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Did anyone have any inkling of how good 2017 would be for video games before the year started? Even knowing full well that Breath of the Wild would likely be amazing, I think this year took most people by surprise. Honestly, we haven’t had a year full of titles this amazing since… 2011, at least. Or maybe even 2007 (Bioshock, Portal, Super Mario Galaxy). Heck, some would argue 1998 (Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life). There was something for everyone this year, and arguably even too much of it. 2018 will be a busy year for sure; not only will we be playing all of the newest releases, we’ll be using whatever free time is left to catch up on our backlog of amazing games from 2017. Seriously. With that said, let’s take a look at the titles that surprised and delighted me the most this year. Honorable Mention Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy True story: The debut of Katrielle Layton – the famous Professor Hershel Layton’s daughter – is probably the least best (I dare not say ‘worst’) entry in the Layton series to date. This is because the story takes an episodic approach, the puzzles are fairly easy, most cases are generally non-consequential in nature, and many of the mysteries’ answers are telegraphed before completing them. And yet, none of that really mattered by the time the final scene aired. Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy is easily the most charming game I’ve played all year long. The new cast, along with the supporting characters you come to know are what really make the game special in the end. With everything happening in the real world this year, I just wanted to disappear into Layton’s positive and whimsical take on London, following the adventures of Katrielle, Ernest, and their dog ‘Sherl’ as they crack case after case. Not all of the cases are winners, but there are a few that are incredibly touching and make the game worth playing in the end. 10. Metroid: Samus Returns The Metroid series returned with a bang this year, first with the announcement of Metroid Prime 4 being in development and then with the surprise announcement and subsequent release of Metroid: Samus Returns – the long-awaited remake of the Game Boy-only Metroid II: Return of Samus. While it doesn’t do a lot to propel the series forward in a gameplay sense, this is true, classic, 2D Metroid gameplay at its finest. Featuring revamped controls that give you more flexibility and a new melee dodge attack that can parry enemies when timed right, Samus Returns adds just enough to improve the old experience while totally overhauling most of the outdated level design and mechanics of the original game. The encounters with different Metroid evolutions are some of the best moments in the game, adding a real and rare sense of threat and danger to what has usually been a more atmospheric, exploratory game. Also, there just might be a new addition or two to the game’s story to shake things up in the same way Metroid Zero Mission did nearly a decade and a half ago. 9. Cosmic Star Heroine I’d been aware of Zeboyd Games’ previous titles (Cthulhu Save the World, Breath of Death VII etc.), but they’d never appealed to me until Cosmic Star Heroine released this year. Zeboyd Games created perhaps the best homage to both Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star that I’ve seen yet with Cosmic Star Heroine. The battles wisely move away from the “select strongest attack until your MP is depleted” approach and instead injects more strategy by way of introducing cooldowns for each attack and focusing on when you should use them. The story is interesting and well done, if a bit cliched, and moves at a brisk pace, even if it’s somewhat lacking in the character-building department. Cosmic Star Heroine’s universe is also pretty fascinating; Zeboyd did an excellent job of designing a wide variety of alien creatures and strange worlds, not to mention its eclectic cast of characters. Also, the music is a pretty rad take on ‘80s and ‘90s sci-fi soundtracks (think Babylon 5). 8. World to the West Rain Games is a developer that has been on my radar ever since I played their excellent Metroidvania title Teslagrad from a few years back. Their brilliant, hand-painted visuals combined with thought-provoking puzzles made me super enthused for their next title, World to the West. Set in the same world as Teslagrad, World to the West eschews the 2D platforming of its predecessor and opts for an isometric Zelda-like approach. The result is a game with great, cartoon-like visuals; an interesting story set one generation after the former game and which focuses on four unique characters who come from significantly different backgrounds, and action-puzzle gameplay that splits the focus between said four characters’ special abilities. It’s one of the few games I’ve played in which the world is cleverly designed so that you’ll need to use all four characters to explore and open it up with each one's own skills. 7. SteamWorld Dig 2 The first SteamWorld Dig was an excellent surprise hit when it released a few years back, so I was both super excited and hesitant at the thought of SteamWorld Dig 2. Why? I didn’t know what developer Image & Form would be able to do that would keep it from feeling like a complete rehash. Luckily for us, Image & Form saw this issue coming, and they did something smart. They cast Dot -- a minor character from the first game -- as the protagonist in this one and created a whole new mystery: What happened to Rusty, the original protagonist? The truth of the matter will take you through twists and turns, and it’s pulled off incredibly well. New items and machine parts help differentiate the core gameplay cycle, which is the same as the first game’s but with a more interesting world and better-designed caverns to navigate and solve. Excellent gameplay aside, what really made an impact on me with SteamWorld Dig 2 is how the plot plays with your expectations, and completely shatters them in the end. 6. Sonic Mania When it was first announced, I wasn’t that interested in Sonic