Why I Couldn’t Make A Game Of The Year List This Year (It’s Really Just Zelda)

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The simple truth is, I finished way too few games that came out in 2017.

As of writing this I just finished Resident Evil 7 and never even touched YakuzaNierGravity RushNiohCuphead, and probably a lot else I can’t think of right now. I played a few hours of Persona 5 and Horizon: Zero Dawn, and might get started on Evil Within 2 right after I finish typing.

I did play through some good games in 2017. Overall I think this year was another good one to follow up 2015 and 2016. Games — particularly big-budget games and console games, are in the middle of a stride right now after what I saw as a sort of slump between 2012 and 2014. Very notable has been the comeback of Japanese third party console games — the ones I just said I hadn’t played, after people had been wondering where they’d gone since around 2005. That many of these games are only for PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 and PC, has also brought upon nostalgia for the era when people bought the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 for all their Japanese exclusives.

Nintendo’s first party output for the Switch in 2017 was a whirlwind. Putting such strong first party support into the Wii U which few people even bought allowed it to pump the Switch’s first year with ports from the Wii U which to most people were effectively new games. Really though, despite how great the games I played this year were (which I’ll get to further down), nothing came close to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for me.

I didn’t want to bother with ranking everything I played this year because when I thought about my favorite games of 2017, I asked myself “What 2017 game would I play right now, ignoring everything else like my backlog?” Zelda is pretty much the only answer I have.

Breath of the Wild is the impossible game I never thought Nintendo capable of making. It’s one of the most comprehensive collections of visual and interactive tropes I’ve wanted to see video games feature. It’s the only game this year that I’m weighing on my “favorite games of all time” list, or at least “favorite games of recent years.”

It combines almost everything I like that’s typical of Japanese console games with almost everything I like that’s typical of western PC games. Breath of the Wild is the first game I’ve encountered that presents the idyllic Studio Ghibli-esque world and atmosphere that seemingly every Japanese RPG tries to replicate, and then lets me explore and manipulate it in a way that reminds me of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Ultima Underworld. The biggest check in Zelda’s favor is that it’s the one 2017 game wherein simply engaging in the world and gameplay systems in and of themselves keeps me engaged the most, even without any expectation of progress. Simply riding from the Bridge of Hylia to Hateno Village initiates the kind of adventure that doesn’t feel quite the same anywhere else.

I’ll admit Zelda has the same problems with content pacing that annoy me in other open-world games like SkyrimFallout 4, and Assassin’s Creed. Finding dungeon after dungeon and treasure chest after treasure chest littered everywhere like candy sprinkles over a theme park wears thin after 100 hours. The difference with Zelda is in how it communicates that content to players. It doesn’t point out every secret or present players with a massive checklist, but rather makes those secrets easy enough for players to discover on their own as they simply explore the game.

Super Mario Odyssey was pretty great too. The only thing I can really say about it is it feels like a modernized Banjo Kazooie game. It’s supposed to be the true sequel to Super Mario 64 but to be honest Kazooie was already that game’s spiritual sequel, and Odyssey simply feels like the long overdue next step of that grab bag, collect-a-thon gameplay. The hat system brings about some smart new tools for players. After the main story and one extra world though I feel like I’m done with it, or at least I want to go back to Zelda more.

I do have to say my top publisher of 2017 is Bethesda. Its three major releases were all among my favorites this year (plus the Switch port of my 2016 game of the year — DOOM). Dishonored: Death of the Outsider was pretty much just more Dishonored 2, which was already an excellent open-ended stealth game (and made me want to reinstall Dishonored 2). Getting rid of the chaos system of the previous Dishonored games and starring a character who is probably a better fit for the scenario, let me finally cut loose with the tools Death of the Outsider gives you. Prey is essentially the gameplay BioShock should have had. Its fully explorable space station and RPG elements felt like a properly streamlined version of System Shock 2, or perhaps the direction in which BioShock should have evolved. Maybe the settings in the BioShock games were still more eye-catching to more people, but but the extent to which you can explore Prey’s space station and the extent to which its interlocking systems work create a level of verisimilitude few video games achieve to this day. 2017 was an amazing year for first person shooters if you look back, and my favorite one was Wolfenstein II, both for its action and its story. While not quite like the 2016 DOOM, the guns in Wolfenstein II were uniquely fun and the levels felt like the best of an era of shooters before Call of Duty. The characters were as likable as ever and I really enjoyed the crazy things the story was willing to take players through.

Adding to the FPS party was Resident Evil 7, which managed to elicit the feel of the gameplay and atmosphere of the older games in that series while feeling entirely new and modern. It feels like Resident Evil (and Capcom perhaps) is back, and it’s the game I always wanted it to be. I should mention Uncharted: The Lost Legacy too. Maybe your enjoyment of it is dependent on how much you liked Uncharted 4. I thought Uncharted 4 had finally brought the series to the balance between shooting action and puzzle-solving adventure I’d always wanted to see. Lost Legacy turned that into the modern Tomb Raider game I’d always wanted to play.

2018 doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down the stride console gaming is currently on just judging from the first quarter. I still can’t really believe Dragon Ball FighterZ comes out in less than a month.

BULLETS:

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