You’ve read Eurogamer’s games of 2017 list, but how did we settle on the top 10? A mixture of science and alcohol, it turns out.
Our top 50 games list was compiled via a voting process. Eurogamer staff and contributors were asked to submit their top 10 games of 2017, and points were distributed accordingly. This process provided us with an initial top 50.
Then, we all popped along to our local here in Brighton to thrash it out, with a particular focus on the top 10. We thought it would be fun to let our dear readers in on the chat (complete with all the swearing – apologies for our filthy mouths).
So you know who’s who, in attendance was Eurogamer editor Oli, features and reviews editor Martin, news editor Tom, features editor Christian “Donlan” Donlan, senior staff writer Robert “Bertie” Purchese, guides editor Matt, guides writer Chris “Double Tap” Tapsell, video producer Chris “Bratterz” Bratt and our social media manager Paul “Party Paul” Watson. Oh, and I was there, too.
A couple of things worth noting. We’re all fabulous friends, so even though it sometimes sounds like we’re having a mini spat, we’re not. We all care about video games quite a lot and it was all hugs and kisses at the end. And second, why is Arms on this list?
Now, put the kettle on, get yourself comfy and strap yourself in for Eurogamer unfiltered. It’s on.
Tom: Destiny 2 should not be in the top 10, and I say that as someone who has played more Destiny 2 than anyone else at this table, except maybe Matt.
Bratterz: Isn’t the recurring thing that there’s not enough endgame content and they’re not updating it quickly enough? You’ve all said that.
Double Tap: And the content that’s there is not brilliantly designed.
Tom: Destiny 2 was great at launch and loads of people were playing it at launch. But you’re right. Destiny 2 is a game that has to be played over a sustained period and sustain a community. Right now it’s not doing that. And I think therefore it fails, and it fails in a way which Destiny 1 did not. Destiny 1 had its problems sure, and The Dark Below was not a great answer to them. But Destiny 2 is in a much worse place. The community is in a much worse place. The game is in a much worse place.
Oli: I put Destiny 2 in my top 10 and I put it there because I played it pretty much as a single-player shooter. I bought it, I played through the campaign, had a nice time, did a few grindy things, a couple of strikes and moved on. In that context, I really enjoyed it. But I didn’t play it anywhere near as much as I played the first Destiny. And I don’t think I’ll go back to it.
Martin: It reminds me of Battlefront 2 in a weird way. Everyone played Battlefront 1, and when everyone played Destiny 1 everyone said, this is amazing, we’re having so much fun. But can you imagine what the sequel’s going to be like when they sort all these problems out? And then they had years to sort all these problems out. Everyone was so excited for both of these games, thinking, they’ve taken all this feedback on board, they’re going to knock it out the park, and both of them just completely screwed it.
Tom: They fixed a lot of things. They fixed the campaign and they fixed having an open world to explore. Those two factors are really cool, but they introduced new issues. They took away stuff that was in the first game people liked, such as random rolls on weapons.
Martin: Destiny is broken by design. That’s why everyone loved the first one so much. So those problems are part of its charm, aren’t they? Everyone loved the cheese in the first Destiny.
Tom: Everyone loved the cheese, and that was part of the charm. But with Destiny 2, in trying to make it feel more rewarding so you’re always earning points towards your next progression, they turned it into this token rewarding system, where instead of killing a boss and seeing a really cool bit of loot fly out, you get five tokens to plug in to some vendor.
Very much like Battlefront 2, that system isn’t going away. That is how the game works. And they’ve decided that’s how the game works, and they can’t change it because it’s integral. They can make it better or more generous, but that system does not feel fun or rewarding of your time.
Double Tap: The raid absolutely blew my mind. It was the first raid I’d done. That was probably my favourite moment of the year in playing video games.
Bertie: You didn’t sound very happy playing it!
Wes: Yeah, but no-one ever does.
Tom: That’s the thing. Destiny 2, you do go a bit League of Legends, as Chris Tapsell did.
Double Tap: I’m at home in a competitive environment…
Donlan: Your house is a competitive environment?
Wes: Have you met Double Tap?
Tom: Any environment Double Tap is in, he’s in competitive mode.
Double Tap: No I’m not!
Wes: Okay, Destiny 2 is not standing the test of time. But I maintain that for 40 hours Destiny 2 is a great shooter.
Matt: But I feel like Destiny is the long-term grind.
Tom: The problem is you have to compare it with Destiny 1.
Wes: I think it falls down compared to Destiny 1.
Paul: I actually think vanilla Destiny 1 doesn’t stand up to vanilla Destiny 2.
Wes: No, but you remember fondly the terrible things about Destiny 1, whereas you’re just not going to remember anything about Destiny 2.
Tom: Also, Bungie had three years of learning on Destiny 1, and it’s clear after The Taken King, about a year-and-a-half in, they went off to do Destiny 2 and didn’t remember any of the stuff they learnt. And they made a bunch of really bad decisions.
Double Tap: The first Destiny, you have things like the exotics, which were really interesting and unusual and brought a different element of playing to it, which Destiny 2 just does not have. Half the exotics I get I don’t use because they’re terrible.
