Evan: OK everyone, let's have a civil, sportsmanlike discussion about the PC games of 2017. All jabs at Mass Effect: Andromeda must be above the belt, and aimed directly at its poorly animated face.
James: Thankfully it's quite simple: it's Hollow Knight. It’s everything I love in games: challenge propped up by excellent controls and character abilities that make traversing the huge map a joy. The level design is so subtle that it doesn’t rely on collectibles to tell you where to go next. Every environment is dense and alive, as lively and foreboding as any real forest. And the story uses the form of a 2D side-scroller with utter grace, embedding tiny revelations in the gorgeous art and filling in details through small doses of ghostly dialogue. Seriously, if this game had the marketing reach of The Witcher 3 or Call of Duty, you’d all be in this tiny bug bed with me. Am I sweating?
Jody: Bless you for suggesting an indie game right off the bat so I don't have to, James. But if Hollow Knight had more marketing reach I would just put off playing it for another year out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Hollow Knight's a good shout-out but I don't think it's going to be our GOTY.
Tim: Haha, it's definitely not Hollow Knight. Good try, though. I actually don't know if I'm allowed to pick an expansion, and I know PUBG is actually going to win, but for me it's XCOM 2's War of the Chosen expansion by the length of a comet's tail. It's not that I didn't love the game first time around, but the addition of these three gloriously annoying antagonists transports the experience to another level. Aside from the brilliance of sparring with them as the campaign unfurls, War of the Chosen also adds a raft of sweet new systems, characters and unique weapons. Sending two of your favourite soldiers out on a covert mission only for them to get ambushed makes for heart-stopping escape sequences, and the waves of Lost which assault you on some missions also create a zombie-style horde mode vibe that XCOM has never delivered before.
Evan: I'm grappling with the same thing. Moments of War of the Chosen were some of the happiest I've been all year. The Chosen are exquisitely annoying villains that enhance every aspect of XCOM 2. We'll have to talk about how we judge expansions in the context of these awards.
Anyway, is it PUBG? We don't hand out GOTYs based on popularity. It's still in Early Access, and it has plenty of issues. Half a year in, I've stopped playing it. I find the art direction lifeless, and I think they'd have to perform a League of Legends-grade facelift for me to feel differently.
Chris: I'll climb out on that shaky limb and say an Early Access game like PUBG can be GOTY. I played DayZ standalone like crazy during its first year in EA, and at that point it was basically just the framework of a sandbox. But despite glitchy zombies, buggy ladders, and a spotty ballistics system, it spawned so many great stories and interesting experiences for me that it became my favorite game that year (and one of my favorites of all time). PUBG is drawing people into a genre many of them have never played before and it's resulting in lots of fun experiences and stories, too. For my money, that's what makes a game GOTY-worthy, even if it's unfinished.
Jarred: PUBG could've only happened on PC first. I know it's coming to consoles in the future, but most influential genre changes come from PC games. Anyway, I would vote for Star Citizen, just for Chris' stories on the subject, but that's for 2020.
James: PUBG is going to be one of the most influential games of the century, but is it actually the best game of the year? The physics are still in complete rebellion, performance is far from ideal, and in the end it’s still another game about people shooting each other. It’s a very good one and features 100 people, OK, but I’m not sure it’s the game I want to scream about from our collective mountaintop. Are we still drunk on Divinity: Original Sin 2? We’re big RPG people here, what with a nude RPG man as our unofficial mascot.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 creates some ridiculous stories. Listen to @wesleyfenlon's bizarre boss encounter from this week's podcast. pic.twitter.com/tHDMKlTWHIOctober 6, 2017
Joe: Sort of echoing James, I’d say PUBG is my shout so far as influence and impact is concerned—but I think Divinity: Original Sin 2 deserves it, all told. Totally different games, but there’s just so much to D:OS 2, and everything it does it does so well. As Evan says, PUBG is still an Early Access game. I reckon there’s every chance it’ll top next year’s list, but I’m not so sure it deserves first place in 2017.
Jody: Games like D:OS 2 that come out later in the year and take like 60 hours to play are always going to suffer for it. I mean, my pick is Total War: Warhammer 2 but I know not everyone has time to play through even one campaign of that—let alone try out all four factions and, when the Mortal Empires update comes out, combine it with the first game to play again. That's a shame because everyone should have the chance to summon a swarm of angry rat dudes underneath a unit of archers or charge a dinosaur into some elves.
Evan: [initiates Steam download]
Jody: Look, I think PUBG is going to top lists when it comes out of Early Access, and D:OS 2 and Warhammer 2 are probably going to make the lists of "Games of 2017 we didn't have time to play until 2018". Or in Warhammer 2's case, "Games that took all of 2018 to actually play."
Tyler: Wait, Original Sin 2 is supposed to take 60 hours? I've played 66 hours and I'm maybe halfway through. I've also put 32 hours into the Divinity Engine 2, learning how to make my own levels. They give you everything you need to mod the campaign or make your own, if you can bear the crashes. It's so good. It's my game of the year for sure.
