7 games, 2017

Foreword: Of all my hobbies that I react to in this lil’ blog, gaming is the one I spent the most time on in 2017. I haven’t owned a console in years and didn’t get much mobile gaming done, so it’s mostly a focus on my PC experiences. Below are the games I most enjoyed this year.

Overwatch

I couldn’t possibly begin this post without mentioning the impact Overwatch had on me in 2017 (and 2016). Since the game released in May 2016, I played Overwatch every chance I had for nearly a year straight–it dominated my gaming time through April of this year. I loved playing it. Past-tense love though: as I clocked in literally hundreds of hours in the game, my enjoyment slowly waned. Nevertheless I continued playing the game constantly. This sort of overindulgence in a hobby is always a mistake. Instead of dropping the game and coming back when it was fun again, I grew more and more frustrated as I played (especially since I was big into the competitive queue) until I was completely sick of the game by the summer. Lately, I’m barely able finish a round when I log in.

Despite the fact that I can’t stomach playing Overwatch any longer, I still love the game. I was a huge Team Fortress 2 fan, so any refinement and update of that general FPS concept was sure to click with me. The aspects that drew me into it so strongly still resonate: the tight controls & shooting, the variety of experience across characters, the art style, and the lore surrounding the game. I’ll probably still check out the Overwatch League when it begins in earnest later this year, and I’ll log in to see the new events & skins for the forseeable future.

Factorio

Oh my god, Factorio. This game incited the deepest, scariest gaming binge I’d been on in years. The first evening I fired it up, I ended up staying up until 10 AM the next day slowly building up an automated factory and progressing down the tech tree. From there, I went on to put in 100+ hours into the game in a month. For some reason it’s unspeakably entertaining and satisfying to plug leaks in a digital production line and that feeling is amplified by great design choices–the moment one problem is solved, there’s another goal a little further down the tech tree that totally blows up the production lines and requires reimagining and reworking. The first playthrough, especially, was great because my approach was so unplanned and chaotic. I’d jerry-rig a production line so it just barely all came together. Then to have to blow it all up or feed a whole ‘nother resource into the tangle was challenging and fun.

I think this screenshot encapsulates the game in a strange way if I give it the right context: it looks chaotic, almost unintelligible. The screen is filled with shit and believe it or not the player character is somewhere in there, too. And yet the game has such a smooth and gradual learning curve that I understand everything going on in that screen. The game’s a masterpiece in concept and execution.

PUBG

2017 will probably forever be known to gaming as the year of the PUBG. This game took the world by storm and some of the playtime stats it managed were utterly impressive achievements–it takes something special to become the most played game ever on steam within a few months of public release. I think I did the battle royale thing right by never playing any of the genre’s predecessors. (The only analogue I ever played was DayZ back when it was an ARMA mod.) Instead of coming to PUBG with knowledge of H1Z1 or whatever, it was a totally fresh experience. And it is fun. My god it is fun. There’s a simplicity to the concept that’s fascinating too–it’s the sort of formula where I can only think, “how did this not get made before?”

There’s just so much that works in the game. The learning curve is perhaps the most compelling I’ve ever played for how punishing it is: I don’t think I got a kill in the game until 5 hours in, and yet it was riotous fun all the way through. Learning the map and the guns and rhythm of the BR genre was an experience I’ll never forget. (And it’s been somewhat renewed with the recent release of the newest map, indicating the game has a lot more potential!)

I could write about this game endlessly (and I’ll note it’s definitely my game of the year), and perhaps in 2018 I’ll write more about it now that I have this blog to focus on. I speculate that the emergent gameplay potential of PUBG is the real hook, the real masterpiece here. That also makes it very write-about-able (eugh god what am I doing I need an editor here). The game is incredible and I’m glad I got to play it in 2017 and I can’t wait to see the future of the BR genre.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley was probably my game of the year in 2016–it may even supplant Overwatch because Stardew is such a pure and glowing experience in my memory. Like Factorio, I can report playing it through that first evening and into morning the next day. It perfectly scratched that nostalgic Harvest Moon itch while also expanding upon and improving the formula. (Basically, Stardew is an ideal form of sequel/spiritual successor–exactly what I loved, except more and better, refined and streamlined according to modern gameplay design, and executed with a love and care that’s truly rare.) I include it on my 2017 list here because Stardew had a strong resurgence with me this year after I introduced my girlfriend to the game. She took to it immediately and together we played it for weeks, getting even further than I did in my deep binge in spring of 2016. It was fun playing with her, because while for the most part the core formula applies to all playthroughs and has hooks aplenty, she focused on slightly different things than I did, such as the aesthetics of her farm, the relationships with the characters. Also, since she hasn’t been gaming her whole life, she had less of a focus on “beating” the game like I did, and Stardew is a game that’s rewarding and enjoyable if taken slowly.

Path of Exile

I wrote about Path of Exile in this blag when I finished my binge of it back in, like, August and I’ll reiterate here that it’s a great game. It’s a game that could be played endlessly. For a huge Diablo II fan, Path of Exile satisfies in a way none of D2’s other successors ever quite manage to. Like Stardew Valley, it fulfills expectations while refining and improving the experience for a modern gaming audience.

All that said, I don’t know when I’ll install the game again. I’ll note that I first got into it around 2012 or 2013 and after exhausting my enjoyment of it back then, I didn’t play it for 4 or 5 years. And that was perfect: a lot of other games caught my attention in that time, and all the while Path of Exile was continuously improved. I’d be happy with a world where I dip back into Path of Exile in a few more years, delighted once again with all of the updates and improvements of another few years.

Endless Sky

Cataloging my 2017 gaming obsessions in one post really emphasizes how much nostalgia and past feelings influence my gaming habits. Half the games on this list tickle me because they’re reminiscent of games I loved in the past, and Endless Sky is no different. As Overwatch is to Team Fortress 2, as Stardew Valley is to Harvest Moon, as Path of Exile is to Diablo II, so Endless Sky is to Ambrosia Software classic Escape Velocity. Escape Velocity was a series of arcadey, top-down, 2D space shooters that I adored in the 90s.

As with the other nostalgic faves on this list, Endless Sky is both true-to-form and refined/improved. I really enjoyed playing through the storyline and following the familiar arc from shitty-junker ship to mid-range fighter vessel to the final form of ultra-powerful alien megatech. The game is also commendable for being both completely free and for being continuously updated years after the initial release–there’s even been a few updates since I finished back in April.

Subnautica

To be honest, I had a bit of trouble limiting the list to just 7 games. (I’m attached to this “X7 in 2017” concept though, as I followed that format for music lists of mine in the past few years.) I considered Civ 6 here, but I want to end it instead with Subnautica. A longtime early access game that I probably bought in, like, 2015, I finally sat down and played it over the summer. It was great! The deep-sea environment was a stroke of genius and totally made the whole “crafting game” experience novel and unique. The tech tree was fun to progress down and piecing together the mysteries of the strange water world the character crash landed on was great fun. And man, I can’t emphasize enough how great the setting is. The deep sea moments were truly terrifying at times! The reef environs were beautiful and colorful! This is a game I’ll go back to for sure once VR becomes more of a thing, especially considering the game is still being updated and I’m sure it’ll be fresh again the next time I pick it up.