Tom: The sandbox is so bland.
Wes: In many ways that’s the biggest problem with Destiny 2.
Double Tap: It’s bland. It’s boring. It’s uninspiring. It’s just frustrating and unsatisfying.
Oli: Should we dump Destiny 2 out of the top 10?
Oli: Votes for yes?
Wes: We’re all going to play that DLC [most of us did, in fact, play the DLC].
Bratterz: We just spent longer talking about why it’s not good.
Wes: Yeah but that’s why it’s great. That’s Destiny. Destiny is the best game for a British person to play. It’s like the weather. It’s always changing. And it’s always annoying. And yet it’s the one thing we always talk about.
Tom: Yeah. It’s raining today. It’s too rainy. It’s hot today. It’s too hot.
Paul: It’s not the best game or the most mechanically sound game. But it’s the game I’ve spent the most time playing, and the game I’ve enjoyed the most.
Donlan: I think it belongs in there because it reveals that we are only human, and sometimes you play shit games and you really enjoy them because of bad reasons.
Oli: Let’s put this another way. Is there anyone here who’s looking at this list thinking, I can’t believe game x isn’t in the top 10?
Bratterz: Total Warhammer!
Wes: Call of Duty!
Double Tap: Is there any representation here for Nier Automata, because the people who have played that love it?
Oli: I know, I’m really surprised. I put it in my top 10 not having played much of it myself, but on the strength of having watched Peggy [Mrs Oli] play it a lot. It’s a game where you have to get over the hump, but it gets a lot more interesting the more you play of it.
Martin: I’ve played it for maybe four or five hours now, and it feels a bit too prog rock. Everybody’s like, oh, it gets really good after 20 hours.
Double Tap: But prog rock is great. It’s so Eurogamer.
Paul: The thing everyone says is, it’s a game you’ve got to beat and then play again to get the most out of it.
Martin: What’s wrong with being good from the start?
Oli: The thing with Nier is, there’s a case for not being completely beholden to the democratic process and for tweaking it. But you also have to listen to the votes. And Eurogamer as a whole, all of its writers and contributors do not care about Nier Automata. It is 36. You cannot bump it up.
Paul: I’m surprised Mass Effect Andromeda is so high.
Oli: Yeah, me too! We’re straying outside of the top 10 here, but what the hell is Mass Effect Andromeda doing on this list?
Martin: The voting is blind, and I would never give away anyone’s votes, but Wes your list was a fucking travesty. And that’s the reason it’s so high.
Donlan: Was it just Street Fighter nine times and then Mass Effect Andromeda?
Wes: Martin, Arms is number six on this piece of paper. Arms is number six. Number six.
Martin: Have you played Arms?
Tom: I’ve played Arms. It’s not great.
Wes: Arms is number six. How is Arms number six?
Martin: Because it’s phenomenal, that’s why! Because it’s Nintendo’s best game this year.
Wes: Arms is Nintendo’s best game this year?!
Bratterz: Ohhhh. I was about to jump in and try and give you some moral support there!
Wes: Let’s give Martin a couple of minutes to justify what he just said.
Martin: Because it’s really exciting when Nintendo do new IP, and when they do it they tend to knock it out of the park. Arms feels this year like Splatoon was back two or three years ago. It’s really fresh and exciting. For me it redefines – well I shouldn’t say it redefines fighting games or you’ll punch me in the face – but it’s Nintendo doing fighting games. It’s new and it’s interesting and it’s got that kind of freshness to it I don’t get in the rest of Nintendo’s lineup this year.
Donlan: With Nintendo doing something like this, you get to feel like you’re seeing the Galapagos version of that genre. It’s a thing which is completely separate from every other tradition and it’s really fascinating, and it’s much more interesting than everything else they’ve done this year, in the same way Splatoon was more interesting than everything they’d done that year.
Wes: I think Arms is probably more interesting than it is good.
Donlan: That comes down to what’s good? In games at the moment, interesting is good, right?
Oli: Donlan just made a really good point. You’re saying interesting is good. What is good if it’s not interesting?
Wes: Call of Duty: WW2.
Donlan: No, Destiny.
Wes: But Destiny is interesting.
Donlan: No, Destiny is not interesting.
Tom: No, it really is.
Wes: It’s really fascinating.
Oli: Call of Duty, then?
Wes: Yes. Call of Duty is a very by the numbers Call of Duty game. There’s not much it’s doing that’s different to what we’ve played in other games before, and yet it’s a really good shooter.
Double Tap: I think a better example of something most people would consider to be good but we haven’t considered to be good because it’s not interesting is Horizon.
Oli: That’s the perfect example.
Double Tap: Horizon is 29th, which is about where I would expect it given the sense of it on the team. I think some people enjoyed it a bit. I think there are some enjoyable things about it. It’s fun on a basic level.
Martin: I think Horizon is a good game, it just didn’t excite me in any way at all. Whereas something like Arms excited me every second I spent with it. Horizon is just good, and that wasn’t enough for me.
Donlan: So it passes the interesting is good thing, where a game that’s interesting and exciting is better than one that’s good. But there’s not really a lot that’s wrong with it. Mechanically it’s just an extremely good game.
