It is the future. A young man, arms strong from competing with 100 other shoppers every day to be the only person to buy groceries at Target, eyes his grandmother expectantly. Her features betray exhaustion from years of delivering raw, unfiltered internet to those the three mega-providers deem unworthy, but there is fight in her still. “When did it all begin?” the young man asks. “2017,” she finally replies.
The future may or may not turn out exactly like that, but the video games? They are definitely good. Here are my favorite games of the year in my favorite order, No Particular Order.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t just one of my favorite games of 2017; it’s already one of my favorite games of all time. In a year when series like Zelda finally grew confident enough to say “yes” instead of “no,” Original Sin 2 jumped straight to “fuck it, break everything.”
Original Sin 2 is a playground for the imagination. Wanna beat a boss by turning him into a chicken and whaling on him until he dies? Go for it. Wanna beat the same boss by only walking one of your characters into the combat zone and setting up an ambush outside it with the rest of your party? Sure, that might work. Or you could just go with a classic: bludgeoning the boss to death with paintings of himself that you meticulously collected over the course of 20 hours. That’s just one encounter. Original Sin 2's world is one of innumerable actions, reactions, and chain reactions. It’s ludicrous how equally expansive and detailed it is.
The game’s setting is more Pratchett than Tolkien, using sunny humor to say surprisingly poignant things about a land of inequality, corruption, and fear. For every evil pope with divine daddy issues, there’s a rat who speaks in rat puns or a (still-living) head on a stick that can’t escape from your character’s incessant dad jokes. It’s all so joyously off-kilter, but it manages the tonal tightrope walk between outright zaniness and subtle emotional moments with aplomb. Also, you can talk to the animals! All of them!
Media consumption is a pretty raw deal, if you think about it: one second, you have all these cool fictional friends who are always there for you just when you need them, and the next, they’ve selfishly abandoned you by dying or ceasing to exist or never existing in the first place. I mean, come on, they could at least write a letter or something.
What I’m trying to say is, after I finished Pyre, I missed nearly every one of the game’s characters like they were real people that I wasn’t gonna get to hang out with anymore. It’s been months since then, and that feeling hasn’t really subsided. Pyre gave me ownership over my relationship with these characters by making everybody’s personal story vary based on when I sent them out of the treacherous wilds of the Downside and back to the systemically rotten Commonwealth to help foster a revolution. I could only make that decision through my success (or failure) at the game’s fantastical take on NBA Jam. As a result, my playthrough of Pyre was mine and mine alone, despite the story and characters’ arcs being pre-written, to an extent.
The narrative and mechanical sides of the game came to blows in fascinating ways. For example, I decided to send Rukey, the mustachioed dog, up to the Commonwealth to rejoin his family as well as newfound friends I’d previously sent up, but he was also my star player, a furry lightning bolt on the field. Losing him ended up being a huge setback, one that directly impacted my ability to send up more characters in the future. The way Pyre intertwines all these character stories and player priorities is nothing short of masterful. Every choice is agonizing. Oh, and the overworld is a giant road trip complete with souvenir collecting. As a giant sentimental baby, I’m a sucker for that stuff, and it only heightened my attachment to Pyre’s characters.
All of which is to say, I hope that Gae and Ti’zo are doing well in the Downside. I hope that Hedwyn and Jodariel are still BFFs. And of course, I hope that Barker Ashpaws is still Barker Ashpaws. I’m glad that everybody I sent up wrote letters.
In Breath of the Wild, I have a dog. He doesn’t really belong to me, because the game doesn’t actually let you own dogs, but he’s basically my dog. I visit him outside a stable most in-game days and feed him meat I found on birds I killed (or that’s just rolling down hills, like that one time, which was weird). I can’t pet my dog, because Breath of the Wild is the worst game of all time, but I can spin in a circle, and my dog will also spin in a circle, because Breath of the Wild is the greatest game of all time.
I plan to finish Breath of the Wild sometime in 2019. This is not a joke.
R.I.P. Lightning (2017-2017).
I love hotels. I love how temporary they are, how they feel like perfect (or perfectly disgusting) pocket universes hermetically sealed off from the outside world’s suffocating smog of complications. I love how they can be eerily silent, but if you listen close enough, you can hear somebody else’s entire tiny, temporary existence happening as you stroll down a hallway. I love how everybody there is kinda out-of-sorts, kinda off-guard, because this place isn’t their place; it’s everybody’s place. I love how, late at night, every single hotel on earth feels at least a little bit haunted.
Norwood Suite takes all of that and crams it into the briefest of stays. It’s a short first-person adventure set in an otherworldly hotel that once housed a legendary musician who was kind of an asshole and now houses basement parties fronted by a DJ who’s kind of an asshole. It’s about a place and a time in a place that seemingly exists outside time. It’s about people and the idols we make of them. It’s about drawers full of weird shit and WiFi routers that sprout eyeballs when you turn them on. Ultimately, though, whether characters lionize the past or the present, the game wants you to know that it’s all temporary. Enjoy your stay.
Returning home for the holidays is kinda weird these days. I’m nearly the age my parents were when they had me, but I’m nowhere near settling down. I’m not a kid by any means, but I don’t feel entirely like an adult, either. It’s tough to say where I’m headed in the long run because we live in wildly uncertain times. Night in the Woods is a game that captures those feelings so authentically that playing it while visiting home almost felt redundant. I’m glad I did, though. It’s a game about those things but also many more, a story of friendship, failure, and growth set against a backdrop of middle American economic hardship. It’s the second most 2017 game of 2017.
