The Dean's List: Danielle's Top Ten Games of 2016
Waypoint's Managing Editor/Waypoint High's Vice Principal picks her favorite games of 2016.
Welcome to the Waypoint High School Class of 2016 Yearbook. We're giving out senior superlatives to our favorite games, digging into the year's biggest stories via extracurriculars, and following our favorite characters through their adventures together in fanfic. See you in 2017!
I played so many games this year that I actively had to go back and take a look at my previous coverage, to make sure I didn't miss anything when compiling my list. And there are still several games—Virginia, Watch Dogs 2, Titanfall 2, and The Last Guardian are among them—that I didn't even get a chance to play yet, that very well might have graced this list!
But fear not. I'll stop fretting about my gaming FOMO and get right to it, with my personal top ten games of 2016.
I really like Overwatch as a game—it's fast and colorful and allows players with different skillsets to succeed (I am only ever not completely terrible when I play Zarya, a defensive support specialist). But I like it even better as a fandom, a crowd of diverse folks that make all kinds of art around these very colorful, positive characters meant to represent different kinds of heroes, from all walks of life.
9. Event 
I love when a game subverts my expectations. Event  looks like an indie walking sim set in a derelict spaceship (albeit one from a retro-future 80s, where humanity got its collective shit together and luxury space-liners were a reality). I thought I was in for a pleasant game about a rogue AI that went mad and killed everyone. Event  plays with those expectations and instead offers the most dynamic, conversational AI character (Kaidan, who is something of a hyper-advanced chatbot) I've ever encountered. It's a really well-done exploration game with a story that goes to satisfyingly out-there territory.
8. Rise of the Tomb Raider
Ok, I know this game technically launched in 2015, but look: Most people played it this year, when it arrived on PS4, and there was a whole bunch of dlc in it, so if it makes you feel better, consider this the an award for the GOTY edition or whatever the hell its called.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a fantastic video game-ass video game. It's a perfect blend of platforming and combat and puzzle-solving, dusted with a little crafting and exploration. It out-Uncharts Uncharted in terms of beautiful setpieces containing plenty of action, but it does one better: It plays well in all of its many styles.
Shooting arrows in order to climb up a wall feels just as good as messing with a giant pendulum to solve a puzzle. Hunting bears is just as exciting as stealthily taking out guards. No part of the game feels stilted or unnatural, and the flow of action always feels right. Yeah, the story is a little fuzzy and crappy, but that never kept me from having a really, really good time with Lara Croft in this adventure.
7. Quadrilateral Cowboy
I'm not much of a coder, (I only know enough C# to be slightly dangerous), but Quad Cowboy made me feel like a hacker-mastermind-thief, pulling off complex jobs with the greatest of ease. Plus the game has style for days, with sweet cardboard people and 80s record covers and pristine command line interfaces.
I know Doom is probably on a few of my colleagues' lists, so I'll just say this: I love that Doom was so unapologetically it's own damned game. It was about shooting demons in the face, and premised on a hot/deranged cyborg scientist lady thinking that opening the gates to literal hell was a great idea. No bullshit, no grimdark man-pain or binary moral choices. Doom knew what it wanted to be, and it rode that rocket backpack straight into the next dimension.
5. Pokemon Sun and Moon
Pokemon Sun and Moon was the game I played the most for relaxation. I called it a vacation game, with its familiar mechanics and cuddly critters and beautiful island aesthetics, and I stand by that. This was the game that I reached for, more than any other this year, when I needed time in a happier world. Plus, Popplio was always there for me. I love my little seal puppy.
4. Mafia 3
I think Mafia 3 has some rough spots, and it sure has too much filler. But goddamn if I wasn't wowed by this game. Not only by its frank approach to racism in American history, or its incredibly well-done story sequences, but by its more subtle touches. I love the way that the game comments on police racism by making the cops ever more vigilant when you are in white neighborhoods. I love the stories on the radio, which mirror so many tragic—modern—incidents. I love the physical beauty of New Bordeaux—its waterfronts and funky signs and cool cars—set against the fatal ugliness of those who would oppose the Civil Rights movement. I spent so much time in this world barely "playing," just running or driving or walking, looking and listening in this terrible, beautiful city.
Before I even write the giant DISCLAIMER, I'll just say it here: my friends (who I podcast with) made this. I won't belabor the point about it, I'll just say that this was a rare game for me that really nailed the difficult frustrations of adulthood: of being in a truly miserable situation with a loved one. With being emotionally unequipped to deal with reality. With wanted so badly to escape that reality, and finding no comfort outside a moment or two of fantasy. This is a heartbreaking, beautiful game.
2. Dishonored 2
Dishonored 2 is a masterclass in ambitious, well-executed level design. It has intricate, multi-layered 3D spaces teeming with secrets, encouraging (and enthusiastically allowing for) different approaches to each scenario, with story detail lavished upon every room. It marries these spaces with player powers that let you do things that would break other games entirely: zip through space, crawl semi-visible through enemy hordes, see through walls. That the level design is good enough—and rich enough—to support all the actions you can take, legitimately astounds me. It makes me a little jealous of the folks who made this game, that they can think up and then really execute on these concepts. Oh, hey, I mean, it's also a really engrossing and fun game that turned me into a completionist. (Disclaimer: a personal friend worked on the game's narrative.)
Related, on Waypoint: Find out why Dishonored 2's Emily Kaldwin receives our "Most Likely to Teach at Waypoint High School," superalative, right here!
1. Even the Ocean
When I think about my favorite games of a given year, I consider a few things. How much time I spent with a game, what kind of impact it had on me, what I think it was trying to say, or do, on an emotional level. Even the Ocean stayed with me the longest—I think about it often, remembering its intricate level design, its quirky and colorful world, its characters and their awakening as citizens of a corrupt government.
I think about Dreamdram canyon, and it's weird soup that makes peoples' dreams appear as bubbles in the sky. I think of protagonist Aliph writing in their diary at night. I think about the apartments in the lower quadrant of Whiteforge city, and the mayor's quarters, soaring above in gleaming white. I think about how fantasy can say so much about the world we live in now. And I think about replaying the whole thing on a lazy weekend. Even the Ocean stays with me, and I can think of no better game to top my list this year.