Top 10 of 2017

I played a lot of games in 2017. Too many. And even then there are so many that I never got around to, didn't purchase, or didn't own the platform(s) for. My lack of a Nintendo Switch will explain what a lot of people will consider to be key entries, for example. Still, it was a great year for video games and the ones I did play were all amazing in their own right. The real winner of this year is people who enjoy video games.

List items

  • This is the game I bought a PS4 for. Sure there was Bloodborne and Destiny, Uncharted Lost Legacy and Trails of Cold Steel 3. But Horizon was always the #1. And here it remains, even with my highly elevated expectations. It is difficult to overstate just how incredible this game is in every regard. I could gush for hours about the jaw-droppingly gorgeous visuals, the brilliant character work with Aloy (one of the best protagonists in video game history), the combat that has an amount of variety to it that most games don't even attempt. Instead here i'll talk about its story. Or rather, the impact of its story. This is the main thing that makes Horizon special. The story of Aloy is enough on its own to get you interested in things and how they play out, but as the game continues and more and more is revealed about the nature of what happened to the world and how it happened it digs its hooks into you and never lets go. I felt more empathy for these characters who were long dead than I have in most games for characters who are alive and talking to me right now. I felt more hatred and disgust for a character who Aloy has never met, will never meet, and who has been dead for thousands of years than I do most main villains in other games. This game made you feel the impact of these things that happened long ago, it makes you live through the significant events. It makes you want to seek out every last collectable, every vista, every quest on the hopes that it will provide more scraps of information on this long-gone world. A world that influenced everything about the world Aloy lives in and is fighting to save. This is a game that dominated my thoughts while I wasn't playing it, and only made me want to play even more as I was. Games like Horizon don't come along that often.

  • Not the third metroidvania I played this year, there were others that didn't make the list, but easily the best. The amount of charm filling this game to the brim is just incredible. Every character is lovingly rendered, with their own voices and animations. Even the enemies have their own personalities shown through the artwork and movements. The exploration is top notch, with movement and combat being a joy to interact with. Progression as well is extremely well-implemented, your character gaining abilities that you didn't even think of the possibility of before aquiring them. The bosses are challenging, but not so much that it isn't enjoyable taking several attempts to figure out their moves and patterns. But all these things simply make it a very good metroidvania game. What elevates it to one of the best games of this year is the setting itself. Areas are designed with a level of care and detail that is rare for games, with each location having its own personality and style, from a flooded city filled with rain falling from the ceiling to a cavern full of crystal outcroppings. From a lovely place filled with greenery and comforting music to a dark and suffocating cave that is like a place made of literal nightmares. So much care and attention went into every detail of this game and all of it is on screen, being one of the most gorgeous games I have experienced. It is something truly special.

  • I have never lived in a small town. I graduated from college. I feel comfortable being on my own. But even though we have these differences I felt more for Mae Borowski than I have any other character in any video game in a long time. The game does a fantastic job of getting you into the setting of Possum Springs, having day after day be essentially the same thing of you wandering the town and talking/listening to the same people then spending time with your friend(s) before going to sleep. It gets you familiar with the town and its people in an organic way, bolstered by the incredible writing. Then when things start to go weird it breaks that comfortable feeling you have been brought into. As things start to collapse for Mae you feel it, worrying for her and hoping that it all turns out ok. During a sequence near to the end I was crying due to how badly things were going and how much she needed help, because I saw who she was at the start and what an amazing person she is and how these circumstances could crush all of that without a care. I needed Mae to be alright, just like I needed Possum Springs to get better. All without me having any shared experiences with either at the start of the game.

  • Prey is one of those games. It's Dishonored. It's Bioshock. Everything those games bring to mind, it is that. But it is also a lot more. In those games you progress linearly, going from map to map and completing objectives there then moving on to the next one. Prey's setting is more of an open world, and in many regards it has the exploratory gameplay of a metroidvania, with you traveling through areas multiple times and unlocking secrets you had passed up due to not having the ability to unlock them. These games also tout a 'play how you want' design objective, and this is where Prey really shines. It is a game where you can get a toy crossbow and shoot a foam dart (that the game makes sure to tell you in an in-game note have capaciative tips) through a gap in a window at a computer screen to unlock a door or download a map. It is a game where you can use your alien powers to turn into a coffee mug and roll through a gap in a broken doorway. I played through it without getting any alien powers so I didn't personally experience the latter, but even boring-ol' human powers of running super fast and lifting server racks to throw at enemies was always a blast.

