Chosen by: Blade Shaw
Released: February 8, 2017
Developer: Team Ninja
Platforms: PlayStation 4
2017, what a year for the video game industry! There have been so many A+ releases that it surely has to be one of the best years of all time. The one game that totally caught me by surprise, though, is Nioh, which is also my pick for GOTY.
Team Ninja’s action RPG focused on my favourite period in ancient history, during the Sengoku Era in Japan. Combining fiction with Japanese history and folklore, Nioh is both a pleasure to play and a frustrating reminder of my sheer ineptitude as a player and lack of quality skills.
While Nioh draws a lot of comparisons to From Software’s trademark Dark Souls series, I still stand by my review’s earlier assertion that Nioh established itself as a completely different game with a unique tone and play style. The game even managed to extend and enhance its lifecycle with three connected DLC episodes, focussing on Sengoku figures such as Sanada Yukimura and Date Masamune, who are among my personal favourites.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing Nioh yet and you’re looking for an immersive 100+ hour experience, I highly recommend picking up the full game. From the lows of frustrating repetition to the highs of overwhelming achievement, Nioh will have you locked in from the get-go. DON’T SLEEP ON IT!
Chosen by: Connor Weightman
Released: February 15, 2017
Developer: Adriaan de Jongh
Platforms: PC, Mobile
It’s been a stressful year, hasn’t it? While it blessed us with so many quality games, I’ve found myself most grateful for those that enabled me to switch off, slow down, and virtually tune out everything else (whether or not this is healthy or “actually dealing with the problems at hand” is a different matter entirely). To that end, Hidden Folks was a balm to my frayed nerves for a few happy weeks. I put in ten minutes here and there – usually after coming home from work or before going to bed – until there was none of it left.
Think Where’s Wally, except everything in the picture moves. You’ll have a list of people to find, each with a quick, cutesy anecdote which also acts as a hint as to where you might find them. It’s all inky line drawings and individualised but distant cartoony splodges. As you mouse over everything, you’re hit with a cacophony of spoken sound effects. You just keep looking and clicking away until you’ve found all the hidden folk there are to find, then move on to the next level. Occasionally, you’ll solve a small environmental puzzle to reveal the hidden folk (singular) you’re looking for. It’s incredibly simple and endearingly goofy.
This year there have been bolder games, bigger games, far more meaningful games, cleverer games, games of greater increments of basically every adjective you can imagine. Hidden Folks hits a sweet spot somewhere else on that imaginary, multi-pronged sliding axis – its mindlessness, easiness, pleasantness, its non-committal but enjoyable world building and mild gags – all that and more make it perfect for winding down. I just wish there was more!
Chosen by: Bernadette Russell
Released: February 28, 2017
Developer: Guerilla Games
Horizon: Zero Dawn is beautiful, intimidating in its size, challenging, well written, rewarding, excellently controlled, and, most importantly, it’s fun to play.
When the size of a game increases, I frequently find my enjoyment level goes the other way. Too often, these experiences digress into hours of grinding to obtain whatever might be necessary to finish the main story, while the exploration tends to grow stale and repetitive. With Horizon, however, every new venture felt worth it, offering actual challenges, and adding to the game as a whole, whether by unlocking more for Aloy personally or by changing the dynamics of the enemies you encounter.
There were some other games which came close to taking my top pick this year, but the moment I realised I had been counting down the days until I could get my hands on the DLC, I knew this was my pick and not just because Aloy is a kickass female lead. The Frozen Wilds adds a new adventure and more than 15 hours of story, which compared to many titles on the market, is practically a whole new game, just set in the same epic world. I can easily see myself replaying Horizon and trying some new choices and paths if only to spend more time as Aloy. At no point was I disappointed in her character. She is intelligent, brutal, brave and gives the narrative a vivid life. I hope there is future DLC or a follow-up game, as I will happily sink another 100 hours into the world of Horizon.
Chosen by: Kit Fox
Released: March 3, 2017
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Wii U
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has claimed a spot on almost everyone’s top games list, been praised and celebrated as a masterstroke of game design, and has consumed many hours of my life. Just recently, it even took out the coveted Game of the Year title at The Game Awards. Simply put, there’s very little I could say here that hasn’t been said elsewhere, so I’m just gonna gush about why this game is great, okay? Cool. Here we go!
