The Gaming Year in Review: 2017
In 2017, the gaming world saw new video game consoles, amazingly detailed and rich games, and old favorites getting a new look. While the promise of fantastic titles loom on the horizon in 2018, let’s look back at some of the best things from the year.
Disclaimer: The video games are in no particular order. This is a subjective list, meaning the criteria for selection is based on how much fun I had playing the game, and if it made me want to keep coming back for more adventures. Your mileage may vary.
In March, Nintendo finally released the promise of a brand new video game console that would shock the world. The Nintendo Switch put powerful and deep games into the hands of players and allowed them to play those adventures anywhere they wanted.
The part-time handheld and part-time home console meant quality gaming on the move without any need for cloud storage or saving and loading onto a different device. The console has four different configurations – handheld, tabletop, cradle, multiplayer – and the transition between them is smooth and without hiccup.
By releasing a new Zelda and Mario game designed for the Switch, Nintendo made sure that games people wanted were ready for the new console. Dozens of developers have followed suit, producing either ports of major titles or brand new games to take advantage of the Switch’s capabilities.
Nintendo announced in early December that they had sold more than 10 million units worldwide in the span of about nine months. The holidays will likely bump that number much higher, indicating 2018 should be a very good year for Nintendo.
Microsoft and Sony released more powerful consoles with the Xbox One X and the PlayStation4 Pro. Both offer increased processing power and better graphics capabilities. Could the divide between PC and console gaming be shrinking?
Super Mario Odyssey
With a new console available, Nintendo dusted off their iconic character and put him in a new adventure. “Super Mario Odyssey” propels Mario and friends to greater heights, putting it among the best of all Mario games.
The famous plumber runs, jumps, and flings his hat through huge 3-D open worlds in his quest to – wait for it – rescue Princess Peach from the amorous clutches of Bowser. This time, the arch nemesis has matrimony on his mind, and Mario is on his trail as Bowser collects items from the different worlds to make the perfect wedding.
It is a wonderful journey and provides unique gameplay with a new look at the relationship between Mario, Peach, and Bowser and the most fun I have had with a Mario game in years.
Resident Evil 7 Biohazard
More games are heading to virtual reality, but one title stood out in how it utilized VR to tell a gripping tale and provide smooth player movement and interaction during gameplay. “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard” reaffirmed its place in the horror game genre. The fear of the unknown is heavy in this game, but so are the real and quite fatal dangers. That combination plays on your mental and physical toughness, which is why this game is so amazing.
Secret passages, attics, and basements add many layers to each, making exploration frightening, since you never know what lurks around each corner. It takes on the film quality of “Don’t go in there, you idiot!” when a darkened room is your only way forward. You know nothing good is going to come out of entering that area, but you must do it to find a way to safety.
Using the PlayStation VR, the first-person perspective becomes even more personal. While the movement isn’t as fluid as standard play, the scares and terror are ramped up as you crane your neck around shower curtains, waiting for something to jump out and grab you.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
“Middle-Earth: Shadow of War” is a deep, dark look at a part of Middle-Earth lore that has previously been downplayed. Instead of elves, dwarves and hobbits, a single man and his orc followers are the ones who kept Sauron at bay for decades.
He builds himself an immense orc army to claim lands inside Mordor and prevent them from becoming breeding grounds for the Dark Lord’s march across Middle-Earth. Talion and Celebrimbor’s drive to seek revenge against Sauron for separate injustices gives them the perceived justification to use whatever tactics are necessary to defeat the great evil.
While the action takes place before the events in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” there are still some characters from those books that make appearances in the game. The inclusion of Shelob and her new background story offers a delicious twist on what was previously believed to be just another monster.
The storylines of power, betrayal, and redemption tugged on the adventurer in me while keeping me emotionally invested in the path and outcome of Talion. His fall was to be expected. His redemption was a joy to behold and, honestly, a bit of relief.
Tomb of Annihilation/Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Not all the fun gaming in 2017 was on a video screen. Wizards of the Coast released a new 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure, “Tomb of Annihilation,” and the first major rules expansion for 5th edition with “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.”
In Tomb, players head to the jungle peninsula of Chult. Instead of searching for a lost mine, adventurers have been called to end a curse that is causing people who have been raised from the dead to deteriorate.
Chult is home to dinosaurs and the undead, and mixing an undead problem with those great lizards presents a new challenge with zombie dinosaurs. They will likely eat more than just your brain.
