Top 7 Games 2017

I didn't play many 2017 games this year. Money was tight, life was stressful, so I mostly fell back on old favourites this year. So, in a lot of ways, my GOTY picks this year are actually Titanfall 2, Bloodborne, Dragon Age: Origins and The Witcher III.

Honestly, it's worth saying something about Witcher III here, since looking back on my 2015 list, I like it far more after a second playthrough than I did my first. This second time the world really clicked with me. I realised that the great success of that world is in creating a feeling of isolation, in being a liminal space where Geralt lives with this ugly choice on his way to that monster attack. I think once I twigged this Witcher III began to work as a cohesive whole for me, whereas before I saw only disparate elements I really liked. Back in 2015 I wrote that I didn't think Witcher III was one of the best games of all time - I think that I was wrong.

Anyway, with the obvious caveat that Life is Strange is GOTY every year, Max and Chloe forever, let's get on with games that actually came out this year.

List items

  • Every year I lament that the staff get to write lists in ascending order and we cannot.

    Here's a story about my time with Breath of the Wild. I was messing around near the bridge over Lake Hylia (near where you start the game). Suddenly, the sky started to glow a greenish gold and I looked up to see this enormous dragon snaking in and out of the clouds. I was just awe struck. I had no idea that it was even in the game and it was the moment that I realised just how big and mysterious Hyrule was - in that moment the game seemed infinite. I remember staring at it, still awestruck, trying to keep pace. I was just trying to hold on to this moment for as long as possible, knowing how special it was and knowing it would be over soon.

    On the subject of glowing things in the distance. Night after night in Zelda I'd see this strange blue glow in the distance, on the top of the mountain. One night I decided to take the long trek over. I was entirely unprepared to find to Lord of Mountain. I just stared at it for a little while until finally I decided to move into the clearing. The whole surreal scene disappeared. I never went back to the mountain after that - I'd solved the mystery, it seemed best to just leave the mountain and it's Lord alone.

    And how could I forget the time I got hopelessly lost in the mountains above Kakariko Village for hours looking for a shrine I had marked on the map? I don't think I ever did find the shrine, but I'll always remember fondly sprinting down a mountain away from a Stone Talus, into a pack of Moblins and just panicking the whole time.

    Early on in the game I decided to make a run at Hyrule Castle -just to see what would happen. I spent an hour sneaking and sprinting between and away from enemies that could kill me with a glance. I got right up to Ganon and came out the whole thing with enough loot to keep me set for the next dozen hours of play time.

    One evening I just decided that I would go find the Master Sword. I knew it was in the Lost Woods and I knew the Lost Woods was somewhere north. So I set off, not really knowing what to expect. The whole trip was the kind of grand adventure Breath of the Wild is so good at creating, but what sticks out to me is the Master Sword, this grand relic of the series, reconfigured as something to be found, stumbled upon in the world, a mystery and a challenge borne from your own curiosity. I've pulled that sword out of that pedestal a lot of times now, but this time was the best.

    There's so much to like here. The soundtrack is super good (the Lost Woods theme is one of the best tracks in the entire series). It isn't perfect - I think the dungeons are honestly kind of bad and the shrines don't substitute for traditional Zelda dungeons, but when I think back on my time with the game none of that matters. A pleasant surprise for me was the writing; yes, the main story is super bad, but the set up is fascinating and there's a really charming sense of humour and all the NPCs are charming in a way that feels pulled straight from Wind Waker.

    I hit 50 hours and half the shrines done in BOTW and then went and beat Ganon. I did this because I couldn't bear the thought of actually finishing the game, of having nothing left to see. I wanted to save some for another time.

    It probably isn't my favourite Zelda game - but expecting it to compete against the weight of fond memory I have for Wind Waker and Ocarina is ridiculous and unfair. But this is a remarkable game and to somebody somewhere this is their Ocarina of Time and that is a rare, special thing.

  • Man, poor Horizon. It is an incredibly well executed, refined take on what a lot of other open world games are doing put out sandwiched between a period of extreme open world fatigue and Breath of the Wild reinvigorating the genre.

    Still, I loved my time with Horizon. Fighting robot dinosaurs honestly never got old to me? Figuring out optimal strategies for each unique type was hugely satisfying. I had a great time with the open world too - the time I was exploring the south of the map and ran across a pitched battle between a fortress garrison and two quadruped robots ranks with any of the my Breath of the Wild stories.

    But the real star of Horizon was the writing - the story and and the world building. Like when I saw my first dragon in Breath of the Wild, the first time I found a Cauldron in Horizon was a real 'what the fuck is this game?' moment for me. I think the construction of the post-apocalyptic civilisations of Horizon is pretty good (the cultural appropriation of Native American culture to serve as window dressing for the Nora is gross as shit though); the moment that the game turned a corner for me was when I reached Meridian. Seeing this giant, neo-bronze age metropolis was another of those real 'what the fuck is this game?' moments for me.

    But the strongest element is the mystery of how the world came to be the way it is. Every revelation perfectly walks the tight rope of being satisfying in of itself and opening up new questions. There are parts of that story where the tragedy of human extinction hit in me a deep, emotional way, that no post-apocalyptic fiction has ever done. From when I found that first cauldron until the end I don't think there was a moment where I wasn't fascinated by the story.

    It's been overshadowed this year, but Horizon really is great.

