It’s that time of the year again! Time for Loremaster Games top 10 lists! This year, I’m going to do things in a different order and get started with my favorite video games of the year. This year I’ll be presenting my Top 10 board games alongside the YouTube show Man vs Meeple (you should check out the channel if you haven’t seen it!) and I don’t want to ruin the surprise. So, instead, here are my Top 10 Video Games of 2017:

10. Star Trek: Bridge Crew

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VR is a technology that hasn’t quite caught on yet, but I am a huge fan. In fact, you’ll find two VR-capable games on this list! The first being Star Trek: Bridge Crew. This game puts you right in the seat of a Starfleet Officer in command of your very own starship. You’ll be manning the Helm, which allows you to navigate, jump through hyperspace, and set coordinates. You’ll work Engineering, where you are constantly playing a mini game trying to divert power to the right systems while also assigning your team to repair damaged parts of the ship. You can also man the Tactical Console, where you’ll be in charge with analyzing enemy ships and controlling your weapons. The last seat is for the Captain, who will have an overview of the situation as well as the objectives. It is the Captain’s job to help everyone else work together to complete the objectives.

For Bridge Crew to shine, you really need a group of 4 people all playing together on voice chat. The game is fine in single player —it still gives you a lot to do, but the real fun comes in the multiplayer mode. It is beautiful chaos as the captain shouts out orders as everyone is responding with status reports and information. Everyone has a small piece of what is going on and seeing it all come together in real time, while you’re under fire from enemy vessels, is an incredibly unique experience. The music, sound effects, and visuals are all straight from the show, so you feel pulled directly into the universe. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget you’re just at home, sitting in a chair.

9. Cuphead

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Cuphead is a game dripping with theme: to the 1930s cartoon inspired graphics, to the sound effects, the score, and even the crackle of a simulated record. The presentation of this game is nearly flawless in what it was trying to convey: it very much feels like an old cartoon come to life. However, don’t let the theme fool you into thinking this will be a kid’s game. Cuphead is very difficult. It features many different platformer-based game modes, including run-and-gun modes that feel like old school platformers, and boss battles that take place on unique levels with interesting bosses.

Cuphead feels very much like the Dark Souls franchise to me in that you will die, and you will die a lot. But every time you die, you learn a little bit more of the level or boss you are fighting against. You begin to learn its patterns, and you begin to master the timing. Eventually, it becomes second nature and you find yourself reacting to things almost before you can realize it’s happening.

Cuphead also features drop-in drop-out local co-op that makes the game even more insane! It becomes a symphony of chaos as you’re trying not to lose track of your character amidst all of the game elements. In a lot of places, it really feels more like a bullet-hell game than a platformer.

The levels are connected by an isometric world map that lets you interact with NPCs, buy new weapons, items, and upgrades from the shop, and find the many Easter Eggs hidden across the worlds.

8. Middle Earth: Shadow of War

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I absolutely loved Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and have been eagerly awaiting the sequel ever since I put down the controller. The first game ended on a pretty crazy cliffhanger, and the sequel uses that as a jumping off point to really raise the stakes, and the action, of the franchise. The story of Shadow of War feels epic: you are marching across Mordor, building an army and conquering strongholds in an attempt to challenge Sauron himself. These events (while not exactly canon) sync up with the books and movies, and so you really feel like you’re playing a true Lord of the Rings story.

Shadow of War features the same familiar counter-based combat and gameplay from the original, but really amps up the action. Everything feels faster, due in part to the many new abilities this game gives you, including the double jump which allows you to move across the map at breakneck speed. It also plays around with elements, giving you access to fire, ice, and poison based powers. Everything feels more epic in this game, including the stakes of the storyline. They’ve also added a few RPG elements in the form of leveling up equipment and collecting gems which can be refined to grant more powerful abilities.

But where Shadow of War really shines is the improved Nemesis system. It was neat in Mordor, but in War it has been polished to a gleam. Every Orc you encounter will play a part in your story. Some will join you, some will kill you. Some will shame you, or hunt you, or be hunted by you. They will team up with their blood brothers to hunt you down and will challenge you to single combat. They will fight each other, jockey for position, and ambush each other’s missions. Each Orc feels unique, with different voice actors and lines. I don’t think I heard a line repeated through the whole game, even when I had to restart a mission after failure. The dialogue would change upon the second play. Recruiting these orcs, tasking them to build your army, and ultimately assaulting an enemy fortress is the meat of this game, and oh man is it satisfying. Storming the gates alongside your hand-picked generals, each with their own unique groups of units…it’s an experience unlike any other!