Mania. It had been some time since I’d last played a 2D Sonic title, and the prospect of “going back” to the old classic style just didn’t seem like progress to me. Little did I know that it’s exactly what the series needed, especially since the newer games have grown creatively stagnant over the last decade (or two). Sonic Mania injects just enough retro levels to keep it from feeling like a “best hits collection” and wisely introduces remixed versions of old levels along with entirely new ones that stand up with the very best the series has to offer. It manages to nail that feeling where it plays like you imagined it played way back when, but in reality is so much better than what Sonic 1 had to offer. Topped off with a brilliant soundtrack, Sonic Mania is what I consider to be the best Sonic game to date. I did not expect to be as blown away by it as I currently am. Welcome back, Sonic. Stick around for a while. 5. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Shadows of Valentia proves that Intelligent Systems is only getting better at making Fire Emblem games, and I was thrilled to discover just how good it was. Being a remake of the NES-only Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the series which never made it out of Japan, Shadows of Valentia stays true to its retro roots by keeping the different battle rules from the original game (no weapons triangle, magic depletes health, etc.) while adding brand new elements in the way of third-person dungeon crawling and exploring different areas of towns and forts. While the latter addition isn’t always used to great effect, it’s fun to finally control a Fire Emblem character firsthand and helps to break up the pace between battles. Ultimately, Shadows of Valentia offers a surprisingly strong story (which is equally surprisingly dark in certain moments) that tackles themes of classism, war, and sacrifice – culminating in a grand finale that pays off in a big way at the very end. Fire Emblem has rarely been as good as Echoes gets, and I hope to see most of the new systems and mechanics used here in the new Fire Emblem title for Switch next year. 4. Splatoon 2 There was a point this year, perhaps around August or September, where I was certain Splatoon 2 would be my game of the year, if not for three other incredible games (one of which I had to do some more reflecting back on). With over 265 hours invested, Splatoon 2 is by far my most-played game of the year and the one I had the most fun with on a consistent basis. Some would say it’s not really a sequel; that it’s a 1.5 version of the game. Even if that’s true, it’s heads and shoulders above the first game, with a solid, diverse grouping of Ranked match games, tons of new hairstyles, weapons, specials, and ways to modify your character. And let’s not forget about Salmon Run, the new horde mode that might just be “mode of the year”. I’ve spent countless hours taking out Salmonids, collecting golden eggs, and having a general blast with @barrel, @Rissake, @YukiKairi, @Venom, and others. No other game has given me that “just one more game feeling” quite like Splatoon 2 has, and that’s a testament to just how good it is. 3. Super Mario Odyssey If you know me, you might be surprised to see this game “only” placing third on my list. That’s mainly because this was an exceptional year with amazing games, but don’t let the lack of GOTY status fool you. This is a Mario title we haven’t seen in quite some time, and boy did it feel good to be running around and exploring each level at your own pace. Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 had moments of this, even if they were still largely linear affairs, but Odyssey’s wide open levels were so out of the norm for the past 15 years that they actually recalled elements of this year’s Breath of the Wild. What I appreciated most about Odyssey is that it really does feel like Mario is embarking on a great journey. Nintendo’s Tokyo studio also spared no effort to make every level feel as unique and original as possible, getting away from the standard lava world, ice world, and jungle world. Instead, you’ll find a level based on New York City, a food-based world, a desert world with ice-elements and an underground temple, and a forest with a tower that’s occupied by robots, just to name a few. It’s super imaginative, not to mention super inspired, due to the cap-throwing mechanic where you can capture and control different enemies. Due to all this and more (that soundtrack!), Super Mario Odyssey is far and away the most creative game I’ve played this year. 2. Horizon Zero Dawn Horizon Zero Dawn is far and away the biggest surprise of 2017 for me. It always looked fantastic in previews, but I didn’t realize just how much I would fall down the rabbit hole with it until I played it late this year. First off, it’s the most graphically impressive game I’ve played in 2017; stunning vistas, vast gorges, tree-lined forests, and populated towns and civilizations – it has it all. It also has the best narrative I’ve experienced all year; Aloy’s journey from shunned outcast to legendary warrior in the eyes of the people is an experience I’ll not forget, and there’s a deep amount of lore to the world, not to mention the many mysteries behind the plot are all well-thought out and have satisfying answers to them. What really puts the game over the top for me is how good its machine-hunting combat is. At first, it’s incredibly daunting and seems complex (and really, it is), but after you learn the intricacies of how to hunt each machine (especially the large ones), the game really takes off. There are so many ways you can take them down, from using a rope gun to tie them down to disable them to setting traps, tripwires, and shooting off weapons, modules, and weak spots with your arrows. Each encounter is incredibly dynamic and life-like, with each machine actually mimicking and behaving like the natural animal/creature it’s designed after. It’s a thrilling experience every time you’re involved in a hunt with larger machines because the danger feels incredibly real for Aloy, and it makes each victory all the sweeter