There’s been a lot of talk about 2017 being one of the greatest years in video games and though this seems to be a line that gets trotted out at the end of every year, it feels entirely justified this time around. Much of the output of outstanding game releases in 2017 can be attributed to the Nintendo Switch, which not only had a number of surprisingly great exclusives in the form of titles like Splatoon 2 and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, but also saw the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey — two titles that could realistically be considered instant classics. However, Nintendo wasn’t the only publisher that had a great year, as Sony too put out a number of must-have titles on PlayStation 4, such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Nioh, and Nier Automata.
Of course, we’re not here today to throw accolades around at the year’s best games. No, we want to highlight the games that let us down in 2017, the ones that we had high expectations for but simply didn’t deliver on their promise. Given how great a year it was overall for games, it was more difficult to come up with a list of disappointments than in more recent years but the following titles all stumbled in one way or another …
Halo Wars 2
Microsoft did not have a great year when it came to first-party Xbox exclusives. Case in point: a new Halo game was released early in the year and nobody cared. Granted, that game was Halo Wars 2, a sequel to the surprisingly decent 2009 real-time strategy game from Ensemble Studios, so it’s not like we’re talking about a new entry in the mainline Halo series here, but it’s still pretty shocking to see a new Halo game come and go with such little fanfare. This may have something to do with the issue of it not really being clear who Halo Wars 2 is for, as it’s too casual for RTS fans to really sink their teeth into and too much of an RTS to appeal to those who enjoy Halo for its first-person shooting mechanics.
Of course, this was also a criticism you could level at the first Halo Wars, but that game had the benefit of being quite novel for its time, as it came out at a time when it was rare to see RTS games released on console, let alone good ones. Unfortunately, Halo Wars 2 comes at a time when interest in Halo as a whole is at an all-time low and doesn’t do enough to make itself stand out in a crowded gaming year, even with it being one of the few Xbox exclusives to be released in 2017. The story missions certainly have something to offer for Halo diehards but overall, Halo Wars 2 simply isn’t deep enough to make a lasting impression.
Agents of Mayhem
A spin-off of sorts to the popular, over-the-top Saints Row series, Volition’s Agents of Mayhem was essentially sent out to die this year due to a combination of non-existent marketing and a muddled design template. An homage of sorts to the cartoon and live-action TV heroes of the 80s and 90s, Agents of Mayhem certainly isn’t lacking for style with its diverse cast of goofy characters, each with their own unique weapons and gadgets. The ability to swap between characters on the fly allows for some much-needed variety in what is otherwise a pretty run-of-the-mill third-person shooter, but a game built around characters with complimentary abilities is begging for some sort of cooperative component.
For whatever reason, Volition chose not to include multiplayer of any kind in Agents of Mayhem and the game is lesser for it, as the repetitive mission structure and level design would have benefited significantly from the ability to bring at least one buddy along for the ride. In a year overflowing with incredible open-world experiences, it’s no wonder Agents of Mayhem failed to make much of a lasting impression.
If Rime could be judged on its visuals alone, it would probably stand as one of the best games of the year. The indie puzzle-platformer is absolutely gorgeous and has a premise that has drawn comparisons to other beautiful, melancholy titles such as Ico, Journey, and The Witness. Unfortunately, while Rime stands up to those aforementioned titles in the visual department, it’s ultimately a shallow experience with little in the way of inventive gameplay ideas. Simply put, the tasks Rime gives players just aren’t very interesting, as the game’s puzzles mostly involve collecting keys and moving crates around, which is just as boring as it sounds. Even the presence of an adorable magical fox isn’t enough to elevate Rime above a level of baseline mediocrity. It’s not a bad game by any stretch but with so many games out there that do similar things (but better), Rime is nowhere close to being the artful masterpiece it wants to be.
Traveller’s Tales’ LEGO video games have been reliably solid experiences for over a decade, with seemingly every major pop culture brand receiving the LEGO treatment at one point or another. However, as good as games like LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Marvel Superheroes have been, there really haven’t been any games that truly capture the limitless creativity offered by real-world LEGO blocks. For that, we have Minecraft, the massively-successful sandbox game that owes a substantial debt to LEGO in the first place. Originally released in beta form in 2015, TT Games finally put out the full version of LEGO Worlds in 2017, which is essentially “Minecraft with LEGO.”
LEGO Worlds should have been the ultimate LEGO experience and a worthy contender to the Minecraft juggernaut — Traveller’s Tales has had years to study that game’s success, after all — but instead, it’s merely an inferior Minecraft clone. While LEGO Worlds’ powerful creation tools and diverse environments are commendable, they’re held back by bad menus, a clunky combat system, and fiddly controls that make the actual process of building things much more frustrating than it should be. To its credit, Traveller’s Tales has continued to improve the game since launch but with Minecraft having already pretty much perfected this type of game design, there’s really no reason to opt for an inferior version unless you just really love LEGO.
