It’s been a while since I have written here… but I think I may get back to writing here more to try to keep off of social media.
The year 2017 has been one with a smattering number of great single player experiences and the rise of predatory loot box practices in video games. I have spent less time playing multiplayer competitive games and really been playing more single player games. Though the common theme with this year’s game releases seems to be that Japanese developers know not to be scummy with consumers on DLC because they know that it will burn their good will for return business, yet big western developers have been pushing the bar for what they can get away with on nickle-n-diming players… Well, until you’re EA with Star Wars Battlefront II that the state of Hawaii is thinking of trying to push legislation to label games with loot boxes as gambling.
I’d like to share what I feel are my favorite games from this year. Note that these are NOT in any particular order or rank. They are just listed in what comes to mind as they are inspired.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)
This was a bit of a one-two punch because it was also the first game I bought on my Nintendo Switch. The game is one part a throwback to the original Legend of Zelda on NES/Famicom, but also one part Dark Souls lite. Nintendo’s design philosophy had an emphasis of making sure every square inch of the game had things for you to look for in the form of shrines, Korok, seeds, or mini-quests. The combat is pretty solid and makes sure that you will learn why you died. The cell-shaded comic book style does well as it helps the flow of combat and keeping the game running at a consistent frame rate. I found it refreshing in an era where so many major video game releases are hyper-focused on providing the “most realistic” looking graphics. The best part is that the game was so very compelling that it was hard to put down the game. Combined with the Switch console’s nature, I have a few moments where I have played the game from bed because I wasn’t quite done playing for a day. I clocked nearly 115 hours in the game for just the base game. I haven’t even started on the DLC… which I hear is nothing short of fantastic.
Horizon: Zero Dawn + “The Frozen Wilds” DLC (PlayStation 4)
A game by Guerrilla Games that isn’t an FPS?! That’s a drastic shift for a company that has generally been focused with making the Killzone series of FPS games. Rather than an FPS, Horizon is a game that is an open exploration sandbox game with… (wait for it) a female protagonist. This was something that was vastly different from the usual games in Guerrilla’s wheel house. If there’s anything to say about it… it’s a wonderful thing seeing them make something that’s not Killzone related and an FPS. “The Frozen Wilds” downloadable content chapter expands on a tribe that is lightly touched upon in the main story and also expands on a significant event. The best part is that the game offers quite a value for $50 USD.
Dead Cells (PC, Early Access)
Indie games in the the PC space have been a little obsessed with the rogue-like and rogue-lite style game play. Dead Cells was released in May of 2017 as a game that is a rogue-lite but combines Metroid-vania style game play with the methodical and committed combat style of the Dark Souls games. I normally do not like buying Early Access games because I have seen far too many cases where a developer will abandon a project in favor for profits like what happened to me years ago with a game being abandoned by a developer in favor of developing mobile games. The official retail v1.0 release is in the horizon, but the game plays very solidly like a very polished game. If you like the idea of a challenge, this game offers it by the spades.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Multiplatform, played on Xbox One X)
This one surprised me honestly. I have not player any previous Assassin’s Creed game to completion. The first game didn’t stick with me. I played Assassin’s Creed Unity after it got major fixes, but didn’t play it to completion. Origins was made under the renewed Ubisoft of giving the Assassin’s Creed development team some time off to try to refocus and solidify their efforts. What resulted is an Assassin’s Creed game is one that feels more like The Witcher 3. It’s odd… It’s one that I have been compelled to just play to completion. The only downside is that the middle point of the game drags like it will go on forever… And well the limited time boss battles, they are a bit tough and most aren’t doable unless you are max level (L40) with some extremely powerful equipment. I would highly encourage anyone who has passed up previous Assassin’s Creed games to consider this one. There is supposed to be a museum like mode to be deployed in Q1 of 2018 which I am definitely looking forward to.
