After spending days holed up in company meeting rooms engaging in fierce debate, our global team of GameSpot editors and video producers has finally assembled a ranked list of the 25 best games of the year. Our list is informed by an array of tastes and preferences, reflecting our team’s diverse gaming backgrounds and opinions. From the biggest triple-A offerings to the smaller, more focused indie experiences, there was an abundance of games we loved this year. We’re going to count down to number one over the next few days, so keep checking back as we unveil our choices for the 25 best games of 2016. For today, here are our picks for 15 to 11.
Abzu is unlike any other game on this list. It contains no combat or dialogue, no high scores or fail states. Instead, Abzu delivers something far more elusive: thoughtfulness, tranquility, and a genuine sense of wonder. Its breathtaking undersea environments burst not only with vibrant colors but with active, believable sea life. Its subtle orchestral score sets a serene mood but swells or vanishes when the moment calls for it.
And most importantly, the journey it leads you on quietly evokes an entire emotional universe, one as vast and deep as the ocean itself. In the same way Journey and Flower effortlessly elicit introspection, Abzu gradually draws you into its unspoken narrative, showing you strange new wonders in each successive area. It’s impossible to say more without ruining the game’s delicately crafted revelations, but to be clear: dormant robots and ancient ruins are only the beginning.
Sometimes, between slaying grotesque, menacing demons in Doom and barreling down precarious seaside cliffs in Forza Horizon 3, you need something a little less stressful–something meditative, something thoughtful, something achingly, memorably beautiful. Abzu is that game. – Scott Butterworth
Rhythm games have been down in the dumps for a few years, but the arrival of Thumper proved that the genre has yet untapped potential. The hook isn’t the music–it’s great nonetheless–but rather the way that Thumper’s atmosphere and gameplay weave around it.
In a dark and menacing world, you attempt to control a speeding chrome beetle while hurtling down a winding highway. Specific types of beats dictate what you must do, be it making a sharp turn, grinding along a wall, or leaping off the track to bust through a neon gate. But Thumper moves so fast that you don’t have time to think; there’s only time to react. It’s the sort of game that you have to give yourself up to, which is easiest when played in VR. It’s a haunting and maniacal experience, and easily one of the best games VR games on PC and PlayStation 4. – Peter Brown
13. Dark Souls III
The third and supposedly final entry in Dark Souls series once again delivers exhilarating combat that rewards patience and, in the right moments, bravery. From the skittering Hollow Slaves tucked away in unlit corners of Undead Settlement to the ninja-like Gravewarden Skeletons patrolling the Catacombs of Carthus, each skirmish is a tense ballet of sword swings, side-steps, and desperate evasive rolls. These days, Souls clones are commonplace, but very few feature enemy design as varied and as challenging as Dark Souls III‘s.
Even fewer can realize a world as bewitching as Lothric. Stacked alongside its predecessors, Lothric is perhaps not as intricately designed as Lordran and threads of lore woven into its tapestry don’t connect as seamlessly, but it’s still a fascinating and evocative world on the brink of being enveloped by a darkness.
It’s also filled with memorable character driven stories, whether that’s Yohrm the Giant, a lonely monarch asked to lead a people that never truly trusted him; or Prince Lorian, a proud knight crippled by a curse meant for his younger brother. Dark Souls 3 has its fair share of niggles, but by journey’s end it proves itself to be one of the most enthralling gaming experiences of the year. – Tamoor Hussain
Death by exploding golf ball, falling coconut, or dropping model solar system? Sure! Hitman is a return to form for the franchise with brutal–and often hilarious–assassinations in sandbox style levels. While planning is a key element to Hitman, the game encompasses the joys of emergent gameplay, making players adapt to the unpredictable.
Hitman’s numerous possibilities compel players to replay each mission. The progression system and in-game achievements lead to unlocks for new entry points, starting disguises, and weapon stashes in each mission. Hitman is also kept fresh with free content. You have a limited real-time window and one chance to kill Elusive Targets. Unforeseen variables like requiring specific disguises or types of assassinations are thrown into the mix in Escalation Mode.
Each level in Hitman is visually stunning, from the Italian coast of Sapienza to the snowy mountains of Hokkaido. Open spaces, corridors, and hiding spots blend together to make varied and intense missions. And although the story itself isn’t gripping, your actions as Agent 47 in these environments are what make Hitman great. – Michael Higham
11. Sid Meier’s: Civilization VI
Somehow, even after 25 years and six full releases, Civilization’s empire building formula remains as a potent as ever. Once you’re fully seduced by the prospect of shepherding a civilization from a single city to world super power, it’s all but impossible to successfully quit after “just one more turn.” Impressively, Civilization VI not only bottles this same lighting, it actually deepens the experience with several calculated changes that demand entirely new types of thinking from longtime Civ fans.
Most significantly, cities now spread across multiple tiles, forcing you to carefully place individual structures and districts in order to fully capitalize on the surrounding territory–a process that proves essential in the late-game at higher difficulties. It also moves global food and happiness levels down to a local level, which ultimately replaces mid-game tedium with new strategic opportunities. Other improvements–including the Civics tree, Policy Cards, and the ability to link support and attack units–reinvigorate areas of the game that had previously been left to rust.
AI opponents can still be exasperating, but Civ 6’s ability to instantly zap 60 hours from your life yet leave you feeling accomplished makes it one of the year’s most essential games. – Scott Butterworth
GAMESPOT’S TOP 25 GAMES OF THE YEAR
GameSpot will be unveiling its picks for the Top 25 Games of the Year all throughout December. Click here to see the full schedule.