The Game Awards 2016

It’s that time of the year for the leaves to change colors, sweaters to come out of the closets, and to invest in stretchy pants for holiday dinners galore! As gamers, however, we get one extra little pleasure, in that our lone televised award show airs on December 1st. This year, I thought I would break down the categories and nominees and highlight my picks (and predictions) for the show.

 

Best Action Game

* Battlefield 1

* DOOM

* Gears of War 4

* Overwatch

* Titanfall 2

 

Let’s start with Best Action Game. Here, we find a realistic war-time shooter in Battlefield 1, a sci-fi adrenaline and gore rush in DOOM, a smart revitalization of a franchise in Gears of War 4, the colorful and unique team chemistry in Overwatch, and the Robo-Buddy system of Titanfall 2. First, every one of these games are great picks, and this could truly go in any direction. However, I’m willing to bet the intense single-player of DOOM or the superb overall package of Gears of War 4 will come out on top. 

 

Dark Horse: Titanfall 2

 

Best Action/Adventure Game

* Dishonored 2

* Hitman

* Hyper Light Drifter

* Ratchet & Clank

* Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

 

In the Action/Adventure category, you have the play-it-your-way dazzler of Dishonored 2, the episodic masterpiece in Hitman, the unique throwback indie title Hyper Light Drifter, the zany gunplay of Ratchet & Clank, and the shoot ‘n’ quip game ending Nathan Drake’s story, Uncharted 4. It’s another category filled with fantastic titles, but I believe that Dishonored 2 will end up the winner; its focus on playing in your own way is only shared with Hitman

 

Dark Horse: Hyper Light Drifter

 

Best RPG

* Dark Souls 3

* Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

* The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine

* World of Warcraft: Legion

* Xenoblade Chronicles X

 

The battle for best RPG is a strange one this year. The gothic brutality of Dark Souls 3 is certainly the favorite among a few of my followers on Twitter. That being said, I have a soft spot for the sci-fi near future setting and timely social commentary of Deus Ex. The Witcher surprises me in that its DLC is nominated against these other full titles, and, win or lose, that speaks volumes to me. World of Warcraft’s latest expansion doesn’t re-invent the wheel so I am not sure if the refinements are enough to pull in a win, and Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game I’ve heard more than a few say they loved and enjoyed. Will the Wii U’s limited audience prove a hindrance? My money is on Xenoblade Chronicles X or Deus Ex.

 

Dark Horse: Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine

 

Best Fighting Game

* Killer Instinct Season 3

* King of Fighters XIV

* Pokken Tournament

* Street Fighter V

 

Of all the genres to pull punches, who would’ve thought it’d be the fighting games? I truly only see a fight between two titles here: Killer Instinct and King of Fighters XIV. Street Fighter didn’t have the features or character roster people expect in a modern fighting title, and will have to try next year when Capcom inevitably re-releases it. While Pokken Tournament had some unique gameplay, it didn’t stick with me and I see it as the underdog in this category. Killer Instinct is my expectation for winning with the refinements made and the crowd-pleasing guest characters.

 

Dark Horse: Pokken Tournament

 

Best Family Game

* Dragon Quest Builders

* Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens

* Pokemon Go

* Ratchet & Clank

* Skylanders: Imaginators

 

What a motley crew we have assembled here. By and large, Dragon Quest Builders is the JRPG fan’s Minecraft and has captured a lot of attention. Lego Star Wars, is a favorite to win by near default. Pokemon Go is unexpected in this category; although having lackluster in-game multiplayer, the crowd effect it had on people over the summer makes Pokemon Go a strong contender. Ratchet & Clank is also a solid choice, but I had almost forgotten it was out this year, and I believe others have done the same. Skylanders is the one title I can’t see winning in the slightest. 

 

Dark Horse: Dragon Quest Builders

 

Best Strategy Game

* Civilization VI

* Fire Emblem Fates

* The Banner Saga 2

* Total War: Warhammer

* XCOM 2

 

Only one can win in this category full of titles where every decision changes the outcome drastically. Each of these games could easily win the title, and I feel no other category is as close as this one. It’s so close in fact, I can’t pick a favored game to win. However, with Civilization VI winning Best PC Game and Best Strategy Game at the Game Critics Awards, it is certainly the favored title among critics. 

