GOTY 2017

2017 was a terrific year for videogames, and a horrible year for basically everything else. Still, games provided solace for me, and many others, and there is value in escapism, in comfort. My top ten list follows. It’s spoiler free.


Games I Played That Were Totally Alright But The Hype Made Me Hate Them

  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Nier: Automata


You can read my full thoughts on Zelda here. It did a lot of novel and fun things in a game that bogged me down with tedium that I didn’t appreciate.

Nier: Automata seems to be the dark horse darling this year and I. Can’t. Understand. It. I put 30 hours into it. I tried. I tried. But it’s not fun. I kept waiting for the story beats that are supposed to break my heart, but every twist only reinforced how much I HATE these characters, these sad robots in this world that looks like its from a PS2 game, the fan service garbage that I’m supposed to dismiss because it’s a Japanese game. It fails in dozens of ways. It’s fine. Like BOTW, it has a lot of novelty, but buries them in tedium.


The Game With Stunning Art Design and Style That Was So Brutally Difficult I Couldn’t Beat It That I’ll Probably Come Back Too When I Have More Patience



Cuphead is spectacular to look at. The animation, the sound, everything about it is fully realized, a homage to classic animation that truly captures the look and feel of it. It is fun to play. It is also incredibly frustrating, difficult to the point of absurdity at times. I will beat it, it just may take me a few more years of banging my head against it. It may have made the list, but I haven’t seen most of it.


My Top Ten


  1. Localhost

Localhost is a bite sized game on itch that surprised me when I played it. It’s SOMA meets Papers, Please, where you’re a low level employee tasked with cleaning up some old hard drives that just happen to have live AIs in them. They’re old, they’re useless, they’re garbage, and they need to be cleaned out. They are also alive, and definitely don’t want to be dead. They are also not reliable. Do you save them? Or do you do what you’re told?


  1. AC Origins

Assassin’s Creed needed a change. I’ve been detached from the series since 3, and even Black Flag’s fun ship combat couldn’t bring me back for long. It’s stagnant, and open world video game design had passed it by. Origins is exactly what the series needed. It brings in influence from a half dozen open world games, adding depth and flavor to an absolutely beautiful world. It is simply fun to explore Origins Egypt, and Bayek is a tremendous protagonist, full of charm and compassion.


  1. Tacoma

Tacoma is Fullbright’s long awaited follow up to Gone Home, a game that basically invented a genre, the often used as a pejorative “walking simulator”. Tacoma is not Gone Home, but is audacious and the logical iteration in the genre. Tacoma gives you run of a space station that has had…problems. And you need to figure out what happened. It gives you access to all perspectives, lets you dig into the environment, into all of these people’s lives. And it succeeds, both in execution and idea.


  1. Hollow Knight

There are so many Metroidvanias. So many of them, and it’s easy to miss any one of them. This feels like this year’s Ori and the Blind Forest. Neither break genre conventions, but they both take influence of Dark Souls, dialing up the difficulty while creating frankly beautiful and fully realized worlds to explore. Hollow Knight drops you into a dying land as a small bug-dude who needs to make things better. Confining themselves to a simple aesthetic, the creators wring a ton of variety out of a bevy of environments, and I felt myself having to continue, to dig deeper and deeper into the dirt.


  1. Prey

I love immersive sims, and Prey is the best one since Bioshock Infinite. Set in a space station beset by…something…you have to figure it out. You shoot the problems in this (unlike Tacoma). It shifts tones multiple times as your power level curves. The story is interesting and the depth of the station and world impressive. I will read emails from co-worker’s computers all day, and then shoot monsters.


  1. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Hellblade keeps echoing in my head. It’s a strange thing, a purposely small game made by a big studio, that tries to conquer the difficulty of mental illness with hard combat and hidden object puzzles. As strange as all that sounds, it largely succeeds, and has kept me thinking about it after I beat it. It’s a dark story, one that I wasn’t adequately prepared for when I sat down, but is unbelievably beautiful and heartbreaking. Senua is an amazing character, and Hellblade is a game you shouldn’t sleep on.


  1. Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil 7 left me flabbergasted, and is an impressive return to form in a series, much like Assassin’s Creed, that had stagnated, turning into a bad action game, losing all semblance of the horror game it once was. 7 changed all that. It is FULL of shocking moments that hit you with punch after punch to the gut. It lags a bit over the last couple hours, but the first few are the most gripping single player experience of the year.


