I can’t come up with anything pithy or clever to start this list out with — let’s just get right to the meat. Here are my 10 favorite games from 2017.
(Honorable Mention) Assassin’s Creed Origins
Alas, we don’t have time to play them all as much as we’d like to when we’re busy doing things like living life, but the few hours of ACO I’ve played have been a joy. Ubisoft took a year off after the somewhat underwhelming Syndicate in 2015, and that break paid off tremendeously. ACO is a gorgeous game, for starters (one of the best-looking this year), and cleverly augments the tried-and-true 3D platforming that’s one of the series’ trademarks with some fun RPG customization options and much more tense and nuanced combat. I haven’t played enough to truly give this one a spot on my list, so I’ll have to settle for at least mentioning it in my ranking.
10. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Anyone who knows me can tell you that I absolutely adore the Fire Emblem series. The tactical-strategy series has experienced a resurgence with the release of the past few titles on the 3DS, and as they did a few years ago with Shadow Dragon on the DS, they’ve decided to go back to their roots and remake a classic installment for modern (read: American) audiences to enjoy. Remaking the second game in the franchise, Fire Emblem Gaiden, Echoes is somewhat jarring to play coming off of the spectacular Fire Emblem Awakening (2013 GOTY) and Fire Emblem Fates (#4 game of 2016). Where the most recent installments in the Fire Emblem series have expanded the games dramatically, bringing in RPG elements, deep, involved stories with branching paths, deep character customization, and relationship options between your characters (even going so far as to bring children into the mix), Echoes seems somewhat stripped-down in comparison. Echoes is a return to Fire Emblem’s roots, for better or for worse, and while it does suffer for what it lacks, it’s still a fantastic and challenging tactical strategy game from one of my favorite series ever.
Another gruelingly challenging game I played this year was Cuphead, a run-‘n’-gun sidescroller that got a lot of well-deserved attention for its hand-drawn early 20th century-inspired art style and gorgeous soundtrack, made up of tons of original jazz compositions. Not only is Cuphead insanely beautiful to look at and hear, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun — if you’ve got the patience for its crazy difficulty. Cuphead is — most of the time — a blast to play, with two of its three gameplay styles, the run-‘n’-gun platforming levels and Megaman-esque boss fights, being sure to bring a lot of fun and challenge. The third type of levels, the airplane-themed bullet hell stages are … less fun. Still fun, but … yeah, less fun. Cuphead is great fun for experienced platform gamers, and if you’ve got a buddy it’s also got great couch co-op. All that aside, though, the artwork is seriously amazing. Rarely can a game make me stop and just admire it, but I found myself doing that a lot with Cuphead. A serious win for the “are games art” debate, and a great game.
8. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds
PUBG is something of an interesting beast. Mechanically speaking, it’s not exactly what I’d call stellar. Its third-person shooting mechanics aren’t extremely tight (they’re good, but not as precise as I’d like), there’s a lot of lag to deal with, and sometimes loot spawns and vehicle locations are a bit stupid. However, despite all of that (and indeed, sometimes because of it), it was perhaps the most fun game I played with my friends this year. PUBG’s premise is simple — 100 people (in teams of 2 or 4, or solo) are dropped onto a big island with no weapons or equipment to speak of, and they have to run around and find stuff to kill each other with until there’s only one person left. To the outside eye I’d basically describe it as “Hunger Games with more people”. PUBG is a lot of fun because no two matches are alike. Sometimes you’ll find tons of great loot at the beginning and go on a rampage, only to get eviscerated after five minutes. And then other times you’ll find nothing and win the match by hiding in a bush. PUBG, despite its somewhat … unfinished quality, is a technical marvel and a thrilling experience. Few things got my blood pumping this year like hiding from an enemy in an open field as one of the last two players remaining, and few things were as tantalizing as the prospect of finally getting that chicken dinner.
7. Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon was one I was looking forward to for quite some time thanks to a pretty impressive showing at E3, and it really didn’t disappoint. Horizon has basically everything you want from an action RPG — a massive, open world that’s filled to the brim with interesting encounters and characters, a deep customization system that manages to make every upgrade and new piece of equipment feel substantial, a solid story, and really, really fun combat. On top of all that, Horizon is beautiful to look at, and Ashly Burch does a fantastic job as the game’s lead, Aloy. Looking back on 2017, some of the most memorable experiences I had were just exploring the world of Horizon Zero Dawn, and whether I was controlling a robot dinosaur to make it kill another robot dinosaur or just climbing a snowy mountain, it was memorable.
6. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was one of my favorite games of 2014. Tolkien’s massive world seems impossible to adapt properly into a video game, so rather than attempt to tell any of the stories told in his books, the Middle-Earth games fill in some of the gaps, giving us a look at a post-Sauron, pre-Frodo Mordor, before it was a lava-filled wasteland, but after it became infested with Orcs and Uruks. Shadow of Mordor was a blast, but there were some significant flaws with its pacing, and kinks in the Nemesis system that often resulted in some boring encounters and a general slogging feeling through the end game. I’m happy to say that almost everything was improved in its sequel. Shadow of War is brisk and tense in the moment-to-moment combat, and intricate and brilliant at a large scale. Uruks who you kill or who kill you will come back with a vengeance, and almost all of the most fun and memorable moments in Shadow of War came from my multiple encounters with a couple grade-A assholes who would constantly manage to show up at the worst possible times with a pithy monologue about how they were going to crush me. Shadow of War has a spectacular combat system, some great customizability, and some really stellar voice acting on the part of its enemies thanks to the capable work of awesome voice actors like Darin De Paul and Matt Mercer. Shadow of War is the rare sequel that mimics what its predecessor got right, and fixes what it did wrong, and was definitely one of the best games of 2017.
