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2017 was the best year in games since 2007

A once-a-decade phenomenon

In the past, Polygon has published a Top 10 Games of the Year list, culminating a year’s worth of coverage. This year, we’re expanding the list to a Top 50. More games are being released on a regular basis than ever before. What led to so many games arriving so close together?

In 2017, Nintendo started the year with a reimagined Zelda and ended it with new Super Mario; the company also introduced a new property, Arms, and cemented Splatoon as a core franchise. Assassin’s Creed, Wolfenstein, Prey and Persona returned to widespread acclaim. Neither an inventive new Resident Evil nor a classic-style Sonic the Hedgehog game let us down. An unfinished, revamped standalone take on a mod became one of 2017’s biggest success stories. Less mainstream properties also found critical and commercial success this year; here’s to you, Nier: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn and Cuphead. (Heck, even an unlikely Rabbids game turned out well.)

2017 might have the strongest, most consistent year of quality games since 2007. And understanding what made that year special can help us parse the uniqueness of this one.

In 2007’s 12-month span, we got The Orange Box, BioShock, The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Halo 3, Guitar Hero 3, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, Skate, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Super Mario Galaxy, Rock Band and Mass Effect. Even the elder PlayStation 2 had one of the year’s best games with God of War 2.

The bounty of 2007 wasn’t a fluke. The entire generation of high-definition consoles was finally on the market. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had launched, and both promised to justify the purchase of our fancy new HDTV sets with stunning graphics and more expansive open-worlds. As for the less powerful Wii, its biggest success was in its unique motion controls. By abandoning long-held traditions, Nintendo managed to broaden gaming’s accessibility both simply and significantly.

Video games had managed to win over a swath of newcomers and reignite longtime fans’ passion for the medium.

2007 was a unique inflection point in the history of consoles. I predict 2017 will be looked back upon in a similar way. Once again, Sony and Microsoft have emphasized — and increased — the power of their consoles. And Nintendo has once again embraced both the mainstream and its core fans by introducing the most accessible system on the market.

Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 PS3 controller and console Polygon

The PS4 and Xbox One may be several years old at this point, but Sony and Microsoft have committed to the mid-cycle refresh. Instead of releasing new hardware, the companies are outfitting their existing systems with increased horsepower and graphical capabilities to once again take advantage of higher resolution televisions. Games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Assassin’s Creed Origins launched with 4K updates and photo modes.

The concept of early access releases shifted from experiment to industry norm, blurring the lines of when a game is and isn’t unfinished or incomplete. Just look at something like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, which became one of the most popular PC games of this year before its official release next year.

It doesn’t matter when a game launches anymore; just assume that it’s a work-in-progress. With developers playing close attention to Reddit and fan forums, players have (for better and worse) a much bigger say in how a game turns out.

The biggest game-changer this year, though — the company to which we can attribute many of 2017’s successful swings — is Nintendo’s new take on the game console. Rather than keep trying to resuscitate the lifeless Wii U, Nintendo granted itself a do-over. With the Switch, the company took a risks by introducing a system with unique features and an accompanying game design philosophy. It seems to have paid off so far, and it looks as though shirking platform standards has brought renewed inspiration and longevity to this generation’s games.

Maybe October 2017 doesn’t quite stack up against November 2007. But a combination of factors — the diversity of this year’s great games; the stellar name representation; the risk-taking newcomers — makes 2017 perhaps the most consistently solid 12-month period in a decade. And what makes this year isn’t just a perfect coincidence. It’s the culmination of refined hardware, more risk-taking and experimentation all happening at the perfect moment.