  1. Horizon: Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn would be my number one game in any other year. It is the best open world game ever. Aloy is a great character in a beautiful world. The main gameplay loop was incredible, tracking and hunting robot dinosaurs deeply rewarding. The story and world are intricately crafted, and for one, I pushed for the end of the main storyline in an open world game, something that rarely works for me. It is a great game, a ten out of ten that only managed third on the list.


  1. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

It is the game that has consumed 2017 for me. I’ve played it for 200 hours, and watched people stream it for probably twice or three times that. The battle royale game was unpolished, janky, but challenged what I thought a video game could be. It’s tense, exciting, thrilling. The final circle is nerve-wracking and exciting in a way I’ve never felt in a game before. The first time I won felt like the biggest victory I’ve ever achieved in a game. Each type of gameplay feels different from each other, and the amount of stories from sessions I’ve played is numerous. It’s the best shooter I’ve played in years, the best competitive multiplayer experience I’ve ever had. It’s amazing.


  1. What Remains of Edith Finch

WROEF is heartbreaking, beautiful, funny, affecting, and intricate. As Edith, you visit your childhood home, and explore it, visiting the death of family members through vignettes. Each one is special, bespoke. And every single one shows someone dying. But it never wavers into maudlin territory, imbuing each vignette with charm, humor, and joy, even with each character doomed. The design is wonderful, and every playthrough leaves me with more than I had prior. It’s gorgeous, well written, stunning in its depth. It’s relatively short, but dense with material, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It is a game I will be revisiting for years, much like Edith.

Games That Almost Made The List

The Evil Within 2

Steamworld Dig 2

Dead Cells


Games That May Have Made The List If I Had Played Them In Time

Mario Odyssey

Night in the Woods

Wolfenstein II

Great Puzzles and Tedious Systems in Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best puzzle games ever created. It breaks the formula of past Zelda games, taking cues from A Link Between Worlds, and gives the player all the tools they need right at the beginning. The player has tremendous freedom, sometimes exhilarating freedom of solving problems the way they want. The open world is beautiful and full of secrets. Breath of the Wild is one of the best puzzle games ever created. Unfortunately that game is buried inside a slog of survival game elements that are tedious, frustrating, and most importantly, not fun.

Calamity Ganon is your enemy in the game, your first and last quest, to save the Princess Zelda from her 100 years of capture alongside him. Shrines, however, are the true driving force of the game because they hold the key to the fun in the game. Each is a puzzle. Some have clear themes, but most give the players several options about how to solve them. Most of them are fun, smart, and sometimes challenging. There are some where the challenge itself is getting to or finding the shrine. Others are simply combat challenges, which are the worst simply because they reveal the shallow nature of the combat when taking place in a staid environment. They also provide you with one quarter of either a heart container or a portion of a stamina bar, meaning every four shrines you receive an upgrade to your health or stamina.

Stamina is the most important resource in the game. More important than any of your abilities, more important than your Master Sword, and only somewhat more important than your map. It is important because stamina is your climbing currency. It is also your swimming and gliding currency, but swimming never felt incredibly vital, and gliding is incredibly generous with its exchange rate, so it never felt particularly tiresome. Stamina is the most important resource of the game because climbing is the most important part of the game.

There is more climbing in Breath of the Wild than in any other game I’ve ever played. Nathan Drake and Lara Croft could combine their franchises and they wouldn’t stand a chance. It is a double edged sword, one I felt cutting too deep, too often. On one hand, it is incredibly freeing, because you can climb most things in the game. There are very few artificial boundaries, allowing you to scale almost any object. On the other hand, the mechanics of climbing, for something you do SO OFTEN are incredibly monotonous and unfun. You push up, and watch your stamina meter drain. You slowly climb a surface, and hope your meter doesn’t run out before you reach the top. You do this over and over and over again, each stamina upgrade allowing you to go further. For a traversal action you’re using so much, it is incredibly boring. As you move through the game, you find ways to make the climbing easier and faster, all of which I used as often as possible. And all of this only applies if it isn’t raining.

Weather is one of the interweaving systems of Zelda, and again, it is inventive and impressive at times, and then it rains and stops you dead in your tracks for ten real world minutes while Link clings to the side of a mountain and you wait for the rain to stop so you can continue to climb, because it is simply impossible to climb when it is raining. It is also impossible to carry open flames when it’s raining, so multiple quests involving fire also require long moments of staring at your phone until the weather clears. That is definitively not fun.

