Phew, what a year! So many games were touted for a Game of the Year in 2017. Almost too many. Team Ready Up have been tying themselves up in knots trying to pick just one and only one game as their personal favourite game of the year. We are mean to them but it had to be done. In this series, we see which games the team loved last year, and why.

Fran – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Some people will say that Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild saved the Switch but for me, it justified my Wii U purchase. Others might talk about the wonder of a sandbox Zelda, the great juxtaposition of open world exploration and the shrine puzzles and even the small details – like not being able to use metal weapons in a thunderstorm.

There are many things I could talk about to say why this game is my game of the year, but the main thing for me, is the lack of hand holding. Now, I like to think that my many years of console gaming has allowed me to play enough games to gain the assumed knowledge that pressing the right thumb stick forward in a third or first-person game, will mean the character you are controlling will go forward.

After playing many games of Assassin’s Creed, do I really need to be told how to play it again? Even if it is your first go at a game, I guarantee you have played something similar before.

Zelda has no tutorial. You can work stuff out for yourself! We all know how to move forward and if we don’t know what a button does we just bloody press it and find out until we learn. Unlocking a new area, a new skill – or even a new weapon and working out how to use them yourself ultimately makes the experience more immersive and rewarding.

The subtleties of game design, showing you (or letting you hear) where shrines are and letting you work out how to get to them at that point or at some time later is great. You feel like you are exploring and finding out about the world yourself, rather than being hand held along a strict narrative path which seems to be the norm these days.

For trusting players rather than assuming that they are idiots who have never picked up a controller before – and giving them chances to try out things rather than just telling them what to do – Zelda BOTW set down a challenge for game designers across the industry – which I hope people will pick up in 2018.

 

Cameron – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Back in March, the release of Breath of the Wild brought out both the best, and the worst, in us players of games. The initial burst of gameplay experimentation proved to be a rare and pure joy. There was a genuine, viral excitement in the air for all the cute little things it felt like we were collectively uncovering, as we shared screenshots online of dogs spinning and Link’s aerial adventures via inflatable octopus heads.

Our love for the game was echoed by it having one of the highest Metascores of all time, and for a fleeting moment, we felt good about ourselves and our sufficiently validated opinions. And then some guy gave it a 7/10 and everything was ruined for everyone, forever.

Now that the smoke has cleared from that particularly nasty battlefield and all dissenting opinion has been well and truly squashed, the question now arises: was it actually all that good?

In my opinion – yes, it was pretty good. Certainly not without its issues and irritations, both large and small – but what isn’t? I had fun at least 75% of the time that I spent playing it and that’s pretty good on my own personal, internal metric.

One major point of contention that, on further reading, doesn’t actually appear to be a point of contention at all, is the pure audio-visual splendour of the thing. I’ve played through it twice now and I still pause to take in the sights every single time I warp to one of the (admittedly boring to climb) towers. The myriad simple and interwoven gameplay mechanics offer players a wealth of options when it comes to pissing about in the overworld, the couple hundred puzzle rooms are fun (again) 75% of the time, and the voice acting and direction is good for making Xenoblade 2‘s seem great by comparison.

It’s not perhaps the tightest or best-designed game released this year (that honor I’d give to Super Mario Odyssey), but what it does have going for it is just how enveloping an experience it can be when it hits its highest highs. The thrill of seeing Nintendo mostly succeed with something weird and different (for them at least) just amounted to more for me than an admittedly pretty flawless take on the classic Mario 64 formula.

Overall, it’s a remarkably solid game that has inspired a lot of varied discussions, and I love it even more for the part it undoubtedly played in igniting this new and far more hopeful era for Nintendo.

Great job Link!

 

Kitty – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Picking out my game of the year was tough as nails because what a year for games! I happily gave so many hours this year to games like Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Persona 5, Zelda Breath of the Wild and Nier: Automata. That’s not even mentioning games I didn’t play like Super Mario Odyssey and Hellblade, that look like they’re fantastic.

As far as I’m concerned, every single game I’ve just mentioned in some way or another deserves the title. However, that’s not how these things work, and a choice must be made, so I had to pick holes. HZD was such a good game, with a great storyline, but to me it was so like Witcher 3 gameplay, that although the narrative was top class, it wasn’t super different to play for me.

I lost a full 2 weeks to Persona 5, and it’s easily the best Persona yet, but it got a bit repetitive for me quite fast, so getting towards the end of the game was a slog.

I could keep going, but in the end, it came down to 2 games for me: Zelda and Nier. Zelda, because of the super enjoyable gameplay. Nier because of the amazing storyline plus its delivery. At first, I veered towards Nier because I really loved how it dealt with the themes it played with, but then I came to the conclusion of – what game was more fun?

What game had me so addicted I could barely focus on anything else, I just wanted to keep playing the game? And that game is Zelda. Even now, I’m finding that although there’s so many tried and tested mechanics in the game I see in other titles, I’m enjoying them in this title so much more. And I can think of a few reasons why – sure you have to go to towers, to uncover the map, to find points of interest; but they’re not always 100% obvious. They’re not pre-marked on your map, like an amateur cartographer you actually have to explore to find things, and hidden points of interest actually need you to figure out where they’re at. Rather than feeling laborious, I feel excited to explore and discover what’s out there.

