Gaming’s ever-present yet ever-inaccurate argument that single-player games are dead was once again proved false in 2017. We previously explored the reasons why they are still very much alive, but this year was notably special for solo gaming. Not only did we see numerous single-player games released but the quality ceiling was pleasingly high. In fact, 2017 was the best year for solo gamers in quite some time.
Like your entertainment high quality? These are the best PC games.
A huge chunk of single-player success this year has been down to a solitary publisher: Bethesda. A company with a proud dedication to narrative campaigns, they even produced a mock public service video for the Video Game Awards, featuring the wondrous Lynda Carter begging viewers to consider the plight of the solo gamer. Not that the begging was needed: it came in the closing weeks of one of the company’s most expressive and creative years.
At the midpoint of 2017, Bethesda published Prey, a polished throwback to the days of System Shock. It successfully brings the most classic of immersive sims into the modern age without sacrificing its intelligence. Following a few months later was Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, a shorter but no less engrossing final chapter in the tale of the shadowy, black-eyed trickster god.
Fans of densely detailed, experimental games were certainly well served by Arkane and Bethesda’s partnership, but that was not the only base covered by the publisher. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and The Evil Within 2 provide big budget thrills, with both games expanding the horizons of their predecessors. What’s more, all of Bethesda’s 2017 releases are brilliant, with an average Metacritic score of 83.
Four exceptional campaigns in one year is great news, but other developers were flying the single-player flag, experiencing similar success. The Evil Within 2 may have seen the year out with a real bone chiller, but we stepped into 2017 through the front door of Resident Evil 7’s terrifying Baker family estate. The gore-drenched house not only proves that Capcom are capable of reinventing the Resident Evil series, but also producing survival horror that easily competes with the output of less risk-averse indie developers such as Red Barrels and Frictional Games.
Talking of reinvention, Ubisoft pulled Assassin’s Creed out of danger with Origins. Its majestic open world – significantly more alive and detailed than any prior Assassin’s Creed environment – provides the ideal foundation for an adventure that benefits from several lessons taught by The Witcher 3. The result is a game that can be easily considered the best of the entire series, laden with dozens of hours of single-player joy.
The likes of Assassin’s Creed Origins, Resident Evil 7, and Prey are all founded on similar principles: developing games that have proven audiences. Everyone loved The Witcher, first-person horror games go down a treat on social platforms like Twitch, and there is still a proven audience for immersive sims. But 2017 didn’t always take the safe route. Nier: Automata is an experimental mash-up of of genres, philosophies, and narrative ambitions. It is a game that uses repeat playthroughs to expand and change its narrative, resulting in a story that is less the same experience repeated three times, more a single arc with revisisted sections and multiple perspectives.
Naturally, the most experimental games came from indie developers. Ninja Theory’s Hellblade astonished everyone not simply because of its outstanding performance capture, but because of the mental health themes it tackles, both through narrative and gameplay mechanics. Similarly, What Remains of Edith Finch explores themes of grief and family strife, and rejects classic walking simulator mechanics while doing so. Pyre, The Sexy Brutale, Night in the Woods, and Torment: Tides of Numenera can also be found in 2017’s pile of exceptional single-player indies.
Elsewhere, there were plenty of games that, while featuring substantial online elements, did not ignore the solo experience. Middle-earth: Shadow of War uses a strange asynchronous attack/defend game mode to help extend the life of its primarily single-player open world romp, while Divinity: Original Sin 2’s lavish game master mode and PvP arena do nothing to dilute its extraordinary campaign. Call of Duty: WW2, while still obviously having its sights set on the multiplayer grind, pushes more than enough resources into its campaign to produce the best WW2 videogame story in many years.
These kinds of trends could be seen beyond the boundaries of the PC, too. On other platforms the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, Mario Odyssey, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 demonstrate that playerss across a wide spectrum of tastes are still engaged by single-player games.
It is difficult to ignore those who constantly ring the death knell for single-player. And yet, despite retail performance that often seems to spell doomsday for companies like Bethesda, year after year the same publishers release big-budget, often brilliant single-player games. And with solo experiences proving system sellers over in console land, the desire to create ever-more impressive games is clearly still there. The big question, though, is when will we get another year as good as 2017?