Welcome to the summer: it’s beautiful outside, but if you are living in California or an avid video game player, you are in drought season. The modern gaming environment has gotten a lot better, while the holiday season used to be the only viable time of the year for consistent AAA releases gamers can now expect great titles from January-April (Dying Light, The Division, Far Cry Primal, The Witness, Uncharted 4, upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn). That said I thought the summer gaming drought was coming to an end; in 2015 The Witcher 3 and Arkham Knight gave us a great summer inside away from the light, and in 2014 Watch Dogs, Wolfenstein and Shovel Knight all burst onto the scene. But welcome the desolate 2016.
The summer started off great with Uncharted 4, Doom and Overwatch all coming out in May, but since then we got the disappointing No Man’s Sky, Mirrors Edge Catalyst and Mighty No. 9. Our bright spots over this slow period in gaming were Dues Ex, Overcooked, Lego Star Wars and I Am Setsuna, small sips of water in such a dry season.
But here we are, the fall video game season is upon us and hope is back in my life! The biggest releases are right around the corner, and to prepare for what is the craziest time of the year for the avid gamer, I have gone through with my personal list of what I believe are the top 10 games coming out this holiday season. With the continued and never ending delay of Final Fantasy 15, the big releases don’t really start coming until October, so until then, you can go through this list and get excited about everything coming on the horizon, besides Horizon: Zero Dawn, also delayed.
10. Pokémon Sun & Moon- Nov. 18th
Familiarity and nostalgia are what keep me coming back to Pokémon games generation after generation. Minimal gameplay changes (Z moves and Aloha forms replacing Mega Evolutions) and a somewhat stable cast of monsters keep most games in the series up to the same high level of quality; that is to say, Pokémon Sun and Moon is more of the same and does nothing to intrigue gamers who have never been fans of the series.
Pokémon Black and White actually took one of the largest series departures, limiting players to a new batch of 150 Pokémon, and came to be one of the worst received games by both the critics and public. So here we are, with Pokémon Go making the franchise more relevant than ever, Pokémon is back on the Nintendo handheld this fall.
In a new setting, with some new Pokémon, a couple of new features (the Aloha forms smartly keeping the ever popular generation one Pokémon relevant) Pokémon is very much the same as it’s always been, but for lifelong fans it’s great to get more of something that has always been great. Like a warm hot chocolate, Pokémon Sun and Moon is delivering a comforting albeit predictable adventure this year, strong enough to make my top 10 but complacency and refusing to make great change keep it firmly at number 10.
9. Shadow Warrior 2- October 13th
The original Shadow Warrior gave us something special: an offensive, over the top, inappropriate, graphically violent game with no remorse for human decency. Outside of this hard exterior though, gamers also found a linear, well designed first person campaign with great combat. Coupling magic, sword combat and wild dual-wielding gun combat, Shadow Warrior unlike most other first person shooters of today, delivered a fun and satisfying single player campaign. Full of secrets, unlockables skill trees and collectibles, Shadow Warrior took notes from Bethesda on crafting great single player with dynamic combat.
The sequel, releasing this fall, expands on the original by offering co-op play to the experience, but promising to still deliver the satisfying solo journey. New weapons and enemies coupled with larger and more diverse environments built to add fluidity and variety to combat, are all coming together to take an already great combat system and push it to the next level. Gamers are no longer graced with many great campaign focused single player shooters, but Shadow Warrior, although not a serious or thought provoking game, offers tight combat with a well designed and fully developed journey.
8. Battlefield 1- October 21st
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare made me the competitive shooter fan I am today, but its follow-ups World at War, Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3 pushed me away from a series that consumed my young adult life. The sequels to this incredible game seemed unimaginative and lacked the heart that made the original special.
In this same vein Battlefield 3 rejuvenated my love for the multiplayer shooter, only for Battlefield 4 and Hardline to drain my love and patience for the franchise. This past weekend, after spending some time with the Battlefield 1 beta, my love for the franchise was awoken like someone had strapped a car battery to my chest. While I didn’t find that the beta was able to fix any of the usual Battlefield problems, its setting, weapons, brutality and destructibility all impressed. The beta secured my purchase for a game I was taking a wait and see approach to, and while it lacks some of the speed found in the modern competitive shooter, Battlefield 1 comes with a level of depth, complexity, and the normal great Battlefield mechanics that help push it over its shooter competition.
7. Dead Rising 4- December 6th
Dead Rising 3 was easily my favorite Xbox One launch game (which I know is like saying it was my favorite slice of Little Caesars pizza, because while it’s pizza at some point you ask yourself if it’s even edible) and I have been eagerly awaiting its zombie-filled sequel. While the zombie video game genre has never been more fatigued, Dead Rising always manages to bring life (pun intended), energy and personality to a typically lifeless genre (can’t stop now). My main concern with the newest entry is that it may be going too off the deep end in the fun, build whatever your heart can imagine, department, which I know for some fans is a great positive, but I like to keep some sense of realism to my game.
Mega Man armor and lightsabers aside, Dead Rising continues to be my personal favorite zombie title in terms of enemies on screen, engaging combat, and diversity of crafting. This fall you should expect even more zombies, expect bigger and crazier custom weapons and vehicles, and for Dead Rising 4 to be the most fun you have killing the undead and saving Christmas in Colorado.
6. Gears of War 4- October 11th
Usually I have a lot more faith in Gears of War; this was the franchise that actually first convinced me to purchase my Xbox 360 way back in 2006. While the lackluster Gears of War Judgement left somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth, my concerns with Gears of War 4 come more from the changes surrounding the game. This is the first game from a new studio, bringing a fresh take to an established franchise, jumping time periods and changing both the main characters as well as the game’s antagonists. While early previews of the game have helped ease my fears enough for this game to make my fall top 10, I still have my own level of uncertainty with all the changes coming to a series that means so much to me.
When 343 took over Halo we were given Halo 4 (my 2nd favorite campaign coupled with the series’ most forgettable multiplayer) followed by Halo 5: Guardians (the series strongest multiplayer since 3, coupled with maybe the worst campaign Halo has seen) and I’m worried that we may see a similar trend with fellow Xbox exclusive Gears as it transitions to its new studio, The Coalition. All that being said, old man Marcus, a new revamped horde mode, new enemies, weapons and game mechanics are coming together to rev up my excitement,chainsaw style, for the next entry in the Gears of War franchise.
5. Titanfall 2- October 28th
Every part of me wants this game to be delayed. The 2nd title in a franchise coming to PlayStation for the first time, is launching just one week after fellow EA title Battlefield 1 and just one week before juggernaut Call of Duty. Where Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare failed, Titanfall kept my love and passion for fast competitive shooters alive and healthy.
While the first entry was a barren shell lacking content and depth (as we saw from many early PS4 and Xbox One games) Titanfall 2 is expanding the series in every way; doubling the titans, introducing more weapons and gadgets, new ways to grapple around, adding a single player campaign, and coming to a new console, Titanfall 2 is getting bigger in every single way. I want the game to be delayed because competitive shooters eat into each other’s ecosystems; there are only so many gamers invested in online focused competitive shooters, and not only is this fall packed with titles but Titanfall 2 is determined to come out right in the middle of the two other biggest launches. Just because Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 take place in drastically different settings, does not change that their player base will have a huge overlap and with only so much time in the day, gamers can’t be expected to actively play both games for months after release.
Titanfall brought a new level of speed and maneuverability, and huge robots, to a genre of video games that was stagnant to say the least; the original titles influence can be seen in their competitions recent releases, but despite the poor timing of release I believe this sequel will triumph above all other shooters this holiday.
4. Final Fantasy 15- November 29th
Will this game ever come out? I honestly don’t know but I can’t wait to play it. Final Fantasy has a high level of nostalgia for me, like it does for most gamers, because I grew up on Final Fantasy 10; the games I usually site as me going from a young kid to an actual passionate gamer are Final Fantasy 10, Kingdom Hearts 2, Gears of War and Halo 3. This is also the first time I have been actively excited for a Final Fantasy game; after being disappointed by every entry in the series since 10, Final Fantasy Versus 13 was the first title to make me eager to dive back into the franchise, and 10 years of high school and college later, I might finally get to play it.
