.
Overwatch, Blizzard Entertainment’s “hero shooter,” has rewritten the first-person shooter, crafting a unique team-based experience that is simultaneously deeper and more accessible than its peers.
What the game offers is deceptively simple — a small number of objective-based six-on-six variations on “King of the Hill.” Those games become endlessly replayable, however, thanks to the game’s 30-something characters, each of which offer a unique skill-set. Each character feels unique, and most feel different from any shooter you’ve ever played. From Lucio, the roller-skating healer who boosts his team with the power of his music, to Reinhardt, the hammer-wielding human shield, each character feels like they could have an entire game built around them. Playing Overwatch often feels completely unlike any of the words fans and critics would use to classify it. It feels like something special.
As with many competitive games, Blizzard’s post-launch commitment to Overwatch has led to continually changing dynamics — through patches, new characters, and rotating “event” modes — in how these characters work with and against each other. The nature of these tweaks, however, which have included some big swings, feel sharp and considered, well beyond what we’ve come to expect from most games. The result is a game that continues to feel new months after launch.
If that weren’t enough, Overwatch has engendered a love from its community that extends far beyond the bounds of its code. Its beautiful, Pixar-esque art style, combined with a deep lore for those willing to dive in, has driven players to carry that love outside the game to art, fan fiction, and more.
At a time when every game, no matter the genre or format, wants to jump-start a multimedia franchise or an ongoing “service,” often to their detriment, Overwatch has inspired a generation of players.
Inside is as close to “perfect” as any game we’ve played this year. The second project from Limbo developer Playdead, the side-scrolling puzzle game uses excellent environmental storytelling to convey both its mechanics and its story to players. Every aspect of Inside‘s opaque dystopia, from the animation of guard dogs chasing you through the woods, to the zombie-like walk of the human drones that you encounter, fosters a sense of foreboding and dreadful urgency that fuels your need to escape, even when you don’t know what you’re escaping from.
Though it lasts only a few hours, Inside succeeds in everything it tries, and does so with a level of polish that most games never come close to achieving. Even if it is not your kind of game, you should look to Inside as a technical marvel, and a gold standard for game developers who too ship games before they’re truly finished.
After six games, you’d think Sid Meier would run out of ideas. Yet, somehow, Civilization VI feels contemporary and classic at the same time. With core changes to some of the game’s fundamental systems, every aspect of the game feels fresh and new. The ideas behind those changes, like the notion that the growth of cities should be reflected geographically, or that roads are established through trade routes, seem to be statements about history and philosophy, as much as game design.
Of course, that wouldn’t matter if the game weren’t also still incredibly fun to play. We’ll probably be muttering “one more turn” to ourselves night after night for months and years to come.