10. Total War: Warhammer 2
Chris Bratt: At launch I was impressed by a new style of campaign that has players pushing forwards with some urgency, taking more risks, lest they lose the race for the Great Vortex to a faction they’ve barely encountered on the other side of the continent.
But it was an update that arrived the following month that earns Warhammer 2’s position on this list, as far as I’m concerned. Mortal Empires combines the campaign maps of both the first and second games, creating the largest Total War experience to date. And it’s one that will only continue to get larger, as Creative Assembly strive towards its ultimate goal: recreating the Warhammer Fantasy world in its entirety.
As someone who loved playing tabletop as a kid, this is the kind of game I’ve dreamed about: starting small and building an empire (not necessarily The Empire) that could span entire continents. I’ll admit, I was sceptical that Creative Assembly could make this thing work, but I’ve spent more time playing Mortal Empires that I have any other game this year. It’s bloated, yes, but isn’t that the point?
Johnny Chiodini: From the moment Senua first glides into view, silently dipping a paddle in the water as she canoes past gnarled tree roots and gruesomely arranged corpses, you start to suspect Hellblade is going to be something different; something violent, yes, but also contemplative. Considered. Even so, it’s hard to accurately prepare yourself for what lies ahead – Hellblade is a game of astounding boldness not just in its subject matter, story or main character, but in its core design. With no UI or objective markers to guide you, you’re forced to rely on sights and sounds – knowing all the while that Senua’s senses are not to be trusted. It’s a mischievous, cunning game that captures how lonely and unnerving one’s mental health can be to explore.
8. Nex Machina
Christian Donlan: Many years ago in an interview over the phone, Eugene Jarvis told me that he often thought about returning to the design for Robotron 2084. I assumed it would never happen – and it never did in quite such a direct manner. But this year we got a spiritual successor of the most exciting kind: a game from Housemarque, the studio that must count, alongside Llamasoft, as Jarvis’ greatest fans, with Jarvis himself consulting on the project. Nex Machina is much more than just fan service, though: it’s proof that when an arcade game is really coming together, when the team is committed to killing you again and again in the most exacting and dazzling manner possible, each death leaving you with a sense of what you could have done differently, there is nothing to match it. This is one of the greatest arcade games ever made – and it’s painful to note that, for Housemarque at least, it looks like it’s the last.
Martin Robinson: I got to meet Jarvis last year (sorry Donlan), and I can honestly say of all the devs I’ve interviewed I’ve never met anyone as smart, witty or energetic as this legend of the arcade. He doesn’t get anywhere near the praise he deserves – perhaps because, somewhat heroically, he never left the arcades and has continued his career churning out new cabinets at his company Raw Thrills – so it’s truly amazing to see his genius honoured on console by his number one students, Housemarque. And how.
7. Destiny 2
Tom Phillips: From experience, Destiny players spend a lot of their time complaining about Destiny. In these terms, Destiny 2 has been an unparalleled success: from early complaints about the game’s non-existent endgame, token economy and Iron Banner backsteps, to the more recent, more serious charges of its misleading XP system, locking of base game content behind DLC and increasingly suffocating focus on the Eververse store; from overpowered weapons to broken Monty Python emotes that let you glitch through walls. Destiny 2 players could have grumbled more – if only the game’s servers weren’t down every week for continual maintenance. And yet we’re still playing it, or a good few of us are. Behind all of the complaints lies a simple truth: that fans want Destiny 2 to be better, for Bungie to do better, and for this thing we all love logging back into to keep surprising us – but perhaps, for once, in a good way.
Wesley Yin-Poole: I think it’s clear at this stage that Bungie’s messed up Destiny 2. It’s a game I had high hopes for, having pumped days into its predecessor despite its flaws. And while Destiny 2 at launch was a very good shooter, with a serviceable campaign and some interesting new mechanics to keep players going in the short-term, it has since emerged that Bungie failed to include enough to keep the hardcore going in the long term. Expansion Curse of Osiris has done little to address this problem. Can subsequent expansions? I’m not sure.