 

Dark Horse: Fire Emblem Fates

 

Best Sports/Racing Game

* FIFA 17

* Forza Horizon 3

* MLB The Show 16

* NBA 2K17

* Pro Evolution Soccer 2017

 

You might be thinking poor Forza, but I’m thinking the other sports titles are the ones who should be feeling sorry. Forza Horizon 3 is the best reviewed title of these, and I’m betting it’s going to drive away with a win. Why is Forza the only racing game listed? Turns out only three have been released this year for consoles or PC.

 

Dark Horse: NBA 2K17

 

Best Multiplayer Game

* Battlefield 1

* Gears of War 4

* Overcooked

* Overwatch

* Rainbow Six Siege

* Titanfall 2

 

At first glance, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I say Overwatch should win. And why shouldn’t it? It’s one of the few shooters I’ve played where I feel like I can actively contribute to my team’s victory. However, any of the other shooters could be worthy of the award, but none would have the surprise of Overcooked winning. Overcooked is also the only game on here with no gunplay at all.

 

Dark Horse: Overcooked

 

Best Game Direction

* Blizzard

* DICE

* id Software

* Naughty Dog

* Respawn Entertainment

 

A games direction needs to feel cohesive and whole in order to be successful and, once more, I think Blizzard will end up pulling away with this award on the backs of World of Warcraft and Overwatch. It wouldn’t surprise me though to see id Software find it instead based on the work done with DOOM

 

Dark Horse: id Software

 

Best Music & Sound Design

* Battlefield 1

* DOOM

* Inside

* Rez Infinite

* Thumper

 

If this was just about sound design, I would say it’s a fight between DOOM and Battlefield 1. However, with the inclusion of music in this category, I feel that Rez Infinite will take the prize. It has a very catchy soundtrack, and immersive effects, but if beats aren’t quite enough, Battlefield 1 is next likely to take it. 

 

Dark Horse: Inside

 

Best Performance

* Alex Hernandez for Mafia 3

* Emily Rose for Uncharted 4

* Nolan North for Uncharted 4

* Troy Baker for Uncharted 4

* Cissy Jones for Firewatch

* Rich Sommer for Firewatch

 

For Best performance, I believe Nolan North will end up winning for his portrayal of Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4; however, I would love for one of the two Firewatch nominations to win as well. Last year’s win from Her Story shows us an indie upset is entirely possible. 

 

Dark Horse: Alex Hernandez

 

Best Independent Game

* Firewatch 

* Hyper Light Drifter

* Inside 

* Stardew Valley 

* The Witness

 

Best Independent Game is a challenge between three strong contenders this year, Stardew Valley, Inside, and Firewatch. I saw plenty of people playing Stardew Valley on YouTube over the summer, and saw firsthand the addictive gameplay it offers. Inside is a very different beast and plays similarly like its predecessor, LIMBO. Inside also has an ending to be believed. But Firewatch is the interesting title, in that it has a story that isn’t as tightly controlled as Inside, but doesn’t offer the freedom that Stardew Valley does. Still, its story of a lone Ranger against trespassers in a woodland setting is unique. Any three of these have a solid chance at winning, but I’ll be favoring Firewatch

 

Dark Horse: The Witness

 

Best VR Game

* Batman: Arkham VR

* Eve Valkyrie

* Job Simulator

* Rez Infinite

* Thumper

 

Now I’m not in a situation where I’ve been able to play these, but I do feel that the most likely to win are Batman and Job Simulator. Both offer very different experiences, but they do them very well. I can’t wait though to see if this becomes a permanent fixture of future award shows. 

 

Dark Horse: Rez Infinite

 

Games For Impact

* 1979 Revolution

* Block’Hood

* Orwell

* Sea Hero Quest

* That Dragon, Cancer

 

After reading up on each of these games, they all are unique and make me want to give them a spin. The three that stand out to me the most are Orwell, Sea Hero Quest, and That Dragon, Cancer. Orwell puts you in the shoes of a surveillance expert in a foreign city that employs advanced techniques to keep tabs on its citizens. Sea Hero Quest is a game that has led to the compilation of years of all-new data about dementia research. That Dragon, Cancer is a game born from the experiences of the couple that made the game after they learned their son had a terminal form of cancer. My personal pick will be Sea Hero Quest given its possible real-world purpose, but the story of That Dragon, Cancer may be the emotional favorite.

