What my fondness for Gravity Rush 2 suggests is something I should’ve always known anyway: What I love is a certain style of semi-coherent game world. I can respect the level design in Mario games, but what I really want from 3D platformers is to move through places that feel like they have history, worlds that feel lived in. Gravity Rush 2 starts and ends with middling marks, but the bulk of the game lets me do just that.
9. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
You’ve received your goal (make a dish with red and green gems for one judge, one with blue and green for the other). You’ve hunted for your prey—remember, Austin, the key ingredient this time is Dragon! And you’ve used all the tools in your kitchen to work towards it—shout out to my vegetarian cookbook and my slow cooker, y’all the real MVPs.Then you set the table for the judges, and the numbers start adding up. Did you blend the flavors equally? Did you remember to use enough of the special ingredient? How did your opponent do? Every match becomes a nail biter, and some—like a multi-part challenge that caps off one of the game’s best chapters—will stick with me for years to come.
7. Netrunner: Terminal DirectiveAn asymmetrical card game about cyberpunk hackers trying to stop megacorporations from advancing their terrible agendas, Android: Netrunner is like a home I can’t go back to. The core design is one of the most engrossing puzzles I’ve ever played, a blend of risk management, the extrapolation of hidden information, and careful economic planning. But I just can’t keep up with the game’s business model, which releases new fixed monthly card packs with major updates coming every season. I just can’t live that life anymore.So, while the Terminal Directive expansion didn’t bring me back to my dystopian world, it did let me visit. It even offered a special twist: a persistent story.
6. No Man’s Sky: Atlas Rises
Here is part of what I wrote when the much-maligned No Man’s Sky appeared on my list last year:
In light of the numerous updates that No Man’s Sky added this year—and in light of the year we’ve had—this is even truer today than it was then. But Atlas Rises has lifted No Man’s Sky beyond tool of self-care (as welcome as such a tool is.)Last year’s Foundation update added bases and a simple progression arc, and the first major update this year (Path Finder) honed that, adding new ships and ground vehicles and giving players more to do with their bases. But Atlas Rises goes further than that, adding a branching, narrative campaign, a simple faction reputation system, and procedurally generated missions.The result is something that feels so clearly like the missing piece of the No Man’s Sky puzzle. I don’t simply mean that It Needed More Content. I mean that it blends together what already made No Man’s Sky so precious to me—the feeling of exploration, the insignificance of the self against the scale of real distance—with a narrative throughline that leans on these same things. The galaxy is vast and you are small. And yet, you insist on your importance. Why is that? And what might the universe have to say about that arrogance?
If you told me I could take a break from writing this to play any game on my list right this second, it would be No Man's Sky. I can't deny that, nor can I deny that again and again this year, I snuck in an hour or two of play after 12 hour work days, a little stress reliever that was perfectly suited to my schedule.
3. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Real talk, I thought Nier: Automata was going to come in at like… 4, maybe 5 on my list. And then we recorded this past Monday’s podcast. Towards the end of the podcast, at about minute 51:30, I found myself making a case for the game’s emotional and philosophical core of the game: “[Everything] ends up being this second layer conversation that isn’t just ‘are robots people,’ it’s ‘what the fuck are people?’”I don’t think that’s a perfect argument for why Nier: Automata is great. But I do think that in 2017, a year perfectly suited to lingering on humanity’s cruelty, our separation from one another, and our struggle to define ourselves against that cruelty and separation.“So much of this game is about that feeling of being Alone,” I said. And I don’t just mean in the lowercase ‘a’ sense."
It’s a game that says, fundamentally, in the world, in the universe, none of us can connect. None of us can ever really reach out and touch another person. At all points that connection is mediated by language or by technology or by physical distance. Or by the words we refuse to say to one another because we are scared, or by the words we are compelled to say to one another because of loyalty or because of anger.
That all connection is impossible. And, also, it is all we can fucking do to connect to each other. It’s the only thing we can’t stop trying to do, is trying to find that deep human connection. Whether we are born as human or stumble into being it, that is the thing that makes us people: Trying to connect. And the biggest tragedies are when we fail to.
On that podcast I found myself breathless and near tears in recalling the game and what it meant to me. It couldn’t be number 1, not this year. But in 2017, it couldn’t be any lower than this.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild