2017 has been a great year for gaming, with most games raising the bar in their own way: Persona 5 for JRPGs, Breath of the Wild for open-world gameplay, NieR: Automata for engrossing and philosophical storytelling, and even Super Mario Odyssey for jump and run gameplay.
There are a few questions I want to raise here. Is there really one Game of the Year for 2017? Or has it just been a damn good year in gaming, with nothing really blowing our minds? Is it even necessary to have a definitive GotY each year, and if so, how objective are the awards that are given out? These thoughts have really been nagging me this year, so I’d like to start a conversation here about these issues.
Consider Horizon: Zero Dawn: a new IP that took the industry by storm and has left its mark for years to come. After a long wait, the game certainly lived up to the hype, and quickly started being compared to games like BotW, which came out a bit after. Both games have massive worlds with a lot to discover and explore. They have different mechanics, with Horizon playing it a bit safer, perfecting existing gameplay tropes, but on the other hand, delivering a much more emotional and invested story than any Zelda game ever could. Meanwhile, BotW delivered new and innovative gameplay, much of which we’d never seen before.
Both games are exclusive titles, so sales numbers aren’t a great way of comparing them. How do you compare them, then? Both titled have some similar elements, but many more different ones. They focus on different things and try to succeed in different ways. How can you justly say that one deserves GotY over the other?
Furthermore, how do you decide what should and should not matter when considering the GotY award? Nintendo’s keystone franchises — Zelda and Mario in particular — seem to get 10/10 review scores left and right no matter what. They’re great games, but there’s no doubt that being Nintendo’s core titles has a huge impact on their critical reception. On the other hand, Horizon: Zero Dawn is praised for being a brand new IP, introducing something fresh to the industry. This surely had an effect on its reviews. Which of these factors should be taken into consideration when deciding GotY?
Now, if we compare Breath of the Wild and the recently releases Assassin’s Creed Origins, we can see another way of comparing GotY candidates that’s a bit clearer. Origins has the typical western open world lack of polish that Zelda does not have. So you could say that, due to this fact, Zelda is the more worthy of GotY. There are some aspects of each game that are more objective than others, like polish, performance, and so on. How highly should we value these aspects over the more subjective elements?
Persona 5 is another GotY candidate. It did almost everything right, and helped to further open the Western market to “Japanese” games. Yet, despite being a nearly flawless game, it didn’t innovate much. It was more of a Dark Souls 3 than a Dark Souls 1, if you know what I mean. NieR: Automata, another JRPG, is one of my favorite games of 2017, but likely won’t be as seriously considered for GotY as other options. It was too artsy and philosophical for that — too niche, you could say.
Do we put innovation over tradition? Do we put philosophy and story over gameplay? These difficult questions all ought to be considered when trying to pick something as monumental as Game of the Year 2017.
Awards, Editor’s Choices, Seals of Quality…
From the very early stages of video games, companies have been trying to signal to gamers that their games are good and worth checking out. Today, a whole industry has formed around this, with more and more power coming to the players themselves. While Nintendo’s Seal of Quality is a good example of early video game quality management, today, Steam, Amazon, and sites like this one are the mass market quality clerks. Sites like ours try to give readers informative and clear opinions on games.
To what extent does the number of awards and honors prove a game’s value? Should we count awards at the end of the year to determine which game turned out to be the “best” one? Particularly in a year like 2017, where the race for GotY is extremely close, it seems absurd to decide which game is best based on number of awards. This is especially true considering the things I mentioned earlier that illustrated just how hard it is to fairly pick a GotY.
The Witcher 3 won the vast majority of awards in 2015. With over 800 awards, that means it’s definitely the best game, right? Well, if you don’t like story-driven open-world games, the game won’t make you happy no matter how many awards it has. On the other hand, you might opt to not consider Metal Gear Solid V because it was beaten by The Witcher 3 almost universally in 2015, yet you might enjoy MGSV substantially more if you give it a chance.
So, what’s my GotY 2017?
Despite so much rambling about the issue of picking a GotY in 2017, I definitely know what my personal pick is. While many excellent games came out this year, I choose Horizon: Zero Dawn as my personal game of the year.
The first title in a possibly new franchise, an emotionally rich story, an incredible soundtrack, and the delivery of the original vision promised by its trailers. Horizon: Zero Dawn is game that, for me, underlined the shortcomings of massive titles like Breath of the Wild and Assassin’s Creed Origins.
That said, Super Mario Odyssey is another great title — one that I was actually playing just before writing this article. It’s a wonderful new Mario game with some fresh gameplay and addicting puzzles. It’s a brilliant entry, but nothing that will have a resounding effect on the game industry. I feel the same way about some other huge titles of 2017, including BotW. They’re all great, but they’re not quite at the level of Horizon.
The most interesting part of this conversation starts now. What is your Game of the Year 2017? What are your thoughts on how GotY awards are given and the effects the honors have? I’m eager to hear what you think, so please leave a comment below!