If the enormous sales success of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy this year is any indication, there is still an appetite for mascot platformers out there … or more specifically, 90s mascot platformers with a fresh coat of paint. Playtonic evidently saw this void a few years ago when they launched a kickstarter for Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to Rare’s beloved Nintendo 64 platformer Banjo-Kazooie. Indeed, with a studio largely comprised of ex-Rare devs, it was hard to see Yooka-Laylee not becoming one of the best new 3D platformers in years.
The problem is that Playtonic took their throwback design philosophy a bit too literally and released a game that feels like it could have been released in 1998, warts and all (excluding the visuals, of course). The camera is horrendous, for starters, and the actual platforming unsatisfying, which certainly isn’t helped by the floaty, imprecise controls. As with most games released nowadays, Yooka-Laylee has improved since release with patches, but no update is going to fix what is fundamentally an out of step game hoping that your misplaced nostalgia will blind you to its many glaring faults. Banjo-Kazooie fans would be much better served by going back and playing the HD remaster than wasting time on this inferior copycat.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Wolfenstein: The New Order was one of the best games of 2014 and a return to form for a series that hadn’t been relevant since the early 2000s. As such, expectations for MachineGames’ sequel were understandably high. From a story and presentation standpoint, there can be no doubt that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a worthy follow-up to The New Order. The game’s exploration of a world where the Nazis won World War II offers a nightmarish vision of America that at times hits a little too close to home given the rise — or at least, increased exposure — of white nationalist movements in the United States over the course of 2017. In this way, Wolfenstein II feels like an essential game with something meaningful to say, which makes it all the more disappointing that the actual gameplay isn’t quite up to snuff.
At its core, Wolfenstein II is a great first-person shooter but one that is hampered by some questionable design decisions. The biggest issue is that the game is simply too difficult at the default difficulty setting. The New Order wasn’t a walk in the park by any means but offered a balanced mix of challenge and player empowerment, which is arguably the best approach to take in an action-heavy FPS like Wolfenstein. The game’s protagonist, B.J. Blaskowicz, is supposed to be a Nazi-killing machine but you sure won’t feel like much of a badass when you’re spending the majority of your time crouched behind walls while enemies constantly respawn and rain fire down on you from all directions.
The other problem is that the actual level design is too elaborate for its own good, as it’s way too easy to become lost and not figure out where you’re supposed to go next to. Of course, a game like this shouldn’t be holding players’ hands but Wolfenstein II is too frequently not fun to play because of these poor design decisions. Make no mistake: Wolfenstein II: The Old Colossus is still a good game and well worth your time but given the reputation of its predecessor, it should have been one of the best games of the year.
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite
One of the best fighting games of 2017 was based on a major comic book property, but that game is not Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. While Warner Bros. Interactive and developer NetherRealm delivered an outstanding follow-up to 2013’s DC Comics fighter Injustice: Gods Among Us with Injustice 2, Capcom offered up Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, a sequel that represents a step back for the series in nearly every way. It’s frankly shocking just how mediocre Infinite turned out to be in many respects, especially since it’s the only big budget Marvel game released this year.
The game’s most obvious fault is its lackluster art style and animation. For a series that is renowned for its striking visuals, it’s astonishing just how bad MvC: Infinite looks. This would be somewhat forgivable if the gameplay had taken a massive leap forward but Capcom managed to find a way to mess that up too. The switch from three character tag teams down to two admittedly works really well, with the third slot’s Infinity Stones allowing for tons of experimentation with two character move sets. Unfortunately, this also led to a number of spammable, broken combos that could be exploited, throwing balance right out the window.
Of course, these sorts of things can be fixed but the one thing that can’t be changed is Marvel’s deliberate decision to maintain parity with the Cinematic Universe (MCU) by stripping all the X-Men characters from the roster. Toss in a terrible story mode and awful voice acting, and MvC: Infinite is easily the most disappointing fighting game sequel since Street Fighter V.
Ghost Recon Wildlands
The Ghost Recon series has experienced something of an identity crisis in recent years. Whereas the early games focused were more realistic military shooters with a focus on stealth (hence the “Ghost” in the title), the Advanced Warfighter titles and beyond have pushed the franchise away from its hardcore roots in favor of more action-heavy gameplay. With Wildlands, Ubisoft takes Ghost Recon into full open-world territory, borrowing design ideas from the publisher’s other popular franchises The Division, Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. Unfortunately, while Wildlands delivers a deep experience with an insane amount of content, it may as well have been called “Generic Ubisoft Open-World Shooter,” as it is largely devoid of any defining characteristics that would give it an identity of its own.
