Ten years after 2007 made a compelling argument for the best year in gaming history, 2017 comes along and distinguishes itself as the new number one contender for that title.
This was a year that not only brought us a host of all-time great games but challenged veteran gamers, new players, and returning fans to ask themselves whether or not they really understood what makes this medium so special. It’s been a truly special year.
So what is the best game of the year? We’ll let you in on a dirty secret. It’s not our place to say. You know the answer to that, and it’s the right one whether or not anyone else happens to agree with you. Instead, we offer 15 games that must be played before you dare try to answer that question yourself.
But first, some honorable mentions:
* Assassin’s Creed: Origins
* Injustice 2
* The Sexy Brutale
* A Night in the Woods
Okay, without further ado, here are Den of Geek’s 15 best video games of 2017:
Acid Wizard Studio | Microsoft Windows, Mac
The highly competitive 15th spot on this list goes to a game that initially drew attention when developer Acid Wizard Studio uploaded a legal copy of it to torrent sites in an effort to combat the shady game key re-seller market.
That move shed a little light on a game that emphasizes the darkness. Darkwood is about a man who is trapped in the woods. He must scavenge for supplies, interact with a few Lovecraftian locals, and survive the unspeakable horrors that come out at night and try to work their way into his cabin.
What makes Darkwood special is the way that the developers manage to find the inherent horror in survival. There are few gaming experiences this year that compare to your first few nights listening to the creatures that creep outside your cabin. Your imagination grows more intense as the fuel in the generator that keeps your lights on begins to dwindle.
Obscure, terrifying, and often downright clever, Darkwood is a horror game for pure horror fans.
Team Ninja | PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows
You’re forgiven if you initially wrote Nioh off as a Dark Souls clone. That was certainly the narrative that surrounded the last of the game’s many months in development. To be fair, there are many elements of Dark Souls within Nioh’s grand design.
However, this is not one of the many games which simply copy the Dark Souls formula and apply some new aesthetics. No, Team Ninja actually managed to replicate the most difficult aspects of Dark Souls’ design – its obscurity, atmosphere, and almost puzzle-like combat system – and used them as the basis for an experience that is undoubtedly a labor of love.
Nioh’s samurai era design is compelling enough on its own – there are not nearly enough games that draw upon that era – but the game’s combat and loot systems truly set it apart. Mastering its weapons and the various stances available requires a player to have an almost unnatural fondness for learning through failure. Finding the perfect loot, meanwhile, is as satisfying as it was in Borderlands or Diablo.
If you go into Nioh expecting Dark Souls, you are going to find that the game will use your expectations as your demise. That’s because only Nioh is Nioh.
13. Thimbleweed Park
Terrible Toybox | Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Android, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Linux, Mac
Generally speaking, you should be wary of any game that relies heavily on nostalgia. It’s too easy for a developer to take gamers for a ride off the mere idea of “remember when?” It’s far too easy and far too common.
Thimbleweed Park is different. Much like Shovel Knight and Owlboy, it doesn’t feel like a mere nod to the games that came before but rather a genuine and unique entry in the adventure genre. It probably doesn’t hurt that this title was developed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, two of the men responsible for popularizing the point-and-click adventure genre of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
This game is much more than a history lesson, though. Its a look at many of the things that are missing from so many modern games. Its writing is clever (and downright funny), its puzzles are challenging, and its characters are varied and subtle in surprising ways.
You don’t need to be a fan of point-and-click adventures to enjoy Thimbleweed Park. However, playing it will almost certainly make you a fan of this wonderful style of game design.
12. Resident Evil 7
Capcom | PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
At the risk of citing a negative when so many great games didn’t make this list, it must be said that Resident Evil 7’s final act is a bit of a letdown. Its reliance on action greatly contradicts the horror that came before.
It’s been said, though, that a flaw is most noticeable when it impacts something truly exceptional. Make no mistake that Resident Evil 7 is truly fantastic.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say that the game’s opening hour is an arguably flawless example of narrative-based gaming. Seeing the dread that has befallen your wife and wandering through the Baker family’s dilapidated home triggers memories of some of the best horror experiences of the last 50 years.
Resident Evil 7 was criticized for picking up the remnants of P.T. while running away from the Resident Evil “formula.” What it really is, though, is the clearest look at the future of AAA horror gaming that we’ve seen in years.
11. Hollow Knight
Team Cherry | Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac
There are many things that might draw you to Hollow Knight. Its visuals, its music, or maybe its incorporation of Dark Souls elements into the Metroidvania genre.
The one thing that all of those elements share, though, is there complete lack of ability to prepare you for the game itself. There have been indie Metroidvania game since the franchises that bore that genre its name have faded away, and many of them have actually been quite good.
