GOTY 2017

You know, 2017 was another great year for games. At the same time, I don’t rank it among the best ever like many seem to, at least not for me personally. Don’t get me wrong; some fantastic games came out this year, including a few that will undoubtedly join my all-time favorites. That’s true of every year though, and I think a lot of other years have simply had more games that clicked with me. This was, strangely enough, a rare year where I struggled to come up with 10 games I felt strongly about for this list. While I got there in the end, and all 10 of these games are wonderful, that struggle surprised me.

Still, I did get there, and I noticed a few themes among this year’s games along the way. First, video games are long in 2017. I might even say they became too long, with many wearing out their welcome before I finished them. Second, games were very story-focused this year, in all sorts of ways. This was fascinating to see, even if I didn’t always love the act of playing them. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, 2017 had me really thinking about what video games mean to me. Games have become so varied in what they seek to achieve, that I found myself constantly re-evaluating throughout the entire year what I look for in them, and why they affect me in the ways they do. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what has made 2017 strike a chord with so many people. No matter who you are, and what you look for in this hobby of ours, 2017 had you covered. And that diversity is certainly worth celebrating; I’m all for expanding the medium in as many ways as possible.

With all of that said, here are the 10 games I enjoyed playing the most in 2017. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a kick-ass day!

List items

  • Between being down on Zelda over the past decade, and not being a big open world person to begin with, my hopes for Breath of the Wild were not all that high. But man, it did not take long for this game to turn me around completely. Countless incredibly smart design decisions combine to create a beautiful and magical world that embodies an increasingly rare spirit of adventure. It constantly encourages the player to follow their own curiosity, always saying “Yes!” to wherever that may lead them. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve felt this sense of wonder playing a game, and my own journey through Hyrule was jam-packed with surprising, meaningful moments I will never forget. It’s big, it’s bold, and it breaks the mold to raise the bar tremendously high. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is everything I love about this medium, and easily the best game I played in 2017.

  • The list of things I love about Hollow Knight is a mile long. I love its style, and the personality packed into its bug world. I love the tightly tuned combat. I love the intense boss fights. I love the variety in the world, and how it feels dynamic and alive. I love its density and attention to detail. I love its simplicity. I love how the map system makes exploration feel dangerous. I love the risk/reward healing mechanic. I love the abilities and charms you get. I love the art. I love the music. But most of all, I love its flawless execution on all of these pieces, and how they combine to form an incredibly cohesive whole. Hollow Knight should feel derivative for the type of game it is, but instead, its well-thought-out design and high quality make it feel like the next step forward for one of my favorite genres.

  • Pyre is the rare game that remained in my psyche long after I finished it. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed it as I played it too: I got pretty into the action of the rites by the end, its wonderful ensemble cast of characters are brought to life with great writing, and both the music and art meet Supergiant Games’ lofty standards, meaning the presentation here is downright incredible. But in the long run, it’s how Pyre’s structure combines with its overarching narrative to explore how people deal with life and all its twists and turns that really struck a chord. Its story flows and adapts to the player’s actions on a level that most video game narratives simply don’t, which makes Pyre a strong piece of interactive fiction that affected me in some profound ways.

  • I didn’t think Persona could get any more stylish, but Persona 5 proved me wrong. That art. Those menus. That music! There’s so much love and care put into every detail of this game, and that goes a long way towards making the entire experience feel holistic. This is one of the few video game series where every facet -- be it gameplay mechanics, narrative hooks, or aesthetics -- supports one another in ways that lift the games to new heights. And Persona 5 keeps the formula going strong with another cast of great characters, snappy and satisfying dungeon crawling, and some really smart tweaks to its social links. Persona has cemented itself as the premiere JRPG series going right now, and I greatly enjoyed my journey through its latest iteration.

  • It’s easy to define Cuphead by its art style, but this is a great game on all fronts. Yes, the art and animation really are incredible, and I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game that looks and moves with this much panache. But Cuphead has equally great music, and is surprisingly robust (and fun) in its simplicity. While it consists primarily of boss fights, each and every one is a wholly unique challenge. They require different approaches that test different skills, and the process of learning how to topple them all was gripping; I could feel myself improving with each attempt, which was highly satisfying. I think simplicity and focus are attributes too often overlooked in game design, and Cuphead realizes that potential way better than most. WALLOP!

  • Video games tried all sorts of creative narrative approaches this year, but the ones that stuck with me the most couldn’t be told in any other medium. Among them, Nier: Automata stands out as one of the best examples of interactive storytelling I’ve played. Every detail of its design and structure serve to reinforce its themes, and the player’s participation and perspective are critical every step of the way. And like the best art, by the time you see the full picture, those themes apply just as much to our own world as they do the game’s. It’s also got some awesome setpiece moments, great transitions and camera work, a beautiful ending, and a goddamn amazing soundtrack. I wish I liked its combat more, but Nier: Automata is uniquely special nonetheless.

  • Getting Over It looks incredibly silly at a glance: you play as a naked man in a cauldron using a hammer to climb a mountain. But I became obsessed with getting over that mythical mountain in a way I could have never anticipated. That’s partly due to how fun it is to swing said hammer, but also due to the purity of the challenge. It’s tough, messy, and uncompromising where most games choose to be smooth and empowering. This makes Getting Over It feel refreshingly honest, which is only bolstered by its clear belief in the player’s ability to eventually succeed. It’s an effective interactive parable about the nature of adversity, and finally “getting over it” is one of the most genuinely cathartic moments I’ve experienced in a game in a long time.

  • Part of me wants to just scream out all the ridiculous, spoilery stuff that happens in Wolfenstein II, then drop the mic and walk off stage. This game is a ride, constantly punctuated by the kinds of scenes that you just have to tell someone about after you see them. It’s ridiculous, yes, but these scenes also rank among the most well-acted and well-scripted I’ve seen in a game. They’re able to convey its wildly eccentric tone that, somehow, manages to effectively walk that fine line between serious and absurd. I love the characters too, and it all comes together to form a narrative I find myself wholly invested in. Also, I still enjoy blasting Nazis with double shotguns, and cutting them down with a hatchet. Wolfenstein II is just a good time all-around.

  • Mario Odyssey does a great job at using every part of the bull; it feels like no space was left wasted. Even when the things you’re doing are trivial, each sandbox level manages to feel like an endless well of potential discovery. Of course, Mario himself controls as smoothly as ever, which makes navigating all those spaces a pleasure. In fact, the addition of Cappy gives him even more movement options that allow for some extra finesse, and my favorite moments were the ones where I used all the moves at my disposal to overcome a tricky platforming challenge. I still wish more of the game had consisted of that kind of meaningful platforming, but you’d be hard-pressed to divine a better collectathon than Mario Odyssey.

  • Nioh’s combat is so good. That’s the thing I keep coming back to, in spite of the game’s handful of not insubstantial issues: it can be repetitive, there are too many unnecessary systems, and it goes on too long. But compared to the (many) games I considered for this last spot, Nioh is the one with something I can point to that I really enjoy engaging with. Combat feels tight and responsive, making the flow of attacking and dodging consistently mesmerizing in a way that most action games can only dream of. I think many of the levels and bosses are fun too, but most importantly, Nioh gave me one of my favorite new mechanics of the year in its ki pulse. It’s legitimately rad, and gave me a new way to approach third person action.