Breath of the Wild subverts a lot of accepted open world design elements, avoiding the map clutter that often clogs up your map in similar games. It relies on line of sight from the towers that dot the map, and physically marking the map with elements you think are important or interesting. It’s a fun inclusion, because it lends itself to the mystery of the game. You have to go hunt down every shrine, and investigate every corner of the map if you want to find everything. It also clearly demonstrates the weakness of Nintendo’s hardware, as your vision is severely limited to only major landmarks. There is no recon of enemies, no real foresight available because the systems simply aren’t able to load all that detail in at the same time. It is not the only technical shortcoming of the game (I had sometimes severe slowdown, freezes, and even screen tearing at one point) but it is the most vital to gameplay.

Elements from survival games intrude in the game in almost every regard. Weapons degrade at unbelievable speed. Cooking is essential for survival and it is a tedious mess. Your inventory will be full of dozens and dozens of ingredients that you never really need to engage with. Of all the food you can make, you for some reason can’t craft arrows (most likely because you’d be unstoppable if you could). You are constantly grabbing plants and mushrooms and hunting animals to cook food to refill your health.

You will need to refill your health constantly, because you will take lots of damage in combat. It is difficult, but it didn’t usually feel difficult because I was overmatched. It often felt difficult because your combat controls are limited, your weapons break almost constantly, and rewards for even the most challenging combat felt terrible. Why should I engage the group of roaming moblins? Why should I fight the Guardians at all? I could just run away from them, and get back to the fun puzzles. Encounters could sometimes be beaten by using the numerous systems in the world to find emergent solutions, but too often I found myself equipping my most powerful weapon and wacking the enemies in the face until they died or the weapon broke. The lock on system is directly from Ocarina of Time, and was mostly useless, especially when facing multiple enemies.

The lack of fun combat made me mostly avoid combat encounters, and that adequately describes my experience with the game, which is avoiding a lot of the tedious systems so that I could get back to the puzzles. I engaged with every Shrine I saw, and beat each of the four actual dungeons in the game. I found and retrieved the Master Sword. The only main quest I didn’t finish was unlocking a series of memories that told the events that led to the decrepit state of the world. For a game that punishes you unless you are constantly exploring, there is no penalty for not engaging with the story whatsoever.

My favorite games make me constantly engage in their systems because they are inherently rewarding, but so much of Breath of the Wild is rewarding me for finding ways to not engage with their systems. There is so much of the game that I will never see because getting to it was tedious and unrewarding. Zelda is grand adventure and solving puzzles, and that Zelda is still in Breath of the Wild. You’re just going to have to slowly climb for a while, wait for the rain to pass, and then continue to slowly climb to get to it.

Top Ten Games of 2016

This was a great year for games. This is my top 10. The order might shift if you asked me tomorrow or next week, but all of them are terrific.



10. Dark Souls 3

Dark Souls, as a franchise, are games that I’ve always respected a lot, but have never really enjoyed playing. I’d get ten or fifteen hours in, and then give up in frustration, after getting tired of the purposeful grind and obfuscation. Dark Souls 3 changed that. It is accessible in simple, small ways that make it much more playable, and kept me going all the way through to the end. I enjoyed the simple storytelling and world building so much more in this installment, even as I died over and over again to some of the bosses. By streamlining the accessibility of the game, it allows the strong core mechanics to shine.


9. Firewatch

The old “walking simulator” title has been used as a pejorative for a while now, but Firewatch is the evolution of that genre which focuses on two things I love: exploration and story. It does what so few games can accurately portray, in truly making you feel alone and vulnerable. Your relationship in the game is only heard in conversations, as two flawed people try and make a connection. The acting, writing, and art are all top-notch, and the simple addition of an in-game disposable camera truly lends authenticity to it. You can even order prints after you finish the game.


8. Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is the most understated of the games on this list, and yet it is probably the one I had the hardest time putting down. As I working my way through it, it is the game that most dominated my thoughts away from it. An amalgam of Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, and a slew of other farming and slice-of-life games, it managed to hook me in a way that so few other games of that ilk have. It has charm, something that many games try to capture but most don’t. You come to like all the characters in Stardew Valley, and the weird quirks, and the hidden depths at the edges of the game. That it is the work of precisely one man makes it all the more impressive. It feels like a game I’ll play all the way through once a year.


