Aeryn’s Game of the Year 2017

This list may contain some light spoilers of the games within.

Honorable Mentions: Unexplored, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Hollow Knight, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, Slime Rancher, Caves of Qud


Destiny 2

For the time I spent on it I can’t leave Destiny 2 off of this list. If you asked me to list things I liked about it, I’d be able to list plenty: the weapon flavor text and lore, the shooting, the way progression has been retooled since Destiny 1. But if you’re asking if I liked it? I honestly don’t know. I strongly suspect that Destiny 2 might just be a bad game that I have fun playing. If nothing else I had a lot of fun raiding, which is honestly half the reason I ever play Destiny. I’ll definitely keep playing as much as is required for me to keep raiding.


Monster Hunter World Demo

The fact that I am including a 3-mission demo on this list is a testament to how good Monster Hunter World is already. I spent more time on this taste of the full game than I did on some other games on this list. Monster Hunter is already a magic formula with incredible encounter design, and World is polishing that to a mirror finish. I’m very much looking forward to the full release.

Also I SWUNG OFF A VINE AND KNOCKED A GIANT T-REX IN THE FACE WITH A HAMMER SO HARD IT COULD DO NOTHING BUT WOBBLE AROUND FOR 30 SECONDS WHILE I PROCEEDED TO SMASH ITS FACE SOME MORE.


Gigantic

I went back and forth on whether to actually include Gigantic here, partially because I didn’t spend more than about 15–20 hours with it (personally low for a competitive game), but ultimately I’m happy that it finally launched and that I got to play it this year. Gigantic is a fun team shooter with inspired art design, and the team deserves the resources and success that Overwatch got. It’s a game I hope sticks around long enough for me to get friends together to play it because, while maps and game modes are limited, it’s a truly fun experience.

It’s also my deepest hope that everyone affected by the Motiga layoffs lands on their feet. At the very least, they should know that they created something beautiful and joyous.


Prey

I haven’t finished Prey, my PC sucks and after a few levels I couldn’t put up with the game chugging to a halt every couple of minutes. But what I did play is one of the best immersive sim games I’ve ever dipped into.

There are many components that make it what it is, but chief among them is the level design. Normally I would apply that to the shape of levels and how they affect your movement and play, and while that is also excellent, what I mean is how Prey presents to you the station of Talos 1, its inhabitants, and the detritus of possessions and memories they left behind. Talos 1 is lovingly crafted, from the lobby that acts as a calming liminal space for both player and inhabitant, to the usable Nerf gun found in the sales department.

It is not just a fun quirk that every body you find in Prey is named, and that alone is a very big reason that I will be finishing it when I am able. It speaks to a game that cares.


Pyre

When I started up Pyre, the first thing I encountered was that the former dehumanizing dialogue used for presenting the player with pronoun options had been changed. This was important to me, and as I would find out important to the very core of the game. Pyre is a game about being trapped in hell with a bunch of other weirdos and trying to get out by performing an ancient ritual in the form of a magical competitive sport. It is *extremely* my shit.

But aside from being fun and telling a wonderful story, Pyre used a storytelling tool that was important to me personally. A core conceit of Pyre’s gameplay loop is that by winning the ancient mystical tournament you can free your team members one-by-one to go home to their former lives and families. They can only do this with you as a Reader — literacy being a rare ability — at the helm of the team to read the Book of Rites. But the Reader cannot leave by winning, and you bear an injury from your previous life leaving you unable to compete. In Pyre you are uniquely gifted and incredibly important — you are the Special Boy — but it won’t save you from this wretched place. You might be trapped here forever. But your friends don’t have to be.


Heat Signature

Heat Signature is so good that earlier this year I wrote more words about it than any game I ever have I think? It’s a really neat little game.

The world is fun to experience; Tom Francis does some neat character writing that plays well into your missions. But he also seems to acknowledge in his design that too much writing shouldn’t get in the way of what you came here to do: break into spaceships and break people out of spaceships and break people in spaceships and break people with spaceships and break spaceships.


Night in the Woods

Mae Borowski is a little shit and I love her. I’d like to end my review there, but I realize that it’s not a very satisfying thought unless you’ve played the game.

Night in the Woods is, for me, a story about living with the shitty circumstances life doles out. But it isn’t nihilistic and it isn’t high-concept, its about day-to-day survival. Mae is a cat living with severe untreated depression, and the consequences that her illness has left in her wake. Mae isn’t a bad person, but she’s hurt people (and continues to hurt people) and those mistakes are hers to confront. Watching Mae crash and deal with the fallout isn’t always happy, but it’s necessary and important for both Mae and the story.

Possum Springs is the quintessential small town: hurting from economic realities but not going anywhere. People live there and no matter how many stores shut down the people have to make due. They may be working shitty jobs, but they can form a union and make things a bit better.

Night in the Woods ends on a message of hope; hope in the face of mental illness, unemployment, economic busts, existential dread, and supernatural threats. It’s a game I needed in the shitstorm of 2017 and will surely think back on in years to come.


Nier: Gestalt

Look I already put a demo on this list, so there’s no reason not to include a game that was released *checks watch* 7 years ago.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Nier sucks. Justin McElroy is weak for not finishing this game but he had good reason for it. The controls are clunky and the levels are often annoying. It ain’t Drakengard bad but it’s rough.

What it does do is tell a story in a way that only a Yoko Taro game can. Its character arcs are well-crafted and as beautiful as they are tragic. Even the unlikable protagonist is well handled, as his obliviousness to the unfolding events perfectly underscores the game’s deconstruction of the hero’s journey. It is a game that I don’t recommend everyone go back and play, but I am very glad that I did. It left a lasting impression that will shape my storytelling for years to come. Also, it left me unable to hear any duet version of Song of the Ancients without finding myself in tears.


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

By the time I realized that my opening hours of discovery in Breath of the Wild were special, I realized that they were over. The mechanics had calcified in my muscle memory and in the way my gaze swept over new vistas. I’ve solved Breath of the Wild, even though there are many corners of the map to unveil.

And yet I continue to dive in, not to get those first few hours back but because the joy of exploration there is so wonderful even when it isn’t surprising. And though that discovery is different from when I set out I still treasure the first few times I sat down to inhabit the broken yet vivid world of Hyrule. Learning to cook a warm meal to venture into the cold, mastering magnesis to use lightning as a weapon, jumping off a cliff to float into unmapped regions. Discovering a forgotten altar in a decrepit church, knowing that it is a coded gameplay object and not caring. Choosing to linger there still, in a moment of awe of what came before and pondering what is next.


Nier: Automata

As late as last week, I didn’t think I’d be writing this list. But the moment I finished Nier: Automata I knew it would top any list in any year I wrote it. I’ve already established that a game directed by Yoko Taro will have a masterful narrative, but Automata surpassed my expectations. Barely a day goes by without me thinking about it. This is due in part to the way the game manipulates its narrative structure to engineer exceptionally clever storytelling to both newcomers and old fans of the series. That weird faction that showed up since the events of Gestalt and brings strange implications about the current events? Axed as a story factor the second you actually see them in person. The entire bewildering and emotional first 15 hours of the game? Shown in one beautiful stroke to be little more than a prologue to what’s next. And even these striking narrative flourishes are merely side components of a heartbreaking story of humanity and tragedy.

Nier: Automata is without a doubt a depressing game, but the pain it causes is in service of a beauty that cannot help but shine past the pain. It is unlike anything I have ever played, and it is my greatest hope to create something that imparts a fraction of the emotion that it did on me.

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