2017 gave us a large volume of games, but also games in new genres. The new “battle royale” genre put 100 players on one map to shoot each other. It also popularized single-life multiplayer after decades of round based and infinite respawn modes. As PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite capitalize on the genre’s popularity, companies scramble to mimic them.
While other companies chase them, Nintendo sets their own trends. The Nintendo Switch, the console and handheld hybrid, ballooned in sales. The console sold over 4.8 million units since its launch in March.
Since then, the Switch brought Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – one of which made my list. Although these games received unanimous praise among fans and critics, both left me underwhelmed. Continue reading to see which game made my list.
Most Disappointing Game: Halo Wars 2
Even after two betas, Halo Wars 2 launched busted. Frequent disconnects and game crashes overshadowed the pathetic unit balance. Even if you managed to stay in a match for its entirety, any Anders faction player decided the match outcome. An incorrect damage value for the Protector Sentinels meant they obliterated any unit type. It took weeks for Creative Assembly to address the Sentinel problem.
For the entire launch month, I also waited as Creative Assembly tried to patch their rushed, broken and unfinished product. When I played a 3-on-3 match and disconnected at the 50-minute mark, I stopped playing until the game reached a functional state.
After some patches, Creative Assembly corrected Sentinel damage, added ranked modes and fixed match stability. For the first time since launch, the wait for Halo Wars 2 felt worthwhile. With a steady DLC plan and constant communication from the team at Creative Assembly, I felt optimistic about game’s future.
But then the DLC rollout started.
Every month or so, Halo Wars 2 introduced a new leader (faction) with unique units. The new leader also meant a new balance patch for existing units and leaders. The DLC ruined Halo Wars 2. Every new leader brought a slew of unintended problems. And for whatever reason, damage values or unit abilities changed. Things like the Scorpion Tank’s canister shell stopped exploding for no explicable reason. Their effectiveness plummeted for weeks.
When Halo Wars 2 introduced the Colony faction, the hero was unstoppable. If garrisoned in a tower, the unit could survive waves and waves of barrages from two entire armies. I captured the problem below.
The new bugs and rushed patches don’t even consider the lateral upgrade of the franchise. While Halo Wars 2 offers more unit variety than Halo Wars 1, units lack upgrades. Many units don’t follow upgrade tiers. Banshees in Halo Wars 1 could add boosters, bombs and shields. In Halo Wars 2, some units don’t even have one upgrade. The lack of unit upgrades renders the Elite Rangers and Grunt Squads almost useless.
As a huge fan of Halo Wars, Creative Assembly’s unfinished and broken sequel maybe killed the entire franchise. My friends and I waited years for an improvement over the simplistic, yet entertaining console RTS. The game we wanted does exist within Halo Wars 2, but the priority to release DLC ruined game balance and stability every single time.
The 5 Best Games from 2017
Game of the Year: Horizon Zero Dawn
From the initial reveal all the way until launch, I doubted Horizon Zero Dawn. Guerrilla Games’ decade of bland sci-fi shooters, Killzone, proved nothing. Instead, Horizon exceeded my expectations and blended both linear and open-world ideas. Guerrilla’s exceptional environments and detailed story created one of the best open-world sci-fi games ever made.
Unlike The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon aims for a smaller, more dense world. The focus allows each location to feel different in function and appearance. The robotic animals behave in accordance to their terrain, which dictates both yours and their actions. Near water sources expect to see Snapmaw – a crocodile-like robot lurking around. In the desert, you know to expect Fire Bellowbacks – a dinosaur-like fire spitter. Almost every part of the map affects gameplay instead of filling space. The world, both natural vegetation and city remains, told stories and invited questions.
Horizon’s thematic clash of robot dinosaurs and tribal people develops into a cohesive link. Aloy, Horizon’s main character, acts as the gateway between both old and new worlds. Her curiosity, although driven by familial reasons, helps answer the questions you want explained. Her discovery and your discovery of the robot dinosaurs carry the game in both story and gameplay. The combination of weapons and gadgets for robot takedowns reflects the detail present throughout the entire game.
Each part of Horizon depends on the entire game to fill its world and intrigue the player. The union of each section prevents a lopsided experience. Horizon excels in combat, story and exploration while so few games can’t even achieve one. While the rest of 2017’s games may underwhelm in one area, Horizon achieves brilliance throughout.
2. Nier: Automata
Without the PlatinumGames name, Nier: Automata looked like a sequel to the strange RPG, Nier, from 2010. Instead of a combat RPG focused on quests and a flexible skill system, director Yoko Taro’s storytelling lingers. Nier weaves a complex story. It explores humanity and friendship through multiple routes and endings.
The multiple endings and purposeful design to make you replay the game takes a huge risk. The repetition can force players to quit, cutting off the other, unexpected half of the game. But to understand the two main characters – androids 2B and 9S – you need to see the story from their perspective. Your understanding of them grows.