Few of them, though, understand that the appeal of this genre isn’t in familiarity but rather the thrill of discovery. Each new area of Hollow Knight possesses some kind of incredible quality that encourages you to dive a little deeper into the game’s mysterious and often hostile world. It can be as grand as a boss battle or as small as a new song.
Hollow Knight is the rare game that manages to make you feel like your years of experience in gaming were worth it because they help you delve a little deeper into this endless pit of design brilliance.
10. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
MachineGames | Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
At a time when the very notion of narrative-based gaming feels under attack from the forces of change, Wolfenstein II comes along and reminds us that there is no substitute for a great video game story.
While there were other video game stories in 2017 that made better use of the medium – more on that later – few stories this year were quite as ruthlessly entertaining as Wolfenstein II’s. It has always been the most remarkable and rare of pleasures to experience a narrative that manages to entertain as well as strike emotional chords. This is something that Wolfenstein II does time and time again with seeming ease.
No…not ease. That implies a lack of effort or devotion. The fact that Wolfenstein II is able to take us to the atmosphere of absurdity before bringing us crashing down to the raw grounds of humanity is a quality that is only achieved through a concentrated creative effort.
Wolfenstein II’s story isn’t great because you get to audition for Hitler’s film on Venus, deal with the emotional trauma of your abusive father making you murder your dog, or reconstruct a party through the memories of hungover guests. It’s great because it manages to string together all those things and turn these moments into a truly great adventure.
9. Persona 5
Atlus, P Studio | PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
Persona 5 is so anime that it hurts. That lone aspect of the game may turn some people away from it. If it doesn’t, the game’s strict JRPG mindset and almost 100+ hour possible runtime might do the trick.
You’d be a fool, though, to think you know what Persona 5 is just from looking at it. Indeed, the game is one of the most remarkable series of surprises in recent memory. Mind you, we’re not talking about plot twists and character revelations – though there are plenty of those – but rather the way that Persona 5 manages to not treat a single design element as standard.
This is a game where the menus come alive with spirit and song. A game where the simplest combat attacks have been expertly choreographed. Persona 5’s mission in life is to ensure that you become tongue twisted when talking about your time with it.
8. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Bluehole Studio Inc., PUBG Corporation | Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is ugly. More than ugly, it’s incomplete. It’s an often frustrating technical mess that requires a great deal of tolerance and patience from nearly all of its 20+ million players.
It is also the one game from 2017 that we simply cannot stop playing. In a story devoted to Knights of the Old Republic II, we suggested that focusing on what was missing from that game is the surest way to blind yourself to the elements that make it a masterpiece.
The same is true of PUBG. Few games this year can possibly recreate the thrill of dropping into a PUBG game and desperately trying to outwit, outgun, and outrun your 99 opponents. Each new PUBG match feels like a narrative unto itself.
It’s a setup that we’ve seen before in other games. However, none of those other games come close to matching the subtle brilliance of PUBG’s design. This is a multiplayer game that provides a feeling of having experienced something quite special that we rarely see outside of expertly crafted narratives.
7. Nier: Automata
Platinum Games | PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows
Please do not hold it against those who have played Nier: Automata but seem unable to describe what makes it so great. It’s a question that requires you to process an experience that doesn’t seem to have been made for the benefit of those who want a clean piece of entertainment that is easily digested.
Nier: Automata begins as an action JRPG that is almost frustratingly familiar. This tale of old robots and the modern androids that replace them doesn’t break new ground immediately after the ribbon has been cut.
However, it’s not long before Nier begins offering ideas that are not only relevant to the modern trends of society but relevant to the very nature of humanity. Said ideas unfurl slowly over the course of a long story that takes its time to deliver a clear and devastating message. Remarkably, that unbelievable story is complemented by a combat system that joyfully reminds us of Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising.
Wait…that’s not quite right. We didn’t get to talk about Nier’s bullet hell segments, incredible multiple endings, and fantastic upgrade system. That’s the thing about discussing Nier. It’s a game that only becomes more brilliant as you attempt to unravel it.
6. Divinity: Original Sin 2
Larian Studios | Microsoft Windows
There is something disheartening about the fact that the gaming world didn’t come together to celebrate Divinity: Original Sin 2 in a “buy the world a Coke” kind of moment.
After all, Divinity is a Western-style RPG that arguably perfects the concepts pioneered by studios like BioWare. This is a digital Dungeons and Dragons type of experience that overwhelms its players with a daunting amount of possibilities.
Create the character you want down to their motivations. Embark upon a quest so dynamic that it ensures you most memorable moment may come in the form of an encounter most other players will never see. Participate in the best co-op swords and sorcery experience since those tabletop RPG nights.
