Holy hell, y’all. 2017. What a year. A miserable, rancid stinker of a year for pretty much everything but video games, which were astoundingly great! When it came time to make my list, I knew right off the bat five games that would be on this list. Figuring out the other five and placing everything was difficult because of just how incredible and diverse this year’s killer line-up of games was, but after two pots of coffee, I finally got there.

Here are the 10 best games I played in 2017 and why I loved them so much.

10. What Remains Of Edith Finch

The phrase ‘walking sim’ has become something of a dirty word in the industry, with many folks feeling that any game falling under that umbrella is essentially indistinguishable from its genre siblings. What Remains Of Edith Finch blows that notion out of the water, rising to the top of the genre with its heart-wrenching, brilliant anthology structure.

I loved learning about the (cursed?) Finch family and their ordeals over the generations. It’s a feat that developer Giant Sparrow managed to somehow pack so much powerful storytelling into a game that’s just over two hours long. The cannery sequence in particular will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Daring, experimental, and crafted with melancholy love, What Remains Of Edith Finch is one of the best stories in modern gaming.

9. Horizon Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games made a bold play, refusing to rest on their space-shooty Killzone laurels and instead took a chance, crafting an open-world game that had us hunting robotic dinosaurs on a journey of self-discovery. The gambit paid off. In an era filled to the brim with crowded open-world games, Horizon Zero Dawn felt fresh, with a beautiful, unique setting, a great protagonist, a well-constructed and compact story, and entertaining side quests. Oh, and it looks pretty dang great to boot.

I think my favorite quality of HZD was how I truly felt like I was earning my path to power, upgrading my bows and other prehistoric equipment, to take on literal killing machines.  Every time I took down a new monster, I felt like I was taking lessons as a hunter, becoming deadlier, an apex predator on the rise.

8. Super Mario Odyssey

Ok. Don’t burn me at the stake for this but I do not like Mario. I don’t like platformers. I never have. I’ve always been an action-adventure-shooty boy kind of gamer, even from a young age, and platformers have always been boring for me. Whatever love my colleagues and gamers the world over have for the tension that comes from jumping from one floating piece of real estate to the other, has evaded me all my life.

That said, I f—king love Super Mario Odyssey. It’s fun, colorful, and absolutely bonkers (hello vomiting bird boss fight because why not, I guess?). Despite having finished Super Mario Odyssey’s main game, I imagine Mario’s latest will continue to be my perfect travel game in 2018 as I jump from kingdom to kingdom to collect moons and earn currency to buy wacky costumes for everyone's favorite plumber.

If you could bottle up delight, you’d have something very similar to Super Mario Odyssey there in your hands.

7. Persona 5

I’m still working my way through Persona 5 but that’s been my Persona experience until now anyway. I typically treat every entry in the series like I do a massive novel, picking it up and playing for 15-20 hours and then putting it down for a few months and coming back to it for another dive.

Why do I do this?

I dunno, man. Time and games and hobbies and stuff, I guess. A weird process, sure, but it doesn’t hurt my enjoyment of these games at all. I’m really loving the style of Persona 5 and the battles/fusions are as fun as ever. It’s also too early to tell where I’ll slot P5’s story in the pantheon of Persona games but I’m loving the focus on righting injustices with thievery and heists.

Easily the winner of my 2017 Game I Can’t Wait To Finish In 2018 award.

6. XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen

Yes, it’s an expansion pack, but it’s also probably the strongest expansion I’ve played since Opposing Force, my favorite expansion pack ever.

I loved building an army of soldiers to take back the world, bonding with them, and then seeing them fall one by one. XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen is a cruel game that appeals to the parts of me that are sadistic and love storytelling.

Also, all my soldiers were molded from real-life friends and colleagues, which felt like a great way for repaying them for knowing me! Maybe if you check back in the near future you’ll find a piece on how each of them died in the most horrific ways imaginable led us to victory!

5. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

Ah, chicken dinner, how you still elude me. One day.

Anyway, I love PUBG. I’ve written a lot of words about why I do, so I’m going to cop-out here a little and link to my love letter for the game for essentially being an emergent storytelling generator:

Jumping out and parachuting, I landed near a cottage and found an AK47 inside with a single clip of ammo. I crawled through a field, trying to make sense of the map and menu items that were strewn about my screen. In the distance I saw a house. I sprinted across the field and opened the door, carefully tiptoeing my way inside the house. Suddenly, a shriek from a stairwell:

I'm not armed! We can work together! We can trade!

I turned and – alarmed by the screaming – shot the man on the staircase through his eyeball. Blood splattered on the wall behind his head, creating some gloopy rose pattern, as the body slumped on the stairs. On the top right of the screen the ticker, keeping count of everyone in the game, dropped down from 94 to 92. For a minute I stared at his corpse, horrified by the immediacy and intimacy of the violence I had just executed. And then I went over to the corpse and took his boots and his kevlar and the shotgun shells in his pocket and went back outside.

