Best Games of 2017 and Commentary on Microtransactions

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Categories:  Consumerism, Gaming
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Blah blah blah “It’s that time of year again” for telling everyone what I thought the best games of 2017 were. Let’s get on with it!


← Read last year’s list 


The Games I Missed

Games on Consoles I Don’t Own

I’m still considering purchasing a Nintendo Switch. It looks like the best console around by a wide margin. I’d love to play Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey on it, but I haven’t been able to do so yet. If and when I do, I may update this post.

Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite (and other Fighting Games)

I grew up loving Street Fighter and other fighting games, but adult me can’t find a place for them in his life. I have a great internet connection, but I always lag when I try to play fighting games online. This doesn’t happen with any other multiplayer game I play, but one-on-one fighting games make it intensely painful.

For grown-up kids like me who came from a fighting game legacy of sitting next to my opponents on the couch or standing next to them at the arcade, this experience pales in comparison to the ones I’m attempting to recapture from my youth.

Occasionally, I get to meet up with some friends for “fight night” parties we throw and throw down some matches. I love these events, but they don’t happen often enough. My friends and I are traveling, getting married, having kids, and working hard. Hopefully, I get to go to more of these. Otherwise, I have little reason to purchase fighting games nowadays.

For now, I just watch funny people play fighting games on YouTube and Twitch.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (and other EA Titles)

I haven’t purchased an EA title in many years. As much as I love the Mass Effect universe, I can’t make any more exceptions. The reception of Mass Effect: Andromeda somewhat validated my decision, but I still grieve the loss of the great studio that BioWare used to be.

The huge controversy about EA’s use of microtransactions in their latest Star Wars title was all over my feeds this year. I can’t sympathize with the butthurt masses on this because all of us have known what EA is for nearly a decade now.

And now for my annual gaming trend commentary…

Microtransactions and “In-App Purchases”

If you aren’t already (you should be), get used to it. They aren’t going anywhere, and that’s not a bad thing.

Microtransactions are great if you’re smart about how you spend your money. They allow a small, privileged, and devout group of players (“whales“) to subsidize huge games that the rest of us can play for free. It’s the same reason we can sit at the nickel blackjack machine in Las Vegas and drink for free because other gamblers are dropping fat stacks on the roulette tables a hundred feet away.

Microtransactions also allow for greater flexibility in game design. Several hugely popular games we have today wouldn’t exist without them. They provide an option in a developer’s toolkit for making enough money to sustain their studio. Not every tool should be used for every task, of course.

Transparency and Personal Responsibility

Every game on Steam and the iOS App Store that uses microtransactions is labeled as such before you buy it. I’m not sure about other places, but it seems fairly ubiquitous to me. If you read reviews before purchasing them, you’ll certainly see them there too.

[screenshot] iOS App Store shows In-App Purchases clearly before purchasing an app.

None of the relevant information is missing. We know before ever downloading the game if it has microtransactions. We know the price and content of these add-on purchases before we buy them.

We know what’s in Loot Boxes too: A chance of getting a certain pool of digital content. It’s the same as purchasing a pack of trading cards or dropping ¥100-500 into a gashapon.

When a reasonable person buys a lottery ticket, do they freak out when they don’t win? No. When a lifelong smoker gets lung cancer today, is anyone surprised? I hope not. Do I expect every pack of Magic: The Gathering cards I open to have the rarest cards in the set inside? No.

Why is that? Because these things aren’t new in our society. We understand probability in those worlds, so why can’t we understand it in gaming?

Surgeon General's Warning on Cigarettes

There are thousands of unfair things in our world, where no one is adequately prepared to defend themselves from con artists taking advantage of us. This is not one of them. We learn about the mathematics of probability in public schools. The game’s packaging tells you what you’re getting. How many warning signs do we need to put in front of people before they’re simply willfully ignorant?

Let’s Be Better Consumers

As I’ve been saying for years, never preorder any game. At worst, it perpetuates the business model of inflating a huge hype train about games, promising the impossible, and investing all a studio’s resources into making trailers and demos. At best, it sets you up for repeated disappointment as a consumer.

Before making a game purchase ($60 is still a significant amount of money to me, and to most gamers), we have to do a little more than that too. We need to read reviews and maybe even watch a let’s play video or two. But it seems to me the most important thing is to simply wait.

For Honor marketing art

I was really excited about multiple games with great potential this year, but most of them fell flat after a few weeks. Interest waned, the online communities dried up, and the multiplayer queues got too long.

For Honor was the one I got closest to buying. It seemed fun but didn’t have the staying power and replay value I would’ve wanted for that type of game and its price. The hype was too strong, and it made me suspicious. I’m happy to say I dodged that bullet.

But I Did Get Duped in 2017

Destiny 2 marketing art

I should’ve known better. I purchased Destiny 2 when it came out for PC. I knew it had glaring flaws that it carried over from the first iteration.