So why is it on this list? At number seven, no less? Because as problematic as Destiny 2 is, it’s a game I – and many at Eurogamer – come back to. Like grumpy Brits moaning about the weather, we take to our dedicated Destiny Slack channel to bemoan Bungo’s latest fudge while organising our next play session. It’s a little masochistic at this point, I’ll admit. But every now and then I’m reminded of the magic buried deep within the layers and layers of systems that Bungie struggles to balance. Destiny 2 is a compelling disaster, and part of me wouldn’t have it any other way.
Matt Reynolds: We should be sitting here writing about how Destiny 2 fixed all of the original game’s foibles, but Bungie has seemingly done the impossible and made the sequel perhaps even more problematic. The treadmill that is the end-game gives you little reason to jump on and keep going, there has been exploits abound, and despite a much improved campaign, it still fumbles what story it has at every turn.
But boy, there’s something about Destiny that makes you keep coming back. Moment-to-moment there’s none better when it comes to gunplay, and when it works, it’s offered many of my favourite experiences of 2017 – whether it’s completing an ultra challenging Nightfall Strike with seconds to spare, or after hours of practice with a handful of others – tempers fraying – finally figuring out how to best the Raid’s array of intense puzzles. Maybe, one day, Destiny will finally deliver on its promise, but until then, it’s still got something no other game has.
Oli Welsh: Raced through the campaign, loved it, bounced hard off the endgame and probably won’t go back. It’s almost the inverse of my slow-burn love affair with the first Destiny – and hardly the MMO mindset it’s supposed to engender. But, unlike my colleagues, I also didn’t have a single thing to moan about. I got a sustained blast of gorgeous, operatic, turbo sci-fi nonsense with exquisitely tuned and thunderously satisfying gunplay – in other words, a pretty great Bungie shooter campaign, the best since Halo: ODST at least. After all these years, what a treat that was.
Paul Watson: Prior to the launch of Arms, I regarded most news from Nintendo regarding their new fighter with a sort of lingering dispassion. It felt as if the publisher was using the game as an excuse to push the Switch’s motion controls à la Wii Sports, and I had no interest in revisiting that particular gimmick again. Happily, I was proven wrong.
Beneath Arms’ candy-coloured visuals lies a stunningly deep fighter with some of the best character design I’ve seen since Overwatch. Third-person fighting games are notoriously difficult to make work because of depth perception, so of course it makes perfect sense that Nintendo would choose to tackle that approach, and excel in doing so.
Martin Robinson: Nintendo’s best game this year, by quite some margin. If you think otherwise, you’re plain wrong, and I’ll fight you in Arms to prove my point. No grab-spamming Ninjaras though, please.
Tom Phillips: It’s alright, but it was no Zelda.
Christian Donlan: Zelda is no Master Mummy.
5. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Milan
Christian Donlan: If this was Mario with guns it would be a bit of a downer. Much better to think of it as XCOM with a new focus on bouncing on people’s heads to get across the map at double speed, then. Mario + Rabbids is a brilliant mash-up that knows exactly how unlikely it is that its pieces will fit together neatly. Lovely!
Oli Welsh: Definitely the year’s nicest surprise. I still remember the astonished reaction to the E3 reveal among the team, when we were all, to a man, expecting a car crash. “It’s XCOM!” “But why? Why is it XCOM?” I still don’t know why, but I do know that it’s a beautifully designed tactical game that balances accessibility, challenge and depth with a very fine touch. It’s such a pleasure to puzzle out. The licensing is a bit off, but the Rabbids’ slapdash cosplay parodies of the Mario characters make a virtue of that. In fact, that might be the most surprising thing about it: it made the Rabbids genuinely funny.
Martin Robinson: I’m absolutely awful – I’ve tried a couple of times to play this, and every time I do I think it’s all just swell, but then I go back to the homescreen of my Switch and see that nasty Poundland Mario design in the game’s icon I have to delete the whole thing straight away. Sorry.
4. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Bluehole Studio Inc., PUBG Corporation
Christian Donlan: Chris Bratt and I went for a lovely drive together in a couple of Dacias. Then we found a house. Then we got killed while I was trying to bring a motorbike and sidecar around to the front door so we could go for a quick spin. This is a brutal game, but it can also be a weirdly cute one, if you’re playing with Bratterz.
Johnny Chiodini: PUBG has been a huge one for the video team this year. While we’ve not improved as such, we’ve spent countless hours laughing and scheming and – let’s face it – delivering convenient bundles of loot to players who can aim better than we can. It’s weird to feel such camaraderie in a game so openly hostile, but there’s something about Battlegrounds that lends itself to good stories (and inglorious deaths).
Oli Welsh: Sloppy, ugly, half-finished even now it has emerged from Early Access – and the most played game among the Eurogamer team by a mile. It’s just incredible, inexhaustible fun, because it is built around a bulletproof game concept that it never messes with or strays from. That simplicity is bound to be the thing that the countless incoming imitators will miss as they try to put their own spins on it. You don’t go from nothing to the biggest game in the world overnight for no reason. PUBG is raw, unrefined genius.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
Martin Robinson: I don’t think there’s any game this year in which it’s so much fun just running around in circles. Nintendo nails movement, and Odyssey’s bolder than most other Mario games in giving you freedom to do what you want with it. Having that more open-ended sandbox style return to Mario for the first time since Sunshine was always going to be a delight, but for all that I do wish there was a bit more coherence in Odyssey. I’m all for anarchy, but when you look at the grotesques that are the Broodals – whose design surely marks the lowest point for mainline Mario games since Yoshi’s Fruit Adventure – I can’t help but wish that the beauty of playing Odyssey was met by its artwork.
Matt Reynolds: I agree with Martin that this is the best ‘playing’ game of the year – the mere act of running and jumping is joyfully reminiscent of previous Mario games, but thanks to your new platforming assistant Cappy, the rules are rewritten and feel fresh all over again.
Odyssey is the most inventive Mario has ever been – and as a series that prides itself on throwing out ideas as fast as it can come up with them, this is high acclaim – but suffers because it’s perhaps too dense with its collectables, sights and sounds at times. But as a playground to just explore and enjoy yourself, it’s unparalleled.
Also, not enough is said about the rumble, going from subtle nudges as you twist and turn on foot to being surprisingly violent (give the New Donk City scooter a spin to see what I mean), single-handedly justifying the ‘HD’ label Nintendo slapped on its Switch rumble tech.
Oli Welsh: It really is all over the shop, isn’t it? There’s stuff in this game that might actually be a bit shoddy, if you had more than 30 seconds to think about it, and then there are brilliant ideas tossed away for a quick gag that someone else would make an entire game, nay, franchise about. It’s Mario in extremis, and it’s almost too much. But it’s also an engine for pure, untrammelled joy. If that’s not what video games are about, I don’t know what is.
Oh and dressing Mario up in the little outfits is just too cute.
2. What Remains of Edith Finch
Christian Donlan: A complex visual delight and a brisk examination of family life, death, and all those other big themes that aren’t often dealt with in as sprightly or searching a manner as this, What Remains of Edith Finch is the sort of game that comes along once in a decade if you’re lucky. In 2017 we were suddenly very, very lucky indeed. Unmissable and unforgettable.
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell: It takes heart indeed to wrestle beauty from the jaws of grief, again and again.
Martin Robinson: I adore a game that’s bold enough to tell its story in under two hours, and with What Remains of Edith Finch developer Giant Sparrow does that with more than just artful efficiency – there’s a generosity of ideas here that would make a Mario game proud, and each and every one is delivered effectively too. That brevity only makes its frequent gut punches that much more powerful, and I don’t think I’ve played anything quite as moving this or any other year. Pretty much essential, really.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Chris Tapsell: Choose a single part of Breath of the Wild – like the way weapons break, or the way climbing works – and run it through Google. Each mechanism and element of design is so brilliantly crafted that I’d wager any one of them has given rise to a dozen think-pieces and deep-dives on how it works, why it works like it does, why it is great. To really butcher a metaphor, Breath of the Wild is our medium’s Helen of Troy – the game that launched a thousand video essays.
