SG Analysis: Game of the Year 201726 Dec 2017 0
2017 has been a great year for strategy fans. Once a semi-forgotten genre due to Microsoft's shameful abandonment of the PC platform in the early naughts, strategy games rallied in recent years to once more become one of the top played categories of games across the world.
With quantity invariably comes quality, as dozens of developers try their hand at various ambitious titles meant to entertain or push the envelope. Thanks to the efforts of studios like Firaxis, Slitherine, and Paradox, the strategy genre was kept alive and well over the past few years and resurged with a bang, and for the first time, indie titles like Bomber Crew and Oriental Empires joined the ranks of AAA titles in providing innovative quality experiences.
I tend to see games as an art form, meant to entertain and give life to worlds that we have no access to. To me, a good game is something well designed around the idea of player freedom or emotional engagement, allowing folks to lose themselves into a virtual experience and immerse them completely in its universe. That's why Sid Meier's Civilization is so good -- it's core gameplay loop and systems design allows players to shape their civilization however they see fit, creating that familiar “one more turn” urge that feels absurdly satisfying.
The best game of 2017, in my opinion, is the embodiment of those values -- and also not technically a standalone game. Made by the same studio behind Civ, XCOM 2: War of the Chosen perfected what was already a brilliantly designed title, and in the process delivered the ultimate example of turn-based tactics. The expansion further increased tactical abilities and conjoined character development with gameplay elements, creating a unique mix of narrative and player freedom that fully immerses Commanders and lends weight and emotional attachment to every action.
Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock and Total War: Warhammer II are close seconds, similarly pushing the tactical envelope and creating an immersive experience, respectively. Deadlock’s amazing systems-based simulation delivers one of the most versatile tactical sandboxes of recent years, while Warhammer II’s dedication to creating uniquely distinct factions draws you into its world in a manner most games only aspire to -- I didn't even liked Warhammer when I reviewed TWWII, but I have now read half its lore.
On the other end of the spectrum, we got hugely misguided titles who come dangerously close to betraying the very notion of strategy. Once acclaimed developer Relic Entertainment had a huge fall from grace, following StarCraft 2’s outdated focus on fragile units and actions per minute to deliver a reviled MOBA-like title in the form of Dawn of War III. Featuring very little in the form of proper tactics and strategies, the latest AAA entry of the Warhammer 40K franchise was horribly unsatisfying, and received an abysmal reception across the board.
Aside from missteps like that, 2017 was truly a good year for strategy. Indie titles like Bomber Crew explored new grounds both on setting and mechanics, putting players in charge of a contingent of WWII crewmen and women aboard a Lancaster bomber plane as it ran sorties across Europe. The novel idea and execution quickly sold millions, and demonstrated that indie studios can achieve high standards of production values capable of delivering great experiences -- in some cases, even better than AAA studios can.
Overall, 2017 has been a very ordinary year for games, but a surprisingly good one for the strategy genre. Creative Assembly surprised everyone -- and made me very happy -- by releasing a surprise DLC campaign for Total War: Rome II, Slitherine started moving towards more mainstream waters with higher production values, and both indie and AAA studios alike have pushed the boundaries of gameplay and strategic depth. If 2018 continues the trend, we may be finally entering the long-waited Golden Age of Strategy Gaming.