 

Dark Horse: That Dragon, Cancer

 

Best Story

* Firewatch

* Inside

* Mafia 3

* Oxenfree

* Uncharted 4

 

Stories have grown more complex in gaming as these titles can attest to, but I think it will be a showdown between Mafia 3 and Oxenfree. Oxenfree’s gameplay relies very heavily on its story and the choices of the player, and is my personal pick to win. Mafia 3 deserves it too though, for having such a racially charged storyline and for not being afraid to take risks with their story in a medium where such acts aren’t always appreciated. 

 

Dark Horse: Uncharted 4

 

Best Mobile Game

* Clash Royale

* Fire Emblem Fates

* Monster Hunter Generations

* Pokemon Go

* Severed

 

Pokemon Go may be the most successful game in the category, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best, and I feel it’s going to fall short of winning the award. Instead, I think Severed or Fire Emblem Fates will end up winning the day. Severed is the newest game from the makers of Guacamelee – another game I really enjoyed – while Fire Emblem Fates is the newest release of the venerable strategy series.

 

Dark Horse: Monster Hunter Generations

 

Best Art Direction

* Abzu

* Firewatch

* Inside

* Overwatch

* Uncharted 4

 

Each of these games is beautiful to look at, but for very different reasons. I think the more minimalist directions of Inside and Abzu will make them the favored titles. However, the vibrancy of the characters and environment of Overwatch comes in a tight third to me. Watch for Uncharted 4’s realism to be the unexpected winner.

 

Dark Horse: Uncharted 4

 

Game of the Year

* DOOM

* Inside

* Overwatch

* Titanfall 2

* Uncharted 4

 

Here we are, the big aware of the night. The coveted Game of the Year award will end up going to one of these 5. Four of them are shooters, but Inside is the lone, purely single-player game. Will its short campaign mean it is snuffed out, or will the quality of its story outshine the others? DOOM was a very successful reboot of a classic series that delivered on every hallmark people expected in its single-player campaign, but its multiplayer is its biggest crutch. Overwatch, for as much as I enjoy it, is a multiplayer title only, but it does it so well and no other single game has been played as much by myself or the people I follow on Twitter this year. Titanfall 2 has been reviewed consistently well and is said to have grown itself in every conceivable way over its predecessor. That being said, I think it’s Uncharted 4 that may walk away with the award with a mostly solid campaign and competent multiplayer. It doesn’t hurt that it is arguably the most gorgeous of the nominated titles, but it’s still anyone’s award. My money will be on Overwatch, primarily as no other game has felt so wonderful to play and it never stops being fun. It’s clear this race is extremely close. 

 

There you have it, my picks for The Game Awards 2016. What are your picks? You can catch The Game Awards for yourself live on all sorts of services, including Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook Live, Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Steam, IGN, Gamespot, Snapchat, and NextVR. I’ll be watching and live-tweeting the show myself when it starts Thursday at 8:30pm Eastern. 

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25 Years of Blizzard

Growing up, there was always a lot of gaming going on. Day to day, it could’ve been a table top classic like Monopoly or Dungeons & Dragons, or one of the many games we had on consoles. Those naturally would be more varied, but in the mid 90’s my family brought home a PC game that hooked my Dad, brother and I. That game was Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. And it ended up starting a life-long love affair I didn’t even realize I had with a development house with one of the best records in gaming: Blizzard Entertainment.

Original known as Silicon & Synapse, by 1995, Blizzard hadn’t had a big hit yet and had done some smaller projects for both Computer gaming and consoles like the Super Nintendo. While the original Warcraft garnered critics praise, it had not become a big hit. That is not until the sequel popularized online Real-Time Strategy gaming. And that is what managed to hook my family into it, that after the story, and the baked-in scenarios, there was still more to offer that could be different every time.

But, it was more then just online gameplay. That was a bonus. The game itself was relatively easy to understand, even for a kid who was in first grade. The game also had personality in spades. Through the house while playing Warcraft II, the sounds of many a loyal peasant and footman could be heard. “Yesh m’lord,” “For the Alliance,” and even special phrases like “Don’t you have a kingdom to run”?  The fact that the people under your command had such a personality made it fun and not quite as serious as other games in the genre were. But Warcraft was blown out of the water with a release in 1998 by the name of Starcraft.