You won’t mind revisiting the world as you learn more about why the second playthrough exists. 9S, the second character, lets you reach new places or complete new quests through his unique hacking ability. It changes the combat enough to carry you through to the second end, where the actual story unravels and the truth emerges. Nier’s continuous breakdown of your expectations into stranger areas keep pushing you forward. The unexpectedness continued well past the in-game content.
For the first time in a long time, a Platinum game sold over 2 million copies. Nier helped Platinum reach a new audience through the collaboration with Yoko Taro. He helped “save” Platinum, who struggled after poor Bayonetta sales and the Scalebound cancelation. For fans, Nier: Automata established a new franchise and lets Platinum continue making their weird, combat focused games.
3. Persona 5
Out of all the games on my list, I criticize Persona 5 the most. Its improvements over Persona 4 made huge changes to the feel of the game, but it worsened in other areas. Instead of the floors and floors of hallways called “dungeons” in Persona 4, Persona 5 brings you to actual places. The dungeons use themes like castles, casinos and pyramids. Each dungeon gates progress with unique puzzles and maze-like layouts. The actual locations for exploration improved the combat more than any other change to the franchise.
Outside of the dungeons, the side quests and social activities varied the ways to interact with the fictional world. The freedom to spend time with certain characters builds on top of the already layered superhero story. But as I mentioned, Persona 5 worsened in some areas, which frustrates me because of the potential.
The story and dialogue translation, although never confusing, often rambles on through awkward sentence structures. Characters stumble to convey a thought best summed up in a few words. After extended conversations one night, the characters will again recap the entire conversation the following day. It’s the dialogue repetition and inconsistency that makes some characters sound like uncomfortable stage actors.
Despite its translation and writing issues, Persona 5 puts together a RPG and social-sim unlike anything available on the market. Its closest competitors, an unfortunate reality, are other Persona games.
4. Injustice 2
Injustice 2 doesn’t solve my indifference towards fighting games, but it showed me the thrill of a superhero story. I avoid most DC and Marvel movies because they rely too much on action or effects to carry an otherwise flimsy story. Movies like The Dark Knight explored more than just the idea of “look at how badass this superhero is.” Injustice 2’s story mode is the superhero movie I want. It shows the superheroes struggling with both personal and external conflicts, all while looking cool doing so.
The story mode’s branching paths and superb acting sets a new standard for video games. The character choices before a fight give the player some participation in the story. It might seem trivial, but picking Superman to fight Dr. Fate means Batman questions your decision. The magical disadvantage makes for an interesting discussion point.
You want conversation, especially with NetherRealms’ facial capture technology. Each superhero, no matter how mutant or alien or human, convey more through their expressions than their words. The agonizing worry on Supergirl’s face about Superman’s actions showed me the missed potential of DC movies. NetherRealms is making the best superhero adaption, and not enough people acknowledge it.
Even outside of the story mode, Injustice 2 gives players of all types something to explore. The Mulitverse – a single player mode with set challenges and progression – means you never need to touch multiplayer. You can fight through stages of pre-set enemies under conditions like falling meteorites or decreased health. Completion of these stages reward equipment for your fighters, who can boost stats for stronger moves or better resistances.
For the casual fighting fan with sloppy combos and rushed inputs, Injustice 2 still offers so much to enjoy. NetherRealms redefined my expectations for fighting games and what they can achieve through single player content.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
No Zelda game comes close to matching the size and scope of Breath of the Wild. The verticality and detail of the world rewards exploration in the most remote corners. Whether you find a Korok seed, treasure chest or hidden shrine, Breath of the Wild rewards your actions. The open-world feels necessary to the game’s purpose of freedom, instead of just putting space between objectives.
Breath of the Wild understands the importance of character interaction with its open-world. Your toolset allows logical approaches to obstacles instead of mechanical solutions. If you want to destroy the barrels underfoot a Bokoblin camp, roll a bomb down the hillside and wait for the explosion. With so many ways to approach a situation, your solution matters most.
Breath of the Wild tops many game of the year lists, but it sits at number five for me. Personal preference best describes my issues with an open-world Zelda. I enjoy complex puzzle temples instead of simpler shrines and dungeons scattered throughout the world. I also prefer a directed, level driven game instead of one allowing infinite freedom. While I don’t think Breath of the Wild reinvents open-world design, it understands the point in giving the player unrestricted choice.
Honourable Mention: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
PUBG misses my top five for a lot reasons. Even after the early access phase on Steam, PUBG needs work. Poor optimization means PUBG still crashes, lags and glitches enough to where I don’t like recommending the game to anyone who asks. You need to stomach many problems to see the brilliance in PUBG.
When it works, few games match PUBG’s thrill and anxiousness found in every match. Each match places 100 players in a giant map to fight and loot their way to victory. With a single life, each player moves towards the play zone and away from the lethal blue circle shrinking the map. The circle continues shrinking until one player or team remains alive.
Although a shooter on the surface, the unexpected fights create those unique, thrilling moments. You want to defeat your opponent for their loot, but you also don’t want to lose what you found. The risk-reward hangs over every encounter. I still play a lot of PUBG, yet the constant bugs and poor performance disqualify it from my best games of 2017.