5) Halo 5: Guardians
Developer: 343 Industries
Platforms: Xbox One
Even before Halo 5 came out, the Halo series had sold more than 65 million copies and generated more than $4.6 billion in revenue. It is one of my favorite game series of all time, but this is one of the first times that a Master Chief game isn’t really high on my list.
The game has a big plot twist that changes my view of Master Chief and the series, but I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t played it. But that twist causes Master Chief to go AWOL and leads to charges of treason. The authorities send Spartan Jameson Locke in pursuit of Master Chief, and the missions alternate with the player fighting as either Master Chief or Locke. The action is better because the current-generation technology allows for more expansive playing arenas that give you new options for attacking. And the game is a co-op title where you are constantly leading a squad of A.I. or human characters in the single-player campaign.
And while I didn’t like the story, the combat mechanics were familiar and improved. The graphics of the game are amazing, and multiplayer combat was challenging. 343 Industries made use of the Microsoft Compute Cloud to offload a lot of processing to its data centers. That allowed for massive 24-player Warzone battles that pitted humans against humans as well as A.I. characters. The multiplayer also had some esports-friendly competitions such as the Arena where you only get to spawn once.
6) Game of Thrones
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360.
This six-part episodic tale has superb writing that matches the quality of the George R.R. Martin books and the HBO television show on which it is based. The cast includes members of the HBO show, voiced by the same actors. But it also has an all-new story and characters from a new set of clans.
Telltale, whose version of The Walking Dead: Season 2 was on my top games last year, has mastered the storytelling genre. Telltale has superb writers, and it knows how to force you to make difficult choices with limited information. This series and most of its others are about making the right choices at the right time.
As with the books and the show, the “good guys” are always under pressure in this game, and the can’t get a lucky break. House Forrester begins the game allied with the Starks, and as that clan’s fortunes falter, so does Forrester’s. The clan has to find ways to survive even as it is surrounded by Machiavellian rivals and houses with far greater power and military might. House Forrester’s one blessing is its control of a valuable Ironwood forest that other clans — the evil Whitehills and the Boltons — all covet.
I loved getting to know the new characters such as Asher, Mira, Rodrik, and Gared. I had to make crucial life-or-death decisions for them just to keep them from going from one disaster to another. If there’s a flaw, I’m still frustrated with the poor quality of the graphics and interactivity. I would love to see Telltale marry the storytelling and choice mechanics with the 3D graphics quality of a game like Until Dawn.
But this is a wonderful way to get a Game of Thrones fix while you’re waiting for a new George R.R. Martin book or the HBO television show’s next season to arrive.
7) Batman: Arkham Knight
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
The Batman: Arkham series immersed us in the dark side of the DC Comics superhero and the insane world of Gotham’s criminals. This fourth and allegedly final piece in Rocksteady’s series was a full-fledged open world with endless plots and missions to pursue. It started out with a gripping line, where Commissioner Gordon narrates and says it’s about “the night that the Batman died.” From there, you go into a story full of anger, pain, insanity, and regret. The theme of madness runs throughout, and it adds some wonderful creative touches, like how The Joker becomes Batman’s constant imaginary companion. This is the Dark Knight at his darkest hour.
In this game, a mysterious Arkham Knight character pledges to bring an end to the masked vigilante. The basic mechanics of brutal hand-to-hand combat is still a big draw. Batman breaks bones when he fights, and his madness constantly drives him to the edge of murder. There’s plenty of slow motion for you to appreciate the best takedowns, and Batman’s cape is always flowing realistically. In fact, there is nothing so wondrous as flying through the darkened city with your cape rippling in the wind. I just loved jumping off buildings in this game.
This time, you also get to cruise through Gotham City in the Batmobile, wreaking havoc on the Arkham Knight’s giant mobile army. It’s just as satisfying to blast one of the Arkham Knight’s robot tanks as it is to take down a bunch of thugs with a flying tackle. Gotham is also brilliantly rendered in moody, hazy darkness. It’s enough to put you in a foul mood, and it’s one that you won’t want to escape.
8) Fallout Shelter
Developer: Behaviour Interactive/Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: iOS and Android
Free-to-play mobile games rarely rise to the level of Triple-A games, and that’s why it’s very hard for them to win in a list that considers all platforms. But Bethesda’s Fallout Shelter was one of the surprises of the year. The release of the first Fallout-themed mobile game was a brilliant marketing move, as Bethesda unveiled it during its presentation at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, when millions of fans were watching. The title shot to the top ranks in terms of gross revenues on iOS, and that was amazing in itself as it briefly broke the grip of Candy Crush Saga on free-to-play spenders. The title was also a great vehicle to get fans excited about Fallout 4.