The demilich Acererak, who first appeared in the original “Tomb of Horrors” in 1978, is involved in the adventure. That should give players a hint about what lies ahead for them and help them prepare for the dangers to come.
If the 5th edition core rules are the cake, “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything” is the creamy frosting on top to accentuate any D&D campaign with sweetness for players and dungeon masters alike.
The guide is the first major rules expansion for 5th edition D&D and draws some of its information from “Princes of the Apocalypse” adventure and the “Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.” However, there are plenty of new options, tools, and spells to add some additional flavor to any adventure.
The book is neatly broken up into three major segments for characters, DM tools, and new spell lists and descriptions. Sprinkled throughout are the words of Xanathar himself, a beholder who acts as a crime lord in Waterdeep and the keeper of knowledge. Be prepared for some gallows humor, but what else would you expect from a beholder?
Horizon Zero Dawn
“Horizon Zero Dawn” portrays a remarkable journey for a character destined to save the world from the dangers of its past in a story of personal growth and understanding.
Aloy, a young outcast in a tribal society, is more than she appears to be. Like a child lost in time, the young girl resists the religious backbone of her tribe, the Nora, in favor of a scientific inquisitiveness and desire to know the unknown.
Along the way, she will encounter robotic creatures that bear some resemblance to living animals. The combat is fluid, visceral, and energetic as Aloy dodges attacks, sneaks up on opponents and finds creative and strategic ways to complete her missions.
The environments are vast, striking and beautiful. The terrain varies from wind-blown deserts to snow-covered mountain tops.
Humor and laughter. Loss and misery. The emotions evoked by Aloy’s trials and tribulations are heartfelt and genuine. We find joy in her success. We lament her setbacks. We share in her shock and amazement at new discoveries.
Invariably, a game turns into what I call my “go to” game when I just want to play something. Call it a warm-up game, if you will, but “Destiny 2” is usually the first game I boot up in the day to dive into a solar system in danger.
The single-player storyline wove a tale of loss and redemption as a new threat ripped away the Light from Guardians, forcing them to confront their own mortality for the first time in centuries. Their fear, determination, and anger inject real emotion into the game that was missing from the first release. Ghaul makes a great villain, even though he, himself, is also conflicted about his actions and, ultimately, casts his lot with what brought him to this point – brute force.
In “Destiny 2,” there always seems to be something new to explore or a mission to undertake. Weekly events and daily missions keep me moving forward to a new goal. The recent addition of Mercury as a planet to explore has created new opportunities and lore for the franchise.
Unlike “Destiny 1,” this entry into the franchise is trying its best to keep things fresh. While the combat and action are similar to the first title, the opportunities to increase my powers and improve my weapons are plentiful.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
“South Park: The Fractured But Whole” is a wonderful romp through the sleepy, but always interesting, Colorado town and its unique residents. Just when you think the action can’t get any more outlandish, the game rises to a new level of ridiculousness.
However, it all fits together inside this world, and the gameplay will challenge strategic minds without overshadowing the funny story.
It isn’t breaking new ground, but it is breaking wind to provide a richly humorous game. If you don’t think farts are funny, this probably isn’t for you.
But the story blends comic book lore, satire on current affairs, and the usual “South Park” hijinks. It kept me laughing and playing for many hours.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been a bit all over the map, both figuratively and literally. Great adventures were often followed by meh tales as the war between the Assassins and the Templars rages across time.
“Assassin’s Creed Origins” reveals the beginning of the war that occurred in Ancient Egypt, at the time of Cleopatra. What starts out as a simple quest for revenge becomes the impetus for the creation of the Assassins and their fight against those who would rule over others.
While the gameplay offers some familiar and unique elements, it was the setting that drew me in. Seeing and climbing the pyramids, exploring the Sphinx, battling crocodiles and hippos along the Nile, and living during a time when Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were the powers in the world created deep and lush environments for the missions and quests.
The action is frantic, but there are also exploratory missions to test your mental acuity. Along the way, you will meet and possibly kill some of history’s most famous figures of that time.
It is a novel in video game form. The characters are deep, and their desires and goals feel real. Players will feel connected to their stories and want to help them seek the redemption or revenge they desire. The mark of a good game is to provide an adventure that players don’t want to leave. I never wanted to depart from those sands of Egypt.
What will 2018 bring? It is unlikely we will see any more new hardware, but trailers for games coming out next year are already filling players with excitement. From superhero adventures to finding new ways to outwit opponents, 2018 is sure to have something for everyone.