Oli: Arms is really fresh. It is good. The people who love it do love it. It also has, I’ve got to say, the best character art, possibly even better than Overwatch. It’s just fucking amazing.
Wes: I’ve got a fundamental philosophical problem with all of you people. It really baffles me how Arms can be number six on this list. People aren’t still playing this game. I don’t think it’s that big a deal.
Oli: Okay, fine, but to turn your argument on its head, why should someone spend 40 on Mass Effect Andromeda, which is just bad?
Tom: That’s not true.
Wes: I don’t agree with that either.
Matt: It is pretty bad.
Wes: Mass Effect Andromeda isn’t bad.
Martin: It’s interesting.
Wes: Actually it was interesting!
Donlan: It was interesting in that it was so bad.
Tom: It wasn’t even bad! It did not live up to the game of the generation Mass Effect games that came before it.
Oli: Tell me good things about Mass Effect Andromeda, because I’ve heard none since it came out.
Wes: It had a couple of good characters.
Donlan: That sounds like Arms.
Tom: It had an unfair internet shitstorm lodged against it, and it never recovered from that. It was the worst game in that series, but you’re judging it against games which are the definition of that genre. And Mass Effect 2, which is the game of the generation.
Oli: What’s interesting to me is you can sense from this list how we, Eurogamer as a collective, feel about a certain kind of really massive, open world, I guess light RPG narrative adventure game.
Tom: For me, Mass Effect is in the right position. It’s 24th.
Oli: We’ve got Assassin’s Creed, which I think we probably all agree is the best example of that kind of game that came out this year at 23. Mass Effect at 24. Horizon at 29. We’ve placed them all around the same place.
Wes: So is it open-world fatigue this year?
Oli: Definitely, with the exception obviously of one game. That game, Zelda, has ranked so well because it so effectively countered open-world fatigue through its design and what it did with that genre of game.
Bertie: I don’t think Torment: Tides of Numenera should be in the top 10. Divinity 2 is a better game all over. I loved the story in Torment, but actually as a game it was mediocre. It’s just not a better game than Divinity 2. Hands down.
Martin: I think Divinity 2 should be in the top 10. I haven’t played it, but just from what I know about it.
Donlan: I feel like this is like, there was a guy in America’s Next Top Model, it was when they let men in, and there was a guy on America’s Next Top Model called Justin, and he told everyone, my name’s Justin, but everyone calls me J-Smooth. And you were like, no-one fucking calls you J-Smooth because no-one in the history of the world has ever chosen someone else’s nickname to be J-Smooth.
This feels a little bit like trying to choose your own nickname, when you put a game you missed because no-one played it, you put it in the top 10 because it looks good. It feels a bit like we’re trying to say we’re turning up at school and we’re called J-Smooth.
Wes: Yeah, but Bertie did play this one.
Donlan: I think we are all J-Smoothing ourselves.
Tom: On that note, is anyone around this table behind Nex Machina or Prey?
Donlan: I’m really behind Nex Machina. It’s the person who invented the genre coming together with the people who have redefined it for the modern age. And it’s also kind of the end of the genre at the same time. It’s fucking perfect.
Double Tap: Nex Machina is the only game I could genuinely say I’ve played that I think might be better than Breath of the Wild.
Martin: That’s because you haven’t played Arms.
Double Tap: Nex Machina is ridiculously good.
Martin: Nex Machina has to be there. It’s our game as well.
Tom: What about Prey?
Martin: Prey is a really interesting one. It suffered from apathy from everybody apart from those who played it. John Linneman, Edwin and Rick Lane are the people who are champions of that kind of immersive sim. They’re not here, but they’re an integral part of the team and their voice should be reflected.
Wes: Prey is the least exciting game on this top 10 list.
Tom: Resi 7 doesn’t need to be that high.
Matt: I love Resi 7, but it’s not top 10. It’s probably top 15 at a stretch.
Tom: Life is Strange should be above Resident Evil 7.
Double Tap: Hellblade, purely out of respect for what’s it’s done for double-A development and indie development, it deserves some kind of recognition.
Donlan: My worry about Hellblade, is it a good game or is it a game about something we all care about? I look at Hellblade and I think, yeah, I care about mental health and I think we should talk about it more, but also, I’m not that bothered by Ninja Theory’s other games.
Wes: Have you played DmC? It’s brilliant!
Martin: Enslaved is really good.
Double Tap: Hellblade tells you it’s going to delete your save file to make you feel anxious about it, and then it turns out – spoilers! – it doesn’t. It’s fucking genius.
Donlan: My question about Hellblade is, 10 years from now, how are we going to look back and see that? Are we going to think, that was a game about mental health? Or are we going to think, that was a game about being about mental health? That’s my question.
Wes: I hear what you’re saying, Donlan. But I’ll tell you one thing: people will remember it a hell of a lot more than Prey.
Donlan: You got me. But Prey is not pretending to be about anything.
Oli: I am happy to demote Prey in favour of Hellblade. I’m going to give Hellblade Prey’s place at number nine, because that feels about right to me. Nex Machina we agree is just a superb game and deserves its place in the top 10. That can stay where it is.
