I always hate reading these ‘top 5 games’ lists on other publications because it’s always triple-A titles that were universally well received. I’m like, “Man! Get an imagination! Play DayZ or some shit!” But, as I sit here preparing my list… it’s like… all triple-A games. Maybe not all universally well-received (lookin’ at you Division, you Judas) but triple-A nonetheless.  In case anyone wonders, or cares, I’m basing this list on actual playtime. I may not have loved all of these picks, but I certainly played them the most out of everything this year.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Now hey, this was a game. This was a beautiful game that made me think my Xbox One was not an inferior console. This was a game I actually beat.  Interesting story, great leading performance, and the sense of adventure I was expecting from Uncharted 4. I know, blasphemy. Tomb Raider had a particular brand of discovery and wonderment that I found missing in Naughty Dog’s most recent offering.  Strong survival elements and an interconnected world made for what felt like a vast journey, as opposed to Uncharted‘s sleek, but linear roller coaster ride. Real talk, Rise of the Tomb Raider held my interest all the way to the end, and for a guy whose MO is to make it five hours into every game and then vanish like a shitty father, I consider that special.

Dark Souls 3

Man. Fuck this game. I lost sleep over this game. Lost hair over this game. Shed tears over this game. Beat this game. Found myself asking people if they soloed Nameless King or the Princes, and judging them harshly if they hadn’t. Hated myself around this game. But goddamn was it satisfying to beat. I didn’t even get into the ‘endgame’ PvP’ing or DLC’ing, but I consider it beat. Dark Souls 3, I think is the best in the series (full disclosure: didn’t beat the other ones but this one’s the best). It’s just unlike any other game I’ve ever played. It makes you dig deep down for something inside you you’re not sure exists, and when you find it, you’re forever changed. I think I’m going to be a better writer because of this game, a better lover, a better son. It challenges you on a level most games don’t dare, and as a result, provides the kind of satisfaction usually reserved for IRL victories. As if that’s not enough, the Dark Souls community is one of the funniest, weirdest, gonzo-style game communities I’ve ever dipped my toes into. They are petty, yet honorable; precious, yet present. And most of all, they just want you to ‘git gud’. I did.

Destiny

If there’s one thing I hate more than technology not functioning properly, it’s having to agree with Julian. Destiny is a game I so thought would be a classic leave-behind and yet I own it on both systems with four characters across both. There’s no way getting around it, for everything you HOPED Destiny would be, you cannot deny it’s competence. It’s a fucking well-made game, plain and simple. A slot machine that rewards you with weapons and gear instead of ticket vouchers worth fifty-two cents. The crazy thing about Destiny, for me at least, is that it seemed to get bigger the longer I played. And once you’re in the solid groove of a play session, it’s pretty hard to put down. Sure I had my gripes (can’t fly ships? No third-person forever?), but I found that the game didn’t need any of that for me to get lost in it. In fact, I’m sad I sold my PS4 copy because I really want to see it running on my Pro. Julian, pls get it for me and I’ll play with you again. In fact I’m jonesing for it. In fact I’m buying it again.

The Division

I played so much of The Division in various Alphas and Betas before it released, that by the time the actual game dropped, I was bored with it.  Fast forward a year and hot damn!  So much content! So much I had missed! A PS4 Pro update?? You guys are the best. The Division is probably a better game than DayZ. I don’t like it nearly as much, but it’s probably a better game. With the Underground and Survival DLCs feeding beautifully into the base game’s ecosystems, it’s a really well-rounded experience that gives you at least one thing you wanted under the Christmas tree: bodies. Jk, I play like the main character from Hacksaw Ridge, heals only (also jk).  The devs even delayed the Survival DLC in order to tune the essential mechanics for the 1.4 patch, which, in my opinion, improve the experience immensely. It’s a solid open world shooter, with hundreds of nooks and crannies to explore. A must-play if you’re looking for some great co-op over the holiday season (or next six months!).

ARK: Survival Evolved

I am not very good at ARK. One might say I’m bad at it. As a wise (but dangerous) man once put it, “you can’t play ARK casually.” It’s true. If you really want to compete you need at LEAST two bodies on the server doing chores at all times. Anything short of that and you’re just a guy in the woods with a couple of spears just begging to get your shit wiped. And wiped I’ve been. The last three days I’ve spent at least seven hours just trying to get my character to a monolith so I can warp him to a friendlier server. Not sure one exists. I’ve purchased the game now on three different platforms and convinced two separate groups of friends to survive with me on the unforgiving island. Fun? Sort of. Anything else like it on console?  Absolutely not. For me, I enjoy ARK more in the present, with grandiose dreams of a future base I’ll never build. I just don’t have what it takes. But the journey has been nothing short of hilarious. The random fist fights with Moses, Moses asking me to check out his dragon, being engulfed in dragon lightning, dying. So many great laughs and memories, so many new friends from around the world, hopping on chat with various accents. ARK is about friendship, new and old. It’s a story I tell non-gamers at a party after a couple drinks and an awkward pause in conversation. And they’re always fascinated. It’s politics, greed, corruption, and loyalty. It’s not for everyone, hell it’s not even really for me, but videogames are better off because it exists. Happy New Year, Moses. I’ll be back to do chores around eight.