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2016 in Review: The Best (and Worst) Gaming Trends of 2016

Goofy team-based shooters, against-all-odds development stories, and well-meaning but poorly implemented ideas have all been some of the regular occurrences in video games this year. As 2016 draws to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the trends that dominated the market and--for better and for worse--set a precedent for the future.

The Good

Clever Shooters

The first-person shooter has evolved greatly over the last few years. For a long stretch during the 360/PS3 era, it was mostly comprised of gritty military shooters built on jingoism and machismo. This year, we’ve reached a breaking point where military shooters are not only in the minority, they’re completely overshadowed by the likes of games containing fun, vibrant characters, unapologetic edge, and inventive shooting. It’s been a brilliant year for first-person shooters, and we couldn’t be happier.

Revitalized CCGs

In the wake of Hearthstone’s success, we’ve seen several franchises spin out into their own collectible card games and deck builders, each starring key characters and aspects of those respective series. This year, we’ve been able to tinker with Elder Scrolls Legends, The Witcher 3’s Gwent, and even a decent Plants vs. Zombies game with its own unique approach to card combat.

Command Line Interfaces

The use of interesting mechanics and interactivity have always been one of the hallmarks of inventive indie games, and in the past year we’ve seen several who go back--way, way back--for their approach to design. Games like Quadrilateral Cowboy, Duskers, and hackmud have all used classic command lines and rudimentary coding as one of the main points of interaction with the game’s systems and characters. While it can be isolating to a larger population because of its reliance on old school knowledge, it’s still a clever nod to the old days and a creative mechanic.

Miracle Development Stories

Some of 2016’s biggest releases had virtually everything working against them. The Last Guardian has been in development for almost a decade, Final Fantasy XV was a completely different game before it was turned into the proper sequel it is today, and even smaller games like Owlboy faced years and years of development before finally releasing.

The miracle in each of these stories? They all released this year, and all three of them are widely upheld as being perfectly adequate, if not downright fantastic. Not every game goes through massive changes or takes years stuck in development hell to release as anything particularly special, but all of these have easily become some of the best games of the year. Hopefully the likes of Kingdom Hearts 3, Star Citizen, and the Final Fantasy VIII remake can release in a similar state of quality.

Virtual Reality Now an Actual Reality

While it’s still finding its footing in the market, 2016 was the first year that we saw VR begin to really emerge as a strong force in both gaming and tech. Big franchises like Doom, Fallout 4, Serious Sam, and even the Batman Arkham series had their own experiences on VR, and indie games like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Tilt Brush, and The Unspoken all showed some of the ways in which VR can become its own platform with unique capabilities and experiences.

We’re hopeful that, as VR continues to find its place, things like the cost and application of VR will become much more friendly to less affluent users so it can reach a wider range of users. And, as we continue to explore the uses of VR outside of video games, we’ll learn more and more about its capabilities beyond what we see in the present.

Increased Diversity

This year saw the release of massive games with distinctly diverse casts. Overwatch has a roster made up entirely of different races, nationalities, and genders, both Watch Dogs 2 and Mafia 3 starred black men in stories that explored issues of racism in America, and games like Dishonored 2, ReCore, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and Battlefield 1 had playable female characters in leading roles.

It’s a win for everyone when video game characters become more diverse. Not only does it communicate a message of inclusivity to all people, it also opens the door for new stories that couldn’t necessarily be told through the lens of traditional archetypal characters. We’re hopeful that this trend continues into 2017 and beyond.

Nintendo on Mobile

2016 also marked the debut of Nintendo’s mobile strategy, including the release of games like Miitomo, Super Mario Run, and--despite its secondary involvement in it--the wildly popular Pokemon Go.

They each worked to varying degrees of success, but more importantly, they showed Nintendo’s potential on the mobile platform and fulfilled the vision of the late Satoru Iwata. With the future Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem games coming down the line, we can’t wait to see what else Nintendo might have in store for us on smartphones.

Old Franchise Resurrections

Classic franchises don’t always make the best migration into modern context, but 2016 had several that defied all odds and successfully capitalized on the formula enough to possibly inspire the return of several other key franchises. Ratchet and Clank captured the goofy, satisfying feel of the PS2 original, Doom was a glorious gorefest aping the feel of the original PC games, and the return of games like Prey and Quake Champions shows that with a bit of careful consideration, some old things can definitely be made new again.

The Bad

Review Copy Schedules

Bethesda’s new review policy of sending game review copies just one day before release has been a challenging one for everyone. On the media side, it makes it difficult to plan adequate coverage to serve readers. On the consumer side, it means that purchases could be delayed in the interest of waiting to see what the consensus is among other players and media members. Problems like PC technical issues could go unnoticed until released to a wider population, media outlets will lose out on fiercely competitive coverage plans, and the necessary criticism needed to make an informed decision becomes muddy and less well-developed as media outlets attempt to rush through a game in favor of getting a review or video live early. It’s just not a great arrangement for anyone.

Console Mods

Console Mods are not outright bad in the sense that they’re completely busted, but they do leave a lot to be desired. Both Fallout 4 and Skyrim’s console mods are extremely limited in number, typically adding small graphical tweaks and forgoing some of the more outlandish and fun concepts found in the mods on PC. We’re willing to give them the benefit of being one of the first games to ever introduce this functionality, but we’re also hopeful it will be much more robust and realized in the future.

Runaway Hype Train

Marketing campaigns are built on hype. Hyping up features, settings, creators, involvement. Games are always about the next best thing, and while that is often used to great effect, it can sometimes be to its detriment.

There have been a handful of games that suffered at the hand of overly ambitious marketing campaigns, but the most notable this year have been No Man’s Sky and Mighty No. 9. No Man’s Sky had a vague marketing campaign that stoked the imagination to the point where expectations reached a height reality could never aspire to, leaving it an underwhelming experience that wasn’t bad so much as disappointing.

Mighty No. 9, on the other hand, was a bit of a misleading hype machine that resulted in a marketing campaign that didn’t resemble the final released product. For a game promising to uphold the Mega Man charm and riding on the credibility of Keiji Inafune, it’s massively disappointing we didn’t get more out of it.

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