2016 was no slouch as far as gaming went, but 2017 was absolutely spectacular. From new systems, rebirths of old genres, and reimaginings of some of the best-known IPs, it’d be difficult for anyone to choose just one favorite game from this year. But that’s what we did anyway. We asked our community writers what their top AAA, mid-tier (or AA, if you prefer), indie, and mobile games were this year, and here’s what they had to say.
Best AAA Game
Asking someone to make a choice like that in 2017 is like asking them to pick a favorite vital organ, and I haven’t quite managed to play everything yet. It was even a good year for horror games. In a year where everything else about human existence seemed determined to suck, video games offered one of the best lineups of titles in maybe a decade or more, with surprisingly few outright disappointments.
My top three is some combination of Resident Evil 7, Tekken 7, and Prey, depending on the day. Tekken 7 has a disappointing set of features in its long-awaited home releases, but the gameplay there is solid and quintessentially Tekken in a way that keeps you playing for evenings on end; Prey wraps itself around you and doesn’t quite let go, with a paranoid atmosphere that has you questioning your own possessions and a truly weird alternate history; and Resident Evil 7 proves less is a lot more by removing (most of) the action-movie spectacle of the franchise and getting genuine scares out of something so simple as an old man with a shovel.
Best Mid-Tier Game
I’d probably hand this one to Nier: Automata, simply for how it sticks with you. It’s a deeply weird game in a way that you don’t typically get out of any release, indie or not. It feels like a localized production from an alien race. Sure, at its heart, it’s a simple, remarkably short shooter/brawler, but it has a lot to say about loneliness, sentience, and violence. Even in as crowded a year as 2017, it’s a stand-out for how it utilizes the medium.
Best Indie Game
I got a lot out of RiME. It may flag a bit towards the end, but it’s a simple, evocative, and, above all else, colorful game, with effective puzzles and a bizarre world that keeps you asking questions. It’s a learning experience about atmosphere and minimalism.
Freelancer and guide writer Ty Arthur had the unenviable task of choosing from several contenders, but he managed to do so nonetheless.
There were some absolutely fabulous games this year, from the long-awaited PS4 exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn to a slew of Switch hits like Breath Of The Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Both Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Call Of Duty: WWII rocked it on the first-person, Nazi-killing fronts, and Friday The 13th was more fun than it had any right to be. We got some very unexpected gameplay changes from Nier: Automata and Resident Evil 7 that sort of rocked the gaming world, along with a crop of outstanding RPGs. While it doesn’t quite match its predecessor,Torment: Tides Of Numenera is easy to sink a whole lot of hours into if you love classic computer RPGs, and of course Persona 5 dominated on the console front. Now onto the impossible task of actually picking the best of the best!
Best AAA Game: While any of the above-mentioned games could easily sit in this spot depending on personal preference, I’m going to have to go with Arkane’s tweaking of the stealth action formula with the sci-fi/horror mashup Prey. It has everything that makes the Dishonored games great, but in a revamped setting that really messes with your head. I love the combination of RPG elements with stealth combat that rewards thinking outside the box, and just wandering around the station learning little details about the people who lived there before all hell broke loose was a pleasure, even outside the killer gameplay.
Best Mid-Tier Game: I suppose there’s some wiggle room on what exactly constitutes “mid-tier” over indie, so this might be a bit controversial, but I’m going to solidly put Divinity: Original Sin 2 here in this category. That was a game that absolutely lived up to the hype, and not many titles do that. This is the sort of title that shows why crowdfunding needs to exist and that the practice actively enhances the gaming landscape. Hats off to Larian for keeping the gameplay recognizable while improving on the original game in every single way. There’s a hundred different ways to approach any situation, with dozens of character builds, and I’ve yet to get tired of trying out different combos. If you love turn-based RPGs, be prepared to sink a hundred hours or so into this one.
Best Indie Game: For me, easily the best RPG of the year is a little indie excursion that came out of nowhere and absolutely bowled me over with its amazing combination of style, substance, and humor: West Of Loathing! I’m still sort of in awe over how a black and white game with stick figure graphics managed to grab me and never let go. Every element of the game is hilarious, and there’s always more to discover, whether it involves demonic cows, ghost pickles, or even more absurd hijinks. Throw in a killer old-school overland map, with random encounters that easily match the best of the ’90s PC RPGs, and you’ve got a rare gem on your hands here that delivers on all fronts. It’s laugh out loud funny and keeps you hooked with solid, classic gameplay.
Freelance writer El Conquistadork‘s choices are equally as varied and go to show that you don’t have to love everything about a game for it to be your favorite too.
Best AAA Game: Horizon: Zero Dawn. I just had so damn much fun playing this game. The setting is fascinating and unique, the protagonist is amazing, and it’s the most beautiful game I’ve seen in a long time. A close second would be Persona 5 for the simple reason that I don’t like anime, I’m lukewarm on JRPGs, and their save system caused me to lose so much progress that I would take month-long breaks between sessions just to counteract the frustration … and yet I put more hours into it than I’m comfortable with relating. How does that even happen? And RE7 would be in there as well: strong as hell at the beginning of 2017, and still strong as hell at the end.