Jody: I looked it up on howlongtobeat.com and apparently a completionist playthrough averages 102 hours. Please talk me out of committing to that. Tell me some reasons I shouldn't spend more time in Original Sin 2 than Sunless Sea and Prey combined.
Tyler: I can't do that. I mean, it could probably be debugged forever, but most of Original Sin 2's problems stem from its commitment to freeform play. There are a lot of incongruities, like how my friends think necromancers are evil but never seem to mind when I raise a bloated corpse, but that's the price paid for how often it makes me say, "Wait, that worked?" Even if we don't all finish it, I hope everyone plays enough to have at least one or two experiences like that, where they accidently do a quest backwards and it all somehow works out amazingly.
Jody: Tyler, that is the opposite of what I asked for.
Tyler: Let me tell you about the time I got into a fight with a bunch of undead guys, and then realized a few turns in that I was carrying jars containing their souls in my backpack. I'd picked them up in a cave hours earlier and forgotten. So I defeated them by chucking their own souls at them. Perfect.
Steven: Listen, I would love nothing more than to take this moment to begin shouting madly about the virtues of Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood and how bonkers it is that an MMO expansion almost made me tear up at one point because the story is so emotionally captivating. But who are we kidding here? No one cares. And that’s fine, because Original Sin 2 is clearly our GOTY. The only way I’m changing my stance is if Jody agrees to go all in on Total War: Warhammer 2 with me (maybe after the mortal empires campaign is out?)
Wes: I'm still enamored with Divinity, but let's not forget about Nier: Automata, one of the most weird and creative games of the decade. Also, if Shaun was here, he'd remind us all that the Nazi sniping in the underappreciated Sniper Elite 4 is extremely good.
James: [Gives everyone voting for D:OS2 a wedgie] It’s Hollow Knight, nerds. But because your dragons and dungeons and wizards and whatever will always win, I’ll at least drop a few names before dipping out. What Remains of Edith Finch just about made me cry from chopping off fish heads. Cuphead looks incredible, but also contains some really intricate boss design and the best soundtrack of the year, easily. And Thimbleweed Park was one of the funniest games I played this year, and it’s a throwback point-and-clicker. I’m going to close by typing OIKOSPIEL in all caps here too, because it’s my actual GOTY. Describing it is futile. (Psst, dog opera.)
Tyler: Fine, I'll play Hollow Knight. But I'm not sure anything could pull my vote away from Original Sin 2 at this point. I did enjoy Absolver and Rising Storm 2 this year, but only enough to nominate them for awards in their genres. On that note, the shooter category is going to be a tough one. PUBG was already mentioned. I don't want to forget about Sniper Elite 4 from February—it was really good, though I don't think Evan believes me. I'm betting he'll pull for LawBreakers.
Steven: I’m sure that vote will be appreciated by the eight people still playing it.
Evan: PC gaming isn't a popularity contest, buddy. Anyway, I'd actually give my FPS vote to Quake Champions, even with its imperfect netcode. It's the second coming of the railgun and rocket launcher!
Tim: On the topic of second-comings, if you'd told me earlier this year I likely wouldn't be voting for Destiny 2 when GOTY rolls around I'd have assumed the explanation was that I had died. (RIP me.) But the truth is that although it offers a peerless alien-shooting experience, having sunk ~150 hours into the PS4 version I've been startled by how hollow the endgame feels. A huge part of that is due to the switch from random rolls on loot drops to static perks, which as I feared has all but completely sucked the grind for gear out of the game. It's far from the only issue too, and this video by Destiny YouTuber Datto sums up a lot of them neatly. I expect Bungie will gradually rectify the problems with patches and the December DLC, but it really is baffling how for every quality of life improvement the sequel makes, another system has been made demonstrably worse. Be warned I'll be writing quite a bit more about this towards the end of the month.
James: I’ve already put about 100 hours into Destiny 2 on PS4 because I couldn’t wait two goddamn months, but I’m ready to put hundreds more in on the PC in a few weeks. It’s going to really land with PC players, I think. Finally, we get to complain about a thing we begrudgingly love on the best platform there is.
Tyler: Aside from Destiny 2, there's a lot still to come this year. Looking forward to anything?
Tim: Tom's piece on how the new Assassin's Creed is now a bona fide RPG has me interested in that series for the first time since Black Flag, particularly as Origins is being developed by the same team. Plus I'm a sucker for the Anubis-flavored setting, as Evan can confirm.
Evan: Who doesn't love Anubis, wolf god of the afterlife? Anyway, speaking of canines, I think Wolfenstein 2 is probably going to be great, given that BJ will have Inspector Gadget-style extendable stilt-legs. And though we've played a bit of the multiplayer beta, Battlefront 2's Empire-focused campaign could be special.
James: Well, I’m glad we decided Hollow Knight is the winner so far. Great work, everyone. Until next year!
Despite James' manipulative last-word, this is only the beginning of our GOTY discussions.