The best games of 2016

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We've seen sequels, updates, remakes and even the occasional indie gem. Here, for your thumb-twiddling pleasure, is Empire's pick of 2016's best videogames.

25. The Banner Saga 2

Banner Saga 2

Sequel to the 2014 turn-based strategy game, this follow-up boasts the same gorgeous, cartoon visuals while charting an impending apocalypse in the games’ Viking-inspired world. As you lead a band of survivors to the last remaining safe haven, players witness devastation and destruction while becoming immersed in the game’s bleakly compelling story. The tactical battles are as challenging as ever and the choices you make have lasting consequences.

24. The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

The Twilight Princess

The Wii U may have largely been a flop, but that hasn’t discouraged Nintendo from using it to revamp some of its unparalleled back-catalogue. Twilight Princess HD looks fabulous compared to the Game Cube and Wii iterations, and provides a huge slice of classic Zelda gameplay, much of it as the ever-brilliant Wolf Link. What more could Ninty fans ask for?

23. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Deus Ex A marvellously believable dystopian future-world, depicted with bags of style and character, and gameplay that gives the impression that you have played through it your way, rather than pandering to the diktats of the game designers. Such is the gift of Deus Ex. This follow-up to 20011's Human Revolution places you back in the heavily-augmented cybernetic body of Adam Jensen and sets you loose in future-Prague to behave (almost) how you will. If you crave games that rise above the default level of mindless action, this delivers in spades.

22. Hitman

Hitman Like its stealthy protagonist, the latest hitman caught people entirely unawares with its experimental, episodic approach. The bargain paid, off though. Eked out over most of the year, the game's trickle of marks and levels, interspersed with hugely enjoyable high value target hunts made the bald-bonced killer a consistent staple for gamers in 2016. As a complete package, it's no less appealing and stands as a franchise high point — even if the larger storyline is incomprehensible bobbins.

21. Day Of The Tentacle Remastered

Day of the Tentacle

Gamers of a certain age look back on the 1990s — and particularly LucasArts’ point-and-click adventure games, of which //Day of the Tentacle// was one — as a golden age. This remake has been tarted up visually, but the abstruse gameplay and hilarious characterisations remain untouched. If it doesn’t leave you with aching sides, you might need a sense of humour overhaul.

20. Total War: Warhammer

Total War: Warhammer

British developer Creative Assembly is renowned for the quality of its historical real-time strategy (RTS) games, this departure from reality represents a welcome side-step for the series, applying the tried-and-tested Total War formula to Games Workshop’s popular fantasy setting. Fast-paced, atmospheric and visually impressive, Total War: Warhammer is by some distance the year’s best RTS. Besides, what’s not to love about sending an army of vampires, ghouls and giant spiders to storm your enemy’s walls?

19. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Special Edition

Skyrim We spent 500 hours in Skyrim's frozen tundra back in 2011 and now, five year later, we're at it again. Updated for the new console generation and given a significant graphical overhaul, this is the game you knew and loved, only with far more realistically flowing water. Draw depth is improved, there are fewer glitches and fancy new lighting effects have been added to boot. For the first time on consoles there’s also mod support and all three DLC packs are included. More than enough to keep you going until a sixth Elder Scrolls arrives.

18. Forza Horizon 3

Forza Horizon 3 Moving the Forza action to a virtual Australia, which proves to be a petrol-head’s paradise, Horizon 3 sees drivers traverse wonderfully diverse environments such as rainforests, the outback, beaches and the city of Surfer’s Paradise. Twice the size of Forza Horizon 2, this is not only a more gratifying ride but is arguably the most stunning video game ever made, being absolutely breathtaking when taking advantage of the HDR capabilities of the Xbox One S. If you dream of getting behind the wheel of cars that you’d count yourself lucky to even see on the street, this is the perfect game.

17. Battlefield 1

Battlefield 1 Developer DICE took a big risk by opting to set the latest instalment of its much-loved FPS series, in World War One, but the result is a tour de force which, graphically and often poignantly, leaves players in no doubt about just how hellish the Great War was, while being and is even more addictive to play than its predecessors. With startlingly realistic visuals, a gripping campaign and Battlefield's trademark large-scale multiplayer, this is a welcome gear-shift for first-person shooters and evidence that they can be emotionally powerful as well as fiendishly addictive.

16. Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 2013’s Titanfall was a blistering online shooter but let down by its lack of any meaningful offline mode. Titanfall 2’s single player campaign may not be overly long but it’s a frantic whirlwind of bullets and emotion that puts most competitors to shame. On foot, your pilot’s agility lends firefights a dizzying verticality that perfectly complements the thundering, tank-like destruction wrought from the cockpit of your titan. Meanwhile, a handy plot device adds a (literal) new dimension to gameplay, allowing hops back and forth through time in the midst of heated battle. Multiplayer bouts are as invigorating as ever, with a wider arsenal available and enough unlocks and customisation options to keep you occupied for months to come.

15. Fire Emblem Fates

Fire Emblem Fates

You can’t beat a bit of classic Japanese RPG action on the Nintendo 3DS, and Fire Emblem Fates represents the state of that particular art. And art is a key part, with gorgeous anime visuals, welded to complex, strategic RPG gameplay and an insane number of storylines – it’s essentially three games in one. It’s also one game in three, being available in a trio of different flavours, each with a different take on the game’s narrative. Birthright is for newcomers, Revelations is for those with more confidence and Conquest (the best of the three) is for pros and masochists. Whichever you choose, this is among the very best titles available on the 3DS.

14. Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV Most games that spend a decade in development wind up being terrible, but then most games aren't Final Fantasy XV. The most accessible entry in the franchise, it strays further from its JRPG roots than ever before, which infuriated and delighted in equal measure. The graphics are a series best, the encounters are seamlessly integrated into the game world and the visual style is more gritty and realistic than any Final Fantasy to date. You could do far worst than to spend a few dozen hours immersed in this epic Shakespearean saga of magic, summons and squarking Chocobos.

13. The Witness

The Witness

There’s no mistaking any game made by The Witness’s developer, Jonathan Blow. Like his previous effort Braid, it’s clever, innovative and sometimes frustrating. This is a hugely cryptic game that offers you clues but no direct instructions while presenting puzzles that demand preternatural powers of observation. It looks fabulous, is completely original and, once you figure it out, deeply satisfying as well

12. Oxenfree

Oxenfree

Oxenfree is a side-scrolling puzzler with loads of character and a quirky art-style, following the tribulations of a bunch of teens on holiday who get caught in a supernatural web. The gameplay, which sees protagonist Alex solving puzzles with a pocket radio, is clever but it's the characterisation that sets Oxenfree above the competition. With razor-sharp dialogue and spot-on characters that conjure memories of last year’s Life Is Strange, this sucks you in for the duration, short as that may be.

11. Doom

Doom

This contemporary remake of the granddaddy of first-person shooters drags gamers back to the nineties thanks to an insanely fast pace which keeps you running and gunning from start to finish. Deliciously over-the-top weapons, enemies and bosses abound; there’s a decent, although not ground-breaking, multiplayer side as well. The most unabashedly enjoyable title of the year thus far, this shows upstarts like Call of Duty how to do a single-player campaign with style.

10. Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2 2012's Dishonored put players behind the sharp steel and supernatural powers of vengeance-driven antihero Corvo Attano. This stealth-action sequel doubles down, quite literally, on its predecessor by allowing fans to play as Corvo or his equally adept daughter, Emily. With two entirely different skill trees to explore and a narrative directly affected by bodycount, there's replay galore here, but it's the engaging, old-school death-from-the-shadows gameplay that makes this a welcome change of pace.

9. Civilization IV

Civilization VI Sid Meier's seminal strategy opus has now been going strong for quarter of a century and this sixth instalment is arguably its crowning achievement. Like its predecessors, Civ VI puts you to work establishing and expanding cities, building and recruiting units, and researching technologies to advance through history — with the odd war thrown in whenever you're feeling belligerent. Featuring a less po-faced, more caricatured art style and the revelation of 'un-stacked' cities that sprawl across several styles, this is a game that could easily suck months of your life away. Just... one... more... turn...