This game is enthralling. From sweeping grassy plains to snow-capped peaks, rain-soaked jungles to barren dunes, every part of the land of Hyrule feels alive in a unique way. The musical score is phenomenal, with subtle callbacks and entirely new compositions dynamically playing during fights or quietly puncturing the lonely silence of the wild as you wander the land. Old favourites such as the Zora, the Gorons, the Rito, they’re all back better than ever, standing out amidst the regular humanity (or Hylianity?) of the world. Outside civilisation, the many monsters and beasts that roam the land are some of the most entertaining the series has ever presented.
There are over a hundred Shrines to complete, hundreds of weapons and clothing items to locate and upgrade, as well as dozens of side-quests to complete and riddles to solve. On top of all that, there’s the story, which if you’re skilled, you can finish in under an hour, or if you’re like me, complete 100% on both Normal and Master Mode, easily logging hundreds of hours!
There is always something to do in Hyrule, and the recently released DLC adds even more. Earning every bit of praise it received, Breath of the Wild truly puts the legend in The Legend of Zelda.
Chosen by: Patrick Waring
Released: March 10, 2017
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
NieR: Automata occupied quite a bit of my time at the beginning of this year and continued to occupy my thoughts well after I’d finished playing it. Narratively, it’s at once completely insane and kind of brilliant, being one of the best stories I’ve ever encountered about the nature of humanity without actually using humans in the telling. With an utterly fantastic premise, it’s all too easy to become emotionally invested in Automata’s world, with some moments decidedly testing your resolve as a person. The choices you make will affect the gameplay, of course, but these moments genuinely excel in the impact they have on the player. There were more than a few moments where I had to stop playing due to the weight of and sheer awe I felt at whatever had just happened. That is the mark of a truly great story.
It’s a strange and bizarre world, but everything makes sense within context, as long as you’re willing to give yourself over to the fantasy that Automata presents. Moreover, Automata carried this feeling into every aspect of itself, leaving no part of the game to act as simple “filler.” Everything from the HUD to the in-game menus to item descriptions serves a purpose to the story, however small, and helps sell the world as feeling real. This is supported in no small part by Automata’s art direction. On a technical level, it’s not nearly as good as its contemporaries, but that doesn’t matter when everything looks amazing. With a style as if Pixar and Kubrick teamed up to produce a biblical fanfic, partnered with a soundtrack that is equally inspired, Automata has become my benchmark game for style and flare.
NieR: Automata is simultaneously a perfect example of something being greater than the sum of its parts, and for video games being considered an art form. Not to mention, it was all accomplished with androids killing robots on an abandoned, post-apocalyptic Earth. Suck on that, art critics.
Chosen by: Harry Kalogirou
Released: April 4, 2017
Platforms: PlayStation 4
It’s well-known that Persona had a massive surge in popularity after the launch of Persona 4 Golden on the PS Vita. It’s a series I wasn’t overly familiar with before April of this year, however, regardless of my experiences with the games that preceded them. After playing Persona 5, however, I now understand why many hold this franchise close to them. It’s an absolutely stellar game, one that I loved every single minute of, and one that you need to try if you haven’t already.
The fact that I completed this game within a week of its launch says something, especially when it’s about 90 hours to finish the main story alone. Persona had me hooked for all of April, it was all I thought about, and any excitement I had for other upcoming titles paled as it enthralled me in its world, plot, and characters, with a few twists along the way that left me completely shocked.
It gets off to a slow start, but it’s not long before it really starts to deepen in terms of its systems and mechanics. It’s a fresh, stylish take on the idea of a turn-based combat system, and one that’s pulled off in such an exciting way that it never gets boring. As uninteresting as it may sound, developing relationships and bonds with supporting characters is also immensely rewarding, and these two parts of the game come together wonderfully. It’s all topped off with one of the best musical scores to be found in a game this year. The jazz-influenced soundtrack doesn’t have a single dull moment.
For me, Persona 5 stands as the Magnum Opus of its genre. It’s an incredible RPG experience, and one that’s unrivalled this year when it comes to its narrative and characters. It’s not perfect, no game is, but it’s undoubtedly the best one I’ve played this year, and arguably, the best one I’ve played in recent memory.
