Everyone is doing top 10 gaming lists. Why shouldn’t I? However, I tend to be lazier than most when it comes to this kind of stuff, so here’s my top six games of 2017! And, before you ask, Yes, I included older games on this list. I’m mostly a retrogamer, after all. Rest assured, I played these games this year, even if they come from the way back when.
6. Champions of Norrath (PS2)
If you keep up with my blog or the RPGBacktrack podcast, you know that I enjoy Diablo III. When it comes to hack and slash/RPGs, Diablo III does a fabulous job of making you feel awesome. However, after years of play, I finally bored of it. Looking to clear a bit of my backlog out, while scratching that itch, I decided to put Champions of Norrath into my Playstation 2. I am glad I did! While I tried a few different Diablo clones this year, this one really grabbed me. While the graphics certainly do not impress after all of the years, the gameplay holds up rather well. Playing a Ranger, I enjoy sticking and moving, shooting elemental arrows into my foes. Ironically enough, I keep getting awesome melee weapons as random drops, so I end up switching often between ranged and melee combat. I have really enjoyed the boss encounters, as well, as they feel pretty balanced so far. While I would not recommend this game over something like Diablo III to a new player, it definitely satisfies my retro-gaming itch.
5. Starcraft II (PC)
I have raved about this game for years. It is seven years old, and I still play nearly every day despite the fact that I hate Player vs Player gameplay. A while ago, they added a new co-op mode which pits pairs of players against unique and satisfying scenarios against the computer, absolutely free. Many feel lifted from the award winning single player campaign, while others are wholly original. To add to the fun, Starcraft II offers you multiple commanders to tackle these scenarios. Each one has limited, specialized troops, special powers and/or hero troops. This allows each commander to play and feel very different from the others. While players started with a choice of three, they steadily added more for about $5 each. Normally, I do not care for micro transactions, but it definitely feels they put love and attention into each one of these. So, yes, I have bought all of them and play them every chance I get.
4. Persona Q (3DS)
This spin off of the very popular Persona Series actually merges characters and gameplay from Persona 3 and Persona 4 with Etrian Odyssey, another excellent series. And…for me, they come together like peanut butter and jelly. From a gamplay perspective, I felt EO’s combat a bit too old school and obtuse, locking you into near-permanent decisions impossible to make with prior play throughs or help from a FAQ. Persona’s randomized dungeons, on the other hand, lacked the excitement and flare found in EO’s games. PQ addresses both of these with complex, well crafted dungeons, deep, satisfying combat, and a lot of customization and flexability. You have over a dozen characters to create a party of five, and each one may be assigned a persona that you fuse, dramatically changing their elemental strengths/weaknesses and even role in the party. While the story and portrayal of the characters falls short of the high bar set by the main Persona series, I still found them enjoyable. Bight visuals and a rockin’ soundtrack do not hurt, either.
3. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)
You know, I have a Nintendo Switch, a Vita, a DS and a PSP. Yet, it is my 3DS that has received the lion’s share of my handheld gaming time recently. And this game, along with Persona Q, is the reason why. I played Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate years ago, when it first released. It did not really hook me, so I quickly put it on the shelf, adding it to my backlog. Late this year, I tried out the the Monster Hunter Worlds demo, as it was a PS Plus exclusive. I figured I would give it a shot to see what all of the hype was about. I am really, really glad I did. I enjoyed it so much, I wanted more. With the release of the game over a month away, I decided to try MH4U again. The game hooked me with its tight gameplay, up-gradable weapons and armors (from the pieces of monsters you carve up, no less) and challenging beasts. This exciting entry definitely whetted my appetite for the main course coming up in January.
2. Persona 4 Golden (Vita)
What can I say that has not been said about this title before? Persona 4 Golden merges great characters, writing and plot together to weave a story that hooks you in and does not let you go. The striking visual style of the game and awesome, concert-inspiring soundtrack absolutely match the quality of the story. Like many, I did not find the somewhat-randomized dungeons inspiring, and while I enjoyed combat, I felt it would have felt a lot better if I had more customization over my party. The ending month or two frustrated me to no end, as well, as it required that I talk to everyone in town. P4G goes very much out of its way to hide its better endings. With that said, while I do not plan to replay this again any time soon, I certainly recommend that all RPGamers run through it, at least once, to experience this story and fabulous cast first hand. Just keep a spoilier free FAQ handy.
1. Horizon Zero Dawn
Absolutely, hands down, Horizon Zero Dawn blew me away and wins my favorite game of the year sticker. The world building in this game draws you in, along with the story. While a bit slow to get started, your patience quickly pays off as the world and combat system open up quickly to you. The main character, Aloy’s strong personality, witty comebacks and resolve of steel makes her immensely likable. In the main plot, the supporting cast does a fabulous job of helping that personality to shine even brighter. Yet, the robotic enemies you fight give all of them a run for their money as each monster type demonstrates various types of cunning intellect as they try to take you down. The visceral combat system rewards proper planning along with quick reflexes. And, just when it starts to feel a bit long in the tooth, HZD tosses different combinations of foes at Aloy, testing you ability to devise new strategies on the fly. As icing on the cake, HZD does not overstay its welcome. The length felt just right for busy people like me (granted, I skipped a lot of the side stuff). The plot wrapped up nicely, and kept my interest until the end. Yet, I can see myself playing this again on harder modes because the combat is just that enjoyable. And developer Guerrilla Games wrapped this entire packaged in the best looking graphics I have ever seen in a console game.
I have seen many sites give this award to Zelda Breath of the Wild. While I have sunk some time into that game, it did not grab me like HZD. For starters, the combat system in Zelda suffers, in my opinion, due mainly to the weapon breaking mechanic. One could argue that the fact Aloy runs out of arrows works similarly, but I would disagree. In HZD, you create ammo in real time using a quick command. The action slows down (think bullet time), but does not stop. In Zelda, I felt forced to go into menus more often. Not to mention, my weapons broke a lot more often than Aloy ran out of arrows, which felt frustrating.
Second, HZD features a story and characters I truly care about. Zelda… has Link. Once again, Link remains silent, which feels very, very dated at this point. Plot? Link has to save the land. Done. HZD… well, I will not spoil it. However, the world building and plot development is leagues above Zelda. Both have an expansive world for you explore and, here, I give the nod to Zelda. However, while I did find some interesting foes (and interactions with them) in Zelda, HZD’s robotic animals and monsters are much more interesting to fight. Finally, HZD’s graphics definitely blow away Zelda’s admittedly beautiful cell shaded look.
And, there you have it. Whare are YOUR favorite games you played this year? Oh, I want to give a special mention to Fire Emblem Warriors. I’m a huge fan of Dynasty Warriors style of hack ‘n’ slash gameplay and how Omega Force manages to take these other games and blend them so well with their formula. I just haven’t had enough time to really sink my teeth into this one to get a better opinion on it…but it was fun for the few hours I played!