7. Resident Evil: 7

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RE: 7 is a return to the roots of the franchise. After 4 took the series in a more action-focused direction (which I loved) it did leave me longing for an old-school Resident Evil experience. Resident Evil 7 provides this with great success. The game is creepy, scary, and yet tells an intriguing story that links up with the overall mythos of the franchise. Fans of Resident Evil who wondered at this direction so should be at ease. The game tells a wholly Resident Evil storyline.

The crux of the game has you sneaking around the grounds of a large, decrepit mansion, hunted by a creepy cannibalistic family with a bigger role to play in the story. There are jump scares as well as twists and turns a’ plenty. As soon as you think you know where the story is going, it heads in a different direction.

I played this game on the PSVR, in full VR mode, and it was one of the most terrifying gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The controller works well with the VR and, within moments, you almost forget you’re using one and are acting completely on instinct. I also found myself sucked into the game, stepping over in-game objects as if they could possibly trip me. I had heard a lot about how immersive VR tech could be, but after playing this game I am a firm believer. Nothing in that game can hurt you, really, but that won’t stop you from slowly peeking around corners and hiding behind doors in fear for your life. Even without the VR, the first person viewpoint (a first for the main franchise) still gives you an immersive experience. If you’re new to Resident Evil, or if you just love horror games in general, this is the best we’ve seen in a long time.

6. Mass Effect: Andromeda

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Mass Effect: Andromeda received a lot of hate for a lot of reasons when it first came out, but I’m asking you to push all of that out of your mind for a minute. There were a lot of reasons for the hate, but at the end of the day, Andromeda is a solid action-RPG hybrid that tells an interesting story and surrounds you with interesting characters. The game gives you a lot to do, and encourages you to explore in a way the old Mass Effect games could not.

Does anyone else remember sitting down to play ME: 2 for the first time, and being completely blown away by how streamlined and fun they managed to make the combat? I felt that same way playing Andromeda. Everything feels faster and more fluid, yet easier to control at the same time. Within moments, you’ll be flying, jumping, and teleporting across the battlefield, switching weapons and powers on the fly in order to synergize with your companions and pull off crazy combos. The gameplay in Andromeda is definitely focused on the Action over the RPG, but that is the direction the series has been going for a while now. Andromeda fully embraces that instead of hiding from it.

One criticism I keep hearing about Andromeda is that the story didn’t feel epic enough, and the characters didn’t feel interesting or developed enough when compared to the original trilogy. I’m asking people to stop comparing it to the trilogy and start comparing it to Mass Effect 1, which is what this game is parallel too. Andromeda fulfills the promise made with Mass Effect 1: huge, sweeping worlds that are fully open and filled with places to explore. The technology wasn’t quite there yet with ME1 and I’m sure gamers remember endless hours just driving the Mako over empty terrain trying to climb mountains and make it fit places it wasn’t meant to. The storyline for ME1 wasn’t fantastic and the characters kind of came and went. It wasn’t until the trilogy was finished that you really had a complete development arc for the characters, and I’m sure Andromeda would be the same way. This was meant to be the first game in a new trilogy, and it really set up some cool things to explore in the future. I, for one, can’t wait to jump back into the Mass Effect Universe.

5. Persona 5

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If you’ve never played a Persona game, you don’t know what you’re missing. Go out, get Persona 5 right now, and thank me later. I’ve been a fan of the Shin Megami games since the beginning, and still pride myself on owning a copy of the original Persona. When Persona 5 was announced, I was excited, of course. This is the first new Persona game in almost a decade! But the art style, gameplay, and characters seemed, at first, to be very similar to that of 3 and 4. I will gladly admit I was wrong.

Persona 5 takes the combat of the previous games and makes it even faster and more intense. Gone are the randomly generated dungeons (though the option is there for those who loved the experience), replaced instead with hand-crafted offerings that make the dungeons feel more directed, puzzly, and important. Also, the social link system from the previous games has gone through an overhaul, giving you even more options with how to spend your days between dungeon crawling.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Persona puts you in the shoes of a Japanese high school student who must balance the rigors of school and a social life with the burden of saving the world. This might sound tedious at first (who wants to spend actual in-game time studying?) but in reality the calendar system is a lot of fun. You won’t have enough time to do EVERYTHING so your best bet is to maximize the time that you do have. It turns the social system into a bit of a puzzle, and if you manage to solve parts of it, you get in game benefits.

