My Favorite Games of 2017
It seems like these ‘best of’ lists are always something I’m a little dissatisfied with a year later, as I’m always a little late on catching up with some things I missed, or I later decide I should’ve included one of the 8-ish games I’m currently in the middle of… So this a biased list of the games that impacted me the most in 2017 and left me with something to say about them as I reflect on the year.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn was the first game I played when I got my PS4 midway through the year, and nothing else this year has taken me by surprise in the same ways it did. Though it’s packed with a few of those open world check-off-the-list tasks that I just absolutely don’t have the patience to 100% in my emotional state these days, many of these side tasks are concise and rewarding, with longer-length quests that are less numerous and more interesting and engaging than those that litter so many open world games.
Horizon’s most impressive feat, however, is establishing a world that takes the well-trodden post-apocalyptic scavenger archetype and gives it a fresh spin. Most of this is thanks to a story that weaves together more universal themes with other specific sci-fi tropes and reveals that all manage to land home by the end of the game. I haven’t even mentioned the refreshing amount of diversity present throughout all of the game’s characters (far beyond a female protagonist, something already uncommon enough for the genre’s conventions). Horizon takes on topics that could easily come off as heavy-handed and presents them in ways that are memorable and emotionally potent.
Snipperclips was the most fun I had playing a multiplayer game this year. You could breeze through the content of its original release in about 3 hours, but its end-of-year DLC release expanded it out to five distinct worlds and added a chaotically excellent ‘random shapes’ modifier to add some more confusion to each level. Snipperclips consistently captures the spirit of hectic, sigh-of-relief-when-you-succeed fun that the very best couch co-op games achieve.
Games with branching choices stress me out. Losing characters you’ve grown attached to or knowing you’re missing out on different aspects of the story because of decisions you’ve made is normally something that drives me crazy and makes me feel pressured to use a walkthrough to know exactly what I’m missing out on.
The biggest testimonial I can make for Pyre is that it does all of those things and I still loved all of it. Pyre doubles down on team-member removal mechanics and branching character development possibilities, but in ways that made me excited to see how the storylines I set into motion would play out, meaning I spent less time worrying about the character development I missed out on by playing the game in ways different than others.
In Pyre, Supergiant Games revitalized the sports game genre (one I generally steer clear of) through their now-trademark world-building and complicated character arcs, eyeing sports with a fervent mysticism that serves as the dividing line between imprisonment and freedom, submission and revolution, life and death.
Fire Emblem: Heroes
The most inexpensive game on this list, Fire Emblem: Heroes is so far Nintendo’s only mobile game to strike an effective balance between casual accessibility and in-depth systems that offer more as you dig deeper and spend more time with them. Since its launch in February, the gradual addition of new systems has vastly expanded the depth of the admittedly pretty simple gameplay while also developing a storyline that at first seemed doomed to be an obligatory, substanceless series of pitstops through the worlds of other Fire Emblem titles. As of its late November update, Book 2 of the story introduces entirely original characters and gameplay mechanics that are beginning to establish Heroes as a (somewhat) legitimate entry in the Fire Emblem series.
The entirely maddening gachapon system had me uninstall the game for a good 4 month stretch of the year, but its gameplay hooks and loops are as sleek as the format allows, and I’m genuinely excited to see how Intelligent Systems continues to expand and support Heroes in its second year.
Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire
Speaking of long-term support and expansion, Path of Fire comes in the middle of Guild Wars 2’s unbroken year-long trickle of new content and maps, the pace and quality of which are completely unlike any other MMO I’ve played. Though I’ve always been a huge fan of Guild Wars 2, in 2017 ArenaNet stayed committed to a regular schedule of new maps, group content, and systems while still managing to release a full-fledged expansion in the middle of a cycle that shows no sign of slowing down.
Guild Wars 2 is a game I always come back to because of its more casual make-your-own-goals style of gameplay and environments that are well-designed and rewarding to explore, and ArenaNet continued to deliver throughout 2017.
Night in the Woods
When I first played Night in the Woods in January, it was impossible to predict how continually relevant its themes and lessons would be throughout the year, both on a personal and broader level. Though it uses a sheen of friendly anthropomorphic characters to deliver its story, it cuts much deeper than its eccentric delivery.
On a personal level, Night in the Woods includes themes like being gay in a small town, balancing your personal goals with family obligations, and the complexity of the ways people fit into and improve others’ lives, all themes that resonate with me personally as I continue to navigate my own post-college existence. On a societal level? Well, skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid spoilers, but the final act reveal involves a cult of aging adults obsessed with preserving their status quo by sacrificing college-aged kids to appease an eldritch god looming below the town. Not sure if I need to draw the parallels there.
Aside from its themes, Night in the Woods’ music, art direction, and overall atmosphere are all top form and it could easily coast onto top ten lists on that alone. For more of my thoughts, check out my writeup here.
Dazzlingly poorly-executed (but gradually improving!) online features aside, Splatoon 2 builds on the ‘low skill floor, high skill ceiling’ gameplay of the first title and features an all-new cooperative horde mode on constant rotation. Combine those with the new maps, weapons, and other content being added to the game on a weekly basis and you’ve got a shooter where it feels like there’s always something new to do. Splatoon’s greatest strength is in how easy to pick up and play with family and friends, as the main Turf War ground-covering mode allows for strategies more varied than the traditional kill-or-be-killed gunplay of team-based shooters.
And, of course, the fashion options are impeccable.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
So much has been said about Breath of the Wild throughout the entire year that I don’t feel like I need to add too much, aside from that Breath of the Wild made me excited to keep playing and progressing and exploring its world with an excitement I haven’t felt in years, and it’s absolutely worthy of the praise its been receiving.
I’m currently midway through my second playthrough on the more difficult Master Mode, picking it up to play for a couple hours every few days. Even having experienced the world before, exploring still manages to be self-motivated, incentivized purely through the joy of climbing over obstacles and covering ground to find secrets and well-design alcoves all across the massive map.
See y’all in 2018!