The Top 5 Games We Played in 2017

As 2017 coasts to an end, we ExtremeTech writers have spent a good chunk of our time this month looking back at what we enjoyed most. We all have our own specialties and tech predilections, but pretty much everybody here enjoys video games. Some of us focus on new releases to stay on the cutting edge, others are still working their way through their back logs, but we can all use this opportunity to commiserate about our time spent exploring virtual worlds.

In today’s roundup, you’ll hear from David Cardinal, Ryan Whitwam, Joel Hruska, and Grant Brunner on the games they personally loved playing. Here’s the thing: Many of the titles on these lists didn’t come out in 2017. But we’d rather give you an honest showcase of what we enjoyed, instead of constraining our lists solely to new releases. And since massive seasonal discounts, DLC, and games-as-a-service have become vital aspects of the industry at large, we feel this method more accurately reflects how most people play games in 2017.

With that said, there’s no accounting for taste, and the five-slot limit means we had to leave out some of our favorites. So if you feel strongly about a game you played this year, feel free to give it the praise it deserves in the comment section below.

David Cardinal’s Top 5

Forza 7

5. Forza Motorsports 7

I’m a sucker for the Motorsports franchise because it combines excellent visuals, an amazing selection of cars, and just enough realism that I can kind-of pretend that I’m driving a car without having to find out how mediocre I am by doing something like iRacing. Motorsports 7 is more of everything than previous versions. Better graphics (especially on my 32-inch 4K monitor), more options, and more cars. You can simply race your favorite car, or enter various longer-term contests against AIs or other racers. Speaking of which, the AIs seem better in 7, and act a little more reasonably on average. Version 7 has lots of new weather options as well. There is a pay to play aspect, as you can buy cars, although you can also earn them. As to the reality coefficient, I divide racing sims into ones with and without Rewind. This one has rewind. If Motorsports is too sane for you, there’s always Horizon 3. (Buy on Amazon)

F1 2017

4. F1 2017

I’m not going to claim this game is one that everyone should get or play. Like many licensed games, it is tied closely to the sport it follows. But if you’re a fan of F1, this is a great way to drive the same tracks and in kind-of-the-same cars as your particular hero. For 2017, you can drive the new, super-grippy-until-you-lose-it cars, or race historic versions. I wish it could magically appear before the season, but at least it shipped mid-season, so it’s possible to race the last few tracks in the week leading up to the actual race. For the record, I play this and other racing games with a force feedback wheel and peddles. I’m not much on trying to use a controller for steering. (Buy on Amazon)

Dirt Rally

3. Dirt Rally

One reason I got this game is that it was one of the first to support VR. That was the good news. The bad news is that on a mountain course, it is pseudo-real enough that I can’t play very long in VR without having to take a break. On that front, it is one reason I was happy that I bought various VR-capable games from Steam — so that I could use them with and without my Rift — instead of from Oculus directly, which (at least at the time) only allowed use with the Rift. Dirt Rally was one of the first to do a great job of modeling road surfaces, which is especially important in this type of game. (Buy on Amazon)

Civ V

2. Civilization V

My biggest problem with Steam is that it unhelpfully reminds me of how much time I have spent (wasted?) playing each of my games. No game racks hours up for me faster than Civ. It’s so easy to get started on a game and become attached to your imaginary kingdom that you just have to see how it turns out. Plus, I love watching the little characters wander around and do battle. Civ is far from the only game that adds that level of detail, but it was the first one I used that did. From an educational point of view, I’d like to think that each game is a potential for learning something about how civilizations rise and fall. But that may be wishful thinking. Since my favorite part of the game is battle strategies, I’ve just added Ultimate General: Civil War to my Library, and look forward to playing it over the holidays. (Buy on Amazon)

Everest VR

1. Everest VR

I can hear the complaining already. No, Everest VR is not a game you’ll play every day. You may only play it once. But it is a game that really opens your eyes to the potential of both a VR headset and touch controllers in an easy-to-grasp (pun intended) way. It’s also one you can fire up for your friends who are curious about VR and amaze them in just a few minutes — even if they aren’t gamers. The millions that went into creating it show in the incredible detail of the photogrammetry-generated scenery and the realistic physics of everything down to the snowflakes. (Buy on Steam)

Ryan Whitwam’s Top 5

cuphead

5. Cuphead

If anyone ever questions whether video games can be art, just show them Cuphead. This side-scrolling shooter was designed to look like a 1930s cartoon. The developers used technology from the era, like hand-drawn animation cels and watercolor painted backgrounds, to make that happen. It’s absolutely gorgeous, but Cuphead is more than a pretty face. The gameplay is hard-as-nails but somehow still accessible and rewarding. The cartoony world is imaginative, and the boss battles are whimsical and fun despite the punishing difficulty. I haven’t been able to beat Cuphead yet, but I love trying. (Buy on Amazon)

