Dominic Tarason’s favourite games of 2017

We asked a handful of our contributors to put together a list of their three favourite games from 2017. Their picks are running across the week while the rest of RPS slumbers.

2017 has been a stunning year. Partially in the ears-ringing, shellshocked way, partly in the ‘Wow, I’m making a living writing about games’ style, and consistently in the ‘Nobody has time for even half these amazing games’ sense. Of the scant handful of games I did manage to see through to the end, here are my picks from 2017, although if I had time and column inches to spare, I could sing the praises of another dozen more.

Path Of Exile: Fall of Oriath

I knew Grinding Gear Games had been busy working on something big for their ambitious F2P action RPG, but I never expected it would turn out to be one of my favourite expansions of all time, more than doubling the length of game’s story, and elevating POE to its current status as a legitimate rival to Diablo. The little New Zealand studio had long teased plans to expand the game from its roots as a traditional 3-act ARPG into something bigger, but things seemed to taper off after the release of Act 4.

The simultaneous announcement of Acts 5 through 10 was mindblowing in of itself. The quality of the content delivered, even moreso. While acts 6-10 technically retread old ground, there is enough new story there, punctuated with new locations, bosses and gameplay mechanics to make it feel surprisingly fresh. There’s a great sense of escalation to it all, as well, with the story taking on a God Of War-esque air as you begin a massive campaign of deicide, averting the apocalypse by murdering nearly every god in the world.

And then Grinding Gear went and capped the year off with one more expansion, expanding the (already impressively large) endgame to match the scope of the main story. Despite her lack of gaming experience, my girlfriend has taken to Path Of Exile like a duck to water as well, and we hope to play a good chunk more if it over the holidays. The couple that slays together, stays together and all that.

Unexplored

Roguelike grognards could be forgiven for overlooking Unexplored at first glance. The simple, sharp animated graphics and the physics-driven realtime combat engine are a world away from the ASCII purity of Nethack. On the surface, it’s the furthest thing from a ‘true’ roguelike, but give it more than the briefest of looks, and you’ll notice that Ludumotion’s clever little dungeon crawler is structured very similarly to Brogue, a particularly brilliant back-to-basics attempt to strip back the genre to its most compelling fundamentals, cutting back as much statistical bloat as possible.

Without experience points or levels to complicate things, Unexplored’s appeal lies in its dungeon design. Its procedural generation systems are a borderline-magical piece of code that allows it to generate dungeons that feel like they’ve got a dungeon master’s creative hand behind them, full of sidequest arcs that span multiple floors, puzzles with solutions scrawled on hidden notes, secret areas that feel genuinely satisfying to uncover, and an almost immersive sim-esque slant to problem solving, giving you a flexible, ever-expanding palette of tools and interactions over the course of a given adventure, and a wide variety of situations to flex them in.

A trio of free DLC packs are just the icing on the cake, each one repurposing the dungeon generator in exciting new ways. One campaign variant is Tolkien-themed, giving you a less magical, more nerve-wracking descent through NotMoria. The second pack reworks the game into a fantasy parody of Aliens, with scoring based on how many acid-blooded bugs you end up clearing out, and the third piece (still in development) is an eldritch mystery, with you tracking down clues on which cultist you need to kill with which weapon in order to prevent an apocalypse – it’s like reverse Lovecraftian Cluedo.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

Well, I say V3, but I really mean the entire Danganronpa series, even stretching a bit outside of the realm of gaming. Having played through the first entry in this bizarro visual novel/murder-mystery series some years ago, I decided to catch up so that I might fully enjoy the latest entry. The entire process took the better part of three weeks and a few sleepless nights, during which I played through Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, the shooter-lite spinoff Ultra Despair Girls, capped off with the Danganronpa 3 anime series (which I was surprised to discover is a vital part of series canon), all capped off with a leisurely stroll through V3: Killing Harmony.

It was absolutely worth the time and effort. Danganronpa 2 builds on the strange world established in the first game, presenting another series of mysteries that, despite not adhering to anything close to real-world constraints, are surprisingly consistent in their reasoning, allowing would-be sleuths to intuit their way to the solution after a few obligatory mid-trial twists. Ultra Despair Girls, while admittedly quite weak as a shooter, is a truly unique experience. It’s a lurid doe-eyed Trojan Horse; Were it not for the day-glo anime aesthetics, pink blood and minor NPCs being portrayed as silhouettes, it would be unbearably dark subject material, especially once it starts delving into the traumas that define the primary-school-age antagonists.

