It’s been a long time since video games had a year like 2017. It kind of snuck up on me, too. Nioh and Nier fought for my attention right out of the gate alongside a new Nintendo console and a heavy-hitting new PS4 franchise. It felt like it never let up. I had a blast jumping from one better game to the next. Then, I look back and I still missed out on a lot. Some years would feel overwhelming because of that, but I had so much fun with so many surprising games that I can’t be shaken. I also got to share a lot of those games with a Horrible Night crew that had more energy for conversation than ever. It all adds up to one of my favorite years in gaming. I’m not ready to give it the crown yet, but that’s because I have more work to do. We can’t move forward without the painful transition of a Games of the Year List. Let’s do this thing.
JDevL’s Top 10 Games of the Year 2017
- Horizon Zero Dawn
- Hollow Knight
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Nier: Automata
- Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
- Assassin’s Creed Origins
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
- Everybody’s Golf
- Golf Story
#10 - Golf Story
Part sports/puzzle game and part JRPG with a classic 16-bit design sensibility made Golf Story an easy purchase. I wasn’t sure how much I’d play it, but I also had no idea how clever the game would be. Not only are the puzzles brilliantly designed in fun ways, but they almost all require golf skills to solve. Whether I was chipping beach balls, throwing discs (golf), or digging for treasure with my pitching wedge I couldn’t wait to see what the next challenge would be. On top of that, the writing was genuinely funny and came up with just the right kind of dumb excuses to extend your adventure across several golf courses. Also, I won’t lie, when I didn’t want the distractions, just playing some classic top down golf is pretty damn fun, too.
#9 - Prey
Oof. It’s rare that I’ll push through on a game this late. I definitely haven’t played enough to rank it alongside the top of this list, but Prey and I finally hit it off pretty hard. The “Shock” memories are strong with this one, as its a world/spacestation I never want to leave. I want to wallow in its thick atmosphere and find all of its clever alien life. Then ,I want to beat them stupid with a wrench until I’m certain there are no more. Every encounter seems to have endless ways to approach it, and that skill tree, just beautiful. From the first options of skills I knew how each branch would alter how I would play the game, and I even questioned if some of my skill choices would alter the story. Everything is dripping with uncertainty. I couldn’t be more uneasy or more committed to seeing it through to end. Even if I never want it to end.
#8 - Everybody’s Golf
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced joy by just seeing my friends on a golf course. The first time Ryan, Rob, and I all sprinted to meet each other in the middle of the fairway was magical. It was also kind of frightening due to Rob’s avatar, but that’s besides the point. The purity of multiplayer in Everybody’s Golf is why I continue to seek out playing games with friends more each year. Every round had story about dumb luck, a clutch shot, a choke job, or some crazy person running out in front of my drive. I will never get sick of hitting the taunt button so much that I should be banned. You can’t get mad while playing Everybody’s Golf. Winning isn’t the point because the competition will never take itself seriously. It’s here to have fun, and everybody should be here. Serious question though, what do you think of my new outfit?
Memorable Gaming Moments in 2017
- That was awesome. Wait is the game just starting?
- “Nintendo doesn’t know how to make an open world game”
- Oh god. Should I have not been killing all of the robots?
- Every. Wolf 2. Cutscene.
- I kinda want to applaud this final battle in Hollow Knight.
- Punching dudes in shoulders.
- Rob makes the best golf avatars.
- I like being wrong about Cuphead.
- I like being wrong about Ubisoft.
- What happens if I drink all of this detergent in VR? I throw up in VR.
- All of the photo modes. Make a face, Chloe.
- I never want to stop hearing voices.
- Dude, are you hitting on me? Be cool. I’m going to go save the world.
- New Donk City wins me over.
#7 - Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
They pulled it off. I didn’t know what it was going to be, but Hellblade is the most impressive game Ninja Theory has created yet. Everything that makes Hellblade unique normally puts off players. It isn’t easy to play and justifiably so. A game centered around evoking the experience of living with mental illness wouldn’t be honest if it felt like every other game. Hellblade stuck with me after each play session like no other game has before. It had me questioning what was real in my own life, let alone what Senua was experiencing in the game. This all motivated me to push through so that Senua could achieve some sort of peace. We needed to get through this together. Hellblade is an important milestone for interactive storytelling and its one hell of a game to play, too. Everyone needs to experience it.
