2017 Best Games I Played All Year

More than any other year in recent memory, 2017 had so many games that I was scrambling right up until the end of the year to chip a few more entries off my unplayed list. Ultimately I still have a huge stack of games that need more attention. There are already a ton of great games that I want to recognize, but before I get into those I just want to rattle off all the games that I wasn’t able to make time for this year.

NeiR:Automata Night in the Woods
Hollow Knight What Remains of Edith Finch
Pyre Gravity Rush 2
A Hat In Time Horizon Zero Dawn
Metroid: Samus Returns Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

In additions, as always, there will be some games that I play but am not able to fully feel out due to time constraints. Here are a few games I played, just not enough to really suss out my feelings on.

Dishonored 2 Heat Signature
Prey The Sexy Brutale
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Before digging into my favorite games of the year, there are several that deserve a nod for their greatness. While they didn’t make it into my top list, they still hold a special place in my heart.

Honorable Mentions

Jazzpunk: Director’s Cut + Flavor Nexus DLC (PC)
Jazzpunk will always be one of my top favorite games and having an excuse in 2017 to replay it was a godsend. While the Director’s Cut was released on PS4 last year, it finally graced PC alongside the release of the one-and-only piece of DLC: Flavor Nexus. The DLC is short and sweet and left me wanting more of the absurdity that was Jazzpunk, even while knowing that this was the end of a beautiful chapter in gaming history.

EAT! (Android)
I can’t really say much about EAT without giving anything away, so I won’t. EAT was a wonderful surprise release from Crows Crows Crows and is free, so you have no reason not to check it out. Just don’t feel like you have to complete it all in one sitting. Play a bit, go do something else, and check back in on it every once in a while.

Kingsway (PC)
I didn’t spend a great deal of time with Kingsway, but my few runs were a ton of fun. The interface design is great and melds effortlessly into the gameplay and is generally just fun to play with. I have a soft spot for in-game desktops like this and Kingsway’s execution on it is great.

Everything (PC)
I love Everything from a conceptual standpoint. It really doesn’t do anything for me as a game, but getting to watch as it auto-plays was always interesting. Like a few other games on my list, I didn’t play a ton of it but I’m glad it exists and I’m happy that there are people out there making this like this.

Goragoa (PC)
Goragoa is another one of those ‘glad it exists’ kind of games. It’s a short, sweet, and an extremely clever puzzle game that plays with perspective in an interesting and satisfying way. There’s also a vague narrative thread running throughout the game that begs you to replay to try and crack the mystery.

Everybody’s Golf (PS4)
The last thing I expected to see on my GOTY 2017 list was a golf game, but damn if Everybody’s Golf isn’t charming as hell. With quite possibly the best character creator of the year, you can create your ideal golfer (i.e. Waluigi) and set them to work on the golfing circuit, competing in tournaments and generally doing golf stuff. The golfing itself is simply yet satisfying and didn’t get old during the few hours I played.

Hearthstone: Kobolds & Catacombs (PC)
Over the last year I’ve turned pretty hard from loving Hearthstone to being removed completely from the game. Kobolds & Catacombs is the first expansion since the launch of the game where I haven’t pre-ordered or bought a ton of pack for the release of a new set. I have some complex feelings about Hearthstone but this isn’t really the place to get all that out.

K&C is on my list because Dungeon Run got me to play the game again after being absent for the last few months and I think it’s a big step in the right direction for free to play content. Hearthstone still has a long way to go before they can win me back as a paying customer but Dungeon Run is super neat and I hope they can keep making cool single-player content in the future.

Dwarf Fortress (PC)
Dwarf Fortress is great. It was great back when I started playing in college and it’s still great today. I’ve taken some breaks from it but it’s always been great when I came back. It’s also still being updated, which is great.  Just in the past few weeks, I found myself unexpectedly thrust back into the world of Dwarf Fortress and it quickly got its hooks back into me. I lost several hours over Christmas break tending to my dwarves and just wanted to mention how great this game is. It’s really great.

Games of the Year

West of Loathing (PC)
Humor in videogames is typically an afterthought. Games will have funny dialogue or some humorous events but few games are inherently about humor. I can easily say that, without the humor West of Loathing would be a mere shadow of the game it is. While on the surface it appears to be a turn-based RPG with a minimalistic aesthetic, the true goal of the game is to see as many great jokes as you can (spoiler alert: there are a TON!)

