2015 was a great year in gaming, but it also felt incomplete. Several titles, including Uncharted 4, The Division, and Persona 5, were delayed until the next year, and despite growing anticipation, we still haven’t heard much about Nintendo’s NX or the final release dates or price points of any of the three major VR headsets. So with all that ahead of us, what are we looking forward to most in 2016?
As 2015 draws to a close, PFX is ending the year with a look back on our favorite games and favorite gaming moments of the year, and a look forward to 2016. We previously covered our favorite games and moments of 2015. Now, we end our year looking ahead.
More than anything I’m excited for 2016 for the new frontiers that it is opening for gaming. Maybe that could be said for any year, but not just any year is seeing both the release of No Man’s Sky and the commercial debut of three promising virtual reality headsets, all of which are fundamental leaps forward for the industry.
I’ll admit, I’ve bought into the hype for NMS, and it is the one game I’m looking forward to playing most in 2016. And while I’ll be disappointed if it’s a dud, to me its importance doesn’t rest with how it actually plays. I believe the mere existence of the game is already progress for the industry. By aiming big (what’s a bigger target than creating a universe?), Hello Games is showing that what once would have been considered impossible for even the biggest studios is achievable today. In the process, for example by sending drones to take pictures of unexplored planets and fiddling with their algorithms based on the photos beamed back, they are also showing the potential for procedural generation to be beautifully curated. Which is not to say that small, intensely designed experiences aren’t worth the effort (this is basically what I praised Rocket League and Unfinished Swan for), but No Man’s Sky is breaking limits in ways not previously attempted.
Not only is 2016 giving us a new universe, but with VR it is giving us a new dimension. Yes, I’ve drunk the Kool Aid on VR too, but like NMS, VR headsets are escaping the previous boundaries of play. When games transitioned from 2D to 3D, they unlocked a new plane of movement for on-screen action, but they are still played on a flat screen. This is why I don’t buy the criticisms of VR as the next 3D movie fad: 3D movies (and games) may have more literal depth, but at their core they still offer as much as their 2D cousins. By comparison, VR feels like evolution, like a true step forward. VR puts the player in the game, surrounds them, floods their senses. Combining the headsets with each systems’ proprietary controllers, whether the PlayStation Move controllers or Oculus Touch, gives games a physicality that is difficult to represent through traditional inputs.
Part of the reason I’m looking forward to No Man’s Sky and virtual reality in 2016 specifically is because I’m itching to experience both as soon as possible, sure. Maybe I’ll be disappointed this year though, maybe planet-hopping will get old quick and developers don’t yet know how to turn tech demos into full compelling games. But both NMS and VR represent something more, a new future, and to me that’s the best thing about 2016.
2016 has a lot of exciting things in store, both in terms of technological leaps and massive new games. As my colleague has mentioned, virtual reality is about to become a gaming reality, and I would definitely put it in my most exciting category (but he got to it first). Other technological leaps are just as important, such as LG’s increased commitment to OLED televisions and, soon, computer monitors – both of which should interest gamers as some of the highest quality screens start to flood the market at lower and lower prices. PC gamers will be looking forward to massive GPU leaps that will make 4K gaming a reality, and perhaps the technology necessary to make 4K at 144hz refresh rates possible.
However, all of that is overshadowed by the games we get to see; both new IPs and reboots of major franchises. Mass Effect: Andromeda stands head and shoulders above the rest for me. Admittedly, a lot of that is due to the hype resulting from the mystery of this new take on the Mass Effect universe. It is the promise of scope and freedom that catches my attention; it takes me back to the trailers of the original Mass Effect. While Bioware hasn’t pleased everyone as much as it has in previous generations, the results seen in Dragon Age: Inquisition impressed me despite some faults. That game showed me that Bioware can still craft big, living worlds, epic storylines, and fun questlines (ignoring the useless side quests).
The lessons learned in Inquisition, combined with the new focus on exploration and discovery in Mass Effect: Andromeda, makes me feel as though Bioware is reawakening its RPG craft. They seem to be learning from their mistakes, recapturing what made them great, while creating something new and exciting. I do realize that there is the danger of disappointment, but Mass Effect: Andromeda represents a new tide in video games that is all about revitalization and experimentation. While it is not a new universe to play in, it is a risky and exciting new take on a franchise that has become so important to many fans. I think it is one of the clearest examples of how we are moving away from previous generations and finally into a new era. Whether it is the willingness to take something well known and make it into something different, or to start from scratch with a brand new IP, or to even develop risky and revolutionary technology, 2016 is filled with innovations. Andromeda, to me, represents that new frontier while still remembering and learning from these past few generations.
Oculus Rift image source: Oculus
No Man’s Sky image source: Hello Games
Mass Effect Andromeda image source: iDigital Times