  • No matchmaking for Nightfalls and Raids – A needless restriction I still don’t agree with, and will stop me from ever buying another game that does it.
  • Only a couple of months of play before I had to buy an expansion to keep playing in relevant content.
  • Tedious dailies & weeklies that don’t feel unique.

It’s fine. I should’ve known better. I won’t make the mistake of buying another Bungie game. They simply aren’t worth the price for the amount of enjoyment I get out of them anymore.

This has led me to modify one of the bullet points on my list of rules for buying new games:

  1. Don’t preorder.
  2. Don’t buy into the hype. Hype should make us even more critical of a game.
  3. Read reviews.
  4. Wait a couple of weeks after release.
  5. Weigh the price tag (including in-app purchases) against how much enjoyment we expect to get from it.

*Deep breath* There. I feel better. Now let’s talk about the best games of 2017!

[animated gif] Monty Python "Get on with it!"

 

The Best Games of 2017

I Am Setsuna

[screenshot] I Am Setsuna

I Am Setsuna on Steam →

I Am Setsuna is the first game from Tokyo RPG Factory — a studio under Square Enix that I’ve been excited about since first hearing of it. It offers a wonderful blend of nostalgia and new ideas told in the form of a classic JRPG. While playing it, I definitely felt vibes of Chrono Trigger and other SNES and PSX RPGs that I grew up loving.

I Am Setsuna is one of the best games of 2017 for its wholesome appeal and strong fundamentals. It’s a great value for its price, and I recommend any RPG lover picks it up. I’ll be keeping an eye on the next projects Tokyo RPG Factory releases, too.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

South Park: The Fractured But Whole marketing art

South Park: The Fractured But Whole on Steam →

Speaking of excellent RPGs, South Park: The Fractured But Whole is probably the best RPG of the year. The Stick of Truth was a solid game to build from, and The Fractured But Whole took several steps forward from that title to make a straight-up superior successor.

If you enjoy South Park and play games, get it. That’s truly all it takes to love this game. The battle and story mechanics are fantastic, the writing and art are hilarious, and the references to the entire world of South Park are on point. It’s one of the best games of 2017 because of its well-designed RPG systems and hilarious storytelling.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Horizon: Zero Dawn marketing art

Horizon: Zero Dawn on PlayStation Store → (PS4)

Horizon: Zero Dawn was easily the best game of 2017 with a $60 price tag. It’s an incredibly beautiful and stylish game that I could (and did!) spend days exploring. The characters and story are unique, and it really scratched most of the itch I was hoping Destiny 2 would.

If you’re one of the many people still enjoying Skyrim or Fallout 4 (and you have a PS4), check this one out.

I really, really, really just wish it were on PC. Then it would be perfect.

[animated gif] The Glorious PC Master Race
The Glorious PC Master Race [Know Your Meme]

Pyre

Pyre on Steam →

Pyre is a weird game, and it’s definitely not what I was expecting. I posted a video above instead of a screenshot because so much of Pyre is in the way it moves. Not just in its beautiful, dynamic animations, but also in its action-packed gameplay.

Pyre is like a sports anime (like Haikyuu!!). You travel with a team of strange characters that all have wildly different skills and personalities. At regular intervals, you play in matches against other teams that have their own unique characters and strategies. These matches resemble soccer or basketball in a magical realm. Between these matches, the drama unfolds episodically.

The characters are lovable, the action is intense, and the game is exactly as challenging as you want it to be. This unique experience makes Pyre an easy addition to the best games of 2017.

It may sound strange, but if you enjoy NBA Jam, Mega Man Soccer, Mutant League Football, Tiny Toons Basketball, or Mario Kart… you’ll probably enjoy Pyre. The Space Jam theme song seemed appropriate to play in the background during many of my more challenging matches.

Anyone who’s read my previous best games lists may notice that I have every single game by Supergiant Games on them. This is because they consistently come up with genre-bending games with amazing style and beautiful art. Their work is truly unique and I love them for it. Pyre is an excellent addition to their portfolio, and I will continue to follow their future work with bated breath.

Cuphead

Cuphead "Don't Deal With The Devil" art

Cuphead on Steam or GOG →

Cuphead is the most beautiful game of the year. Its unique aesthetic grabbed the attention of gamers immediately. And contrary to the way most hype works in the gaming world, Studio MDHR delivered a high-quality, challenging but still fun bullet hell platformer.

My girlfriend had never played a video game for a substantial duration before, but the art style of Cuphead fascinated her. And despite how difficult each level was, we regularly took them on and defeated them one by one in co-op mode. We even have far-too-long debates about which characters in the game we thought were the coolest/cutest.

[screenshot] Cuphead Gorgon Boss Battle
There’s a TON of great characters on every screen.
For the most part, Cuphead’s difficulty is heavy but fair. It doesn’t troll you nearly as hard as a Dark Souls or old-school Mega Man title.

Cuphead is a masterwork of modern gaming. It boasts a beautiful balance between style and substance, and between difficulty and fun. This is what makes Cuphead one of the best games of 2017.