when you eventually do take them down. Horizon was a powerful experience for me -- one of those rare games that completely drown out real life and make you invested in the world within, and one I'll not forget anytime soon. 1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Breath of the Wild is a game that many Zelda fans have been waiting a long time for. While I wasn’t one of the ones hankering for a return to Zelda 1 mechanics (the go-anywhere approach), I’ll never forget the feeling of being dropped in this massive world and being in awe at how much there is to do and see. I’ve heard many ask what Breath of the Wild does for open worlds that is so amazing. The answer has to do with interactivity – the world in BotW is so intricate in how you can interact with it and how it reacts to what you do. Horizon and other games have worlds that are impressive in size and scope, but there’s little you can do to it except traverse it and interact with specially designed areas and characters. In BotW, you can climb nearly everything, decide how you want to approach a certain location, chop trees down to cross large ravines, set grass on fire and then ride the updraft the smoke creates, move almost any object that’s not attached to the ground with magnetism, and much more. In short, the world is alive, and never has a title for a game been more appropriate. The plot itself, while not my favorite of the series, is still fairly good, and the individual story arcs and moments are well-done; especially those that involve the four champions. I also really enjoyed the Divine Beasts; even though we didn’t get traditional dungeons, these were fairly close in approximation them, and one of the Divine Beasts might just be one of my top 10 dungeons in the whole series. In the end, Breath of the Wild will be remembered for letting players play the way they want to. There are definitely things that can be improved, but by and large, this is a landmark title that broke barriers and will shape games for years to come.
Editor's Note: Kairi is our second new guest writer for our Game of the Year 2017 feature this year! She's a passionate gamer and RPG fan who plays quite a lot of games throughout the year and works on the retail side of the gaming industry. You can follow her at @YukiKairi on Twitter. Let me begin by saying that this was probably one of my favorite starts to any gaming year in history. 2017 started off with some great releases in the first 3 months that I haven’t seen in years. First, we had Resident Evil 7: Biohazard which was fully playable in VR, and if you don’t know me -- which I’m sure some of you may not -- I cannot play horror, but boy do I enjoy watching others get scared playing these games and watching the story unfold. Sadly, this game didn’t make my personal list, but it’s a worthy nominee since it brought faith back in the series and genre of horror. Sony took me by surprise with releasing so many exclusives this year and having a majority of them come out right at the start. Nintendo released their new system -- the Switch -- fairly early as well, gaining amazing support from many game developers. In the latter half of this year, Nintendo came out with their next classic system, the SNES, which included a never before released title: Star Fox 2. Sadly, Microsoft was a major disappointment for me this year. They started off by canceling Scalebound; a title that I was really anticipating. On the plus side, there was one title that caught my eye which I’ve been eagerly waiting to play and that’s Cuphead. Cuphead is one of those gems that eats at my core due to the art style, gameplay, and music soundtrack. The best way for me to describe it is old-school Disney (back when Steamboat Willie came out) met with Looney Tunes and decided to have a baby, which became this game. The fact that this game is completely hand-drawn just blows me away. There are honestly so many titles that I would love to gush over and talk more about, but I just can’t get to them all this year. That’s how busy this gaming year has been for me. I think I’ve played more as well as looked into more games than previous years combined. I wish I got to play more of my backlog (including some that I just recently acquired) so I could consider them on this year’s list as well. It’s been one eventful year for gaming and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings. With that said, it’s been very challenging for me to compile this list together, but somehow I’ve nailed it down to these ten intriguing and unique gems that I’m anxious to talk more about in depth. 10. Sonic Mania I’ve been looking forward to this release since being instructed to check it out. The last Sonic title I played personally was Sonic Colors for the Wii. I haven’t seen a Sonic title I wanted to delve into until this caught my eye. Once I started playing it, I instantly got classic Sonic vibes. The music and controls were just as familiar to me as I was playing it back in the day with some new moves included. The updated graphics still look like classic Sonic but are refreshing to see in this day in age. I really enjoyed playing some of the classic levels as well as the newly designed levels. I never thought I’d get to enjoy a Sonic game again. This game was definitely every Sonic fan dreams and then some. 9. Splatoon 2 As someone who played the first title towards the end of the Wii U’s cycle, I wasn’t expecting to pick this title up for quite some time. What the single-player lacks is where it shines in its multiplayer, which I put way too many hours into. I played way more of this installment than the first might I add. The new maps and the new weapons really add more to this title than the first. Splatfest is still a whole lot of fun and continues to have a unique way for picking teams. But the game's new mode, called “Salmon Run”, is definitely one of the best modes I’ve played in any multiplayer to date and made me enjoy it so much more. This title just had to ink its way unto my list for how much of a joy it has been to play. Who wouldn’t want to be a squid instead of kid? 8. