What a year for video games, eh? For better or worse, we saw a huge surge like no other. Even after playing 70 titles from this year alone, I know there are still dozens that I never got a chance to pick up. My choices for the top 2 spots were always clear, but that #3 slot was incredibly hard to narrow down to a single choice. So hard, in fact, that I’d feel terrible if I didn’t at least give them some honorable mention. If only there were a term for that sort of thing. Oh, well. Until then, here are my

7 Games That Were Really Great but Didn’t Quite Make the Final Cut, in No Particular Order

  • The Witness – A gorgeous world filled with interesting challenges that required all sorts of ways of thinking, whether it be how we solve patterns, how we visualize, how we spend time, etc. It’s sometimes frustrating, but always fascinating.
  • Salt and Sanctuary – An homage to Dark Souls in almost every way save for being 2D. Combat is intense, requiring skill, knowledge, and patience. Despite the obvious danger hidden in the shadows, it’s a game that continually calls you to explore just a bit more.
  • Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma – The probable finale to an amazing series that encompassed every sci-fi trope from time travel to telepathy and made it somehow work. The story goes far deeper than one playthrough will ever reveal, and sinks its claws so deep that its hard to stop playing until every tidbit is found.
  • Darkest Dungeon – Roguelike dungeon crawlers are a dime a dozen, but this one has a personality all its own. The narrator barks out chilling lines as your party is pummeled by Lovecraftian horrors, and the sanity system makes keeping your men in high spirits an absolute necessity.
  • The Last Guardian – There are likely few games which offer such vastly different experiences to reviewers. Some love it, others hate it. I’m in the former camp, having formed a firm bond with my bird-dog, Trico. Though certainly dated, the emotional touches here more than make up for oddball mechanics.
  • Thumper – No need to say any more. Go read Chris’ comments on his picks.
  • Final Fantasy XV – Though open-world fatigue is really becoming an issue these days, there’s no denying that the sense of scale FFXV offers is amazing, like when driving through lush valleys along titanic creatures. And of course this leads into boss fights like no other.

Alright, let’s get to the real meat.

2nd Runner-up: Overwatch
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If you told me a year ago that a competitive multiplayer shooter would even be in my consideration for Game of the Year 2016, I’d have laughed in your face. Multiplayer and I do not get along, much less in any game where there’s competition. And yet, here we are with Overwatch sitting at the #3 slot. Blizzard knocked it out of the park with this one…perhaps unexpected for most, but I’ve never been a big fan of any of their other properties save Diablo. How did they do it? Well, its charm is a big part of it. Rather than the dirty, grimy feel of CoD or Battlefield, you’ve got bright, colorful visuals with a variety of interesting characters. But that’s just the surface.

Despite being clearly a game about reds-vs-blues, Overwatch focuses more on the positive aspects of online gameplay. Every characters works as part of a cohesive team. If you’re not a crack-shot with the shooty things, try Winston and auto-tracking tesla cannon. If you’d rather just stay out of the way but still provide help, check out Ana, the sniper who fires healing injections. There’s something for everyone. Moreover, everyone gets rewarded for performing their duties. There are no kills/death tallies listed at the end for all to see and (potentially) mock. Instead, a few choice awards are given out for everything from kills to healing to support barriers and on. That focus on the positive makes Overwatch a joy to come back to night after night after night.

1st Runner-up: Dark Souls III

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From Software have had a good run for the last three years, and it’s no surprise (to me) that I would be putting Dark Souls III on this list. They certainly didn’t invent the death game, even way back in 2009 with Demon’s Souls, but if they haven’t perfected it, they’ve certainly come as close as anyone is able. The tension builds with each scuffle, no matter how small it might be, as the estus is drained and returning to the bonfire seems like a much smarter idea than proceeding. The foreboding sense in 3 is perhaps stronger than even the first two titles of the series.

It’s both a shame and a relief that we see the series finish here, if what the developer says is true. The trilogy (+1) has been a fantastic journey through locations both hauntingly beautiful and horrifyingly ghastly, with boss encounters that have run through the same gamut. DS3 is well aware of its roots and calls them back in shades of nostalgia or outright callbacks. The story is just as vague and open to player interpretation as ever, but this chapter is a grand way to close everything out.

Game of the Year: Persona 5

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Oh, how awkward this is. As much as I’d love to simply gush about all the reasons Persona 5 is amazing, I have to bite my tongue for some of the juiciest reasons, given that it hasn’t even released in the States just yet. Suffice it to say that we have here a title that can easily stand next to its predecessors, though 3, 4, and now 5 may jockey for position based on your personal tastes. A review will come later, but for now I’ll keep things to a minimum.

The story excellently portrays the darkness that exists in everyone, be it ourselves or those around us, whether it be the kind that is plainly visible on the surface or hidden deeply within. The characters are engaging, both silly and serious at times, each with their own story to tell regarding how they first came to experience the darkness within others. There are equal parts off-the-wall zany antics and heart-tugging emotional scenes. Combat has been streamlined to make things go quickly while still being fun, and the dungeons no longer have a solid grid layout, making them more interesting to explore. Add in the great voice acting work, soundtrack, and amazing visual style and you’ve got your clear Game of the Year. Enjoy it!