Where Warcraft II was about Orcs vs. Humans, Starcraft had a more complex plot line involving three races, the Terrans, Protoss, and the Zerg. These three races become locked in a struggle to control the galaxy that sees members of government trying to stop the heroes at every turn, or rising up against their superiors. But even despite the serious plot, it still retained it’s charm by giving distinct personalities to primary characters and the races overall. But looking at Starcraft itself, it’s apparent now to say that Starcraft laid the groundwork for eSports. Starcraft ended up becoming a huge online behemoth that was in constant play at homes and in tournaments worldwide until about 2010. And that is perhaps it’s greatest legacy. My family never participated in any of these tournaments, but we did have LAN matches between ourselves that ended in one of two ways. Either my brother would launch what’s known as a Zerg rush, crippling his opponents early, or Dad would be methodical in his approach and have me fail an attack only for him to retaliate before I could recover. It was good times that seem far away now. We enjoyed it so much, we even eventually picked up the Nintendo 64 port. Wasn’t a bad way to experience the game but it was… harder without a mouse.

A few years after the release of Starcraft came, my Dad picked up a sequel to one of Blizzard’s games that I hadn’t been allowed to play, but had watched some of: Diablo. Diablo II was a game that I didn’t connect with as well, and I imagine that’s because it was such a different game. In the Diablo series, it’s up to you to lead a charge against the demons and lords of Hell itself. And along the way you get a lot of loot. I didn’t understand the mechanics well enough to really grasp the game or get far into it, but it would influence me enough later in life to get excited for Diablo III and to pick it up.

The games of Blizzard continued to be influential as I continued to grow up, as I played the games I already loved over and over again, but the only game that released before I graduated High School after Diablo II was Warcraft III in 2002. Warcraft III brought the series and Blizzard into the 3D realm, and they added two more races, the Undead and the Night Elves. It made for a much more layered and challenging experience, one that I would love to get back to now that I may have a better grasp of the mechanics.

After High School, I ended up getting a job with Wal-Mart’s electronics department in 2007, and ended up working with a couple of guys that were big into another game that changed my perception of what a game could be: World of Warcraft. I wasn’t into it near as much s they were, but it was so crazy to me to have this entire other world to explore and actually see other people roaming the land of Azeroth and be able to interact with them. It was especially mind-altering for me as before I had played online games where you might meet someone for a game and then never hear from them again. But World of Warcraft actively encouraged you to meet with people, and not only get to know them but trust in their abilities. It’s a feeling that has carried over to the newest games I’ve played from Blizzard, like Diablo III and Overwatch.

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While Diablo III was more of the same, but prettier for the series, it had an ease of use about that made it so anyone could play it, and the barrier I experiences all those years ago with it’s predecessor was gone. The console release made it even better by having multiplayer on the same couch. But I haven’t felt as connected to a game as I have lately with Overwatch.

On paper, Overwatch feels like another shooter. But like with so many of Blizzard’s games, the characters make the biggest difference. In it, you have men and woman of different backgrounds and ethnicities, robots, and even a gorilla to choose from. and each of these characters has it’s own abilities and weapons. The maps you play in also look lived in, with visual clues sprinkled throughout that hint towards events in the game’s lore. But it also exemplifies that teamwork aspect I first felt in the raids of World of Warcraft. You aren’t the lone soldier able to do everything on your own, but someone that must rely on the abilities of your team to achieve a common goal.
Since 1991, Blizzard has crafted wonderful games that emphasize characters and gameplay before anything else. The games have shaped what I expect out of games, and have given me a plethora of memories related to playing them. It didn’t occur to me that Blizzard had been such a big part of my gaming life until this weekend when Blizzcon (they’re own convention) showed a retrospective video that you can see here. (Opens a new window/tab to YouTube).

If you haven’t played one of the games in the Blizzard library, do yourself a favor and fix that now. Below I have links to where you can download a variety of the games mentioned here as well as some of the other popular games available. I hope you enjoy
them as much as I have. Happy gaming to all! And to Blizzard: thank you for all of the memories past, present, and still to come.

Starcraft – (PC Only) $15 with expansion

Diablo II – (PC/Mac) $10 + a $10 expansion

Warcraft III – (PC/Mac) $10 + a $10 expansion

Heroes of the Storm – (PC/Mac) Free

Heathstone – PC, Mac, iOS, and Android Free

Starcraft II: Complete Trilogy (PC/Mac) $60

Diablo III Battle Chest (PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3) – $30 [Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will not receive new content!]

Overwatch: Origins Edition (PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4) $60, includes bonus goodies for most of the newer games on this list!

World of Warcraft (PC/Mac) $20 to start, free to try