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Games of the Year 2017: The Bad

OK for the love of all that is holy please do not think that I am saying that the games on this list are utter shiet and no one should ever play them. If that was the case I probably would never have played them myself. I can count on one hand the number of games that have managed to dupe me and after I played them I thought they were complete rubbish and should be banished from existence.

This list is for the games that I played in 2017 that I was most disappointed by. The games that I thought were worth playing but for one reason or another rubbed me the wrong way to a point where I no longer felt that I could recommend them to someone else as a game worth playing without heavy caveats.

So without further ado, these are the four games in 2017 that had raised my hopes and then dashed them quite expertly.

1. Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Oh sweet Jesus this article is going to be so god damn negative. I already regret grouping all the "bad" games together. Whatever, let us soldier forward and talk quickly about why Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a horrible game that I still played for 30 hours.

I legitimately have a hard time explaining why I played this game for as long as I did. There was something broken in the lizard part of my brain that made me both hate and love collecting all those orcs. I am not sure if I am wearing rose-colored glasses but Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was my favorite game of 2014 and this game is probably my most hated of 2017. I can't remember if things were just as bad back in 2014 and gaming tastes have evolved or if Shadow of War just tried to add too much and ended up not really adding anything worthwhile.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is toping the majority of 2017 game of the year awards but it is easily my most disappointing game of 2017.

There are a lot of things about Breath of the Wild that I can nitpick and I'll do so in a minute but I want to make sure the main reason I am disappointed with it is crystal clear. I am apparently one of the few fans of the old school Zelda progression and story. I loved having to go through a linear story and progression where I had to traverse dungeons and find the item inside that let you beat the boss. I find it incredibly entertaining which is why I am so disappointed with Breath of the Wild because I think those types of Zelda games are gone forever.

In my opinion Nintendo is not good at making open world games and I feel that Breath of the Wild is being forgiven for a lot of missteps that would be crucified if it was any other game publisher. Imagine a Ubisoft game with weapon durability and limited item slots. Stamina meters that slow down the combat and movement needlessly. Poor frame rates and limited enemy variety. Imagine an Assassin's Creed game with a forgettable story and final boss. Oh wait you don't have to do that. It was the very first Assassin's Creed and it was harpooned for that over a decade ago. Think of all of the open world games that require you to grind for hours to get resources for upgrades and consumables that you need to be able to fight. Do you have unflinching universal acclaim for these games? Probably not. But if you slap the Legend of Zelda paint job on one suddenly it is the greatest game ever made and is shepherding in a new golden age of video games.

All of this maybe sounds like I think Breath of the Wild is a horrible game and should never be played by anyone. That is entirely not true. I played over 50 hours of Breath of the Wild. I completed over 100 shrines, got the Master Sword and defeated the Final Boss. It is a solid game in very much the way that Assassin's Creed or Far Cry or Skyrim is. There are very fun things about it and lots of stuff worth improving. You can love the game and it can be your favourite game of all time but the Zelda veneer should not give it a free pass on criticism that we would level at any other game.

3. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Announced around the same time as XCOM 2: War of the Chosen was Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle which I can best describe as baby's first strategy game. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a very competent turned-based tactics game. The party composition, their abilities, the enemies, the environment obstacles and hazards all give a really good first impression. For the first world you are probably completely enamored and then near the second world I found myself getting a bit tired. The abilities weren't really changing or scaling that well. The new enemies were just the same versions as earlier ones but with a different appearance and more hit points. The game slowly became a real slog and every battle just felt like it was being dragged out for much longer than it needed to.

Another weird design choice was the resources you were granted and what you could spend them on. At the end of every battle you would be granted a set number of coins based on how you did. These coins were then used to upgrade the weapons of your party members. The thing was that you had to upgrade a specific members weaponry. If you spent all of your coins on Mario or Luigi then your other party members wouldn't be able to upgrade their weaponry. So you have your party of three and probably spread the coins out amongst them to ensure they are dealing more damage to deal with the increasingly bullet-spongy enemies. However this has one major side effect of never experimenting with new party members. If I spent some coins on a character whose abilities I didn't like then I would have no only wasted money on them but the character that I did like would be underpowered because their weapons wouldn't be able to do enough damage. This kills any sort of experimentation with your party composition and made me go through the entire game with the same three characters.