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdoms Battle When I first heard of a Mario and Rabbid collaboration, I thought: "Was this a joke? It sounds like a terrible idea and there was no way it could ever work or be good." Boy, am I eating my words right now. What makes this title so great is not just the humor of the Rabbids, but it’s actually quite a challenging strategic game. It’s very much an X-COM rip-off in gameplay style where it has a similar cover system and grid system, but it takes it a step more with character design. Each character has their own set of abilities for you to choose from and two different weapon sets which you are able to pick which weapon to use. And the level design was really on par with other Mario titles. This was definitely my top pick for "most surprising game of the year". I secretly hope there’s a sequel in the works because I’d love to see the Mario cast team up with the Rabbids again with some new faces added as well. 7. Fire Emblem Warriors Truthfully, if I had to choose one Fire Emblem title to consider on this list I’d probably pick this one. As excited as I was for Echoes earlier this year, I sadly didn’t have a chance to play it due to time spent on other titles and Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone, but I was equally excited for this installment as well. Fire Emblem Warriors is a fantastic collaboration with Fire Emblem and Dynasty Warriors' gameplay. It really utilized all my favorite parts of FE, except it isn’t grid-based; instead, you can completely roam the battlefield, which is a blast. The music is still fantastic as ever. The story is still interesting and enjoyable enough. The voice-acting isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I still enjoy the Japanese voice-acting a bit more. My one complaint I have about it is the characters involved in the game are heavily from Awakening and Fates. There are so many more characters from the series overall I would have included. I’m still secretly hoping for either more DLC to include more characters from other titles or perhaps a sequel, which would still be up my alley since I really have enjoyed pretty much every FE title since being recommended to play this series. Currently, I’m really looking forward to playing more DLC that starts arriving soon with the first character pack on December 21. 6. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild This was a title that I’ve been tossing back and forth while trying to figure out the best spot to include it on my list. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the next Zelda every time a new one comes out. This one did not disappoint, to say the least. In fact, this title was the very reason I bought a Switch on day one. However, what I didn’t expect was how frustrating this installment in the series this one would be. It’s got adventure for sure; the whole map is huge and full of exploration. I definitely give it that since this was one of my favorite features. The story is fantastic and really tears at the heart as far as friendships with loyalty for any Zelda tale, but in order to appreciate it, you need to find the locations of certain memories and then some to fully understand it. One new feature that I really enjoyed and probably spent way too much time doing was the cooking aspect. It was just loads of fun exploring and mixing new ingredients. Lastly, the one detail that really took my breath away was the visuals and character design. This really showcased the Switch in a good light right off the bat. As far as criticism goes, one of the main reasons why I placed it here was the battle system. It feels too much like Dark Souls (I love the Souls series, don’t get me wrong, but for certain games like Zelda it’s just off-putting). Personally, I don’t mind weapon durability since that brings a challenge in and of itself, but I feel like weapons are too easy to break, especially when you have a weapon at level 20 that will still break in 3 hits after using it. Now, one key improvement that would fix this issue would be a Blacksmith, just like Skyrim where you would go to fix your weapons. One core weapon they completely ruined was the Master Sword, which is a legendary and key component to any Zelda. There’s a key reason as to why it’s the Master Sword; it shouldn’t take 13 hours to recharge in order to use it. Another major reason for its ranking here on the list is any time you decide to climb a mountain, somehow it would start to rain, and in order to continue your climb you will have to wait 20 min in real time. I don’t even know how many times it rained, but boy was it so annoying. Other reasons include the dungeons or bosses not being as challenging or unique enough. The most annoying enemy are the guardians. Whether they were the Stalker variety or not they could instantly kill you. Heavens forbid if you weren’t equipped with the right gear or weapons and stumbled across one or many of these. You were just doomed to death. I felt the puzzles were pretty lackluster as well. In one of them, I flipped the maze tablet over and then once more to complete the challenge instead of doing the maze puzzle. Lastly, the voice-acting was just awful. I really was not impressed with the English cast at all. In fact, I muted it every time there was dialogue. I wish they decided not to do voice-overs after all. Honestly, I really wanted to enjoy this title so much, but there are many other Zelda titles that just have greater gameplay and replay value to me. That said, this title is still worth checking out due to story and visuals alone, but I feel younger audiences will have such a hard time appreciating it since it’s quite challenging at times. 5. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 To say I’ve been a fan of this series since the first one released on the Wii would be correct since I did take part in a certain fan campaign. When this title was unveiled in January of this year, I didn’t expect to see it at all this year since it just seemed to good to be true, but I’m glad it actually came out and at such a great time, I might add. I’ve always appreciated titles such a these where I’m able to explore the open world and soak in the surrounding environment. If I could live amongst the clouds in a vivid setting such as this, I believe I would never want to step foot off of it. I really enjoy this gameplay style since the combat feels so much like Final Fantasy XII, but it tweaks it just a bit to make it its own unique addictive combat system. I’m always willing and ready to delve hours upon hours into JRPGs such as this since I enjoy the storyline and being able to have the choice for sidequests. One small complaint I have would be the mini-map since you can get lost here and there if you’re not careful, but I’m glad to hear that there’s a new patch coming that seems to fix this feature. What makes this title worth my while even more was the fact that the soundtrack transported me to a new world which made me feel like I was a part of it. It’s such a joy to hear since it’s by one of my favorite composers Yasunori Mitsuda, whose work never ceases to amaze me. The blade designs are all very unique since each rare blade was made by a different artist that usually works on different titles. I was intrigued when Nintendo unraveled the new designs each week leading up to launch since it sparked more excitement and gave me an insight into the artist's work on this title. There are some designs which may be questionable since they don’t have the look and appeal to the series overall, but I honestly feel like it's a breath of fresh air since I got to see a new artist take on character design that I myself was never familiar with. I was really impressed with how well everything about this title meshed together. I’m grateful to say that towards the end of 2017 we have another standout JRPG that every fan should check out. I’m certainly curious what the new story content will bring and what the new rare blade will be seeing as that won’t be out till next year, but thankful that I have more to look forward to. 4. Horizon Zero Dawn Having never truly played a game by Guerilla Games before, I was willing to try this out based on the many previews I saw and the fact that it had a strong female lead. This was another title that featured a key aspect that I really enjoy in quite a few games: having a beautifully crafted post-apocalyptic open world where I could explore anywhere. However, this is one where as a player you need to be careful of your surroundings since it's inhabited by robotic creatures called 'machines,' which some are peaceful and others will attack. The combat was challenging in that you needed to be strategic with certain enemies to pinpoint their weaknesses and compelling since it made me feel like a hunter out in the woods wanting to pick up a bow myself. I really appreciated the stealth aspect of this game as well since I’m such a sucker for being stealthy and laying low like in the Assassin’s Creed series. Hands down my favorite performance by any actor this year was Ashly Burch who definitely delivered an amazing performance as Aloy. I’m looking forward to trying out the Frozen Wilds expansion since it just recently came out last month and I’ve been delving into so many other titles as of late. 3. Super Mario Odyssey To say this is probably one of my favorite Mario games to date would be highly correct. When I first saw gameplay footage of this, I was a bit skeptical; not to say I wasn’t a fan of a hat named “Cappy” which allowed Mario to become literally anything he tossed it at. I actually really enjoyed this aspect of the title, but I was not a fan of one particular kingdom at first. New Donk City, which is part of the Metro Kingdom, just seemed rather out of place for a Mario game to me since Mario was running around a city largely based on New York City itself with humans. I soon realized that was pretty foolish of me since that was only one of the many kingdoms to explore and enjoy. With that out of the way, I must say the color palette of this Mario blows all other Mario titles out of the water. It’s been such a joy to visit other kingdoms and roam around such a breathtaking backdrop. The gameplay really reminds me of Mario 64 and Sunshine style combined with more key Mario elements. Lastly, the music had one of the best theme songs ever this year since it was super catchy and a blast to hear. This was by far my favorite title to launch on the Switch this year and is a title that everyone can enjoy and appreciate for years to come. Also, who wouldn’t want a sidekick like Cappy on their team to overcome Bowser’s plot to marry Peach? 2. NieR: Automata This was by far my hardest choice to make because it very easily could have been my top pick, especially since this was my most anticipated title to come out this year. Ever since catching a glimpse of it briefly being shown at E3 in 2015 to showcase its artwork, I instantly fell in love with the character design and setting. Also, this was by far my favorite of the different installments in the series. I’ve always been an avid fan of Yoko Taro’s work. His style is truly remarkable and I really admire it. This style really eats at my core due to the dark, unusual post-apocalyptic backdrop. I never thought I’d have a chance to play a game that required several gameplays to fully understand the depth of the story and it honestly changed my life for the better. A game that made me have so many feelings for androids I never believed would be possible. While the story and character design is what makes me appreciate this title the most, it has a great fast-paced action and a combat system that was a joy to play. Its music soundtrack is highly desirable as well with it being my favorite from any title this year. Honestly, I can’t wait to see the next installment if in fact there is one, or even a new IP from Taro. Before mentioning my number one pick I want to take some time to briefly list some honorable mentions that could have made my list. In no particular order here they are: Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Destiny 2, Layton’s Mystery Journey, Injustice 2, and Tales of Berseria. 