Before diving into my favorite games of the year over the next couple day, I wanted to reflect back, as I usually do, on the biggest disappointments of 2017. In the past, this has taken the form of a “Worst games of 20XX” list but this year, I found myself more bothered by some of the big trends. Yes, I played a few stinkers here and there but the real disappointments came when I was looking at the industry from a 30,000-foot view.
5. The Year of Nostalgia
This year, more than any other in recent memory, seemed designed to cash-in on gamer nostalgia. The Crash Bandicoot Trilogy Remaster, Sonic Mania, Super Mario Odyssey, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Yooka-Laylee, Mass Effect Andromeda, the SNES Classic, etc. all evoke - either directly or indirectly - bygone eras of games past. And for fans of those respective franchises or genres, it was a banner year for them as they not only got to relive adventures they loved and hopefully got to share in their excitement with fellow fans or people just experiencing them for the first time.
But in many of these cases, I didn’t have a pre-existing relationship with the franchise and my enjoyment of the thing always felt like it was suffering as a result.
The biggest culprit of this was probably the PlayStation’s original flagship mascot, Crash Bandicoot. Having used my original PlayStation primarily as a Final Fantasy box, I never played the Crash games. But people spoke of the games with such reverence that I was clearly missing out, right? I played through the first world of each of the Crash games this year before putting them down. Repeatedly dying in a level on my way to figuring out a perfect path might have been fun for me 20 years ago when I was in middle school with far fewer cares in the world, but I don’t have anywhere near the patience for that now. And with no nostalgia making me cling to the games, I put them away and haven’t looked back.
Sonic Mania hit a lot of the same notes. I played the Sonic games back on the Genesis but that, too, was a lifetime ago. So with only a passing enjoyment of the series, instead of the deep-seated love I would have needed to appreciate boss cameos or how certain classic stages were remixed, this was another one where I left without any hesitation after I muttered to myself, “I’m just not having fun.”
Mass Effect is a series I have great love for but Andromeda - in part because it shipped before it was finished in order to hit a fiscal year-end - fell far short of the game’s potential and wound up being incredibly forgettable compared to Shepherd’s trilogy. Even now, I’m struggling to recall any of my party members’ names or what the “big decisions” were in the game, which is terrible for a series known for its characters and weighty decisions.
Yooka-Laylee seemed to underwhelm a lot of the fans of classic Rare games in the vein of Banjo Kazooie. The SNES Classic was in far more plentiful supply which means I was able to get one but I had virtually no desire to actually plug it in and play it.
The one that probably surprised me the most though came in the form of my next entry.
4. The Deification of The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild
I think The Legend of Zelda is a perfectly adequate open-world game. Not among my favorite games of the year. And nowhere near the worst thing I played this year. But so much of the conversation around this game, in part due to its connection to Nintendo’s new console/handheld hybrid Switch experiment, has presented this game as the pinnacle of gaming and I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.
I have very fond memories of Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and The Wind Waker, but as I dove into what many people consider this year’s best title, I barely saw anything resembling the Zelda games I loved. I saw a vast world with a few sparse game mechanics that work well-enough together. But the game dilutes its charm by putting in roughly the same level of characters as any other Zelda game spread out along a largely empty world that could probably fit all other Zelda worlds inside of it. When Wind Waker turned Hyrule into a bunch of scattered islands, it was torn to shreds for have so little to actually do across the breadth of that map. But now in 2017, people are seemingly eager to overlook the issue of having so much barren LAND between things to do because it’s a Zelda game but now you can cook (like you’ve been able to do in something like World of Warcraft for over a decade), climb (like Assassin’s Creed, also a decade), and you’re encouraged to just explore (Elder Scrolls since at least Morrowind).
When people talk about Breath of the Wild as game changing, I always genuinely want to ask, “how?” What about Breath of the Wild will we see in games five years from now?
An absence of map markers directing me to locales and side quests? I don’t have the time to explore the farthest reaches of a giant map just to stumble upon another Combat Shrine, thanks. That’s the only thing that really seemed to buck the current open world trend. And Fallout and Elder Scrolls did it years ago and with much more lived in-worlds and character. Just turn off the markers.
Climbing? I couldn’t tell you how many times in Breath of the Wild, I slowly trudged up the side of a mountain only to find...nothing. But it was a lot. If I wanted to climb mountains for nothing other than the pretty vista at the top, I take up hiking again. But I’d rather do almost anything else.