Witcher 3

4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

This game didn’t come out in 2017, but I think I’ve put more hours into The Witcher 3 in 2017 than any other game. I’ve played it (along with the expansions) three times from beginning to end since it came out, and I’ll probably play it again in the future. This story-driven RPG originally launched in 2015 with a massive main quest and dozens of side quests that actually felt substantial. The world of The Witcher 3 was designed around the stories developers had to tell, not the other way around. Developer CD Projekt Red also rolled its own game engine for The Witcher 3, and it deserves kudos for doing such a fantastic job. The combat, graphics, and writing are all top notch. In fact, the main quest in the Hearts of Stone expansion might be the most successful storytelling I’ve experienced in a video game. (Buy on Amazon)

Wolfenstein

3. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

I don’t play as many shooters as I once did, but Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has been one of my favorite gaming experiences this year. It had a rough launch on PC due to some early bugs, but all that seems to be worked out now. This game picks up where the last episode of the reimagined Wolfenstein left off. You are again presented with an alternate version of the 1960s in which the Third Reich won WWII. Now it’s time to take the world back. This game has impressive graphics, a good storyline, memorable villains, and a whole lot of Nazis for you to shoot at. What more could you want? (Buy on Amazon)

Cities

2. Cities: Skylines

A large chunk of my childhood was spent playing SimCity, but EA has completely mismanaged that franchise into the ground. Cities: Skylines is what a modern SimCity should be—it’s like the old games, but it’s prettier, has more content, and offers better customization. It initially launched in 2015, but the developers have continued to put out new DLC packs that actually improve the game. I can still get lost in this game for hours, thanks to content like the recently launched Green Cities add-on. (Buy on Amazon)

Kerbal

1. Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal Space Program can be hard to “get” if you’ve never tried to play it. This isn’t some arcade version of space travel—it’s a simulation that requires you to learn about orbital mechanics and physics. The gist is that you build rockets, but what you’re really doing is exploring. You have to run the space program for this race of little green men, and there’s a lot of solar system out there to see with a gas giant, a Mars analog, moons, and even asteroids to chase down. With each update, KSP gets more realistic and powerful. This is not a new game, but I’ve clocked as many hours playing this in 2017 as I have in any previous year. (Buy on Steam)

Joel Hruska’s Top 5

I’ve been a PC gamer since I was eight, but I tend to play a smaller number of games for quite a while as opposed to racing through titles. If slow-running video games on YouTube ever becomes popular, I’m going to make an absolute killing. Since we were under no obligation to keep our list to games that came out this year, I’ve got some choices that also happily cater to people with lower-end computers or a hankering to pick up great titles they might’ve missed.

Antorus Legion

5. World of Warcraft: Legion

I played WoW from April 2004 to 2012, then picked it up again in 2016, just before the Legion expansion launched. Over a year later, I’m still playing. Legion has been Blizzard’s strongest storytelling in years — I’d go so far as to say it’s the strongest storytelling in Warcraft that Blizzard has ever done. But more than that, WoW respects players’ time. The path from leveling quests, to early dungeons, to raids, to mythic+ 5-mans and heroic or mythic raiding has never been smoother. I won’t deny feeling nostalgic for classic WoW, but the modern game is where I’m staying. (Buy on Amazon)

Civ6

4. Civilization VI

Every Civilization game tweaks its formulas and changes various low-level gameplay elements, but Civilization VI went much farther. Civilization VI changed how cities were laid out and organized, and by extension, how much of the game felt evolved. Instead of the single-square cities of every previous game, Civ VI allows your cities to sprawl. Maximizing a city’s growth and specialization means placing its districts properly as it grows, while failure to do so can handicap your civilization. This is one franchise that’s stood the test of time. (Buy on Amazon)

Dead Space

3. The Dead Space Trilogy

The Dead Space games are nothing like new — all three were PS3 and Xbox 360 games. The first game’s port for PC has some issues with an insensitive mouse (you’ll need to turn mouse sensitivity up very high) and unlocking the frame rate makes a huge difference in perceived smoothness and somewhat sluggish controls. Despite these issues, Dead Space is absolutely worth a playthrough. DS2 improves on its predecessor in every way, and Dead Space 3, while not the sequel many fans wanted, is still worth playing and deserves credit for trying to take the gameplay in new directions, even if some of them didn’t mesh as well as Dead Space 2. Keep your plasma cutter handy and always look behind you. (Buy on Amazon)

