I didn’t premeditate this list, it’s completely off the top of my head… Although I do often think about these games as some of my favorites of all time.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - I like that this game’s open world is built around a series of tools that can be used to creatively solve its encounters and problems the whole way through, rather than built to try and act solely as a setpiece. Mind, it is a setpiece on top of all that. I also like that the limitations put on the player, such as degrading/breakable weapons and only regaining health via foods or resting, makes it a constant affair of planning – similar to any decent survival game. It’s a nice mix between constant puzzle solving, artistic beauty, and elegantly designed struggle that had me hooked. Plus, I played it on the Switch, hardware which not only allows something of this technical magnitude to exist, but to make it much easier to have with me wherever I go. Game absolutely consumed me this year.
Rez Infinite - Built around the idea of meshing gameplay with music, the game is relatively easy to play but has a lot of really neat tricks that blend your actions to the music that’s playing. It also offers up a fun light sprinkling of narrative to kind of make its abstract visuals make more sense than being a really trippy playable visualizer. Area X is also a stunning update to the original’s format, allowing a slight bit more freeform gameplay and even more dazzling abstracted visual effects, and built around an even more dynamic soundtrack (Area X alone is comprised of several different songs mixed together, rather than featuring one single continuously built track). Add VR immersion to the package if you have it available to you, and I can’t think of anything that feels so… satisfyingly artistic to me. There’s also optional arcade-esque skill challenges buried in there if you need a more hardcore goal to pursue, but I personally don’t factor it into my enjoyment of the package.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - I love the two protagonists and all of their supporting characters and I like that the game offers player input on their reactions to things but doesn’t really feel extremely atonal or inconsistent, even if you react differently to different situations, the gameplay is serviceable (I personally find it fun but I can easily detect how it might come off as weak to others), the world is gorgeously detailed and expressed in the game’s engine. I personally wept at journey’s end with the Witcher III, the ending being one of the most emotionally striking and satisfying I’ve ever experienced in a videogame (and I admit, I’ve cried at the endings of videogames on more than one occasion before I played Witcher III). It has exceptionally great writing for a fantasy RPG, and it came off to me feeling like its world had far more at stake to me than most other RPGs I can personally stomach to play. And let me clarify the last bit of that statement – I have a hard time with RPGs, I have a difficult time with their layered mechanics and I generally am attuned to getting satisfaction from a more immediate reaction to my inputs in games (I just want to react more immediately to things rather than consider the various systems that will be impacted by my play decisions), I have a difficult time reading through endless journals and text and keeping track of all the details and then the systems on top of all of that. Witcher III streamlines a lot of that for people like me and I really appreciate it, and it tells some of its most compelling details in ways beyond journal entries and text documents littered across the world, despite the game still having plenty of that, too. It may read as an “RPG for dummies” to some of the more dedicated fans of the genre, but for folks like me, the easier interaction with the game’s world and robust storytelling presentation made it an unforgettable experience.