Oh man, what a year! 2017 was a real rollercoaster for me personally, and as someone who really doesn’t like rollercoasters and is using that term to denote that I really didn’t like this year, I was very thankful to have such a plethora of fantastic games to serve as a much needed escape from the horrors of the real world.
I think stories in video games took huge strides forward this year; some executed phenomenally well, others tackled previously untouched topics, and some very special games managed to do both. A lot of 2017’s best games had some deep flaws, but rose above them in some astounding and often surprising ways. I don’t know if I could have handled how ridiculously amazing this year would have been if they all pulled it off flawlessly. We might have had to call it for video games, because we would never top what was done here. Instead, I look forward to the coming years with a fervour and faith that I had not thought possible. The groundwork is in place, the concepts have been proven, now build me a mind-blowing future!
Games I Wish I Had Played/Played More Of
We were truly spoilt this year, and as such some titles unfortunately slipped through the cracks or were muscled out by that demanding bastard known as time (a.k.a. waking hours of the day not already consumed by employment). These are the few games that I either wish I had got around to playing, or wish I had been able to give more time to.
- Divinity: Original Sin 2
- Hollow Knight
- South Park: The Fractured But Whole
- Life is Strange: Before the Storm
- Assassin’s Creed: Origins (I think?)
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Why don’t I like you?!)
- Mass Effect: Andromeda (Because I wish soooo much that it was good)
There are, of course, even those that I did manage to play that just barely missed making my list. This year had more #11’s than any year prior for me, and as painful as it was to cut them, I couldn’t be more thankful that it was necessary. My thoughts on all these games can be found in our GOTY podcasts, so I won’t go into each of them here.
- Bury Me, My Love
- Night In The Woods
- Battle Chef Brigade
- Nidhogg 2
- Gang Beasts
- SteamWorld Dig 2
My Top 10 Games of 2017
10. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
I perhaps did not enjoy playing Hellblade as much as some of the games that ended up coming in 11th. The combat was solid, the weaponry and combat controls good, I just couldn’t reconcile the movement or lack of situational awareness when in combat situations. I definitely learned to accomodate those aspects, but it prevented me from truly enjoying a large piece of the game. Despite that, I think this game is a spectacular creative work. Technically speaking it is a wondrous blend of visual fidelity, character performance and animation, captivating environments, and superb sound design. As if that wasn’t enough, it tackles and (mostly) executes on an incredibly under- or misrepresented topic in a deft and comprehensive way, that doesn’t always make for the best gameplay, but certainly makes for a unique and engaging experience. There were a few games I wanted to reward for their efforts in this vein, but ultimately this was the one that resonated with me the most.
9. Destiny 2
I put just under 100 hours into Destiny 2 in the month since its release. When I finally put it down I wasn’t disappointed that I couldn’t continue, I wasn’t desperate for more content, I was merely satisfied. Destiny 2 makes some incredibly smart changes to the original game, and moves most aspects in what I think to be the absolute right direction. It perhaps goes too far in some aspects (generic loot, lack of mystery in story), but overall it makes for a better game that feels more like it knows what it was going for, and achieved that. There is still work to be done on this series, but if the foundation was strong in Destiny 1, the building has fully been constructed in 2, and now they just need to finalise the furnishings. Or something like that. Damn that shooting is good.
8. Yakuza 0
I said previously that 2017 is made up of great, but flawed, games. Yakuza 0 is a surprising exception to that. The level of execution of just about every aspect of this staggeringly expansive game is nothing short of monumental. The designs, the style, the storytelling, the characters, the mini-games, the side-stories, the combat, the environment – all of it, just… nailed. Whilst I have occasionally cast an eye over them, I have never played a Yakuza game, and every time I have sat down to dig a little deeper, it just seemed all too deep a hole to be prodding around the edges of. Enter 0. Such a superb entry point, and with Kiwami rolling out on it’s heels, I know very well the first thing I’ll be diving into now that I have some time.