So we have to decide, number 10: Night in the Woods, Resi 7, Total War Warhammer 2, we’re demoting Torment and replacing it with Divinity 2. One of those four games should be number 10. We’re saying Resi 7 is not a top 10 game – I’m getting that vibe.
Bertie: Divinity 2 is one of the best PC role-playing games – maybe one of the best role-playing games – in years. It’s seriously well made.
Divinity Original Sin only went so far. This one is made so exquisitely. Everything links together. It flows. It’s snappy. It’s a masterclass. And the freedom it gives you as well. It’s not like playing a tabletop role-playing game, but it’s good enough that it makes you feel like it nearly is. It’s brilliant. It is a brilliant game.
Bratterz: Can I make the case for Total War Warhammer 2? Both Double Tap and I have played a ridiculous amount of this. It is the closest we’ve had to the childhood dream of having the Warhammer fantasy world constructed in full. Creative Assembly need to be rewarded for the fact they have listened to their community, kept the base game of Total War Warhammer updated since development, and that has fed into the sequel. Not just the addition of new races and factions, but the quality of life changes that have come in for the first game are reflected in the second. And it feels like they’re continuing to build more and more on this really cool idea they had, which was to create the whole Warhammer fantasy world.
Something that came in just after the review – and it was a real shame it wasn’t there when we reviewed it because it would have given it a lot more clout – is a mode called Mortal Empires, which has put the two maps together. Ever since they first announced they were going to do that back when the game was revealed, I was the one on the team saying, oh man, I really hope they get this right. It sounds too ambitious. What the hell’s going to happen when you press end turn? It’s just going to fuck up. It’s too much. I think they’ve nailed it.
I’ve put so many hours into Mortal Empires since its release. I think they’ve delivered on a promise that I and many people didn’t think they could manage. And it’s only going to continue from that point. They also have a really nice way of approaching DLC, which is something they’ve struggled with in the past. When they add a new race, if you don’t want to buy it, you don’t get to play it. But it’s added to your game as an AI-controlled faction, and it feels like a fair way of doing a strategy game as a game as a service kind of thing.
Oli: We’re talking about two PC game sequels. The difference here is Total War Warhammer 1 was not that long ago, and feels quite iterative. Whereas Divinity 2, there’s a bit more of a gap there and Divinity 1 was great, but it was very rough around the edges.
Bratterz: I hear what you’re saying. If it were just the base campaign, which is what we reviewed, I think you’re right. Mortal Empires brings both games together in a way we didn’t think could work. It’s the biggest Total War experience there’s ever been.
Oli: This is a tough decision. Being honest, I feel instinctively like Divinity deserves it a little bit more. It did get the Essential and it’s more exciting in that sense. But the flip side of that is we have genuine passion on this team and around this table for Total War, more so than we do for Divinity, and that deserves representation as well.
Wes: Is there no way both games can be in our top 10?
Oli: There is if we dump Destiny 2.
Martin: What about Mario + Rabbids?
Double Tap: What about PUBG?
Wes: You can’t dump PUBG. That would be crazy.
Double Tap: PUBG isn’t officially released.
Wes: Oh yes it is, come on.
Double Tap: I think PUBG should either be higher, or it shouldn’t be on the list. It’s that good.
Wes: It should be higher, then.
Oli: We’ve learnt this lesson the hard way on Eurogamer. There are so many Early Access games where we’re like, we’ll pay attention to it when it reaches 1.0. By the time it reaches 1.0, no-one cares. Even if they still do care, in the case of Minecraft, the phenomenon is over and the world has moved on.
PUBG is the biggest game of this year, no question, hands down. And it would be crazy for us not to reflect that in this list. You can buy it with real money, play it, have a really solid entertainment experience. The version number is irrelevant.
I would put it one or two places higher, above Rabbids.
Bratterz: I absolutely love Rabbids but I think that’s fair.
Donlan: That Italian guy is crying right now.
Wes: PUBG should be Eurogamer’s game of the year. Everyone’s playing PUBG. Who here is still playing Zelda?
Double Tap: Some games aren’t made to be played consistently over months. Some games are finite.
Wes: People are still playing Skyrim. 50,000 people are still playing Skyrim on Steam. The last time everyone on Eurogamer was playing the same game was Overwatch.
Double Tap: We stopped playing Overwatch and started playing PUBG. And we went to Destiny, and we came back from Destiny to playing PUBG, and Ian was sitting there in our PUBG Slack channel going, hahaha, I knew you would come back!
Oli: We need to resolve the issue of number 10. It’s between Warhammer 2 and Divinity 2. It’s a really tough one, unless we dump something else.
Double Tap: I feel like both of those games are better than Destiny 2.
Matt: It’s a game people love to hate, but I think… I love Destiny, but Destiny 2…
Wes: I can’t believe you’re saying this.
Double Tap: This is when Oli stabs Jon Snow.
Donlan: I think Destiny 2 belongs in there because life isn’t pretty. Its place on this list reflects how we feel about it.
Tom: The reason we’re so annoyed it’s not what we want it to be is because we care about it so much.
