2017 proved to be the best year of gaming in the last decade. One in which mainstream sequels like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and independent titles like Divinity: Original Sin II, achieved massive commercial and critical success.
While 2017 produced an exorbitant amount of well-polished sequels from major developers, several independent titles pushed beyond the boundaries of recycled ideas and provided innovative approaches to complex themes.
Titles such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which delved headfirst into the experience of mental illness, provided players with a character-driven story, supported by profound sound design, visual fidelity and narrative. Or Cuphead, which married the rubber hose style of animation of the 1930’s, with well crafted gameplay revolving around ingenious boss design.
With pending releases from popular indie publishers/developers like Devolver Digital and Klei Entertainment, 2018 is shaping up to be an even stronger year for indie games. Let’s examine some of our best options for money well spent in no particular order.
10. Death’s Gambit
When it’s out: TBD 2018
What it’s for: Playstation 4, PC
What is it: Developed by White Rabbit, Death’s Gambit is an action RPG side-scroller, set on an alien medieval planet of transcendent horrors.
Players will take on the role of a slain protagonist, who makes a deal with death to rid the world of bloodthirsty immortal beings so that he may become one himself. As an agent of death, players must survive contentious, non-linear environments, brimming with challenging encounters which promise notorious difficulty comparable to the Souls series.
Rich lore and narrative depth will unravel, as players discover dark secrets hidden throughout a twisted world. Stunning 2D animations and backgrounds merge the visual appeal of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, with the scale and boss mechanics of Shadow of the Colossus.
Adopting a strategic approach to combat will be necessary, in conjunction with the proficient use of a vast arsenal of weapons and abilities at the player’s disposal.
For fans of dark fantasy and/or a challenging experience, Death’s Gambit is one I am very optimistic about.
When it’s out: TBD 2018
What it’s for: PlayStation 4, PC, Linux, Macintosh operating systems
What is it: An action RPG developed by Eneme Entertainment and published by Devolver Digital, featuring exceptional combat within a mythological Norse world.
Eitr received significant attention at PAX East 2017 with a playable demo available at Sony’s booth. Eneme Entertainment has since worked closely with the growing community surrounding this game (10,000+ Twitter followers), implementing suggestions and adapting to criticism.
Touting itself as an “isometric Souls” experience, players will hack their way through hordes of nightmarish creatures as “The Shield Maiden”: a warrior whose ill-fated destiny has been molded by Loki’s interference. Players must delve into the wretched darkness to unravel the mystery of their fate.
Eitr’s isometric perspective suits its combat well, allowing players to tactfully navigate each encounter, while properly positioning themselves to defend or advance. Arrows, melee weapons and enchanted special attacks, provide ample variety for dispatching waves of savage threats.
A unique experience system will provide players the option to choose between permanent level upgrades or more powerful but fleeting perks, which can be lost upon death, asserting the importance of an analytical approach to progression.
Gorgeous lighting effects illuminate the meticulous attention to detail in each 2D environment. Smooth animations articulate the kinetic exchanges of each encounter, as enemies collapse with violent cessation. The overall presentation is top-notch.
If Eitr manages to evolve beyond its influences, this could be one of the best indie offerings this year.
When’s it out: Early 2018
What’s it for: TBD
What it is: A turn-based, sci-fi RPG about space pirates and mercenaries on a quest for fortune. From the developers behind Don’t Starve, Mark of the Ninja and Invisible Inc.
Griftlands promises players freedom of choice within a dynamic world, in which loyalty and morality are negotiable. Players will be given the options to charm, fight, negotiate, deceive, explore or steal, as they travel from town-to-town, interfacing with fixed factions comprised of procedurally generated NPCs. While there will be a handful of written player-characters/companions, most interactions will be unique to each playthrough. Whether players form new bonds or grudges will be based on the choices they make and the deeds they commit.
If that’s not enough to get excited about, Griftlands features a traditional turn-based combat system akin to Darkest Dungeon, with front and back row positioning and smooth cartoon animations. Fights are largely impacted by the morale and personality of each NPC and typically end by one side surrendering to the other. Choosing to subdue or kill an opponent will result in varying mechanical repercussions.
At the moment, Griftlands appears to be quite an ambitious project without many recent updates, and for those reasons, don’t be surprised if its release gets pushed back to later in the year.
