1. No Man’s Sky
There’s what No Man’s Sky turned out to be, what a vocal minority assumed it would be, and the chasm of misunderstanding that lies between. The heir to a game like Elite it’s not. But taken on its own terms, as a Zen zoology simulator framed by freeform exploration of a procedurally generated universe with bouts of interstellar combat, it’s an extraordinary achievement.
2. Battlefield 1
Battlefield 1 multiplayer modes are predictably unimpeachable if you prefer sprawling, thoughtful, micro-campaign-style competition. But it’s the shooter’s anthologized campaign this time that steals the show.
Variable State’s Virginia, whose makers cite filmmaker David Lynch as an influence, may at first seem maddeningly opaque, but its rewards — best realized off multiple viewings — are rich and many. It challenges players to make sense of abrupt scene transitions, constrained perspectives and general narrative reticence.
Old school roleplaying games dole out abstract rewards like “experience points” so you can make your superpowers a trifle more super. New school ones like Crashlands let you scoop those rewards up off the battlefield, drag them back to your base, then turn them into cool, usable objects. Killer aliens meets goofball storytelling and characters meets a weighty crafting system brimming with hundreds of recipes, Crashlands is everything predictable RPGs aren’t.
5. Dragon Quest Builders
Dragon Quest Builders is a beautiful, voxel-informed, crafting-focused, thematically relatable fantasy roleplaying extravaganza that’s better because of its constraints, not in spite of them. It’s the sort of thing those who’ve avoided playing Minecraft but still find it intriguing should pay attention to—an exquisite, LEGO-like builder deftly equipoised between structured and freeform play.
6. Burly Man at Sea
Brain&Brain’s folklorish Burly Men at Sea is a whimsical romp starring three bearded adventurers that speaks in plaintive accordion tunes and whispers, airy sighs and polyphonic hoots — one that marries quirky activities with starlit encounters and aquamarine serpents plucked from Norwegian myth.
If you like brutal, exacting clockwork puzzles with appalling dilemmas. You’ll adore Tharsis, an ingenious turn-based space strategy game for PC and PlayStation 4. By the folks who gave us the quirky Bit.Trip series. It looks like a dice-driven board game, where the board is a spaceship split into modules. You maneuver astronauts between, trying to repair damage from random. Or maybe your “events” over a 10-turn journey to Mars.
What makes puzzle-platformer Inside interesting isn’t its dim woodlands. Creepy factories, moody bunkers or underwater mysteries. But the craftsmanship of its puzzles and platforming challenges. Imagine the ethically rudderless zeal of Josef Mengele in The Boys from Brazil folded into the nihilism of screenwriter W. D. Richter’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This now feels like where studio Playdead’s last game Limbo was headed all along.
9. Uncharted 4
Stealth-play wasn’t impossible in the earlier Uncharted games, but it’s so much more satisfying when you manage to sneak up behind one of Uncharted 4‘ssmarter, hyperaware adversaries. The best in studio Naughty Dog’s rollicking pulp adventure series by a country mile. Its embiggened levels become enthralling tactical playgrounds, brimming with wraparound overhangs. And organic hiding spots that include swathes of waist-high grass or broad leaf undergrowth you can hunker in or creep through.
10. The Witness
In Jonathan Blow and studio Thekla’s The Witness, mysteries abound on a deserted island that may or may not exist. The island is beautiful but oblique, sublime yet functionally inscrutable. Glowing screens with maze-like grids are everywhere, connective cables snake through sun-dappled underbrush or down into cavernous passages.