7. The Witness

The Witness landed early in the year with a lot of mystery and questions. The long awaited project from Jonathan Blow finally arrived, and it captured my obsession early in the year. The seemingly simple puzzle game did something that so many few games do, and that is make me look at the world differently. The simple tracing puzzles add complexity and depth as you explore the beautiful island the game takes place on, and you learn that the world itself is a part of the puzzle. After playing, I found myself looking for similar puzzles in real life, and in other games, just as an example of how it changes your perception. It is much less directed than Braid ever was, but feels to be saying so much more.


6. Hyper Light Drifter

I feel like this game didn’t receive proper credit through the year. It is everything I want in a 2D action adventure game. Amazingly beautiful pixel art, great soundtrack, and super tight mechanics. Combat is challenging but rewarding. The world feels lived in and exploration always feels rewarding. Everything about the game feels bespoke and purposeful. Progression is meaningful, and everything you unlock feels earned. A love letter to Zelda, but more intricate and subtle. The story is purposefully obscured, a mystery you unlock as you play, left up to the player to interpret. Absolutely worth a play.


5. Overwatch

In a year with so many excellent shooters, Overwatch might actually be the greatest achievement, in that it made me play a team-based shooter, and kept me coming back, over and over again. It seems like a simple structure, one laid out most popularly by Team Fortress 2, but then added layers of character, style, and complexity to it. With what is now a cast of 23 different characters, all of which have unique abilities and playstyles, along with a completely different feel, and most importantly, feel balanced. Each character is injected with attitude and style in very simple and easy ways that have inspired a rapid fandom. D-Va main, btw.


4. Titanfall 2

I have not played a military shooter since Modern Warfare. After hearing so many rave about it, I dove back into the genre and could not have been more pleased about choosing this game as the re-entry point. The single player campaign is fun and action packed, and the multiplayer is addictive. Both are built on the foundations of exciting fast gameplay predicated on wall-running, grappling, and moving quickly. Shoot, wallrun, jump, slide, shoot, call in a titan, and then roam the battlefield as a giant mech that changes the gameplay dynamics again. All of this is further varied by choice of loadout, titan, and play style. It is hard to go back to other games after, just because of the speed. Of all the games on this list, so very few others makes you feel so bad ass after you get a ridiculous kill or make an incredible play.


3. Doom

How do you successfully modernize Doom? You make a fast, tight shooter that embraces all the goofy horror of demons and hell. You make levels are that fun to explore and fight in, and take advantage of verticality that so many shooters don’t, and reward the player for doing so. You make the story take the right blend of cleverness and irony, and then dial it up. It is violent, it is over the top, it is fast. It is Doom.


2. Hitman

When it was announced that Hitman would be released episodically, I almost dismissed it completely. I had never really been interested in the Hitman games, and episodic games almost never hold my interest, at least not until it’s released as a complete season. That was a mistake, because Hitman is perhaps the perfect example of how episodic releases can and probably should work. By giving the players the time to truly explore each level, unlocking new items as they go, they can really savor the depth and quirk that is lovingly crafted for each main location in the game. The game doesn’t take itself seriously, and it lets the truly absurd situations of mayhem develop organically. Ever wanted to walk the catwalk as a fashion model and then drop the stage itself on your target? Or kill a dictator by dropping a toilet on him? Or push a Yakuza lawyer off a cliff while disguised as a yoga instructor? Each level embraces the freedom of open world games and gives the players an amazing toy set to play with.


1. Enter the Gungeon

This has become my favorite twin-stick shooter of all time, and favorite roguelike (or roguelite) of all time. I bounce off a lot of both, but this has a perfect sense of challenge and skill, and I very rarely feel cheated when I die. With the wide array of weapons borrowed from other properties (there is one that shoots the shark from Jaws, another is straight up a proton pack) the combat is always fun and new, and every run truly does feel different. Even on failed runs there’s always a sense of discovery and freshness that kept me coming back. There’s even a semblance of a story, of which most roguelikes and schmups kind of forget about. The cute art style, tongue-in-cheek humor, and pun based gun villains are icing on the cake. So much fun.


A post script: I didn’t play everything. Here’s some games that could have cracked the list if I had played them. They’ll have to wait until next year.




