With 2017 nearly in the books, it’s a good time to look back and appreciate everything that’s happened this year. This year in gaming, we got some entries in the list of all-time greats. Nintendo released an innovative new console, then later in the year actually released some games for it. Both Xbox and Playstation made serious steps forward into the 4K frontier. Some franchises took a step backwards, others leapt forward, and still others continued to disappoint their old fanbases.
One of my favorite aspects of video games is how personal it becomes to each player. Mostly, we all receive the same levels, the same characters, the same game as everyone else, but the experiences that each player has will be unique. So, while one player will only ever be able to play a fraction of the games released, myself certainly included, the range of experiences that player can have are unlimited.
That having been said, here is my personal look back on gaming 2017.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Early on in the year, I was absolutely convinced that nothing would come along better than Breath of the Wild. Going in, my experiences with the Zelda franchise were somewhat limited. I played the original a couple of times, playthroughs separated by many years, and I grew up loving Link’s Awakening on Gameboy (complete with accompanying memes, like playing by light of passing streetlights.) I played Breath of the Wild at E3 2016 and knew then that Nintendo had an instant classic on its hands. So, borrowing a friend’s Wii U, I picked up a copy and fell in love.
I won’t say how many hours I spent on this game, partly in case my wife is reading this, but also partly because I wasn’t the only one playing it. As much as I love Breath of the Wild, I think my 7 year-old son Zackary loves it even more. Learning it took some time for him, but I pressed him to not hand the controller over to me every time an enemy appeared and learn the controls for himself, and he steadily got better and better, to the point where I would come home from work to find the controller in his hands as he showed me the shiny new sword he won at the hands of a defeated guardian in a shrine trial.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not my choice for game of the year, but it’s close, and it’s a game that I will come back to time and again throughout my life.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Speaking of my choice for game of the year, here it is. Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the most spectacular games I’ve ever played. Late last year, I was fortunate to be able to buy a 4K TV, and Horizon: Zero Dawn was one of the driving factors. In February, I sold my Destiny edition white PS4, and turned that money around into a PS4 Pro. I entered the 4K gaming world, and I never want to go back.
Where Breath of the Wild was beautiful, Horizon: Zero Dawn was STUNNING. Through all 100 hours of play in both the base game and the Frozen Wilds expansion, I constantly found myself stopping to stare at the incredibly detailed surroundings. Snow-capped mountains overlook lush, wild prairies filled with wildlife – both the organic and robotic kinds. The ruins of Colorado Springs, Denver and other areas are a beautiful disaster. But mostly, living in Utah myself, I was constantly awestruck at the familiar local sites so lovingly recreated in 4K. There are far too many to list, but the moment I saw Delicate Arch for the first time from the top of a Tallneck made my jaw drop, and I started geeking out when I stumbled on the canyon DevinSuperTramp used in his Canyon Rope Swing video. The open world of Horizon: Zero Dawn takes great liberty when it comes to distances, but the way that my local area has been recreated in such detail leaves me with great admiration for what Guerilla Games accomplished.
The world is beautiful, but the games is fun to play as well. Common video game and open world tropes are handled in a way that makes sense to the narrative, openly wandering and exploring the map is fun and challenging, but what impressed me most is how the world is not just a pretty canvas, it’s an intricate and well used character in an gripping narrative. There are no perfect games, but Horizon: Zero Dawn comes close, and it’s visuals and story will stick with me for a long time.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
As important as it is to talk about the games we loved, we should also discuss the games that didn’t work. The original Mass Effect trilogy has been my favorite game series for years now, and I was on board the hype train for Mass Effect: Andromeda, despite my reservations on story and the new cast. Mass Effect: Andromeda’s failings have been well documented, but for me, I was most disappointed by how much it seemed to take the original series for granted. There were a lot of little things that Mass Effect earned that Andromeda expected to have as well. We were handed a cast of characters who weren’t very interesting, and expected to love them just the same as the original. We were given a ship that didn’t flow and made little structural sense. The narrative lacked urgency and weight and had holes in the plot. And after the initial bugs and problems, I didn’t have a lot of respect for Andromeda, and I didn’t feel like it had a lot of respect for me as a player, After 30 hours, I stopped to play other, better games. And while I’ve recently picked it up again with several patches in place and renewed perspective, Mass Effect: Andromeda will never be on the same level as the original Mass Effect trilogy.
Mass Effect 3
Andromeda didn’t satisfy, but it certainly reignited my itch for Mass Effect. While Mass Effect 2 is the undeniable king of the trilogy, I didn’t have as many problems with Mass Effect 3 as everyone else, especially following all the DLC, including the extended ending, which fixed much of what I found wrong the first playthrough. The characters that I’ve long loved are still there and waiting for me, and even though I’ve played through the trilogy five times, there’s still more for me to discover. Plus, the multiplayer has been well supported over the years and has an active community. It’s just as fun to play now as it was five years ago.