Chosen by: Lliam Ahearn
Released: August 8, 2017
Developer: Ninja Theory
Platforms: PS4, PC
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a hell of a game. I was stoked on it from its initial reveal and hyped for a new action game from Ninja Theory, one of the modern stalwarts of the genre, in my mind. I was excited about their next step after DmC, something that looked to be a kind of dark reflection of Heavenly Sword, modern and sharp. The closer we got to Senua’s Sacrifice, though, it became clear that NT had spun this in a very different direction. Hellblade wasn’t meant to be the culmination of its lineage or the next step on a well-paved path, but rather a flag in new, uncharted territory.
The way Hellblade allows us to experience psychosis has been discussed to death, earning an outpouring of praise that is super encouraging to see, but what impresses me most about the game is how it marries form and function without compromise. There’s no HUD in Hellblade. There’s no button prompts. No map, no objective markers, not even pop-ups to signal enemy attacks. Everything exists to us as the player as it does to Senua as the character, and it works so well thanks to the beautifully implemented binaural audio, emulating Senua’s perception of her surroundings as elaborately as possible outside of VR.
Hearing a voice encouraging me to ‘focus’ to learn how to use a new ability is, in every single way, better than a block of text saying “Now press this button.” This immersive method is elegant, contextualised, rewarding and engaging while still acting to develop a character and a sense of conflicting trust. Hearing “behind you!” with half a second to dodge before being struck is infinitely more powerful than seeing some lines show up above a dude’s head before he throws fists at Batman. Hellblade’s specific premise affords it the opportunity to circumvent some of the lame conventions of game design we have come to accept in some extremely captivating ways.
Chosen by: Callum McCole
Released: September 14, 2017
Developer: Larian Studios
2017 was a disappointing year for RTS, despite opening up with so much excitement and anticipation. Unfortunately, Dawn of War 3 and Halo Wars 2 were both…not good, so here I am, the RTS guy, writing my game of the year about a tactical RPG.
Thankfully, Divinity: Original Sin 2 (DOS2) is an absolute masterpiece that is near-overwhelming with its tactical depth, player choice and beauty. The combat system is unlike any other I have encountered, which creates challenging decisions to be made about who to focus on and with what abilities. You need to think on the fly in each encounter and not just default back to repeating the same strategy. The classless progression system allows for enormous variety in specialising characters and crafting your approach, as skill trees and talents can be mixed in small increments and not restricted by predetermined progression paths.
There are so many options in how to develop your characters and each play style has unique considerations and pros and cons to weigh up. DOS2 also handles economy elegantly. With you never having enough gold to buy all the things you want, you’re forced to look for opportunities to earn it and rely on game mechanics like pickpocketing and crafting. The campaign boasts a considerable completion time, and the fun combat combined with variety begs for multiple playthroughs, even more so because of the option for co-op. Simply put, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is gorgeous, and it does so many things right which all come together to form an incredible experience.
Chosen by: Nick Ballantyne
Released: September 28, 2017
Developer: Creative Assembly
This year hasn’t been too great for me. For Honor didn’t work, Ark reminded me what agony was, ELEX bored me as only mediocrity can, and Strafe wasn’t anything to begin with. Despite the flood of dull titles bobbing me along the river of boredom, Total War: Warhammer II was a blood diamond flowing from the Skink mine upstream. It felt like the game had only made steps in the right direction from its predecessor, and it’s stuck in my mind as one of the best games of the year. I mean, come on, it’s got Skaven and Lizardmen as core races. You don’t get better than that.
Rather than sticking with the humans and pretending they’re interesting, the game focuses on Lizardmen, Skaven and Elves. Nords and Orcs are also lingering around, but choosing to showcase the more diverse races in Warhammer is a refreshing change of pace from human-centric entries like Vermintide. Focusing on these races made a lot of sense in the campaign too, since prophecies and magical typhoons are more suited to the exotic beings in the universe. Other than that, it was business as usual for the game, but that wasn’t a bad thing by any means.
What the first game did, Warhammer II does even better. The campaign feels more purposeful and urgent, complete with mechanics that allow you to interfere with the enemy before they interfere with you. Each action feels like an active step towards your eventual domination of your enemies, and every race has unique mechanics to help achieve their goals. Even little things, like indicators for when your routing units have regrouped, makes it that much more enjoyable to engage with the game. Total War: Warhammer II might not have been enough to salvage a whole year’s worth of uninspiring games, but it was enough to satisfy the will of the Old Ones. I assume it did, at least, because if it didn’t, we’re in for a very interesting Christmas…
Chosen by: Danielle Campbell
Released: September 29, 2017
Developer: Studio MDHR
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Like many, the aesthetic of Cuphead is what initially drew my attention, harkening back to an old 1930s Disney art style that so many people know and love (which has never really been seen in games before), and combined with 2D run-and-gameplay that looked as unique as it did familiar. Needless to say, I was very excited going in.
