Welcome to Waypoint's Pantheon of Games, a celebration of our favorite games, a re-imagining of the year's best characters, and an exploration of the 2017's most significant trends.
Two things were true about 2017: it was terrible and incredible. Our country continues to be lead by a dangerously childish wannabe autocrat more interested in being liked than accomplishing anything, even for the people who voted him into office, but it’s been part of a remarkable year for games. I’ve never used games as escapism, but there were moments in 2017 where everything felt like too much. I needed to breathe.
There’s a reason I stopped checking social media on weekends, except to share photos of my daughter with friends and family. I had to walk away from the parade of bad news. Five days a week was enough, you know? Raising my kid, being with loved ones, and quietly enjoying the equally good games became my escape.
(Side note: Can you believe a Mass Effect game came out this year and I didn’t play it? Any other year, I’d be happy to play a below average Mass Effect because it’s Mass Effect. I’ve been trying to find time for Andromeda all year and it’s never happened because there was always something qualitatively better demanding my attention.)
My list isn’t merely a collection of video games I enjoyed, it’s a thank you. 2017 would have been a poorer year without them in my life. Only having 10 games is, of course, arbitrary. It would have been easy to make a list of 20 games I enjoyed. So, apologies to games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Gravity Rush 2. And Stories Untold. And Prey. And Golf Story. And The Evil Within 2. And Night in the Woods. And Observer. I loved you, too.
Part of the reason I enjoy making a list is because it forces me to be cold, calculated and discerning—cutting to the heart of the matter. Here’s my gamed of the year for 2017.
10. Doki Doki Literature Club & Dream Daddy
Yes, I’m cheating, but I’ll do what I want. I don’t spend much time with visual novels, but every once and awhile—Danganronpa, 999—one grabs me. Both, unsurprisingly, played with subversion of expectations, and this year, two such games knocked the wind out of me for different reasons. Doki Doki Literature Club is best experienced without knowing what happens, and merely calling it a “horror game” sells ambitions short. Doki Doki Literature Club uses tropes to disarm the player, before revealing surprisingly empathetic depth to its cast of cookie-cutter high school crushes. It’s a one-trick pony—once you know what’s going on, the story doesn’t carry the same weight—but the first playthrough, as the layers unravel, is worth the price of admission.
Dream Daddy, on the other hand, stole (and broke) my heart. For many, part of the appeal of visual novels, especially romance-centric ones, is playing through them over and over to see the different paths and outcomes. But I never got over being rejected by Mat, the very cool and handsome owner of the coffee shop down the street from my Dream Daddy house. We are still friends, I guess, but that’s not what I was looking for—Mat and I were supposed to be more than that. It’s a testament to Dream Daddy’s writing and plotting that I consider that playthrough, rejection or not, canon. It’s done. It’s over. The only reason I’ve ever wanted to play again is to experience more of the writing, which managed to be deeply funny without making the characters at the heart of Dream Daddy—gay men—the butt of cruel jokes. Everyone in Dream Daddy felt human, and that’s why I’m still so mad at Mat’s decision.
9. SteamWorld Dig 2
I’m retroactively upset at myself for not playing the original SteamWorld Dig, but in a sense, it worked out; my adoration for SteamWorld Dig 2 became an unexpected delight in a year full of surprises. SteamWorld Dig 2 takes a simple concept—digging—and runs with it, slowly handing out new tools for players to better explore the world around them. It scratched my Metroid itch so thoroughly I skipped the seemingly excellent Metroid remake Nintendo themselves released this year on 3DS. Its presence on Switch meant I was able to take SteamWorld Dig 2 with me all over the house, slowly picking through the dirt as my daughter built blocks, watched TV, and took naps. Wherever I went, SteamWorld Dig 2 came with.
It gave me a chance to do something I rarely do these days, especially after becoming a parent: I finished the game 100%. Everything SteamWorld Dig 2 had to offer, I found. Every hidden item, no matter how useless, I tracked down. My desire for completion wasn’t driven by arbitrary trophies, but the genuine sense of satisfaction the game itself provided during the discovery itself. My only complaint is the game ended, and the next game isn’t here yet.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo should not have been able to pull this off, and nothing about the company’s previous history with Zelda suggested they were poised to turn a series regularly criticized for playing it too safe into a game developers will be studying, picking apart, and copying for the next decade. Breath of the Wild is revelatory in ambition and simplicity. If you asked someone to describe what it was like to play the original Legend of Zelda in 1986, it would sound an awful lot like someone doing the same for Breath of the Wild in 2017.
Nintendo walked an unbelievable tightrope in recognizing the franchise’s core values and dropping them into a new (and very modern) context, creating an experience both nostalgic and fresh. Even as someone who’s not head over heels for systems-driven games—I respect games like Far Cry 2, for example, far more than I enjoy playing them—Breath of the Wild found a balance between randomness, creativity, and structure that worked. It’s a foundation they can easily build on for another 10 years, and suddenly, I’m excited for the future of Zelda.
7. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
If you’d told me one of the most radical and politically relevant franchises in 2017 would be a quasi-reboot of id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D, I’d have—well, look, I’d have been pretty surprised, OK??? The New Colossus’ poignancy is certainly helped by Real, Actual Nazis feeling more comfortable being public about their views, but absent that really upsetting context, we’d still be left with a shooter that, for once, actually engages with Nazi ideology, instead of using their obvious badness to construct easy bad guys to mow down. (Of course, it also does that.) Outside of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, I haven’t written more about a game this year than The New Colossus. I still find myself thinking about certain scenes, and how, in the hands of any other developer, it’s something we’re making fun of, not celebrating as a year-end highlight.
6. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
It’s not often a game is made or broken by acting, but Melia Juergens—in her first performance, no less—sells the vulnerable heroism of Senua, as she journeys to save the soul of her lover. I was invested in her pilgrimage because Juergens made it impossible to look away. Importantly, Ninja Theory managed to meaningfully translate Senua’s harrowing experience to the player's fingertips when it revealed she was being slowly poisoned after each death. If the player died enough times, not only would Senua fail, but your game save would be deleted. The firestorm over this decision—and whether Ninja Theory was being coy—did little to distract from my own playthrough, whose palpable tension was directly informed by wondering if one wrong step would ruin everything.
5. Super Mario Odyssey
When Super Mario Odyssey was announced, I was immediately convinced it would be my game of the year. A new game from the creators of Super Mario Galaxy? Super Mario 3D Land? Super Mario 3D World? That’s is a murderers’ row of games, and Odyssey dropping this far only underscores how well 2017 has treated us.
While writing about Odyssey, I called it a “fever dream of creativity and pure joy,” and can think of no better way to describe my time with such a strange, experimental Mario game. In some ways, it felt like the Mario team injecting their series with a little Zelda; players were constantly rewarded for exploring every corner of the game’s carefully crafted (and surprisingly tiny!) worlds. I’ll spend the better part of next year tracking down the rest of Odyssey’s collectibles, and I can’t wait to get started.
4. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Just…what? When rumors were floating around about Nintendo and Ubisoft partnering on a strategy game featuring the goddamn rabbids, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. (Also, have we collectively forgotten Michel Ancel was responsible for bringing rabbids into the world?) There were countless times where I said “this shouldn’t work” in 2017—I’ve already said it in this list!—but c’mon. And yet and yet and yet! Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle’s cartoonish aesthetic is hysterically deceptive, hiding the enormous depth driving this turn-based thriller. Kingdom Battle doesn’t try to make the rabbids suddenly likable. Instead, it forces you to confront them. You happily put up with the goofy characters because the designers were smart enough to make sure they have enough strategic importance that you couldn’t avoid them. This is a game where Mario shoots a gun, and it’s one of the best of 2017. Sure! Yes. OK.
3. Resident Evil 7
A creepy house. Danger around every corner. Long stretches of quiet, followed by deafening violence. Looming dread. These emotions defined 1996’s Resident Evil, a lightning in a bottle sensation Capcom’s largely failed to capture in the increasingly bombastic and action-focused sequels. (Granted, I liked a few of those sequels, two and four especially.)
With Resident Evil 7, in changing the perspective from third to first-person and running as far as possible from a convoluted mythology that’s dominated the series, we’re left with one of the most memorable horror experiences since, I don’t know, Amnesia: The Dark Descent? It’s also the best argument for virtual reality yet, and the only meaningful time I’ve spent locked inside one of those helmets this year. Resident Evil 7 is a fine game outside of VR, but removed from the comforts of the outside world, the reminders that Everything Is Fine, and Resident Evil 7 becomes transcendent. Despite my efforts to play quickly, I often had to take breaks because certain moments were too much. Though the game crumbles in the final hours, falling prey to the series' worst tendencies, who cares? Resident Evil 7 was—is—brilliant.
2. Nier: Automata
There are two visual novels at the top of this list, and an anime ass video game near the bottom. In a story about robots fighting one another, Nier: Automata had more to say about the human condition than anything else I played, watched, or read in 2017. There’s no game I fought harder to convince other people to play, jealous they’d get to experience it for the first time. People needed to know.
It was transfixing to watch Automata’s plot slowly unfold, layer by layer, as it reveled in knowing every assumption I was making about the game—and the very nature of the story it was telling—was wrong. It didn’t happen in a series of shocking, M. Night Shyamalan-style reveals, but by selectively sharing the perspectives of different characters and the motives behind their actions. The reason you “beat” Automata multiple times was because the game needed to you become familiar with the plot beats so it could tear apart your assumptions, and make you question every action leading up to that moment. The final final ending of Automata, which I unlocked after roughly 40 hours of play, was so simple, powerful, and moving that I couldn’t do anything but set the controller down in silence.
We are lucky to have voices like Yoko Taro making games, and it’s my hope Square Enix will let this weirdo do whatever he wants in the future. Give him all the money.
1. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
There are four people left: me, Austin Walker, and two others. Two. Others. They could be together? They could be on their own? There’s no way to know. But the circle gods had blessed us on that day; the tiny house we’d sprinted towards happened to be shielded from the gunfire outside and the ever-shrinking blue wall of death. A few feet away, we noticed two people shuffling towards our Murder House. This was the moment.
Austin pointed his gun at one door. Mine was trained on the other. The door opens, and we opened fire. This was the moment it usually went wrong, where our hard work and patience and luck resulted in yet another “so close, yet so far” moment. Not this time. My gun set to auto, I sprayed forward at the first sight of anything moving, each bullet moving my reticle higher and higher, as I struggled to maintain control of the kickback. In moments, I’d need to reload, but it proved for naught: winner winner chicken dinner. Dozen of hours of failure later, we were finally victorious. It felt good.
There was never a question, and it wasn’t close. I’m writing this on the same day PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds leaves early access, but the game’s in-development status was never a problem for me. At the end of the day, it’s about the experience, not a version number, and stories I can tell you about my time in PUBG—the good, the bad, the frustrating, the thrilling—are sacred memories I’ll be sharing years from now.