7. Super Meat Boy Forever
When’s it out: TBD 2018
What’s it for: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, PC, iOS, Linux
What it is: Originally announced in 2014 as a mobile-only version of the original Super Meat Boy, Super Meat Boy Forever has been further developed into a sequel featuring a new control scheme consisting of two buttons (including the D-pad) and a degree of procedurally generated levels.
Fans of the original Super Meat Boy may be surprised to hear that co-creator Edmund Mcmillen is not involved with this sequel. After seven years had passed and Mcmillen had shifted his focus to The Binding of Isaac and The End is Nigh, co-creator Tommy Refenes decided to reboot the project as a full-fledged sequel with the assistance of Kyle Pulver, Temmie Chang and Ridiculon (composer for Super Meat Boy on the PS4).
Super Meatboy Forever retains the challenging and reflexive appeal of its gameplay, while tweaking the mechanics. Controls are now limited to two maneuvers, jumping and sliding. Similar to Bit.Trip, running is automatic, however players can alter their trajectory in mid-air by holding down the jump button or hitting the slide button to dive. Despite this simplification, platforming feels more fluid than the original and equally intense.
For those who manage to complete each level without introducing their controller to the wall, there are four iterations of increasing difficulty per level; as well as new Dark Worlds and Warp Zones to conquer.
Expect the meat to bleed again sometime this year!
6. Phoenix Point
When’s it out: Fourth quarter of 2018
What’s it for: PC, Linux
What it is: A global, turn-based strategy game with a tactical approach to combat. Developed by Julian Gollop, creator of the original X-COM.
For fans of turn-based tactical games, the resurgence of X-COM in 2012 with Enemy Unknown, provided fans of the genre with with one of the most compulsory additions in over a decade. Since then, subsequent X-COM titles have captivated fans of the series for hundreds of hours (I am no exception). Phoenix Point should feel familiar for fans of X-COM, while revolutionizing the genre with an ambitious set of features.
Lovecraft inspired abominations seek to exterminate the last remnants of humanity. As commander of a lone base (Phoenix Point), players will combat the alien threat by establishing contact with other human factions, raiding alien bases, uncovering archaeological assets and scavenging for resources. Each mission will offer diverse objectives, such as search and rescue, assassination, infiltration or sabotage, just to name a few.
Extensive customization options provide added depth to each soldier, as players assign accrued experience to unlock new upgrades in class specific skill trees. The opposition will mutate alongside the resistance, evolving new forms designed to combat your tactical preferences.
Turn-based, squad-based battles incorporate intense boss fights within procedurally destructive environments., demanding proficiency and strategic execution to overcome.
Phoenix Point aims for a darker, more procedural approach to turn-based tactics. For fans of high-concept strategy, this could be 2018’s best offering.
When’s it out: TBD 2018
What’s it for: TBD
What it is: A strategy game which revolves around societal survival elements and city building. Developed by 11 Bit Studios, creators of 2014’s war survival game, This War of Mine.
Frostpunk puts players in control of a society on the brink of annihilation, as a result of a frozen climate which has hindered the population’s ability to gather resources to fuel production. Survival is predicated upon the ability to strategically allocate what little resources are available by making objective decisions. Players will be faced with profound moral dilemmas, as they struggle to maintain habitable conditions for the overall population.
Some of the most difficult choices players will make stem from “The Book of Laws”, a system of governance, where new policies can be chosen to benefit certain segments of the population at the expense of others. Every choice made bears consequence/s which alter the course of the overall experience.
This War of Mine was a micro-examination of interpersonal relationships under unimaginable duress. Frostpunk broadens the scope, while retaining the mature themes that made This War of Mine such a haunting experience.
4. They Are Billions
When’s it out: Early access available now
What’s it for: PC
What it is: Imagine the battle of Helm’s Deep but replace orcs with swarms of ravenous zombies and elves with mechanized-steampunk towers designed to melt the opposition and you have They are Billions. Developed by Numantian Games, They Are Billions is a steampunk strategy game set on a post-apocalyptic planet.