  • A relatively simple diablo-like action-adventure game where you play as a Viking chieftan beating up mythological foes. It was heavily reminiscent of Titan Quest for me, and the relatively low stakes gameplay was great fun in just sitting back and zoning out with for a little while. What really pushes the game over the top is its protagonist. I played as the Shieldmaiden so I can't speak as to what the male character is like, but her relentlessly aggressive and near-psychopathic nature consistently made me laugh. This is a person who would climb a mountain naked with no equipment just to punch someone who insulted her. Taken in a vacuum that would just be a novelty, but the game plays the other characters well against it. They are frequently amazed and/or boggled at her blunt nature and reckless disregard of tactics and planning. Over and over again her primary approach is to run at whatever the problem is head-on and hit it until it stops being a problem anymore. And she's strong enough that it always works. One of the enjoyable examples of a game that is elevated beyond good-but-not-great gameplay by the writing and humor.

  • I adore Mass Effect. Shepard's trilogy is pretty easily my favorite video game trilogy ever, so more in the series was always welcome. Add in a completely new setting in the Andromeda galaxy with a very cool premise and how can you go wrong? Quite a few ways, as it turns out. But even with all the problems it had none of them really ever hit me the same way they did a lot of other people. I love Ryder, she is fantastic. A hyper-enthusiastic nerd who only becomes in charge of this team by accident (in an opening sequence that I would rank above most scenes in the entire series). She's not Shepard, but she isn't trying to be. That's not the point of her. As her own character she is fantastically realized. The other team members are less so, with me only really growing fond of a couple of them that I would take with me on most missions, but even then their quests, conversations, and ambient dialogue helped to make the ship feel like a family home. The combat is easily the best in the series for me, with the ability to configure Ryder's skillsets however you like plus the addition of the jetpack boost making it the most dynamic of the four Mass Effect games. The story fell somewhat flat, which is a big disappointment given the potential of the premise, but running around in this universe with new and fun characters, as a new and fun character, was more than enough for me. It's a shame that there probably won't be more of this.

  • I love Battle Chasers. I read the original comics back in the 90s and when they ended on a cliffhanger followed by years of nothing I figured that was it. The story wouldn't be finished and we should be happy with the amount we got, as great as it was. Then when the kickstarter was announced I immediately jumped on it. I didn't particularly care what the gameplay would be since more Battle Chasers is all I wanted. That it turned out to be a jrpg-style roleplaying game with one of the best turn based combat systems in that genre was wholly unexpected but greatly appreciated. It didn't continue the story from the comics, but the story it did tell was fun enough. It was simply great to spend time with these characters again, the game full of Joe Maduiera's amazing artwork. There were some balance issues and a few irritating bugs that I ran into, but what the game accomplished in resurrecting a series I love and having a core gameplay mechanic I never got tired of cannot be overstated.

  • There's somewhat of a glut of metroidvania games lately, so even though I love the genre it takes something special for one to stand out above the rest. That something special in Sundered is the frantic combat, semi-random level arrangement, and enormous boss fights. When it starts out the combat is mostly hitting attack a lot and dodging or jumping out of the way of enemy attacks. But as you gain more and more abilities and the enemies come in larger numbers of greater variety it becomes a dance-like flow as you take them out while doing your best to avoid damage. It is one of those combat systems where you shift focus away from individuals and try to enter a state of dodging attacks, knowing that the damage you are doing will happen in the process. This is only heightened when you engage in the four main boss fights, the camera zooming out until your character is only a small figure on the screen with the bosses taking up the majority of the area. Add in the ability progression that gives a sense of power i've rarely seen in one of these games and it was a highly enjoyable experience that made me immediately begin a second playthrough once I finished.

  • In the theme of fun and lighthearted platformers, Steamworld Dig 2 is essentially the same as the first one. Except better in every way. The exploration is very enjoyable, and as you progress further and unlock new movement abilities going back and finding secrets you couldn't access before was always fun. It's everything good about the metroidvania experience, with a satisfying gameplay loop of digging out gems, selling them in town, and buying upgrades before going back for more. Put the fun story on top of that and it's an enjoyably charming game from start to finish. As always with the Steamworld games it left me excited for what they will be doing next.

  • When I backed this game I had only played the Risky's Revenge, way back on the Nintendo DS. It was a fun experience and I wanted to see more of what they could do. During development I played Risky's Revenge again on Steam, and then Pirate's Curse as well. This only increased the interest I had in 1/2 Genie Hero. When the game was finally done and came out it was pretty much exactly what I wanted. A fun and cute platformer with an irreverent story and enjoyable gameplay. The post-launch support only increased my fondness for it as they added in stretch goal content such as a Risky Boots campaign. It was a simple and lighthearted game, something I very much needed this year.