I walked down the sidewalk. It was a beautiful day, a picture-perfect slice of good ol’ days Americana. The sky was a shade of blue so vibrant it was nearly blinding. I overheard two women excitedly discussing party plans outside a charming little cafe. One casually mentioned how pleased she was with the new slave her family had purchased. Off in the distance, a parade marched down a blocked off street. Confetti rained like ash.
Yes, this game is from 2016. But in a time when games receive constant updates, I don’t think the distinction matters that much anymore. I played Overwatch just as much, if not more than I played any other game in 2017. Yeah, balancing has been a bit of rollercoaster, toxicity is a big issue, and some new heroes like Doomfist have struggled to find their footing (fisting? ew no), but the game remains a blast in spite of ups and downs. Also, Moira owns.
I feel like I played Everything, a game in which you can take control of anything, a million years ago. Fittingly, it’s almost like I was inhabiting a different body at the time. I’d hit rock bottom. I’d let what I now understand to be severe anxiety and depression get the best of me, and I decided to lock myself in my apartment for a month instead of seeking help. In hindsight, Everything marked a turning point. After wandering through the game as everything from a galaxy to a literal pile of crap, I accidentally plunged into hell. I’m still not sure what happened, but I’m glad it did. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
The broken souls in Everything’s rendition of hell had trapped themselves in prisons of their own designs. They convinced themselves they’d solved their problems, or that they didn’t have problems at all, and then they paid for it. A handful even specifically mentioned isolating themselves from their friends when they should’ve reached out. And when those things didn’t work out for them, they turned the resulting negative energy outward. They transformed it into animosity.
When I decided to lock myself in my apartment and barely talk to anyone, I wasn’t doing a much-needed Difficult Thing like I thought. In reality, I was taking the easy way out, avoiding confronting the things that were getting me down and giving in to the same pervasive defeatism that stopped me from being able to feel wonderment earlier in Everything, and so many other times over the past couple years. I disconnected. That road, replied the game, almost as if addressing me directly, doesn’t lead anywhere good. Cynicism is simple and attractive. The real challenge is climbing out of that hole and learning to feel like you’re part of something again.
I’m not gonna say Everything solved my problems on its own, because it didn’t, nor am I gonna say that depression and anxiety don’t sometimes dunk my brain in a toilet for so long that I become convinced that life is a giant swirly, because they do. But in addition to getting a better handle on my mental health situation, I’ve spent the year seeking more meaningful connections with more people, and it’s worked out pretty well. I’m better at expressing vulnerability around those I’m close to, and I’m significantly better at being a friend to others, which is something I never realized I wanted so badly. 2017 was the hardest year of my life, and I’m sure 2018 will be harder still, but at least I’m in good company this time around.
“PUBG was the most 2017 game of 2017,” continues the grandmother, speaking to her grandson. “Maybe the most 2017 thing of 2017, period. In a review on Kotaku dot com, which was just a website back then and not yet a sentient news AI kept in check by The Children Of The Fahey, Heather Alexandra summed it up well:”
It is an anxious event where conflict can explode at any moment, a terrifying spectacle where unstoppable and indifferent factors conspire to push us ever closer to destruction. We enter this world with the hope of conquering it, and we find some sense of control and stability among the confusion. To play Battlegroundsis to be party to a few unfortunate forms of fetishization, chief among them the fetishization of military hardware—it’s a strange thing when your leisure activity leads to a casual discussion about the merits of different bullet calibers. None of this is a point against Battlegrounds, but it’s telling that 2017’s most impactful game is a playable version of the fascist bloodsport from a 1999 Japanese horror novel.
As he walks home, the young man ponders what his grandmother told him. He sees 100 delivery drivers competing to drop off one person’s food. He sees 100 people arguing over who gets to keep the spoils of a fallen Amazon drone. He sees 100 people pushing and shoving inside a hardware store, trying to collect components so they can build one PC on which to play PUBG. He is slightly troubled by all of this, but also... he really wants to play PUBG. There will be time to think later.
Doom of the year: Doom.
Game I hope never actually becomes a game and instead exists as a series of bonkers trailers until the end of time: Death Stranding.
Book series that is not a video game but is so good that I’m gonna give it a video game award: The Broken Earth trilogy.
Best footstep sounds: Any time Link’s in a shrine in Breath of the Wild.
Best new enemy: Mario Odyssey’s stretch dogs.
The “you told me the toilet was gonna work, but then the toilet didn’t work” award: Wolfenstein 2.
The “you kinda lied about the whole ‘permadeath’ thing, but I’m not even mad about it” award: Hellblade.
Best game about saying goodbye, mostly because there aren’t enough games about saying goodbye, but there really should be: Leaving Lyndow.
Best game with the worst name: The Sexy Brutale.
Game I’ll keep on my hard drive until I die (or the next one comes out): Fire Pro Wrestling World.
Boy, games sure do continue to have a whole lot of: dads.
Best dads: Dream Daddy (also all of them).
Best Star Wars of 2017: The Last Jedi.
Second best Star Wars of 2017: Thor Ragnarok.
Best album: “The Spark” by Enter Shikari.
Will Overwatch probably also be on my 2018 list? Yeah.