In the age of hyper-specialists, reverse-engineers and mechanics who are capable of reducing games, films and other creations to their barest intricacies with such incredible precision, it’s very easy, and natural, to think of Breath of the Wild as a game about those specifics – about experimenting with the brilliant physics, or the endless puzzles made of basic traversal, or the planning required of you by its degrading weapons and sandbox combat.
But in this game, each of those specifics is barely a single stroke of the brush. Breath of the Wild is transcendental: it isn’t about the science of design – as much as it is built upon the incredible, deliberate decisions of its designers – it’s about how that design is experienced by you, about learning the principles of a world from scratch, thinking and existing and interacting with a world as a human being would. It’s a game that, in order to really have its desired effect, relies on you to recall your own early experience of the world, how you learned about your own consciousness and your own ability to affect things around you. As much of the world, and our small corner of it in video games, shifts towards the mechanical and the technical, Breath of the Wild is fundamentally about what it is to be human.
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell: I’m going to risk all of next year’s Eurogamer commissions by saying that I’m cool on Breath of the Wild. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s a game in which every last functional detail manages to stick in the memory – the way Link twangs his bowstring comically when you try to shoot with an empty quiver, for instance, or those jewel-like encounters with fellow travellers on the road. While it’s an open world with towers, sidequests and whatnot, the Ubidrudgery is kept to a minimum, and Nintendo is happy to let you find things rather than covering the map with waypoints. And yet somehow I’m not compelled. Mostly, I miss the extended themed dungeons of the older Zeldas – the Shrines are too piecemeal and visually repetitive, and while you could argue that the combat sandbox makes up for it, I’ll take another Shadow Temple over Fun Times With Bomb Physics any day of the week. In a great piece earlier this year, Chris Thursten called it the immersive simulation’s Paul McCartney, a straight-edge artist for the broader audience. I couldn’t listen to Paul McCartney for 100 hours straight. Can the next one be the immersive sim’s Buckethead, please?
Martin Robinson: It was alright, but it was no Arms. Also Edwin, have you never heard Wings’ Arrow Through Me? I’d listen to that for 100 hours straight any day.
Oli Welsh: Funny, I remember Martin playing this avidly for many weeks, raving about it and even buying one of those awful knock-off amiibo cards for a rare figure so he could unlock the Ocarina Link outfit, then furtively passing it around the office. Anyway.
I miss the dungeons too, but they are the most notable cost of an astonishingly brave decision at Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma told the team of designers making Breath of the Wild to rip up everything about Zelda and start again from scratch. Can you imagine any other company doing that with such a treasured series? Especially one as intricately bound up in notions of tradition and repetition as Zelda? And can you imagine it going so triumphantly right? We’d be lucky indeed if just a few more of gaming’s big names were prepared to take these kinds of risks with their properties in the name of moving things forward.
Breath of the Wild is magnificent in scope and detail. It’s remorseless in the way interrogates, breaks down and rebuilds afresh all the building blocks of several genres of game, including open-word adventures, role-playing games, survival games and sims. It’s unprecedented in the solidity and craftsmanship with which it fits all these moving parts back together into a whole that offers tremendous freedom, but never breaks down or breaks its own rules. Yes, it owes a lot to Bethesda and Rockstar and Valve and Bungie and the rest, but it also schools them on their own turf.
But like Chris said, you can spend too long academically revering Breath of the Wild for its achievements in game design, when they all work so well and smoothly to a single purpose: stripping this kind of gaming of all its drudgery, of all the rote behaviours that had been ingrained in both developers and players, and bringing one of these so-called open worlds to teeming, gorgeous, mysterious life. What is the most magical and meaningful action you can undertake in a video game? For me, it’s exploration. And this is nothing less than the best exploration game ever made. Go be in it.