I have to admit I got a bit nervous when I learned the game would primarily focus on boss encounters, but having now played the game for myself, I really like how it turned out and even found I preferred these fights to the run-and-gun stages. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed those parts of the game as a sort of reprieve, and they were still a lot of fun, but the boss fights are truly the star of the show here. Much like Dark Souls, to which comparison has been commonplace due to the game’s difficulty, they can be immensely satisfying to overcome.
Cuphead is just a one-of-a-kind type of game. With its tight controls, amazing visuals and upbeat soundtrack, it’s an absolute joy to play if you stick with it. There is no comparison to the epic climax you’ll reach when you deliver the final blow to a boss that has taken you twenty tries to beat and “KNOCKOUT” is finally sprawled across your screen as beads of sweat fall down your face. It’s a feeling only this game can provide and why it’s my favourite game of 2017.
Chosen by: William Kirk
Released: October 27, 2017
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
For the last two decades, I’ve listened to countless people shower Super Mario 64 with praise. I’ve seen it top endless “Best Games of All Time” lists, and I’ve frequently heard it romanticised by Nintendo Fans to the point of nausea. If you put two people in a room who grew up with an N64, you can almost certainly bet they’re going to gush about it (or Zelda). Perhaps you think I’m just bitter because I missed out? Well, you’d be right. I didn’t grow up with Nintendo consoles, so this is a game I simply missed the boat on. I did try to play it on virtual console a few years back, but the camera is so annoying (I’m sorry, it is), I just couldn’t get into it.
If we fast-forward to the present day, however, you’ll notice I’m singing a very different tune when it comes to the Mario franchise. Not about Super Mario 64 – the controls still suck (again, sorry!) – but Super Mario Odyssey, a game touted as a true spiritual successor to Super Mario 64. And holy hell, what a game it is. I’m typically most interested in those games which innovate and push narrative boundaries, but there are rare occasions where a game is so highly polished and impeccably designed that I’ve got to push everything else to one side and give it a metaphorical slow clap. Super Mario Odyssey has become to me what I imagined Super Mario 64 was for so many others.
I don’t need to tell you why Super Mario Odyssey is amazing. Just watch any trailer for the game, and it will speak for itself. That’s both a testament to and the power of the Mario franchise. Almost anyone can look at a Mario game and get what it’s about. In fact, it’s so approachable that even my toddler daughter, who had yet to comprehend what a game was exactly, sat down with me while I was playing and almost immediately picked up on what was going on because of how fundamentally well designed it is. That’s not to say Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t have a lot of depth to offer, but you know you’re onto a winner when a baby and a full-grown man can be equally enthralled in something.
Chosen by: Brendan Meharry
Released: October 27, 2017
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Poor old Assassin’s Creed. The series has received a bit of a bad rap these last few years, and rightly so. Ubisoft got a bit too hasty with their release cycle and started churning them out quicker than new McHappy Meal toys, ultimately culminating with the glitchy and boring mess that was Unity. Thankfully, Ubisoft must have seen the errors of their ways and switched to a release cycle of every other year instead, which has done absolute wonders for the series.
I may be in the minority, but I thought Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate was a masterpiece and a well-executed reinvigoration of the series. It had interesting characters, a refreshing setting, a brand-new combat system and better climbing, and it was the reason I was looking forward to Origins. And disappoint, Origins did not. There’s not much more I can add that I didn’t already say in my review, but not only did the new and improved combat and climbing systems transfer across (and appear even more refined), ancient Egypt is an astounding choice of setting. Additionally, the storyline is refreshing and stays true to its title of Origins. By following the founding of the Brotherhood while also telling its own story along the way (mixed in with some great characters), it is a much-appreciated change of pace after more than a dozen releases in the series.
I’ve stayed with the series since it began and I’ve played every console release. It kinda sucked for a while, and I painfully stuck with it – but if Ubisoft keeps doing what they did for Origins and Syndicate, I’m hopeful that we’ll have more outstanding Assassin’s games ahead of us yet.
