2016 Has Been A Golden Year For Strategy Games

As you may have noticed from being on the internet or talking to other human beings, 2016 has been a bit of a shitshow. But if there's one piece of solace to be found in the flaming wreckage of this orbital rotation, it's been the quality of its video games. Strategy ones in particular.

While it's as remiss to go thanking 2016 itself for good games as it is to blame it for notable people dying — they do that every year, regardless of the time and date! — there's no escaping the fact that between January and December we've been blessed with perhaps the finest roster of strategic video games in history.

I mean...just look at this list of the best of them. Yes, good strategy games come out every year. But examine the quality of each of these titles in isolation, then stack them all up together to remember they all came out within the same 12 month period. How the hell did we find the time/money to play all of these? There's more than one a month! We couldn't even find the time to review all of them.


Civilization 6

The first new Civ game in six years. And it's a damn good one.


Total War: Warhammer

Many were sceptical about the series' detour into fiction, only to find that leaving history behind may have been the best thing to happen to Total War in years.


XCOM 2

Somehow found a multitude of ways to improve on its near-perfect predecessor. Which, hey, is a former Kotaku Game of The Year winner.


Shadow Tactics

I really hope this game doesn't get lost in the holiday crush, because it's one of the most rewarding tactics games in years. Oh, and the Japanese dub was one of the year's best little surprises.


Planet Coaster

If you want to manage a theme park like a nerd, maybe this isn't for you, but if you find joy in building and planning out fun and cool things, this game is a masterpiece.


Offworld Trading Company

While it looks like an RTS, it's actually...a stock market simulator. Even more surprising than that slight of hand is that it's a lot of fun.


Banner Saga 2

A triumph, not just of turn-based tactics, but of strategic story-telling. It's incredible that some of the best art and music of 2016 can be found in a game on this list.


Stellaris

Not quite the 4X revelation people were hoping for, but still a tremendous effort from Paradox, as it's easily their most accessible strategy game to date.


Hearts of Iron IV

At the opposite end of Paradox's accessibility spectrum, Hearts of Iron IV has some weird AI hiccups, but on the whole is a breathtakingly comprehensive simulation of the entire Second World War.


Deus Ex Go

My favourite of the three "Go" games on mobile, because the extra tools at Adam's disposal make for some more enjoyable puzzles. Also helps that the Deus Ex aesthetic translates so well to such minimal presentation.


Battlefleet: Gothic Armada

Snuck under everyone's radar a little, maybe because there are too many Warhammer games, but this is a surprisingly fun, traditional RTS about spaceships and very serious British men.


Fire Emblem Fates

New Fire Emblem? New Fire Emblem. It goes on the list.


Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

In a year of pleasant strategic surprises, this was the nicest. I was expecting a serviceable RTS experience with a dash of Homeworld flavour, not a fantastic piece of strategy design in its own right that felt entirely at home in the long-dormant franchise.


Darkest Dungeon

This game isn't fun, it's a never-ending kick in the arse that just tricks you into thinking it's fun. Or at least that's what I tell myself every time I turn it off, only to turn it right back again the next day.


It's exhausting just reading back through them all. And those are just the full, final game releases! Endless Space 2's and Ultimate General's Early Access builds are already looking terrific, and then you have to factor in some very good expansions to the likes of Endless LegendPanzer Corps, Cities Skylines and even good ol' Crusader Kings II. Oh, and the Order of Battle series, which has now moved to a kind of modular DLC system on Steam, kept on releasing great new campaigns as well.

I think what made 2016 so special wasn't just the quantity of quality, but how surprising many of these games were, whether because they were better than we thought or because they simply came out of nowhere. It feels like every strategy game bet on black, and the house got cleaned out.

Few could have seen this coming. The big games came in hot. The smaller games surprised. The ones you suspected might fail actually pulled it off. It was a perfect storm of strategy video games, and even if it's another decade before we see another lineup like it, that will be fine. It will have taken us that long to get through 2016's backlog.


Comments

    I really wish they'd bring more classic RTS back in the coming years though... the nostalgic eras of C&Cs with cheezy FMVs are sorely missed...instead we get MOBAs year after year. 4x and turn based are fun but nothing as pumping as good ol Base Building and rushing. Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak was definitely a masterpiece and deserves a sequel. Goddang someone please bring Generals 2 back already!

    Act of Aggression played decently as well unfortunately the campaign felt a bit shite..

    I've been thinking of 2016 as "the year of" in a lot of aspects - shooters in particular - but now that you frame it this way you're totally right, strategy kicked ass. A few of these are currently a part of some very good steam sales as well - Stelaris at 60% off in particular is a good one.

    I'd like to give an honorable mention to Might and Magic Heroes VII, it technically came out at the end of last year, but needed a few patches to not be a completely broken buggy mess.
    In it's current state, it's pretty good!

    Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak was so good.

    Getting a bunch of the original developers back to revisit a beloved franchise many years later rarely works well. Then consider that they pitched this game as a Facebook thing. Then remember that the Homeworld IP went up for sale and they tried raising money to buy the IP, only to lose to Gearbox. Then the announcement that it was going to be a Homeworld game, but that Gearbox were getting involved in the publishing. Hopes were at such a low...

    and yet it turned out so, so, good.
    Now, they've remastered and are patching the first Homeworld games...

    It's just great to see Homeworld getting this kind of love.

    Last edited 23/12/16 7:58 pm

    always thought banner saga was an RPG... well the more you know i guess

    +1 for Battlefleet, i pirated, enjoyed the heck out of it for an hr then bought it for full price, sunk over 40 hours into the game now.

    Little surprised to not see Ashes of Singularity in there at all. It had been shaping to to be an amazing game.

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