I think that the vast majority of gamers will buy this game and put it down by the end of the second world which is why I cannot recommend it to anyone. If you think you are interested in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle I would suggest waiting for it to go on sale for like $20 so that even if you put it down you can not feel as bad about wasting your money.

Oh, also fuck those stupid teleporting Peek-a-Boo enemies! Whoever thought it was a good idea to have an enemy that can teleport directly behind you and not trigger a reaction shot is a bad designer.

4. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

X-COM is one of my favorite game franchises of all time (probably second only to Monster Hunter) and XCOM 2 was my second favourite game of 2016. I was over the moon when XCOM 2: War of the Chosen was announced and could not wait to play it but unfortunately it was just not the expansion that I was looking for.

Before I shit all over it let me first mention what I liked about the expansion. The new Resistance classes were great and the addition of ability points and solider bonds really helped flush out the tactics layer. The new enemy and mission types also made the tactics layer feel fresh compared to the base game. The ability to take on "covert actions" for the different resistance factions and the bonuses that they could grant you also helped differentiate each campaign.

Unfortunately the extremes of most of those good things also made the game frustrating and tedious. The new Resistance classes were too powerful and became the lynch pin of many of my teams. Any time I did not go into a mission with them I felt I was at a real disadvantage when compared to the new enemies and mission types. It was never really clear how you gained ability points so some soldiers seemed to have too many and others not enough. Also the extra abilities that soldiers could spend these points on was randomized so you could end up with a super intelligent soldier with lots of points and nothing really to spend them on. The resistance bonuses were also randomized so sometimes you would get ones that were completely useless and they were of absolutely no use.

The common theme between most of the things that frustrated me seemed to come down to the random nature of them. Firaxis' design philosophy for this expansion seems to be that randomness means nothing is ever the same which means you can play the game forever. I think this is a very naive way to look at what randomness is used for in games. Having a bit of uncertainty that can color your experiences in subtle ways can be very engaging but when it is so heavy handed and occurs constantly it becomes a source of pain rather than enjoyment.

Firaxis also seemed to make a number of additions to the game where the sole purpose was to drag the game out longer at no real benefit to the player. In an uninspired move zombies were added in the expansion and their gimmick is that they die in a single hit and don't use up an action if you kill them. So in a single round you could kill dozens of zombies. However since the zombies give little experience killing them is just a chore. After the 10th mission of killing 10 Advent troops and 70 zombies you just get annoyed by their presence.

Some covert actions can be ambushed which result in the soldiers you sent on them being attack and requiring you to fight to an exfiltration point. These missions always have zombies in them so no only are you using a short stack of solders whose sole job is to escape but you have to mindlessly fight your way through zombies again and again. I found myself actively avoiding covert actions that could be ambushed because I did not want to risk wasting another 20-30 minutes of my time.

I haven't even written about the titular Chosen yet either. The centerpiece of this expansion is suppose to be three named Advent enemies that have very specific skillsets who are trying to hunt you down. At a high level it sounds cool until you realize how overpowered they are and how monotonous fighting them is. The second they show up on the battlefield you need to drop everything and focus on them. There are usually only a few specific tactics that will work because the Chosen are the "named enemies" and need to be impervious to lots of things as well as have all sorts of crazy abilities that can cheapshot you. Combine this with timed missions where you have to succeed in a certain amount of turns and you just get a situation that may feel interesting the first time but becomes tiring and frustrating subsequently.

The nail in the coffin for what made me hate the Chosen was that there was a "solution" to dealing with them that I only found out through utter failure after 20 or so hours of playtime. I couldn't learn through dying because the deaths were just so costly that I just had to throw away all the time I had spent and start from scratch again. Once I figured this out I followed a very explicit path to success that essentially made every game of XCOM 2 the same. The Chosen weren't some interesting foe that I had to react to. They were a mountain that I just had to slowly climb until I got to the peak, kill the Chosen using cheap, boring tactics and then snowball to the end of the regular game. When the randomness of your game makes it so that you can't try different strategies because you can't be certain you will get what you need that is the obvious sign that you are relying way too much on randomness for gameplay.

I was hoping to keep these game of the year articles relatively short but every time I start writing about XCOM 2: War of the Chosen painful memories just come flooding back. I really wanted to like this expansion. Hell I still put over 60 hours into it and beat it on Commander Ironman difficulty. I write these negative things because I still love X-COM and really want to see it evolve into a strategy game that I can hold up and say everyone should play it because it is just so perfect. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is far from that game.