Perhaps the gaming world has truly moved on and there is just not the market for this kind of RPG experience. That’s the only possible explanation for why millions of us aren’t holding hands and singing this near-perfect game’s existence.
5. Horizon Zero Dawn
Guerrilla Games | PlayStation 4
We weren’t excited about the idea of Guerrilla Games creating an open-world adventure. The Killzone games were occasionally brilliant but undeniably flawed. Open-world titles, meanwhile, have been growing more and more stagnant for years.
What we didn’t anticipate was the way Guerrilla Games would use the open-world format to truly create a world. Not a series of vistas and landmarks mind you, but a world that is filled with lore just waiting to be discovered through both conversation and exploration.
That would be enough of an accomplishment, but Guerrilla Games also had to go and engineer a combat system that makes you feel like you are a simple human in a world of technological monstrosities. Your bow and arrows only succeed when they are accompanied by your cunning.
It’s a shame the word masterpiece has been used so liberally over the years because it perfectly describes what Guerrilla Games has crafted in Horizon Zero Dawn. Instead, we’ll just say that playing this game leaves you with no doubt that you’ve just experienced a classic.
Studio MDHR | Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Cuphead is a labor of love the likes of which the gaming world is only occasionally treated to. Over the course of seven years, two brothers and a small team of contributors set out to handcraft an experience that paid tribute to both old-school 8-bit platformers and the animation style of the 1930s.
Their almost eight years of work resulted in a game that can theoretically be beaten in around eight hours. During those eight hours, though, you will experience every bit of love, talent, and dedication that went into those years of work.
As a platformer, Cuphead is a glowing tribute to a time when games were expected to be maddeningly difficult and filled with memorable multi-stage boss encounters. As a piece of pure art, Cuphead excels at celebrating the style of a time gone by without ever once taking for granted what it is that makes that style so visually compelling.
Throw in a jazzy soundtrack that you’d listen to for pleasure were it not for the fact that it reminds you of the game’s imposing bosses, and you have a title that has already captured the hearts of millions and will likely continue to do so for years to come.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo | Wii U, Nintendo Switch
If there is one lesson that life teaches the most adventurous among us, it’s that you must be able to find happiness when you don’t know what you are doing or where you are going. Happiness found from walking a safe, pre-determined path can be denied with the slightest of missteps.
Breath of the Wild is a game that inspires those who may not consider themselves to be adventurers to go out and have an adventure. It doesn’t matter that you’re not sure where you are going when you first start playing or what any of this has to do with the Zelda franchise.
No, the only thing that matters is that you’ll be in awe from the moment that you step out of that cave and gaze upon the game’s remarkably open world. From there, you may find that you are happiest when you’re trying out a new recipe, exploring a hostile new area, or breaking your best weapon and being left helpless.
You haven’t gone crazy. You’re just learning to love something unexpected because it is more than you imagined. In this case, it’s a Zelda game that reinvents the very notion of a Zelda game while retaining the very soul of the legendary series.
2. What Remains of Edith Finch
Giant Sparrow | PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Mac
What Remains of Edith Finch is going to be written off as a walking simulator by many who throw that label around like a badge of shame. To them, we simply caution that doing so will deprive you of one of gaming’s greatest stories ever.
This exploration of a “cursed” family’s individual misfortunes plays out like several different games rolled into one. Each of those stories relies on brilliant interactive elements that utilize the nature of interaction to create genuine empathy and feelings of understanding at a time when such things are disturbingly hard to come by.
The best video game stories are those that can only be told through the medium of gaming. That means that the story must somehow use interactivity to provide a unique experience. The idea is simple, but only gaming’s greatest creative minds have been able to actually accomplish such a tremendous feat.
We’d like to tell you that What Remains of Edith Finch will kickstart some golden age of storytelling that will forever change the way we look at video game narratives. However, it’s hard to honestly say that this game’s accomplishments can be replicated.
And the Den of Geek Game of the Year is…
1. Super Mario Odyssey
Nintendo | Nintendo Switch
The best game of one of the best years in video game history must be more than great. It must be the kind of experience that somehow manages to capture the best of the years that came before with the bright promise of the future.
It sounds impossible, but Super Mario Odyssey’s resume for that position can be found on the smile that its mere mention summons on the face of those who have played it.
In many ways, some of which are quite overt, Odyssey is a celebration of the Mario games that came before. What it really is, though, is a glowing tribute to the same smile that the original Super Mario Bros. brought to the faces of those who first played it so many years ago.
Super Mario Odyssey is a bountiful series of moments that remind us that our love for gaming stems from the idea that we play games for fun. No other title released this year manages to invoke that almost mythical idea and turn it into a glorious reality that we can escape to whenever and wherever we please.