Chosen by: Alex Chalmers
Released: October 27, 2017
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
This year has been a busy one indeed. From the outset, there has been an assault of happiness in the form of fantastic and staggeringly good games from venerated franchises like The Legend of Zelda or Resident Evil. I’ve not played nearly enough of these high profile releases as I’d have liked to, but I have had the opportunity to review breakout outliers like Hellblade. And as affecting as Senua’s visions quest was for me, my attention for GOTY is squarely fixed on Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.
In a bold move, it took barely twenty minutes to start penetrating the ugly core of the fascist ideology that has become so topical over the last twelve months or so. Seriously, though, the story’s script goes right for the jugular from moment one and does not let up. And, further to that, it makes the other massive shooter franchises themed around shooting Nazis look like the work of amateurs.
Call of Duty WWII’s effort to tell a story which shines a light on the uglier side of humanity at war is child’s play compared to this genius. MachineGames’ trio of Wolfenstein titles is the reason why games like CoD continue to fall flat. These guys aren’t just good. They’re the head of the damned pack when it comes to making single-player shooters with gripping narratives.
Chosen by: Brendan Holben
Developer: Bluehole Studio Inc.
Released: December 19, 2017
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Look, I’m as surprised as anyone about this. I was not expecting an early access game with a not-particularly original premise and only one map to be one of the most entertaining multiplayer games of the year. In the last six months, it outstripped DOTA 2 for most concurrent users on Steam and singularly took over the game zeitgeist.
We all know the gist of PUBG by now. 100 players will parachute onto a deserted island empty-handed, find weapons, and then proceed to have a good old-fashioned fight to the death for a tasty chicken dinner. Shortly after landing, a ring appears on the map marking the safe zone, and after a certain point, anyone outside of it begins to take damage. The ring will shrink again and again until a victor emerges, with small red zones appearing at random that bomb the area for a short while to keep players on their toes. The drop plane flies in random directions over the map giving players a short time to choose their landing zone. Some might prefer an isolated hut for playing it safe while others will pick dense villages for a quick and dirty fight. You can even hide for the entire match and still come out on top (my favourite strategy), but the adventurous types who snagged some high-powered weaponry early on will have a decided advantage.
I’m not about to gloss over the game’s terrible optimisation, hacker problems and average net code. It’s all there, but, despite its issues, the game’s core is a rock-solid, visceral experience. Hunting solo is nerve-wracking, with particular skills needed to survive the final 10, and team play is an absolute blast with friends. PUBG is a game all about moments. The sort of moments made famous in games like the Battlefield series. It’s not often such player agency matches up with gameplay freedom so well.
Chosen by: Daniel Kizana
Released: August 30, 2016 – Present
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Last year, WoW was dying. After the introduction of (albeit, well voiced) playable pandas, and the time travelling, retcon extravaganza that was Warlords of Draenor, confidence in Blizzard’s stewardship of its flagship series was at an all-time low. Further to this, when its latest expansion, Legion, launched in 2016 to a resounding ‘meh’ from players and the industry alike, things were not looking good for this now withered bastion of fantasy gaming.
Cue 2017, however, which saw Blizzard turn the content faucet to full blast and flood us with well-designed, lore-heavy adventure that gave everyone a chance to get involved in the action, regardless of their preferred content or play style. Not much of a raider? Not in a guild with 29 other people? That’s fine. 2017 brought changes and a renewed focus to Mythic+ difficulty dungeons, ensuring that small, coordinated teams could acquire top-tier, raid-quality equipment without having to commit to a gruelling raid schedule or subject themselves to brutal, testosterone-fuelled hatred at the hands of the hardcore raiding teams.
On the other hand, maybe you don’t like dungeoneering at all, or just prefer to journey alone. Well, they gotchu fam. The expansion of the World Quest system has made it so that your traversing of the Broken Isles doesn’t come to an end as soon as you’re 110, and will, in fact, provide you with a source of dynamic, objective-based content offering relevant rewards. The world of Legion is now, more than ever, alive and raging with battles.
On the lore side of things, after years of fighting auxiliary villains, 2017’s new content, namely our visits to Antorus and the Tomb of Sargeras, have brought a fitting resolution to the grand, over-arching conflict established in Warcraft 1 and escalated in Warcraft 3. Now, with the Burning Legion brought to a halt, and series big-bad Sargeras… indisposed, for the first time in a long time, WoW’s future once again looks bright!