There were more than 25 great games this year, so our list of the best games of 2016 doesn’t include all of our favorites. This week our editors and writers will be looking back on their favorite games of 2016 that didn’t make that list. First up: editor-at-large Cameron Kunzelman.
The world has turned and tilted on its axis, and I have played through it all. I’ve played blockbuster flops and indie hits, PC obscurities and console sensations, and there are two game experiences that I’ve had this year that have gone above and beyond all of the others. They’re unrelated to each other, but they’re both so singular that I thought “hell, let’s get both of these bad boys in here.” So here are the best experiences I had in games released in 2016.
The Witcher 3’s expansion Blood and Wine came out early this year, and it’s a wonderful bit of knitting up for that entire series. Protagonist Geralt goes to a very French part of his world and sets out on some really interesting encounters with creatures and concepts inspired by, well, France. It’s like swording things to death while you read the Roman de la Rose.
There’s a quest there where you have to get some saliva from a spotted wight, a weird and monstrous creature that had been driven to extinction by the witchers of ages past. It’s lucky for Geralt that, in fact, a spotted wight has been…spotted…in a creepy old house way outside of town. It’s also been collecting spoons. He heads off to take its head off in order to get the saliva that he needs.
The quest that takes place can be solved in a very boring way. You can find the wight, kill it, and then take the item you need from its corpse. However, you can do a more circuitous thing and realize that this isn’t a mere wight, but instead it is a woman who had been cursed by a beggar for being a real asshole to poor people.
I love the quest because it is this perfect encapsulation of The Witcher as a series. Geralt speaks patiently and slowly to the monster, and with a little bit of cooperation and thinking he figures out the terms of the curse and how it can be lifted. There’s no magic to it. He doesn’t have to get the help of a mage or an alchemist. He’s just a guy doing the thing he’s really good at, and he doesn’t have to kill anyone or anything to make sure that that job is well done.
Dragon Quest Builders is a game that I’m taking my damn sweet time with, but I just wanted to get in here at the tail end of the year to say that it’s shockingly good. It’s Minecraft but better with some Dragon Quest stapled onto it, and I’m genuinely surprised by the great time I’ve had playing it so far.
It’s rare for a game to have so much confidence in its worldbuilding. When you play a game like The Witcher 3 or Skyrim, there are always a whole lot of words early on to help you understand the stakes of what you’re getting into. You go to this or that town and talk to this or that leader who is deeply suspicious of you before being won over by your charming monster murder. Those stories are doing the work of setting up the stakes, but it’s not like the stakes are that much different from the eighty other games in the genre that I have played (or films that I have seen, or novels that I have read).
Dragon Quest Builders actually has your protagonist interrupting people setting up the stakes. There’s slimes, there’s building, and there’s people you need to go rescue now. We’re getting right to the action. We have a Dragonlord to kill. He’s bad! It’s a fantasy quest by way of improvisation, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.