Dishonored 2

Watchdogs 2



Gimme Shelter: First Thoughts on Fallout 4

I stayed up for the Bethesda conference, watching Giant Bomb’s stream of the event, waiting anxiously for Fallout 4. The trailer release two weeks hinted at a lot of things, but the official news from last night couldn’t have me more excited.

New stuff:

  • Voiced characters
  • House and community building
  • Mass Effect style conversation wheels
  • Faster, more true FPS style combat, with true iron sights
  • Pipboy App

Old stuff, but better:

  • A dog
  • Weapon crafting
  • Facial customization
  • Colors! Plants! Animations!

First things first, a lead character that talks is the biggest change from previous games. Frankly, I’m all for it. The acting sounded great in the trailer, and should serve to add more emotion to the story. The house building seems obvious now, especially that it was added into Skyrim. But letting you create entire settlements from the ground up is literally the thing I wanted most in Fallout 3, and now is a reality. Building the dystopia back into something seemed like a goal of the first game, and this is letting you do that. It has so much potential. The crafting system as a whole is fun and deep, and should allow for all kinds of possibilities.

The conversation wheels are a shift, and although I had no problem with the previous conversation system, this is cleaner and faster, and makes more sense with a talking main character. Only potential flaw is the sin that Mass Effect sometimes committed, which is a misleading descriptor of what your character will say. Hopefully they’ll be clear enough to make the intent obvious.

The combat looks leagues better. True iron sights, sprinting, and a more dynamic VATS should make what could become systematic in FO3 more interesting and varied. The customization of weapons should also let you identify a weapon that you really like and really feels like you as a character. Not to mention the airlifts and jetpacks and custom power armor. Just so much stuff. With all the stuff they showed, there’s still so much there left unsaid. Is there still a good/evil dynamic to it? How big is the world? How many quests? With the depth of FO3 and Skyrim, and them trumpeting this is their biggest game yet, it seems like there’ll be a massive amount of ground to cover.

Not to mention the Pipboy app for your phone or tablet. Of all the gimmicky things to include, it is the one that I’m the most stupid excited about. Will it be any faster than just using the game? Probably not, but just having it is a cool touch that they didn’t have to do, but did anyway.

Speaking of, I’ve been playing the Fallout Shelter mobile game all day. I’ve gotten into a pickle by overextending myself, and leaving myself defenseless by sending out my only gun into the Wasteland, but I’m starting to get my feet under me again. Having a lot of fun with it, and it’s scratching that itch, for now at least. 148 days!

The Illusion of Progress

After the first night of playing Heroes of the Storm, I texted a close friend and told him that the game is dangerous. He understood immediately, as he responded that it’s a game designed to ruin your life. It is designed to keep you coming back, day after day, hitting all those sweet reward centers of your brain, constantly showing you progress, if not on a character, then on your overall level. There are musical cues, dialogue from NPCS, and visual cues that all tell you you’re doing a great job, keep it up, and you’ll get more rewards, more stimulus. Heroes isn’t the first game to do it, but Blizzard has done an excellent job at implementing what has been a continuing trend in gaming.

Almost all games now have RPG elements somewhere in there design, simply because it is a simple way to incentivize players to keep coming back, to keep unlocking new abilities, new skins, new weapons, new something. Dying Light, Shadow of Mordor, Far Cry 4, Call of Duty multiplayer, none RPGs, yet all of them have leveling systems. It’s gotten to the point where I can clearly see the carrot, know that it’s been put there only to get me to come back, and yet I still continue. It’s not as insidious in paid games, but in free to play games likes Heroes (with Marvel Puzzle Quest being the other freemium game that has lured me in) it can be downright destructive, because you’re basically paying to play the game by playing the game. It’s almost like a system of labor built into playing the game. It’s bizarre cognitive dissonance, when I’m really enjoying playing the game, and at the same time are completely aware of the systems in place. “I need to keep playing so that I can play it more!”

How do you react to games like this? I try and temper my enthusiasm for a game by limiting my time with it, knowing that I shouldn’t put too much time towards it, but it’s hard for me to resist that siren’s call completely. I find myself constantly asking myself if I’m really enjoying my time with the game, or if the game’s just tricking me. The strangest is when it’s hard to tell the difference. “Am I having fun?” shouldn’t be a hard question to answer, but at times I’m not sure. I find it interesting because it really delves down into what is fun about playing videogames. Is it that sense of progression, of growth and experience that usually isn’t easy to come by in real life but comes so quickly in a game? If a game is rewarding you with that, is that enough?