Why do I play video games? It might seem like an incredibly simple question to answer, and before this year I probably could have answered that question with a few sentences. That’s not so easy anymore.
Video games have always offered me an escape; a tool that could turn a bummer in my life into something enjoyable. We couldn’t afford more than one game a year growing up, which just meant that I could master my technique and develop a love for amazing controls and level design playing Super Mario World over and over again. My disability kept me from participating in sports, but I learned how to work as a team in StarCraft 2v2s and 4v4 BGH.
Now, for the first time in my life, games are my full time job. This means not only the good, but also the bad. This means that I’m not just choosing what I really want to play. This means that burnout is a very real thing, and no the fun kind that involves crashing vans into sedans while Avril Lavine’s “Girlfriend” blares on repeat.
I was extremely lucky to start working at Giant Bomb in, arguably, the greatest year for video games of all time. I was instantly exposed to not only games, but entire genres of games that I wouldn’t otherwise have touched. I’ve played more games this year, for both work and pleasure, than in the past three years combined. So when it came to narrowing down a list to just ten games, I felt that it was an impossible task, but my boss told me I had to. So when I started to shake out what my games of the year would be, I kept going back to that question that I’ve been asking myself for over two decades - Why do I play video games?
First, a few words about some things not on this list. PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS is a video game that, against all odds, I should hate. I’ve never been good at NOR enjoyed competitive multiplayer shooters. Yet somehow I’ve sunk close to 50 hours into it, and intend to keep checking in every now and again now that I have a decent gaming PC.
I played a lot of Dota 2 this year. Dota is still good. Icefrog has done an incredible job of keeping a game feel fresh over 10 years after its inception. Turbo mode was a great addition, because every time I get that urge to play “just one more game” when I know I shouldn’t now results in merely 20 minutes of sadness as opposed to a solid hour.
Lastly the Super Nintendo Classic, if eligible, might have taken the #1 slot on my list this year but I felt like that wouldn’t be fair to the actual new releases of 2017. I’ve had an incredible amount of fun replaying some of my favorite video games of all time, for the tenth time.
Anyways, lets move into my 10 favorite games from 2017.
10. Destiny 2
I think I liked Destiny 2. I remember very little of it, other than being sweaty and angry at a big robot man with a cup. Oh, and the guns felt very good. But as someone who didn’t play the original Destiny even I was a little put off by the lack of enemy variety but hey--maybe Bungie will grace us with the ability to pay them money for more aliens to shoot.
I was captivated by Night in the Woods within three minutes of booting it up for the first time. The tale of a college dropout returning home to a town that had left her behind often hit too close to home, but that didn’t stop me from finishing it in two sittings across 24 hours. The writing is charming, the characters feel real, and the atmosphere is as unsettling as it is comforting. The gameplay is minimal, but it does a great job of making you feel like the actions you are taking are real and concrete as you grow your bond with friends old and new.
The premise of this game alone sold me, so much so that I happened to Kickstart it back in 2014. Sidescrolling beat-em-up combat and match-three puzzlers aren't exactly two genres of games I would have ever matched up in my head, but the developers of this game managed to make them go together like peanut butter and chocolate. The game itself does an incredible job of putting you in the head of the protagonist, as you slowly develop your skills as both a fighter and a chef. Every main mission is broken up with three optional “part-time jobs,” which slowly introduce more complicated mechanics into the mix. By the end of the game I felt like a certified badass, and that I could take on any challenger in the kitchen.
The game’s got incredible style as well. Iron Chef is one of my favorite shows of all time, and they nail the homage. There’s an exotic chairman waxing philosophical about secret ingredients, judges using flowery language to describe sometimes simple food, and the tension of getting your dish done with seconds to spare. But at the same time the game does a great job of carving out its own style. I want to be friends with almost everyone in the game, I want to eat almost all of the food, and I most of all want to see what comes next from the people behind this game.