From the opening menu to the final credit roll, West of Loathing jam packs more jokes into any videogame than I’ve ever seen, save its predecessor Kingdom of Loathing and from start to finish it’s an absolute riot.

Opus Magnum (PC)
Zachtronics games are an acquired taste, ranging from the hardcore (TIS-100) to the moderately approachable (Infinifactory). Opus Magnum is what I’d call an entry-level Zachtronics game, but don’t let that fool you. While the gameplay is simple (at first) and relatively straightforward, it ramps up quickly. The last few chapters are satisfyingly tough without being insurmountable.

The lack of a limited workspace sets it apart from other Zachtronics games and essentially means that if you’re willing to invest enough time into solving something you’ll always find a working solution. It might not be efficient but it’ll work. The puzzling itself is great, but I also found myself constantly surprised to see how well the puzzles fit into the story. You might be making boring creations in the first couple of chapters but they all make sense and it really helps to make the world of Opus Magnum feel real and more than just a front or an excuse for these puzzles.

Yakuza 0 (PS4)
Like many others, I slept on Yakuza 0 for far too long. Out of all the games on this like I’m sad that I had so little time near the end of the year to put into Yakuza 0. The sheer joy I felt during my hours with the game it a testament to the overwhelming charm that it brings. It’s so rare for me to become immersed in an open world game and yet I found so much in Kamurocho and Sotenbori that truly delighted me and drew me in so fully that I actively sought out side-quests and poked around and really just existed in that space in a way that felt conformable and natural.

Steamworld Dig 2 (Switch)
Steamworld Dig 2 was exactly the game I didn’t know I needed. Not having played any of the other games in the Steam series, I picked it up for Switch on a whim and was completely absorbed for about 15 hours over the course of a week. Exploration is fun and satisfying in a way I haven’t really felt with many other games with year. Exploration is directly rewarded with Golden Cogs that funnel into the upgrades system which is rich and meaningful while being forgiving and giving the player space to play around with their ‘build’ to see what suits their playstyle.

The story was interesting although ultimately I stopped caring about it too much and really just exulted in the simple act of movement. By the end of the game you’re fully decked out with a jetpack and grappling hook and with everything else fully upgraded you really get a sense of how deep and greedily you’ve dug into this world and all the great things you’ve accomplished along the way.

Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (PC)
I think Getting Over It means a lot of different things to all the different people who played it. In a way, it gets very personal, and that’s a very formative thing. For me, I found Getting Over It to be a very Zen experience. I never really got frustrated or angry with the game and found it very relaxing to make steady progress up the mountain. This is another game I wish I had dedicated more time to, but even the couple of hours I put in were meaningful. I still struggle with the controls and I haven’t made a ton of progress but the physical activity of playing Getting Over It is satisfying and the mental arithmetic of figuring out how I’m meant to overcome new obstacles keeps me going back. As odd a thing as it may be to say, I think Getting Over It is my favorite puzzle game of 2017.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PC)
Another late entry, I finished Wolfenstein on December 30th. I won’t dance around the fact that I don’t think Wolfenstein 2 is a good video game. I think the gameplay is generally tedious and dull and if I had the option of watching it as a two-hour movie than playing it through as a 12-hour game I’d watch the movie in a heartbeat.

The characters and the story are the lifeblood of this game and the only thing that kept me trudging through level after level. You’re introduced to so many characters from so many backgrounds and getting to see them all interact and grow together as a unified resistance is an incredible sight.

Even on a low-key level, there are some incredible interactions in that game that take place during the interludes between levels. It’s a shame that Wolfenstein 2 is so bogged down by the gameplay because the moments that stood out in that game (for the most part) were not the ones where I was shooting Nazis, but the ones where I was standing back and watching two of my friends having a conversation.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)
I have and will always love the Mario Kart series and while Mario Kart 8 is only a minor step up, having it on the Switch is great. I held out for a while not wanting to re-buy MK8, having enjoyed my time with it on the Wii U, but eventually caved and I’m glad I did. Maybe one-day we’ll have the Mario Kart Ultimate I’ve been dreaming of for years now (with remakes of every single old Mario Kart track) but for now I’m happy to replay MK8 on the Switch, probably while in bed.

