5. Reigns: Her Majesty
Nerial, Devolver Digital
Rule a country by swiping right or left. The premise of Reigns: Her Majesty sounds easy enough to manage, but an hour with the game is enough to make even the most hardened mobile gamer feel like a Luddite tasked with finding their soulmate on Tinder. Her Majesty builds on the successful formula of 2016’s Reigns by placing the player in control of a series of queens regnant (many of whom seem to be named after feminist writers and icons), whose advisors present them with problems to solve. Each problem has two solutions, but the binary system on which the game operates is anything but simple. Each choice is laden with consequence. I often found myself having to decide whether to sacrifice my current queen in order to preserve the integrity of my state, or else make a choice in which I didn’t believe in order to extend her life. In either case, the good of the lands is at stake, and either that good is achieved by making a choice to live now, or set up a spike for the next queen. Reigns: Her Majesty doles out punishment and reward in equal measure, and I ended every play session wanting more of each.
4. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Machine Games, Bethesda Softworks
There’s nothing I wanted to do more with my PS4 in 2017 than kill Nazis, and since breaking it over their heads never presented itself as an option, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus served very nicely. The game is a technical marvel fuelled by adrenaline, and the gunplay feels weighty and indulgent. The New Colossus makes you earn every kill, and even though frequent spikes in difficulty and issues in level design can contradict the power fantasy of slaughtering Nazis, each one of those kills feels fulfilling. The game’s story builds on the world set up by its predecessors, in which the Nazis win World War II and now lead as the world’s dominant superpower. In The New Colossus, B.J. Blazkowicz and his team of rebels take the fight to the Nazis that rule the United States. The effort to take back their country leads the team to some extreme places, and the story only slows in pace long enough to lure players into a false sense of security. The New Colossus is a call to arms as much as it is a video game, and its developers should feel proud.
In Aether Interactive’s third (!) game of 2017, LOCALHOST, the player takes on the role of a network administrator tasked with formatting computer drives. The twist: the drives all seem to house the minds of artificial intelligences, and none of them want to be deleted. The game unfolds as the administrator interacts with the entities on these drives, trying to discover who they are and whether they are too “human” (so to speak) to be deleted. The game is distressing, haunting, and arresting — and somehow, through impossible magicks, made in Twine — and you owe it to yourself to spend some time with it.
Disclaimer: I know members of Aether Interactive.
2. Horizon Zero Dawn
Guerrilla Games, Sony Interactive Entertainment
Horizon Zero Dawn leaps out of the gate with an intense focus on worldbuilding, and proceeds to construct one of the most fully-realized settings in recent gaming memory. You play as Aloy, an outcast who embarks on a journey beyond the bounds of the Sacred Lands to discover her origins and find the source of the corruption that’s infecting machines in the wilds. Throughout the campaign, Aloy must clear bandit camps, hunt rogue machines, foil villainous plots, and explore the ruins of the old world. The game feels alive — every NPC interaction, every side quest, every battle with a hulking mass of metal and flames immersed me more deeply in the world. I grew to care about everyone and everything I encountered, especially as I learned more about the people who tried to keep the world from collapsing in the middle of the 21st Century, and the nature of the machines. The type of emotional investment that the game elicited from me is a rare and special thing, and I wish I could experience it for the first time again.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo EPD, Nintendo
The latest The Legend of Zelda entry, Breath of the Wild, stands as one of the series’ best. That’s no small feat for one of gaming’s most beloved franchises, which consistently produces games that receive both critical acclaim and places in players’ lists of all-time favourites. Breath of the Wild, on the surface, sounds like any other The Legend of Zelda game: the chosen hero Link must free Princess Zelda by defeating an incarnation of the evil Ganon. To do so this time, however, Link does not need to complete a linear sequence of dungeons or temples in order to acquire the skills and tools to take down his nemesis. Instead, Link needs to do… well, pretty much nothing. Breath of the Wild is such a dedicated open world game that players can head straight for Hyrule Castle after leaving the Great Plateau (the game’s tutorial area), to take on Calamity Ganon with nothing more than a pocketful of sticks. The game’s dungeons, such as they are, are fully optional and can be completed in any order — completing all four Divine Beasts can help you defeat Ganon but they aren’t necessary, and the base game’s 120 shrines are all elective too. As if that weren’t enough, every one of the game’s systems are designed to make the player feel free. Want to climb that mountain? Cool, have at it. Want to spend an hour cooking? Bon appétit. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a game you can live in, and it’s an absolute achievement for the medium of video games.
Assassin’s Creed Origins, Destiny 2, A Mortician’s Tale