I won’t talk much about the story in Persona 5 because I don’t want to spoil it. But it feels timely, and important. It takes place in a world where the adults are constantly stealing the future away from the younger generation, and the younger generation has to fight to take it back. It features a lot of familiar tropes from the series, but really plays on them, while offering enough twists and turns to make everything feel fresh and new.

If you’re into JRPGs, or have never played a JRPG and want to try one, Persona 5 is for you.

4. Assassin’s Creed: Origins

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After a year hiatus, Assassin’s Creed is back and better than ever with my new favorite Assassin’s Creed game to date! This has been two hits in a row from the team (with Syndicate having been my previous top pick) and I hope they continue their streak.

Origins will feel very familiar to fans of the franchise while also opening the experience for new players to jump on. This game tells a story that pre-dates the other games, and it is, truly, an Origin story for the Order of Assassin’s. I won’t talk too much about the story here, suffice to say you know it’s good, because it earned a spot on my top 10 list.

The combat has been completely overhauled in this game, removing the old counter-based system that was, admittedly, a bit too easy to abuse. The new system features several different types of weapons and enemies that work against each other in a rock-paper-scissor fashion, with certain weapons working better against certain types of enemies. Everything has been slowed down, allowing more deliberate actions and more precise timing. The combat is still satisfying, and finishing moves still as elegant as they are brutal.

Graphically, Origins is probably the top of the line right now. Climbing to the top of the pyramid and looking down upon Egypt is one of the most inspiring images I’ve encountered in a video game. The game plays in 4K and features Dolby Atmos sound which, if you have the right set up, leads to an incredibly immersive audio experience.

The improved capabilities of the new generation have allowed Origins to exist in a world that feels truly alive. It is full of NPCs to meet, and new areas to explore. Thankfully, the exploration in Origins never feels like a chore. It feels fresh and new every time you do it. The core of the game drives you to explore by placing question marks just out of your view, encouraging you to survey the lands around you to figure out what important landmark rests there. The team really did their research, as the world feels huge and expansive, with every character and city having their own feel. The Greek city of Alexandria feels vastly different from the smaller Egyptian cities in the game, for example.

This game reminds me in a lot of ways of Red Dead Redemption, in that the world still feels like its living even when you’re off doing something else. You’ll come back to find NPCs living their lives, stopping to hand out a quest before going back to whatever they were doing. The game is solid, polished, and, most of all, fun.

3. Neir: Automata

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Neir was one of my favorite Xbox 360 games and, in my opinion, a hidden gem. I’ve held a lot of love for that game for a long time, and have been its champion when recommending the game to all of my friends who haven’t played. When the sequel was announced, I was apprehensive. Neir told an amazing self-contained story. It was weird, and unique, and unlike anything I’d ever played. I wasn’t sure that the sequel could surpass it. In this case, I’m glad I was wrong.

Neir: Automata is, at its heart, an action shooter from the minds of Platinum Games. For those unfamiliar, Platinum’s forte is fast-paced, bullet-hell type 3rd person action games. Automata does not let you down at this point, offering you a ton of cool combat moves, weapons, and special abilities. Every set piece feels bigger and more intense than the one that came before it. Every time you think you’ve seen the best Automata has to offer, it turns around, raises the stakes, and puts you up against something even crazier. Seriously, this game has some of the most memorable fights I’ve ever seen in an action game.

The combat system is only improved by the RPG elements thrown in the game, including Chips that are collected and inserted into your system to grant you special abilities. Your character can only install a certain amount of chips at once, which means you have to be picky about your upgrades. What is interesting about Automata, and something I’ve never seen before, is that your User Interface also exists on these chips. If you run out of space, you might find yourself turning off your mini map or health bar in an attempt to fit those better upgrades.

The storyline for Automata is just as crazy, and weird, and worthy of replays as the original game. There are Easter Eggs that reflect back to Neir, and even to Drakkengard, the predecessor series that takes place in the same universe as Neir. If it sounds a bit convoluted that’s because it is, but everything comes together in a beautifully tied package in the end. Don’t let this one pass you by!

2. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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Narrowing down my top 2 picks was almost impossible. I was left with 2 games that will both hold places on my Top 10 games of ALL TIME list. So how do you determine which will win the year? The answer is: very carefully.