Persona 5 (PS4)
I am not a JRPG fan, but I loved Persona 4 Golden and have been looking forward to Persona 5 for quite some time now. I don’t think that a single play through is really enough to get all the goodness out of Persona game and I’m looking forward to my NewGame+ run through next year, but I think 80-ish hours is enough for a first impressions.

So much about Persona 5 made me happy in the moment, but reflecting back on my time as a whole I’m a bit disappointed. The story was so promising but I felt like near the end it all fell apart. The core cast of characters were interested on the surface but I didn’t feel like I really grew to love any single one of them the better I got to know them. Some of the characters felt like they got the short end of the stick, being thrown into the story so near to the end and not really getting a chance to explore them better. Some of this may be relieved by a second NG+ play through but I feel like I was left so underwhelmed by some aspects of the game on the first go-round that I was hesitant to jump directly back in.

On the bright side, the new dungeon format is leagues better than the old proc-gen mazes from four and there was a certain sense of scale that made all of the various heist locales feel imposing and like a real challenge lay before you. I like the characters as they were presented, even if I wish they had developed in a different direction. All in all I feel like Persona 5 deserved better. Maybe in a few years we’ll get a Persona 5 Golden edition with a tweaked English translation and some different endings. For now, the version we have is beautiful and flawed and that’s okay.

Breath of the Wild (Switch)
This is a tough one. I liked Breath of the Wild but I wouldn’t say I loved it. I think it deserves recognition because it’s a bold step in a new direction but it stumbles at some points along the way in trying to realize a fully open world Zelda game. I enjoyed the majority of my time with the game but there were definitely standout moments where I was frustrated or disappointed in the game. Exploration is exhilarating but the act of moving around on the map can be troublesome at times, to the point where I simply gave up on horses a few hours into the game and on more than one occasion ended a play session early due to rain. The game encourages and rewards exploration but at the same time actively hinders it, leaving me weary of setting of on any large expedition. I ended the game with about 1/3 of the shrines completed and less than 100 Korok seeds and not for a single seconds after beating the game did I feel the urge to jump back in and go after more shrines.

I went off on a bit of a rant earlier this year in a piece that I never published, exploring this brave new world where open-world games rule. I have a lot of feelings on the matter that I won’t get into now, suffice to say I don’t like the direction that Zelda is moving into. That’s not to say that an open-world Zelda game would never work, or that I think they should stop trying to make it happen, but that the important things that (in my mind) make a Zelda game a Zelda game are lost in Breath of the Wild.

The divine beast ‘dungeons’ felt  shallow and tiresome, failing completely to evoke any emotion from me other than apathy. I love the idea of shrines, but in practice they ended up being more trouble than they were worth. I’m sure there’s a ton of great content in shines that I missed but I honestly can’t be bothered to run around for hours trying to track them all down now that I’ve beaten the game and ultimately I don’t think they’re a sufficient stand-in for the Zelda dungeons of old. Also fuck all those shrines that based their puzzles on motion controls.

In theory combat is exciting and varies depending on what area you’re in, but in practice each fight turns becomes not about survival or progression, but about maintaining your supplies. Further into the game, it’s simply not worth your time to engage enemies unless absolutely necessary, not because they’re too strong or because your time is more valuable spent doing something else, but because the weapons they drop aren’t a suitable replacement for the weapons you would expend fighting them. As with exploring, I feel like the game tries its best to stop you from fighting too much and I don’t understand why.

I hated the menu UI, cooking was interesting but clunky and poorly realized, the main story was weak apart from the four champions and their descendants, I felt like there were about a quarter as many Sheikah Slate powers as there needed to be, and if this were any other game I would have lost interest after the first hour but I put up with it all and saw the game through and I’m glad I did. I can’t deny that I enjoyed large parts of Breath of the Wild but the little things that stuck out stayed with me much longer than the things I liked. I can see great potential in this game and I’m excited to see what Nintendo has in store next for Zelda, I just hope they’re willing to make some more big changes instead of just another iteration of Breath of the Wild.

 

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