Has there ever been a year full of so many games where the majority not only delivered but over-delivered on expectations? This was never more evident than with role-playing games as we battled for divinity, waged war as androids, tussled with robot dinosaurs and demons, and ultimately saved the world a few times. Which of these role-playing experiences stood out as the crème of the crop though? Let’s take a look at the nominees for Best RPG of 2017.
Platinum Games’ Nier: Automata was an unassuming enough announcement at E3. Of course, then the demo arrived, followed by the full release and we were blown away. Bullet hell meets hack and slash combat with a fairly strong degree of ability and weapon customization…and then there are the shoot ’em up segments which are their own brand of strange. Beyond the epic boss fights and perfect precision of the combat, Nier: Automata tells a wonderful tale of identity, humanity and existence that will simply tear you apart.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
It’s still surprising that Guerrilla Games, best known for the Killzone series, was able to produce such a compelling open world action RPG like Horizon: Zero Dawn. Plot has always been an issue in past Killzone titles but Horizon actually sports a good cast of characters, led by Ashly Burch’s performance of Aloy, and an interesting mystery. Everything else – from the lore and world design to the visuals, side quests and combat – is executed superbly. Even in a year with so many great role playing and open world games, Horizon: Zero Dawn more than held its own.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Larian Studios earned a name for itself with the first game but Divinity: Original Sin 2 surpasses it in every single way. The utter scope of freedom and attention to detail, excellent script-writing and plot development, fantastic combat system and world building ensured one of the best role-playing adventures of the year. Plus any game that lets us drop hefty barrels on foes to kill them is an automatic win. Don’t let the strangeness of Rivellon scare you – there’s so much waiting to be discovered and each playthrough can compel you in ways that are fresh yet grim.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
While previous entries in the series always employed a faux-RPG approach, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild goes all in on elements like weapon damage, durability, armour stats, upgrading, cooking and whatnot. Though it prompted comparisons to Skyrim, especially with the more open world approach, Nintendo integrated all these elements seamlessly, living up the quality and sense of adventure that the Zelda series brings.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
Though Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor had enough skill trees and loot, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War deepens this pursuit even further. There are Orc Followers, gems, gear sets, weapons and what have you to collect and customize. You can build entire armies, give them different bonuses and orders and spend hours just grinding levels. While the loot boxes are definitely a mark against it (especially when the highest tier of Orc Followers is tied to them), Middle-Earth: Shadow of War offers a nice action RPG experience with a fun core gameplay loop.
Team Ninja’s Nioh is so much more than a Dark Souls clone. In fact, it combines Feudal Japan, Japanese mythology, a Diablo-like loot grind, heaps of customization and weapons, numerous side quests, a sprawling campaign, plenty of difficult encounters and memorable boss fight. The excellent combat is backed by so much customization and content that it’s insane. More than just resurrecting the studio from the waning Ninja Gaiden series, Nioh is proof that Team Ninja can create an excellent action RPG worthy of your time.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Monolith Soft has done it again and while the jury is out on whether it’s better than its predecessors, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is still amazing. The series’ tradition of gorgeous open world exploration continues along with the satisfying, responsive combat and a suite of customization options for abilities and party members. The English voice acting may vary in quality and there’s an abundance of fetch quests but Xenoblade Chronicles 2 offers a great story with memorable characters and more than enough exploration to keep you busy for hundreds of hours on end.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Ubisoft didn’t just want to revamp the core story and open world exploration with Assassin’s Creed Origins – it tore away many of the stealth mechanics and crafted a huge action RPG with compelling combat. Wouldn’t you know it but this worked. Despite the same trappings like tailing missions and bugs, Assassin’s Creed Origins offers a deep world with some great side quests and activities to pursue. Combat feels a lot better than previous games and while it may come at the expense of innovations in stealth, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a satisfying experience overall.
In a year dotted with so many action RPGs, Supergiant Games’ Pyre is something…different. It’s full of colourful characters, immersing you in its dialogue and character interaction that make the oncoming decisions all the more intriguing. “Combat” is a wholly different affair, pitting teams of three against each other in sports-like matches where abilities, cohesion and movement play a big role. Did we mention the spell-binding art design and music? Pyre is everything that one could possibly love from a Supergiant role-playing game and yet, so much more.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
We initially had our reservations about this. A mash-up between Mario and the Rabbids? Mario using guns or energy blasters or what have you? Upon actually viewing it, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a delightful romp full of excellent tactical strategy combat and RPG customization. The sheer range of tactics combined with the wackiness of both franchises provides for a fast-paced yet deeply thoughtful role-playing experience.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar
In this day and age, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a treat. Inspired by classic console RPGs, it combines turn-based combat with an excellent aesthetic based off the comic books of the same name. The game itself is full of dungeons to explore, some of them randomly generated and thus offering a dungeon crawler to it all. Along with six heroes, some interesting combat mechanics and a unique old-school feel, Battle Chasers: Nightwar offered a fun experience in a year full of open world RPGs.
Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon
Make no mistake – Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are most definitely retreads of last year’s Pokemon Sun and Moon. However, they add so much more to the games, expanding them enough that they’re worth a look. New activities like Ultra Wrap Ride and Mantine Surf add some much needed spice on the side but you’ll be busy with the new locations, the new Z-Moves and new Ultra Beasts. It’s basically more Pokemon for those who love the games but with enough content and fun gameplay to justify the purchase.
Persona 5 is the epitome of style and substance. The world leaps out at you in vibrant colours, animated menus and sleek combat sequences that can be devilishly tough at times. Heist mechanics, dungeon crawling and an amazing story (albeit one with a slow start) make this stand out from previousgames. But when you talk about a game with an excellent cast, addictive combat and a top-notch story, Persona 5 stands so far above many other games this year that it’s not even funny.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
While Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, it still provided a great narrative and stellar tactical combat befitting the Fire Emblem name. In fact, the game is so good at balancing plot development with actual gameplay that it’s astounding and the production values, scope and exploration are simply top-notch. This is not Fire Emblem Fates but Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is still a great tactical RPG in a franchise that’s full of them.
Skyrim Switch Edition
It’s Skyrim but in handheld form. Well, Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch can also be played in docked mode but this is the same Skyrim. It has all the DLC, no mod support and pretty much all the same glitches as its 2011 release. Sure, the sheer range of the open world is amazing, the quest system and exploration is fun, you can pursue many different kinds of gameplay loops and it will go down as one of the best open world RPGs ever. But in 2017, the flaws inherent in 2011’s Skyrim go a long way to make it pretty good but far from perfect. At least it’s on handheld though.
Winner: Persona 5
It’s the intro that catches you, that mix of groovy music and sleek animation. At the outset, the familiar school setting, managing one’s personal life, and anime-esque drama seemed typical for Atlus. Persona 5 immediately cast aside those doubts with emotionally effective stories filled with deep characters that you actually grow to care for over the course of the game. The various systems intertwine, making your social interactions enhance your overall effectiveness in combat. This makes the relationships formed with your Persona and comrades all the more personal.
Of course, the new hand-crafted Castles and intriguing combat hooks add even more stakes to the story as your rogue-ish band pushes forward. The fact that there’s so little Persona 5 gets wrong and so very much it gets right while having almost no bugs is simply astonishing. When you consider the amount of competition it’s had this year, that’s definitely no small achievement and we’re proud to crown Persona 5 as the Best RPG of 2017.
Note: GamingBolt’s Game of the Year categories, nominations and awards are selected via an internal nomination, voting and debate process. You can check the rest of categories and the respective winners here.