This year’s top five was extraordinarily difficult to pick, which is a testament to how crazy a year it has been for video games. Without further ado, here are my top five games of 2017.
#5: Horizon Zero Dawn
Building up to Horizon was a lot of uncertainty. I certainly didn’t know what to expect out of it, at least. I was never much of a Killzone fan, so a new game from the developers behind it seemed like shaky business. The game looked awesome in previews from a technical and gameplay perspective, but we’ve been mislead on both those fronts in days past.
Thankfully, this game delivered beautifully. It provided a strong narrative, well-written and diverse characters, and nail-biting and intense gameplay. The world they created was a joy to explore and be a part of. And hot damn those graphics. Outside of Uncharted, I have yet to see a game look as good as Horizon Zero Dawn. I had a blast playing this game, and I think anybody with a PS4 owes it to themselves to give it a go.
My review of it can be found here.
#4: NieR: Automata
This game was a huge surprise to me. Like many, I had never heard of Yoko Taro, Nier, or Drakengard. On a surface level NieR: Automata looks like another character action game with an anime art style and mediocre graphics, but if you dig deeper you’ll find one of the most compelling and original stories ever told in a game.
Not only that, but it also makes use of the gaming medium to tell its story better than any game I’ve ever played save perhaps for Undertale. The two games couldn’t be further apart tonally, but both make use of player agency in unique and brilliant ways that I would like to see more of.
NieR: Automata is a beautiful, emotional and complex journey that I urge everybody to at least try out. I believe there’s still a free demo available on PS4, although I don’t think it really gets to the meat of what makes this game so special. It’s at least worth playing to experience it’s soundtrack, which won best score at the Game Awards this year and stands as one of the best game OSTs of all time in my book.
It’s not in the top three on my list because some pacing issues and design gripes hold it back, but it stands strong in my top five. Go check this game out. It’s super weird.
#3: Super Mario Odyssey
It didn’t surprise me that a core Mario game was excellent, but what did surprise me were the ways in which it was excellent. There’s something about Mario Odyssey, and while I can’t put my finger on any one thing I believe that the sum of its parts add up to what has become my favorite Mario game ever made.
That Nintendo charm and polish is something that is always brought up when discussing Nintendo’s core games, but I think it has been perfected to a mirror sheen in Super Mario Odyssey. Every single character in this game bounces with that Nintendo charm. The way each character is animated make them a delight to look at. I’m not normally that into Mario’s character designs; not that I think they’re bad, per se, but I’ve just never really bonded with them. Not so with Odyssey. I adore these characters; I would buy every single Amiibo of these characters (Don’t get too many ideas, Nintendo).
On top of all that, it’s just really fun to play. It controls like 3D Mario has always controlled (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it) but with a few added moves that increase Mario’s mobility. That in conjuncture with master-class level design means that traversing the levels feels fun and fluid, save for a few (Luncheon Kingdom is a real bastard).
The game isn’t perfect; the ubiquity of motion controls is a legitimate gripe to be had and, like I mentioned, not every level is a knockout. Still, this is one of the strongest Mario games to date, and a definite reason to buy a Switch if you’re on the fence. It also has a few of the most joyous sequences in any game I’ve ever played, especially if you’ve grown up with Mario like so many have. Go try it out.
#2: Persona 5
Let me start by saying that, in general, I’m not much of a JRPG kind of guy. I appreciate them and I want to like them, but I generally find them too slow and tedious to work through all the way. It’s a testament to this year in gaming that two of my top five this year are JRPGs.
Persona 5 is one of my favorite games of all time. It is a gorgeous mix of story and style, where you play student of a Tokyo high school by day, while moonlighting as a vigilante group of spirit battling super-heroes by night. It’s a compelling mix of slice-of-life anime and quick paced combat JRPG, all wrapped in an incredible art style that will make this game stand the test of time.
It’s an unbelievably long game, and I will admit I haven’t finished it yet, as my PS4 broke just as I was in the final push, but I played more than enough to say that it’s one of my favorite games not only this year, but ever. The characters are charming and likable, the combat is punchy and fast-paced, the visuals are stunning, and that soundtrack. Even if you don’t like JRPGs you should check out Persona 5.