Donlan: Which is why it should be on the list.
Double Tap: I disagree. All they’re doing is teasing you with what should be a good game that they’ve never delivered on.
Donlan: Two games in, that is the game now. It is the game that always disappoints you.
Double Tap: And that’s why everyone’s stopped playing.
Donlan: This list is essentially a self portrait, and Destiny’s in there because it’s a game we love and hate in equal portion.
Wes: Double Tap, you said the raid was your top gaming moment of the year.
Double Tap: And everything else was shit!
Tom: It wasn’t though!
Double Tap: It was objectively shit. It was appalling!
Tom: That’s not true because you played nightfall every week.
Double Tap: I played it for work!
Paul: Destiny 2 is objectively shit?
Oli: Okay! We’re going to do the Destiny vote again, and this time there’s no, I’m on the fence.
Wes: Matt, I’m watching.
Oli: You have to pick. Destiny 2, in or out. In?
Wes: For Des Tiny OMG! Matt!
Bratterz: You can’t say the name of your clan!
Tom: We’re fine! We’ve got the numbers.
Wes: Yes, we’ve got it!
Double Tap: This is over Divinity, Bertie!
Matt: I’m on the fence…
Oli: The issue is settled. Destiny 2 stays in.
Wes: Martin, put your Arms down.
Bertie: I’m happy for Warhammer to be above Divinity. It’s more cared about.
Wes: That’s very gracious of you, Bertie.
Oli: Divinity 2 should be a shoo-in for number 11. Arms stays where it is at six. We’ve had a fight about it.
Double Tap: Can we put Destiny at 10? I’d feel a lot better about it being at 10.
Wes: I’m kind of not bothered where in the top 10 it comes. I feel like I’ve achieved a moral victory.
Oli: Were demoting Rabbids to five. PUBG at four. And we’re saying PUBG can’t rise any higher than four because of the clear voting gulf between fourth and the top three. I don’t think there’s any argument of the fact that of those top three games, Super Mario Odyssey is the number three game.
Tom: And then you have Breath of the Wild top.
Bratterz: Well, that was easy! No-one’s going to touch Rabbids, right?
Martin: It’s a pound shop Mario. What’s so good about it?
Tom: I’ll tell you what cost a pound to develop: Edith Finch.
Oli: This is the thing about Rabbids: it’s just a really good tactical combat game, and the Mario license is kind of irrelevant to it, and actually sort of doesn’t do it any favours.
Tom: I don’t know. It got me playing a genre of game I would never play otherwise.
Oli: There is that.
Matt: And it has a lot of the moves and the guns. There are clever references to Mario.
Wes: Out of interest, is anyone still playing it?
Martin: I played it once and I thought it was okay, but I’m one of those weird Nintendo Switch icon snobs, and Mario looks so fucking off in the artwork for it that I just had to delete it. I can’t have it on my fucking Switch. It just looks fucking wrong.
Oli: That really does get to the crux of how much of a hipster Martin is.
I’d like to point out that four of our top six games are Nintendo Switch exclusives, which is insane.
Tom: You’re right. We should get rid of Arms.
Oli: I’m guessing it’s a reflection of how cool a story Switch has been.
Double Tap: Are we worried about Persona 5 being 58th? [We did eventually decide to bump it up into the top 50, but it only came 58th in our voting.]
Oli: No. It’s just not that good. Speaking as someone who really loved Persona 4 Golden, the characters and the setting just don’t work for me as well. Maybe it’s partly due to it not being a handheld game as well. I played Persona 4 on handheld and it really fit that environment.
Paul: It’s inexplicable that Cuphead and Stories Untold aren’t on there. Stories Untold is probably one of my favourite games this year.
Oli: Right, it’s time to decide. Which of these games deserves to be the Eurogamer game of the year? What Remains of Edith Finch or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? I guess Edith Finch is the more surprising inclusion here, so who wants to make a case for it?
Donlan: I didn’t know anything about What Remains of Edith Finch before I went into it. All I knew was it was made by the people who made Unfinished Swan. Everything about this game was surprising. Every five minutes something happened which transformed my sense of what it was. It didn’t easily settle into that thing games do where they’ve revealed their trick and it’s just the rhythm being endlessly applied.
The complexity of the experience was mirrored by this extraordinary house in which the game takes place, which is one of the great video game settings, I think. But not only that. What really marks this game out, even aside from the generosity of all the ways it changes itself from one moment to the next, what’s amazing about this game is you’re so used to putting aside the things you actually care about and are interested in when you play a game.
You go, I am interested in all of these things in my life, but I am going to play games, which means playing games about shooting people and knowing about guns – the limited scope of the things games are willing to talk about. Here is a game which talks about the complexities of a large family, which properly looked at death in a meaningful and human way. You could say the story isn’t that good. It doesn’t matter. It’s not a game about story. It’s a game about themes. It’s a game about the way we exist within really large, complex and difficult families, and the way our lives are marked by the knowledge of death.