1. Persona 5 A title that honestly deserves this spot and 'Best JRPG' for the year. A game that was first announced in 2013, then got delayed from its original release in 2014 to improve the quality to finally release in 2016 in Japan, and then finally a worldwide release at the start of this year. It’s been a title that many Persona fans have been waiting for since 4 came out in 2008. Even though I’m a newer fan of this series, I’m not sure why I didn’t delve into it much earlier. This was my first Persona title even though Persona 4 Golden is in my backlog. However, I am not new to Atlus titles; they always know how to make brilliant and fascinating games (with Catherine being my favorite; I’m still holding out for a sequel!). The story in Persona 5 is so well put together and enjoyable. I was impressed right out of the gate when it started off as a flashback sequence. I enjoyed the overall theme behind it and how it used a high school setting. It was a joy to play as a Phantom Thief. It’s not every day you get to go incognito with a different persona in another realm to steal someone’s heart that has an ill will. Not going to spoil anything, but the major twist was so satisfying. The voice cast was one of the best works for a team altogether. The character design is one I can always get behind since I enjoy artwork such as this. I really appreciated the turn-based combat system much more because it gave you the option to 'Hold Up' the enemy, which allowed you to do a number set of options as well. The dungeons were actually a lot of fun to explore as well. I can’t wait to see how the next one will compare since this was such a pleasure to delve into. It’s been a delight to share my favorites for this year with all of you. Now, here are some titles I’m highly anticipating to enjoy next year: Code Vein, Vampyr, Detroit Become Human, Ni No Kuni II, God of War, Insomniac's Spider-Man, Project Octopath Traveler, Lost Sphear, Far Cry 5, and the new Fire Emblem title.
What a year for gaming 2017 turned out to be. My personal experience can be best summed up with the idiom, "I bit off more than I could chew." So many games that I anticipated being on this list didn’t make it for no other reason than I never got around to playing or finishing them. A year after its release, I discovered Overwatch and it took up so much of my 2017 gaming time. There were also those early months in the year when I experienced a bit of gaming funk that I blame on the game that sits at the top of my list. Everything I played after was a disappointment, and unfortunately, Mass Effect Andromeda, Prey, Nioh, and Nier Automata became casualties of my slump. Once I got my gaming legs back, I went on a rampage. Something I also noticed in 2017: games were being sold with nice discounts almost immediately after they released. The frequent sales on PSN committed the biggest crimes against my wallet, and while I greatly appreciated them, I now find myself with more games than time. Before I get into my games of the year, I’d like to mention a couple notable games that I had to leave off. Wolfenstein 2 would have made the list for sure but I barely had a chance to play any of it. I also excluded Victor Vran, because it was previously released on PC before making its way to console this year. If you are a fan of Diablo, I highly recommend Victor Vran. Farpoint, which I think aside from a few wonky control issues I had (I did not buy the PSVR aim controller) and the temperamental camera settings is a killer app for PSVR and I loved the immersive feel that felt like being in a sci-fi movie. However, my 'cat of destruction' decided that chewing the PSVR wires was a good idea, thus shutting down my virtual reality life temporarily. By the way, cat-chewed wires are not covered by the warranty! One game you won’t find on my list is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I tried to play this game on several occasions and based my Switch purchase almost solely on it. It just didn’t resonate with me. In fact, the game frustrates me more than anything. (Editor's note: Laddie wasn't the only one to feel that way about Breath of the Wild; there's a similar story about it in Jon's list as well.) So here it is, my mostly predictable favorite games of 2017. 10. Lawbreakers Lawbreakers is kind of a mix between Overwatch and a slower, less mobile Titanfall. I know it didn’t appeal to -- or even retain -- much of a player-base, but I enjoyed my time with it. There was definitely a steep learning curve, especially using the zero gravity portions of the maps, but Lawbreakers was a great concept, and I admire Boss Key for their dedication to the game post-release. I’m sure a game that uses the pre-made hero model is probably easier to balance, but people like to customize their characters and -- unlike Overwatch -- there’s only a handful of characters to select from. The game offered me (at a discounted price) a month of pure shooter fun that felt fresh while still retaining the basics of an arena shooter. At launch, the game lacked a team deathmatch mode, which was probably a bad move as it’s the favorite game mode in most shooters, especially for the less competitive players. As the population dwindled, it became more frustrating not only due to the long searches for games but the uneven team balance that matchmaking offers when so few are playing. I’d love to see the game have a resurgence, but that likely won’t happen unless a sequel happens, and I would definitely support that. 9. Assassins Creed: Origins The only reason this game is so far down on my list is I am still playing it. I don’t usually include games I’ve not finished on lists like this but barring any drastic turn to being terrible, this game belongs here, and probably even much higher up. I’ve never been much of a fan of the Assassins Creed series, but I love the ancient Egyptian setting and I bought it while it was on sale during Black Friday week. Granted, its been awhile since I played an AC game, but I don’t recall the experience being this awesome. Origins moves away from the stealth action-adventure genre and charges straight into RPG territory with an excellent progression system, very expansive world, and