  • Had I played more of Assassin's Creed: Origins, it would be a serious contender for Horizon's spot, I think. As it stands, I'm ready to say that I think this is the best Assassin's Creed.

    I find myself walking around it's world and just constantly kicking myself for not being able to read hieroglyphics. It's attention to detail is astounding and it's so far one of my favourite worlds in any game.

    Bayek absolutely deserves a nod as the best Assassin's Creed protagonist ever and is a fully fleshed out, well realised character, in a way that none of the series' other protagonists have been (like, Ezio was likeable and well written and all, but Bayek's characterisation is far more nuanced). I find myself looking forward to every major story beat to see more of Bayek's arc.

    Something I really like is that they don't go full Tomb Raider. They resolve the tension between needing to make the tombs and monuments of Egypt worth exploring without feeling like you're casing the joint in a way that feels perfectly in keeping with Bayek as a man with a deep reverence of Egypt's history.

    It lets itself down in some ways though. In its fascination with the Old Kingdom it forgets about the Middle and New Kingdoms and it is hard to feel like they used their resources wisely including vast swathes of western desert and absolutely none of Upper Egypt (the Valley of the Kings! Karnak Temple! Abu Simbel! Thebes!). The story so far meanders, with some sections feeling like some of the strongest stuff in the series (the Scarab) and some a total let down (the Hyena).

    I spent pretty much the entirety of my day yesterday combing over the Giza and Saqqara Necropolises. To say that they did justice to the pyramids and their builders, from Djoser to Menkaure is, perhaps, the highest compliment I can give to the game. People have often joked that Assassin's Creed is historical murder tourism, but the sense of history here is greater than in any of the previous games - if previous Assassin's Creed's felt like a zoo of well known historical figures then this feels like a representation of historical place, especially in the tension between native Egyptian, occupying Greeks and hegemonic Romans. The sense of connection to the past that I felt walking around Sneferu's Red Pyramid is truly remarkable.

  • I have not, in fact, actually played any of Yakuza 0. I have watched a lot of Yakuza 0. I remember reflecting after I wrote my list last year that Hitman should have been on there, even though I hadn't played that either. Yakuza 0 is a game I really enjoyed this year and it deserves to be here.

    My favourite thing about Yakuza is the way it jumps from literally the most absurd shit, to incredibly serious character drama, to wild action movie stuff and it totally works. It should feel disjointed. There should be a sense of constant tonal whiplash. But it doesn't. And there isn't. Instead these things come together to forge a distinct, unique identity and I think that's just a hell of an achievement.

    It's not the game this year I rate most highly, but it is the one I left feeling the most respect for the talents of the dev team, managing to fuse together these clashing elements into something coherent.

  • I recall, back in 2014, refusing to put Destiny 1 on my GOTY list, even though it had only 8 entries. Oh how far things have come.

    Destiny 2 missteps in a million ways; the end game is unsatisfying and poorly paced and their fixation on putting absolutely everything that doesn't directly contribute to power increases inside of loot boxes fucking sucks.

    But, God, did I have a great time with Destiny 2. Hundreds of hours and I enjoyed almost all of it. My screenshots folder is gigantic, because this game is beautiful. It's the only version of Destiny where I've done the raid multiple times and getting better at every encounter over time has been hugely satisfying (I did the raid in 30 minutes the other week and I'm very proud of that).

    Destiny 2 is also one of the best playing games ever and that combined with their aesthetic refinements of the previous game and a very good soundtrack make it something that is just a joy to play.

    Is Destiny 2 a great game? No, probably not. But I had a really, really great time with it.

  • The thing that made Planescape: Torment special is the feeling that in every nook and cranny of the world there was something weird and fascinating that was well worth seeing. They nailed that here. It's a world that's just brimming with little stories that are worth seeking out.

    The writing never reaches the same heights as the original Torment, aesthetically it doesn't quite achieve what it's going for and the combat system is not great (though miiiiiiiiles better than the original Torment). But this is a damn good game. Embraced on it's own merits, rather than fastidiously compared to a distant predecessor (which does not hold up well, do not @ me), I really liked it. Honestly, it's remarkable how much of a jump up in quality this is from Wasteland 2, which frankly kind of sucked.

  • God, I wish I could rate this game higher. If it had stopped after the second act I would have. But the final half of the game, acts III and IV, drop the ball so hard. They drop the ball so hard we are essentially talking about two games here - a good a game and a bad game. The back half is so bad that all the smaller flaws that are present throughout the rest of the game go from easily ignored to gigantic, frustrating issues.

    And, when I played it at least, it was fucking broken. More broken than any game I have ever played and I played Mass fucking Effect fucking Andromeda.

    It tells you everything you need to know about my feelings on this game that, as I write this, I'm just getting angry about all the things I didn't like about it - all the positive feelings I ever had have been completely purged. I do not like this game at all and frankly, I think the flaws are so obvious and glaring I genuinely have to question if half the people that gave this game glowing reviews have played many RPGs before, because, when viewed in the context of other RPGs, this doesn't actually stack up very well.

    I genuinely expected to write this entry and remember the parts of this game I liked and reconcile with it a little. But no, it turns out, I just plain dislike this game. I think this is worse than the first one, in that it replicates all of it's flaws without improving on any of it's strengths whilst simultaneously dropping the humour and charm that was such an appeal of the first one (it turns out purging your game of jokes in order to seem more like a Serious Narrative Game doesn't work when you don't actually have the writing chops to back that up).