The hype was real for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but no one could have seen just how innovative and reinvigorating the game would end up. Nintendo had been playing it safe for too long with the Zelda series and vowed to go back to its roots for Breath of the Wild. The success they found with this new formula will likely go on to influence the series going forward and likely the design of open world games in general. Many open world games rely on pointing the player in the direction they want them to go, for fear of them getting bored. Nintendo expertly solved the issue that other developers didn’t even see here, by ridding the world of developer-laid icons and allowing the player to choose their own journey. Standing at the top of a tower, you might see something that looks interesting and decide to investigate. Nearly every time, you will be rewarded for your curiosity with something, even if it’s something small. This is what separates Breath of the Wild from other open world games. It allows players to create their own stories and explore the world at their own pace, while packing every nook and cranny with fun things to find. Hours melted away while I was playing Breath of the Wild as I got lost in the gorgeous world. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best games ever made and easily deserves the spot as the best game of 2017.
It was easy to lose heart after the garbage fire that was Resident Evil 6. Thankfully, Capcom stepped up and delivered a brand new Resident Evil experience that is both brand new feeling and upholds the roots of what makes the series fun. Bringing the series into the first-person perspective was bold move, but it paid off with Resident Evil 7. Even though the point of view changed, everything about the gameplay like managing ammo, finding keys, carefully navigating corridors and even opening doors still felt uniquely like it belonged in the series. Playing the game in virtual reality is one of the most intense experiences I’ve done in gaming. Many parts of the game are very scary and being put into that world through a VR headset only makes it that much more terrifying. The story is self-contained enough that folks who are new to the series can easily join in now, with some sly easter eggs for series veterans. The characters, especially the Baker family, are interesting to learn about and the story goes to some cool places by the end. Many people have criticized the latter portion of the game for becoming more action heavy, but if you look at previous games in the series, it actually follows a similar pattern in that regard. I played through this game four times in 2017 alone and will likely go back for another round in 2018. In any other year, this would have been an easy top spot, but I reluctantly call Resident Evil 7: Biohazard the 2nd best game of 2017.
Picking the order of the top three games of 2017 was a nightmare. Each of these games are amazing in their own right and ranking them was near impossible. That being said, I have decided on an order and I am sticking to it! Super Mario Odyssey is a joy to play in nearly every way. The bright and colorful environments are packed with fun stuff to do and interact with, nearly all of which will earn you some power moons. I never had a play session with Super Mario Odyssey where I felt that no progress had been made and I always spent the entire time smiling ear to ear. It has been a long while since we’ve gotten a Mario game as open as this one and this could arguably be the best one that follows that formula. The main game doesn’t overstay its welcome, allowing you to blast through each world and get a short introduction before moving on, but doesn’t discourage sticking around and playing in each kingdom for a little longer. There are some very fun surprises after the credits roll and the game is a great one to come back to every now and then for some relaxed fun. Super Mario Odyssey just barely came in as the 3rd best game of 2017.
Post-apocalyptic robot dinosaurs. These are probably the only four words that needed to be spoken in the pitch meeting that green-lit Horizon Zero Dawn. Pivoting away from their first-person shooter comfort zone, Guerrilla Games shocked everyone when they announced Horizon Zero Dawn. This open-world action game is, in my opinion, the finest work the studio has put out to date. The combat system is fun and diverse, with a multitude of options to approach any encounter. There’s plenty to do as you explore the world, with side-quests that feel more personal than the “go there and get that” fare of other games. The story is top-notch, with a vibrant world full of interesting characters and features an outstanding performance by Ashly Burch as Aloy. It’s also one of the best-looking games to come out this year from top to bottom. Horizon Zero Dawn more than earns its spot as the 4th best game of 2017.
The mark of a high quality difficult game is when it manages to be incredibly fun as well. Cuphead was quickly on most people’s radar due to the art style which oozes the charm of 1930s cartoons. Playing Cuphead, it’s almost incomprehensible how StudioMDHR was able to so accurately and fluid created the look of this game. Many people have floated the phrase “it’s like playing a cartoon” about games before, but it has never been more true than with Cuphead. The characters are fun and stylish and it has one of the best and most fitting soundtracks of the year. On top of everything else, the game is fun as hell! Each boss takes trial and error, patience and feels amazing every time you beat them. Cuphead certainly deserves the spot as the 5th best game of 2017.
Not often enough does a story in a video game leave you as speechless as Nier: Automata left me when I played it this past year. Starting off as a fairly common “how human are robots” type of tale, it escalates with each ending. Eventually, the places it goes will leave you a quivering pile of personified existential dread that few narrative media forms have been able to match up to this point. Nier: Automata also sports some of the best characters of the year and manages to make good on their arcs more often than not. In a play of classiness, not often seen in huge games like this one, it will even let you buy any of the game’s trophies after you complete the game so you can enjoy it without worrying about completing every last thing. Many of the mechanics in the game can be used in surprisingly creative ways and there are a few side-quests that are just as good as the main story. Nier: Automata definitely deserves the spot as the 6th best game of 2017.
Naughty Dog always starts off developing DLC with the best of intentions. Building upon the themes and lore of their most recent game by exploring relationships either hinted at or nonexistent in the main game, the DLC grows in size and scope. Inevitably, every story-based DLC that Naughty Dog produces breaks off and becomes a bite-sized bit of brilliance. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy continues this tradition in great form by taking some of the best things from Uncharted 4 and expanding on them in some smart ways. The relationship built between Chloe and Nadine during the short adventure is a lot of fun to watch and the banter is brilliantly performed. The open design implemented in the middle section of the game improves on what was in the main game by giving you reasons to explore the beautiful environments. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy gives plenty of reasons to be an excellent 7th best game of 2017.
Taking the formula set forth by the original entry and improving on it in nearly every way, The Evil Within 2 is a stellar second entry in this horror-action series. Opening up the environments allows the player to discover the scares it has in store at their own pace. The Evil Within 2 also makes some smart improvements to the combat, making encounters feel more tense and requiring some smart planning to get through. The story is a lot more cohesive this time around and has a clear arc that runs through the game and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The Evil Within 2 evokes the better parts of Resident Evil 4 in many ways and deserves the spot as the 8th best game of 2017.
One of the best-looking games to come out in 2017, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an intense journey that tackle some tricky subjects. I am always a fan of what Ninja Theory puts out, but the amount of care they put into Hellblade is staggering. Ninja Theory brought in mental health professionals to ensure they were accurately and tactfully representing mental illness in their game and their work shines through in the final product. The audio design around the voices in Senua’s head is superb, you need to wear headphones playing this game, and the subtle visual touches they make to represent both mild and major hallucinations are done extremely well. As usual, they have incorporated live action footage in some very creative ways to further improve the overall visual design and the performance from the Ninja Theory designer who played Senua is top notch. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice would have been much higher on my list in a different year, but it still deserves this spot as the 9th best game of 2017.
Shifting perspectives from a cramped insane asylum to the wide open spaces of a rural cult, Outlast 2 did not disappoint in the scare department. Despite the environments being a lot more open, Outlast 2 leaves you feeling even more vulnerable than the first game by often obscuring your view, as with the corn field, and forcing you to hide in water while holding your breath. The scenes where you are transported back to a traumatic event from your past added some interesting back story to the main character where there was little in the original game. In a year full of amazing games, it says a lot about Outlast 2 that I consider it to be number 10 on my list of the best games from 2017.