2017 turned out to be such a strong year for games that whittling down a list of 10 favorites proved more challenging that I expected. After a lot of internal back and forth complete with soul searching, a global pilgrimage, and other events that didn’t actually happen, I’ve compiled a list I’m largely satisfied with. Now hurry up and read my picks before I change my mind on something. I’d also love to read what your favorite games were in the comments!

The Legend of Zelda: BOTW Link Horseback

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch/Wii U)

Many open-world games tout the element of freedom. I thought I knew what that meant until Breath of the Wild redefined what freedom could be. Nothing exemplifies this more than when Link exits the Shrine of Resurrection and the objective “Destroy Ganon” appears. Open-world experiences all promise freedom but still force players to adhere to the established pace of a critical path. But with Zelda, players have the option of foregoing everything it has to offer and attempt to slay the big bad from the very beginning.That opening moment proved I really could do proceed with my journey any way I saw fit.

That freedom extends to how the game allows for an impressive level of improvisation. “That actually worked?!” became a recurring statement when concocting makeshift solutions thanks to the crazy ways various systems interact with each other. Traditional dungeons may have taken a backseat (and the ones present are admittedly so-so) but I dug the shine’s bite-sized conundrums. Hyrule boasts a varied landscape filled with surprises, some of which remain undiscovered after over 135 hours of play. Colossal labyrinths, a cursed island, and mythical dragons are just very least of what players can stumble upon.

Survival elements like cooking and weapon degradation, though sometimes a pain, offered enjoyable challenges to my resourcefulness. I loved messing with the cool Sheikah Slate abilities; documenting the world using the camera specifically became an unexpected delight. Not since Skyrim has an open-world enthralled me with the sheer number of exciting locations and things to do. Breath of the Wild is a breath of fresh air for the Zelda series and my favorite game of 2017.

Super Mario Odyssey Luncheon Kingdom

2. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) 

Few games slapped a smile on my face as consistently as Mario’s latest adventure. Given the barrage of bummers 2017 brought, that alone raises its stock. Though a Mario game through and through, the Capture mechanic brings an exciting new layer of experimentation. From possessing a T-Rex to a sewer lid, I had a blast figuring out what I could possess and how to use it. Scouring the dense kingdoms for moons became an addicting endeavor; I’m still popping back into the game to find every secret. But perhaps my favorite aspect is the loving ways Odyssey tips its hat to the past. The 8-bit platforming sections are just plain cool and blend wonderfully with the modern design. And who would have guessed playing dress-up with Mario would enhance the experience as much as it did? The only thing more satisfying than besting Bowser is doing so garbed in a snazzy white tuxedo.

Horizon Zero Dawn Sawtooth

3. Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4)

Post-apocalyptic settings are a dime a dozen. That’s why I fell in love with Horizon’s fresh premise of tribal humans coexisting with mechanized beasts that inherited the Earth. The story of humanity’s downfall and how protagonist Aloy fits into that grand scheme are tantalizing carrots that, thankfully, pay off in satisfying fashion. Facing these formidable foes proved just as thrilling. Combat emphasizes thoughtful planning due to how enemies sport multiple vulnerabilities to exploit. I had as much fun dismantling machines as I did admiring them from a distance. Of course, I have to mention how drop dead gorgeous everything looks. By my book, Horizon Zero Dawn towers as the most exciting new IP to emerge this year.

Cuphead Baroness Von Bon Bon

4. Cuphead (Xbox One, PC)

Cuphead is more than just a visual homage to 1930’s animation (an aspect it absolutely nails). The Contra-esque gameplay sports a spit-shine polish and blistering but fun challenge. The boss encounters stand as some of most creatively designed and exciting affairs I’ve ever played. Alleviating the high difficulty is the brilliant progress meter that shows exactly how close players come to toppling a boss; an effective method of keeping the hope alive. Cuphead pushed my skills to the brink, making me smile and ask for more time and again.

Resident Evil 7 Biohazard Wallpaper

5. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)

Capcom wisely returned to the drawing board with a reinvention that simultaneously fulfilled long-requested desires and gave me things I didn’t know I wanted. Resident Evil 7 returned to the classic style of gameplay I pined for: an emphasis on puzzle-solving, harrowing survival, and a powerful sense of dread. The switch to a first-person perspective heightened the tension and gave the series a much-needed air of freshness. Most importantly, Resident Evil genuinely frightened me for the first time in ages. This was the shot in the arm the series desperately needed and 2017’s premier horror experience.