side quests galore, which includes raiding tombs for loot that would make Lara Croft envious. Sure, there is a skill tree, but I love how protagonist Bayak automatically transcends into a badass the more you level up. I’m not one for stealth combat, and provided you do not take on missions that are way out of your pay grade, you can go loud and take down entire armies with a mixture of various melee weapons and bow and arrow. Combat is smooth, intuitive, and fun. If that’s not enough, you can climb pyramids and pet cats. 8. Knack 2 Knack holds a special place in my gaming history as the first game I completed on PS4. Knack 2 improves on the action-adventure/ platformer by giving Knack what he desperately needed, more moves and abilities. There’s even an in-game joke that mocks the old Knack’s lack of cool abilities that I found incredibly endearing considering the game was a bit of an internet joke, so it’s nice to see Sony can poke fun at itself with the rest of them. As a series, Knack has a bit of an identity crisis as to what it wants to be, but at least the sequel has a bit more direction. Through the use of relics, Knack has the ability to change sizes from very tiny to a twenty-foot giant. It doesn’t take a lot of strategy to figure out how to use this ability to your advantage and much of the platforming elements feel familiar but why not just embrace it for what it is: a flawed but entertaining and fun experience. I take a lot of flak for defending this series, but if loving Knack is wrong, I don’t want to be right! 7. The Evil Within 2 I didn’t ever get around to playing the first game, but I was wrapped up in the moment of Halloween and wanted something scary to play at the time this released. The Evil Within 2 gives you a brief history lesson at the beginning, but if you are worried about skipping the first game like I did, IGN has a great video that sums up the Evil Within in 5 minutes. At times, The Evil Within 2 feels a lot like The Last of Us in its combat and crafting, especially the stealthier combat aspects. My biggest issue with the game was the bad dialog and underwhelming characters, but the story overall is intriguing kind of Silent Hill meets the Matrix with a super creepy main villain. The semi-open world and the side quests gave the game a nice change of pace for the horror genre. I found myself going back to replay sections of the game looking for things I missed, something I don’t usually do with horror games. I bought Evil Within 2 on a whim and didn’t expect much from it, let alone it being one of my favorite games of the year. 6. Call of Duty: WWII I think I was one of the few people that did not want Call of Duty (or COD) to go back to World War II, let alone return to boots-on-the-ground combat. The beta further confirmed my feelings as I couldn’t get a feel for it in the few matches I tried out. Yet, I was still intrigued and had actually thought COD Advanced Warfare was the best COD MP in awhile so I wanted to give Sledgehammer another shot. A funny thing happened: the more I played, I started to adjust to the slower pace and lack of wall-running and super-jumps or -slides, and I began to get it. Graphically, it’s gorgeous; I’m playing on the PS4 Pro but I’m sure it is just as stunning on a standard console. Most of my playtime has been spent in PvP multiplayer, but I did complete the campaign and it was heartfelt and at times very poignant. However, everyone knows the heart of COD is multiplayer, and while I would have like a few more maps, it’s the best most balanced MP Call of Duty has been in years. Hopefully, it stays that way and they won’t introduce overpowered weapons that are found only in loot boxes. As it is now, the epic guns are the same as the standard weapons but offer an XP boost and a different look. True to its word, COD WWII brings the series back to form, I guess you can go home again. 5. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Being that the video game industry is still mostly a boys club, I have to give kudos to Naughty Dog for featuring two kick-ass women to star in its first post-Drake Uncharted content. We were introduced to Chloe and Nadine in other Uncharted games and I think they were a good choice to star in their own story (even if it is technically considered Uncharted 4 DLC despite it being a stand-alone story that doesn’t require Uncharted 4). I might actually prefer Lost Legacy over Uncharted 4, as it seems to fit in better with the pace and tone of the series, whereas I found UC4 moved incredibly slow at times. Chloe’s combat style is different than Drake’s but Lost Legacy still has the cinematic feel of Uncharted, complete with lush locations, intrigue, mythology, and of course, puzzles. I’d say the game took about 7-8 hours to complete, and if for whatever reason you did not buy Uncharted 4, Lost Legacy contains full access to multiplayer and survival mode. I don’t blame Naughty Dog for wrapping up Drake’s storyline, but I hope we get more Uncharted games in the future. And as Lost Legacy has successfully showcased, I’m hopeful and confident the series can survive without Nathan Drake. 4. Destiny 2 My love/hate relationship with Destiny continues with the sequel that gets most of what was wrong with the first right. Destiny 2 starts with an attack on the Last City that destroys the tower and drains all light from the guardians. This sense of loss is driven home by the realization that after grinding the first Destiny game for three years, you must start the process all over again. The old addiction returns, and once you are back in the fray you think it won’t be that bad this time until you hit about level 280, and then the grind is real. I will say that through the use of the newly added challenges and milestones and the guided raids or nightfall, even the loneliest of wolves has a chance to level up and get in on the events that grant the best loot. The way Bungie tells the story and lore in Destiny 2 is also a big improvement over the first game as most of the story unfolds naturally through gameplay or cutscenes and not on Bungie.net. That’s not to say the Destiny 2 plot