I come from a big family and many of them have died in unusual and exciting ways. So obviously it had this thematic resonance for me. But even so, here was a game where I don’t have to put away the things which are actually interesting to me in order to play it. And on top of that, it is this extraordinary papercraft. Nathan Ditum said it is a game that feels like an exaggerated next-generation pop-up book. The way this world fits together is just so much more interesting than the way other game worlds fit together.
And at the same time, it manages to secretly be almost like a history lesson about the entirety of digital interaction. This game is fucking extraordinary. Two things: Zelda, I liked it. I played it for a bit. I bounced off of it. I didn’t come back to it. I don’t find that much dragging me back to it. And that’s because even though it is a great Zelda, it is still a known quantity to me. Whereas this is something so rare and special and bespoke and one-off, and there are not going to be five more What Remains of Edith Finches. We’re not going to have What Else Remains of Edith Finch. It’s just this incredibly brilliant romantic thing that exists in of itself.
10 years from now, I will remember that game more than I remember any of the other games on this list, even Nex Machina, which I absolutely adored. It’s the game which spoke to me because it’s about something human.
Oli: I do really love Edith Finch, and I came to it, to be honest, completely washed out on narrative art games. But the way it constantly varied the ways you interacted with it and the settings you moved through surprised and excited me. And it used the full breadth of power of the video game medium to tell a story in a way I wasn’t expecting. So it absolutely deserves to be near the top of this list.
But to draw a comparison with Breath of the Wild and say it’s about things you care about, well, Breath of the Wild is about things I really do deeply care about. It’s about being in the world and seeing the world around you and being present, and noticing it. Many video games, including in the open-world genre, really work to numb that with their overlays, with their structure. Even really good ones like Assassin’s Creed, they tabulate and map out that experience for you and deaden it for you. Even after having put you in this wonderfully created ancient Egypt, say, or New York City – whereas Zelda was all about, no, be present, look at what’s around you, respond to that environment.
Edith Finch was continually surprising, but Zelda, astonishingly for an open-world game I spent 150 hours playing, was continually surprising while I played it. That is why I think it deserves to be the Eurogamer game of the year. It managed to make video games of the kind that are currently extremely popular, these big sprawling open-world games that have been designed out of having any kind of sense of life, it managed to make them into something living and surprising and real, where you could turn any corner and change what you were doing because you weren’t beholden to a checkpoint or to a to-do list. You were beholden to what the world around you was pushing you or tempting you or pulling you into doing.
It’s an impossible comparison between two games that are trying to do two such different things. But if you’re talking about surprise then Zelda is a game that offers an incredible amount of surprise. I don’t want to discuss its storyline or its themes because those are pretty basic, let’s be honest. But if you’re talking about a game that responds to humans in a really exciting and interesting way, and that invites you to be human as a player rather than a routine running through what they want you to run, then Zelda is amazing and offers you so much freedom to do that while still being really rewarding.
Martin: Can I just say as a slight tangent that I’m heartened by the fact we’re arguing about a 120-hour game versus a 120-minute game, and how amazing and brilliant video games have been this year. The breadth of games on this list is phenomenal. The amount of different things offered is great. I love the fact we’ve got this big open-world thing and this series as old as time, and then something like Edith Finch.
I’m firmly in the Edith Finch camp. I think it’s important on so many levels. It’s important to have a game that’s brave enough to be 120 minutes. And I think it’s just as generous in what it does in those 120 minutes as what Zelda does in 120 hours. It’s about things which are important, which really spoke to me. It’s about family. It’s about death. It’s got a setting which is just as fantastical and awe-inspiring – the house – as any of Hyrule’s vistas were.
I find it really refreshing to have a game that’s comfortable doing that in the space of an evening, and it had just as much of an impact in that time as Zelda did.
And also, the fact is, Breath of the Wild is not a very good Zelda game. It’s a really hollow open-world game as well.
Oli: I really strongly disagree on both of those points. I’ve played other open-world games, and I find all other open-world games I’ve played – literally all of them, including every Grand Theft Auto – to be hollow compared with Breath of the Wild. That’s because I’m not looking for a lot of side quests to play through, much as I enjoyed that in The Witcher 3. I’m looking for a world to explore.
The only other open-world game I think can even touch Breath of the Wild in terms of presenting you with a world that is real to you, that calls to you, that you want to explore, is World of Warcraft. It’s world building on the same scale as World of Warcraft, and I don’t think there’s any other open-world game that can even remotely touch it.
Whether it’s not a very good Zelda game – that is a weird argument to have. Breath of the Wild set out to change the definition of what a Zelda game is. So yes, it’s a bad Zelda game by the previous definition. It doesn’t have those dungeons we’ve all loved playing in games such as Ocarina of Time. It doesn’t have the sweet storylines Wind Waker and the DS games that followed it did. But it sought to reframe what Zelda could be, and I thought it did it incredibly effectively, and moved those goalposts and then excelled within its new frame of what it was aiming for a Zelda game to be.
So, no, I strongly disagree with both of those.