7. What Remains of Edith Finch
Everything is What Remains of Edith Finch seems like it was crafted and placed with the utmost care and consideration for the narratives that unfold within this curious abode. The sheer variety in the bizarre short stories, the measured methods of interaction, and often-subtle, often-openly foretelling ways in which each occurrence plays out has a near magical effect for me. I found the connecting story truly moving and earned, made all the more impactful as each vignette becomes increasingly personal. A beautiful blend of art and story.
6. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Oh how I wish this game played better. If the environments were as well designed as in The New Order, and if the shooting felt a little better, and if it wasn’t so hard to know you are being ripped to shreds by Nazi bullets, this game may very well have launched its way to the top of my list. The story is so well crafted and paced, with such a great blend of subverted expectations, shocking twists, hilarious joy, and bombastic badass moments. How are there such deep and varied characters in a Wolfenstein game? The world continues to be fleshed out and filled in in such interesting ways, and where the story leaves off… I can’t wait to see them take this fight to the rest of the world. Oh, but fuck that awful cover over the credits.
5. Persona 5
Ughhh, Persona. That styyyyyyle. It’s sooo damn fucking good that it almost carries it all the way for me. The designs, the menus, the music… Ughhh. But it doesn’t stop there – pair that with the most engaging, enjoyable, accessible, intelligent gameplay in the series and you’ve got one hell of a Persona game. Throw in some slick crimes and smooth operators, and you’ve got Persona 5. However… having waited so long I can’t not compare this to Persona 4, and while it truly elevates design and gameplay to another level, I was ultimately let down by their character and story work. I really like a large number of the characters in Persona 5. Several have really satisfying arcs, engaging personalities, and fun/meaningful contributions to the greater game, it’s just a real shame that the weakest/least realised characters are some of the most important ones, and while the majority of the interactions or story is solid-to-good, there was just a lack of the really great moments that I was looking for. I still love it, but I can’t help but see what it could have been. It comes so incredibly close to clearing a very high bar, and that’s no small feat.
How does Supergiant do it? How do they repeatedly craft such different games, spanning such different genres – are they even adhering to anything so mundane as a genre? – and yet they manage to enthral me every single time. Pyre contains some of the deepest and most diverse characters in any game I have ever played, and they capitalise on that by forcing you to make such incredibly impactful decisions with each of them, friend and foe alike. The world itself is as strong a character as any, and as usual the art and music so perfectly support and enhance every damn beautiful aspect of each other. I even grew to love their weird cosmic basketball, which they rightly hang on the variety found in their characters. The more I think about this game, the higher it goes up my list. I will once again eagerly await their next creation.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
This might be my favourite Mario game. I need more time to ponder that. In the mean time, let us just say that it is one of my favourite games this year. It is also worth mentioning that its my favourite Mario game of the year, given Mario + Rabbids was a surprisingly surprising entry. I cannot understate the sheer joy experienced running around with that little plumber fellow in all his wacky costumes, jet-setting across the world to all these weird and wonderful kingdoms, interacting with a cavalcade of curious characters THAT HE THEN POSSESSES. The implications of Mario’s “captures” really got me thinking in an otherwise carefree romp, but that was soon dismissed as just plain, pure, unadulterated fun. Incidentally:
Top 5 Super Mario Odyssey Captures:
- Tropical Wiggler
I wasn’t going to play NieR. I had heard a lot of the things about it (or thought I had), I had seen it in action, I even did a (very) small amount of reading on it. I had decided against it – not for me. Then one day, as I started preparations for our GOTY features, the notion that a game being so highly touted would go largely unrepresented in our group gave me pause. It was on hand, so I figured I might as well give it a crack. It didn’t grab me at first. It seemed OK. The style was there for sure, but not in its best representation at the outset. The characters were kind of bland. The way it switched perspectives was neat, but could easily be overdone, and was cause for concern if they failed to render any one aspect successfully because they were attempting so many others. Then I hit that Engel. OK, that was pretty sweet. Oh and you’re dead already? Sure, I’m paying attention. This could go some places. Still, I thought I knew what NieR was now – some cool twists accentuating an interesting, if a little simple, hack-n-slash with a few system quirks. Then I hit the Amusement Park. And I never looked back.