Game of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It was a tough choice between Persona 5 and Breath of the Wild, but in the end I had to side with Zelda. Persona 5 is the perfection of a formula, but Zelda takes a beloved if stale formula and reinvents it, reincarnating Zelda into something fresh, new and beautiful.
I wouldn’t claim Breath of the Wild does anything revolutionary, but it takes established open-world tropes and basically perfects them. The ideal open world, in my mind, is a giant sandbox full of interesting things to find and explore. What Breath of the Wild exceeds at is not only giving you a sprawling and dense world full of wonders to explore, but also giving you a diverse toolset to discover in service of that exploration and discovery.
What draws me to video games is a sense of wonder in a new world. I have never before felt such a sense of wonder as I did when I first played Breath of the Wild. It’s one of those rare lifetime milestones. There will be before Breath of the Wild and after Breath of the Wild. It marks a specific moment in gaming, a rare blip that truly and completely transported me to a new place that I was drawn into again and again.
It’s not without its flaws; the intentory system is tedious, climbing in the rain sucks and the voice acting is terrible. But what it does well it does so well that none of those complaints matter to me in the slightest. It is an absolute triumph of a game, one that I will probably return to time and time again. If you own a Switch, you should own Breath of the Wild, and if you don’t own a Switch you should strongly consider getting one, especially after this year.
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I didn’t get nearly as far as I would have liked in this game, otherwise it may have edged out Horizon as my #5, but other things got in the way and then my PS4 died. I love the art style and story in this game, and it is a unique blend of pseudo-sports game and visual novel. Compelling characters, beautiful visuals, a great score by Darren Korb and a fun and unique battle system make this a very strong contender.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
This game came so, so close to being on the list. It continues one of the best written, best acted and best told stories in any game series, bar none. The pure quality of storytelling on display here mean that it is a must play in my book.
But let’s talk about game design.
Wolfenstein II is just not that fun to play. It is an action game with half baked stealth mechanics, with level and gameplay design that both encourage stealth and hinder it. The gameplay is directly at odds with what the games are going for thematically, to the point that I found actually playing the game to be a bit of a chore. I bumped it down to easy difficulty and had fun mowing Nazis down, but that’s not something one should have to do to enjoy a game, and even on the easiest difficulty there were parts of the game that were completely frustrating.
I wanted to mention it here because it is definitely worth playing for the story alone, and mileage varies on the gameplay, but I found it so flawed that I couldn’t in good faith put it on my best-of list. Go play it anyways. It will make you think, at the very least.
Divinity Original Sin II
Here’s another one I didn’t play enough of to get on my list, though surely if I had played more it would have. I normally find Baldur’s Gate style RPGs incredibly daunting and, while this game is certainly quite difficult to wrap one’s head around at first, the narrative, gameplay and world-building were enough to have me engaged. The pure freedom players are given is pretty astounding; there are numbers of ways to get through any given scenario, to the point that it’s almost overwhelming at first.
I finally wrapped my head around the combat system, but part of the reason I dropped off was that I want to start a new game, but given my busy schedule and huge backlog of games it fell by the wayside. It’s a stellar package worth the $40 it costs (I believe it’s actually on sale on Steam right now), and on top of the main campaign it comes with a complex D&D style campaign creator that I dabbled in a bit. It’s another strong contender in a very strong year of video games.
I just started this game, so it can’t be on this list, but already I can tell I have the beginning of something special. Crime drama x street brawler x soap opera, Yakuza is a series that only recently came into my field of view. I’ve long been interested in these games, but the nature of the ongoing story meant that I never had an entry point. Well, here’s the entry point, and boy is it strong.
It’s a bit slow for the first hour – hour and a half, but once it gets going it really gets going. It’s hard to describe what makes this game special, so I’ll just leave this clip here (minor spoiler alert):
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That’s a pretty satisfying summary of what this year has entailed. Looking forward, it looks like 2018 will be a damn strong year, as well.
What were your favorite games this year? Let me know in the comments below!
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Thanks for reading, and Stay Optimistic!