After spending days holed up in company meeting rooms locked 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 25 to 21.
25. Planet Coaster
With its effortlessly intuitive tools and an infectiously positive tone, Planet Coaster is a game that encourages you to harness that creative spark within you, and use it to fill a map with exciting amusements, put smiles on hundreds of virtual faces, and to create a magical experience that you’d kill to visit in real life.
There’s joy to be had in every aspect of the game: concocting nauseatingly intricate roller coasters, making sure everyone has access to balloons and bathrooms, meticulously decorating every inch of your park to match a desired theme, and spending hours in the Steam Workshop browsing the stupefying bounty of content made by Planet Coaster’s talented community.
Planet Coaster is a completely engrossing creative sandbox to escape into. It’s a game that occupies your thoughts when you’re not playing, and it’s thoroughly captivating when you are. It modernizes the experiences born out of games like Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon, and is an essential construction and management simulation. – Edmond Tran
24. Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter is as beautiful as it is haunting. The neon color palette is a backdrop to a world riddled with death and destruction. Very little is told to you directly, but everything you need to know is shown through subtle, well-executed environmental storytelling. The lifeless bodies that litter the foreground and the massive monsters frozen in the background are a few of the pieces that form the narrative.
Combat is fast and unforgiving. The mechanics are simple, but you’re asked to move precisely and attack judiciously; a single wrong maneuver can spell disaster. The top-down view and dungeon crawling structure harken back to the exploration of 2D Zelda games, with the game constantly teetering between tranquil and hectic. This contrast keeps you engaged in the mysteries of its crumbled world.
The game’s themes parallel lead designer Alex Preston’s lifelong battle with congenital heart disease, which is alluded to throughout the game. If there’s a message in Hyper Light Drifter, it’s that there’s hope in the darkest of times, but you have to be willing to fight. – Michael Higham
23. Forza Horizon 3
Forza Horizon 3 doesn’t set out to do anything especially new. It builds on the framework of the two previous Horizon games, combining Forza Motorsport’s spot-on sim-style racing with an open-world. One ostensibly big change–serving as the in-game Horizon festival’s organizer–is ultimately a meaningless distinction.
But Horizon 3 masterfully executes all the areas that truly matter. Exploring this semi-realistic version of Australia is always a pleasure thanks to its diverse array of true-to-life environments: You can drive down picturesque beaches, downtown streets, lush rainforests, and the outback. The driving feels as thrilling and responsive as ever, and each region has its own distinct style of racing. Horizon 3 offers a huge amount of variety, providing no shortage of distractions as you drive. It’s also absolutely beautiful–somehow, even a brief activity that involves simply sightseeing is a delight. You don’t need to be a fan of racing games to have a good time here. – Chris Pereira
22. Total War: Warhammer
Total War: Warhammer blends two disparate franchises without diluting the core of what makes both Total War and Warhammer special. The grand strategy, tactics, and diplomacy that we’ve come to expect from the Total War series are the foundation of its stellar strategic battles, and it’s enhanced by new twists courtesy of the Warhammer universe.
The lore of Warhammer has been met to the letter, showing an attention to detail that newcomers can appreciate and longtime fans can revel in. The units, characters, stories, and overall visual aesthetic all come together to make you feel as immersed and as at home in the game as you would in any book or model kit.
Best of all, you don’t have to be a Warhammer fan to enjoy this game, and you don’t need to have played every Total War game before. You just need to appreciate great strategy games that look amazing and are rewarding to play even after 100 hours. And maybe be a bit of a nerd. – Dave Jewitt
21. FINAL FANTASY XV
Final Fantasy XV finally arrived in 2016 after nearly a decade in development, and understandably, the big question on everyone’s mind was: is the finished product worth the wait? That’s difficult to answer, but when you set aside the game’s history and take Final Fantasy XV at face value, it’s immediately clear that it’s a fascinating spin on the series and an outright great open world RPG.
The setting of Eos is vast and packed with sights equally beautiful and haunting, and as you dig deeper into the wilderness in search of treasure and adventure, you encounter scores of fantastic beasts, including some that tower far overhead. And when push comes to shove, Final Fantasy XV’s energetic and flowing combat system cements your love for the game. It’s unlike any Final Fantasy game we’ve played before, and its unique traits make it one of the best in recent memory. – Peter Brown
GameSpot will be unveiling its picks for the top 25 games of the year all throughout December. Click here to see the full schedule.