It's a pretty great feeling, standing at the brink of a new year and surveying what's to come - even if it later turns out that half of your most anticipated games get delayed, as happened to us last year. For 2016, we've included some picks from our readers as well as our own. Let's dive right in.
Julian Benson, News Editor
It was only when looking through the lists of games already announced for 2016 that I realised how good a year we're in for. Before Keza restricted me to five games, I had a list of 20 that I'm really excited about and another 70 that I'm keeping tabs on.
It's been eight months since I wrote exclusively about PC games and while I do play a good deal on console, as you can tell from the list below, my tastes still tend towards turn-based games riddled with dice, stats, and aliens.
Due February 5th on PC
So many of my friends died when I played XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I named my squad members after my flatmates. Then, as they were killed off, my close friends, then less close friends, and on and on until I was using friends of friends of acquaintances. It was an exceptionally good take on the original XCOM and proved that the series was in good hands. While not much at the core of Enemy Unknown looks to have changed in XCOM 2, I’m frantically eager to get stuck into a new campaign.
The changes that aren’t that exciting but will have the most impact are things like randomised levels. The first XCOM had lots of maps but after you’d been playing for 50 hours, you'd become familiar with all of them. Randomisation should keep the campaign fresh for much longer. Then there’s the new classes, the new alien types, the new customisation options... it’s like Firaxis is going through every aspect of Enemy Unknown and making it better suited for long, long, long, long play sessions. Then, of course, there are the mod tools.
February can’t come soon enough.
Due March 11th on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Hitman was at its best when it gave you a big level packed with NPCs and told you to kill one of them in whatever way you could. The new Hitman looks like the purest example of that formula yet. At Gamescom last August I was given a tour of a sprawling French mansion, populated by more than 400 NPCs, each performing different roles. There were party guests, waiters, chefs, guards. Each had different paths and behavior, different areas of the level they could explore without being noticed. And throughout the space were things you could turn into weapons: gas hobs that can be left on, chandeliers that can be dropped, food that can be poisoned. Hitman’s world is your murder oyster.
Square Enix has taken the best thing from Hitman: Absolution, it’s Contract mode, and applied it to this new murder sandbox. So, in between the targets set by Square Enix, you can explore the sandbox and pick your own targets and challenge your friends to murder them, too. You can apply restrictions like ‘No guns’ and ‘No witnesses’ to increase the challenge.
The more I read about the new Hitman, the more I think this could be a perfect take on the series.
Total War: Warhammer
Due April 28th on PC
This is the Warhammer video game I’ve been waiting on for years. One of the problems of collecting Warhammer as a teenager was I never had anywhere near the funds needed to buy the large armies on show in White Dwarf magazine. In Total War: Warhammer I can finally build the vast army I’ve always wanted. Not only that: Creative Assembly has done an incredible job of bringing each model to life. The Goblin Wolf Riders on show in the trailer bound across the battlefield, pouncing upon their enemies. I’ve played with these models for years, never seeing them in motion, and it just looks right. It’s uncanny.
Besides the joy of finally having a massive Warhammer virtual collection, the armies fit into the complex grand strategy systems of Total War perfectly. The game gives you a huge campaign map to conquer and each army has objectives and mechanics tailored to their race. For instance, if the bloodthirsty greenskin armies halt their conquest then they’ll start infighting. You have to keep up the offensive just to stop your army from killing itself.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Due August 23rd on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Human Revolution was an excellent entry in the Deus Ex series. It was intelligent, complex, and beautiful, a game of systems that seamlessly interlinked and supported a rich world to explore. I spent hours pacing the streets of Detroit, searching out every nook, breaking into every dark apartment, trying to find every last bit of story. I used force, lockpicking, hacking, and conversation skills to find out everything I could about the game’s world. Human Revolution is a game that had me willingly searching out fictional emails about corporate minutiae. Mankind Divided promises an equally rich world to plunge into.
Last year I talked to Mankind Divided’s game director Jean-Francois Dugas. I meant to ask about the new locations we’d be visiting and how the underlying systems have evolved from the last game to its sequel. Instead we talked for 20 minutes about using scifi to explore contemporary racism and prejudice. So few games explore such issues, and yet here is Mankind Divided, on track to be one of the most thoughtful games of 2016. And you have arms that can turn into swords. What’s not to like?
Endless Space 2
Due 2016 on PC
Politics. That’s what has me most excited about Endless Space 2. Bear with me: I love massive space battles dearly, but those were already in the original Endless Space. What developer Amplitude is trying to do in Endless Space 2 is something that I haven’t seen in a space strategy before.
Normally in strategy games you have near total control over your faction. You can send armies of troops into battle and have them fight to the very last soldier without a hint of complaint. Games like Total War have complicated that with morale systems, but even then you can always start a conflict without consultation. In Endless Space, as leader, you can’t act against your people’s interests. The people elect politicians who reflect their mood. If they’re safe and secure they’ll elect peaceful politicians who give you bonuses to things like tech research and farming. If they’re insecure they’ll elect more military-focused politicians. This is where Endless Space takes a juicily dark turn. If you have a peaceful government but you want to go to war then you might want to bait an enemy empire into attacking you and even let them take a few of your planets so that in the next election your people elect a more radical, aggressive set of politicians, giving you greater bonuses to your military abilities.
It’s a dark, promising set of systems that I really want to explore.