And then there’s the physics of the game! They’re so fun to play around with, and they’re incredibility robust – whilst sometimes hard to work with, they never felt unfair. Myself and my partner are both playing and I love watching him take on a puzzle I’ve already done, because there’s never a guarantee he’ll solve it the same way using some different physics rule.

Between exploring, solving puzzles, finding ‘hidden’ things, adorable characters and fighting big ass monsters, the game is just incredibly enjoyable. Normally with games of this size, I’d be overwhelmed, but with Zelda, I don’t want the exploring to end. And that’s why, despite my conflict about all the other amazing titles, it’s my game of the year.

 

Scott – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I feel like I’ve already summarised why Breath of the Wild is a standout choice for 2017’s Game of the Year. But in the face of so many extraordinary games with so many unique qualities – the platforming pinnacles of Super Mario Odyssey; the narrative deconstructions of NieR: Automata; the lush, Roger Dean-esque ruins of Horizon Zero Dawn’s post-apocalypse – it’s always worth re-examining our thoughts and feelings and being a little more objective.

So, I’m gonna throw some science and stats at you. During the 255+ hours that I played Breath of the Wild, I took 268 screenshots. Even if we’re being generous and assuming some of those were just fluff, that’s averages a screenshot for every hour of the game worth remembering: every hour where it delighted me; every hour where it surprised me; every hour where I stood and marveled at the beauty of this slightly-solemn interpretation of Hyrule.

Some highlights of my journey from this record include:

  • Running for dear life after accidentally stumbling upon a mighty Hinox giant
  • A loading screen advising I make friends with dogs
  • Hunting a lone buck in the silent grasslands of Central Hyrule
  • Removing Link’s shirt just to see the embarrassed reactions of NPCs
  • Witnessing a shooting star land on the horizon during a midnight canter on my horse
  • Facing off against a monsterous Lynel on the peak of Shatterback Point, woefully underequipped… and winning!
  • EVERYBODY, from man, woman, to fish-man, hitting on Link
  • Baking the rather delish-looking “Chilly Fruit Pie”
  • Attending a relationship seminar
  • Skydiving onto a airborne dungeon from above
  • Discovering the Sword of Evil’s Bane
  • Scaling the highest peaks of Hyrule Castle
  • Participating in a marriage ceremony in a town I helped build from scratch
  • Parasurfing via a Sand Seal through the Gerudo Desert
  • Riding a bear

The Legend of Zelda - Scotts Highlights

Oh, and the DLC is worth every penny, too. Not to say that the base game didn’t have enough content (just re-read the above!), but as with Mario Kart 8, Nintendo has again taken a smart approach to spreading out fresh adventures for almost a year post-launch, keeping players coming back for more… and hopefully catching details which passed them by the first time.

The first chunk of the pass dropped in June, offering Trial of the Sword and Master Mode, along with some collectable goodies referencing other Zelda games. Here, Trial of the Sword was the early highlight; conceptually, it initially appeared quite similar to the Cave of Trials from Twilight Princess and was dismissed by many as filler material. Instead, Trial of the Sword takes the idea behind fan-favourite Eventide Island – wherein the player is stripped of all their current equipment and items in the main game – and pushes it to a logical extreme, providing increasingly daunting new limitations and challenges as resources dwindle. The reward is a useful item powerup, along with a fantastic (and in some ways ironic, given its linear nature) story nod towards Skyward Sword.

The next major part of the Expansion Pass, released just last month, was The Champions’ Ballad, which Nintendo promised would bulk-out the sometimes-shallow story of Breath of the Wild. In that, it mostly succeeded with its fleshing-out of the backstory to Hyrule’s Champions (aaaaaall aboard the Link/Mipha/Sidon shipping train!), but was slightly mired by occasionally wonky pacing and few truly new locations. That said, 16 enjoyable new shrines (including some of the best in the game), a substantial dungeon and bad-ass boss battle, not to mention that ridiculous endgame reward make it a more than worthwhile journey.

This is all well and good, but for those of us who grew up as NES masochists (or just want a bit of an extra challenge), the secret star of the Expansion Pass is actually Master Mode. Rather than flipping dungeon orientations or preventing hearts from dropping from normal enemies – as was the case with Hero and Master replays in other Zelda titles – Master Mode tweaks the base game difficulty in subtle ways which add up to a substantial whole, giving a whole new perspective on the massive Hyrule of Breath of the Wild. Making it through the tutorial area of The Great Plateau goes from ‘potentially difficult’ to straight-up arduous, as the buffed-up baddies (who have regenerating health) force you to approach encounters from different angles until you can earn more hearts and armour. But even after you’re better equipped, ‘golden’ variants of common (and uncommon) enemy types are sure to keep you on your toes, while floating chests of treasure litter the skyline to tempt you to engage said foes. All of this and a separate save slot provide the perfect excuse to depart on the whole epic adventure once again.

Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect; as mentioned in my previous comments, I wish it had just a touch more classic Zelda dungeoneering, and greater characterisation of such a storied franchise’s iconic lore elements (like Ganondorf and the Triforce) wouldn’t have gone amiss, either. But it is absolutely Nintendo’s bravest game in years, breaking and reforming the design conventions of not only the Kyoto giant, but their contemporaries as well. For that, and for absolutely everything else it achieves, it deserves to be Game of the Year.