I’ve always been a fan of Supergiant Games. I absolutely adored their previous two releases, Bastion and Transistor, and Pyre once again knocks it out of the park. Pyre is, first and foremost, a beautiful game, in terms of look, feel, sound, and story. The art style is at once simple and incredibly evocative, the story is engaging and heartfelt, and Darren Korb’s soundtrack is, as always, superb. But these are all things we’ve come to expect from Supergiant. Pyre stands out as a different kind of game because, well, there’s never been anything quite like it. Think Final Fantasy Tactics meets Rocket League to get some sense of how the gameplay works and you’ll start to get the idea. Confused? Makes sense. It’s the kind of game that has to be played to be believed. Pyre’s story is engaging and heart-wrenching, and fits in with its progression system in really wonderful ways. Pyre is just a beautiful experience. Supergiant’s 3 for 3.
4. Opus Magnum
I came across Opus Magnum on a whim, thanks to a war between a couple friends on Twitter over who had built the most efficient design. Intrigued, I picked it up, and spent a solid two weeks unable to think about anything else. Opus Magnum is perhaps the perfect puzzle game for me, appealing to my engineering side more than any other game has ever been able to. Opus Magnum challenges the player to create alchemical compounds out of a set of given materials, using only a few tools like arms, pistons, and tracks and their imagination. The great thing about Opus Magnum is that there’s no right answer to any of its puzzles. So long as you get your product, you can continue through its surprisingly interesting story. You can see how well your solution compares to others in terms of size, time, and cost, and go further to improve its efficiency as best you can. Writing out the instructions for my various pieces of equipment felt like the most fun parts of writing code, and watching it all unfold is really a joy. Once you’re done, you can use the game’s built-in .gif creator to share your solution and see how it compares with your friends’. The puzzles increase in complexity and demand a lot of the player, and this constant challenge to improve your own solutions to problems makes Opus Magnum perhaps the best puzzle game I’ve ever played.
3. Sonic Mania
We’re now reaching the part of the list that becomes really, really difficult to rank. However, every year I force myself to rank them, so rank them I shall. This year we got one really depressing Sonic game, as we usually tend to, and one really, really, really good one. Seriously. I’m not yanking your chain. Sonic Mania is just about everything I’ve wanted from this series since I was old enough to understand why Sonic Adventure 2 kind of sucks despite being my favorite game of all time. Sonic Mania is a return to classic form for Sonic, not just in terms of its bright, joyful 16-bit visuals, its fantastic chiptune score, or even its ingenious level design. Sonic Mania is a return to the classics in that it’s simply concentrated joy to play, and that’s just about the best way I can describe it. If you’ve ever liked Sonic, ever at all, you owe it to yourself to play Sonic Mania. Just … just don’t play Sonic Forces. We’re not gonna talk about that one.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Earlier in the year when I bought my Switch, this game was the way I rationalized the purchase. “Sure,” I told myself, “you’re dropping $400 on a console that may never get any decent third-party support, relies heavily on a portability gimmick despite the 3DS still having games made for it, and may not even run all that well as a home console. Sure you’re not really gonna have anything to play for a couple years but one or two games. But there’s a Mario game coming out for it.” And so I bought one. And God damn, did Mario Odyssey deliver. If Sonic Mania was concentrated joy, Super Mario Odyssey was concentrated bliss. Super Mario Odyssey is perhaps my favorite Mario game since Sunshine, with a Banjo-Kazooie-esque collect-a-thon mechanic tying together a ton of beautifully-imagined worlds. Super Mario Odyssey really reminded me of Sonic Generations, a favorite of mine, in that it was at times a celebration of everything great this monumental series has accomplished, and at times an optimistic look at the future of not only series, but gaming as a whole. Mario has come to represent everything great about video games — the child-like sense of wonder, the brilliantly simple controls, the beautifully-realized environments — and Odyssey is a celebration of everything this series has been over the last 30 years. It would take a truly spectacular game to beat this as my number one game of 2017, and nobody but Nintendo could’ve delivered it. But deliver it they did.
As is to probably be expected by this point, my number one game of 2017 was …
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Holy hell. I don’t even know what clever things I can fill this space with. I’m still rendered completely speechless by this goddamn game. Breath of the Wild is just everything I’ve ever wanted from a video game — I can say with complete honesty that I’ve never been so transfixed by any game in my life, and I doubt I ever will again. The first few hours of Breath of the Wild are without a doubt the greatest experience I’ve ever had playing a video game — I’m glad that I was able to share them with great company — and that sense of pure wonder just grows as you play and discover more of what this beautiful game has to offer. Breath of the Wild completely reinvents The Legend of Zelda, turning it into an exploration of an incredibly vast and breathtaking world rather than a cut-and-dry adventure to save a princess, and it seriously does basically everything right. Nintendo outdid themselves this year in a big, big way, and while part of me is concerned they’ll never be able to top this, the rest of me is eagerly anticipating what they’re going to do next. I’m already done talking about Breath of the Wild, because I really find it difficult to articulate with any sense of brevity exactly what is so tantalizing about it. If you’ve not played it yet, do yourself the favor of doing so as soon as possible. It’s not only the greatest game of 2017, not only the greatest game in the Legend of Zelda series … it’s quite possibly one of the greatest games ever made. So, yeah. Game of the year, like, for sure.
And there we go! At long last, this … thing. I do it every year, and I’m going to keep doing it, damn it. So yeah. See you guys next year.