is going to be remembered for its depth, but it has charm and our favorite fire-team, Ikora, Zavala, and if course Cayde 6 all make a return. Destiny 2 builds on the vague backstory of the first game but is much more simplistic. Your job is to stop the bad man Ghaul who is responsible for capturing the Traveler. I still don’t fully understand what the Traveler is, but I know I must save it. Destiny 2’s strength lies in its gameplay, shooting aliens is rarely this much fun, and the locations are absolutely stunning. Even if you never touch the PvP, Strikes, or Raids, there’s plenty to do and explore in the story portion. As I was in the first game I’m disappointed in the PvP Portion, its as if Bungie who created one of the greatest multiplayer experiences with Halo simply forgot how to balance a multiplayer game. Admittedly, I have been suffering from a little bit of Destiny 2 burnout, but with the first expansion just released I imagine I will be back on that Destiny grind soon enough. 3. HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice Where should I start? This game is not only a technical masterpiece, its an emotional rollercoaster ride into mental illness and drives home the point that there is hope. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is inspired by Norse and Celtic mythology and is part hack-and-slash, action adventure, puzzler, and survival horror. If you haven’t played this game, I highly recommend you do so. I will tread lightly here so I won’t spoil anything for those who have not played it. Its genre-bending gameplay is surprisingly intuitive and smooth. Senua has an ability called 'focus' that is triggered by effectively blocking attacks or dodging them. The game doesn’t feature a HUD, but the voices in Senua’s head (or 'Furies' as they are referred to often) help guide you or inform you where your next attack is coming from. Her attacks are basic and there is very little weapon upgrading but Senua naturally gets better, or maybe you do. Ninja Theory consulted neuroscientists, mental health specialists, and nonprofit organizations to help them properly portray and represent the horrors of mental illness. The use of 3D sound drives the voices/Furies so much so that it becomes an integral part of the experience. The level designers also did a great job of illustrating the nightmare world Senua’s mind has become. It’s often a tough game to play but it’s worth it. In the end, Senua defeats the darkness and her past, stops blaming herself, and embraces it. It’s ok to not be ok. 2. Hob This game only came to my attention shortly before it released but it easily became one of my favorite games of the year. It was developed by Runic games, known for the excellent Torchlight series. My first impression of the game was one of intrigue, but also frustration. There is no tutorial to hold your hand, and no dialogue to give you direction, you are simply thwarted into a world that looks as if technology and nature are at war. You play as a tiny non-gender specific character that I’ve assumed to be called, Hob. Early on, Hob loses an arm which is then replaced with a robot arm that is upgraded with things you find along the way. After first acquiring the robot arm I didn’t know what to do or where to go, it was looking like the game over for me almost as soon as it began. Then I started exploring my very beautiful surroundings (seriously the art and level designers at Runic are amazing) and learned I could chop down trees that were obscuring passages to where I needed to be. From then on, I explored everything, and then even the map started to make sense. There are things to find, puzzles to solve, and even light hack-and-slash battles. Often, you must revisit areas due to new tech upgrades to the robot arm. Despite its lack of dialogue, Hob is an emotional experience, even if the story is often mysterious, or more likely subjective. I was incredibly saddened to hear Runic Games was shut down shortly after Hob released dashing my dreams of a sequel or even DLC. In many ways, Hob is the game I hoped Breath of the Wild would be. RIP Runic Games. 1. Horizon Zero Dawn 2017 might well be remembered as the year of the “nasty woman,” so it’s fitting that the game that captured my heart the most featured a female protagonist. I still remember the first time this game was shown off, Guerrilla, you had me at 'robot dinosaur'. I was super hyped for this game, which often results in the actual product being a letdown; however, Horizon Zero Dawn exceeded my expectations. Gameplay is so smooth and the post-apocalyptic universe it is set in is stunning; by the way, if you aren’t playing HZD on PS4 Pro, you’re doing it wrong! When the game released, I started playing it right at midnight and didn’t stop until about 8 AM the next morning. When I wasn’t playing it I was working or sleeping but still thinking about it. A game hadn’t got under my skin like that for quite some time. I recently went back to HZD to play the very expansive DLC, The Frozen Wilds. I actually thought about including the DLC as a separate entry but decided to just combine it as the overall experience that is Horizon Zero Dawn. Our ginger hero Aloy (voiced by Ashley Burch) is strong, independent, caring, and intelligent. We are very aware of her femininity, but it’s never objectified. Aloy is a great character who happens to be female, not because of it. The thing I admire most about Aloy is her ability to forgive and not be angry or bitter about the cruelties that were inflicted upon her as a child. Aloy is an instant icon of video games and one that I hope is around for generations to come. As for gameplay, it’s damn near perfect! Battling the robot wildlife is intuitive, and each type has their own weaknesses and strengths. I had a blast trying to figure which weapons and ammo type paired best with each type, and for once I even enjoyed stealth takedowns. The story at times had me worried it was going to end somewhat convoluted but it all makes sense at the end of the game. I’ve played Horizon Zero Dawn for 125 hours (including the Frozen Wilds), and I’m looking forward to 125 more.