Escapism

In years prior, I happily moved from title to title and consumed video games like they were disposable. Occasionally, I’d stick with some multiplayer experiences, like Ubisoft’s (still wonderful) Rainbow Six Siege, but in truth, I went through probably hundreds of games in the last few years by grinding through as fast as possible. This year, though, something changed: My life became more exhausting, the world became a more stressful place, and the American political landscape is nothing short of a hellscape. Maybe for all those reasons I keep finding myself returning to a select few titles where I can find comfort in the familiar. In 2017, both my runner-up and Game of the Year are games where I’ve spent hundreds of hours. They were my escape.

Runner-up

In 2017, Breath of the Wild (BotW) has been talked about ad nauseam. But I don’t care. This game has meant a lot to me. Despite venturing into Hyrule dozens of times in my life, Breath of the Wild is the first game Zelda game I’ve beaten completely. The open-ended design of Hyrule might be dull to some, but BotW’s willingness to let me do whatever I wanted after leaving the Great Plateau felt nothing short of liberating.

Breath of the Wild drips with mystery. The ruins that are scattered throughout Hyrule make it easy to imagine just what each location might have looked like a century ago. As you explore, you’ll stumble into the vague lore and narrative beats. To watch the story unfold while maintaining total control of the experience is nothing short of magical.

The way exploration and combat blend in Breath of the Wild is the pinnacle of emergent gameplay. You can ride a horse into a bokoblin camp and slash and shoot your way towards a treasure chest, but it’s so much more interesting to start a fire in the adjacent field, use your glider to ride the fire’s updraft and then drop bombs on the bokoblins from above. The ways of taking out Breath of the Wild’s enemies are seemingly endless thanks to its robust physics engine that allows almost anything to be a weapon.

Breath of the Wild was such a serene and pleasant experience in 2017. Sure, Ganon is literal evil incarnate, but when I think back at all the hours I had, it’s hard to feel anything but happiness. There’s so much to appreciate in Breath of the Wild from its lush valleys and forests to its challenging but delightful shrines. I’m nothing short of thrilled with each moment I spent in Breath of the Wild, and it’s something I’ll be thinking about long after its case gathers dust on my shelf.

Game of the Year

The first time I saw Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) was through a popular video game site’s live stream. I knew nothing about the game, but watching this group play the game was nothing short of mesmerizing. So much so that in the weeks following I (stupidly) spent several hundred dollars on my first PC so I could play the game. Perhaps the pride I feel in building my PC is why I have such an affinity for PUBG, but I like to think the game has earned its place in my heart through merits of its own.

PUBG is deceptively simple, and that’s what makes it such a fantastically accessible game. Sure, snagging an alluring Chicken Dinner takes skill and practice, but scraping together gear while staying in the ever-shrinking playspace is straightforward. Once you master the basic drop, loot, move and shoot mechanics, you have to learn the tactics and head games that make Battlegrounds so addicting.

For some, Overwatch, Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six Siege might be the game they play on a daily basis – for me, that game is Battlegrounds. PUBG is my new “forever” game – I might back away for a few days, or even a week, but when I come back to Battlegrounds, I feel the same comfort of returning to my parents’ house or putting on a cozy sweater. PUBG’s macabre themes and addicting gameplay loop is my escape from everything wrong with 2017.

It’s one of those games that I have zero problems spending several hours on at a time. I don’t wince at playing it alone, in fact, I occasionally relish in playing its Squad and Duos mode by myself so that I can stack the odds against me. Still, some of the most fun I’ve had on Erangel, or the new map, Miramar, has been playing with friends. Whether we’re playing our hardest to come in first or we’re just goofing around, there’s something undeniably campy and fun about the PUBG when you’re with your friends.

As someone in their early 20s, playing Battlegrounds over the last few months felt like being on the ground floor of the next Counter-Strike experience, and watching developer Bluehole evolve the game over the year has been deeply fascinating. It doesn’t have the most polish or grace, but Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is easily my favorite game of 2017.