8. Firewatch

Firewatch

Firewatch’s premise sounds tedious: you play Henry, escaping the world by working as a fire lookout in America’s Shoshone National Park. There are no puzzles and only one other character, Delilah, with whom Henry communicates by walkie-talkie. Don’t let the setup fool you, though, this is beautifully made and lush to behold; the story and characterisation are superb, wrapping gamers in mystery, while leaning on a good story, expertly told. A thoroughly fresh gaming experience, which is all too rare.

7. The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian After nine years and one change of console platform, the third title from the creator of Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus had become almost mythical, a game players feared they might never see at all. Then finally, in 2016, The Last Guardian arrived, placing players in the sandals of a young boy who awakens in an underground dungeon next to a hulking creature — part bird, cat, dog and rat. The bond between boy and beast is a revelation and by the game’s conclusion you are his guardian, as much as he is yours. An unforgettable game.

6. The Witcher III: Blood & Wine

Witcher III It may be ‘only’ downloadable content, but Blood & Wine was the final instalment for last year’s all-conquering RPG, The Witcher III. It added a whole new area, Toussaint, plus an additional 30 hours of gameplay involving vampires and, yes, vineyards. Tonally, developer CD Projekt Red has indulged itself with vast amounts of humour, although its storyline is suitably dark, and another chance to slip into Geralt of Rivia’s well-worn armour one more time was utterly irresistible. The Game Of The Year edition of Witcher III, which includes both this and the previous DLC, Heart Of Stone, is an absolutely essential purchase.

5. Inside

Inside

Developer Playdead’s previous game, Limbo, was showered with praise from all who played it – and Inside is even better. Like Limbo, it’s a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer with nothing as fancy as dialogue, but blessed with a beautiful, near-monochrome art-style. Its game-world is much better realised than Limbo's, and it’s more eerily atmospheric but you will still die spectacularly and repeatedly in numerous sadistic ways.

4. X-Com 2

X-Com 2

If you thought turn-based games were dead, you didn’t reckon on X-Com 2. There’s nothing remotely archaic about this strategic masterpiece: it looks fabulous (even the isometric sequences), and its mix of deep strategy and base-building is balanced to perfection – not to mention punishingly hard. This time around, you run a rag-tag bunch of rebels attempting to reclaim Earth from the aliens who successfully invaded in the original game: a task that will push your strategic nous to its limits.

3. Dark Souls 3

Dark Souls 3

Ridiculously hard? Check. Dark, gloomy and gothic? Check. Full of creepy castles and seemingly invincible bosses? Check. From Software didn’t mess with the legendary RPG’s blueprint, but then why would it? The third instalment of every masochist’s favourite game is bigger, better-looking and more intense than ever as you trudge through the kingdom of Lothric, trying (and failing) not to die more than once a minute. This is the last Dark Souls, at least for now, so relish every foreboding second of it.

2. Overwatch

Overwatch

Blizzard does it again! This online-only, first-person shooter clearly wants to be the next big e-sports phenomenon and may just succeed. It's super-simple and cheerful to behold, yet fast, furious, full of gameplay depth and insanely addictive. There’s nothing to unlock that isn’t cosmetic, no levelling up and no ladder to climb: with Overwatch, the joy is in the action, the teamwork and a superb cast of characters, each of which offers a completely different game experience.

1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Uncharted 4

Knowledge that this is Nathan Drake’s final outing will have brought tears to many an eye, but what a way to go. A truly epic, gorgeous-looking adventure taking in the usual assortment of exotic locations is just the start. Nate has never looked better, the emotional punches have never hit harder and the puzzle-solving, ledge-hopping gameplay has never been more perfectly balanced. Plus you get to play a level from Crash Bandicoot! By the time the adventure wraps up and you’re basking in the warm glow of the epilogue, you’ll feel sadness for the departure of an old friend but a deep contentment from having experienced some of the very best that interactive storytelling has to offer.


More from Empire's review of 2016:

The best movies of 2016
The best TV shows of 2016
The best games of 2016
The best on-screen deaths of 2016
The biggest movie news stories of 2016
The best trailers of 2016
The best memes and videos of 2016