In many ways, They Are Billions is a patchwork of several genres melded into one, blending elements of survival, tower defense and real-time strategy into one incredibly satisfying package. Players will struggle to gather resources, expand their colony and build defenses to survive the persistent onslaught of enemies for 80-150 days, depending upon difficulty settings. The learning curve is steep and most players will fail often, resulting in the loss of all progress. While this may seem overtly punitive, it prompts players to exploit the environment and evolve their strategy.
A perpetual amber hue and steampunk aesthetic lend themselves well to the oppressive tone of the apocalyptic setting. The hand-painted appeal of its art style contrasts the muted palette of the undead with the radiant sheen of human engineering.
Currently, survival is the only available mode, with the potential for various additions in the future, including a story campaign.
For fans of unique strategy games which challenge and test your resolve, They Are Billions seems well worth the price of admission.
3. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
When’s it out: TBD 2018
What’s it for: PC, Linux, Macintosh operating systems
What it is: The direct successor to 2015’s Pillars of Eternity, developed by Obsidian Entertainment, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is an isometric RPG, inspired by popular RPGs of the late 90’s-early 2000’s.
The original Pillars of Eternity revitalized the classic isometric RPGs of yore. Combining compelling narrative and mature themes with exciting combat and alluring visuals, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire seeks to expand on its predecessor, while retaining many of features that made it so unique.
Among the new additions are dynamic weather effects, multi-classing, enhanced visual effects and a customizable boat, which serves as a mobile stronghold for exploration and ship battling.
Obsidian has been working closely with the community responding to feedback received during the backer beta release. Alterations to combat movement speed, attack timers and behavioral sets have been made to enhance the overall combat system.
Fans of the original will be pleased to hear that both returning and new companions will be available, based on the choices made by the player. Companion relationships will continue to play a major role in the story, giving players the option to choose which narratives they wish to explore.
Obsidan has done a great job of keeping the community informed in 2017. Stay tuned for further updates and the eventual official release announcement sometime this year.
When’s it out: TBD 2018
What’s it for: Xbox one, Microsoft Windows
What it is: A Microsoft exclusive action RPG developed by Aurora44, set in a dark fantasy world.
Ashen immediately draws you in with its unique low-poly art style and Souls inspired combat. Broad, vigorous brushstrokes paint the austere landscape of an ephemeral world; as players fight to survive the perpetual threat of violent shades, paranoid humans and pernicious creatures.
Ashen revolves around forging relationships based entirely on choice. While exploring the open world, players will have the option to foster new alliances or reject them. Each choice made or overlooked will evolve the story in dramatic new directions. A non-linear progression system, coupled with “passive multiplayer” elements, expands interaction beyond NPCs to other players themselves. Player interactions are restricted to physical emotes and gestures, providing fleeting moments of epic triumph or violent defeat, while retaining the immersion of an isolating journey.
“High risk combat” promises to deliver mechanics revolving around stamina consumption and timing. In motion, combat animations appear fluid and robust, as characters swiftly evade the seemingly metaphysical advances of each murderous haze. Inventive lighting and shadow mechanics deceive the senses, as opponents swirl in and out of visible range.
Elaborate dungeons weave in and out of one another, compelling players to venture further into darkness in search of mysterious secret areas, settlement upgrades, weapons and resources to sustain their colony. The element of survival serves as a foreboding menace in the background, highlighting the dire tone of a destitute population.
In its current form, Ashen aims to deliver a feature rich experience with an inventive approach to the action RPG genre.
1. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
When’s it out: TBA
What’s it for: Xbox one, Microsoft Windows
What it is: A platform-adventure Metroidvania sequel to 2015’s highly acclaimed Ori and the Blind Forest, developed by Moon Studios.
2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest flawlessly packaged emotive storytelling, breathtaking visuals, frenetic gameplay and rich soundscapes, into one of the most memorable independent titles of the past decade.
Will of the Wisps, expands upon the features and sensory allure of the original. Players will venture beyond the forest of Nibel, to uncover the truths of the lost ones in an effort to unearth Ori’s true destiny.
During the official announcement of Will of the Wisps at E3 2017, Gareth Coker performed during the unveiling to reveal his return to compose the score once again. While there hasn’t been any gameplay footage released yet, the trailer showcased the spectacular depth of various painted landscapes and fantastical creature concepts.
Maintaining the stunning art design and musical score of the original, Will of the Wisps will undoubtedly provide players a uniquely enduring experience from some of the best creators in the industry.