Everything about Wildlands — the shooting, the vehicle controls, the mission design — is serviceable but unexciting and with so many similar (and better) titles out there vying for your attention, it’s a big ask to want to dump the time into a game that feels designed by committee. Wildlands’ one saving grace is that it is admittedly a lot of fun to play through cooperatively but unless you have a dedicated group willing to stick it out for hundreds of hours, there are simply much better options out there than Ghost Recon.
Call of Duty WWII
Following the overwhelmingly negative reception to last year’s Infinite Warfare, which notably took the Call of Duty series to space, it makes sense that Activision would want to take a back-to-basics approach for its next release. Developed by Sledgehammer Games, Call of Duty WWII takes the massively successful FPS franchise back to its roots but fails to offer a compelling reason for doing so (though one gets the impression that market research played a pretty big role in that “creative” decision). As much as Infinite Warfare was a step too far for many players with its crazy wall-running and sci-fi laser weapons, at least it was pushing the series in bold new directions. There’s something almost poetic about the fact that WWII released nearly 10 years to the day since the release of the original Modern Warfare, which not only pushed Call of Duty but first-person shooters as a whole forward.
In contrast, WWII is about as run-of-the-mill as it gets. On a technical level, the game is quite good, with online multiplayer in particular benefiting from a return to more traditional shooter fare without all the crazy jump-jetting and parkour that has defined more recent COD installments (though matches still largely devolve into running around getting blasted by shotguns). But there’s a feeling of blandness that runs throughout and it certainly doesn’t help that each of the three modes — campaign, Nazi Zombies, and multiplayer — are so disparate that they don’t feel like they even belong in the same game. Still, there is quite a lot to like in Call of Duty: WWII, but it’s just disappointing to realize that a decade after Modern Warfare rewrote the book on first-person shooters, the franchise is now pretty much creatively bankrupt.
The first game put out by Boss Key Productions, the studio led by Gears of War and Unreal Tournament veteran Cliff Bleszinski, LawBreakers had some pretty big expectations placed on it long before it actually released. Hyped up as the “next big thing” in competitive multiplayer shooters, what sets LawBreakers apart from popular arena shooters like Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch is its verticality and antigravity-based gameplay, as well as its edgier visual design. While mechanically sound from a gameplay perspective (the aerial combat, in particular, is a blast), LawBreakers suffered from a lack of consumer interest.
No one seemed to be able to make sense of what exactly LawBreakers was supposed to be, as the game was originally supposed to be free-to-play but ended up being released in August as a $30 budget title. It probably doesn’t help that compared to many of its competitors, LawBreakers’ overall aesthetic leaves much to be desired, as the game is filled with boring character designs and a garish dubstep soundtrack. Player counts quickly dropped off in the weeks following release and the community is effectively dead at this point, with little chance of recovery.
Super Bomberman R
The Bomberman series tends to get overlooked quite a bit, which is a shame considering it’s been a local multiplayer staple since the SNES era. So when news came out that Konami was going to release a brand new game in the series as a Nintendo Switch launch title, it was easy to get excited — especially since there really wasn’t much else worth playing on the console at launch besides Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately, Super Bomberman R was not the game longtime fans of the series had been waiting for. The biggest problem is that Konami sold what is essentially a smaller digital title as a full-priced retail release, so right out of the gate players were getting ripped off. This may have been forgivable if Super Bomberman R took advantage of Switch-specific features or pushed the franchise forward in any meaningful way, but it plays pretty much identical to past Bomberman games.
The only real new addition is the Story Mode, which makes for a nice diversion but hardly justifies the game’s absurd asking price. Making matters worse, the game suffers from numerous glitches and an unstable frame rate, which only further illustrates how little thought or care Konami put into their big Switch launch game. If Super Bomberman R had launched for $20 on the Nintendo e-Shop, it could have been an essential Switch title but instead, it’s one of the console’s few disappointing releases this year.