Nier Automata 2B

6. Nier: Automata (PlayStation 4, PC)

I took a chance on this despite never playing the original Nier or any of Yoko Taro’s works. The leap of faith paid off. Nier: Automata combines some flawed parts (dated presentation, middling combat) to form an extraordinary whole. The off-the-wall story, along with its equally bizarre structure, asks poignant questions about the value of life and memory. The insane degree the game commits to its A.I.-themed premise is admirable and wonderful. How many titles purposely ditch auto-saves to preserve narrative continuity? Nier may not be perfect or entirely coherent but its one of the most memorable and boldly designed games of this generation.

Night In the Woods 1

7. Night in the Woods (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)

Charming visuals and a sharp, dark humor made it easy to fall in love with Night in the Woods. Mae Boroswki, a college dropout returning to a hometown that’s seen significant changes, embarks on an emotional roller coaster of self discovery that tactfully hints at an underlying mental illness. Discovering why Mae abandoned school leads to touching moments centered on the pressures of living up to expectations and learning to love yourself in spite of glaring personal flaws. I grew to love and sympathize with Mae, admired her kinship with her friends, and had a great time interacting with Possum Springs’ colorful residents. Always remember: eels!

Uncharted The Lost Legacy Wideshot

8. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PlayStation 4)

The Lost Legacy takes Uncharted 4’s biggest fault, an excessive length, and throws it over a beautifully rendered cliffside. Naughty Dog instead crafted a tightly written and exciting adventure of two strong but disparate personalities. Chloe and Nadine’s love/hate relationship is a ton of fun to watch unfold and the main plot isn’t too shabby either. Basic gameplay doesn’t differ much from Uncharted 4 save for a welcomed emphasis on puzzle-solving. The Lost Legacy’s breathtaking graphics not only made my jaw drop but the jaws of my eyeballs plummet at regular intervals (just go with it). Like Nathan Drake, I was ready to retire from treasure hunting after the last game. But if side stories can be as entertaining as this one, keep them coming Naughty Dog.

What Remains of Edith Finch House

9. What Remains of Edith Finch (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) 

Powerful storytelling, constant engagement, and interactive variety define Giant Sparrow’s narrative experience. Imaginative dream sequences let players act out the unfortunate fates of the cursed Finch family, providing substantial moments of play beyond just walking and observing. Even having the narrative materialize as dreamy interactive text goes a long way in commanding attention. If you enjoy story-driven adventure games as much as I do (which is a lot), you should absolutely play What Remains of Edith Finch. Just be prepared for the tale to hit you harder than you might expect.

The Evil Within 2 Camera Monster

10. The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) 

The first Evil Within had cool moments but I walked way disappointed with its confusing narrative and bland protagonist. Tango Gameworks righted the ship in both areas with the sequel. Sebastian morphs into a much more interesting hero; a desperate father searching for his missing daughter in a story that’s both touching and unnerving. Exploring the twisted town of Union provides a new openness that bestows a wonderful freedom in how players go about surviving. The Evil Within 2 accomplishes what every sequel should: improve upon its predecessor in just about every way.

To wrap things up here’s the full list of games I completed in 2017 (Note: I finished Night in the Woods the day after New Year, hence why it’s not included.)

Adr1ft
Battle Chef Brigade
Contra
Cuphead
Final Fantasy XV
Frog Fractions
Headlander
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Horizon Zero Dawn
Injustice 2
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Little Nightmares
Lumo
Madden 18 Longshot
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Mega Man 2
Metroid: Samus Returns
New Super Mario Bros. 2
Nex Machina
Nier: Automata
Observer
Oure
Outlast 2
Owlboy
Perception
Picross 3D Round 2
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Rime
Ryse: Son of Rome
Serial Cleaner
Slime Rancher
Sonic Mania
SteamWorld Dig
Super Mario Odyssey
Tacoma
The Evil Within 2
The Last Guardian
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
What Remains of Edith Finch
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Generations

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