NieR:Automata’s biggest failings seem to be those of a game shooting way beyond its budget. Ugly environment assets and strangely limited access to spaces you feel you should be able to go are frankly my two biggest concerns, and they were utterly swept aside the moment that the themes, philosophies and stories showed their claws and promptly sunk them into me. The characters, factions and stories, both personal and grand, exhibited in this game are some of most intriguing, endearing, heart-wrenching, delightful, ponderous concoctions I have yet to encounter in media. The combat system is simple to engage with, but offers exceptional depth if you want to delve into it, which I’d recommend you do as it is quite rewarding, and goes a long way to alleviating what could otherwise be rather repetitive. The boss encounters include some of my favourites in just about any game, and are often enhanced by further provided context. The music is beautiful, weird, alluring, harrowing and oh-so-very perfect.
1. Horizon: Zero Dawn
Horizon: Zero Dawn was my complete package. Honestly, I think the only aspect I can’t say I loved was the music, and even then I think it did it’s job great, it’s just not the music I’m going to be listening to outside of the game like NieR or Persona are. I absolutely adore the world of Horizon. The design of the machines, the cauldrons, the ruins, the cities, the terrain, the environments, the peoples… it’s all just so cohesive and gorgeous. The history and lore, and how that moulds the current environment and its inhabitants, how it is unveiled and utilised to form such a vivid understanding of events spanning a thousand years. Layered on top of this ancient history is a completely different, but almost as intriguing, modern history surrounding the new inhabitants of this world, and how they’re interwoven so subtly with those remnants of the past. I scoured the world of Horizon for every piece of information I could find, and have never felt more rewarded by a game for doing so. From the grand implications, to the touching personal accounts, to the downright silly interpretations of artefacts; every find was another delightful piece in the intricate mosaic that made up this world. It is easy to see how the greater plot of Horizon, or rather the two parallel plots that unfold throughout, could have been bungled or unsatisfactorily concluded; in my opinion it absolutely nails the execution.
But even the greatest story has to be fun to uncover, and Horizon: Zero Dawn delivered for me once again. The best feeling bow in video games is backed up by a fun, varied and satisfying array of ammunition and other contraptions that allow you to approach combat in such a great number of adaptable ways. Whilst I definitely found my favourite methods and weapons, I regularly strayed from these to better suit a situation, or just to mix things up. The use of these tools is made all the more satisfying by the great selection of enemies and creatures. The design of the machines is inspired, with the nature, aspects, strengths and weaknesses of each machine being brilliantly communicated through appearance alone, a credit to the thoughtful design that has gone into them. It is immensely satisfying to engage with, and ultimately rip apart, each of these wondrous creations. The upgrades/selections in armour and weapons are well metered and rewarding, not to mention frequently baring their own unique designs. The ability trees make progression highly satisfying, and allow the game and its combat to keep evolving and expanding throughout the game, rewarding you for whatever the nature of the work you put in.
The characters are beautifully crafted, both in appearance and performance, with Aloy leading the cast as a surprisingly relatable protagonist in an otherwise alien world. Her relationships with other characters, especially that of Rost, are frequently wonderfully subtle and genuine. Numerous other characters deliver fantastic performances, and offer immense depth to the world they reside within, or perhaps even more impressively, the world they once resided in, as the amount of emotion and impact that is conveyed even through holograms, voice recordings and text is astounding.
I frequently have a problem coming back to a game after I have completed it’s main story. With Horizon, I not only reached 100% completion, but I am also in the process of doing the same with its DLC. The Frozen Wilds itself is a wonderful addition to the game, that offers even further context and connotations to an already rich and fully realised world, whilst providing some beautiful personal stories and interesting characters along the way. I’ll take this a strong indication that Guerrilla Games understands the magic they have managed to bottle in Horizon: Zero Dawn, and put my faith in them to continue on with this world I have lost myself within.