Best Mid-Tier Game: What Remains of Edith Finch was the apotheosis of what walking sims have been attempting to become since Gone Home and Dear Esther. There’s a level of vast storytelling interacting beautifully with its wide varieties of gameplay and its stylistic decisions, and it left me gobsmacked.
Best Indie Game: I wasn’t completely sold on the final, horror-themed moments of Night In The Woods, but that still left it plenty of room for being the best indie game of 2017. Its artwork, soundtrack, and themes of growing up, loneliness, small-town water treading, and crimes just sucked me right into its world.
Best Mobile Game: With a game titled We Eat Blood, And All Our Friends Are Dead, you know I’m gonna have a look. Based in the classic RPG world of Vampire: The Masquerade (a personal favorite of mine), this is a spooky, text-based adventure where you play a youngling vampire trying to learn about himself without getting purged by his elders. A damn fun time.
JTP Mentor and community writer Kieran Desmond pulled from a wide variety of genres for his GOTY picks, a reflection of just how much there was on offer this year.
Best AAA Game: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Like a bunch people this year, I really fell in love with Breath of the Wild. The way the open world was set up by giving you access to a few core mechanics — remote bombs, Magnesis, Stasis, Cryonis, and the glider — and then just setting you loose to explore Hyrule was a stroke of genius. The subtle score and beautiful visuals only add to the “open-air” atmosphere they were striving for. I’m still playing BotW, and after putting about 250 hours into it so far, I’m yet to encounter the final Divine Beast or enter Hyrule castle — I never want it to end.
Best Mid-Tier Game: Absolver
Absolver was a game that I followed from its announcement, hoping that it would live up to the promise of being able to dynamically learn various combat styles and customize your style as you progress. And SloClap absolutely delivered. This unique open-world fighting game takes patience and a keen eye to master, just like many traditional fighting games. Studying your opponent in order to predict their next move is a huge part of the game that, when done correctly, creates an immensely satisfying experience.
Best Indie Game: Pyre
I was attracted to Pyre because of the beautiful artwork and music from its trailer. I was also curious about its odd mix of RPG, visual novel, and sports-centric gameplay, which turned out to be an innovative and really fun combination. Every character is endearing, the overworld map and the locations are stunningly designed, and the incredibly diverse score, composed by Darren Korb (who worked on Supergiant’s previous games Bastion and Transistor) is just sensational. If I were to recommend a single game from 2017, it would be Pyre.
Erstwhile senior editor (now with Hi-Rez) Auverin Morrow took the time to drop in and leave her thoughts too.
GOTY: Horizon: Zero Dawn, hands down.
Beautiful game, excellent combat, a truly unique environment (with awesome robo-dinos), and a badass female character who puts more emphasis on the badass part than the female part. What’s not to love?
Your humble writer felt the need to add his choices too, because why not?
Best AAA Game: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Like Kieran and countless others, this one has to go to BotW, but it was a tough choice between it and Super Mario Odyssey. The latter is excellent in its own right, but with BotW, Nintendo managed to pull off a difficult task by creating a fantastic game that also happened to be a radical remaigining of a world-famous franchise. Despite being so different, it comes across as everything Zelda games always wanted to be. Hyrule is truly a living and breathing land, with areas that look and feel drastically different from each other and characters who are actually deeply connected to each other. The combat and weapon mechanics are spot-on, and there’s always something to make exploration worthwhile, even if it’s just standing on top of a mountain and admiring the gorgeous view. There is also a definite sense of progression, going from everything being a struggle to feeling capable of handling challenges like that Hinox that looked awfully intimidating when Link only had five hearts. Plus, it’s one of the only games (other than Xenoblade Chronicles) where my cat sits on my shoulder and watches. And that has to count for something.
Best Mid-Tier Game:Yooka-Laylee
Yooka-Laylee didn’t go over very well with many at first (although we did quite like it in our review). But even with the original issues — issues quickly fixed by the Spin ‘n’ Polish update — it managed to recapture everything that made gaming great over a decade ago: bright, colorful worlds, plenty of challenges and things to do, fun and quirky characters, tight platforming, and generally just being fun to play. Being the first major 3D platformer in forever, it carried a heavy burden, and it would have been easy for Playtonic to rely just on nostalgia and hope for the best. Luckily, they didn’t, and the end result is a quality experience.
Best Indie Game: Yono and the Celestial Elephants
Yono is definitely indie, since it’s the result of a one-man studio. On the surface, it’s a cute adventure game about an elephant trying to solve people’s problems, with some Zelda-esque puzzles and combat. But underneath that, there’s quite a bit more going on about the nature of life and death, reality, and the relationship between everything alive — and dead. It’s not going to tax your brain or skills, but it’s more than worth spending time with.
And there you have it — a host of games from across multiple genres, with enough quality and variety to satisfy almost anyone. But you, reader, are part of the community too, so sound off in the comments below and tell us what your GOTY picks are!