Favorite Games of 2017

My feelings toward this year in terms of video games have been up until recently conflicted, but writing about the stuff I liked actually made me realize that I played quite a few uniquely good games.

List items

  • This is not only my “old game of the year,” but also my favorite game this year. Darkest Dungeon kept finding new ways of surprising me. It was well-supported throughout the year with periodic updates and purposeful add-ons. The Crimson Court, with its unique take on vampires, managed to introduce even more unpredictability and systemic interactions to the game. I “enjoyed” trudging through the labyrinthine dungeons of the Courtyard, and fighting my way through the most mechanically-complex enemy faction in the game. This year also marked my first foray into the titular Darkest Dungeon, which hid devilishly clever mechanics and a final boss that is, in equal measures, horrifying and audacious.

    And before I forget, the Ancestor is the biggest asshole, ever.

  • I loved Prey for the subtle ways in which it deviates from other games of its lineage. Its multifaceted story forgoes the exuberance of charismatic ideologues and larger-than-life characters in favor of the frequently mundane daily interactions of the station’s employees. In doing so, it manages to humanize its characters and create a rather interesting dichotomy with the game’s fantastical setting. Talos 1 is aesthetically cohesive (maybe to a fault), but the dynamics between the characters that occupied a given space give every hub a unique sense of place. These thoughtfully designed spaces also function as puzzle rooms, containing lite environmental puzzles and challenging combat encounters. And the combat, which is an exercise in problem-solving, is made more gratifying by a meaningful progression system.

  • I’m only partway through Pyre, so my thoughts on it aren’t fully-formed yet; however, I’ve been enamored by the world, its rich mythology and the characters that inhabit it. The contrast between the forbidding nature of the Downside and its lush landscapes give Pyre and its world a distinct look. The Book of Rites and the cleverly-implemented lore annotations paint evocative pictures of historical events and otherworldly locales.

    Without the aid of voice acting, Pyre relies on the strength of its writing to stage engaging scenes. The dialogue manages to effectively convey subtext, as well as characters' mannerisms and tone. The ever-present musical score, which incorporates a surprising range of instrumentation, also never fails to immaculately set the mood for every scene.

    This is to say nothing of the competitive side of the gameplay, which is cleverly intertwined with the narrative and is enjoyable in its own right. There's something to appreciate at every turn in Pyre, and even at this point, it’s difficult for me not to imagine it being on this list.

  • At one point during Lost Constellation (the excellent supplemental story to this game), Mae asks her grandfather who’s in the midst of telling her a bedtime story about the moral of said story, to which her grandfather replies: “What do you want it to be about?”

    Sadly, Mae’s grandfather doesn’t play a prominent role in Night in the Woods; however, his response to Mae’s question is relevant to this game. That’s because it’s at its best when it doesn’t plainly communicate everything to its characters, and by extension, the player. The cast of Night in the Woods is faced with a great deal of uncertainty, not least in relation to the town’s economic stagnation or the mysterious disappearances. In its exploratory sections and episodic vignettes, the game touches on tangible problems that people deal with in their every day lives, and it does so with tact and compassion.

    The characters are written in a way that defies archetypal characterization: none of whom is defined by one aspect of their identity, or solely in relation to the protagonist. I found Mae in particular to be profoundly – and uncomfortably – relatable. Her strained friendship with Bea served as the game’s emotional core for me.

  • Nier: Automata’s story transcends (pun intended) the cliche of its premise by not solely focusing on finding ways to humanize the androids and other machines, but by also trying to shed light on the plight of being a human, self-conscious and harrowingly free. The game employs an unorthodox narrative structure and ever-changing storytelling mechanics to great success. The second act for instance presciently demands replaying large parts of the story, only to reframe certain events and refute notions I’ve previously taken as given; and some of the game’s most poignant moments play out in a purely text-based interface. The world of Nier: Automata is equally fascinating: it draws upon centuries worth of lore and its side stories are revelatory.

  • Halfway through Doki Doki Literature Club, a scene – quite literally – made me break into a cold sweat. That was when the game starts to show its true face. Eventually, it takes a different turn than what I initially anticipated (and maybe preferred), but what follows is a seemingly coherent – if heavy-handed – critique of dating-sims specifically, and player choice in relation to other characters in video games in general. Yes, it’s yet another game that posits the ultimate meaninglessness of choice, this time in light of characters’ lack of real autonomy. I enjoyed my brief time with the game though, even if it pulls the rug from underneath the player one too many times.