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Josh is the owner of Game-Wisdom, where he examines the art and science of games through posts, podcasts and videos.

For today's post, I'm finishing the countdown of my favorite games of 2016. There were a lot of great titles released in both the AAA and Indie space, and it was another hard year to decide.

Be sure to check out the previous post for 10-6.

#5 Grim Dawn

Grim Dawn has been in development for a very long time as the successor to Titan Quest. After Iron Lore went under, ex-employees formed Crate Entertainment and began working on the game.

Grim Dawn both feels like a love letter to classic ARPGs, but at the same time features refinements and new systems. Diablo 3 did a lot to streamline some of the more complicated elements of APRG design; namely in loot generation and character building.

Grim Dawn is a return to the days where just allocating one stat point felt like a huge decision. Titan Quest’s profession system makes a return, and allows players to create a “class” out of any two professions in the game. The beauty of the system is that it allows players to forge their own way through the game.

The loot generation is one of the best and most complicated on the market today. Between your skills, gear, and components that modify, there are a number of ways to create an unstoppable bad-ass. One of the later additions to the game’s development came in the form of the constellation system; further allowing for customization.

While Grim Dawn lacked the graphical polish of Diablo 3, the developers made up for it in the setting. The game took place in a lovecraftian steampunk world as humanity struggled to survive.

Grim Dawn was one of my most played games of 2016, and one of my largest let’s plays on my YouTube channel. Even after all the time spent with the game, I still feel the urge to load things up and try any of the other profession combinations.

The only thing that is really holding Grim Dawn back is the fact that its main competitor is Diablo 3. Grim Dawn hasn’t had anywhere near the number of patches and improvements that has helped refined Diablo 3 into the game that it is today. With continued support and plans for an expansion, that could change as we head into 2017

If you enjoy ARPGs and are looking for a different taste compared to Diablo 3, definitely get Grim Dawn. In fact, Grim Dawn was so good, that I actually moved it up two spots after thinking more about the game and the time I spent with it.

#4 Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley came out of the developer’s wish to see a Harvest Moon-styled game for the PC. It took about four years before his dream game was ready. What we got was an elevated take on the genre and one of the most relaxing games to play.

Players were free to decide just what to focus on during their time in the valley. You could become a master fisherman, a local favorite, build a farming empire and more. The depth given to the characters of the village made the game more personable.

Stardew Valley is probably the easiest game on my top 10 list, but that doesn’t distract from the joy and “one more turn” feel there is of playing it. The game has been supported over the year; with more relationships and content added.

Similar to Undertale, Stardew Valley has become a fan favorite for people who love to explore the relationship side of things and the people. The fact that the game can appeal to so many different groups of people is testament to what makes it great.

For me, I’ve been hoping for more games like Harvest Moon on the PC (next I want Monster Hunter), and Stardew Valley fits that bill.

There are only a few things that stop it from being higher on my list. For people like me who want to really dig (no pun intended) into the farming side, the game is somewhat basic on that front. There’s a part of me who would love something like a mix between Factorio and Stardew Valley, but that may be too crazy of a sell. The controls were somewhat cumbersome due to its one size fits all UI.

Even with that said, Stardew Valley is just a joy to play, and very few games can elicit that in players.

#3 XCOM 2

When Firaxis took over X-COM with Enemy Unknown and Within, we got one of the best spiritual sequels around. Enemy Unknown paid homage to the original while modernizing the design. XCOM 2 had a lot to prove, as this was Firaxis’s chance to breakaway and do something completely original.

And originality is what we got. Firaxis based the sequel on the fact that most players were not able to beat the original on the hardest difficulty. Firaxis shifted the game from a global effort to a resistance movement trying to free the world.

From the first trailer announcement, I knew that this was a game that I had to play. XCOM 2 allowed Firaxis to fix the problems with the first game and grow things from there. XCOM 2 went down the list of issues and problems and fixed as many of them as possible.

Classes were changed and re-balanced, greater randomization was introduced, procedurally-generated maps and more. Many of XCOM’s issues in terms of tactics and base-building were fixed with the sequel.

Improved modding functionality led to hundreds of mods being easily integrated into the game. We saw mods like new clothing options, brand new enemies, UI re-designs and more. Even Long War Studios got into the fun by releasing official mods.

While the DLC content was hit or miss, here’s hoping that an expansion on the same scale as Enemy Within is in the works.

XCOM 2 is an amazing game and proves that not only can Firaxis make an X-Com-styled game, but that there is a market for it. And if XCOM can get a proper series today, I’m hoping that the Star Control sequel will also be as well-received.

#2 Dark Souls 3

The Souls series has risen to become a favorite of mine. Even with the problems I had with Dark Souls 2 it was still one of the best games to come out that year. With 3, the developers took what they learned from Bloodborne and fixed the mistakes of 2.

Dark Souls 3 boasts everything that we enjoyed about the series: Great combat, unique environments and amazing boss fights. The new weapon art feature that gives each weapon a special ability helped to flesh out combat more. The combat system continues to be one of the best areas of Soulsborne; focusing on player skill and letting the RPG side supplement it.

As with the previous games, Dark Souls 3 was a challenging affair; with noticeable standout fights for me being the Unnamed King and Champion Gundyr battles. There is going to be a bigger post that looks into Bloodborne vs. Dark Souls 3 in 2017, so I’m saving a lot of my thoughts for that.

Everything about Dark Souls 3 was on point; lending credence to this being From Software’s way of going out with a bang. Again, there is so much to talk about with Dark Souls 3 that I would just be repeating myself from bringing up Dark Souls 1 and 2.

#1 Darkest Dungeon

Once again for these lists, my top two games were between a newcomer and a refinement on design. Dark Souls 3 and Darkest Dungeon were neck and neck as the #1 pick. What tilted the scales was the sheer originality of a game like Darkest Dungeon coming out this year.

Darkest Dungeon has had an almost flawless development plan. The successful kickstarter led into a great early access which has positioned the game for a console release and upcoming expansion. I always talk about harmonizing game design and the challenge of getting everything working on the same page.

Darkest Dungeon is a brilliant example of game design, story and aesthetics all working together. Just like Renowned Explorers, this is a world and characters that I want to see more of. I want to drive Chris Bourassa crazy by having to come up with and draw more monsters and locales. The narrator voiced by Wayne June fits perfectly within the world and taught us all about Tides and turning.

Good aesthetic design is about telling a lot about a character or locale without saying a word, and Darkest Dungeon has this in spades. You can read a lot into each character simply by looking at them or viewing the text-less comic strips Redhook put out.

The tactical combat and class synergies were well done along with the enemies you fight. Both sides had access to unique options and abilities; forcing you to figure out the best party compositions for any given area.

Just like with Dark Souls 3, I’ve spent so much time talking and playing Darkest Dungeon that I’m out of words to say anymore. To wrap up this post, here’s to Redhook Games for being able to carry their success all the way to a console release and their next expansion. While they’ve already said their next game will not be a Darkest Dungeon 2, I can’t wait to see more from the studio.

Thanks for reading. What games did you enjoy the most out of 2016?

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