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Fall Video Game Preview 2016: What You Need to Play

From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new ‘Pokémon’

This year's lineup of fall video game releases runs the gamut from quirky, hand-drawn indie games to huge, sprawling epics that have been in development hell for more than a decade. It's a year when beloved franchises like Battlefield and Call of Duty are reinventing themselves in completely new settings, virtual reality is pushing into the mainstream, and sports games are no longer satisfied with just simulating what happens on the field.

There are hundreds of games vying for our attention across consoles and the PC between now and the end of December. Here's a guide to 21 that should be on your radar over the next few months.

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‘ReCore’ (Xbox One, PC – September 13)

After an atmospheric intro in 2015, ReCore looked a little iffy during this year's E3 show in June, but its pedigree can't be denied. With a sci-fi post-apocalyptic story penned by ex-Bungie alum Joseph Staten, directed by Mark Pacini of Metroid Prime fame and produced by legendary Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, the team behind ReCore is approaching supergroup status – it just needs Tom Morello on guitar. 

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play

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‘NBA 2K17’ (Xbox One, PS4 – September 20)

If you're a hoops head who also plays games, it's likely a moot point – you're going to cop NBA 2K17. Rest assured, though, that 2K doesn't seem to be mailing it in this year. Expect some pretty big gameplay changes, like refined shooting mechanics, a more precise and rewarding dribbling game, and a fatigue scheme that better simulates the ebb and flow of athletic performance over the course of a game. Also, for the first time in years, the 1992 USA Dream Team returns, including Jordan, Barkley, Bird, and even Coach K himself, Mike Krzyzewski.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play

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‘Destiny: Rise of Iron’ (Xbox One, PS4 – September 20)

The most compulsive online game this side of Azeroth gets a new installment in September, and it's just in time. Destiny has lain fallow since The Taken King expansion dropped almost a year ago, and it's been the longest drought in history for Bungie's shared-world shooter. When Rise of Iron hits in late September, expect all the standard stuff you'd demand of a Destiny expansion: a new raid, an increased level limit, and a whole bunch of new gear. Perhaps the real treat for Destiny heads, though, is a deeper look into the game's foundational lore. It's a fact that the more obscure a game's lore, the thirstier players are the decipher it, and Destiny is as opaque as it gets.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘FIFA 17’ (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3 – September 27)

You'd think after 23 years of making FIFA games that they'd start running out of new stuff to add, but this year's game takes a bold step in the shape of a new mode called "The Journey." Much like Spike Lee's questionable "Livin' Da Dream" in NBA 2K16, this brings a big dose of story and drama into the game's usually-dry career mode. Working with Manchester United forward Anthony Martial and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez, EA Sports has crafted what they claim is an authentic representation of life as a player both on and off the pitch. Whether that includes dating reality TV stars remains to be seen.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Forza Horizon 3’ (Xbox One, PC – September 27)

If you are inclined towards fast cars but find racing sims like Forza Motorsports 6 unconscionably dull, its younger, hipper cousin Forza Horizon 3 is absolutely aimed at you. Blending the less conventional elements of other racers like Burnout Paradise, Need for Speed, and Test Drive it provides a huge open world (in this case, a big chunk of Australia), then fills it with 350 drool-worthy cars to collect. It's the only game out there that'll let you step out of a rare Lamborghini Centenario and straight into a Warthog from Halo.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Mafia 3’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC – October 7)

Video games have a lousy track record when it comes to tackling delicate social issues, particularly those around race, but Mafia 3 creative director Haden Blackman believes he can change that. An award-winning writer for his work on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed in 2008 and the Batwoman comic book in 2010, Blackman's specialty has always been taking grand concepts and making them intimate character pieces. His vision for Mafia 3 puts it in the New Orleans-themed fictional city of New Bordeaux in 1968, and tackles a racially charged mob war from the perspective of a young, black Vietnam vet. "We knew we had a responsibility to address the fact that there were (and still are) race issues in the country," Blackman says. "The Sixties were such a turbulent time, especially in the South, we would have been totally tone deaf and failed horribly had we not acknowledged it in some way."