Need For Speed: Payback
You never really know what you’re going to get with Need For Speed, as EA’s annualized arcade racer seems to be better known for its intractability at this point than any one defining feature. One year you may get a street racer with modding features and the next, a poorly-told story following a race across the United States. That being said, when it was revealed that Need For Speed: Payback was being designed as a spiritual successor to the Burnout series, complete with vehicle takedowns and damage modeling, it was hard not to get our hopes up. Here was a Need For Speed game worth getting excited about! Of course, this is also a big-budget release from Electronic Arts and in 2017, that means one thing:
Yes, threw in a loot-based upgrade system that gets in the way of the actual racing at every possible opportunity. You can’t even change your car’s look in this game without performing some arbitrary tasks first. Car upgrades are also forced upon you and can’t really be ignored unless you want to just keep losing and since the game is stingy on “Speed Cards” and “Part Tokens,” you’ll need to spend time replaying old races just to grind out enough progression to keep pace with harder events. Now, it must be said that EA has tweaked things quite a bit since release in light of the controversy surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II and its own awful progression system, but the loot grind is still there. But really, maybe it’s all there to cover up what a mediocre racer Need For Speed: Payback is under the hood, as there are simply more rewarding open-world racers out there (Forza Horizon 3 comes to mind) and even with the Burnout-like gameplay, it’s hard not to view Payback as a major step back for the franchise.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor remains of one of this generation’s most pleasant surprises — a licensed game that seemingly came out of nowhere in 2014 and blew everyone away, garnering serious game of the year consideration in the process. Naturally, anticipation for a sequel was quite high and on paper, Monolith Productions’ follow-up, Shadow of War, looked like it would be a worthy sequel. Truth be told, Shadow of War does get a number of things right. The highly-acclaimed Nemesis system makes its return and is deeper than ever, while the game’s environments have been given a noticeable facelift after the overwhelmingly drab grey hues found in the original game.
Much has been made about the addition of loot boxes in Shadow of War and while they are definitely an unwelcome sight, they are only part of why the game is ultimately a disappointment. Setting aside the game’s bonkers story, what really drags Shadow of War down is its mind-numbing repetitiveness, as the game artificially pads out its length with tedious busy work and repetitive mission designs that contribute to an overall sense of open-world fatigue when playing it. Much like with Ghost Recon Wildlands, Shadow of War was not released in a vacuum and has to contend with the fact that there were simply much better and rewarding open-world games released this year. While there is still much to like about Shadow of War if you were a fan of the original, there won’t be much game of the year discussion this time around.
Star Wars Battlefront II
How do you screw up Star Wars? This is a reasonable question to ask in 2017 considering EA and DICE had what could have been one of the greatest Star Wars games of all time on their hands and managed to screw things up in nearly every way imaginable. The 2015 Star Wars Battlefront reboot received generally favorable reviews but was heavily criticized for its lack of content, which EA seemingly held in reserve to sell to customers later in an expensive season pass. In response, Battlefront II was touted by EA as an apology of sorts for the mismanagement of the first game, as there would be significantly more content this time around and all future downloadable content would be made free to players. Yet, EA found a way to somehow make things even worse by basing Battlefront II around a loot box-based progression system that was heavily criticized pre-launch, with many claiming that it was a pay-to-win model that threw off the entire balance of the game. Of course, we know how all that turned out: EA scrapped (or at least paused) the game’s microtransactions just hours before launch on November 17th in an effort to appease fans.
As of this writing, it’s still unclear what EA’s ultimate plans are with their reconfiguration of Battlefront II’s progression system but even if the game had shipped without a loot box system of any kind, it would still be a disappointing sequel. Outside of its impressive visuals, Battlefront II is distinctly mediocre in almost every regard. Its much-touted campaign, featuring a new story set between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, starts off strong but ends up resembling poorly-written fan fiction by the end and features unimaginative mission design that only helps illustrate what an unsatisfying shooter DICE has created. Even the multiplayer feels like a step back from 2015’s Battlefront, with the new class system feeling largely pointless given the game’s complete lack of team dynamics. Sure, it all looks and sounds like Star Wars but once that novelty wears off, it’s hard not to see Star Wars Battlefront II as one of the year’s biggest disappointments.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
It’s still hard to believe just how far the Mass Effect franchise fell in 2017. Heading into the year, Mass Effect: Andromeda was widely predicted to be a game of the year contender and why shouldn’t it have been? Bioware’s first three Mass Effect games are some of the greatest RPGs ever made and with five years having passed since the release of Mass Effect 3, there was every reason to be hopeful that Bioware would deliver another incredible sci-fi experience. But then the world started to see the game and it was clear something was seriously wrong. Clips featuring broken animations and terrible voice acting began making the rounds in the leadup to release and fans started to get apprehensive about what EA was about to release.
When Andromeda was finally released on March 21, everyone finally got to see for themselves whether or not Andromeda was the next-gen Mass Effect game they had been waiting for and the news was not good. Not only were those bad animations and line deliveries all present and accounted for but the game itself simply wasn’t up to the standard set by the first trilogy. Though the third-person shooting had noticeably improved, everything else — from the lead characters to the one-dimensional villain to the tedious mission design — had taken a noticeable step back. The situation ended up being so bad that Bioware’s plans for additional single-content were scrapped and the franchise was officially put on indefinite hiatus. For possibly killing a once untouchable series in one fell swoop, Mass Effect: Andromeda is easily the most disappointing game of 2017.