2017 was a great year for video games! Here’s my roundup of my personal favorites of the year!
Tales of Berseria (PS4, PC) – I’m a huge Tales series fan & Berseria is probably my favorite of them all. The story is a bit deeper & more dark than previous titles, without losing the levity that’s a hallmark of the series. We also get our first solo female protagonist in Velvet. (I’d argue Milla was the real protagonist of Tales of Xillia, but she technically shared the spotlight with Jude.) Velvet’s brother Laphicet is killed and she teams up with a crew of pirates to embark on a vengeance fueled journey to punish the man who’s responsible. The gameplay is a great balance between old school RPGs & more modern action/adventure and fighting games – you have random encounters with enemies you can see on the overworld, but combat is entirely in real-time. This game is great for local multiplayer, for those of you that live with someone else who enjoys playing RPGs!
Persona 5 (PS4) – There were almost 10 years between when Persona 4 & Persona 5 came out, but it was well worth the wait. I loved the characters of Persona 3, but felt the story lacked a little depth. I loved the narrative Persona 4 wove, but didn’t find the characters as compelling. Persona 5 is the best of both worlds, with improved gameplay & slick visuals to boot. You assume the role of a teenage silent protagonist who ends up leading a team of magical bandits called The Phantom Thieves as they steal the hearts of the corrupted adults in their lives. Gameplay switches between slice of life high school gameplay, where you can forge bonds with your classmates and others around Tokyo, & turn-based combat in the dangerous dungeons within the hearts of your targets. The ending dragged on a little longer than I’d have liked, but that barely detracted from the overall outstanding experience.
Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4) – I put off playing this game for most of the year because I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the gameplay. The post-apocalyptic world & robotic animals intrigued me, and after a friend offered to lend me their copy I decided to give it a go. Set in post-apocalyptic Colorado/Wyoming, technology had advanced much farther than what we have now before society’s demise. You play as Aloy, an outcast from the Nora tribe who seeks the truth behind her birth & what exactly happened to the forgotten world. Boasting an expertly crafted narrative, gorgeous visuals, and a protagonist who is equal parts snarky & compassionate, this game blew me away. You’ll want to play the expansion DLC, The Frozen Wilds, as well – it really helps round out the story & gives you some extra time inhabiting this world & uncovering its mysteries. Some of the design & language choices are questionable & I wish the design team had consulted with Native American communities on the many elements of their culture that they pulled inspiration from. But all in all, an incredibly enjoyable game who’s world I hope to see more of in the future.
Mass Effect: Andromeda (PS4, Xbox One) – I don’t care what anyone says about the facial animations & other minor bugs. This game was great. Not perfect, by a long shot, but wholly enjoyable & populated by likable characters. You play as one of the customizable Ryder twins as they lead a crew of Milky Way residents into the Andromeda Galaxy, on the run from the conflict that was brewing in the original Mass Effect series. You don’t need to have played the original trilogy to enjoy this, but the bits and pieces of lore and info that hearken back to the original trilogy are present enough for those that did. I wish that more of the ramifications of the Milky Way species showing up in another galaxy uninvited were explored. It was also a little disappointing that we only got two new alien species, and that they were essentially the “good” welcoming aliens & the “evil” antagonistic aliens with no redeeming qualities. The overarching narrative was compelling & the gameplay was compulsively playable – an upgrade over the original trilogy in every way. Don’t believe all the haters – despite a few minor qualms, I say give it a shot!
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4 digital download, PC) – A short, but powerful, game. Players control Senua, a Pict woman with schizophrenia who’s lover was killed by the invading Northmen. (Northmen = Vikings) She embarks on a quest to the Northmen’s underworld, Helheim, to bring him back from death. Senua experiences visual and auditory hallucinations throughout the game and this is incorporated into the gameplay in an incredibly clever way. The voices she hears sometimes support, other times demean. Sometimes they offer help in combat, other times they mislead you. The developers actually consulted with individuals with psychosis and organizations that support them – often times directly taking consultants’ personal experiences and incorporating them into the game. There is combat in the game, but puzzles make up the bulk of the gameplay. This game truly shows off what video games, as a medium, are capable of as an art form.
Pyre (PS4 digital download, PC) – A game I never thought I’d want – it’s part visual novel, part magical soccer in a sort of western/fantasy setting. Sound weird? It most definitely is, but in the most delightful way. You play as The Reader, who’s been banished from the Commonwealth into the Downside and left to die. You’re discovered by a crew of participants in a mystical ritual known as the Rites (a.k.a. magical soccer that grants you your freedom from the Downside) who take you in & make you their leader. You travel across the Downside in a covered wagon, competing against other teams of banished former citizens of the Commonwealth vying for freedom. The story is incredibly engrossing and the decisions you make effect the course the narrative takes. You periodically compete in Rites where the freedom of one of your party members is at stake – win and they are removed from your team. But sometimes you care so much about these characters that granting them their freedom is worth this cost. The narrative ultimately takes a surprising course & brings up questions of whether personal freedom or the freedom of many are more important.
Absolver (PS4 digital download, PC) – Another strange sounding game, Absolver is basically a fighting MMORPG? Kinda? There’s not a whole lot of story or lore to pick up on – you create a masked character, pick a martial arts based fighting style, and begin your journey as a Prospect trying to attain the title of Absolver. There’s little in the way of tutorial or instruction and you’re forced to figure things out largely by trail & error. This sounds frustrating, but it’s actually pretty addictive once you get started. There’s a main overworld populated by both NPCs and PCs, and it’s here you can find the Marked-Ones – enemies you need to defeat in order to become an Absolver. There’s also 1v1 and 3v3 play available outside the overworld, where you can fight against other players to level up & earn gear. You learn new combat techniques when enemies use them on you, making this the kind of game you can’t just power your way through with brute force. Defense & strategy are key. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I like so much about this game – it has a lot of mystery & charm. I hope the developers continue adding new content through 2018 to help keep things fresh & exciting.