Despite delays and a healthy dose of critic skepticism over the title, all of the early impression previews of the opening hours of Final Fantasy 15 have been extremely positive. Episode Duscae already sold me on the change in combat, which is promised to be even more refined in the final version, and I find myself anxious to dive into the story and world this game offers. While the movie and anime don’t really interest me, they do tell me that the lore, world development and passion from the studio are up with highest in modern video games. While I would say that players should be a little hesitant to expect too much from Final Fantasy 15 this holiday, I believe that the 10 plus years of development give this game more potential upside than any other game on my list so far.
3. Watch Dogs 2- November 15th
Let’s be honest: the original Watch Dogs was not a strong foundation for Watch Dogs 2 to build off of. That being said, many critics believe we are going to be looking at an Assassins Creed/Assassins Creed 2 moment here in terms of the jump in quality and being able to match consumer hype. Personally, while I have no doubt Watch Dogs 2 will be bigger and better in almost every way over the original, I believe that like the original Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs was over hyped with unreachable expectations only magnified because it was the leap into the “next generation of gaming.” Now that consumer expectations are lower, I believe that Watch Dogs 2 will build off of its foundation to deliver a dynamic and engaging open world full of opportunities for player interaction.
Watch Dogs 2 ranks at number three on my list because I am worried that its dive into the “hacker” culture will come off as forced and over the top, seen in its emoji mask character. While it may be a bit heavy handed when it comes to personality, an open world San Francisco in the middle of the American tech bubble provides the perfect setting for this sunny and vibrant open world.
Our protagonist appears to have an actual personality this game, which don’t get me wrong, being angry and vengeful all the time can be engaging, see: Batman, but Aiden Pierce couldn’t even do revenge right. While the game may never deliver the gameplay that we first imagined when seeing the original five years ago at E3, Watch Dogs 2 looks to amplify everything from the original game. Giving its setting and characters more life and personality, giving the player more control and options while hacking, and making the game all around just more fun, Watch Dogs 2 looks to be an obvious choice for top games this Fall.
2. Dishonored 2- November 11th
Coming in at number two, Dishonored is returning to consoles showing us once again that no one in the modern gaming landscape is publishing first person single player games quite like Bethesda. Bethesda has given us Dishonored, Wolfenstein, Doom, the upcoming Prey and Dishonored 2 and their biggest competition is the remastered Bioshock, Dues Ex and Shadow Warrior 2; Bethesda is reigning king right now.
Dishonored 2, like a lot of the other games on this list, is learning and growing from the success and failures of the original. Giving the player more powers, more crazy ways for these powers to combine and interact, more infiltration options and even a new character, Dishonored 2 is fresh and bigger in every way. Whisking us away to a new tropical setting, Dishonored 2 follows our protagonists as they hunt down new enemies threatening their control of the throne.
It’s great to see first person, stealth-focused action adventure games continue to live on, and the new-to-the-scene original Dishonored blew critics away with its smart level layout, classic upgrade and collectible design, and innovative use of interconnected powers. Dishonored 2 has big shoes to fill, but it looks to be capitalizing on the successes of the original title while improving on its weakness in story and character development.
1. Mafia 3- October 7th
Trust me when I say I am even more surprised than you are that Mafia 3 is my most anticipated game of the fall. Part of it comes down to the delays in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and South Park and part of it comes from Mafia 3 previewing better than almost any game I have ever seen. The artsy trailers, dynamic music, brutally violent 3rd person shooting, and engaging/fresh/diverse approach to setting have me desperately eager for this game come October.
I expect great success for Mafia 3 as, after Final Fantasy’s 100th delay, it stands as the first big AAA release this holiday season after only Forza Horizon 3. Mafia 3 has frequently previewed exceptionally well with critics, is releasing incredible trailers backed with that 2K budget (that coupled along with it being the first big release have me believing it will over achieve sales wise) and has showcased mechanical ideas detailing various and diverse open world missions offering a variety of stealth gameplay options or violent and explosive 3rd person action.
Being an open world 3rd person shooter, Mafia 3 could quickly fail to live up to expectations, like many before it. It has a lot of competition, but the energy and personality it brings to the table is bursting out of its trailers. The protagonist looks fresh, complicated and original, coupled with a beautiful world bleeding with character, and gameplay that will keep me exploring its open world and side missions for hopefully countless hours. While there are a lot of great titles coming out this holiday seasons, in what is gaming’s greatest time of the year, none other get me more excited and eager to play then what I have seen so far from Mafia 3.