Tom: Nintendo’s been trying to make the next good Zelda since Ocarina. It’s tried a lot of things. It’s tried going dark and then going cartooney and then going dark again and then reusing environments. Breath of the Wild has reinvented the series, and I would be disappointed to see it go back. In every hour I play – and there are at least 200 of them in that game – I will find something and be surprised by it, or be surprised by how I can interact with it. And it’s not something I’ve been told to do, like in other open-world games. It’s just, I enjoy playing with that world and experimenting and finding things out by accident, and that game being created in a way that it naturally excites and surprises you so regularly over such a wealth of time and area. It is one of the best games I’ve ever played.
Double Tap: I haven’t played a game in the way I played Zelda, and I might never again. I’m someone who takes a lot of drawing out of their shell when I’m playing games. I have to be almost manipulated or force myself to get over the barriers of a lot of games, where I bounce off of them. Zelda has made me experiment and I’m not an experimental person. When I play games I do not experiment with how I play them. When I play Skyrim I play as a guy with a shield and a sword because I want the normal experience of what this game is like, so I play it like a normal person. When I play any kind of game, I always pick the default way of playing through it.
Oli: And then Zelda gives you a shield and a sword and then it breaks them, and then you’ve got a stick and a bow and it’s like, deal with them.
Double Tap: Exactly. I’m not interested in stealth games normally, but I play it like a stealth game. I look at this camp of goblins and I want to set up some weird thing where I create a gust of wind with a fire and then I wave a leaf at it and throw a bomb into it and it flies over the top of them and hits them, and that blows up another bomb that’s there and sends them flying off the edge of a cliff, and that’s what gets rid of them. It’s encouraged me to play in a way I’ve never felt like I’ve played a game before.
Wes: To play devil’s advocate, does Zelda do anything games haven’t done before? Because what you’ve just described there, I played that in Far Cry 3. Everything I hear about Zelda, yes it’s revolutionary for Zelda, but I don’t know if it’s revolutionary for games.
Martin: Recently I started playing Skyrim again, because it’s on Switch. Going back to it made me realise how hollow Breath of the Wild is.
Oli: How is it hollow?
Martin: You know what the systems are after about 20 hours into the game. And then after that, it doesn’t have the depth of role-playing, which I look for in a big open-world. The adventure template Zelda has to be truthful to, doesn’t lend itself to an open-world so well. It’s not this big world where you can have your own adventures in it. You can go an see what a rock does over here, and it’ll do what a rock does. But it doesn’t have that deep and rich story I want from a really good open-world game, like Skyrim.
Oli: No open-world game has a deep and rich story.
Tom: You can learn the systems in 20 hours, but after 100 hours, after trying the puzzle dungeons, I was stumped on so many occasions. Yeah, okay, I know how the systems work, but working out how they work in this particular situation – it’s baffling how they managed to keep surprising me.
Wes: But isn’t that just, Zelda has discovered physics?
Double Tap: Its discovery of physics has had a wider impact than just going, huh, physics. The impact it has on you as a player and how you interact with the game, and how you think about games…
Oli: And that’s what Nintendo do. Other people go, huh, physics, and they put physics in their game, and then they’re like, right, I’m done.
Double Tap: When I think about games, you realise you’re playing within an extremely narrow ruleset of what you can interact with, and what reacts to your interaction. You’re actually extremely powerless in 90 per cent of the games you play. I’ve never felt I had more of an impact over a world.
Martin: But Nintendo’s way of doing that is to soften the edges. They soften the edges of those physics. It doesn’t feel like the kind of game you can break. That’s what Nintendo’s brilliant at.
Oli: What, making games that actually work?
Martin: But you want to feel like something impossible is going to happen, and I never felt that when playing Zelda.
Tom: There are people who play and do impossible things playing that game.
Martin: Everything feels like it’s got cotton wool around it, basically.
Oli: I disagree. It’s not cotton wool for me. For me, it’s a reassurance that the world is consistent and is going to make sense whatever happens. You can do extraordinary stuff, but you can’t break it and that’s good.
Double Tap: It’s completely drawn me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and then you realise there’s a justification for it. It comes down to simple things like getting electrocuted in a lightning storm because you’re carrying something made of metal, and more complicated things, like spinning something and catching it with magnesis, and it spins but only for a certain amount of time. It’s bound by your own creativity. If you have an issue with how far you can push it, it’s more of an issue with your creativity than an issue with what the game is allowing you to do.
Wes: Can we talk about the story, which is problematic.
Martin: I can’t even remember what happens.
Double Tap: You don’t play that game for its story.
Wes: I play Zelda for the story!
Double Tap: I don’t think you should think of this as a Zelda game.
Wes: You shouldn’t think of this as a Zelda game?
Double Tap: You should think of this as a sandbox simulator game.
Wes: I don’t see why they can’t do both.
Oli: The comparison between these two games comes down to a really basic preference and urge for me when it comes to playing video games. The one thing I want to do more than anything else when I play a video game is explore. I want to explore a space I haven’t been to before and I can’t imagine. Zelda is an amazing, not infinite, but very long exploration engine. It creates a space that rewards exploration over and over again for huge amounts of time.
Edith Finch actually does exploration in a really interesting way as well – in quite a linear way – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad at exploration. It gives me a really interesting space to move through. But the primary motive of Edith Finch is not to allow me to explore, it’s to tell me a story.