7. Persona 5
My final playtime with Persona 5 was just over 110 hours, but many times during my playing of it it felt like at least three times as long. The dungeons in the back half of the game are uninspired, they just barely miss out on nailing their grandiose plot lines, and there are some moments that are completely tasteless and offensive. All that being said, overall I enjoyed my time with Persona 5.
The aesthetic and music are some of the best I’ve seen in any game, let alone a JRPG. The improvements to the combat that are tied to you developing social links with your friends and allies was a great addition to the game, and kept what could have been very boring combat fresh throughout the majority of the game. The protagonist’s relationship with his “family” is my favorite in the series. I can’t wait until 2033 for Persona 6.
Wolfenstein II hooked me in the same way as Night in the Woods but for completely different reasons. Instead of being presented with a true and semi-lighthearted take on what could very well be a small town in America, I instead found myself experiencing a true and semi-lighthearted take on what could very well be a small town in America if history was just a little bit different. Every minute of the story of Wolfenstein II was compelling. The way the game treats its characters with both complete reverence but also their complete disregard for their lives created a story that will stick with me for a long time. Plus, it’s one of the few games where you can say “holy shit remember that part” and there’s a good 4-5 different parts that you could be thinking of.
By all accounts, I am about 2/3 of the way through the main story of Assassin's Creed Origins. I still haven't even gone to about half of the areas on the map. The game is so incredibly dense and I'm savoring every second of it, which is a surprise to me because the last Assassin's I enjoyed was 2 and I didn't even finish that one.
There are a few things that set this game apart from other AC games to me. The setting is appealing to me, I love the temples, the desert caves, the tombs, the swamps - it all feels fully realized and, like I said earlier, dense. I like the change to the combat, and the way all the different weapons feel. But most of all I really like Bayek. He's my favorite video game protagonist in a long time, and how he struggles with his grief, tries to work things out with his wife, and spends every moment of his waking life plotting his revenge all feel incredibly justified.
Have you ever played a video game that you truly felt was developed just for you? Rivals of Aether is my favorite modern "platform fighter," which is a very nice phrase that means "Smash Bros. ripoff." I love Super Smash Bros. Melee. I still play it with some friends every month or so, but as a 14-year-old game not intentionally designed in any way to be competitive it can grow boring to me.
Rivals was designed from the ground up to be competitive and fun. Each of the characters feels totally different, and every last detail of every last move feels like it was designed to enable you to be a badass. My friend described this game to me as "the Guilty Gear of Smash," which is completely spot on. There's an incredible tutorial that will teach even those who have never wavedashed in their life how to get to at least a semi-competitive level, which even games like Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite are missing.
The developers are also rolling out new characters that look and feel just as good, if not better, than the original cast. This was my second-most played game of the year (behind Dota) and I see myself easily putting another 200 hours into it next year.
Cuphead is the single game I had been most thirsty for this year. From the moment it was debuted in a seconds-long clip at E3, I had wanted to play that game. I had insanely high expectations, and it managed to even shatter those. Platformers are my favorite genre of game. The genre is built around simple-yet-air-tight controls. Cuphead nails this, and that alone would have been enough to at least satisfy me. The part that separates Cuphead from other games of its genre is its style. Studio MDHR shot for the moon, and they managed to nail such a specific style without coming across as lazily copying an underused aesthetic.
Super Mario Odyssey is a pure serotonin drip from the first power moon to the last. It is my favorite 3D Mario game, and all-around one of the most finely-crafted video games ever made. It doesn't do any one thing that is exceptionally noteworthy, but I can't think of any real flaws for the game which is untrue of any other game on this list.
NieR:Automata is the first video game that made me put down my controller and step outside while playing it. It is one of the rare video games whose story cannot be told in other media. Upon sinking my 35th hour with the game and seeing the final ending, I immediately fired it back up for a second playthrough just to see it with a new perspective. It is unfortunate that this game seems to be this year's Undertale, a unique and innovative gaming experience that is in many ways hindered by its hype, but the majority of people I know who have seen the game through to its final ending all hold it in very high regards. It's a game that is good enough that it made me kind of want to go back and play the original Nier, and that's fucking crazy.