#6 - Assassin’s Creed Origins
Bayek. Senu. My friends! It’s so good to see you. I didn’t think we’d get to hang out this year. I’m sorry I was a bit late, but that was a helluva party, am I right? Seriously, dudes, you know how to have a good time. My favorite part was all of the stabbing. Even Senu, you got in on that action. Haha. Thanks for scouting out that fort for us, bird-bro. Bayek is always more fun when he has a plan, you know what I mean? He be dropping bodies left and right, but did you see his face when the Phylakes showed up? Priceless. I didn’t know hippos were invited either. That had to be a mess to clean up. Sorry I had to run, but I had to see about a legendary camel, you understand.
#5 - Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
BJ Blazkowicz, you sonofabitch. How are you one of the greatest characters in video games in the year 2017? MachineGames has done so much with nothing. Wolfenstein was never meant to be what it has become. But help you if you try to fucking take it away from me. I needed The New Colossus. In 2017 it was my New Catharsis. I love me some alternate history and by building off the fantastic story of The New Order Wolfenstein delivers on exactly what I wanted in explosions of Nazi body parts.
One understated aspect of The New Colossus’s storytelling is how MachineGames managed to make BJ feel so damn vulnerable throughout the game, right up until revenge time. From the opening action sequence in a wheelchair to the overwhelmed BJ counting down the days until his death to the, well, I’m not spoiling it anymore than I already have, but BJ and I both felt his triumph every time we overcame the Nazi commanders. I fought tooth and claw through to the end. I almost gave up, but that’s when victory becomes even sweeter. Of course, it helps when everything is bookended by story moments that keep topping each other until you assume it will fall over on itself. It never does. Instead it drives a hatchet into the top of the stack to let you know just how sturdy this foundation is for so much more to come.
Most Honorable of Mentions (in no particular order)
- Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
- What Remains of Edith Finch
- FIFA 18
- Steamworld Dig 2
- Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
- Battle Chasers: Nightwar
- Splatoon 2
#4 - Nier: Automata
Unforgettable and truly the biggest surprise of the year. This is helped by the fact that I had preconceived expectations of what to expect from one of my favorite action game developers. The structure of Nier’s story is unlike any story I’ve interacted with. Even when I thought I was onto what was next, it brilliantly pushed through and evolved into something much more than I could have imagined.
The poignant moments all take place around over-the-top action sequences and a haunting score. It makes for vivid memories that are seared into my being tied so tightly to emotions that I could swear I experienced them personally. I feel things when I hear the soundtrack of Nier and when I see certain screenshots or facial expressions of the characters.
The androids each go through tremendous revelations that end up killing them in more ways than one. Each android feels unique in both its combat style and its interpretation of the world around them. I opened myself up early on to feeling compassion for the androids, but I never expected to be so conflicted about my feelings for the lowly machines. I learned that if I see red eyes, I will attack without question. However, Green eyes will make me question everything including whether or not I should be attacking red eyes.
By the end, I was as intoxicated by the scenes playing out in front of me as I was to discover small details of ancillary characters that I had written off as single minded. There is so much purpose to everything in Nier’s world. Nothing can be taken at face value, and even the most unrelatable moments show you new perspectives that change the way you think about, if not just the game, but the world around you. Nier: Automata is an unassuming and unbelievable experience that has opened up the ways that video games can impact its players.
I Wish We Could Have Spent (More) Time Together
- Resident Evil 7
- Metroid: Samus Returns
- The Evil Within 2
- Thimbleweed Park
- Night in the Woods
- Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
- The Sexy Brutale
- For Honor
- Divinity: Original Sin 2
- XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
- Fire Pro Wrestling World
A note about Rocket League in 2017
For the second year in a row, this placement of this mention is merely to break up the article and has no bearing on where it might fit on this list, but I also have to say a something about Rocket League.
In a year full of huge games that were great, I still spent more time with Rocket League than any other game. I’m playing the game much differently than I was a year ago. We still have plenty of Horrible Night matches and continue to slowly climb the ranked, er, ranks. I’m also playing a lot more public team matches as I have gone away from my old 1v1 habits. At some point I wanted to become a better teammate, and a better player. Every month that goes by, I can see improvements in my game and it drives me in a way that sports and competitive games used to when I was younger. Rocket League is both where I catch my breath and where I go to wake myself up. Psyonix still only seems to be getting started, and I have a feeling I’m not slowing down any time soon.