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Gears of War 4’ (Xbox One, PC – October 11)

Back in 2014, Microsoft acquired the rights to the Xbox-exclusive Gears of War franchise from Epic Games, and promptly handed it over to a brand new studio that had yet to ship a game. Fortunately they also hired Rod Fergusson, who had served as executive producer on the previous Gears games to head up the studio and allay fans' justifiable fears. Confusingly the fifth game in the series, Gears of War 4 picks up the story 25 years after the apocalyptic destruction at the end of the third game, but thankfully doesn't mess with the winning formula. Fundamentally it's the same big, gory, dumb run and gun concept we've grown to love, only now it has a fresh cast of heroes, new body-snatching monsters, revised co-op and competitive multiplayer gameplay and a new take on the popular five-vs-all Horde mode that has you mowing down wave after wave of bad guys.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘PlayStation VR’ (PS4 – October 13)

Whether it's the great leap forward for mass-market virtual reality that the technology so desperately needs, or a $400 too-little, too-early answer to a question no one's yet asking – PlayStation VR will come out swinging. With zombies, a super-hero and the starship Enterprise in tow in the form of Resident Evil 7, Batman Arkham VR and Star Trek Bridge Crew, an instant VR esports play in the mech shooter RIGS, and trippy abstract head-turners Rez Infinite and SuperHyperCube, among others – there will be plenty of shots at the goal. But even with sci-fi stalwart EVE bringing up the rear with dogfighter Valkyrie and turret-shooter Gunjack, this feels like a launch that's still looking for its killer app. Help may arrive in the form of the Force – EA drops its Star Wars: X-Wing VR Mission DLC this year, free for all current Star Wars Battlefront players. 

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Battlefield 1’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC – October 21)

For the most part, video games have tended to steer clear of tackling The Great War. Maybe it was for fear that the clunky, slow technology would prove too boring, or that the intimate nature of the combat too brutal, but outside of more ponderous strategy titles, WWI is an unexplored era. Battlefield 1 looks to change that. It takes the core Battlefield formula with its jaw-dropping gigantic environments and multiplayer focus (there is a campaign mode, but who cares? All the real juice is for the online modes) and pushes it back in time, filling it with biplanes, tanks, armored trains and the bravest, toughest horses you've ever seen.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Sid Meier’s Civilization VI’ (PC – October 21)

The venerable Civilization franchise turns 25 this year, and with its latest installment, it comes one step closer to proving that it's impervious to games industry trend-chasing. (It helps if you conveniently ignore the Facebook-only Civilization Online.) Civilization VI continues the series' inexorable, albeit gradual and considered, forward march, with refined mechanics around how you develop technology, build cities, and how the game generates its world maps. Also, infamous Civ warmonger Gandhi returns as leader of India, and he seems to have turned over a new leaf. Or has he?

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘The Last Guardian’ (PS4 – October 25)

It wasn't long ago that merest glimpse of The Last Guardian was a rare treat. A few seconds in a trade show sizzle reel was enough to kindle the hopes of forlorn fans eager to see the third installment in the loosely-tied series that started with the beloved Ico in 2001. What followed were countless delays and long media blackouts, due mainly, as we'd eventually learn, to upheaval at its studio. Fast forward to last E3, and there it is, a real, fully-playable game – willfully atmospheric, with that light touch unique to director Fumito Ueda. 

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘World of Final Fantasy’ (PS4, Vita – October 25)

If Final Fantasy XV's bleeding-edge largesse (and seemingly never-ending production schedule) is leaving you cold, World of Final Fantasy might be the remedy. If you're a Final Fantasy fan of a certain age, in fact, the way it preys on your nostalgia might be downright cynical, with a look and feel straight from the series' earliest days, back-to-basics turn-based combat, and cameos from seemingly every character worth remembering across its numerous installments.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC – October 28)

Though ahead of its time for scope and depth in 2012, the years – and an entirely new console generation – have not been kind to Skyrim's graphics. Stunning games like CD Projekt Red's The Witcher 3 have stolen more than a few hearts from Elder Scrolls fans, who will have to wait at least another year for a proper sequel. In the meantime, Skyrim developer Bethesda Game Studios is taking the hint from the multitude of fan-made graphics updates for the PC version and is releasing its own, enhanced edition of the best-selling role playing game. Vastly improved visuals, along with support for those fan-made enhancements ("mods") plus all three game expansions (Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn) will bring the whole experience up to date. Plus, we'll all get to start over, which is just as well – by the time we finished leveling-up our heroes the first time around, we were able to face down dragons with a spoon.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Titanfall 2’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC – October 28)

With Titanfall 2, the franchise is going through changes, some of them downright fundamental. For one, it's getting a single player campaign, which executive producer Drew McCoy promises will let you explore the game's freeform mobility without fear of being instantaneously fragged. "One of the big goals was to give people who really liked the concept of Titanfall a place where they could practice, fail, and not be in a competitive environment," he says. Brief glimpses suggest that it's working, with results evocative of classic shooters like Half-Life and BioShock. Multiplayer is at least half the story, of course, and Titanfall 2 has been bold in its reexamination of the basics – to a degree that has rankled some in the community. An aversion to risk goes hand-in-hand with triple-A game development, so at least for now, we're inclined to be heartened by developer Respawn's chancy moves.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC – November 4)

