There will be plenty of storylines to follow in 2016 - the rise of VR, the fall of the Wii U, and the question of what's next for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. But no matter how everything shakes out, there's no question that there will be a lot of great games this year.
As usual, many of this year's most anticipated releases are games that ended up being pushed back from 2015, including Persona 5 and Uncharted 4. Others have been a long time coming, like Jonathan Blow's The Witness. Naturally, we can't anticipate what will end up being announced - Fallout 4 was one of 2015's biggest games, and it wasn't announced until E3 - but we do know what we want to play now.
Our lists will undoubtedly look very different by the end of the year, but here are the games we're most excited to play in 2016.
Amplitude (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4)Release date: January 5
As a huge fan of the original twelve-year-old Amplitude, I was delighted to see Harmonix' Kickstarter campaign to reboot the game succeed earlier this year. Just over 14,000 backers pledged $844,127 in May to bring back the game for a second outing.
And now it's pretty much ready to go. The gameplay is basically classic Amplitude: Fly a spaceship along six parallel note highways, each representing different aspects of the music track that's currently playing, such as drums, bass, synth, and vocals, and hit the note gems on each rail in time to the music. Successfully doing so activates that aspect of the track, building up the music so that the full piece plays. It's very simple, but surprisingly addictive and entertaining, rather like a more sophisticated Rock Band game, only using a controller instead of a plastic guitar.
One of the standout features of the new Amplitude is its original music. Largely created by the Harmonix team, but with contributions from Freezepop, Danny B, and Jim Guthrie, it takes the form of a progressive-electronica sci-fi concept album that spins the story of a scientist experimenting with synesthesia. It features a heady mix of genres, expertly mixed to deliver something very different - and I've certainly loved the tracks I've heard so far.
I've spent a couple of hours with the game, and it's a lot of fun - taking the best elements from Amplitude and Frequency and wrapping them up in some very eye-catching visuals. If you're a fan of electronic music and loved the original Amplitude, you should definitely be on the lookout for this digital-only game in early January. — Jaz
XCOM 2 (PC)Release date: February 5
Many of us were surprised when Firaxis Games stuck the landing and actually made a great reboot of the classic XCOM games. The previous titles were harsh, unforgiving strategy games where a missed shot or walking around the wrong corner could ruin your whole crew. EXCOM: Enemy Unknown and its expansion, Enemy Within, were still hard, but some of the hidden complexity of the original games was missing.
XCOM 2 looks to add some of that complexity back into the game. Whereas Enemy Unknown was about showing the world that Firaxis could be trusted with XCOM, XCOM 2 is about making a deeper, harder game. The game switches things up by putting you on the offensive; in the world of XCOM, you lost the battles of the first game and now your program is the resistance, hitting alien-controlled targets from your mobile base.
XCOM 2 is offering up an improved character creator, more classes, more weapons, and more enemies. The missions are bigger, featuring more complex objectives and different environments. There's also a heavy espionage element this time around, with players having to work with other resistance cells, hack targets, and find intelligence to prevent impending alien attacks. - Mike
Fire Emblem Fates (Nintendo 3DS)Release date: February 19
Fire Emblem Fates represents a new lease on life for the Fire Emblem series. Fire Emblem Awakening was meant to be the franchise's swan song - a kitchen sink game featuring all of the series' best ideas from over the years. But it ended up being so successful that Nintendo greenlit another one. Thus, we have Fire Emblem Fates, which is really two games (three if you count the DLC) in one - Birthright and Conquest.
Though it may seem a tad excessive, Intelligent Systems has good reason for splitting their story into two distinct games. Popular as Awakening was, old-guard Fire Emblem fans were dismayed by how easy it was compared to other games in the series, its ability to grind XP rendering much of the challenge moot. Intelligent Systems is aware of the criticism; so this time around, they're splitting the different. Birthright will be for those who loved Awakening and want more, and Conquest will be for those who want more of a challenge.
Which is not to say that they will be the same game. Early on in the story, you have a choice between two families. The route that you end up taking determines which route you follow; and thus, which game you play. In that respect, Fire Emblem Fates is really two distinct experiences combined into one; as opposed to Pokémon, which is really the same game with some marginal differences. It's a bold experiment, and it will be fun to see how well it works out. In the meantime, I'm just excited to have Fire Emblem back on the 3DS. It's certainly one of my most anticipated RPGs of the new year. - Kat
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (PlayStation 4)Release date: April 26
Nathan Drake makes his somewhat delayed PlayStation 4 debut, a move that was apparently down to Naughty Dog wanting to get the ending right. His game will be coming out in the April release window, putting it at the tail end of the spring release season.
