If you’d asked myself or Ground Punch Editor Extraordinaire Kelson Howerton what our favorite game of the year was back in August, we would’ve answered “PUBG” without hesitation. But something came along in the middle of September that turned our worlds upside down and consumed more of our time than either of us ever expected: Larian’s CRPG masterpiece Divinity: Original Sin II.
In what may be my favorite year of game releases in over a decade, Divinity stands high among the rest. It’s not even a contest. It’s easily the best RPG I’ve ever played, and the overwhelming response from fans, friends, and critics who’ve played it is nearly identical to my own. It’s got it all: massive scope, excellent writing, meaningful player choice, surprisingly good multiplayer, and gameplay systems that are both deep and very fun to use. Borrowing directly from the Arkane Studios school of game design, DOSII’s world and systems are there for you to discover (and interact with each other in all kinds of fascinating ways), and every problem has multiple solutions for you to discover. It’s surprisingly approachable, too; don’t let its old school design and isometric camera scare you away: DOSII can be picked up easily by anyone, and unlike its enjoyable-but-flawed predecessor, the story sinks its hooks into you almost immediately. With fantastic mod support and a powerful GM mode that allows for full-on D&D sessions in the game engine, I expect to be returning to Divinity for many years to come.
Now, if they could just hurry up and bring the damn thing to console…
While lifelike graphics, deep customization, and online connectivity have become the main pillars of AAA games in the current landscape, Super Mario Odyssey reminds us of one of the most important aspects of gaming: fun. With dazzling stylized visuals and a simple, tight control scheme, Odyssey brought me back to that childlike sense of wonder, bewilderment, and the desire to explore. This game rewards thoroughly searching for collectibles and more casual play styles simultaneously. Each world is created in a distinct art style, yet all share the warmth and care that a first-party Nintendo game has at its core. I enjoyed the boss battles, loved the different capture experiences and opportunities, and sat with my jaw dropped during the final sequence of the campaign. Along with other set piece moments such as the New Donk City festival, Odyssey truly warmed my heart and reminded me why I love video games so much. There is so much to do in this game but never a sense of being lost or misdirected. And the post-campaign gameplay is practically a second game all its own. Super Mario Odyssey is a must-own, and one of my favorite Mario games of all time.
I first booted up Breath of the Wild at 1am after picking up my Switch from a local midnight launch and racing home. As the hero of time— the hero of my childhood— was stirred from his hundred year slumber, so too was a long dormant feeling I thought I had lost. As Link climbed out of his cave and emerged onto a cliff overlooking the sprawl of Hyrule, my heart jumped into my throat and excitement coursed through my veins; the wild was calling and I was ready. Breath of the Wild is a near perfect collision of pragmatism and magic; mechanics are finely tuned gears, constantly turning against one another to provide players with endless experimentation and reward while the art, soundtrack and tone all converge to warm the heart of any longtime Zelda fan. Hyrule lives and breathes, and wildlife and nature having taken back a civilisation lost to war and time as a beautifully understated melancholy hangs in the air. The staples of a good open world game are here too of course, as well as a healthy dose of the kind of innovation and genre subversions Nintendo are known for (I never want another open world where I can’t climb everything).
I finally stopped playing at around 7am, went to bed long enough to dream about Hyrule, only to awaken again two hours later and play through till that evening. That first day with the game reawakened the child in me, and despite some terrific other titles coming out of 2017 nothing else could be as magical or inspiring to me as Breath of the Wild.
As far as games that have taken over my life go, PUBG is one of a kind. I have over 250 hours played and I still have no desire to stop. Every match is a different experience. Going the stealth route is so intense because you know that there could be someone hiding behind any tree, just waiting for you to walk into their sights, while louder, more combat-intensive matches are thrilling because you are just trying to survive the gunfight. PUBG is an amazing experience. Yes, it has minor polish issues here and there, but in the grand scheme of things, those minor glitches never even came close to making me not want to play. This game ate a whole lot of my gaming time in 2017, and I ain’t even upset about it.
Persona 5 is my Game of the Year almost solely based on how unique it is. Sure, it shares a lot of features with other JRPGs and it’s systems aren’t necessarily revolutionary, but there’s no feeling quite like playing a Persona game. Persona 5’s gameplay loops are simply perfect. The minute you get tired of dungeon crawling, you can spend time with your companions instead. The minute that gets boring, a major story beat comes around. It also perfects everything that made the previous Persona games so good. I felt compelled and challenged to use all of my different party members, the dungeon design is incredible and leaps and bounds better than any game in the series prior, and the Persona fusion and collecting system is deeper and more exciting than ever. It’s one of those games that I found myself constantly thinking about even when I wasn’t playing it. Everything is designed to keep you engaged in the world, and it’s so easy and wonderful to get lost in it. The story is engaging, the soundtrack is delightful, and nothing else quite matched it for me this year.
I’ve been telling people about my Game of the Year for months now, and every time I get the same reaction: “Guardians? A dinky Telltale game?” Which, to be fair, might have been your reaction too. But I stand by this opinion, and I will continue to sing GotG’s praises for years to come. If you read the reviews I posted earlier this year, you’ll know that I had an absolutely mind-blowing experience with the game. I believe it’s the closest to perfection Telltale has ever achieved, combining everything that makes their various episodic series so special, and improving these aspects in almost every way. Combat was fluid and suspenseful in every installment, I never grew tired of the quick-time events (which is something I never imagined myself saying), and in nearly every episode there was an entertaining exploration sequence that left me feeling satisfied. However, at the core of these exceptional gameplay features, there was a truly gripping, emotional tale that captivated my senses and took my breath away. Guardians explored the concept of love and loss, as well as the true meaning of friendship, family, and the impact a common enemy can have on a group of outcasts. While it may have had a bout of glitches, and one particularly unlikable character, Guardians of the Galaxy is without a doubt the best Telltale series I have ever played, and there is no question that it is my Game of the Year.
Once again, we return to Tokyo in the year 2042. While I know I’ve played a fair amount of games in 2017, it certainly doesn’t feel like I have — primarily because I incessantly returned to (or thought about) SMAC Games’ Tokyo 42. The narrative is pretty throwaway, but its gameplay loop and subversion of cyberpunk themes are alluring in just about every way. The beautiful pastel color palette is a pop of fresh color for the cyberpunk genre. Actually playing Tokyo 42 is really nothing too special — to reduce it to its most basic, it’s an isometric twin-stick brawler/shooter — but it’s the combination of its mission structure and fluid controls that leave me entranced. If I’m being honest, though, I’m most attracted to the game’s aesthetic because Tokyo 42 is damn beautiful. Screensaver beautiful, if you will. Yeah, if you didn’t already know, I love this game. You’re probably already playing it. What, you’re not? You should totally play it.
Pyre is about playing 3v3 basketball in a whimsical fantasy world— a world where you possess incredible power simply because you can read. While at first glance, Pyre seems like an obtuse combination of sports and politics, Supergiant Games has crafted both a meticulous and whimsical new experience that defies all odds and expectations. From Darren Korb’s magnificent soundtrack, to the stunning art design, to the risk and reward of getting to know the plethora of wonderful characters, Pyre is a game in a league all on its own.