Despite this particular trailer holding the dubious honor of being the second most hated video in YouTube history – beaten only by Justin Bieber's "Baby" – the game is still likely to be the best selling game of the year. Such is the power of the Call of Duty name. Why the public display of disdain for a game that looks so spectacular? Some fans are frustrated with the franchise moving further away from its traditional warfare roots and pushing into Halo and Titanfall territory with its space-based missions. Those same fans are also excited about the prospect of a remastered version of 2007's classic Call of Duty Modern Warfare, but irritated at Activision for only bundling the remake with the $80 special editions of Infinite Warfare

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Dishonored 2’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC – November 11)

French studio Arkane (whose Texan outpost is busy bringing the Prey franchise back to life) returns to the Half-Life-meets-steampunk world it drew so perfectly in 2012's brilliant Dishonored. Sequel Dishonored 2 leaves the gray Victorian skies of Dunwall behind, and sets sail for the altogether sunnier – but no less deadly – Karnaca (think colonial Cuba), where the now all-grown-up and recently deposed empress, Emily Kaldwin, works with her father Corvo Attano to reclaim her throne. Stealth moves, supernatural attacks, plot twists and palace intrigue are the order of the day once again as you make your way through expansive levels, this time playing as either protagonist. Arkane, perhaps more than any other studio, is doing more to keep the spirit of Half-Life not just alive, but evolving. Dishonored 2 will almost certainly be a must-buy come November for anyone perennially desperate to scratch that particular story-meets-mechanics itch. 

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Pokemon Sun and Moon’ (3DS – November 18)

Pokémon Go may have reignited the 20-year-old Poké-phenomenon by getting people to wave their phones around and bump into lampposts, but the new 3DS games Sun and Moon are the first "real" Pokémon games since 2013's X and Y. Kicking off the seventh generation of the unstoppable RPG series, these new games take place in the Hawaii-themed region of Alola, with Gen VII creatures that have all adapted in some way to its tropical climate.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Watch Dogs 2’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC – November 18)

Setting is key when it comes to open-world games. "When we started Watch Dogs 2, it was all about finding a different place to play with," director Jonathan Morin says. "If you [choose] a different place, that means you're true to yourself and your research." Watch Dogs 2 takes place in a vibrant Bay Area, which is about as far as you can get from the original's stark, stodgy rendition of Chicago. Per Morin's directive, expect some timely themes as hacker protagonist Marcus uses high-tech tools and an anti-establishment ethos to dismantle the systems of oppression propping up the Bay's powerbrokers. Which more often will mean blowing stuff up.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Final Fantasy XV’ (Xbox One, PS4 – November 29)

Given that this is a Fall preview, we'd be remiss not to warn you: Final Fantasy XV been delayed before. It was pushed just a few weeks ago to its current November 29 release. It's been 10 years in the making, in fact, beginning its life as a spinoff of Final Fantasy XIII for PS3 that eventually graduated to full-on sequel status. So, does its decade in the cooker bode well for the Japanese uber-blockbuster? Signs point to, uh, hopefully? One thing is certain: when it does actually come out, it's going to be a spectacle for the ages. It has to be. Though the Final Fantasy franchise is resilient and will outlive us all, it's been a real long time since a mainline series installment has dropped, so this one has something to prove.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘South Park: The Fractured But Whole’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC – December 6)

Just like its predecessor The Stick of Truth, this new South Park game is looking like it'll achieve total fidelity to its source material. It's not a hard thing to do, on one hand, given South Park's trademark lo-fi look, but The Fractured But Whole appears to benefit from something truly precious in the world of licensed games: creators that actually care. Also, smell-o-vision, courtesy of the Nosulus Rift, which, thankfully, seems to be a drawn-out marketing gag.

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From sci-fi shooters and sprawling, epic adventures to a brand new 'Pokémon,' what you need to play.

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‘Cuphead’ (Xbox One, PC – TBD)

Cuphead isn't a time travel game, but it may as well be given how fearlessly it spans the eras. Its look is drawn directly from the cartoons of the Thirties – a stretch of the "golden age" during which the likes of Disney and Warner Bros. cut their teeth. Meanwhile, its approach to design looks like an amalgamation of the most popular game genres from the Eighties and Nineties. The result is spot on: anarchic and slightly menacing in just the way that those old-timey cartoons strike us today.

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