Expect the usual phenomenal setpieces, high-quality graphics, and summer blockbuster-like writing as Drake gets dragged back into his life as a fortune hunter - all staples that made Uncharted the PlayStation 3's most popular series. Also expect dialogue options, which is a first for the series. It won't quite be a full-on Telltale adventure, but increased control over what has traditionally been an interactive movie is certainly welcome.
Uncharted 4 has been a long time coming, but now that it's almost here, there's every reason to expect that it will live up to the standard set by the previous games in the series. And regardless, it will be the biggest PlayStation 4 exclusive of the first quarter of 2016. - Kat
Dark Souls 3 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC)Release date: April 12
From Software has really been on a roll over the past six years. The Japanese developer has been making games for much longer than that, of course, but the PlayStation 3 exclusive Demon's Souls definitely put them on the map for most people. Since then, their particular brand of RPG has essentially become an annualized release with Dark Souls 2, Bloodborne, and Dark Souls 3 being separated by just a single year. And while I don't think their design philosophy falls victim to the same diminishing returns we see in other series that surface once a year, I'm more than happy that Dark Souls 3 stands as the end of its particular saga. Knowing how much From loves building off of their past work, I fully expect Dark Souls 3 to be an absolute show-stopper, giving fans of From Software RPGs the content they've been begging for—along with some surprises they weren't sure they wanted. Then, those talented developers can finally shift gears and figure out a way to endlessly kill us outside the context of dark fantasy. — Bob
No Man's Sky (PlayStation 4, PC)Release date: June
No Man's Sky is described by its developer Hello Games as a "science fiction game set in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy." Just think about that for a moment. A massively-multiplayer game that promises to let you - and everybody else who plays it - loose in a galaxy filled with an infinite number of planets and stars. It sounds unbelievable, right? Yet so far, demos have shown exactly that: A universe of stars to discover, each with its own planetary system whose heavenly bodies you can travel to, land on, and explore. Some worlds have life, others don't - but you won't know until you travel there and find out.
Exploration and survival are headlined as No Man's Sky's main objectives, but the game also features combat and trading. You can dogfight enemies in space, engage in first-person combat on the surface of a planet, as well as collect resources and trade them for new ships, space suits, and gear. It all adds up to a game that sounds mind-boggling in size and scope.
Is it all too good to be true? That's what I'm really looking forward to finding out in 2016. Hopefully No Man's Sky will be more than just an astonishing technical showcase, and will be a great game in its own right - and one that will let us all boldly go where no-one has gone before. — Jaz
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)Release date: August 23
You don't often see a series pass hands from one studio to another and survive the transition. When the series in question has its own unique personality and bucks genre trends the way Deus Ex does, the chances of a successful transfer of command grow even slimmer. And yet: Square Enix Montreal managed to do just fine with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. No, the game wasn't 100% faithful to Ion Storm's original game from back in 2000, but how could it be? The medium and industry had changed rapidly over the course of a decade, and Deus Ex had to change to remain viable.
Despite a significant shift in play mechanics and aesthetics, though, Human Revolution felt fundamentally faithful to Deus Ex of yore. It emphasized the potential of stealth and non-violent solutions to game, incorporated consequences into its mission design, and even presented players with sophisticated dialogue trees that didn't boil down to good/bad/neutral. The developer even went back into the game to fix the one part that didn't work, the out-of-place (and outsourced) boss battles.
I haven't been following Mankind Divided much, because I want the experience to feel fresh when I finally play the game. I know Adam Jensen returns as the protagonist, and… that's about it. The trailers to date have been very violent and stylized, but my understanding is that stealth and pacifism remain viable tactics for play (just not for psyching up the Mt. Dew bros at E3 press conferences). The meticulous care SE Montreal demonstrated with Human Revolution, and their willingness to go in and rectify its shortcomings, have me looking forward to the prospect of a big-budget game that I might actually be able to play as something other than a brain-dead shooter. —Jeremy