Seven minutes later, I was dead and in 32nd place. I never even got to use the shotgun shells. Such is the cruel whims of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Still, I was immediately hooked and jumped back into the game, ready to compete, which is rare for me. I don't like competition that much. Usually there are too many rules or the game is too sluggishly paced. However, PUBG's few systems, particularly the ever-shrinking lethal dome that forces players toward the middle of the map, are so well-designed that it appeals even to me. I think that, at its best, PUBG is the purest distillation of the battle royale, and that's why I find it so compelling.

4. Yakuza 0

I was one of the many people who got their first taste of Sega’s long-running crime drama series this year and, like most of those people, I fell head over heels for both Kiryu and Majima, noble dudes out to right the ills of the worlds one street fight at a time.

I’ve written at length about why I love Kiryu and Majima’s noble brand of masculinity, which would be enough for me to like the game, but 0’s ambitious, lengthy story and its inventive, entertaining sidequests and minigames make it a damn masterpiece that is beloved for its earnestness and zaniness. I put in over 60 hours into 0 and still didn't come close to finishing everything. I'm sorely tempted to make a return trip this year to finish up everything because of how great all the activities are.

I’ve already eagerly devoured the fantastic remake Yakuza Kiwami and can’t wait to see where Kiryu and Majima’s story goes next.

3. Nier: Automata

In the years to come when I think of Nier: Automata, I will think of heartbreak and frustration, of dying over and over to its fierce boss battles, about the hopelessness of its setting.

I’ll also think of the absolute beauty of its parting shot and how it succinctly sums up this masterpiece:

“A future is not given to you. It is something you must make for yourself.”


2. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein is one of the few series for me that goes beyond “something I enjoy.” Wolfenstein is important to me. I know every inch of The New Order as well as I know my own home, every foe placement, every scene trigger, every smudge of grime on its many floors. It's a beautiful, violent game about looking at all the despair in the world and telling it to go f—k itself.

You also shot, stabbed, and strangled a bunch of Nazis which, y’know, is all good too.

As someone who wrote countless words about MachineGames’ take on the series, my reaction to the announcement of The New Colossus was a powerball combination of anxiety and excitement. On one hand, uh, more Wolfenstein! With better graphics! In America! Hell yes. On the other, I thought the ending of The New Order was perfect. As in, one of the best endings in a game ever. It’s so final. The New Colossus could have royally screwed that up.

But it didn’t. In fact, The New Colossus surpassed every single one of my expectations. This sequel delivered the goods in action gameplay, in heartfelt storytelling featuring a diverse cast of fascinating characters, and managed to turn the original first-person shooter king, formerly a caricature, into one of gaming’s best and most sympathetic heroes.

The New Colossus is probably the best first-person shooter I’ve ever played. Maybe Half-Life beats it? I don’t know yet. Some more time has to pass. What do I know is that I finished the game and felt that rare sensation that only happens once in a blue moon: despite having ludicrous expectations, I was totally satisfied. I couldn’t have been happier with the 12-hour journey I had just taken. Whatever complaints I had were so small that they didn’t matter.

This is a game that yells unrepentantly into the face of fascism, that responds to systemic violence with outright violence, that refuses to surrender to oppression. Wolfenstein II is a hell-raising, bloody masterpiece. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Blazkowicz and crew as they take the fight to the streets, molotovs and rip-roaring machineguns in hand, ready to burn down everything and usher in a bold new world.

1. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

What’s there to say about Breath Of The Wild that hasn’t been said, by writers better than myself? It’s a stunning action-adventure game that makes not just Zelda fresh and exciting again, but open-world games in general. Both danger and reward lurks around every corner, in every case, as you train to take on the evil Ganon and save a world that’s fallen to pieces.

I came to Breath Of The Wild as someone who had long fallen out of love with The Legend of Zelda and found myself scouring every inch of its beautiful and quiet world, marveling at its little idiosyncrasies and delights. I spent hours camping in the frozen wilds, cooking hot peppers to keep my body warm, scaled entire mountains with the help of some stamina-replenishing foods, fought beasts small and colossal with everything from branches to legendary swords of old. I walked along side a small child lost in a terrifying but beautiful world and watched him become the warrior he was meant to be.

On paper, all of this might sound stale. Nothing new here. But execution is everything and Breath Of The Wild makes all of these old concepts consistently exciting, from topsy-turvy temples to making swords and axes functionally more like bullets that you have to use tactically in battle due to their breakability. Everything in this game feels so careful and calculated, so concise, and yet also flexible, allowing you pursue objectives in whatever way you want, or letting you kick it out in the great wilderness.

Also, the fact that (if you played it on Switch) you could take this game anywhere? On a plane, boat, cars, trains, parks, and just…play it? That’s wild. Just madness.

By the time I put down Breath Of The Wild for good (at least, until I get to the Champions DLC) I had put in over 140 hours. I hardly dedicate that many hours to a series much less single games. And in all of that time, I think what I adored most about it was its message of hope, of persistence against unspeakable odds and despair, of never, ever giving up.

It is for that reason that The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild isn’t just the best game I played this year. It’s also the game I needed to play most this year.