My number 2 pick is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Zelda is back, with a vengeance, in this open-world exploration-based game. The environments are huge, beautiful, and interactive. Almost everything you see can be picked up, burned down, climbed on, or used in some manner. You’ll find yourself chopping down trees to make bridges and rafts, grabbing leaves to blow wind into sails, and finding clever ways to interact with the environment (like the guy who attached a ton of balloon to a raft to make an airship!) The game challenges you to explore.

Unlike previous Zelda games, where there were very inorganic roadblocks put in your way, like needing a certain item before entering a dungeon, everything in Breath of the Wild feels organic. You’ll know you’re not strong enough for an area when the enemies start destroying you. You’ll know you’re too high in the mountains when you start to shiver and your temperature drops. Maybe come back when you have a parka! Everything feels like a giant puzzle waiting to be solved.

Speaking of dungeons: they take on a completely different form than previous Zelda games. Gone are the themed temples that take hours to complete! They are replaced with 120 different “shrines” which are smaller dungeons that offer themed puzzles of increasing difficulty. Finding these shrines, which is a fun part of the game in itself, and completing them to earn new hearts and stamina bars, is the crux of the gameplay in Zelda. You’ll find yourself entering a new area, seeking out the shrines, and trying to defeat those all while upgrading your character, seeking out better equipment, and experiencing the many different storylines present in the world.

The game feels like a core Zelda game even while missing some classic Zelda items (sorry hookshot!). Instead, you’re giving the Sheikah Slate, the in-game representation of the Nintendo Switch that serves as mini map, radar, binoculars, inventory system, and more. It also grants new powers to Link, like the ability to stop time, create pillars of ice, and use magnetism to move metal. The key to beating the shrines relies on creative use of these powers.

Breath of the Wild is a breath of fresh air for the Zelda franchise. It feels wholly new while somehow feeling wholly familiar. It is quite the achievement and well worth the price. If you’re going to play it, I suggest playing it on the Switch. The investment will surely pay off.  

1.       Horizon: Zero Dawn

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That leaves me with my game of the year, and honestly one of my favorite games of all time. That is, for those who haven’t already guessed it: Horizon: Zero Dawn. This game is one incredibly satisfying gameplay experience. I was hooked from the opening scene, which seriously blew me away with its scope. I knew this was going to be a different type of game.

Horizon has a lot of things going for it. It takes place in a completely open post-apocalyptic world inhabited by dinosaur robots left behind by mankind after the fall of man to an unknown virus. Humanity has been forced to survive in small clusters, forming tribes that band together to find ways to live in this new world. The game does not take place on a fantasy planet or some other place: it takes place on our earth. You will find yourself exploring fallen skyscrapers, abandoned stadiums, the foundations of crumbled cities, secret underground labs, and more. These relics of our time feel strange and out of place in this lush, over-grown future, and that is the point the game is driving home.

The story follows a young girl, Aloy, through her life. Aloy is an outcast, for secret reasons that drive forward the story. She grew up with another outcast, but is forced to leave the life she knows in order to deliver a message to the rest of the world and bring together the tribes. These robotic dinosaurs, the ones left behind to guard the cities of man, have become corrupted and, in that corruption, have begun to act erratically and dangerously. There is more going on beneath the surface than I will talk about here, but the game really begins when Aloy is thrust out of her village the world really opens up.

You’ll find yourself exploring ruins, seeking out collectibles, hunting game, harvesting plants, climbing impossibly tall robots to survey the landscapes, and other open-world tropes, but they never feel stale here. Perhaps it is because the game is so beautiful, especially in 4K, and so you never get bored exploring the world and setting your eyes upon new vistas.

The gameplay itself is very satisfying. Every sound effect feels perfect, from the sound of footsteps to the twang of a bow as the arrow releases. The score is fully orchestrated and feels as epic as any Hollywood movie. The controls respond the way they’re meant, and I never felt myself fighting the game when I was trying to do something. Besides all of that: the gameplay is pure fun. You’ll be hunting down dinosaurs, laying traps, crafting new weapons, experimenting with elemental effects, and more as you seek to master the game. Every time you think you’ve mastered something, the game gives you a new toy to play with.

And the story….I won’t talk about the story. But I will tell you that it is moving, and powerful, and made me feel the way I felt after finishing The Last of Us. Everything is beautifully captured, well-written, and perfectly acted. There is so much to do in this game that you won’t run out of fun, I can promise you that.