Jake:Overwatch is a breath of fresh air that seems to have taken the gaming world by storm.
It's hard to look for the secrets of this success anywhere, but Blizzard has a deep experience of what makes games tick and a certain type of fearlessness that means it'll try new ideas. Overwatch is a shooter filled with new ideas and excellent characters, and unlike Civilization VI above, they don't all feel that way at first, instead revealing the excellence behind their design choices only after you've played the game for scores of hours.
Perhaps this depth is why it's still being played regularly today and will continue to drag players in for years to come. With this, Blizzard has created what is probably the most popular shooter of the generation, combining likeable characters with strong game design while also providing a low barrier to entry for more casual players. An essential game.
3. XCOM 2
Rick: The brilliance of XCOM 2 is in how time and again it pulls the rug out from under your strategic feet. This concept is evident even in the premise, which forces players to accept they lost the war they fought so hard to win in the first game. Twenty years on, XCOM is no longer a government-funded organisation with the world’s resources at your disposal. Instead, it's a ragtag group of rebels, scavenging what they can from their new alien overlords and gradually re-establishing communications with other resistance cells across the globe.
XCOM 2’s strategic reworking forces players to take more risks and be more aggressive in their tactics. Many missions now have a strict turn limit, forcing you to push forward rather than sitting back and picking off aliens from a distance. What’s more, the aliens are working on a device that will annihilate your forces if it reaches completion, so when you get the opportunity to set the project back, you have to take it, no matter what shape your forces are in. Even the aliens’ redesign necessitates you deal with them as efficiently as possible. Allowing just a single sectoid space to manoeuvre can spell disaster for your entire team. XCOM 2 is this year’s most formidable strategic challenge, an action-packed puzzle-box where every decision you make is a matter of life or death.
Jake:Hitman is one of the deepest games I've played this year, with its episodic structure – met with so much controversy on release – providing the perfect way to examine a selection of different locations and scenarios.
As you play through Hitman's varied surroundings, gaining both additional items and player skill in the art of killing, Hitman starts to resemble an examination of video game murder. Your first faltering hits are generally messy, targets killed with explosions in crowded rooms or with a gunshot from a nearby balcony. This isn't the game, not yet.
Later, as you become more confident, so too do your hits: Surgeons are manipulated into murdering their patients, food is laced with emetic poison, rock stars are smothered to death with their own birthday cake in front of their final audience. Hitman is consistently inventive and manages to nail a tonally complex campaign that doesn't have a bum note. As a stealth game, it beats even last year's Metal Gear Solid V, demanding diligence and lateral thinking from its players to get the best out of it.
In return, Hitman rewards you by taking you into its twisted world, and this is one encounter with a bald-headed assassin you won't be so keen to escape.
Rick:Dishonored 2 beat Hitman to our top spot by a gnat’s whisker. Both games have a similar approach to complex level design and creative play, but Dishonored 2 has just a little bit more inventiveness about it. Its world is more vibrantly painted, and the magical abilities the game imbues you with enable a truly astonishing level of emergent play.
Where Dishonored 2 excels is in taking the ideas presented in the original and elevating them in ways which even the most ardent fans could not have anticipated. It’s new setting Karnaca is a fantastic counterpart to the first game’s Dunwall. Its sun-baked streets and colonial architecture may be a world away from the slate-grey skies and brick-built structures of the Empire’s capital, but the rubbish-strewn alleys and thuggish city-watch mean you feel eerily at home in the supposed jewel of the south.
Dishonored 2 lets you explore this place in far greater depth than the original, with massive chunks of the city available to poke around in prior to each mission. It’s also here where you can experiment with Dishonored’s fantastic powers and gadgets, be they the familiar abilities of Corvo Attano or the all-new skillset of his daughter, Emily Kaldwin. One of these, Domino, is probably the best game mechanic we’ve encountered since Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system, an ability dedicated entirely to creating incredible chain reactions.
But the real highlight of Dishonored 2 are the astoundingly designed missions themselves, each one strikingly unique in the challenges it faces the player with, and each offering dozens of ways to overcome those obstacles. A couple of them, namely the ever-shifting Clockwork Mansion and the mysterious manor-house of Aramis Stilton, are contenders for the best 3D levels ever devised. All told, Dishonored 2 is not just a great sequel to the original, but a worthy successor to the esteemed heritage of Looking Glass, and confirms Arkane’s position as the new masters of the immersive sim.