It always takes a couple of years for developers to find their footing before the best games of the generation begin to make their way to market. That’s exactly what happened in 2017, as contenders for game of the year started dropping as early as January and never seemed to let up until the year was basically over.
Although there is some consensus over which games deserve to sit at the top of the list, there was truly something for everyone this year, from action-packed shooters to deep role-playing games to somber, meditative adventures to triumphant returns of franchises that had been dormant for far too long.
The list you are about to read is in no way comprehensive, nor is it objective. This is an unabashedly subjective take on the best games of 2017 (which I also did in 2014, 2015 and 2016). Games you loved are not going to be on here. Games you thought were overrated are going to be ranked highly. But this is my list, and I’m sticking to it:
I didn’t expect a VR game to make my top 10 list, much less a VR first-person shooter. But Farpoint was probably the first VR game I ever played that utilized the strengths of the medium both for storytelling and for gameplay. Immersing myself in this world for a few hours, I felt a deeper connection to the characters of Farpoint than I did with those of many other games (even several on this list), just because I was in the room with them.
And while I’m not much for being asked to use plastic accessories to play games in 2017, the Aim Controller made battling waves of aliens feel all the more real. After spending a few hours aiming down the sights of my fake gun in the PS VR headset, it felt a bit underwhelming to go back to a standard first-person shooter.
More than anything though, I was shocked that Farpoint lasted as long as it did. This is a legitimate single-player campaign that rivals the size and scope of some other popular FPS games. Plus, it managed to keep me engaged from start to finish, which is more than I can say for some of the games that didn’t make this list.
9. A Hat in Time
I thought Super Mario Odyssey would quench my thirst for platformers, but all it did was remind me how few quality 3D platformers we see on consoles nowadays. The age of the mascot platformer has long since ended… but there is a small renaissance happening in the indie community right now that gives me hope.
While Yooka-Laylee failed to grab me like I hoped it would, I fell for A Hat in Time instantly. A Hat in Time is a classic 3D platformer in which a young girl has to find enough fuel to power her ship in order to get home. The voice acting is hilarious, the worlds are odd and inventive, and the moves and powers that the young girl accumulates along the way turn her (and her inexplicably magic hat) into a force to be reckoned with.
What impressed me most about A Hat in Time was how well it controlled. Nintendo long ago came as close to perfecting the art of moving a 3D character through an open world full of enemies and obstacles, but despite being developed by such a small team, A Hat in Time often feels just as responsive as the best Mario games.
8. Destiny 2
It’s no secret that I wasn’t a very big fan of the original Destiny. In my review of the first game, I said that Destiny was “full of wasted potential,” but left the proverbial door open for improvements in the weeks and months to come. Those improvements eventually arrived, and thousands of players appreciated them, but it was mostly too little, too late for me. I’d jump back in for a week or so after every expansion, then inevitably lose interest.
Destiny 2 was different. Whether it was the (slightly) more cohesive story, the subtle (and not so subtle) improvements to the game’s core systems or just my evolving taste, I couldn’t stop playing Destiny 2 in the weeks after it launched. I logged on every day to complete every task I could, desperate for a better weapon or piece of gear.
Had Destiny 2 been able to maintain this momentum, it might be even further up on my list. But as it stands, Destiny 2 is still the most fun I had with a first-person shooter this year. If Bungie can provide the quality of life adjustments that the game so desperately needs in a timely manner, I could see myself playing well into 2018.
7. Nier: Automata
I only recently returned to Nier: Automata after speeding through the first half of the game back when it launched. I was intrigued by it at the time, but other obligations got in the way and it fell by the wayside. But when I finally did finish the game, I began to see why so much was written about it in the weeks after it released.
Nier: Automata is an action-adventure game about a group of androids who have been tasked with ridding the planet of the robot scourge that has forced humanity to relocate to the moon. It’s also about AI. And what it means to be human. And the gray area between “right” and “wrong.” And eating deadly fish.
Nier: Automata is not only one of the best action combat games of 2017, but it’s also one of the most thoughtful and engrossing. As soon as you finish the game for the first time, you’re going to want to dive right back in to see the second ending. And the third. And the fourth. By the end, you’ll finally be able to see the whole picture.
6. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Over the summer, I downloaded and played through the first two Danganronpa games when they went on sale. I knew next to nothing about them, but I had only ever heard good things, so I figured I’d give the visual novels a shot. By the time I finished the second game, I found myself more obsessed with Danganronpa than any fictional world since Lost. I immediately watched the sequel anime to get the full story ahead of the launch of V3.
Although not a direct follow-up to the first two games, Danganronpa V3 feels like the culmination of the series. Once again, a group of sixteen students are trapped in an academy and forced to participate in a killing game. Once again, dark secrets about the academy are revealed as the students drop like flies.
I was thoroughly satisfied by the game’s big twist and explosive ending. It was both a commentary on our culture as a whole and, more specifically, on the impossible bar that consumers set for the artists and creators that they say they love. Although a bit long in the tooth and on the nose, Danganronpa V3 is a worthy finale (if it really is one).
5. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
I had no expectations for the follow-up to my game of the year for 2016. After all, it was supposed to be an abridged experience that followed a few of the side characters from the Uncharted series. How good could it be?
The answer: really, really great. As invested as I was in Nathan Drake’s story by the end of Uncharted 4, I still never connected with the character the same way that I did with the characters from my favorite game franchises. But Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross are infinitely more interesting and layered than Drake ever was.
Then there’s the game itself, which is smaller in scope, but just as fun (and gorgeous) as its predecessor. By setting the vast majority of the game in a single, sweeping open area, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy manages to freshen up a series that had pushed itself to the limits. And the final encounter is as exciting any in franchise history.
4. Persona 5
Persona 5 might have taken up more hours of my life than any single game in 2017. I’ve never been able to fully invest myself in a Persona game before, but the fifth time was apparently the charm, as I squeezed every drop from Persona 5 over the 100+ hours I spend working my way through the twisting, turning tale.
Persona 5 follows a group of high school students in Japan who uncover a dark plot that could put the fate of the world in jeopardy. But in between battling bad guys and saving the planet, it’s your job to live the life of a high school student — taking the train to school, working at a part-time job, studying for tests and trying to carve out enough time to have some semblance of a social life. This balance is what keeps the game fresh dozens of hours later.
In addition to being one of the more enjoyable and fast-paced JRPGs of the decade, Persona 5 is also among the most stylish and confident games of the generation. Every menu screen, every cutscene, every battle animation — it all oozes with style. And then there’s the stellar soundtrack, with is only rivaled by Nier: Automata’s. Persona 5 does so much right and so little wrong that no matter how long it takes you to finish it, you’ll never get tired of it.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild might have been one of the most anticipated games of all time prior to its launch in March. Skyward Sword, the last true 3D Zelda adventure, was well-received when it arrived on the Wii in 2011, but it failed to make a lasting impact, as Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker had before it.
So Nintendo ended up basically skipping an entire generation in order to perfect Breath of the Wild. Not only did Nintendo stick the landing, but many have proclaimed the new Zelda to be the best game in franchise history.
To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed in my first few hours with the game. It was vast and beautiful, but also empty and directionless. But when I eventually found my footing, I immediately fell head over heels with the world that Nintendo had built — a world where you can actually go anywhere and do anything you put your mind to.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
I didn’t know it until I played it, but I have been waiting for Super Mario Odyssey since 1996. It’s the first true sandbox Mario game since Super Mario Sunshine, but the gimmick of the hat that allows Mario to take control of his enemies is infinitely more entertaining than a jet pack than uses water as fuel, putting Odyssey on its own level.
What surprised me most about Odyssey was that I didn’t think a game stuffed to the brim with collectibles would still grab me the way it did in the ’90s. But every Power Moon feels like a real achievement, whether you find it sitting on top of a tree or have to defeat an incredibly difficult, multi-stage boss to get your hands on it.
Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild could almost have been 1a and 1b this year, but if I’m being completely honest with myself, Odyssey is the game that surprised and delighted me more than almost any other in 2017. And that’s why it slots in one spot above Zelda on my list this year.
1. Horizon Zero Dawn
When I started working on this list a week ago, Horizon Zero Dawn was the first game that came to mind. The fact that a game from February was still so fresh in my memory is exactly why Guerrilla Games’ magnum opus is my game of the year for 2017. It’s among the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve had in years.
What’s so astounding about Horizon Zero Dawn is how it balances a brilliantly-woven mystery with one of the best combat systems of any game this generation. Every encounter is thrilling, as the main character Aloy faces off against gigantic mechanical beasts with nothing but a bow, a spear and some makeshift traps.
Developers often struggle to pack open worlds with meaningful content, but that’s never an issue in Horizon. Secrets abound, enemies are around every corner and there are enough side missions to keep you busy for dozens of hours between the main missions. But the way that the world tells its own story is the game’s most impressive feat.
I won’t spoil Horizon’s story for anyone who has yet to play the game, but once the mystery began to unravel, I couldn’t put the game down. I even went out of my way to pick up audio logs that added context to the story, because I simply couldn’t get enough of it. So few games tell stories worth hearing, but this is one of them.
For all these reasons and more, Horizon Zero Dawn was my favorite game of 2017.
As always, I played plenty of games that didn’t make this list, but still deserve an honorable mention. A bizarre, deeply unsettling PC game called Doki Doki Literature Club! is one, as are the brutal run-and-gun platformer Cuphead and the brilliant Sonic Mania. The magical Gravity Rush 2 also came close, as did Everybody’s Golf.
Devastated that Resident Evil 7 didn’t appear anywhere on this page? Relieved that someone else has Danganronpa V3 on their list? Have a list of your own you’d like to share? Feel free to post in the comments below.