Now back to business.
#3 - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I didn’t stand a chance. The second I walked out of the cave, even though I had seen it in gameplay demos, it got me. The Legend of Zelda had become fully realized for me. Blending all of my favorite elements from the series’ past, and finally bringing it home to the true wonder and mystery of the first game. Nintendo finally got out of my way and let me play The Legend of Zelda my way. Which of course was exactly how they designed it.
This is the best that video game exploration gets. True freedom combined with purposeful world design. The most important element, though, is one that I didn’t know I was missing and one that Nintendo always brings - playfulness. Even on top of the stormiest mountain, amongst all of the dangers Hyrule can throw at me, I felt a sense of wonder and curiosity. I quickly grabbed back onto the cliffside out of fear of death, but I was in awe of everything around me.
Meanwhile, I had a hero’s job to do. Staying on task was just as fun as taking another Shrine tangent. I found myself creating missions in my head. Giving myself areas to explore all the while pushing myself forward toward the ultimate battle. Usually I feel a pressure to focus on primary missions or a dread to return to them. Breath of the Wild was the first time a huge open world never felt overwhelming to me. It felt like it was welcoming me to make more discoveries and new video game memories that will never leave me. Just like the first time, but some how, so much better.
The Path Home
#2 - Hollow Knight
I think it’s my favorite Metroidvania. I really do. In this moment, that’s how I feel about Hollow Knight. My favorite game in my favorite genre. How did I get here?
Hollow Knight doesn’t wear its genre on its sleeve like recent entries that I’ve played. Because of that Hollow Knight became about presentation, gameplay, and atmosphere first. It creeped its way into my jaded heart by placing endearing characters at the end of every mysterious path I came across. I wanted to explore for so many reasons that had nothing to do with unlocking abilities. That’s it! I figured it out! I always felt my character was strong enough to press forward. When I encountered walls, there was another path toward an exhilarating encounter. Meeting friends and battling new creatures was my driving force. It just so happened that along the way I was naturally picking up new abilities that opened up even more paths. I know Hollow Knight's world like no other because of the engrossing design skills of Team Cherry.
Hollow Knight isn’t some walk through some artist’s peaceful animation though. The real stars for me were the enemies and the boss fights. The fodder enemies had more personality than I knew how to handle sometimes. Each boss fight was a different challenge from the previous one. Some I defeated easily, some took 20+ attempts. With each fight I was getting better at the game. I had to execute, no matter the abilities. By the end, my additional powers felt like accents to my finely tuned skills. I wasn’t an untouchable god, but I was a formidable knight. The hero that Hallownest deserves. And it feels amazing.
#1 - Horizon Zero Dawn
It was one of those trailers that looked unreal. The promise of hunting robot dinosaurs in a gorgeous open world is a pitch that will get my attention every time. I had been burned before, and I had been burned by Guerrilla before. Horizon Zero Dawn lived up to every ounce of hype juice throwing through my veins during its reveal and then some.
The one thing I didn’t understand from the trailer was, how in the hell was I going to hunt robotic dinosaurs with a bow? Aloy’s weapons just didn’t make sense until I had them in my control. Once I was set loose though, every weapon, every tool, and every trap felt perfect. The action strikes an incredible balance between strategic survival tactics and frenetic action sequences against giant monsters. The humans look outmatched and outnumbered by metal beasts and evil. At the first sight of Aloy preparing to attack the robotic behemoths, it doesn’t even look like she could do anything to dent them. As the battle begins though, you chip away at armor, you exploit weaknesses, you lure the animals into just the right trap, and suddenly you have the upper hand. You might just be able to do this. You conquer the dino-foe just as a bigger one shows up. There’s no time to celebrate your victory, but it gives you the rush you need to accomplish something even larger. It never gets old. It doesn’t matter how many of them you have taken down before. Let’s fight forever.
That’s all I need from a video game. I’m not greedy, really, but Horizon Zero Dawn had more for me to experience.
It has a fascinating post-apocalyptic world with layers of conflicts and diverse characters that enrich every scene and side-mission. Discovering the truth behind Aloy’s past while sorting out the struggles of tribal peoples surrounded by unexplainable technology made for one of my favorite sci-fi stories ever. Where the hell did this world, this story, and this game come from, Guerrilla Games? I never want to stop playing Horizon Zero Dawn. It is awesome in every sense of the word, and my 2017 Game of the Year.