Hollow Knight

[art] Hollow Knight - The Best Games of 2017

Hollow Knight on Steam → (coming soon to Nintendo Switch)

As awesome as Cuphead was, no video game absorbed more of my leisure time in 2017 than Hollow Knight. Looking back at my Best Games articles of previous years, you almost always see a “Metroidvania” style non-linear platformer.

Hollow Knight stands out from previous games in this genre by using a beautifully restrained color palette, a mysterious and cute protagonist, and a crushingly harsh world for that character to first endure and later conquer.

As non-linear games go, Hollow Knight has one of the best “flows” among them. I got lost several times, but always had context clues to guide me toward previously unexplored areas or revisit old places that may have changed since. Sometimes these clues were overt, like speaking with the elderly man next to the bench in the main town. Other occasions we more subtle, like tiny blue lights filling up partially to indicate a unique method to open a secret door.

If you enjoyed Ori and the Blind Forest, Super Metroid, and other games like it, I cannot recommend Hollow Knight more. For me, it is #1 among the best games of 2017.


Honorable Mentions

League of Legends

Download League of Legends →

The new season of League of Legends is great so far. They’ve overhauled two of the systems that I believe have always hampered the experience: Runes & Masteries (pre-game prep work) and Experience Points.

[screenshot] League of Legends Season 8 Runes Sample

Both of these changes are related since the only reason experience points were ever relevant to the game in the first place was to slowly roll out the [overly complicated] Runes & Masteries system to new users. Now, users only need to make 7 meaningful decisions (as opposed to 57 decisions, of which only 3-5 of them were truly meaningful).

I could write an entire post just about how great a job Riot Games is doing with this streamlining, but I’ve already bored you to death with one diatribe in this article, so suffice to say: LoL is better now. It requires less homework and prep to get into a game and battle fools. I’m optimistic about the coming season.

Children of Zodiarcs

[screenshot] Children of Zodiarcs battle scene

Children of Zodiarcs on Steam →

Children of Zodiarcs has a lot of cool ideas going on. The battle system is a lightweight version of the isometric chessboard format we’ve seen before in great games like Final Fantasy Tactics and the Disgaea series. They combined that tried and true formula with a cool custom dice rolling mechanic that gives you a nice blend of unexpected results and control over the range of those possibilities.

It’s pretty short, and the plot — while it does have some potential — isn’t extremely compelling when compared to other games in its genre. I believe it’s still in Early Access mode though, so perhaps that will improve in time.

Once you beat the game, you can keep fighting exhibition battles, but they feel pointless without any compelling post-game content to use newly acquired skill cards and dice on.

While Children of Zodiarcs isn’t one of the best games of 2017, it’s still fun. If you’re craving a cool new tactics game, it’s easy to drop the cheap indie price for this title and get a dozen or so hours of enjoyment out of it.

Secrets of Grindea

[screenshot] Secrets of Grindea

Secrets of Grindea on Steam →

Very much like an RPG version of Stardew Valley, Secrets of Grindea is a pixellated, fun time-waster of a game. It’s still in early access at the moment, so there are a few bugs here and there and the content isn’t fully fleshed out yet. I like where it’s going, and I hope to jump back into it when the full release arrives.

Nier: Automata

[screenshot] Nier: Automata

Nier: Automata on Steam →

Nier is a strange series. It’s dense with lore while still leaving you completely confused about what the fuck just happened at many points in the games. That’s part of its charm, but also part of why I don’t consider its latest episode more highly.

Nier: Automata has a lot going for it. It was practically designed specifically for me:

  • Stylized
  • Cyberpunk
  • RPG Elements
  • Mindless fun combat that can be accomplished while stoned

Where its lacking is in its controls and UI. Style and beauty are great, but not when they interfere with the primary methods I use to play the game. Even after several hours of practice, I never truly felt comfortable with the controls. It’s still a very solid game.


Games I’m Looking Forward to in 2018

Monster Hunter: World

Monster Hunter: World Website

I’ve wanted to play Monster Hunter for a long time, but it has never been released on the platform that I’d want to use for it… until now. Monster Hunter World is coming to the PC Master Race sometime in 2018, and I cannot wait.

Dragon Quest XI

Dragon Quest was the very first RPG I ever played as a kid, and I play all their main titles. This one is getting incredibly good reviews in Japan now, so I’m excited about its US release in 2018.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

I Kickstarted this game, and hope that it’s as good as its potential. If it goes the way Mighty No. 9 did, I may never use Kickstarter again, of course.

Indivisible

Indivisible looks super cool. This video is more than two years old, so it’s come a long way since. I hope it measures up!

Narita Boy

Narita Boy reminds me of my previous Best Game of the year, Hyperlight Drifter. Those are huge shoes to fill, in my opinion, so we’ll see how it goes. This probably won’t get released until 2019 if my Kickstarter history is any indication, but I’m looking forward to it, nonetheless.

Ni No Kuni II

 

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