Games have traditionally aimed for the Christmas period to release, but more and more, they're being held over to February or March the next year. In 2015, that resulted in the early stage of the year being extremely hard to beat — and that situation is set to repeat itself.
Earlier in the year, I asked if 2015 had peaked early. By that point, Bloodborne and The Witcher 3 had already come out - having been delayed from 2014 - and I didn't see anything competing with them in the 2nd half. My personal game of the year is an extremely tight contest between those two games, with not much else coming close. Ori and the Blind Forest is my 3rd. But the question was met with lots of optimism about Q3/4. MGSV was a solid mention. Halo was also mentioned. Some people mentioned Batman, and I'm sorry how that turned out. Some people mentioned games which were then delayed until 2016.
To be fair, none of us knew how good those games were going to actually be. We didn't even know the specifics of Fallout 4, which pulled off a coup with its E3 reveals and releases. Very well done to them. But with the exception of this year's Call of Duty, the big-name games largely disappointed in the 2nd half of the year. It would have been incredibly hard for Fallout 4 to live up to the astronomical hype, but it also could have been more than Fallout: Boston. Halo's campaign was lacklustre for me, while its multiplayer was decent. However, many were unimpressed by the microtransactions in Warzone. MGSV was strong, even if its multiplayer hurt the singleplayer portion. But a quick glance around the gaming landscape shows The Witcher 3 collecting GOTY awards like a poker player pulling in chips after an all-in hand.
If anything, the best 2nd-half entries came from games that didn't make nearly as much noise. Even with some marketing power behind them, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Rainbow Six Siege couldn't yell as loud as Halo or Fallout, but provided the best arguments for a late resurgence of quality.
But when all is said and done, 2015 did peak early — and 2016 is looking like it might do the same.
I write for Game Informer AU occasionally, and the editor (who just joined Twitter, welcome to 2015!), recently tweeted his most anticipated games of 2015. I'm going to embarrass him by putting them here:
My most wanted of 2016: 1. XCOM 2 2. Uncharted 4 3. Dark Souls III 4. Street Fighter V 5. 2017 and Episode VIII
— David Milner (@DaveMilbo) December 28, 2015
That's actually very similar to my list, especially after playing most of them. I haven't played the new Uncharted, but... C'mon. No way that's a bad game.
After walking away from my XCOM2 session, there's no doubt in my mind it'll be one of the best of next year. That game is not resting on its laurels at all. Street Fighter V is more accessible and will bring in fresh players, and will remain exciting in a tournament environment, especially with its four brand new characters. And Dark Souls 3 is... Well. I'll admit to a bit of fanboyism on that one.
Funny thing is, all those games are due out in April or beforehand. XCOM2 and Uncharted 4 are there because of delays, further stacking the card. February is looking incredibly strong, and I'd go as far as saying there's a handful of Game of the Year contenders in that list. I'd also add The Witness to it. In fact, we could go on. Firewatch is due. Mighty No. 9. Far Cry Primal. Total War: Warhammer (which really should have been Total Warhammer). The new Deus Ex and Hitman could potentially impress. There's also the new Mirror's Edge and No Man's Sky.
It's understandable that, given a bit of extra time, Feb/March games would have a bit more polish and score higher. I bet they sell just as much, too. The games industry has long thought it was the toy industry, bringing games out before Christmas like that was the only time we wanted to play games. That left odd gaps in the year with nothing to play — gaps that are now being filled. Now it looks like those games being held over are also of better quality. If you've got the money, I suppose, it's nice to be able to pull a Blizzard and just say "when it's done."
So let's go through these motions again. What's coming out late 2016 that you think could beat out these games for GOTY? Are delays turning the early part of the year into the best part of the year? Do you think we'll see another announcement and quick release like we saw Bethesda pull?