Keza MacDonald, Editor
I’ve still got about 30 games from 2015 that I’d like to play more (or at all), but nonetheless, when I cast my eye down the list of games currently planned for 2016, there’s a lot that piques my interest. I’ve gone for a couple of less obvious choices here - naturally I’m looking forward to Uncharted 4, but then so is almost everyone else on the gaming planet. I’d put The Last Guardian in the main list, but I still don’t think I can really believe it exists until it’s right in front of me.
Dark Souls 3
Due April 12th on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
I have been with the Souls series since the very beginning, when I picked a copy of Demon’s Souls out of the new releases rack at a Japanese game shop. I love Dark Souls so much I am literally writing the book on it. What I’m trying to say is that I’m really, really, REALLY looking forward to Dark Souls 3. Like, really.
An admission: I didn’t get that far through Dark Souls 2, for two good reasons. First, it came out the same week that Kotaku UK launched and I had no life for about three months. But second, I didn’t like it all that much. It lacked the majesty of the original, and as a Souls fanatic I couldn’t help but notice the absence of series creator’s Hidetaka Miyazaki’s touch. A slightly disappointing Souls game is still better than 90% of video games, in my opinion, but it wasn’t the same. With Miyazaki back in charge for Dark Souls 3, I have no such concerns about it.
Due 2016 on Wii U
An open-world Zelda is something I have dreamt of since I was about 9, and I’m pleased to say I have still not grown out of it. I don’t really know what more there is to say about the new Zelda, except that I hope it actually does come out this year. It’s the only interesting game still planned for Wii U.
Due 2016 on Xbox One and PC
Another game that was on my most-anticipated list last year. I’m naming it again because I want Capy Games to know I have NOT FORGOTTEN ABOUT IT. Below is a beautiful-looking exploration-based adventure game with a touch of Souls about it. Your character is a speck of life in the middle of these vast island landscapes, dwarfed by nature. It looked almost finished when I saw it in action at Gamescom in 2014, so god only knows what’s taking so long, but I’m hoping that when it finally reaches me it will have been worth the wait.
Due 2016 on Xbox One and PC
Gone Home in Space would be enough to sell me on Tacoma - this is the next game by developer Fullbright, rad people who make great games. But I’ve also played the opening half-hour or so, and it’s even more interesting than I had hoped. You explore an abandoned space-station in first person, piecing together what happened from logs, clues, and what’s left behind, but there’s more to it: navigating the station is a spatial challenge in itself, and the sense of mystery is irresistible.
Due 2016 on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4
I was immensely relieved when Persona 5 was delayed into 2016, because I simply did not have room in my life for another massive RPG last year. (Xenoblade Chronicles X is still sitting unplayed on my shelf.) I only discovered Persona in 2013, when I spent a hundred hours with Persona 4 Golden, but it’s since become one of my favourite series. Persona 5 - set in Tokyo, featuring a shape-shifting cat - looks tremendous.
I do, however, have my doubts that it will be out in Europe in 2016. It’s due around Autumn in Japan, and Atlus insists the American version will be ready by the end of the year, but I am skeptical about Europe. For me, though, this is worth importing.
Monster Hunter X, The Last Guardian, Firewatch, Pokemon GO, No Man’s Sky
Readers’ Most Anticipated
Lots of Kotaku UK readers picked the same games as we did - clearly, you all have excellent taste. But here are 6 more that we haven’t mentioned already, drawn from Twitter, Facebook and the comments.
Crackdown 3 marks the return of a very fondly-remembered Xbox series - but this time, as the first game to actually use the Xbox One’s purported “cloud” capabilities in an interesting way, it lets you destroy everything. EVERYTHING. Buildings, whole cities, the lot. Seeing Crackdown 3 in action, it’s clear that it really does do new things with technology, and it looks mega fun too.
A surprise announcement at last year’s E3, Nier: Automa is a Japanese action role-playing game from beloved developer Platinum. Its predecessor inspired a very devoted cult following, so it’s not hard to see why it’s featured in many of our readers’ picks.
Final Fantasy XV
The Final Fantasy game that even people who don’t like Final Fantasy are interested in, FFXV is looking very sweet indeed. It also has absurdly detailed food and amazing hair. It’s been in development for SO LONG at this point that it has a lot to live up to, but all the indications are good.
Divinity Original Sin 2
Planned for December, this follow-up to Larian’s excellent Kickstarted RPG is exactly what the doctor (and 42,713 backers) ordered. For those nostalgic for the glory days of computer RPGs, sinking into its pleasing fantasy world is like immersing yourself in a warm bath. The sequel is being written by a team including Chris Avellone - he of Planescape: Torment and many more awesome things - and will be multiplayer, too.
Street Fighter V
It feels like we already know an awful lot about Street Fighter V - Capcom has drip-fed information on all the characters, even the ones that won’t be available at launch - but this has not diminished anticipation for the new fighting game. It looks gorgeous, has some interesting new systems, and threatens to reawaken decades-old feuds between friends.
Teased and delayed for years, Uncharted 4 looks like it will be the last of Nathan Drake’s adventures. The trailers show a game much like its predecessors but from a team that’s more experienced and more mature. Expect more explosions, more car chases, more cliffside acrobatics, and more ancient puzzles.
For a more comprehensive round up of what's coming in 2016, we've been putting together entries on every game coming out in 2016.