Well, 2017 sure did bring yet another terrible bag of anxiety causing crap. Thankfully though, the video game deities looked down upon us with pity and granted us bountiful releases. Seriously, 2017 was absolutely packed full of games that deserve our time and attention. More than ever personal lists count less as filters of a year’s releases, and more like a statement of personal preferences. Too many games somehow didn’t make the cut that would normally be granted a low spot. Shoutout to Loot Rascals, Passpartout, Kingdom and Castles, Blockhood, SteamWorld Dig 2, and Endless Space 2 for bringing me little packages of joy.
10. Out of the Park Baseball 18
Intense management, an old ass sport, and a ton of menus? That’s me in a nutshell. Despite enjoying Motorsport Manager, I didn’t think this dryer, less graphic based cousin would do anything for me. I grabbed Out of the Park in a Humble Bundle and instantly realized this was my kind of shit. I would normally spend a season or two in a sports game trying to live out my own team dynasty. Out of the Park puts more of that control in my hand, more “realistic” information on the screen, and makes me feel like a real baseball manager. I’ll gladly take my menu based fantasy fulfillment.
9. Cook, Serve, Delicious 2
Despite the long hours, the low pay, and the less than grateful customers, a part of me enjoyed the challenge of cooking up as many damn sandwiches I could manage. Cook, Serve, Delicious manages to reintroduce that stressful challenge that actually feels like a rewarding practice. It’s what I imagine gym rats feel like after a good workout. The actions might be rough, but the mental reward outweighs the pain. No pain, no gain. Cook, Serve, Delicious 2 may have been light on some of the original’s features, but it still managed to change things in just the right way. I feel like this sequel expands on how I, personally, wanted to play Cook, Serve, Delicious.
8. Persona 5
The JRPG has firmly spun off into its own genre. While it holds the hallmarks of all other role-playing games, the Japanese style maintains a stalwart attachment to a rigid way of approaching things. That’s where the Persona series, and especially in Persona 5, seeks to solidify and undermine those expectations. For every piece of Persona that feels cliche there’s another part layered with so much style, and care, that it becomes impossible not to feel joy. I didn’t walk away from Persona 5 fulfilled like I had with Persona 4, but I did enjoy the ride they placed me on. In a world where a developer must follow up their most successful title I did not expect Atlus to step so far away. And yet they did, and did so with an wonderful game.
Video games have a great power to transport us wherever the creators choose to go. Cuphead does that with powerful ease. It’s obvious at a glance why Cuphead is so special. When we all first glimpsed this early 1900s cartoon styled game we knew this would be something to behold. Despite endless delays and worrying changes the end result is nothing short of spectacular to watch in motion. Cuphead’s cartoony style conveys it’s artistic whimsy with just a devilish hint of difficulty that really rears its head by world two or three. I personally have never enjoyed intensely hard platformers or shooters and yet I came very close to beating Cuphead. Its style and presentation was enough to grab ahold of me and force me to approach a genre of game I’d never touch otherwise.
Pyre is painstakingly beautiful. A simple game that starts with some form of basketball that’s surrounded by story was able to, over and over, leave me filled with astonishment. I frequently had to stop playing and take screenshot after screenshot so that I would never forget how Pyre looked. You’d do yourself a service for play, or even watch, Pyre play out. It’s a feast for the eyeballs that drags you into a unique world the likes of which I had never seen before. Games all too often limit their art to a handful of appealing moments when the developer knows you’re looking. Pyre simply layers it all in and lets you unfold it like a blooming flower.
5. Zelda: Breath of the Wild
One of my first intense moments with any video game was in Zelda: Link to the Past. I’d hop into my older brother’s saves in order to see the end game spells and items that I’d never get around to earning. It felt like Hyrule was a real place I could walk around and explore. I never felt that away again until Breath of the Wild. There’s a sense of loss and exploration, of pristine and damaged beauty, all around Hyrule. And what really hooked me in, after a few hours of floundering, was the openness of it all. I had no restrictions, no places I wasn’t allowed to go. Everything was open for poking and prodding until I either found a way inside or was rebuffed enough that I moved on to the next interesting point on the horizon. I’m so happy this will be the final cap for my Wii U’s lackluster life as a gaming system. A remarkable send off with a remarkable game.
4. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds
It’s probable that I ignored nearly a dozen emails about Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. Each one touted this new game from the maker of Day Z mods and revealed screenshots that, honestly, never impressed. It all fell onto deaf ears and even after seeing a growing segment of players enjoy their time in this Battle Royale simulator I was still apprehensive. I thought it would be a waste of money and time. But there’s something about PUBG. Alone it’s a nervous wreck simulator, with a group it’s a wacky comedy, and in a duo it’s somewhere in between. All based around a ridiculously simple premise that’s still somehow enjoyable to replay on repeat. PUBG’s enjoyment comes from a perfect combination randomness and skill, or your own personal skills with the guns you do (and sometimes don’t) find. PUBG shouldn’t have 20 million players, shouldn’t be so fun to hop into, and shouldn’t have been this successful and yet here it is.
3. Horizon: Zero Dawn
Horizon had sold me the instant they showed robot dinosaurs. Some not-so-dormant internal child woke up and took ahold of all my decision making abilities. Thankfully, even with the long wind up, Horizon was able to deliver on the goods. Wrapping a wonderfully unveiled science fiction story around robot dinosaur combat was exactly what I was hoping for. I found myself seeking out every new piece of story and lore that would help fill in the background of Horizon’s world and Aloy’s past. Every new answer always yielded more questions and by the end I was left completely satisfied with the story I was told. Typically I’d be all for a standalone game that tells one good story and leaves the stage with the crowd endlessly cheering. However with Horizon I’m chomping at the bit to jump back in and begin lobbing some arrows at more robot dinosaurs.
2. Fire Pro Wrestling World
Do you ever remember, as a kid, walking down a toy aisle and spotting an absolutely too large box filled to the brim of toys? Some set from some franchise that included a ton of characters, accessories, and even a chunk of plastic land to fight over? They were glorious, pieces of heaven expensively left in that aisle for us to hem and haw over while our parents explained how money worked. Fire Pro Wrestling World is that wonderful toy box. It’s bare when you open it but thanks to the inclusion of the Steam Workshop you can quickly fill it up. My wrestling toy chest now contains a legion of my favorites. Even better, you can organize and place your wrestlers on digital shelves, choosing which fantasy bouts you want to recreate and when. I’ve already lost hours to this fantasy booking paradise and I expect 2018 will feature the same.
1. Divinity: Original Sin 2
At a glance, Divinity Original Sin 2 is a game and a franchise I would ignore completely. It appears to be another entry in an uninteresting fantasy role-playing series that needed to be Kickstarted just to come out. It looks to harken back to typical PC role-playing games with its isometric camera and fantasy setting. While none of those assumptions are necessarily false, they were all buried underneath the immense wonder and affection I built up over my time with Divinity Original Sin 2.
The old school approach is enriched with turn based, Dungeons and Dragon like combat that feels more strategic and decisive. That fantasy feel is accented with a knowing humor and wonderful writing. Divinity feels like a labor of love from developers who were having fun putting together an immense, occasionally intimidating, but approachable game. Even the little touches like choosing a specific instrument to play during battle music or getting to meet the pre-made characters during your adventure really strengthens my attachment to the game. It really feels like my personal version of Divinity Original Sin 2 every time I boot it up. Divinity is dense yet light, complicated yet accessible, overwhelming yet friendly. It’s been such a wonderful bright spot of a game to sink into and experience and turns out that’s what I needed in 2017.