More than ever, style matters more than pure graphical power. So instead of highlighting the best graphics of 2016, we're going to talk about our favorite visual styles.
As before, everyone at USG put their heads together and voted on nine individual categories as a group, and each team member has nominated their own pick for the category. Rather than argue long and loud about personal opinions, however, we've taken a scientific approach: We voted on each category through an anonymous survey in which we weighted each nominee from "most" to "least."
This means, in theory at least, that a game that gets nominated by more than one person won't necessarily sweep the category—it's entirely possible for a dark horse to take the prize if it receives enough second- or third-place points from everyone. We'll see!
We'll be publishing a different category each day through the end of the year, leading up to our final vote for best game of 2016. Join us as we count down to our Game of the Year! And remember, you can follow the rest of our 2016 coverage in our handy hub.
Best Visual Style: The Nominees
What makes for great style? Is it high-quality art? A great user interface? Really strong animation? Everyone on the USgamer team has their own ideas about consitutes high-quality visuals, which is reflected in our nominations. Read on...
How can I pick against the game that has produced so much quality fanart? Overwatch is yet another example of personality trumping technology. Its characters are each distinctive and interesting in their own way, but also represent familiar and fun genre tropes. Blizzard's smartest move was in making the character select akin to a fighting game selection screen, putting the game's flair and humor front and center. You'll find a lot of attractive games these days, but hardly anyone can beat Blizzard when it comes to style.
Mike: Dishonored 2
This is another category where I feel strongly for someone else's choices. Kat is absolutely right about Overwatch and Forza Horizon 3 is a stunner, just like Jaz says. That said, I wanted to give a shout out to Dishonored 2, because the game's visual style is simply unique. There's nothing out there that looks like Dishonored 2.
It's not just the angular designs that comprise the characters, it's also the city of Karnaca. This seaside town makes an impact from the very beginning. Your boat approaches from the water, showing a pastoral, peaceful beach city, but as you land on shore, the water is tinged red with the blood running off from whale corpses being butchered. There's such a sense of contrast and place in Arkane Studios' design of Dishonored 2's levels. From the rundown asylum on a lonely bluff by itself, to the Clockwork Mansion, Dishonored 2 stands out visually.
Jaz: Forza Horizon 3
Playground Games took the Forza Horizon festival down under this year in a sublime release that set new graphical standards for open-world driving games. From its exquisitely-rendered skies through its meticulously-detailed cars to its gorgeously realistic environments, Forza Horizon 3 is perhaps the most impressive-looking Xbox One title yet seen - and a game that I think will go down as one of this generation's greats thanks to its smorgasbord of top-of-the-line racing content.
Nadia: Dragon Quest Builders
Minecraft's graphics are... well, I don't want to say "boring," because voxels (well, low-res boxy polygons if you demand accuracy) have become the most iconic visual style since the advent of NES pixels. But I never found Minecraft visually appealing in any way, whereas I cannot get over Dragon Quest Builders' expert mix of blocky landscapes and highly detailed monster models. Square-Enix's strange breeding of Dragon Quest and Minecraft produced an extremely successful hybrid: A modern building game that calls out to the hearts of Dragon Quest fans the world over. Applause.
Abzu is just gorgeous. Not surprising given that it was created in part by the art director behind Journey. Few games make the sea come alive to the extent of Abzu.
The Winner: Overwatch
Blizzard's trademark style wins once again as Overwatch takes home top honors. Overwatch brings a ton of visual influences to the table—fighting games, anime, comics—and they all come together in a style that just sings. Every little movement is loaded with personality, from Tracer blowing her bangs out of her eyes to Roadhog chuckling then wheezing, and it makes them all instantly appealing. Blizzard has elevated visual tics like these into an artform, and it's one reason their games manage to grab so many people from such a wide range of backgrounds.
Runner-up (Weighted Average): Abzu (3.2)
Monday: 2016's Loveliest Soundtrack