All this week we've been running down our Top 20 Games of 2017, and the time has finally come to announce our Game of the Year. If you missed out on the rest of the list, make sure you check out 20-16, 15-11, 10-6, and 5-2 to get the full effect. Then read on for our writers' thoughts on the game we unanimously felt was our top game of 2017. In the end, it wasn't even close, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild soaring through the clear air high above the rest.
Tom Bramwell: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild really clicked for me in an international departure lounge at JFK airport in late June. Having run out of things to do in the city, I was six hours early for my flight to London, and I'd already made it through security, bought what I needed for the plane and had a bite to eat.
Normally this would have made for an agonizing wait, because JFK is a horrible place to have to kill time - stuffy, slow-paced, and full of people who wish they were somewhere else. But in truth I'd been looking forward to it. I found a space amongst other grumpy-looking passengers, set down my bag, and pulled out my Nintendo Switch and an Anker mobile recharging station. Within seconds I was rummaging through the depths of Hyrule Castle in the Breath of the Wild endgame, digging out well-hidden shrines, clobbering bokoblins and looting everything in sight. As people around me sighed, brooded, and complained about every little thing, the hours flew by. Tired but happy, I think I was still pulling treasure chests out of the snow in the Gerudo Highlands as we prepared to disembark at London Gatwick.
You don't hear the phrase "killer application" very much nowadays, and in the years since it was popular I feel like its meaning has been eroded. It was always meant to signify a game that was so good that people would buy a console just to play it, but the prime examples - games like Super Mario 64 and Halo - were more than just good games: it was as though the console was made for them, and neither would be quite the same without the other. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a phenomenal game, but it also feels like that kind of killer app. It's part of the holistic vision for the Switch - a lungful of clean air beyond the smog of game design dogma, a free-range adventure for a go-anywhere console, and something that can turn even the dingiest corner of the world into a place that feels like home. Game of the year and then some.
Henry Stenhouse: What really gets me about Breath of the Wild, is that even after finishing the game, and completing all 120 shrines, it's still managing to surprise me. The little details can make a game, and as if BotW’s core wasn’t good enough already, it’s filled to the brim with tiny touches that add charm, interesting mechanics or generally just help bring the world to life. For example, did you know that throwing a rusty weapon at the bomb-tossing octoroks on death mountain will make them spit it back out in pristine form? What about the fact that fish are attracted to food matching their type? I’m sure these things are well covered on the internet by now, but I fell so in love with the world during the first couple of hours that I forbade myself from looking up a single detail.
It’s simply staggering to me how much effort has put into to what could easily be considered trivial additions, and ones that many players may never see. Talk to NPCs with no clothes on and some will comment on how bold you are, while others will refuse to chat until you get dressed. Ride a bear or Stalhorse to a stable and the keeper there will comment in disbelief. The game does nothing to advertise these features to you, you’re simply left to discover them, or not.
Typically, sharing stories about open-world games like Skyrim entails asking about this or that quest. Did you play the Dark Brotherhood bit? Have you done the mission inside the painting yet? Everything is centred around carefully curated encounters. While Breath of the Wild’s world isn’t short on intricately designed details either, the stories you create feel so much more organic. I’ve related tales of snowboarding down a hill pursued by bear-riding bokoblins, and listened in awe as a friend told me you could actually ride a sleeping Hinox’s hand up onto their body, stealing their goods and making off like a thief in the night. Breath of the Wild is a game that grants the freedom to explore and discover its treasure trove of secrets at your own pace. I spent over 140 hours in Hyrule before I could finally bring myself to finish it, and I’m already hungering to return. Forget game of the year, this might just be my favorite game of all time.
Chris Higgins: Simply from reading Henry’s bit I’ve learned something new about this game. I never even thought about trying to feed fish but wham, it’s in there and not only that, they have their own favorites. That perfectly sums up my love for Breath of the Wild, there are really very few mechanics to learn but thousands of applications for each. Nintendo wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel here, it’s deeper than that, the very building blocks of an open-world adventure are fair game.
To so successfully render a sandbox like this would be the highlight of any other company’s career. But then they go ahead and double down on top with some of the series’ smartest puzzle designs and a genuinely heart-warming story told through a heart-achingly solemn world. All the while, every bit of the game is tied up in the concept of exploration and discovery with very little pressuring you onto any paths. It’s an approach that works perfectly for multi-hour marathons in front of the TV, or a quick blast on the way into town on the train. And there’s plenty to entertain either playstyle, even before the DLC.
Nintendo’s famed resistance against DLC for games has eventually crumbled to the business minds with their pocket protectors, but there is nothing industry standard about the quality of its add-ons. If I was ever worried that this wasn’t the perfect game for me, after the latest DLC added a tasty selection of extra shrines, boss battles and a motorbike, there’s no more room for doubt. This simply has to be the game of 2017 because it’s the game I’ve played throughout 2017, and unlike others that have bared their flaws under such intense scrutiny, the only thing I’ve found in Breath of the Wild is even more reasons to love it.