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It’s that time of year again, when I try to condense an entire year of game playing into a list of 10; you could even call it a Top 10. First thing any one reading this should know, this list only includes games I have played, and not every game of last year. That is why Doom, Titanfall 2, Overwatch, Battlefield 1, Thumper, etc. are not on the list. While I do recognize that some of these would most likely be on the list, and some may even be top-5, I simply cannot rate a game that I have no experience with. I also excluded mobile games such as Pokemon Go, Clash Royale and Super Mario Run because I haven’t figured out how exactly they would fit on this list, but that is not say I didn’t play them more than I would like to admit.

With that house cleaning out-of-the-way, below are The Main Damie’s Top 10 Video Games of 2016. This was the first year where I couldn’t fully commit on a No. 1, and I probably will change my mind if you ask me again in a month, but I am confident that there is a gulf between the games in the Top-3, and the rest of the list. That will probably be pretty obvious as you read.

Please leave your No. 1 game and your reasons why in the comments. I’d love to read them!

Honorable Mention: That Dragon Cancer

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It feel weird to  put a game this emotional into a Top 10 list, but it was also too well done not to mention. That Dragon, Cancer tells the true story of the creator and his struggle watching his young child battle cancer. I’m not going to lie this game could very well wreck you for days, but that is the beauty of the presentation. It is rare that a game has me on the verge of tears, but That Dragon, Cancer was the first time I needed to literally reach for a tissue to dry my eyes. I am still amazed that the creator was able to go through with this project. To this day, I think about this game.

10. Stellaris

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Who doesn’t love a game about collecting space resources that is also full of space politics? Ok. Ok, hear me out. Stellairs is a complex 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) game that takes place almost exclusively in space. There are battles to capture planets, but those are only in a menu and they are essentially a dice roll. Most of the visual battles — which are really well done — take place between the large space armadas of warring empires. Where the game shines the most is dependent on how good of an imagination you have. Since most of the game’s events take place in text confrontations, you need to develop the story of your game by knowing what the various empires believe in and how their actions affect what they are doing or trying to do. It is a game ripe with “head cannon” especially when you try to explain your last session with friends. It’s essentially space Civilization without the historical baggage. Definitely worth it if you love 4X games.

9. Overcooked

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One of the best things I can say about Overcooked is that I had just as much fun playing it with experience gamers as I did with my 5-year-old niece. While one of those sessions lasted longer than the other, they were both equal fulfilling and challenging. The cliff notes of Overcooked’s story is… (*deep breath*) you are a group of chefs that have to travel back in time to enhance your skills so you can satisfy the palate of a meatball Satan and stop the Apocalypse (*exhales*). Honestly, the story doesn’t matter much, but it more ridiculous than it needs to be — in a good way. Overcooked is the best, most frantic couch co-op game I have played in a long time. I highly recommend it for family gatherings because while a high skill level helps, it is not required for enjoyment.

8. Inside

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Inside was the only game on the list that I needed to play a second time to make sure that it deserved a spot on the list. Mostly because the very end of the game left such a bad taste in my mouth that I had forgotten how great the rest of the game was. The art, atmosphere, and puzzles were some of the best I played last year, and it was even better on a second playtrough. As great as those things were, that ending is what places this game at the bottom half of the Top 10. It was unsatisfying and almost ruined the game for me, so I couldn’t justify putting it above the other games on this list. If you liked Limbo, you’ll love Inside.

7. Hitman

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Oh, Hitman.

If we had a category for most surprising game of the year, Hitman would win it running away. My excitement level from the time of its announcement until I played the tutorial mission was apathetic at best. This is a game that is better played or watched (I recommend Giant Bomb) than read about. I could go on and on about how I killed two people at a fashion show dressed as a world-famous male model, or that I got to kill Gary Busey with a proximity mine, but you would get bored quickly. Hitman defines the saying, ‘you need to see it to understand it.’ Trust me, it is so so good.

6. Tom Clancy’s The Division

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Tom Clancy’s The Division wins the Destiny Award for game that went from way off this list to almost in the top-five just by doing a smart update and adding a mode. Survival mode, which launched in November, is what I wanted this game to be from the beginning, and I don’t know why it wasn’t. The new mode adds in a weather effect (you need to stay warm), which is something I didn’t know I needed until I had it. The shooting is still bullet sponge-y and can be frustrating when you play alone, but The Division is one of the few games I picked back up after a long hiatus and had more fun the second time around. So if you like the idea of Destiny, but hate space shooters, I highly recommend The Division.