A directionless game that gives you freedom at the expense of an engaging story? Big pass. Since you can experience the meager handful of story cutscenes in Breath of the Wild in any order (if at all), the scenes are all designed as short, stand-alone vignettes keeping us at arms length from any kind of narrative through-line. All combined, the cutscenes are less than 2 hours so it’s entirely possible you spent more time hearing about the blood moon than the “story” of the game.
Weapon degradation in order to keep combat feeling fresh and different? Enjoy it with a side of loot boxes. Which brings us to...
3. Loot boxes
I’ve never liked these things. Just let me buy what I want for fucks sake or figure out a better balance of how to earn the content in game (or you know, include it in the game outright like you used to…). Loot boxes are a cash grab pure and simple. They are designed to maximize the returns on the game entirely at the expense of the player. And if the games don’t do a better job regulating them, Congress will have no problem coming after the medium that they don’t even understand.
Plenty of other people like Jim Sterling have gone on far more in depth tirades on loot boxes so I won’t rehash that well-worn territory here, but fuck loot boxes.
This is not intended as a woe is me entry on this list. I had an amazing year, filled with wonderful friends, plentiful travel, and incredible opportunities.
But I also spent a lot of the year spinning my wheels.
I don’t think I really made any significant headway in my attempts to secure a job in the industry. Even among my network of fellow creators, I barely collaborated with others this year as I instead put the focus onto launching my own daily video series. But even those haven’t grown and developed over time as I hoped they (and I) would.
I enjoy the variety of content I’ve expanded to, moving more beyond the realm of gaming into movies, television, wrestling, and even a little bit of anime and comics. But I’m often disappointed by the fact that I don’t have time to do more with the content because I find myself mentally exhausted after spending the day at the job that actually pays the bills.
I also recognize that I’ve probably become more of a hermit in the last couple years than ever before. Yes, I take the occasional trip out of state get bombarded with friends at events every few months but in between all of that, my non-work social interaction is few and far between. I have a standing Portillo’s lunch with Cameron for every WWE Pay-Per-View and occasionally see a few other people I know when I venture out to the theatre, but I feel my day-to-day becoming increasingly isolated as I view the rest of the world (and only show the smallest, romanticized fragments of my life) through the window of social media.
I’m proud of certain aspects of the year I’ve had, but when I take a long hard look at myself and what I am or am not doing to make inroads into the games industry, I know I can do better.
1. Swatting death of Andrew Finch
A last-minute end-of-the-year entry to the list. Originally, I was going to end on the self-reflection and the hope to always be better next year. But this week, the absolute worst elements of the extremely shitty side of the broader gaming community cost an innocent bystander his life.
If you haven’t seen the news, earlier this week, a couple of assholes were allegedly attacking each other online over what appears to have been a $1.50 Call of Duty wager. One asshole threatened to “swat” the other: a long-terrifying trend wherein they would call the potential victims local precinct and provide a false report of violence or a homicide, leading the police force to mobilize a SWAT team to address the non-existent situation. In this particular instance, the other asshole egged him on and provided a fake address. The police were dispatched to that address after a caller reported gunshots and a hostage situation. Finch, unarmed, opened his door and was tragicially shot by one of the officers on the scene.
There is absolutely an argument to be made that the officer never should have fired. But imagine being in that position and being told the man inside the house shot a person and was holding the rest of the family hostage. I fire the gun if I see the wrong shadow in a video game.
My bigger argument is that the police never should have been called to the scene in the first place. The fact that “swatting” is such a well-known and commonly used tactic to grief streamers or other gaming relationships is abhorrent. I can’t even think of any publicized cases of rival gangs doing this to each other but the dregs of the gaming community managed it and continue to destroy all of the positive work that gamers try to do. Irrational Passions Extra Life raised nearly $3,500. Team Kinda Funny as a whole raised over $91,000. Extra Life as a whole brought in over $8 million this year. But this swatting story is the one that people will remember.
We are better. As a community we need to fight to be better that the pieces of shit who tarnish what we can do or they’ll continue to bring us all down with them.
I donated to support the gofundme set up to help the family in their unexpected time of need. As of this writing, they have already managed to meet their $20,000 goal but I’m sure every little bit will help them in their time of grief. You can donate here.