Donlan: No, it’s to make you think about something. The primary motivation of Edith Finch is to make you consider the relationship between the living and the dead. That’s literally what that game is about. It’s about saying, think about your relationship with the people you know who aren’t here any more, and it leads you to this weird conundrum where, the thing about the dead is, they remain in all these material ways and these rooms they leave behind and these memories you have of them. But at the same point, there is something so fundamentally ridiculous and jarring about the fact you’ll never see them again.
And you have that thing where someone dies and you wake up a couple of weeks later, and it’s early morning and your brain isn’t working properly and you forget how physics works and all those things, and you think, their death is so close, there must be a way to hop back to the point when they’re still alive. That boundary, which you realise you can’t cross, seems so ridiculously thin. That’s what Edith Finch is about. It is about exploration because it’s trying to make you think about something in a really different way.
Double Tap: I want to levy a claim against Edith Finch you brought against Hellblade earlier. I think it’s a game about being about death. I fundamentally received nothing from my time with the game. I didn’t think about death once. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s failed. It failed to make me think about anything. All I thought about was how awkward it was for me to interact with things by holding down R1 and wiggling the right stick, and how that’s extremely basic interaction. It was something I’ve played before and I’ll play again, and that’s really what differentiates it between Zelda. Imagine Gone Home and the books A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’ve already played Gone Home. I’ve already read A Series of Unfortunate Events. Putting them together is good, it’s a good combination that works, and it was relatively interesting and entertaining. But unless I’ve missed something, it does nothing to go beyond simply good thing, good thing next to each other.
Donlan: I cannot work out why I didn’t like Zelda very much, or why I played it for five hours and I’m like, done. On paper, I think everything is great, everything is fine. I can’t make you have the experience I had with Edith Finch, so it feels like we’re going to have a hard time progressing that conversation, because I can’t convince you something magical happens.
Oli: Wes, as someone who’s played neither of them, which of these arguments is convincing you more right now?
Wes: I’m still thinking Breath of the Wild is Nintendo discovers physics. I know that’s going to annoy a lot of people! Physics of the Wild!
You convinced me, Double Tap, when you were talking about why Zelda was good. You made me think, I really want to play Far Cry 3 again. You said you were playing Zelda like a stealth game, approaching a camp full of goblins and do it like this. Mate, I was doing that in Far Cry five years ago.
Double Tap: I’ve played several Far Cry games and every single time I’ve bounced off of them. Zelda managed to make me do what Far Cry wanted me to do. That’s why I think it’s so incredible. Games are going to come back to Zelda for the next 10 years.
Martin: For the way it stole things from other games?
Oli: Zelda is going to be referenced and a lot of people are going to try and copy it, but they’re all going to fail because what makes Zelda different is Nintendo made it. They took a bunch of stuff other western studios had been doing for a while. I don’t think all of it had been done in the same game to the same extent. And some of the instincts are different, such as the way the map works and the way checkpointing works. But they took a bunch of that stuff and they did it frankly better, because their standards are higher than almost any other studio in the world.
Matt: It’s been very selective in the things it’s chosen. There are a lot of games where the scope of what you can do is so vast, such as Skyrim, but in Skyrim I won’t ever play as a mage. In Zelda, the palette is smaller, but I’ve touched every single thing that game has to offer, and it does it incredibly well.
Donlan: What I’m surprised by – and pleased by – is how similar our arguments for each of these games are. We’re both going, they did things I wasn’t expecting, but they also made me behave in a way I wasn’t expecting. It’s interesting that regardless of where we end up on with this list, that’s the point where video games are at now.
Oli: Personally I choose Zelda and I’ve been an advocate for Zelda. But as the editor of Eurogamer looking at this and listening to this discussion, I can’t pick between these two games. Partly it’s because they’re so different, but for players they’re operating at a similar level. It’s a really tough choice.
Martin: And that’s how Arms wins everything!
Double Tap: Zelda has ruined video games for me. It’s so good I can’t play open-world games. If there’s a reason why Zelda is so good, it is Horizon. Horizon, if it had released in a year when Zelda didn’t exist, I genuinely think we would have reacted to it a lot better. It ticks all the boxes a regular RPG ticks. It ticks all the boxes a regular western – or modern triple-A video game ticks. Zelda has for the first time in my lifetime produced a game that makes me think about triple-A video games in a different way. I will not enjoy a regular open-world game again. It made everything I hate about games, like traversal and basic interaction, which is always cumbersome and always boring and so uninspired, it made that the fun.
Oli: Let’s have a vote.
Donlan: I found out last year that Shakira’s last name was not Shakira. My wife for years had made me think that Shakira’s name was Shakira Shakira.
Wes: Why would someone call their kid Shakira if their surname was Shakira?
Donlan: I thought it was like Neville Neville, or Mario Mario.
Wes: But Shakira Shakira?
Donlan: Anyway, she just dropped it in a conversation – oh, by the way, it’s not Shakira Shakira. I think we were just about to go out somewhere, and I was like, shit, I’m not prepared.
Wes: What is Shakira’s surname?
Donlan: I don’t know, but it’s not Shakira.