The end of the original story arc is hidden away in an anime series, easily found and watched on Crunchyroll. Danganronpa 3 (not to be confused with the latest game) is both a prequel to the first game, but also a direct sequel/extended epilogue to DR2 and Ultra Despair Girls. It even uses the visual and musical language of the games to great effect, despite telling a story with a very different pace and scale. Danagnronpa V3, the most recent in the series, feels like an encore for the fans; A 30-hour long. self-contained victory lap built out of familiar elements, remixed. Rules are broken, twists redirected, and it all goes out with a bombastic final act that I can’t quite see the series ever topping, or even trying to.

So, that’s the highlights of my 2017 in gaming. Next year, I plan on buying a Switch and a Vive headset, too, opening up even more doorways into strange new virtual worlds. My wallet is already weeping in anticipation of its terrible fate.

14 Comments

  1. aepervius says:

    A lot of people are saying that DR3 is a slap in the face, not as consistent as the two others, and somehow a slap in the face for the ending. I have it on my wish list, but I am wary of buying it now…

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      It’s a much shorter story than any of the games – it’s 8 hours, all told, split between prologue/epilogue arcs. Tiny compared to the games, which are often 20+ hours long, easily. Still, I was satisfied enough with it. It tied off just about all the loose story ends, often in typically weird Danganronpa fashion. Just expect some weirdness, but in a series where ‘Super high-school level robot’ can be a defining character trait, you’re pretty used to that.

    • lukebee says:

      I’m assuming you’re referring to DRV3, not the anime? It’s definitely been divisive; I’ve seen some call the ending a slap in the face, and I saw a few people on Reddit say they hated it so much that it retroactively ruined the game or even the entire series for them. Personally though, I was blown away by the ending. It’s bold, it fits really well thematically with the rest of the game, and it actually has something interesting to say. I loved it so much that it elevated DRV3 to both my favorite Danganronpa game and my favorite game of 2017. So uh, make of that what you will, I guess.

      • Dominic Tarason says:

        Oh yeah, I can absolutely see how DRV3’s ending could be divisive, but… nah, I loved it. It was an Ending with a capital E, and probably NDING too.

        It’s one hell of a final act, and I’d much rather have that than Danganronpa turn into gaming’s equivalent to the Saw series.

    • Jac says:

      If you’ve played and enjoyed the first 2 then don’t be wary of playing the third. It’s just as fantastic.

      I actually quite liked the ending (only ever played the games) and having seen it I struggle to see why it caused such a reaction. For me it wasn’t the sort of end that had the capacity to completely ruin the experience of playing the game. My thoughts afterwards were that maybe I’d missed something given what people were saying about it.

    • Songbearer says:

      I was super wary of playing Danganronpa V3 after reading a couple of reviews on STEAM and seeing how it wasn’t as universally adored as the first two, but having played and completed both games this year I couldn’t *not* play it. Turns out I’d have really missed out on a great game if I had avoided it.

      Personally I loved the ending but it’s absolutely gonna be marmite. I’ve seen a few people who hated the ending, then after a few days when the dust had settled admit that it was actually pretty fitting – but ignoring the ending, you won’t want to miss the gameplay itself which is absolutely the best in the series. The court cases are really fun and smooth and the mechanics and minigames are all enjoyable, a marked improvement on the rough as sandpaper second game in that regard.

    • TheBetterStory says:

      I’m not sure whether you mean DR3 (the anime) or DRV3 (the most recent game). I didn’t like either of them. I found V3’s cast less annoyingly hostile than the DR1’s, but not nearly as interesting. They’re even more lacking compared to DR2’s characters. A lot of them feel like rehashes of old Ultimates without the interesting backstories. I was actually bored completing most of the freetime events. Normally they’re a highlight for me.

      Then there’s the ending. While there are those who enjoyed it, I found it nihilistic, pretentious and poorly written. On the whole the fanbase seems to have decided they like it, so there’s a good chance you will, too. But there IS certainly potential for it to retroactively ruin the entire game for you, as well as the past two games and the franchise at large. It’s up to you if you think it’s worth the risk.

  2. Ghostwise says:

    I’d say that PoE has been Diablo-grade for quite a while now. :-)

    But yeah, the overhaul of the story part was a nice surprise. I was expecting something… warmed-over, but the reuse of the old zones is cleverly done and does make the levelling process more enjoyable.

  3. Spacewalk says:

    At least someone here knows that Unexplored is one of the games of the year.

  4. Premium User Badge

    kfix says:

    I am really appreciating the way you think and write, Dominic. I hope to see a lot more of your work here!

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