Speaking of classic games, and despite all the other games in my backlog, playing the alpha for LawBreakers inspired me to dig out an old favorite, also the brainchild of CliffyB. Unreal may be nearly 20 years old, but the moments that made it a classic are still there. Walking out of the crashed ship onto the surface of the tropical planet Na Pali is still impressive, and the moment you end up trapped in a hallway with the lights slowly shutting off for an introductory ambush by the overarching enemy Skaar is second to none. Don’t let the old graphics scare you – Unreal Gold is a classic for a reason, and still well worth spending gaming hours on.
I should have had this article done a while ago, and Rocket League is a big reason why I didn’t. Rocket League is the ultimate “just one more round!” game. My son and I started playing earlier this year, and while it’s difficult to learn, it scales to your skill level very well. And if you find yourself overmatched against a clearly superior opponent, you can always watch what they do and learn from them, since all cars are created equal. Or, you can wuss out and drop out of the match like MY TEAMMATES ALWAYS DO. Add on a devoted development team constantly creating holiday events and a super competitive esports league, and you’ve got a classic – one my family has dropped over 100 hours on this year.
Ha ha, no. If anything, 2017 proved the exact opposite. Death of Half-Life 3 confirmed.
Backing things up to the beginning of the year, Dishonored 2 is one of my favorite games to come out of 2016. The original Dishonored is a forgotten classic, and Dishonored 2 more than lives up to its predecessor. I played as Emily, since the original has you playing as Corvo, and I thought the option gave a lot of life to the game. She’s no less powerful to play than Corvo, and I appreciated the perspective from a different point of view on her lost kingdom. Also, it was nice to get away from the stereotypical mouth full of gravel voice all too common in gaming protagonists. All in all, the game felt a lot more personal playing from Emily’s point of view, which is important to a narrative as tightly wound as Dishonored 2. 2017 also brought us the not-DLC stand-alone title Death of the Outsider, a game that occupies a weighty space on my backlog for 2018.
The Wolf Among Us
Xbox Live is continually delivering solid titles for free every month, and The Wolf Among Us is one I missed when it first came out, so naturally I grabbed it at this opportunity. Telltale has a strong reputation when it comes to choice-driven single-player narrative games, and The Walking Dead tore my heart out years ago. I jumped into The Wolf Among Us without knowing anything about what I was getting myself into. It was a great game to play while riding on my bike trainer to get ready for the triathlon season, as most of the gameplay is easy walking, character dialog, and an occasional fight. Telltale hits hard and offers no apologies for the emotional toll, nor the decisions that force such a response, and that’s what makes their games so good.
One of my favorite indie titles of the year is the one I was privileged to review. Mr. Shifty is a fast moving, fun-filled slugfest that I had a near-impossible time putting down. Clearing out rooms filled with henchmen armed to the teeth with machine guns, automatic shotguns, and grenade launchers with little more than a Nightcrawler-like teleport ability, potent fists, and the occasional way-too-much-fun trident was some of the most fun I’ve had this year. Story? Who needs a story? Sure, I love strong narrative probably way more than the next guy, but sometimes, what you need is to take on a building filled with thousands of bad guys for little more reason than “super-plutonium.”
Looking back, I realize I’ve played way more than this article will accommodate. My son rediscovered his love of Portal, Portal 2, and The Stanley Parable. I revisited Dubai in Spec Ops: The Line, and I stand by my assertion that everyone should play that game. We threw in Nom Nom Galaxy, ClusterTruck, and a ton of hours on Planet Coaster, which is only getting better and better as more material is added. Arrow Heads disappointed, LawBreakers delighted, and Destiny 2 felt familiar without really grabbing me.
All in all, it’s been a great year of gaming for me. There’s plenty I’ve missed that I swear I’ll get to: Prey, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, Cuphead, Call of Duty, Player Unknown: Battlegrounds, Assassin’s Creed: Origins. More that I know I probably won’t, including probably every VR title out there. And still so many more from years past that are just as deserving of my time, including those I already own and are in my backlog: Fallout 4, Skyrim, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, all the Uncharteds, the Last of Us, Rise of the Tomb Raider. Still, I’ve had a fantastic time and can’t wait for another coming year of games that surely I’ll get to play, should I ever find the time.
What did you play this year? What are you looking forward to next year? What’s on your backlog that you keep promising yourself you’ll finally play? Let us know in the comments, and sound off on our Twitter page.