In Fallout Shelter, you oversee one of the Vaults that safeguards the last of humanity after a nuclear war. You have to attract and raise dwellers. And they you have to arm them, feed them, provide water, and give them electricity. That’s no small task as you’re constantly running out of resources, and you can be attacked at anytime by Wasteland Raiders or Rad Roaches. I had plenty of Vaults that were wiped out because of an attack that got out of control. I never thought I would have so much fun tapping the screen and collecting resources. And I had to think about how to safely expand my shelter and scrounge more resources from the Wasteland.
The game didn’t pressure you to buy something every hour, and it totally left the option to spend money in your hands. That gentle monetization earned the good will of hardcore gamers, and they made the game last longer than it would have. Sadly, Bethesda clearly wasn’t ready for the great response. It had to scramble to provide updates, but it waited so long that the game fell in the rankings. Players ran out of things to do. But they got the rare pleasure of having a Triple-A franchise on mobile that really worked.
I played this game for a long time, and it gave me a lot of chuckles. I hope that this is a sign of things to come, and that Bethesda really learns how to make a killing in mobile games. That will definitely level up the mobile gaming experience for all.
9) Fallout 4
Developer: Bethesda Games Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
The new open-world and role-playing adventure game isn’t a disappointment. Bethesda surprised everyone by staying quiet for four years and then springing the surprise of Fallout 4 on a grateful E3 crowd. Then it delivered a great game about the end of the world with an oddly appropriate sense of humor.
From the very beginning, this Fallout is more dramatic. You start out in the 1950s-themed suburban home and then find you’ve got seconds to race to a fallout shelter. Nuclear Armageddon arrives just as your family descends into the shelter. But some time after you are strapped into the cryogenic chamber, a malfunction causes you wake at some point to see someone kill your spouse and steal your baby. As you fall into another cold-induced sleep, you wonder what is happening to your kid.
When you emerge, the world is a wasteland, albeit a beautiful one. Beyond just scrounging for stuff, you now have to search for your child and get some kind of revenge. The scrounging part is an enormous task by itself. you run into Raiders and all sorts of mutant creatures. And you have to help out other humans who give you one mission after another. The world is richly detailed and seemingly limitless. You can craft your own weapons, make your own food, and send your dog out after your attackers.
The combat system is still the same, giving you the ability to freeze time and target your enemies more thoughtfully. I never liked it all that much as I felt like it made me waste a lot of ammunition. But it works well enough so that it doesn’t get in the way of the fun.
I have a ton more exploring to do, but Bethesda has clearly created an awesome, believable world.
10) Mad Max
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Windows
I’ve been wandering in the desert with Mad Max for many hours. I hate walking. But I love driving around in my souped-up combat car, with my humpback mechanic Chum Bucket. Mad Max isn’t quite as riveting as this year’s movie, but it is an open world where you can lose yourself in the wastelands.
It’s not nearly as richly detailed as Fallout 4, but it has its moments. I love the car combat, where you can move close to a rival, put the scene into slow motion, and fire a harpoon at the driver. You can then pluck the driver out of the car and send the enemy’s car crashing. It’s a bit like pirate ships fighting on the water. Your enemy can board your vehicle, and you can jump out and fight on foot. Over time, you can armor up your vehicle and become more powerful. But the challenges before you will multiply. And you can attack big fortresses on foot and engage in Batman-style close combat with bone-crunching results.
My complaint about the game is that it’s very easy to lose track of the main story. And when you do, it’s not always obvious how to get back on track. There are just a ton of missions to do. And even when you are trying to get one done, random enemies will appear in vehicles trying to carjack you. There were many times when I ran out on the desert to collect some loot and an enemy came by and ran me over.
Despite these problems, I felt like Mad Max truly transported me to the world of a desert, where there was a lot more happening than meets the eye. I was quite satisfied, even if I didn’t always understand what I was doing or where I was going in the desert.
Runners-up: I enjoyed playing FIFA 16, which finally added female athletes after 22 years of only male players. Battlefield Hardline was also a good adaptation of the Battlefield franchise to cops and robbers, and Star Wars Battlefront had beautiful graphics (I just wish it had a single-player campaign).
What’s your vote? Let me know in the comments.