5. Dark Souls III

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Dark Souls taps into my masochistic tendencies in video games, but my god is it rewarding. As I showed during our Extra Life Stream, I will never get bored repeating the same boss over and over for hours on end because the feeling when the words “You Defeated” pop up on the screen is indescribable, and Dark Souls III was the height of this phenomenon. The upgraded power of the PS4/Xbox One allows the world to be fully realized and the battle difficulty to increase. Since this list will be light on spoilers, I will not specifically mention where I’m talking about, but one of the best moments in games last year is when you slowly begin to realize where the game is taking you, but you don’t believe it until the name flashes on the screen. It is a mind-blowing moment that I still can believe actually happened, and it is a great reward for those of us who have played all three games.

4. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

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There’s always a complaint about sequels sometimes looking and feeling too much like the original, and in most cases that’s a bad thing, but not when your gameplay is as good as Deus Ex. This series is one that live two separate lives: the early-2000s originals and the early to mid 2010 action-focused HD offerings, which makes conversation about the series tough to have without remembering the subtitles. My experience is with the newer Deus Ex games and I find both games (Human Revolution and Mankind Divided) great but flawed. The former has an interesting story, but mediocre gameplay, while the latter is the opposite. For that reason, I couldn’t really tell you what happened in Mankind Divided, but I can say that doing a pacifist run (no kills; even bosses) was infinitely more fun this time around. The beauty of this game is that it is just as fun to play as shooter as it is to stealth, which is not true with Human Revolution.

3. Stardew Valley

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Guys, I can’t stop playing Stardew Valley. After playing a bit on PC when it first came out, I dove completely in when its release on consoles coincided with my holiday vacation. It is the simplest, yet most complicated game that I played last year. There are so many task to complete that at times you feel like there’s not enough time in the day, which makes you feel like you are never getting anywhere. This will happen to all first time players until the magical moment late in the fall, year 1 when everything clicks and you can’t put the game down.

Stardew Valley is one of those games that you start playing because you have some time before bed, and then before you know it, the sun is rising. The most evil part of the game is it only saves at then end of each day, so once you start doing things in the morning, you must complete the day or you will lose progress. That feature is both dangerous and brilliant. Here’s a quick run down of your activities in the game: Farming, fishing, mining, foraging, killing monsters, and befriending (or dating) people in the town. It still amazes me that one person created this game. If you liked Harvest Moon, you’ll love Stardew Valley.

2. Final Fantasy XV

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Final Fantasy XV the game I played the most last year with my completion time clocking in at 65 hours. It has the most engrossing combat that I’ve seen in any of the modern Final Fantasy’s (post XII) but even the terrific combat couldn’t make up for a very lacking story. It still astonishes me that to understand the plot you need to watch the Kingsglaive movie, but even with this information I don’t think it would’ve mattered too much. That is not to say I did not enjoy the road trip aspect or the four main characters themselves, but the main arc of the story was never compelling to me — it felt very generic.

The gameplay in Final Fantasy XV is the best I’ve seen in a long time. I was so addicted to the side missions and hunts that the game had to force me to continue the story. Basically when I ran out of things to do, I would advance the plot. I don’t know what that says about the game’s design, but if I was able to stay engaged for 65 hours, then that means it must’ve been good.

As a rule, I usually stop playing a game after finishing it, and I’m never one for new game+. But Final Fantasy XV has me wanting to go back and play as much of it as possible so I can complete all the hunts and side quests. This is mostly because of the aforementioned battle system, which I liken to an underappreciated game, Metal Gear Rising. On one hand, it is a bit button-mashy but on the other, it is fun as hell to play. My main issue with Final Fantasy XIII was that its action combat was boring and not engaging.

There are times where you could tell Final Fantasy XV started as a PS3 game, but for me, it was well worth the 10 year wait. My feelings on the series’ future are high because I think they solved the biggest problem the last three installments had. As it says on the first screen, Final Fantasy XV is a game for long-time fans and first timers because both will find something to enjoy.

1.  Oxenfree

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Oxenfree was a game I came to very late in the year. I purchased it on sale during the holidays and decided to play it as part of my Sunday Night Chill Stream series. The first hour and a half sucked me in so much that I decided to play through it on stream, and it unexpectedly became our first Let’s Play (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). While this write-up is not as long as Final Fantasy XV, a lot of the reasons why is that Oxenfree is No. 1 are spoiler heavy, and I would rather you find them on your own either through playing it yourself or watching our Let’s Play.

One of my favorite aspects of Oxenfree is how fully realized the characters are, and how the dialogue is almost perfect, especially the choices it gives you during conversations. It is ripe for a second playthrough because there’s a deeper story that encourages you to not mainline the story, and multiple branching paths within the character interactions. I recommend this game to anyone who loves scary ghost stories and/or teen drama. It is one of those things like Life is Strange in 2015, where every time I rough drafted the Top 10 list, I couldn’t see this game not in the Top 2. Eventually I decided that the much tighter story, its shorter run time, and fantastic twist ending, placed Oxenfree at the top of this list — well, at least today. Even though I understand that Oxenfree probably isn’t for everyone — just as Life is Strange was — there was no game I had better time with last year, and one I couldn’t recommend more.

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