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)
I haven’t played a Mario Game to completion since Super Mario 3 on the NES. Nintendo and Yoshiaki Koizumi struck golden magic with this game and it was something else. The game has a very fluid frame rate and the art design of the game just brings delight to both those young and old. The controls are so very good and the only complaint I have is that some of the of the attack skills like the hat spin are easier to perform with motion controls… it doesn’t feel so great playing on a Pro controller or in handheld mode. While the game isn’t too hard to beat and get the main ending… the harder post-game challenges to get all of the extra moons to unlock the post-game kingdoms are quite challenging and offer even more for those who really want to flaunt their mastery of movement skills to the greatest extent. This is a game all Switch owners MUST have.
Nier: Automata (PS4/PC release, played on PS4 Pro)
A wierd as hell story involving themes of transhumanism, questioning what an existence is, and if a soul is real. Combat that is described as “Bayonetta-Lite”. The character designs are something that would be considered fashionable in modern day Harajuku. A game UI that somehow tells pieces of the game story. This is a game that is certainly stylish and unique. I was won over by all the elements that have come together. This game is a love-child between Yoko Taro and Platinum Games and it really highlights the best of both teams. If a Yoko Taro game appeals to you, this one is hard to pass up. I will offer one word of warning… Please buy this game on PS4 because the PC one has NOT been patched ever where the PS4 version has had some great quality of life patches that have made the game better.
Yakuza 0 (PS4)
I am a newbie to the Yakuza series… while I have gotten Yakuza 4 from PlayStation Plus on my PS3 and purchased Yakuza 5 on my PS3 to support Sega bringing more niche experiences to the west… But I am ashamed to say I have not finished either game. When I saw Yakuza 0 had been released in the US in February… A dear friend (Aki from Dallas) who is a Yakuza mega fan basically said “If you have wanted a reason to jump into the series… I hear it’s a great starting point!” I ended up purchasing it on a whim and jumped into the stories of Kiryu Kazuma and Goro Majima’s start of their yakuza careers. The game is definitely a product of a development methodology from the PS2 era, but not in a way that makes playing the game a chore. The pacing of the story feels like that of a Japanese crime drama TV show… I know at the end of each chapter it always felt like the end of a TV episode. Sometimes, I felt so compelled to stay up late just because the end of a chapter ended up on a cliffhanger. I think I ended up clocking 27 hours on the game and on finding out that I only completed barely 21% of the game was staggering. If you like Asian crime dramas, do yourself a favor and play Yakuza 0 and also play Yakuza Kiwami (the HD remake of the original Yakuza on PS2). It was a damn great journey and I look forward to playing Yakuza 6 when it gets localized in the west around March 2018.
Honorable Mention – Most Disappointing Experience: Destiny 2 (Multiplatform, played on PS4 Pro and a 4K PC)
I am one of those who had a love-hate relationship with Destiny and in the beginning of the first game… It was an ebb and flow of bad things were progressively improved by leaps from good changes. By “The Taken King” expansion of the first game, Destiny had finally become a game I could recommend in good conscious. Somehow, Destiny 2 screwed it up with lack of care to the game, a focus on concealing new items from the Curse of Osiris expansion and The Dawning holiday event in loot boxes, and lack of transparency with the player community with controversies like throttling player experience gains… The sad part if that many veteran Destiny 1 players saw the cracks in the veneer of Destiny 2 and some folks initially called anyone who felt that Destiny 2 was making a mockery of players “fools” because they were making a big deal over nothing… but once folks started running out of things to do in Destiny 2 and the Star Wars Battlefront 2 controversies hit… A spotlight was shined on Destiny 2’s flaws and it was nothing short of a big stack of disrepect and disregard of the player base’s time and complaints. I loved Destiny 2 when I had played from October through the end of November. By the end of me completing Curse of Osiris after 6 hours on launch day… I was just left underwhelmed and I have abandoned playing it on my PS4 (primary profile) and haven’t logged on to my PC profile since beating the main story. It simply floors me that from Destiny 1’s highs, that Bungie has walked things backwards almost 10 steps and also adding in very predatory loot boxes that just insult the players. Destiny 2 should be a shoe-in and an easy way to cash in on players… but with the lackadaisical treatment of the players, Bungie will be lucky to even have anything close to a player base that may have any any interest by the time the next expansion tied to the season pass arrives. It’s not easy for me to say this… but as a person who loved Destiny 1, it breaks my heart to say that I cannot recommend Destiny 2 in any confidence.