2017, in games
Normally I wouldn't bother writing a piece about games because I don't play enough of them to comment on the state of what's out now. If it isn't called "Morrowind", chances are I won't be playing it much. But with all that being said this year I have managed to get my hands on a few games that are not only real gems, but modern masterpieces that deserve a bit of a callout. Come, stay a while and listen!
To console or not
The last console I bought was a PS3. Now that I game on PC and less in general, I've no need for consoles. I don't mind setting up an PC, tweaking it so I can do what I want - I'm not someone who needs black-box appliances, especially useless ones like game consoles. And further to this rant, I had definitely swore off Nintendo as a lost cause; I hadn't played much out of them that really blew me away in recent times, except for the most excellent "Zelda A Link Between Worlds" for 3DS which was amazing. But!! Yes there is a butt... As it turns out, I've gotten my hands on a Nintendo Switch and I will say, things have changed a bit! Now, on to the meat of this piece!
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It's not often something makes me stop and just say "WOW", let alone a video game, let alone repeatedly! I had seen a few videos of the game in action but nothing too spoiler-ey, but it wasn't until I got my hands on the Switch version of the game that I understood what all the hype was about. This game not only marks a return to form for the Zelda series and Nintendo as game makers, it is the single most captivating game I have ever spent time playing. Period! Everything about this game is masterfully done, the totally huge map is chock-full of things to find and nearly every pixel of the map has something interesting to see. Almost every time I look at something in the distance and think "huh, wtf is that?" it proves to be worth going to check out, seriously. The game wants you to explore every nook and cranny and is constantly rewarding you for doing so.
Breath of the Wild regularly gives me the feeling that Nintendo gave their devs and designers a "Skyrim Day" where they sat down and played the shit out of Skyrim - taking notes about every little thing that wasn't awesome. As I play, I notice big and small things that make me thing "that's like in Skyrim but better/less annoying!" This game fixes nearly every issue I've ever had with any open world game, and there's almost zero filler. If you are skeptical about if or how Zelda could work in an open world, of if Nintendo could pull it off, relax. It does and they did.
For me, one of the most impressive aspects of the game is how so many Zelda tropes are abandoned and yet I don't actually care. Unmistakeably, there are token Zelda sound effects and other things riddled throughout the game, but certain staples are totally absent. Paired with aspects like breakable items and etc and the game seems very different from what you might know of Zelda. And it doesn't matter. Actually it does! The game is worlds better because of it. I won't get too into the specifics but suffice it to say, it's all good.
The game's difficulty is at a level not seen in the series since perhaps Zelda II on the NES. Breakable items, technical battles, and a vast world with dynamic environments all make this a dangerous walk in the park. And still the game is fun, combat is rewarding and environmental hazards are usually neat surprises even when fatal (I wasn't even mad the first time I got struck by lightning and died!)
With the exception of Morrowind, Breath of the Wild is the only game that I've been able to continue playing without a beat after finishing the main quest. There's just so much content in the game, the main plot only touches a small percentage and there is plenty to see and do after finishing it. I thought I had found a lot of stuff and upon completion of the main quest I saw I only saw some 22% of the game - wow! Granted I lose a lot of percentage points from not taking pictures in game (I won't go into the details about this because spoilers) but still, a huge chunk of that progress is behind the random cool stuff you can find just by exploring.
The term "masterpiece" is appropriate for this title, it's the best video game I've played in a long long time and I consider it a work of art.
It might be easy to look at Hollow Knight next to Breath of the Wild or any other, "more impressive" game and think it's a safe pass. You would be wrong. Hollow Knight is one of the most stylish of the so-called "Metroidvania" genre that I've seen in years, it just looks and sounds so awesome and atmospheric. Oh yeah, and it plays amazingly too! This game stands right next to Symphony of the Night, easily, in terms of gameplay and style. I've not gotten super far yet thanks to being sucked into Breath of the Wild, but this is the only game that's been interesting enough to make me put that down since I got it!
Lately the genre of so-called "Metroidvanias" have been pretty hot, with several entries from various indie devs out there. I've tried a few and they are hit or miss, but none of the really captivated me in the way that Hollow Knight has. Despite being a "cheap", "indie" game, it delivers a sense of mystery and curiosity on par with that of genre classics like Castlevania Symphony of the Night. Again, I'm not super far but my initial hour or so has just blown me away. I even sprung for the soundtrack on GOG.com and am glad I did, it's hauntingly great and accompanies the game incredibly well. I'm playing on Void Linux and for the most part it runs pretty well - though I feel like it should be a bit smoother for as powerful as my machine is. I definitely had to turn off the in-game vsync because the stuttering was terrible, but that's probably more of an X11/Linux issue in general.
Super Mario Oddysey
This is another one I've not spent a lot of time on, but the small bits I've played left a big impression on me. It seems that Nintendo made a huge splash this year, not only with the release of the Switch but also by supporting it with amazing software. I already glowed over Zelda, and I'm happy to report that Mario is almost on par with it's level of greatness. In the short hour or so I played I went through three different stages, and in each I was presented with a cornucopia of gameplay variety. The rumors are true; this game is packed full of variety and cool things you can do as Mario. Add to that a world filled with crisp color and vibrant textures, this is easily the best-looking Mario game to date. This one along with Zelda give me the feel that Nintendo has a few tricks left up it's sleeve that don't involve jumping on the bandwagon of exploitative mobile "game" design. Perhaps I'll write more about this one as I get more time in, but for now this one is a solid must buy for Switch owners.
Now that I'm a certified console owner again, and my Nintendo embargo is more or less lifted, who knows what I might end up playing. I see Mario Kart in my future.... at any rate I expect 2018, as with every other year, to just be the year of Morrowind/OpenMW. GAME OF THE YEAR EVERY YEAR!