Star Trek Armada

2. Star Trek Armada III: The Final Frontier

This is technically a mod for a different game, not a game in and of itself, but whatever. It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. It’s a total conversion for 2008’s Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, and it implements a complete Star Trek game mode, with the Klingons, Romulans, Dominion, Cardassian, Federation, and Borg all as playable races. TFF is just the latest edition of “Armada III,” but they’re all built on SoaSE engine. The original game’s 32-bit, single-threaded architecture means you may need to limit map or fleet sizes a touch to keep the frame rate up, but don’t let that dissuade you. It may be a mod, but it’s a great Star Trek multiplayer RTS game all the same. (Download mod on ModDB, Buy base game on Steam)

West of Loathing

1. West of Loathing

West of Loathing lacks most of the things kids today would associate with games, including voice acting, HDR support, and cutscenes you would’ve needed a supercomputer to render 10 years ago. It also lacks most things old gamers associate with gaming, like color graphics, pixel art, and an insane copy protection scheme you could only solve if you had the manual, a basic understanding of Norse runes, and had meditated at all eight shrines. Don’t let the gaming grognards fool you; it wasn’t all better.

In its place, West of Loathing offers stick-figure drawings, hilarious quips, puns, and puzzles, an enjoyable RPG romp, and a game world everyone who ever enjoyed an old school adventure game should visit. And for those of you who might remember an old-school MMO, Kingdom of Loathing, you’d be right. This is a sort-of sequel. (Buy on Steam)

Grant Brunner’s Top 5

Edith Finch

5. What Remains of Edith Finch

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A big spooky house is imbued with dark portent, and mirrors the mental state of the story’s characters. In What Remains of Edith Finch, the Finch house has become a series of hastily constructed shrines to the countless fallen members of this “doomed” family. The player, as Edith, explores the troubled past of her family members as she comes to terms with her own fate. The physical building and the mental state of its inhabitants are largely left up to personal interpretation, but the interactive nature of video games allows this story to play out in a way that The Fall of the House of Usher and The Shining could have never pulled off as fixed narratives. More than anything, it tickles me pink to see how games can breathe new life into once-stale tropes. (Buy on Amazon)

Mass Effect Andromeda

4. Mass Effect: Andromeda

Okay, okay, Andromeda has some real problems. It’s clear that BioWare cut corners on this Mass Effect side-story, and it shows in the animations and the pacing of the main arc. I’m deeply disappointed in the decision-making process and the aftermath, but that doesn’t stop me from loving this flawed game. I thoroughly enjoy the faster modern combat system, many of the environments are legitimately well executed, and there are still side quests that melt my heart. It’s far from optimal, but a bad day on the golf course… (Buy on Amazon)

Before the Storm

3. Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Dontnod’s Life is Strange was a hit episodic series that blended timey wimey reality-altering supernatural powers with angsty teens in a small Pacific North West fishing town. While I certainly had my issues with the original, I was pessimistic when Deck Nine (Coolboarders 3, Ratchet & Clank Collection) was tasked with delivering a prequel without the main protagonist or the time-rewind mechanic. Thankfully, all that worry was over nothing – I enjoy this deep-dive into the backstory even more than I did the original. The characters and writing seem more consistent this time around, it leans into the painterly art style, and it turns out that I don’t miss the time travel one bit. (Buy on Amazon)

Hellblade

2. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Ninja Theory, the developers known for DmC and Disney Infinity’s combat, bet big on a budget release starring a mentally ill Celtic woman played by a novice actress. Based on all previous experiences, it would be safe to assume that this was a company-ending blunder. Instead, Ninja Theory delivered one of the most beautiful and powerful games I’ve ever played. From the superb performance capture to the novel sound design to the thoughtful portrayal of mental illness, Hellblade is a stark reminder that taking big chances can truly pay off. (Buy on Amazon)

Nier

1. Nier: Automata

If you told me last year that I’d be bowled over in 2017 by a narrative that revolves around the humanity of robots, I would have crossed my eyes and rolled my arms. But in spite of expectations, the all-star collaboration between Yoko Taro and PlatinumGames has made a game I’ll treasure for years to come. While Nier: Automata is technically a sequel to Drakengard and the original Nier, it effectively serves as a stand-alone title set thousands of years in the future. And beyond the I’m-a-real-boy core premise, it tackles the likes of proxy wars, propaganda, self-sacrifice, pre-destination, and xenophobia in a big emotional arc that’s peppered with mecha and hilariously large swords. It also has a bad case of the male gaze, but nobody’s perfect, right? (Buy on Amazon)

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